HEALTH: Holistic Health Coach Shares Recipes for Mind, Body, Soul

Sally Graves describes herself as a country girl at heart with a city girl swag. Born and raised near the Canadian border in northern Maine, the certified Holistic Health Coach knows what it’s like to discover  you’re sensitive to gluten, dairy, soy, egg and other foods that may cause what she calls “the unmentionables” _ digestive-related symptoms like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion and gas. As a vegan chef and founder of the Web site, Soulful Health, she loves helping her clients save time and money and gives them the support to find the right recipe for their healthiest lives. “The older I get, the more I have returned to a farm-to-table lifestyle like I had growing up across from a potato farm,” Graves recently told Tania Fuentez Media for an exclusive interview. She is currently writing an e-book on “How to Transition to a Vegan Lifestyle” and her practice focuses on the love of food and the love of self. Even better, her office is in your kitchen _ this is where she teaches clients how to shop health food stores, stock a healthy pantry and prepare delicious meals.

NOTE: Graves will be at the Scarsdale Chamber of Commerce Health Fair on June 16th from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., selling her raw vegan brownies which I highly recommend after sampling the treats.

TFM: New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently stirred up controversy with a proposed soda ban on super-sized drinks. What’s at the heart of this latest measure against obesity in our society? Do you think it will really change deep-rooted behavior?

Sally: That’s certainly currently a hot topic of debate, Tania. There are many takes on it. At my core, I believe it’s a step in the right direction, and I believe that it’s done with the best of intentions, to improve the health of the residents of NYC, especially kids and teens. However, will it logically do that? With anything whether it’s drugs, alcohol or processed foods, behavior changes must first start with education.

As a Health Coach, I’m well aware that many people do not know the dangers of sugar or exactly how much sugar is in these super-sized drinks. (Isn’t it interesting that they call them “super” instead of extra-large or over-sized?) Do you know that there are 65 grams of sugar in a 20 oz. bottle of Coca-Cola? That’s 16 teaspoons!!! Of course you wouldn’t know that since labels use the metric system. I sincerely believe that our obesity problem is largely due to the fact that we are drinking too much sugar and thus too many calories. This is what I talk about in my ‘Sugar Blues’ workshops, where attendees are shocked to learn that it’s easy to consume over a cup of sugar a day, just from our beverages! But, herein lies the issue with the soda ban, because it’s only tackling one tiny part of the problem.

If you go to Starbucks and order a plain grande latte you are consuming 5 teaspoons of sugar! I’m sure most people would never add that much sugar to their coffee if they made it themselves. So perhaps a better idea would be to ban the amount of SUGAR in any beverage! Take Gatorade for instance, you think it’s healthy enough to give your kids after their sporting events right? Well in those 64 oz. containers, which the label says is four servings, there is actually 56 grams of sugar or 14 teaspoons! My other take is that when you tell people what not to do, then it makes us want to do it even more. I prefer to put a positive spin on things and provide healthier alternatives. Bottom line is, need more education and if the Mayor’s office did anything I would prefer them to plaster the city with billboards that said, “Drink Green Juice.”

TFM: How can someone incorporate a more vegetable-based diet into their lives? What are some basic tips for reluctant meat-eaters?

Sally: That’s simple, eat more greens! I tell my clients that eating more fruits and vegetables, specifically dark leafy greens like collards, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard is the single best thing you can do to immediately improve your health. That and drinking more water. If someone’s diet primarily consists of meat and starchy carbohydrates, then all I ask is that they eat a few salads, have a green drink, or eat a piece of fruit. I actually tell clients to eat MORE! Our bodies crave fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately one of the reasons we overeat is because we’re not getting enough nutrition. Our bodies are amazing, and if it’s not getting what it needs then it’s going to keep telling you to eat more, but it’s secretly hoping that you’ll pick something that will give it the vitamins and minerals it requires.

However, most Americans eat the SAD diet, (Standard American Diet) which consists of highly processed foods with a very long shelf life, anything with a shelf life is not going to give your body the energy and fuel it needs to operate successfully. In my health coaching sessions, I show my clients how to prepare quick, easy and delicious meals that both you and your body will love. And here’s a tip if you’re eating out, look at the sides and order some veggies, like spinach or green beans instead of that heavy fried appetizer.

TFM: Do you have any favorite recipes to share for people with a serious sweet tooth?

Sally: Yes, actually one of my favorite indulgences is what I call Nature’s Candy Bar. You can find the recipe under the Soulful Servings tab on my Web site. I take a Medjool date, which are ooey-gooey, and I split it apart and take out the pit. Then I insert two raw almonds and one small square of dark chocolate, over 70 percent cacao, (not Hershey’s that isn’t real dark chocolate, it’s crap). If you’re going to eat chocolate one square at a time, it’s better to spend a little extra and make it worthwhile, otherwise it’s not truly healthy. Then, I squeeze the sides of the date squishing the chocolate and almond inside; it tastes just like a candy bar! If you want a raw version you can use cacao nibs. You can also use a little almond nut butter or even peanut butter, or shredded coconut to change it up. One, maybe two of these will satisfy any sugar craving. But the best part is that you’re eating something healthy and that your body recognizes as food. The chocolate contains anti-oxidants, the nuts have protein and your body will use that date sugar for energy, instead of immediately sending it to your fat stores. Dates are actually recognized by the American Heart Association as a heart healthy food, they help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure.

My other favorite afternoon snack, perfect for when the sugar cravings hit, is a mixture of almonds and raisins. But you can use any nut and fruit combo you like. The nuts give you some protein to keep you going until your next meal, while the dried fruit gives you the quick fix. It’s also a snack that is easily portable, I keep baggies in my car, at my desk, even in my handbag. I was never a Girl Scout, but the best way to avoid the vending machine is to be prepared.

TFM: What led you to a vegan lifestyle and how have you changed as a result?

Sally: My journey to a vegan lifestyle has really been a lifelong process. I actually became a vegetarian during my senior year of high school. I did a research project on vegetarianism in English class and slowly I stopped eating meat. After learning about the poor treatment of animals, my conscience would no longer allow me to be part of that. I love what Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better.” So I was a vegetarian for 11 years, but I still ate dairy and sometimes fish. Then in my late 20s I was in an abusive relationship and I started eating meat, McDonald’s, and all sorts of processed foods that I would have never eaten before. In hindsight, this period of my life really showed me the types of foods we choose are often a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. I was also much heavier at the time. When I turned 30 I discovered that I was allergic to gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, sesame, and coffee! (And I lived in Seattle at the time!)

Since then my diet has been a slow progression to 100 percent vegan. Recently, I completed 31 days of all raw! It was so amazing and I feel so great that I’m continuing a mostly raw diet, at least through summer. I did add back some beans, because I truly missed them. Today I choose to be vegan because I only want good energy inside me; I want live energy, not dead. Also a vegan diet is also more ecologically sustainable and if we took the grain we feed to cows not only could we feed the world, but we would have a surplus, and a much cleaner environment. My energy has certainly shifted since going vegan. I feel that it has made me a more patient, kind and caring person. I am lighter, fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been before and at 38, I think that’s pretty darn awesome :)

TFM: What are some of the pros and cons of veganism? Discuss the difference between being a vegetarian.

Sally: The difference between a vegetarian and a vegan is that vegans don’t consume anything that comes from an animal, such as milk, cheese, eggs, and for some even honey. Personally I’m allergic to both dairy and eggs so I would have to avoid it anyway. However, I do believe that many people are sensitive to dairy and it is the root cause for many ailments. Many times eczema, headaches, sinus infections, indigestion, bloating, gas and constipation are all due to dairy consumption. I have had so many clients feel years younger when they cut out dairy and only after a few days! It’s actually quite astonishing. I had one client who experienced constipation for over 20 years. During her entire adult life she would only poop once every three or four days! That’s crazy to me. After working with me she said she had never felt better and was over the moon that she was having a daily bowel movement. Sometimes, when I see people walking the streets grumpy and irritable I wonder if perhaps they’re all just backed up!

Many people shy away from exploring a vegan diet because they think it has to be an all or nothing type thing and that it has to happen overnight. There are a lot of zealous vegans out there, and to me that’s sad, I’m not one of them. Life happens in stages, we all evolve and develop at a different pace. You have to respect that we all have our own beautiful journey. If someone decides to not eat meat for a week and then has a burger on Sunday, well at least that’s a step in the right direction and it’s also a few less animals who were consumed.

If everyone had at least one meatless day in their week it would make a huge shift. I think it’s important to allow yourself the freedom to make your own rules and take baby steps if need be. If you’re the type of person that needs guidelines and boundaries then give them, if that will keep you on track. If you’re the type that will binge for a week after feeling too constricted then go slower. Make one meal a day meatless. Do that for a week and see how you feel. Next you may want to go for one week without meat. See how you feel then! The problem is that when most people take meat out of their diet, they replace it with pizza, pasta, nachos and other carb-heavy foods. This is why it’s useful to have support and guidance from a coach. My policy is that I don’t do diet or deprivation. Instead I invite my clients to explore my amazing world that is full of bright colors and delicious flavors.


Soulful Health:

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