In our blogger spotlight interview, May dishes on her healthy eating values, and how she incorporates them into every aspect of her life.
I was born in Vietnam and left as a refugee at 6 months old. I grew up in Australia, where I was lucky enough to live in a very multicultural area experiencing many different cuisines from around the world. At home, I grew up with Vietnamese broth simmering on the stove each week, gelatinous broth stored in the fridge, and jars of fermented fruits and vegetables around the house. Little did I know this would be happening in my house as an adult with 3 children of my own!
Our health journey began in 2012. I found a wonderful holistic doctor who put me onto the Paleo diet as I was at high risk of developing diabetes after my 3 pregnancies with insulin resistance. I was hypoglycemic and just accepted that I needed to eat every 2 hours; otherwise, I would get very sick.
Around the same time, my then 3-year-old had a recurrent clostridium difficile (c.diff) infection that we could not clear with medicine for nearly a year. C.diff is a serious infection that can be fatal if left untreated. My son had severe eczema as a baby and was prescribed antibiotics repeatedly as it would get infected, and we didn’t know at the time but we completely destroyed his gut. After rounds and rounds of really strong medication failed, I turned to my holistic doctor, who taught me how to make fermented vegetables. We noticed a difference after 2 weeks. After around 2 months his skin had cleared, and has stayed clear.
During this time, I started on the paleo diet and found myself feeling better. For the first time, I felt a true hunger that could be delayed, rather than feeling sick acting as my signal to eat. My hypoglycemia disappeared. My husband also joined me on the paleo diet and lost 20kgs unintentionally! We followed the 80/20 rule where we were strict 80% of the time and relaxed 20% of the time which allowed us to have treats if we wanted (which by this time we no longer enjoy) and socializing with friends wasn’t a big fuss about what we could or couldn’t eat.
After seeing the incredible results we achieved for our family with just simple changes in our diet, I started researching and reading everything I could about using food as medicine to maintain gut health and to heal the body naturally. I wanted to share everything I've learned in the hope that it could help and inspire others to create their own health journey. At the end of 2013, I created my blog: www.enlightenedfoodie.com.
Loving your belly means a few things to me: eating foods that hit all the right spots to make you want to dance, and eating foods that nourish and heal. Taking care of your gut is the center of your health; as Hippocrates stated, "all disease starts in the gut."
I’m passionate about health and helping others discover and adopt a real-food, conscious, healthy lifestyle. My aim is to make this lifestyle easy for other families to follow, especially those with young children. It can be quite difficult to switch from the convenience of processed, packaged foods to home-cooked real food, as we have all become too busy.
Whole, real foods can taste amazing whilst also nourishing the body and mind. But we first need to kick our addiction to processed, fast, refined foods with additives, sweeteners, and chemicals in order to re-learn and appreciate the taste of real food. I hope I can inspire others to do this.
My second child is following a GAPS diet (gut and psychology syndrome diet) to help heal his eczema and allergies whilst the rest of the family continue with the 80/20 rule.
I am currently working on getting some instructional videos up on my Youtube channel, and an e-book to help families get started with making the switch over to real food. I post what we are eating daily on my Instagram account.
1. Multi-function cooker (slow or pressure cook and sear all-in-one): This was one thing I left behind only because it was big and bulky and had to beg my Dad to carry it over for me a few months later. This is an essential item every real food cook needs! I have had mine for about 3 years. I use the pressure cooker daily to make my batch of gut-healing bone broth, pull-apart meats, and casseroles. It saves electricity as the cooking time is reduced and you can also set your dinner on in the morning on the slow cook function so it’s ready when you get home. I love it as you can also sear meat, and it doesn't heat up your kitchen. I like the Breville fast slow cooker and the Instapot.
2. A food processor: Another item I left behind. My mum actually asked to keep mine, but I soon realized how much I missed having one, so I ended up buying one a few months later. I use my food processor to finely chop vegetables for bolognese sauce, shred cabbage for fermenting, mince batches of lemongrass or garlic to freeze, make banana ‘nice’ cream, cake mixes, and bliss ball mixes and treats.
3. Magic Bullet: I use the Magic Bullet to grind up spices, make nut flours, blend dips, dressings, pancake or waffle batter, and smoothies. It’s quick and easy to use and less bulky than a food processor or blender so it’s usually out at breakfast time. I love that there are additional cups and containers so you don’t need to wash it out each time to switch between ingredients and batters.
4. Spiraliser: I always viewed a spiraliser as a tool nice to have, but not an essential because a mandoline or julienne peeler can do the trick. I held out for years but after I got mine, I wish I had gotten it earlier. It instantly makes beautiful vegetable noodles out of zucchini, carrot, radish, and beetroot. Vegetable noodles are a great replacement for pasta and grain-based noodles. They make salads look beautiful too!
5. Mandoline: I still have my mandoline I bought in Japan 16 years ago. It’s still a favorite of mine even though it’s a bit redundant with the spiraliser, but sometimes I prefer short, straight julienne pieces.
6. A julienne peeler: This was a newer addition, as my mandoline broke recently. I love how quickly I can add beautiful, uniform julienned carrots to my broths and salads. It doesn’t take up much space in the kitchen drawer either.
7. Juicer: I started juicing this year and have felt such a great boost in energy. I juice at least 4 times a week, if not every day. Juicing is incredible and I wrote a post about it.
I love living in Vietnam. Vietnamese culture is very centered around family and food, two of the things I love the most! I love having access to all the exotic fruit and vegetables and getting to create new recipes to include them. I love that Southern Vietnamese cuisine always includes the five tastes in one meal (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami) and this is something I would like to work into my recipes.
I always include a few fermented carrot sticks with every meal. Some of my children’s favorite meals for school are bolognese dip (using cucumber boats or occasionally, as a treat, organic corn chips), steamed vegetables, and poached chicken with nut-free pesto, grain-free pizza, meatballs and veggies, shredded beef and vegetables, homemade bacon and vegetables, roast chicken leg and vegetables, nori wraps, and occasionally bacon and veg fried rice (the kids have rice sometimes). For snack time, they usually have a piece of fruit with either a baked treat, grain-free pancakes, nut-free bliss balls, or gut-healing gummy lollies (packed with an ice pack as it’s so warm over here they start to melt). I pack their hot lunches in an insulated thermos to keep them warm until lunchtime.
My nori wrap and roll platter is our favorite and go-to meal, especially if I haven’t planned anything. I use leftover meat cut into strips (or pulled pork or shredded beef), avocado, cucumber, fermented carrots, and any other vegetables we have on hand, with toasted sesame seeds on a platter. Everyone wraps and rolls their own nori sheets. It’s a very fun, interactive, and yummy dinner.
We always talk about the food we eat, and where it comes from. Is it factory-farmed or humanely raised; is it commercially grown with pesticides or organic? In Vietnam, we avoid eating out too often, as many of the meats and vegetables are low quality and we always encourage conversations on this. If our children ask for second servings of meat, we encourage another serving of vegetables and explain why we need to balance our plate with vegetables of different colors and how the different colors have different "powers" (benefits). We talk about eating foods that have no benefits, and how if we get full on nutrient-void foods, we deprive our body of the much-needed energy to stay healthy and strong. We encourage our children to try new things, even just a bite, and most importantly we lead by example. We eat everything we want our children to eat and we don’t eat things we don’t want our children to eat. We ask them to make their own choices, so when dining out, they get to choose a fun drink (juice or smoothie) or dessert. Not both, since it's nice to have a treat but to choose wisely; know that it’s not the last time you will get a treat, so you can make the other choice next time.
Being Pegan means we eat mostly plant-based foods with meat as more of a side dish, about 25% of our plate. I didn’t actually know there was a term for how we ate until a few years after we switched to the Paleo diet. It came naturally for my husband and me to choose more vegetables over meat, however, there are some days I feel like I need to eat that whole steak, or my boys want a little more meat as they are growing. I like to listen to my body and encourage my boys to do the same.
I haven’t found being Pegan challenging, as our diet has become our lifestyle and I don’t feel that I need to consciously restrain myself. I feel that as a family, we are successful in this way as we use the Paleo diet as a frame to work around but we tailor it to our needs, which can change from week to week, making it more realistic. For our children, they do see the restrictions as they compare what their friends get to eat. There are times we allow them to go all out (at parties) and they often regret it when they don’t feel well afterward. My 8-year-old often knows what doesn’t go well with his body and, on his own, declines offers of commercially prepared snacks and treats. Keeping the conversations going with our children, I can see they are developing a good understanding of why we choose this lifestyle and I hope these healthy food choices carry with them into adulthood.
I just made these hot cross bun-inspired Spiced Pancakes. They are grain, dairy, nut, and sugar-free, perfect for school lunch boxes and really simple to make!
My mum's original recipe contained peas in the sauce. You can also add diced carrots or another vegetable to bulk up the meatballs with more veggies if you like.
This Vietnamese Pomelo Salad is light and refreshing and works well as a starter or side to an Asian-inspired meal.
Kim Chi is a traditional Korean side dish, naturally fermented with garlic, chill, chinese cabbage (aka wombok or napa cabbage), and various vegetables. It is full of probiotics and rich in vitamins.
Quinoa is considered a superfood, high in fiber and protein, full of antioxidants, and completely gluten-free. Make the most of its benefits in this healthy salad!