Eat for your body with zoe
by emme martin | photography courtesy of zoe
The secret to living well often starts with what’s on our plate, and as more research emerges, it becomes more evident that the ideal diet can look different for everyone. This approach makes a lot of sense, considering how biologically unique each human is. Unfortunately, many dieting solutions focus on quick fixes with sweeping claims guaranteed to help anyone with enough “discipline.” But, of course, we all know or have heard about how these usually turn out—often not with the results people have hoped to achieve.
Enter the more nuanced health programs, such as ZOE, that offer a more promising solution for creating and maintaining a balanced diet. The integrated program provides personalized testing and results based on the world’s most extensive nutrition science study, giving users a more detailed view of their health than ever before. Results from ZOE’s at-home gut, blood fat, and blood sugar test kits are combined to create a personalized guide to eating for your body.
“The insight from the glucose tracker has taught me so much about how certain sugars can cause my glucose levels to spike and inevitably drop, leading to that mid-day drowsiness,” says Emme Martin, VIE’s assistant editor. “Also, after seeing the real-time effects foods have on my body, I have never been more inspired to eat foods that nourish me rather than bring me down.” Martin started the ZOE process a few weeks prior to this interview and has enjoyed learning about the importance of gut health and food choices on ZOE’s mobile app while awaiting her results from her testing kit.
Emme interviewed ZOE Ambassador and founder of Spice Spice Baby blog and cookbook, Kanchan Koya, PhD, to learn about creating recipes around the right kind of foods and spices. Koya brings her wealth of knowledge in health coaching and integrative nutrition to the ZOE team to help develop recipes based on users’ personalized results. Koya shared her process for meal planning and prepping, adding flavor to any dish, and why eating well doesn’t require discipline: yes, you heard it here first.
VIE: What does “conventional medicine” mean to you?
Kanchan Koya: Conventional medicine has an important place in our society, but its emphasis is primarily on treating people once they’re already sick. I believe it’s as important—if not more important—to focus on diet and lifestyle to reduce the risk of disease to begin with.
VIE: What inspired your passion for cooking? Was it always wellness-focused?
Koya: I am a foodie at heart, so cooking was a very natural interest of mine. I didn’t, however, enjoy the best of health as a child. I had severe gut issues that impacted my overall health and vitality. When I finished my PhD in biomedicine at Harvard Medical School, where I studied DNA repair and the power of plant-based ingredients like curcumin in turmeric to prevent cancer, I became focused on leveraging the power of functional foods for disease prevention and health in my own cooking.
VIE: How did you become affiliated with ZOE?
Koya: There is a ton of nutritional noise out there, often based on poor or no science. ZOE’s emphasis on research and evidence really attracted me. I also love that they focus on the bio-individuality of our reactions to foods so we can tailor our optimal nutrition plan to our unique blood sugar and microbiome-derived responses. To be involved with such a cutting-edge company is truly very exciting!
VIE: What is your process for creating recipes based on the ZOE program?
Koya: The lists of foods that are best for you from the ZOE program can be a powerful guiding tool when designing or tweaking recipes. If I’m making something I love that has an ingredient in it that I don’t respond well to (say, white rice), I can simply swap that ingredient for something like quinoa that my ZOE testing has shown I have a better response to. In this way, I can optimize my food intake to suit my unique biology while still enjoying my favorite foods.
VIE: Does meal prepping look the same for everyone? What’s your advice for finding a rhythm with a busy lifestyle?
Koya: Just like there is no one-size-fits-all solution to nutrition, there is no single best approach to meal prepping. For some people, meal prepping can simply mean having a meal plan and groceries on hand. For others, it can mean making the entire dish in advance and having it ready to reheat and enjoy. And for many, it can involve making a few basics (wild rice, sautéed greens, tofu, a batch of beans) and then mixing and matching to create different combinations that keep things fun and exciting throughout the week.
VIE: What is more important to you when planning a recipe—flavor or nutrients? Is it possible to have it all?
Koya: I absolutely believe you can have flavor and nutrition in a single meal! The biggest myth I encounter is that healthy food must be lackluster or boring. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I focus on nutrient-dense foods and then use herbs, spices, and cooking techniques to make them taste delicious.
VIE: How can certain foods and spices optimize one’s health?
Koya: Foods from nature—vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices—contain powerful molecules also known as phytonutrients that can have beneficial effects on our bodies, not to mention fiber that nourishes our gut microbiome. The list is endless, but some of my favorite examples are cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon that can improve insulin function and balance blood sugar, curcumin in turmeric that regulates inflammation, anthocyanins in blueberries that enhance brain and heart health, and beta-glucan in oatmeal that improves the composition of our gut microbiome.
VIE: The ZOE program encourages trying different foods to help keep a diverse microbiome; how do you recommend branching out from a routine diet?
Koya: Challenge yourself to buy one or two new plant-based foods when you shop for groceries each week. This could be as simple as adding a new food you don’t often eat, like artichokes, fennel, pumpkin seeds, flax, pomegranate, or saffron. Make it exciting and adventurous. Have fun using the new ingredients in your meals and keep building from there. The goal is to add diversity slowly and consistently and enjoy your food along the way.
VIE: Can you give us some examples of easy ways to spice up a bland dish?
Koya: Adding cinnamon and cardamom to oatmeal, ground ginger to banana bread, turmeric to roasted cauliflower, paprika on potatoes, cumin with beets, or saffron with quinoa are some simple yet delicious ideas for spicing up everyday foods.
VIE: With the emergence of cutting-edge programs such as ZOE, do you have hope for a more informed society on personalized eating habits?
Koya: Absolutely! While everyone seems to be looking for a single magic-bullet solution to health and longevity, the research is painting a more nuanced picture. Not even identical twins respond to the same food in the same way! Tools like ZOE will help us learn about our unique biology and our microbial ecosystem and eat in a way that best supports that.
When we fall in love with taking care of ourselves—eating in a way that supports us, moving our bodies from a place of joy, connecting with others to reduce stress—we no longer need “discipline” to stay healthy! Fall in love with the health-enhancing practices that serve you, and being healthy and disease-free becomes effortless, joyful, and delicious!
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Stay tuned for Emme Martin’s full review on her ZOE experience in a future VIE story! To learn more about ZOE or sign up, visit JoinZOE.com or follow @zoe on Instagram. You can follow Kanchan Koya @chiefspicemama or visit her website at SpiceSpiceBaby.com to learn more.