A two-part series discovering the power of Food as Medicine.
Sonia Carr-Steyns, an accomplished Medicinal Chef, found her calling in life after her husband became ill from an autoimmune condition.
Sonia’s 3.5 Hectare plot, which is nestled 500 metres above the Algarve coastline, affords magnificent views over the entire region. Here, her kitchen, which overlooks the breathtaking Odelouca valley, is a working laboratory of mind-bending culinary creations that feed the gut from the ground up.
With nutrients that come directly from the regenerated soil of her land, she mindfully brings all the elements of her knowledge as a chef, together with her passion for using food as medicine, to create a self-sustaining ecosystem of produce. These natural ingredients are used to design delicious and nutritious medicinal dishes that heal the mind, body and soul without any waste.
She says, “the first step to a healthy meal starts with your soil composition”. Her land has been lovingly cared for and nurtured with homemade compost, fed with worm juice, a nutritious liquid formed from farming worms which, when distributed onto the soil, provides beneficial bacteria that eventually find their way into the food that she prepares. Once harvested, her crop is meticulously broken down into medicinal food for her husband, friends and family. The fruits of her labour also go into homemade cosmetics, including shampoo and toothpaste, medicinal cream, as well as fermented food for her dogs and chickens and even household cleaning products.
She states proudly, “I make all my own products, that are all 100% food grade and either organic, wild foraged or grown without pesticides.” Even her skin products can be consumed because “the skin is a membrane and anything that is put on it, will travel into the cells of the body and affect the immune system, so not only should we be concerned and mindful of what we eat, but also be aware of what we put on our skin as well as it affects our health too.”
While interviewing her, she served me up a fermented kamut wrap, where she had sprouted the kamut grains and then milled the flour herself. This was accompanied with fermented spicy beetroot and red peppers, avocado and cheese, served with fermented lime and coriander pesto – which she explains helps to cleanse the blood. This was accompanied by a side salad full of foraged flowers and homemade, fermented mustard dressing.
Sonia became a chef at the age of 18 in Sheffield, England and then had the opportunity to work in Greece for three years as a private chef to a Lord and Lady. After which, she continued to travel the world cheffing, finally owning her own macrobiotic vegan restaurant in Amsterdam, where she met her husband Andre, whose health eventually had a huge influencing factor on her whole approach to food.
She states thoughtfully, “Andre’s sickness changed everything. He suffers from Ulcerative Colitis, when the immune system attacks healthy tissue in the gut. In the 90s, there was so little information and help regarding food. Doctors only offered pharmaceuticals due to them having little or no nutritional training.” Andre was prescribed a course of steroids to calm the inflammation that the condition was causing. “We had regular visits to the hospital to check the side effects of the medication he was using. Andre told me that taking the medication didn’t make him feel like a whole person anymore. He appeared to have severe brain fog and fatigue.”
They sought the help of a kinesiologist and decided to stop all pharmaceuticals and instead begin to try and heal his compromised immune system with herbs and diet. Sonia re-educated herself about everything she knew regarding food. Her extensive research led them to the GAPS diet (the gut and psychology syndrome diet). This is an elimination diet created by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride to treat gut and psychology syndrome, a term she coined in 2004 to describe the connection between the digestive system and brain.
There is a lot of positive feedback about following a plant-based diet and a lot of people have adopted this type of diet to improve their health. Sonia, however, realised that a plant-based solution was not working for his condition because he didn’t have enough enzymes in his body to break down the fibres, so it was causing him more harm than good to eat this way. Starting him on organic chicken bone broth, kefir, and fermented vegetables (which add pre and probiotics to help break down food in the gut) allowed his body to recover without any medication! ”More than 20 years later, my husband is still medication free.”
Her motto is that food should be “Firstly medicinal, secondly, taste good, and thirdly, appealing to the eye.” She believes that everyone can change the way they eat because “habits turn into rituals, and rituals eventually become a lifestyle.”
Sonia hosts workshops and is due to write a book soon.
In the July edition, she will expand on the fermentation process and its benefits for gut health.
Follow @mothersfinestmonchique for recipes and a wealth of health information.