HEROES Spotlight: Alison MarrasDec. 14, 2017
Alison is a New York based certified Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach, blogger, and health-food chef. Her blog, Food By Mars, is filled with recipes that are original, healthy and delicious. After experiencing sensitivities to certain types of food on her own, she began to see food as medicine and found great benefits to the Paleo way of eating. We loved learning about how she comes up with these incredible recipes and how to analyze your own eating habits to feel your best.
Where were you born and raised?
Brooklyn, NY. By age 9 we moved to the suburbs in New Jersey.
When did you first get started cooking and when did you first start seeing food as medicine?
I first started cooking as a kid. My parents always worked and as the eldest, it was my responsibility to start dinner! I had to be around 12 when I started getting comfortable with cooking. I always felt eating healthy was important, my Grandfather would often talk about what herbs, spices or types of foods were healthy and for what purpose - he was big on reading about that. But I, like most people, grew to follow whatever health trends were out there and whatever was the latest diet-craze, not understanding the science behind any of it. I always tried to eat well when I could. By the time I was in my early-mid 20’s and on my own, I started noticing some sensitivities and issues with certain foods. I started looking more into food as medicine and began my blog around that same time to both express my love for cooking and healthy food.
What type of recipes do you focus on? Do they adhere to a particular diet like Paleo, Ketogenic, Vegan, and why?
I’m mainly Paleo and focus on what’s called, “Ancestral Eating”. I’ve found that this is how I feel my best and after being diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disease and dealing with a lot of symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, digestive issues, skin and hair issues, etc. -- the Paleo diet has proven to be very healing. After going back to school for my Health Coach & Nutritional Therapist certifications, I’ve gotten to learn more at a cellular level on how foods really affect us, having that knowledge has changed the game on following popular diets… it’s given me the tools to make the decisions on what to eat, when to eat it and why… regardless of diet.
Are all the recipes on your blog your own? Where do you find your inspiration?
Yes! Sometimes they’re adapted which I usually mention. I find inspiration from all over, many times it’s just something I’m craving or really miss eating that I need to Paleo-fy in order to eat. Most recently, I saw my husband eating a Greek Lasagna called “Pastitsio” that I missed after years of not eating dairy or gluten, so I made it “Paleo”! Other times, it’s from restaurants or traveling and also from my fellow food bloggers - I’m part of a fabulous and creative community that always keeps me inspired.
If you could give people three foods or ingredients to avoid, what would they be and why?
Generally speaking, everyone is unique - and I love teaching my clients and readers how to listen to their bodies to figure out what’s working for them or not. That being said, there are foods out there that anyone could benefit from eliminating.
- SUGAR - Sugar is not just the sweets you eat, it’s snuck into many processed foods in some shape or another. It’s the reason most people in this country have blood sugar imbalances, and why Diabetes type 2 is on the rise. Sugar feeds cancer and bad bacterias/yeasts in our digestive systems and in large amounts (which is usually how it’s consumed) can be toxic. We were simply not meant to eat as much sugar as we do in a sedentary lifestyle that we now lead, and our bodies are crying out in the form of disease, and overall sub-par living (like always tired, need to run on coffee, need to snack, etc.).
- Processed Foods - Fake, de-natured foods that come in boxes and bags are often devoid of any nutrients and nutrients are WHY we eat. Our bodies are depending on specific vitamins and minerals we can only get from foods that our bodies cannot make. The less whole vegetables, fruits and naturally-raised animal proteins we consume and more boxed, microwaved, processed “food” we consume… the greater the degeneration our bodies will experience. The unrecognizable ingredients are not only nutrient-less, but they’re actually stripping our bodies of the nutrients we do have. Doing a challenge like Whole 30 is a great way to see how much you might actually depend on processed foods and how great of a need it is to greatly reduce it from your life. Everyone should experience how their body can function with much less of these in our lives and the ones we do use should have as much whole/real, simple ingredients as possible.
- Unhealthy, Hydrogenated Fats & Oils - Many of us grew up in the “low-fat” era where margarine was a “healthy” alternative to butter and oil. Canola oil and vegetables oils were pushed on us as a “heart-healthy” cooking oil. This notion has been completely disproven and no one should be consuming this stuff. Healthy fats are CRUCIAL to our body’s ability to regenerate, to create hormones, to heal and so much more. When we use healthy fats properly, we are giving our bodies what it needs. By using the alternatives, we are denying our body of what it depends on and giving it a dangerous substance. The oils I use are: Virgin Coconut Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Grass-fed Ghee (lactose-free butter from cooking butter down), and Lard (yes, lard - duck fat, tallow, etc.). Raw Sprouted Nuts, Seeds, and nut/seed butters are also a great source of fat as well as avocados and coconuts. If that sounds insane to you, please do read “The Big Fat Lie” for more information.
If you could get people psyched on one food or ingredient what would that be and why?
Ooh that’s a tough one! I love to switch up ingredients constantly. Perhaps coconut because it has so many uses - the milk as a dairy milk alternative, the oil as a high heat cooking oil (since it’s saturated and will not oxidize in high temps.), the meat that creates coconut cream (great for whipping with vanilla on top of fruit!), the water for it’s electrolytes. Coconut has many healing benefits and is definitely a staple in my kitchen in many forms.
If people are having health issues how do they begin to understand if their diet is to blame? Where should people start in terms of diet to begin figuring out what their sensitivities are?
Food Journal, food journal, food journal!! This is the first step anyone can take. Besides recording what you eat and when, you MUST record how each meal makes you feel. After you analyze and look back at your week or even just 3 days, you can learn a lot. For example, let’s say you start each day with a sugar-packed smoothie and see that you get a headache before lunch, you could experiment with eggs and greens for a few days as your breakfast and see what that does instead.
How do the ingredients we use and consume affect the environment?
I could go on and on about that, but to keep it short, I’ll say that many of the processed foods for example are obviously a strain to our environment in the form of factories, etc. The poor farming practices that have been widely accepted and even forced on many farmers by using harsh chemicals in the form of pesticides and GMOs is wreaking havoc on our soil (which is depleted of nutrients) and the health and well-being of the livestock that we then consume and in turn hurts our digestive systems leading to a cascade of health issues. Our water is toxic and needs to be heavily filtered and often times needs minerals added back in because we’ve gotten so far from natural spring water that collects minerals naturally. We drink out of plastic that is a massive endocrine disruptor (hormone imbalance issues) and then sadly do not or cannot recycle this plastic so it just sits. We are only as healthy as our environment.
Can trying to eat more sustainably-sourced foods additionally have a positive impact on our health?
Absolutely. Firstly, from a socially responsible aspect, you can feel much better about the food you are putting in your mouth. I’d rather support farmers and companies that are trying to make a difference in this world and treat animals and their customers with respect than eat factory farmed, fake and toxic ingredients that not only hurts me but the environment. Eating as close to natural, organic, and how our ancestors ate is how our bodies are meant to thrive.
Are there any other resources (websites, publications, books) people should know about if they want to research the effects of food on their health?
A great resource is the Weston A. Price Foundation. Dr. Price was a dentist who studied indigenous communities who hadn’t been exposed to modern food (processed) and were living and eating off their own land. He observed they were MUCH healthier than the rest of us and compiled his findings from numerous tribes around the world. All the commonalities of these tribes are the basis for Ancestral Eating. It focuses on nutrient-dense, properly prepared food (even including dairy and grains when prepared properly!).
Where can people find you, follow you, and get in touch?
And sign up for my newsletter for a free recipe e-book and to get my weekly recipes at foodbymars.com!