AN INTERVIEW WITH
BETTINA CAMPOLUCCI BORDI
When at the age of 29 Spanish chef Bettina Campolucci Bordi was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries and endometriosis she dramatically changed her lifestyle – and her diet. She soon felt massive positive effects. Since then, this beautiful rising star has made her name cooking up deliciously healthy meals from plant-based foods (no dairy, no wheat, no meat) that combine big flavours, exotic spices and kaleidoscopic colours: think fragrant curries, buckwheat pancakes with coconut cream and corn pasta with homemade vegetable sauce (you’ll be able to find lots of her recipes here on SPA.Kitchen over the coming month).
We’ve been lucky enough to try Bettina’s food and can honestly say its an entirely different and far superior league to many of the other bigger names out there. Though her magic is starting to spread. Bettina has more than 20,000 followers on Instagram (follow her @bettinas_kitchen): when you spy her photographs you’ll soon see why – it’s addictive viewing, documenting her daily meals as well as her ever-popular colourful socks. No wonder Jamie Oliver has become a fan and made her an ambassador for the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution. He said recently: “This lovely lady is doing proper bright and beautiful things that really celebrate fruit and veg.”
She freelances on retreat, runs pop-up, educational workshops throughout Europe, offers restaurant consultations to other chefs, and last year started to co-run Heart Healing Retreats with spiritual healerMark Bajerski and yoga master Sri Ajan (they happen three times a year and there are only eight spots on each so they see out fast!).
“What I really like to do is to inspire people to eat healthily, go back to basics and reconnect with food again,” says Bettina. Here she tells us why eating the right foods can make all the difference.
How did being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis lead you to plant-based eating?
I stopped taking my contraceptive pill because I was going several months without having a period. I went to the doctor to have a check-up and was diagnosed with both endometriosis and PCOS. I was told that I would most likely never be able to have children. I felt like I’d been hit over the head; it was a total shock, then the last thing I expected to hear. I started researching what I could do about it nutritionally, which led to a drastic change in my lifestyle. At the same time I started running health retreats in Spain where, instead of going down the conventional juicing route, we offered plant-based foods that were also sugar-free, gluten-free and organic where possible.
How did changing your food habits help?
While I was running the retreats I felt amazing – I had so much energy and zing – so implementing the same principles into my home life and cooking seemed like the most natural course to take. The final step – completely cutting out meat from my diet – came two years later after I watched a documentary called ‘Earthlings’ – it’s heavy hitting, powerful stuff. In terms of my PCOS and endometriosis, I found out which foods triggered the inflammation – sugar, red meat, refined carbs; basically all the food your body tells you that you crave – and cut them out. I also took Grapavin, a grape seed extract that contains Vitamin C for added antioxidants, to get my body back on track. I would recommend anyone else struggling to see a qualified nutritionist and look at their diet. Seven months after changing my diet I was pregnant; I now have a daughter, Ayla, currently a gorgeous toddler.
Why do you call your current diet plant-based rather than vegan?
I love and respect the principle but vegan comes with a lot of rules; I am not a fan of rules and labelling. As soon as rules are applied, it incurs a stress and unless you follow them, you feel like you’ve failed. To me, plant-based means that most of what I eat comes from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and pulses. I personally give myself wiggle room on the dairy side of things and very occasionally eat fish. I have cut out meat completely because I think that the meat that is on offer is not ‘healthy’ and I have ethical issues with eating something that has been through suffering. I am extremely gluten intolerant and travel a lot so sometimes I am left with very little choice. I do eat honey – it’s nature’s sweetener.
What advice would you give to someone considering changing to a plant-based diet?
Take it slow with one or two plant-based days a week. So many chefs, such as Jamie Oliver, Anna Jones and Rosie Elliot offer veggie recipes that are simple and amazing.
How do you keep your iron and protein levels high?
I supplement my diet with vitamins and minerals. No matter how much we eat and how healthily, the truth is that the amount of nutrition in our fruit and vegetables has decreased since the 1950’s because we don’t eat locally or seasonally in the same way that we did before. Now, produce is available all year round and imported which means that it could have been picked several weeks before it was ripe. The nutritional value just isn’t the same as eating an apple from your garden or farmer’s market – that’s why it’s important to buy produce as close to home as possible. I also use the trick of food combining (for example, beans or lentils together with grains such as wheat or rice to create amino acids) which builds protein. It has been done for centuries in different cultures and it’s something I teach at my workshops. It’s interesting to know that we only need 0.75 grams of protein X our own weight, which is much less than we think!
Top tricks for cooking?
Preparation! If you set aside some time over the weekend to prepare for your week, it’s so much easier to succeed in eating healthily. Every weekend I soak my pulses, make up some dressings, chop and prepare vegetables, cook rices and quinoa – it’s like a lovely weekend ritual. My other top piece of advice is to experiment. Travelling the world with my parents shaped the way I look at food. It has made me fearless in terms of flavour combinations and fusions. I don’t see rules, only opportunities to try new and different combinations that will inspire. For example – soy sauce used in a salad dressing with sesame seeds, accompanying Mediterranean baked root vegetables.
Why is an organised kitchen important for eating healthily?
Being organised in general makes you feel better and more in control of what you put into your body. Also, an organised kitchen makes you want to cook! In my own kitchen, I try and make everything as visible as possible – it looks a little bit like a laboratory.
Where is your favourite place to shop for ingredients?
Markets. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, you will always find the basics at a market and know that you are buying local and seasonal – both of which are important to me.
What do you typically eat for breakfast?
I LOVE avocado on toast with tomato, olive oil and pink Himalayan salt (which unlike table salt is packed with minerals). That is my all-time favourite. And when it gets chilly, I have porridge hundreds of different ways: quinoa and oats with coconut milk and stewed blueberries for example, or quinoa and buckwheat flakes with almond milk, cacao, orange zest and maple syrup.
What’s your fail-safe, go-to recipe for an easy supper?
My curry, which is such an easy, forgiving recipe. The curry paste is based around fresh ginger, garlic and turmeric (all brilliant for your metabolism) and when I cook it for friends, they are always surprised that something known to be unhealthy can be good for you if you use the right ingredients. It tastes better the next day too and uses up all those sad vegetables in the fridge that you don’t know what to do with.
We know your father-in-law has battled cancer and that your father has terminal prostate cancer. Has having a history of cancer in your family shaped what you eat?
Yes. It has made me very aware of what I put into my body and how much it connects to your mind. there is not much you can do to prevent illnesses other than ensuring that you aren’t a breeding ground for inflammation-based disease. I have also learnt that you have to enjoy the process: there is no point being raw or vegan, for example, if it doesn’t make you feel amazing! There are so many fads out there and we really need to take a step back and start listening to our bodies. If you are not feeling your best then something is not working and needs to change – it is as simple as that.
With regards to cancer, I truly believe what you eat can make a difference. Cancer cells prefer an acidic environment so an alkaline diet can help counteract growth. My father has terminal prostate cancer which is being kept under control with hormonal shots every three months and his diet. From the moment he cut out meat. dairy, caffeine and sugar completely his blood levels were amazing: they changed a gob-smacking amount. Medical science doesn’t yet back up what many of us in ‘alternative’ health know to be true – but hopefully, they’ll catch up soon. A great book to read if you want to know more is Anticancer: A New Way Of Life by David Servan-Schreiber.
Tell us more about your retreats…
I run three Heart Healing Retreats a year in southern Spain with Mark Bajerski, a spiritual healer and yoga master Sri Ajan. I think that you heal through food (I make heartwarming, very clean, plant-based food that’s sugar and gluten-free), you heal spiritually in terms of your heart and mind, and you heal through movement which triggers your emotions. All three are interconnected which is why our concept of combining them works so well. Mark and Sri are two of the best healers I know.
I also freelance on Reclaim Yourself yoga retreats which are challenging and interesting in the sense that they are in remote places like Zanzibar and Iceland where I have to source and figure out the best way to use local ingredients to create a plant-based, sugar-free and gluten-free meals. These retreats are entirely focused on Jivamukti yoga which is pretty hardcore and strenuous, so I need to make sure I combine the right ingredients in my meals so that the guests can perform the yoga well.