Cover Linda Shiue, author of Spicebox Kitchen

Tatler Asia talks to Dr Linda Shiue about her approach to eating better and her debut cookbook Spicebox Kitchen, which harnesses her expertise as both a trained chef and a medical practitioner

Chef and doctor are not professions that often go hand in hand. But that’s not to say they shouldn’t. Small dietary changes have immense power to improve people’s health and wellness, yet such changes are rarely prescribed by doctors.

Linda Shiue has had an interest in cooking since she was a child but chose to pursue a career in medicine. Yet it wasn’t until she attended a medical conference called Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives sponsored by Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America, that she began to understand how knowledge of nutrition science could help patients.

Shiue embarked on a diet-based approach to medicine in 2012, and one of the first patients she helped benefitted greatly from simple dietary changes. “This included recipes written on prescriptions for kale chips and banana ‘nice’ cream, a soft serve made from frozen overripe bananas blended up,” says Shiue, whose patient went on to lose weight, lower her cholesterol and blood pressure, and reverse her prediabetes, all without medication. “Most importantly, she felt better. It shows the power of how partnering with a patient to see what they like to eat then suggesting small changes can have a greater impact than the more conventional intervention of writing yet another prescription.”

It wasn’t only the diets of her patients that changed after that conference. Shiue’s life changed too. She enrolled at San Francisco Cooking School, went on to stage at Michelin-starred Moroccan restaurant Mourad in San Francisco and earned a certificate in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University, as well as changing her own eating habits. “After learning more about nutrition, I increased the amount of leafy greens and whole grains in my diet. Currently, I eat a mainly pescatarian diet with tons of vegetables. This has improved my health through all the usual indicators – weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, but more importantly, I feel best eating this way. I still eat occasional meat, eggs and dairy, but they are small parts of my diet. The recipes in Spicebox Kitchen are a genuine reflection of how I eat.”

(Related: 3 Plant-Based Recipes From Chef and Doctor Linda Shiue)

Shiue’s debut cookbook features globally-inspired, vegetable-forward recipes hailing from California, Asia, the Mediterranean and Middle East, and Trinidad. “I chose to focus on these regions because I have a personal connection to them all,” says Shiue, who was born to Taiwanese parents and spent time living in Singapore and Sichuan province in China; calls California home; worked at a Moroccan restaurant; and married a man from Trinidad. “They are also all cuisines that use a lot of spices,” she adds.

Spices are important to Shiue, not only for the flavours and vibrance they add to dishes ensuring that healthy meals still taste great, but also for their nutritional benefits. She rates turmeric for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, “as much as nonsteroidal medications like ibuprofen, especially when paired with freshly ground black pepper.” Other favourites include cumin, which she says is a source of iron and helps with digestion; ginger, which aids digestion and alleviates nausea; and cinnamon, which can lower blood pressure and blood sugar. “These are just a few examples of the power of spices.”

Shiue hopes that more doctors will find ways to counsel their patients on nutrition and how to eat and prepare specific foods. “We need to change the misconception that healthy food and delicious food are mutually exclusive, and the way to do that is to get doctors in the kitchen.”

Shiue is leading the way: through her own medical practice and with Spicebox Kitchen. The cookbook’s diversity of dishes allows people from a variety of cultures to prepare meals that are appealing, practical, healthy and enjoyable. And each one is in line with Shiue’s general dietary advice: “Choose mostly plants, minimise meat and highly processed foods, and eat as wide and as colourful a variety of vegetables and fruits as possible, prepared in a way that you enjoy.”

(Related: 5 Best Foods to Eat for Healthy and Radiant Skin)

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