Recipe below Sara's story

A question I'm asked often is what effect did changing to a plant-based have on your health and wellbeing. Well to be honest before I changed to a plant-based diet I was like many, very sceptical and concerned the restrictions of food would be too much for me to stick too as I already had dietary restrictions. I had suffered for years with my health. Having an autoimmune disease meant that I was unable to eat gluten and having a dairy allergy further restricted my diet. I was no stranger to reading packets and found these restrictions tough.


Over the course of a couple of years I went vegetarian and although I felt better, I was still suffering from several health issues. I was eating a plant strong diet but still consuming eggs and processed foods however no meat, dairy, poultry, or fish. I decided at the end of 2015 to try Veganuary in the new year. I thought this would be easy for a month as by this time I had transitioned my diet so much so that the final thing to cut out would be eggs. I think I was lucky that I couldn’t have dairy due to my allergy and after talking to many people this seems to be the food group that most people struggle giving up. At this time, I was still on several forms of medication for various issues including sinus problems, stomach issues and inner ear issues along with problem dry skin on my face which was very painful.

It wasn’t until mid February that I realised the month of Veganuary had passed. I was no longer needing some of the medication I was on in December and that eating vegan had been quite easy. I had not felt restricted in fact quite the opposite, I felt liberated with the choices available. But I was still eating some processed foods. Although I did feel better it wasn’t until later that year when I fine tuned my diet and went Whole foods plant based that I really felt the benefits. When I did this, I found I had more energy, I lost weight, my skin was clear, I no longer needed any of my medication, I was sleeping better, I had more focus and just felt generally healthier physically and mentally.

Being a dietary requirement chef meant that I did have the knowledge to create foods. I started to study plant-based nutrition and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of foods and why I should include them in my diet. By this point I was following a whole foods plant-based diet, cutting out processed foods, oils and refined sugars. I was eating a diet of plant-based whole foods, which includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds in their whole or minimally processed forms and the effect on my health with this fine tuning was, as I mentioned earlier quite astounding. Not only my physical health but my mental health. I was now off all my medication.

Adapting your diet and lifestyle to a plant-based / vegan lifestyle can improve your mental wellbeing, not just because you are standing up for the voiceless animals as fabulous as that is, and that a plant-based diet is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your impact on the planet, reducing your carbon footprint- which has got to feel good, right? But following a plant-based diet can do even more for your mental health. This is down to the nutrients found in plant-based foods. These nutrients naturally work in elevating your mood, reducing stress, and promote a sense of well-being. Because on a plant-based diet your plate tends to be full of more vegetables-meaning more nutrients than a standard meat centred diet. For many adopting this diet it can also mean a new interest in cooking.

Cooking your own food is great for your mental health. The emotional benefits are vast. Firstly, cooking can be a creative outlet allowing you to express yourself in a different medium, whether you are focussing on taste, creative appearance, or both. The foods do not need to be difficult but just creating a simple dish for your family or friends can bring great reward. Seeing someone appreciating and enjoying the food you create can help boost your self-esteem, giving you a sense of self-worth and value. Not only that, following a simple recipe means you get in the zone, focussing on the job in hand, putting aside your worries and troubles giving yourself head space and a break and some time out for you. Start with something simple so not to give yourself stress. Even a basic cake or brownie recipe. But choose foods you like. The rewards are something tasty with physical and mental health benefits but also something tangible as a result of your hard work, giving you a sense of achievement. Let’s face it cooking is self-care at its most basic.

Many doctors and mental health organizations emphasize that proper nutrition is a fundamental part of maintaining brain health. We are all aware of the 5 a day recommended fruit and veg intake, meaning that more plants on your plate equals a healthier plate.

Start small if you feel this transition is a step too far for an overnight change. Not everyone is the same.  Make small changes to your everyday meals. By changing a little at a time your end goal may feel more achievable. You could start with ‘Meat free Monday’ or swap out the dairy in your diet turning to plant-based milks and cheese. These are now available in abundance in supermarkets making this an easy change. If you don’t like almond milk, try soya or oat for example.


You do not have to miss out on any of your favourite foods there are now plenty of plant-based alternatives available which are great when you are transitioning to a plant strong diet. Try new flavours explore new foods. A plant-based diet is not restricting, quite the opposite providing you are willing to try and explore new foods.


However you choose to move forward in putting more plants on your plate, do it at your own pace, don’t put undue pressure on yourself setting yourself up for failure. As this can have a detrimental effect on your mental health. We are all different and that’s something to be celebrated.


Smokey Maple Baked Aubergine with Tahini dressing

Serves 2-4

Aubergines are nutrient rich, high in fibre and low in fat. A versatile vegetable that’s a great choice in stews, salads, dips and even on the BBQ. I love its beautiful flavour and creamy texture, a perfect vegetable to take on the flavours of this tasty marinade.  This dish makes a great lunch served with a green salad or a filling dinner served with roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables.

2 aubergines
Bunch Vine tomatoes about 200g
Torn fresh basil leaves for garnish
Grated lime zest for garnish

1 tbsp tamari-gluten free soy sauce
1 tbsp liquid smoke
1 tbsp maple syrup
1heaped tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
Tahini dressing
2 tbsp tahini
Juice 2 limes (grate rind reserve for garnish)
2-3 tbsp water


- Pre-heat oven 180oc.   In a small bowl mix together all the marinade ingredients.

- Cut your aubergine lengthways. Cross hatch the flesh with a knife without cutting through the skin.

- Place aubergines flesh side down in an oven proof dish and brush with marinade. Cook in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and turn aubergines flesh side up. Spoon or brush the marinade onto the aubergines coating the cut flesh and making sure some goes between the cuts.

- Place in the oven and cook for 25 minutes. Removing from the oven half way through cooking and brush some more marinade onto the aubergines.


- Remove from oven and add your tomatoes to your roasting dish. Brush some more of your marinade onto your aubergine.


- Cook for a further 8-10 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and burst a little.

- Prepare your tahini dressing buy adding it all ingredients together and with a fork or small whisk, mix until combined. Start with 2 tbsp water then add more if needed to get desired consistency.

- Serve with steamed veg or salad and drizzle with dressing garnish with lime zest and torn basil leaves.  Keep dressing in the fridge

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Sara By Nature-Creating food with love for ourselves, each other, and the planet.

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