Amie Valpone put on 40 pounds over the course of five days. The 22-year-old’s small 5-foot-2 frame was suddenly retaining buckets of water in her legs for no clear reason. The bubbly blonde had also lost her trademark pep, and her immune system seemed to have shut down. In the emergency room, she discovered that her white blood cell count had dropped critically low. Doctors speculated she might have leukemia, but when she tested negative, they were at a loss.
For the next seven years, Valpone would receive a long list of other false diagnoses and incorrect medical treatments that seem to make her mysterious condition worse. Along the way, she was called many names (from hypochondriac to anorexic to bulimic), quit her corporate job, went on disability, turned her small Manhattan apartment into a makeshift medical center, and contracted a near-fatal bacterial infection called C. difficile colitis during one of her many hospital visits. At age 28, Valpone was given 24 hours to live.
“After surviving C. difficile colitis, I decided I was done with Western medicine. It kept making me so sick,” says Valpone, who was already in the process of getting her integrative nutrition degree at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which, at the time, was affiliated with Columbia University. That’s when she decided to open up to her readers on TheHealthyApple.com—then her year-old recipe blog—about her health struggles and was surprised by the outpour of confessions from those who faced similar issues.
With the support of this newfound community, Valpone became more determined to heal herself. She read as many medical books as possible, completed her nutrition degree, spent hours in the kitchen inventing recipes she could stomach, and began working with forward-thinking doctors in functional medicine. The right diagnoses started to come together piecemeal. By age 29, she could confirm that she had the following: Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome, adrenal fatigue, leaky gut, candida, mold and heavy metal toxicity, fibromyalgia and Epstein-Barr virus. Today, at age 33, Valpone has a clean bill of health.
“My blood work is perfect,” says Valpone, who shares more than 200 recipes that helped her get healthy in her book Eating Clean: The 21- Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body. “You have to take charge of your own health. No one is going to cure you. You need to find the right team of doctors and do the work,” she says. You don’t need to have any health issues to benefit from this book. If you’re looking to clean up your diet, these four recipes are a good (and tasty) start.
1. Golden Bell Pepper Soup
When I contracted C. difficile colitis, I could barely digest anything. This recipe helped keep me alive the year that I lived eating out of a blender and food processor because I couldn’t consume whole foods. I was in love with the creaminess of sweet potatoes and enjoyed pureeing them in a food processor for a snack. Soon I realized I could add vegetable broth and red, orange, or yellow bell peppers to create a naturally sweet soup that was full of antioxidants and fiber.
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ small onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 yellow, red and/or orange bell peppers, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh marjoram
1 recipe gluten-free herbed croutons, for garnish
Sliced avocado, for garnish (optional)
Finely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Sriracha sauce, for garnish (optional)
1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat.
2. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes.
3. Add the bell peppers and cook until soft, about 6 minutes.
4. Add the sweet potatoes and broth. Season with salt and black pepper, cover the pot, and bring to a boil.
5. Lower the heat and add the marjoram. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
6. Let the soup cool slightly, and then, in batches, transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. If needed, thin the soup with water.
7. Adjust the seasoning with salt and black pepper if necessary. Return the soup to the pot to keep warm until serving. Serve garnished with the herbed croutons and, if desired, the avocado and cilantro on top and Sriracha sauce on the side.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2. Sunrise Nori Wraps with Spicy Tahini Drizzle
When I had no energy to cook, I ate a lot of simple dips and spreads made from nuts and seeds, which you will see throughout my book. When tahini entered my life, I fell in love with the savory and creamy consistency that could be added to any dip, spread, salad, dessert and, in this case, wraps. This easy recipe is full of healthy fats and other nutrients, like protein and calcium found in tahini, which is made from sesame seeds. Also, for many years, I couldn’t digest heavy foods. This dish got me back to eating raw vegetables after way too long not being able to digest them.
4 nori seaweed sheets
¼ small head red cabbage, very thinly sliced (use a food processor, if possible)
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small yellow summer squash, julienned
1 small cucumber, julienned
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
Spicy Tahini Drizzle
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ¼ tablespoons chickpea miso paste
1 tablespoon raw tahini
2 medjool dates, pitted
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Water, as needed to thin the drizzle
1. Place the nori sheets on a flat surface.
2. Divide the cabbage, carrot, squash, cucumber, and avocado among the sheets.
3. To make the tahini, combine all of the ingredients except the water in a blender. Blend, adding water 1 teaspoon at a time as you go until the mixture becomes a thin sauce.
4. Top each pile of vegetables with a heaping tablespoon of the Spicy Tahini Drizzle, then roll up the nori sheets into a tube shape.
Makes 4 servings
3. Basil and Mint Squash Noodles
I love making this one for my clients to help get them off inflammatory white pasta. It’s also a great introduction to the joy of simplistic flavor. Mint and basil really helped me cut sugar from my life. I used to be addicted to flavored drinks and thought that I couldn’t live without them. Now I’ve trained my taste buds to love lemon and water with fresh herbs. Once you start to identify chemicals and sugars in certain foods and detox them from your life, you can begin to train our palate to really taste and savor the flavors of real food. I added chopped raw walnuts for an extra anti-inflammatory boost and to bulk up this recipe to take it from a side to a main dish.
3 large yellow summer squash, cut into thin strands with a vegetable peeler or spiral slicer (spiralizer) or julienned
1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh mint
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, toss to coat, and serve.
Makes 2 servings
4. Magical Peach Arugula Salad
Experimenting in my kitchen with fruits and vegetables makes my heart sing. I can whip up a salad and an amazing dressing in under 10 minutes—and I often do. For this dish, I wanted to create a beautiful lunch or summer side salad that serves a big group. I also wanted to show people that you can entertain guests while eating healthy, anti-inflammatory, whole foods that are nourishing.
10 cups arugula
5 medium ripe peaches, pitted and diced
2 yellow or orange bell peppers, diced
1/3 cup finely chopped raw walnuts
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large bowl, combine the arugula, peaches, bell peppers, and walnuts.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and pepper.
3. Drizzle the dressing over the arugula mixture, toss, and serve.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Learn more about Valpone’s favorite foods at eatclean.nowfoods.com.
Photos by Lauren Volo