Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into nutrition?
Prior to reverting to Islam I was a fashion model and makeup artist, my clients included Bride magazine and Gucci. I have modeled at Pret a Porter Paris and London Fashion Week.
After converting to Islam and assimilating into traditional Muslim culture, I changed the way I dressed to more loose baggy clothes and began putting on weight like many of the other women of my age at the time approaching 40.
I had had a fantasy that at 40 I wanted to be like Angela Basset, in the film “When Stella Got Her Groove Back,” running along the beach at 40 on a pink tracksuit but this was not to be…like too many of my peers I was fat at 40.
I remained fat for a few more years. I worked as a makeup artist on a photo shoot with photographer Shahid Malik who after seeing my old modeling pictures asked “Why did you let yourself go?”. Christmas came and too many mince pies later I was 13 ½ stone, about 85 kilos and I even have the pictures to prove it. Something had to change! I was 5’ 5” and 13 ½ stone!
I had also had a cooking programme on a Sky channel, Islam Channel actually, and from this series I wrote a book called “ Heavenly Bites: The Best Of Muslim Home Cooking ”. Because of my mixed heritage (Anglo Asian African), my publisher Kube felt confident that I would be able to produce something that bridged the cultural exchange that was going on in the Muslim world. Alhamdulillah I am quite well traveled and due to the influence of my Mauritian Nana and English grandma, who were both great cooks, my fascination with food began at a very young age.
We launched the book at “Books For Cooks” in Notting Hill Gate, Portobello and Alhamdulillah the book went on to win the Gourmand Award in Paris in 2013.
I was then at a cross roads “Do I go and re-train to be a chef or do I study to be a nutritionist?”
Alhamdulillah I come from a visionary family maashallah, I had always had a passion for alternative medicine and herbal remedies, my mother is a qualified aromatherapies mashallah. I could see that health and wellbeing were defiantly the way of the future.
A number of Muslim brothers supported my course fees to study clinical nutritional and the rest is on-line history Alhmduliah, I have found my niche. I even gave up studying a Master’s Degree Islamic Studies, a course that I was awarded a scholarship for to pursue my passion for nutrition and Islamic medicine.
What do you love most about your career?
First and foremost it’s the interaction with Allah’s creation. In Ayurvedic traditional medicine, they believe that there is a reward for simple things like picking out beans or planting rice, the physical postures, the interacting with live vegetation and the earth has an exchange of positive energy and as a Muslim it reminds me of the magnificence of God. I haven’t planted any rice lately but I do grow wheat grass and herbs on my balcony in London and make sure I get out of London and visit free range farms that I campaign for. It’s the interaction with Allah’s creation that gives me the buzz!
Secondly I love serving people by helping them with their health. Islamically there is an etiquette of healing; First, we should ask Allah to make the ailment easy for us, next we should use simple remedies like aromatherapy, herbs or a change in diet, and then compound medicine like pharmaceuticals and if all these fail, then we turn to an operation.
I am a strong believer, from personal experience, that changes in diet as well as other alternative therapies like acupuncture, hijaama and massage can heal, slowly but surely by the grace of God. I love it when the consultancy I give people helps their life, health and vibrancy. The change I help them make is a blessing all round. I am managed by Nadine Khan of 1st Witness Management, who does a great job of looking after me and my clients.
We also have a charity called Karimah’s Cuisina, that delivers nutrition activities and regularly feed the homeless and needy in central London .That project is called “Feed the Need, London”. We cook all the food from scratch. Healthy, hot nutritious meat or vegan meals, enabled by the grace of Allah and our generous sponsors Masha’Allah.
As a vegetarian, what advice would you have for someone who is trying to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle?
I have to smile, I’m not vegetarian, we set up the Muslim vegetarian website because we knew the name itself, like “Fitness On Toast” , would be catchy, the irony of the name is in the fact that Muslims we have a reputation of eating too much meat even though we dont.
We promote the traditional way of eating of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). He sometimes didn’t eat meat for 2-3 months and only ate dates water and milk, of course climate, environment, and context have to be taken into consideration when interpreting Hadiths.
The Plant Based Diet is a trend right now, promoted by scholars like Dr Colin T. Campbell, author of The China Study, who is aware of my work. However when you read between the lines of The China Study and another great book called “Healthy At A 100”, you will find that in all the international groups studied, those with healthy longevity all ate a small quantity of meat or fish, and as Muslims most of us need to learn moderation in eating amongst other things.
Raw Food is a trend right now so I did some raw food training for my 50th birthday (Alhamdulillah now I’m fabulous at 50 instead of fat at 40!). I studied with some of the top Raw Chefs in the UK. However unlike the Rastas in sunny Florida and Jamaica where raw Ital cuisine originated, it is harder in colder climates for raw foodies to carry on this trend throughout winter and I see them revert to a cooked vegan/vegetarian diet.
It’s a trend that’s all.
Islamically, we are allowed to eat meat but ideally it should come from an animal that has had a decent life, lived in a field, is slaughtered without prior stunning, and has Allah’s name pronounced on it a point of slaughter. We consciously need to eat much less meat and much more fruit and vegetables; this is what we promote on The Muslim Vegetarian web site with loads of great pictures and recipes. I am working on my next book Insha’Allah which is definitely more plant based as well as Islamic nutrition.
A balanced diet is vital, especially during the month of Ramadan. What would be your advice on adopting a balanced food diet during the month and beyond?
Ramadan with long days need a high protein suhour with veg and fruits, protein gives long sustained energy. So, a smoothie made from soaked cashew nuts, bananas, slippery elm powder and spices, blended with coconut water is great as my clients will testify to OR spiced scrambled eggs, we add dates and garlic to our as well as spices, some cucumbers and bananas on the side with loads of water.
Iftar is water, dates and fruit first, then protein and salad .Today we are going to have orange, carrot and cucumber smoothies, great for the skin, eyes and heart with tricolore Salad, which is mozzarella, avocado and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and apple cider vinegar and alongside an onion and beetroot salad.
My general advice is to have water, fruits, salads, protein, minimal starchy carbs like rice, pasta, bread, minimal fried food and last but not least minimal refined sugar. Sugar in fruits has the same calories as refined but the fibre mineral and other phytonutrients in whole fruits means that there is a completely different reaction going on in the body, the fibre helps the sugar absorb into the body at a slower rate.
Be honest about what you are eating, Islam is a religion of the middle way so I say have cake every now and then or a pakora but not every day and when you do be honest about it, its junk.
I always start my days with water and lemon, then herb tea and I add raw honey when its cooled down otherwise the enzymes in honey would be destroyed, then I have fruit. For lunch I have protein, whether its animal or vegetable and loads of veggies, and dinner can be a light smoothie, soup or salad.
Could you please share two of your favourite iftar recipes?
Healthy food is simply food that is made exciting and tasty by the clever and creative use of herbs, spices and other condiments like honey, vinegar and oils.
Fruits, veggies and protein is the main stay of what we eat at Karimah’s Cuisina during Ramadhan , so I have provide for you a very recent spicy dressing for fruit and salad and classic and complex BBQ marinade that is worth making extra and keeping in the fridge.
Insha’Allah my nutrition tips are beneficial to you and your loved ones (ameen)
Find the delicious iftar recipes Karimah shared with us here!