Arsy Vartanian is the founder of the Paleo recipe and lifestyle blog, Rubies and Radishes and she is also the author of the cookbook, The Paleo Slow Cooker, which is a constant source of inspiration for us. In an effort to achieve optimal health and wellness, she discovered the Paleo diet. Arsy started feeling better than ever and was eventually able to recover from health issues that she had struggled with for almost a decade. Arsy is also a home cook, that deeply enjoys spending time in her kitchen creating healthy, grain-free recipes for her family and her blog readers. She resides in a quaint beach town in California with her husband and daughter.
Arsy, what exactly led you to a paleo diet and how long have you been eating this way?
I first learned about the Paleo diet from one of my Crossfit instructors in 2008. I decided that I would give it a try for 30 days. I really wanted to feel healthy and I was curious and open about learning about proper nutrition. I tried the Paleo diet, thinking I would preform better in the gym and lose those last few pounds. Surprisingly, the headaches that I had been struggling with for almost a decade were greatly reduced and I also found that I had a gluten-sensitivity. I have been eating this way since and feeling better than ever!
But even after converting from a vegetarian diet to a paleo one, you were still experiencing some health issues. Do you mind sharing some more details about that?
I would be happy to share! I did feel much better after adapting a Paleo diet. It also made me more in tune with myself and I realized that although my health had improved, I wasn’t feeling my best. I knew I could feel better. That is when I started working with Chris Kresser and learned that I had some underlying issues that needed further treatment, mainly anemia caused by a B12 deficiency and a low performing thyroid.
What did Chris suggest doing differently?
I used to be very focused on the foods that I should avoid, and he taught me that the foods I should be consuming are equally as important. I was focusing on avoiding gluten, grains, legumes and dairy at the time. He taught me about foods that I need to eat regularly – broth, liver, etc. He also is an investigator and he took the time to run the proper blood work, study that blood work and identify my underlying nutrient deficiencies and treat those with the proper dietary changes and supplement additions. This was something that the half dozen medical practitioners I had seen over the years had never taken the time to do.
Do you make all of your own homemade bone broth? And I know Chris is also a big fan of fermented foods. Do you also do some fermenting? Any tips to others trying to keep a steady supply on hand?
I do make my own broth, but I actually have not taken up fermenting yet. I have Jill’s book (Fermented: A Four Season Approach to Paleo Probiotic Foods) and plan to start making my own ferments soon. My advice would be just do it! That first time is intimidating. Most people we know don’t make their own broths and ferments, so it seems very unfamiliar. I was so intimidated when Chris “prescribed” consuming homemade broth daily. I clearly remember, he stressed homemade. I was so nervous. I tried and I was surprised at how easy it was to make. Now, I make a big batch on weekends and consume some during the week and freeze the rest. You will always find a variety of broths in our freezer.
Where did you learn to cook and who were your greatest influences in the kitchen?
I learned to cook by watching my mom and grandma. They cooked everything from scratch, every day when I was growing up. I grew up eating Armenian and Middle Eastern food, which is very herb heavy. Much of it is stews that are simmered low and slow. You will see that in my cooking today, no matter what type of food I cook, I love using lots of fresh herbs.
You have a beautiful baby girl. What’s the most important advice you can offer to paleo-mom’s and paleo-mom’s-to-be?
Most of these moms have nutrition dialed in, which is fantastic! My advice would be when introducing solids, offer the same food many times. My daughter didn’t like sauerkraut or olives at first and now she loves those foods. If the baby doesn’t take to it, non-nonchalantly remove it from the table and try again in a few days. Remember, this is a very new experience for them, so sometimes it might take many tries before they become familiar with a flavor and actually enjoy it. Lastly, don’t praise for eating. We want our kids to grow up eating because they are hungry not because they want to hear “good job”!
I was excited to see you have a new cookbook in the works, The Paleo Foodie, which focuses on “fresh, organic, farm-to-table style cooking with lots of ethnic influence.” (Read more about Arsy’s new book here.) I know that living in Santa Cruz, you have access to lots of farmer’s markets. Do you also grow any of your own food?
This is a great question. I don’t garden much, but I plan to! I think (or hope) that I will have more time this upcoming spring. The past spring was a tough one. I worked full-time, commuted, had an infant and was writing a book. So, there wasn’t much time for gardening. However, I do always have some herbs growing like rosemary and mint. These are easy to maintain and can be great additions to most meals. They are more fragrant fresh and it’s much cheaper to grow them, then by a bundle to just use a sprig! We get most of our produce from a local CSA. We are lucky enough to have an abundance of local organic farms in Santa Cruz. We supplement the rest from a local, organic market and the farmer’s market. We get our beef and chicken from local CSAs too. A friend just told me about a local seafood CSA that we are excited to join!
What’s a typical day (or week) of meals look like and what are some of your favorite foods?
Our meals on a daily basis are pretty basic. We love carnitas, chicken verde and curries. I usually make simple slow cooker versions of these a few times a week. At night we cook up whatever vegetables we have and eat it with our slow cooker meats. The rest of the time, I am usually working on new recipes, so we get to eat something more exciting! And I am not making this up, I promise! My daughter, Indyanna, loves liverwurst, salmon roe and olives right now. She’s also obsessed with fruit with her current favorites being oranges, tangerines and berries.
If you we’re going to eat something non-paleo, what would it be?
I do eat cheese occasionally. I used to not be able to tolerate it well when I first went Paleo, but since my digestion has improved, I can enjoy some high quality cheese on occasion. But, if I was going to completely fantasize, it would be a donut! I would never do it because the headaches for the 4 days after wouldn’t be worth it. But, I do love donuts and miss them when I walk by a donut shop and get a whiff of the smell!
Thank you Arsy!
Not many people can say that they’ve been following a paleo diet and lifestyle since 2008 and probably even less can say that they had the personal guidance of Chris Kresser along the way. Add to that experience the fact that Arsy was lucky enough to learn to cook from scratch from two generations of traditional cooks and her passion for sharing paleo recipes, it’s easy to see why Arsy is so highly regarded in the paleo community. We really appreciate Arsy letting us get to know her better and wish her great success with The Paleo Foodie!