Queen Afua does not believe in “cheat days.”
The famed herbalist, master healer, and author has been eating clean for so long, she has no desire for the traditional treats that most people can’t imagine parting ways with. She does have a not-so-guilty pleasure, though.
“My thing now is eating two or three rice cakes and putting some olive oil on it,” she says over the phone, laughing. “If I ate it late at night I would be clogged up! But it’s so good.”
The way Queen Afua looks at food is not as a provider of pleasure, but rather, as a tool for healing. She learned that as a teenager when dealing with a wide variety of health issues. When she completely changed the way she ate and treated food, her ailments went away. More than 50 years later, she hasn’t looked back. And she knows it all. She knows that garlic helps to fight infection, that cucumber helps the kidneys and with swelling, and that starch clogs you both physically and mentally, even blocking creativity. She also knows that nothing beats the effects of a good green juice or large salad on a regular basis.
“The more green you take in the more courage you have,” she says.
Her breadth of knowledge concerning food and wellness, which can be tapped into through her six books from over the years, and the warm way she shares that information, has garnered Queen Afua quite the following. And not just on Instagram, where she has more than 254,000 followers in her “circle,” but also in her Queen Afua Wellness Institute, and in her celebrity fans and clients. Erykah Badu, FKA Twigs, and Mya all reach out to her for help to improve their holistic practices. The latter star is currently using her platform to encourage a seven-day detox created by Queen that more than 200 women and men are taking part in. The detox offers everything from a food shopping list, meal plan, healing chart, clay for managing pain, and a detox kit, all provided in the hopes of helping others adopt a healthier, more empowering lifestyle.
All that in mind, when the opportunity came to pick her brain to learn her ways and how we can change our relationship with food in 2021, we jumped at it.
“Use this time right now, the new year, to say, ‘I’m going to have a healthier life,’” she says. “I call 2021 the year of holistic transformation.”
Read on for the celebrity herbalist’s advice on how to make that transformation happen in your own life.
MadameNoire: How did you get your start in healing? How long have you been eating clean, what inspired that decision and how did you get to this point?
Queen Afua: I started in about 1969. I was 16, 17 years of age. I was a chronic asthmatic. Chronic PMS. Bed-ridden PMS. I had allergies. I had arthritis. I had headaches. I had a list of things going on that my body was crying for healing. I was invited to go on a healing retreat, a three-day retreat and it was a totally different lifestyle than I was living. I was on the all-American diet. I wasn’t conscious of holistic health and natural healing. But on this retreat there was no meat, there was no junk, there was no dairy. Everything was organic and natural and I walked right into this lifestyle.
I followed what I learned that weekend and the asthma left. It took maybe two 21-day detox cycles and those issues I had they all left. It was plants. A plant-based lifestyle helped me heal myself. That was my beginning.
You got into eating a plant-based diet because of the way it positively impacted your body. What would you say is the key for others to make the change from eating for pleasure and eating your emotions, to eating to live and live well?
Because of the pandemic, people are really looking for an alternative. It’s like a grand, global wakeup. Those who are kind of straddling the fence and thinking about it, they’re pulling out herbs. They’re doing detoxes. I just see such a mass level of shift. It’s like a period of awakening that I’ve never witnessed before. It’s really going into an alternative lifestyle.
I wrote a book called The City of Wellness, and in it, I have a soul food vegan kitchen. Southern soul food, Caribbean soul food, African soul food, Spanish soul food. It follows the taste and the texture and the basic preparation of that food for that particular culture, but an alternative. People want to get well, so you give them an alternative. Instead of having dairy that will cause you congestion and allergies and hay fever and headaches, you can get your calcium in a healthier way that’s plant-based. There’s nut milk, and if that’s too much there’s vegetable juices that are high in calcium. Then there’s sweets. Sugar will deteriorate the bones giving you arthritis, giving you stress, giving you mood swings when if you just have fruit, real fruit out of the earth, you won’t have any of those issues. Show alternatives that can have the same taste and texture. I show people how to live a plant-based lifestyle, and when you do you start to feel better and you don’t have any more womb pain as a woman. You don’t get any more headaches. You don’t find yourself stressing and overeating and getting obese. There’s a holistic way to do it and still have the flavor, the taste, and the texture. People are quite happy with an organic sweet potato pie [laughs]. It has no eggs and no milk in it, but it may have almond milk in it. Everyone’s quite happy when they know there’s a healthy way to eat the same foods they were raised on.
What would you say to people who say healthy food is too expensive?
It’s more expensive to be sick. The medication and the back and forth hospitalization and the bills with that, you can prevent it. And actually, it’s not more expensive. If you say, “I need my protein,” black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, lima beans, and black eyed peas are not more expensive than chicken. It’s actually more cost-effective. A sweet potato as opposed to french fries, that’s not more expensive. French fries are more expensive than getting a baked potato and putting some cinnamon or nutmeg on it. Having a fruit bowl is not any more expensive for your breakfast with berries in it that purifies your bloodstream and cleanses your womb when compared to cereal and pancakes and all of that. It’s actually more cost-effective. You just don’t know how to shop. I have a shopping list to show people how to shop, how to prepare, and how to live a lifestyle where you don’t have to get sick. Getting sick is expensive!
What advice would you offer to people trying to eat better in the new year? The new year is a time when people get inspired to reset. What are small, initial changes people can make that are substantial enough to make a difference?
You can do a three-day detox or a seven-day detox. A shorter detox. And incorporate a few things. Every morning, squeeze two limes in a glass of warm water. In the morning and in the evening. Something so simple, you do that for seven days and that will get rid of snoring, congestion, sinus congestion. That will prevent coughing, which comes from your dairy, white starch products, and late-night eating. Drink that and the mucus will start to come up.
Another thing you might take is a green juice every day. When you have your lunch break, have a vegetable juice. I also like to work specific. So say if your hair is falling out and you’re stressed out, put two celery stalks in the juicer. Say you’re having lower back pain, put a whole cucumber in the juice. Say you have arthritis and aches and pains. Put half of a turnip in your juice and watch your bones return and restore themselves. So everything that you eat and drink really is going to heal you. So start to incorporate healthier choices — and don’t eat late at night. You want to lose a few pounds in the new year, stop eating at six o’clock and liquify. Have your meals during the day, hopefully, you’re having more plant-based meals incorporated. And when six o’clock, seven o’clock comes, just have a cup of tea, herbal tea or have vegetable juice for repairing your cells and tissues and nerves. Or have a fresh fruit juice, maybe some apple or pear juice. Have some lime water, too. You do that for the next seven days, you’re going to wake up with a clearer mind, you’re going to have more energy and you’re going to have more stamina.
Do you ever indulge on things you used to eat? Maybe something a loved one cooks? Do you ever decide to have those treats and if not, what’s the key to the discipline to ignore those desires?
Well if you want to have longevity you can’t play with the back and forth. I look at healing as every single day. I’m healing again today. Before I got on this call I took my healing bath, I did some inversion exercises, I did some yoga, I had my green juice. I look at it as this is how I live. This is how I live and breathe as a lifestyle. So if you’re going to fall off, fall off on healthier foods. If I want something sweet, I can slice some apples and some pears and put some berries on it. Or take those apples and pears and heat em up. That’s how I would do it. What people do is they get healed up enough to get rid of an issue, then they go back to old habits. That’s when the problems will come back again. So it’s a doorway. A portal. Go through. If you fall down or fall off, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Pick yourself up in the next meal.
How do we empower ourselves by the way we eat and care for bodies?
It’s an old quote: We are what we eat. I also know we are what we think. We are what we say. We are what we feel. We are what we see, but we also are what we eat. So everything you put in your system, I want you to make a conscious choice to put in your body temple what’s going to love you and support and nurture you and keep you elevated. Like they say, there’s “junk food.” There’s a reason they call it junk food because that’s how you feel. So what you’re eating can either bring you down and lower your vitality and lower your energy, or bring you up. Better than frying food, maybe steam it. Rather than eating a lot of starch, include more vegetables to clean out the starch. Every day and throughout the day, begin to make healthy choices.
You can learn from and follow Queen Afua on Instagram.