Want to eat like a supermodel without paying for a chef, cooking, or even setting foot in a grocery store? As a busy, health-conscious mom of two working to get my body back after kids, I was certainly interested.
Last week, I spent some time with Danielle Duboise, co-founder of organic plant-based meal delivery service Sakara, whose cult-like following counts Lily Aldridge and Karolina Kurkova as loyal customers.
Sakara Supermodel Fans Karlie Kloss, Lily Aldridge, and Behati Prinsloo
Duboise shared a lot of thought-provoking facts about “dieting” in our discussion about Sakara. I learned about phytonutrients, the case against animal protein, and that sulfur-laden foods might smell bad but are actually essential to eliminating toxins from your body. What really resonated with me was a big picture message that has helped to re-frame how I think about eating as a whole.
“Food is about getting enough,” Duboise told me. “I spent so many years counting calories, counting points, counting pounds. Now, I focus on what I want to get in my body, in my diet, rather than what I need to take out.”
Duboise said she was inspired to start Sakara after her obsession with calorie counting landed her in the hospital. Her co-founder, Whitney Tingle, struggled herself with cystic acne juggling Wall Street hours and eating and drinking late nights at restaurants with clients.
The Sakara story is nothing short of impressive – two women of humble means from Sedona, Arizona, who started out in 2012 delivering healthy, organic meals to friends across New York City on their bikes. Six years later, they’re an 80-person team delivering to all 48 states across the continental U.S., committed to changing their customers’ relationship with food along with their own.
Sakara Founders Whitney Tingle and Danielle Duboise with Sakara supporters Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah, and Diane von Furstenberg
The women behind Sakara stress that their plan is a lifestyle, not a diet. What they mean by that (and I’m paraphrasing here) is that it’s inclusive, not restrictive, and doesn't have to be absolute. They recommend utilizing Sakara’s meal plan to establish a “baseline” of health, giving your body that equilibrium so that when it tells you it’s hungry for a little something sweet, it isn’t just the overgrowth of yeast or bacteria talking.
“We’ve never labeled ourselves as vegan,” Duboise says. “We’ve never created a forbidden food list. Nothing is off-limits, so long as you’ve created a foundation to let your body accurately crave what it needs for optimal function.”
Yes, that means they allow dark chocolate. And fruit. And other complex carbohydrates. The key is to make nutrient-dense choices, even when “indulging.”
“Restricting calories is a stressor,” Duboise says. “When your body is stressed and believes it is starving, it wants to hold onto fat.”
Okay, so how does the meal plan work? Basically, you sign up for 3 to 5 days of delivery a week. Each day includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Cost is about $250/week with delivery right to your door within 48 hours of the food being cooked and prepped. Sakara also offers add-ons, like detoxifying teas, energy bars, snacks like watermelon jerky and kale chips, as well as skincare essentials. You can skip a week or cancel at any time with no commitments – except those you make to yourself, of course.
What’s the food like? A few minutes perusing the “next week’s menu” on their website, and I had to find out. A typical day: Golden Lassi Parfait (turmeric-infused coconut yogurt with mango and bee pollen – literally one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted), Mung Bean Pasta Salad (with arugula and hemp-seed pesto – surprisingly hearty and savory), and Revitalizing Risotto (quinoa risotto, with cashew-butter squash, ginseng, and balsamic tomatoes - wow). Did I mention everything is gluten and dairy-free?
My biggest reservation was whether or not I’d miss meat. I’m a huge meat eater - everything is better with bacon, right? But I honestly didn’t miss it and felt healthier for cutting it out. My second concern was whether I’d feel full enough without animal protein. That was another pleasant surprise – I went to bed at night without my usual cravings for that little something sweet. I felt completely satisfied. Fun fact: 97% of America gets more than enough protein, according to Sakara. And with their meal plans, you’re actually getting 40% more than the daily requirement of 42 grams.
The best thing about Sakara is that they’ve thought of everything. Who has the time to ensure they’re getting the proper amount of fats, protein, vitamins, and other essential nutrients they need every day? I don’t even have time to drink water.
Speaking of water, I learned I should be “eating” it. Getting water from your food, rather than drinking it, actually helps to increase hydration, according to Sakara’s nutrition experts. Your body absorbs the water you eat in foods more slowly than the water you drink, so you’re hydrated for longer if you, say, eat 3 oz of cucumber (which is 96% water) rather than drinking 3 oz of water. Other examples of foods with high water content include romaine lettuce, cauliflower, bell peppers, celery, melons, and fresh berries.
I also learned that in addition to providing calories and nutrients, food may have medicinal properties. According to Dr. Mark Hyman (medical director of the Cleveland Clinic and doctor to the Clintons!), food contains phytonutrients, which are not calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, or vitamins and minerals, but instead special molecules that interact with your biology to switch on or off pieces of your DNA leading to health or to disease. Same DNA, different outcomes based on the foods you choose.
Perhaps the reason I was most excited to chat with Duboise - she’s pregnant (and looking amazing). Any meal plan that can make a woman look that glowing at eight months pregnant has to be worth the money, right? Duboise says she’s been following her Sakara meal plans closely for most of her pregnancy, and has been supplementing with healthy fats and extra water.
Duboise recently rocking our newest arrival from Enza Costa. SHOP THE LOOK
“In addition to Sakara meals, I’ve been adding high fat coconut oil, avocados, and upping my water intake,” she said. Postpartum, she expects to be drinking even more. Nursing moms need an extra 20-32oz of water a day, she said.
Duboise said she struggled in her first trimester with nausea and deviated a bit from the Sakara repertoire with bagels and crackers – the only things she was able to keep down. She says a big part of the Sakara “lifestyle” is to remember the bigger picture.
“Remember that guilt is more toxic than any french fry or chocolate could ever be,” she said. “Be gentle on yourself during times of monumental change [like pregnancy] and surrender to your body’s needs.”
Duboise said Sakara’s add-on products like Life Source nutrition powder ($45 for ten smoothies) and energy bars ($29 for six bars) are a great option for those who want to try out Sakara without committing to a meal plan. They’re also great supplements for those who need a little extra.
Free tips from the founder herself? I’ve got two.
For a nutrient-packed smoothie you can eat every day and never get sick of, blend half a banana, half a cup of almond milk (or non-dairy milk of your choice), 1 handful of spinach, 1 tbsp healthy fat like nut butter or coconut butter, 1 packet of Sakara Life Source powder, and 3-4 ice cubes and you’re done. Full recipe here. Pro tip: add a few mint sprigs or cocoa nibs for a little extra sweetness.
And the ultimate diet hack?
“Make sure you’re eating 6-8 cups of greens every day,” Duboise said. “That alone will change your life, mama-to-be or not.”
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