As a child, Sonali Ruder would sit in the kitchen of her home and watch her parents fill and fold samosas or prepare chicken biryani—her father tending to the chicken, her mother fussing over the rice. It was a ritual that punctuated their busy schedules as doctors. It’s no surprise then, that Ruder has followed in their footsteps, both as a doctor and as a cook.
At first, Ruder rebelled against the notion. But since she excelled in her math and science classes at Brown University, her path to medicine soon revealed itself. During her residency in emergency medicine in New York, Ruder started to cook as a way to de-stress; tasks such as chopping vegetables, she found, relaxed her.
After finishing her medical training, she took a unique path—enrolling in the Institute of Culinary Education to cultivate her newfound passion. She started a blog, The Foodie Physician, to keep her family and friends up-to-date with the new recipes, techniques, and dishes she was learning.
“I’ve always loved writing, so I think that’s why I ended up cooking because it lets me express my creative side,” she says.
As a board-certified emergency room doctor with Broward Health Coral Springs, Ruder was seeing tragic heart attacks, strokes, kidney failures, and countless other ailments on a daily basis—and it frustrated her. She wanted to use her knowledge of nutrition to prevent these types of medical events, rather than treat them after they’d already wreaked havoc on a patient’s body.
That’s when she evolved The Foodie Physician from a personal blog into a health and wellness website. Now Ruder is able to share her medical and culinary tips for getting and staying healthy with a much larger audience.
These days it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction online—especially with regard to medical claims. But Ruder prides herself on only posting health and nutrition articles she’s written and vetted herself, as well as sharing recipes she’s personally developed. And the accompanying photos that make you ravenous are shot by Peter Fontana, her husband and the other half of The Foodie Physician. (While Ruder’s passion is cooking, her husband’s is photography.)
Fans can also peruse her cookbooks on the site. After Ruder won a handful of cooking contests while in culinary school, Hatherleigh Press approached her with the idea of becoming a cookbook author. Since then she’s penned four titles, including The Greek Yogurt Diet and Natural Baby Food. Her newest entry, The Foodie Physician Cookbook, which was released in December, is a collection of more than 70 of her best recipes—with Ruder’s expert healthy eating tips sprinkled throughout.
“My goal is to give people the confidence and the tools to take control of their health, starting at the kitchen,” she says. “I want to show people that cooking is not hard and it’s not intimating. You can prepare healthy food at home that’s delicious.”
We asked Ruder how readers can get a jump start on eating healthy. Here are her tried-and-true tips for establishing new habits.
Cook your own food. Restaurant food and takeout has a lot of hidden sodium, fat, and sugar. When you cook at home, you know exactly what you’re cooking and what ingredients you’re putting in, and you can control the cooking techniques you’re using.
Cut back on sugar. Most people get an extra 300 calories a day from added sugar, and most of that is from drinks. Replace sugary drinks like sodas and sports drinks with water. I like sodas but I know they’re not good for me, so I drink a lot of sparkling water and add a little bit of juice. It makes me feel like I’m having a fun drink with the fizziness of a soda, but it’s a lot better for you. Avoid buying instant oatmeal and yogurt that already has fruit or candy in it. Just buy plain, then sweeten it yourself at home with berries.
Plan out your meals. A lot of times we make unhealthy choices when we don’t plan ahead. We don’t know what we’re going to eat so we pick up fast food or order takeout. Take 30 minutes on the weekend to plan out your meals for the week. Then make one trip to the grocery store to get all your groceries. It’ll save you time and money, and you’ll eat a lot better.
Make enough for two days. If you know you’re going to be busy or working late, make leftovers work for you.
Use your freezer. In my house, it’s chaos in the morning! We know we’re supposed to eat a healthy breakfast but no one has time. So I make a dozen breakfast burritos and freeze them. Then when I’m short on time, I can heat them up in the microwave and go.
Let the grocery store help you. Buy pre-cut vegetables. I love butternut squash but who wants to peel and cut an entire squash? You can find it pre-cut in the produce or freezer section.
Invest in an air fryer. These mini convection ovens use minimal oil, heat up quickly, and cook your food much faster. I recently did baked sweet potato, which gets a nice crispy skin on the outside and is super moist on the inside.
Save Green, Eat Healthy
Healthier food doesn’t have to mean higher grocery bills. Ruder offers ideas for keeping your food budget on track.
Organic vs. nonorganic. Organic food is going to be more expensive, so pick and choose what you’re going to eat organic. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiles the Dirty Dozen list every year that catalogues the most heavily contaminated fruits and vegetables. Find it at ewg.org/foodnews. Choose to eat organic for the items on the list and go regular for everything else. Even if you’re eating nonorganic, you’re still getting so much benefit from eating fruits and vegetables. And there are plenty of healthy foods that are not expensive, like beans and legumes.
Buy in season. Look for produce that’s in season as it’ll be cheaper.
Shop in the freezer section. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak and they retain their nutritional value, making them a great affordable option.
Buy in bulk. If you buy large family packs of salmon or chicken, portion them out into individual freezer bags, label with a date, and freeze them.
Don’t trash produce. If you have vegetables that are starting to go bad, throw them into a pot and make a vegetable or chicken stock and freeze it.
Keeping it Fresh
Ruder knows it can be a struggle to keep food fresh between shopping and cooking. Try these tips for avoiding food waste and having ingredients at the ready.
Don’t wash. Berries can get moldy if you wash them right when you get home from the grocery store. Just wash them right before eating instead.
Freeze it. You can freeze most things for up to three months. So if you don’t think you’re going to use it within the next few days just stick it in the freezer.
FIFO. The “first in first out” principle may be basic, but sometimes we forget. When you buy a new container of milk don’t stick it in front of the milk that’s already there. Put it behind it so you can use the one that’s going to expire first. This helps prevent spoilage.
Want to get your kids in on the fresh food act? Ruder has ideas for getting them to ditch the nuggets and embrace healthier options.
Get them in the kitchen. When kids cook with you they are so much more likely to eat the food because they’re proud of what they made.
Tackle weird ingredients. If there’s an ingredient they’re not used to, incorporate it into a dish that they’re familiar with. Instead of a piece of salmon, make a salmon burger. Kids love things on sticks, so I do rainbow fruit kebobs. They also love dipping things, so I make homemade chicken strips with three dipping sauces so they can have fun dipping.
Food As Medicine
Which ingredients can target our ills and boost our bodies? Check out Ruder’s thoughts on what to eat and why.
Eat the rainbow. You should eat all the colors because different colored fruits and vegetables are richer in different nutrients. Orange foods, like butternut squash and mango, are high in beta-carotene. Green items, like cruciferous vegetables, are high in phytonutrients that have cancer-fighting properties.
Boost your brain with omega-3 fatty acids. The USDA’s guideline for seafood has been to eat at least two servings per week, but it just released an updated guideline to include babies (6 months and older) because omega-3s play such an important role in brain development. Berries have high levels of polyphenols that also support brain health.
Lower your blood pressure with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Watch your sodium intake, eat lots of fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, and limit saturated fats (found in meat and dairy products) by replacing them with heart-healthy unsaturated fats (from avocados, olive oil, and nuts). Cutting out butter and cooking with olive oil makes a difference.
Get your gut healthy with probiotics and prebiotics. You want to have a healthy balance in your gut microbiome for digestive health because 70 to 80 percent of your immune system lives in your intestines. Probiotics are good bacteria that live in your gut, and prebiotics are the foods that they eat. You can get probiotics through Greek yogurt and fermented foods like miso and kombucha. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria and can be found in items rich in fiber like oatmeal, onion, garlic, and bananas.
Lower inflammation. Eat whole foods, meaning unprocessed foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Also eliminate added sugar.
Let your skin glow with hydration. Drink water and eat fruits and vegetables that also have water, like any type of melon. And don’t forget sunscreen.
Keep your eyes healthy with beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, copper, and zinc. These nutrients can reduce age-related eye decline by 25 percent. Find them in foods like fish, seeds (flax, chia), nuts, legumes, leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, collards), carrots, sweet potatoes, citrus fruits, and eggs.
Greek Feta Shrimp Skillet
Inspired by Ruder’s Grecian honeymoon, this dish reflects the clean and simple flavors of the Aegean.
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots (or 1 small onion), finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 lb. large or extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
Turn the broiler on high. In a large oven-safe skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes (along with the liquid from the can), wine, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes or until sauce is thickened. Add the shrimp to the skillet. Cook for 5-6 minutes until the shrimp turns pink, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese. Place the skillet under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until feta melts and is golden brown in spots. Alternatively, you can cover the skillet with a lid and let the cheese melt. Sprinkle parsley over the dish. Serve with crusty bread on the side for dipping.
Calories: 261 | Carbohydrates: 14 g Protein: 21 g | Fat: 13 g | Saturated Fat: 4 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6 g | Trans Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 162 mg | Sodium: 1470 mg | Potassium: 611 mg Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin A: 750 IU | Vitamin C: 23 mg | Calcium: 252 mg | Iron: 3 mg