Melissa Costello: Eating to Create Your Healthiest Body, Mind & Spirit

We continue to hear the benefits of plant-based eating — touted by well-known doctors such as Dr. Oz, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Joel Furhman — but what exactly IS a plant-based diet, and does it require a lot of time for preparation and cooking?

Certified nutritionist and author of “The Karma Chow Ultimate Cookbook: 125+ Plant Based Vegan Recipes for a Fit, Happy & Healthy You,” Melissa Costello joined Elevated Existence Magazine founder, Tammy Mastroberte, on the Living an Elevated Existence Mind, Body & Soul Summit to discuss this topic and more!

“Plant based eating is coming more into the mainstream, and often another term for veganism, but it doesn’t mean your vegan,” Costello said on the call. “It’s just that you are eating more foods that are less processed, so you are eating things that grow in the ground or on a tree — things that are more natural. It’s about eating less animal products and more natural foods like vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruits.”

As the founder of, Costello creates recipes that are easy to follow with ingredients easy to acquire at the local grocery store. Her goal is to make eating healthy easy and accessible for everyone, she said.

“I really want people to know this way of eating can taste good, and be accessible and simple because we are busy today, and people are always on the go,” she explained.  “I wanted people to know they can eat healthy, and it doesn’t have to take five hours to make one dish. It’s really about using things that are accessible at a grocery store.”

As a child, Costello suffered from asthma, migraine headaches, and often found herself sick with viruses and bacterial infections. At 19 she began investigating food as medicine and changing her diet in order to heal her body.

“I had always loved to cook, so I just started experimenting with how could I eat healthier. I started making healthier versions foods that I loved,” she noted. “I also had a major sugar addiction, and most of our health issues are related to that because sugar wrecks our immune system.”

She found when she started moving to a more plant-based diet, her body began to heal itself. Her asthma went away, along with her headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

“Between eating super healthy, exercising and stress management, all of those things went away, which was a miracle and phenomenal, but that is the power of eating clean healthy food,” Costello said.


To get a better idea of how our food has a major effect on our bodies, Costello recommended the film “Forks Over Knives,” created by two heart surgeons who began to investigate the connection between food and illness, and who now recommend plant-based diets to their patients.

“They were tired of doing all these triple bypass surgeries and thought, ‘What can we do to start changing this?’” she explained. “They came up with this plant based idea and started putting people through it. People can heal themselves of hear disease, Type 2 Diabetes and more. When we start changing our diet, our bodies have their own natural internal healing processes. When we put the good clean food in, our bodies will start to heal.”

Substitutions & More
On the live call during the Living an Elevated Existence Summit, Costello shared what she uses for substitutions when it comes to sugar, meat and more. When it comes to sugar, her go-to substitutes include raw, unfiltered honey; grade B maple syrup (which has less sugar then grade A through the processing); brown rice syrup (which is a lower glycemic sweetener); coconut palm sugar and stevia.

And when it comes to artificial sweeteners, Costello would prefer people eat actual sugar then use these alternatives, she explained.

“They are just pure chemicals. They have been proven in animal testing to affect the brain, and they cause tumor growth. They are just horrendous,” she said.

Also, for those who are addicted to sugar and find they crave it, she recommends grabbing and apple or making a cup of tea rather then reaching for the candy bar.

“Take a contrary action, and do something that is different then your norm. That is when you are going to start retraining your brain,” she said.

For meat substitutions, rather then buying what she refers to as “fake meat,” she uses healthier options such as tempeh, which is a soy-based, fermented food that is easy to digest.

“My fake tuna is made with chickpeas, so it’s not a processed meat product, and for tempeh I always use organic, non GMO. It gives you live enzymes.”

To substitute dairy, she uses almond milk, and even makes cheese out of cashew nuts. It’s about making small changes that add up in the long run, said Costello.

“You don’t’ have to say, ‘Tomorrow I’m giving up everything,’ because that will set us up for failure.  Take one small step a week. Make one recipe each week that is vegan and healthy, or do Meatless Mondays,” she said.

Costello is currently working on a new cookbook due out in April 2014.



Balancing the Body After the Holidays

By Christine M. Okezie, CHHC, Natural Foods Chef

If you’re like me and engaged in a few days, or perhaps weeks, of holiday indulgences, such as too many sugar cookies, second helpings and other merriments, you are probably feeling a bit bloated, sluggish and a bit heavier than usual. No worries, we’ve all been there. I want to share with you my top five tips for making balance after the holidays.

First, leave the post-holiday guilt behind and be grateful if you had a chance to share delicious food, drinks and laughter with friends and loved ones. And remember that scolding yourself and stressing out over how bad you’ve been will not help you restore healthful eating habits.

Instead, put the scale away, honor yourself with some self-compassion and embrace today as the day to start to begin to eat as normally as possible. Don’t put yourself on some unrealistic regimen that involves skipping meals, or cutting back significantly on what you would normally eat. This will backfire when you eventually get too hungry and overeat at some point later in the day, especially if you have leftovers tempting you.

So instead of crash dieting, Hollywood detox gimmicks, self-loathing or thinking you have to go to beat up your body at the gym for hours on end, try this step by step approach that will leave you feeling energized and set you on the path to a healthier and happier you in the New Year.

1–Cut Out the Extra Sugar and Refined Carbs – After too many sweets and carb-loaded goodies, your digestion and cravings are really out of balance. Eat more filling proteins (chicken, eggs, fish, beans) and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado). This is the single most effective step you can take to get rid of your bloating, sluggishness and begin feeling more like your pre-holiday self.

2– Load Up on Water – Help your body flush out those toxic excesses and eliminate waste. Drink a tall glass of water upon waking every morning and guzzle lots throughout the day. (Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces. i.e. A 150lb person should drink about 75 oz. of water.)

3– Get Green – Just as important as getting the bad stuff out, we need to get the good back in. Get as many green vegetables on your plate and in your body as possible. Make your blender your new BFF and make smoothies for breakfast or an easy snack or meal. (Try my Delicious Green Smoothie recipe below). Have a fruit and/or vegetable at every meal and try to have one big salad every day. Aim for a variety of produce to ensure that you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you likely ignored over holiday break.

4– Start Moving – Ease back into or start off with a gentle workout regimen. Even If you can’t get to the gym, yoga class etc. try doing a 20-minute combo of stretching, push-ups, jumping jacks or a brisk walk outside. Don’t be tempted to punish yourself in a marathon session. The key to success is finding an enjoyable activity, do a little bit every day and prioritize it in your schedule.

5– Cultivate Gratitude – Traditional cultures have long understood the integral connection between gratitude and health. Modern research now supports that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive effects in helping people cope with stress, and it’s no secret that stress can make us sick and neglect ourselves. So start a Gratitude Practice. Choose a set time of day every day and begin by sitting down with pen and paper or at your computer and start, “I am grateful for …” Focusing on your blessings and what brings you pleasure in life can be the bridge to feelings of self-love and fulfillment.

Here is a great recipe to get you started:

Delicious Green Smoothie
Yield: 1 to 2 servings


3 Kale leaves (include the stalk if using a high power blender like Vitamix. Otherwise remove stalk and just add kale leaves, or use 1 cup of pre-washed baby kale leaves)

2 cups baby spinach

1 medium banana

2 or 3 medium frozen strawberries

½ cup water or unsweetened white grape juice (more or less to desired consistency)


In a blender, add all ingredients and process until smooth.


Christine M. Okezie is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York, and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She founded her company, Your Delicious Balance, where she councils individuals to heal themselves through real food and positive lifestyle choices. Her healing strategies are based on whole foods nutrition, and guides her clients to adopt a plant-centered way of eating that offers anti-inflammatory and detoxifying benefits to the body. For more information or to contact Okezie, visit her Web site at or call (201) 880-5001.