Petronella Ravenshear, of Chelsea Nutrition, is a nutrition expert based in Chelsea, London. Having trained at the Institute for Optimum Health and the Natural Foundation and as a Functional Medicine practitioner, she’s a firm believer in the wisdom of the body and that food and exercise are the only medicine we need.
“The people who’ve been to see me have taught me as much as I have taught them, not only about what works but, more importantly, about what’s doable.”
In her book, The Human Being Diet, you’ll find a blueprint for feasting and fasting your way to feeling, looking and being your best, whether you want to lose weight or not. The problems and the consequences of our modern diet and lifestyle are outlined, and the solution is provided in the programme as well as debunking common health myths.
We caught up with Petronella to find out the inspiration behind the book, what a ‘normal’ day looks like and go-to recipes…
What is your background and how / why did you become a Nutrition Expert?
It was a case of necessity; I came to nutrition out of love and concern for my son. He is now fit and well and is 30 years old, but when he was little he was frequently ill with tonsillitis and sinus problems. He was missing about a week a month of school and was prescribed countless rounds of antibiotics. A growing realisation eventually led me to understand that not only did he not need the antibiotics, but that they were in fact making him more ill and more frequently ill.
I took him to herbalists and homeopaths and acupuncturists, and looking back on it now it astonishes me to think that nutrition was the last thing I thought of; the fact that that what we put into our mouths has a direct effect on how we feel and function had never occurred to me. That realisation changed both our lives, my little son recovered and I found my passion for the healing powers of food and nutrients. When we changed his diet, took him off wheat and dairy and gave him supplements including probiotics, he got better – and in fact he never had another course of antibiotics again.
In another and very different life, before I discovered nutrition, I was a PR and worked for the wonderful Irishman Billie Hamilton in Fleet Street – his accounts included Cartier, Louis Vuitton and the Orient Express. And after that I worked in book publicity before getting married and having my son and eventually finding my vocation in nutrition.
Can you describe a typical day for you?
I’m an early bird these days, I thought I’d be a night owl forever but now I really enjoy getting up early and getting on with my day. The first thing I do is drink ½ litre of water and do a few minutes of skin brushing before my shower. After that I drink a couple of strong black organic coffees (coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, so it’s vital that it’s organic). There are so many toxins and pollutants that we have to contend with and can’t avoid in our environment, that I do what I can to make sure that what we eat and drink is organic.
Mondays are my day with my elderly mother – I shop for her and spend time with her – sometimes we go to galleries and exhibitions, or we stay at home and do her paperwork.
Tuesdays to Fridays I’m in the clinic and my first appointment is at 8am (7.30 in the summer) and I get a huge amount of pleasure and satisfaction from my work. The people who come to see me have frequently almost given up on the idea that they’ll ever feel truly well again or be able to sort out their digestive or skin problems. But when they leave the clinic they have a spring in their step and the hope and optimism that they can change their health for the better by changing what they eat – that’s really what gets me excited about coming to work.
I tend to finish seeing people at about 6pm but there is always emailing and filing to do before I’m free for the evening.
What are your go-to recipes with you have guests over?
At the moment, my absolute favourite dish is slow cooked organic shoulder of lamb with onions, thyme, Brussels sprouts and pureed cauliflower. The perfect Sunday lunch. The lamb needs to be cooked for between 5-6 hours, which sounds laborious but in fact it’s one of those miraculous dishes that you put into the oven and forget about. A few hours later with no effort at all, it’s done. And it’s delicious. Steaming the cauliflower and then blending it with butter, salt and pepper and a little nutmeg is so good and a great alternative to potatoes.
Pudding would be apple crumble, made with Bramley apples (for their incredible flavour and sharpness) almonds and almond or oat flour, with lashings of double cream.
Everything, apart from the lamb, can be made in advance and is totally fool proof so there’s no stress and lots of time to talk to guests while it’s cooking or reheating.
What inspired you to write The Human Being Diet?
I found myself in the lucky position (for me) of having a full list and being unable to take on new clients. But I had worked for many years with the metabolic balance programme and knew that people could follow the programme on their own (even better with a friend) and get the same great results that they would if they came to see me. The testimonials and emails I’ve had have been truly humbling and I’m so glad I wrote it. I had wanted to distil the knowledge and experience I’d gained by working with so many lovely people who had achieved their goals. And I say it in the book, and it really is true, that the people who’ve been to see me have taught me as much about what works and what’s doable, as I have taught them, and I am very grateful to them. Without them there would be no book!
Changing our diet, and eating the kind of whole foods – proteins and vegetables, a little fruit, some nuts and seeds, that we human beings evolved on, is not only simple but it can be quite literally life changing. Not just for weight loss but for helping to resolve chronic skin and digestive problems. Having a period of time without any gluten or dairy before reintroducing them again is often a real eye-opener – so many of us do so much better without these foods. Personally I’m not good with gluten (it makes me feel tired and low) but can get away with a bit of dairy.
What is your kitchen like, what is your favourite part / appliance?
I’ve got a London kitchen, so there’s not much space but it’s still big enough to cook a Christmas lunch for 12 of us – it’s long and thin but I’m lucky to have lots of cupboards. I suppose that, other than the oven and hob, the appliance I use most often, is my Rubbermaid blender – invaluable for soup, and vegetables like pureed cauliflower of course (just not the same when they are simply mashed). It may be old fashioned but it’s stood the test of time and does what I need it to do.
My niece gave me a new take on a pestle and mortar, a spice grinder, for Christmas a couple of years ago. It’s a Tom Dixon one and has a marble bowl with a huge brass ball (they both weigh a ton). It’s invaluable for crushing and grinding herbs and spices like cardamom, cloves and star anise for our post dinner winter tea, and it’s fun to use too.
What is your favourite place for food / drinks / to relax?
I’m very lucky to be married to Riccardo, who owns Riccardo’s, the Tuscan Italian restaurant that has become part of the landscape in Chelsea; it’s celebrating its 25th birthday this May.
Riccardo’s is where we met and it’s where we eat several nights a week. The food is fresh, innovative and delicious and it’s fun to try out new dishes that Antonio the chef has created.
Riccardo was not only the first restaurateur in London to offer gluten free pasta, he also had the first dedicated vegan menu. We are both gluten free but not vegan and Riccardo’s menu is a godsend for people who find that they can enjoy delicious Italian food (including Tiramisu!) again and it’s 100% vegan.
Everyone assumes that the gluten free and vegan options at Riccardo’s are down to my influence. But it’s the other way around – it was his food that attracted me to the restaurant in the first place!
Images: Petronella Ravenshear