“Food Poetry“ by Mandana Mir is a beautiful coffee-table book filled with gorgeous photographs of mouth-watering plant-based recipes and inspiring lines of poetry by Rumi, a 13th century poet.
So it is somewhat surprising that Ms. Mir devotes an entire chapter at the beginning of the book to the importance of a healthy gut — as in
entrails, bowels and intestines.
Also surprising is the fact that the fashionable and attractive Ms. Mir is the owner of Mandana Montecito, a boutique in the Upper Village previously known as Giuliana Haute Couture, where she caters to an upscale clientele.
Her educational credentials are impressive. After earning her bachelor’s degree in human biology from the University of Toronto in Canada, Ms. Mir took graduate-level courses in molecular biology and biochemistry at Harvard and Tufts universities in Massachusetts and started teaching college-level science courses at Kaplan International, an English as a Second Language School, to pre-medical students.
She finished her master’s degree in nutrition science at San Jose State University and completed a dietetics internship at StonyBrook Medical School in New York and moved to Santa Barbara in 2012.
Guided by a core belief that nutrition is both a science and an art, Ms. Mir emphasizes an integration of artistic practices to demonstrate how food and health can deliciously coexist.
“My mission is to inspire others to develop self-empowerment through food, meditation and sciences, mainly nutrition education,” she told the News-Press.
“Our gut or gastrointestinal tract (GI), runs from our mouths to our derrière and is one of the major gatekeepers to our immunity and overall health. The GI is home to microbiomes, trillions of microorganisms including both beneficial and harmful bacteria,” Ms. Mir said.
“Research suggests that our microbiome controls so much when it comes to health and well-being. It contributes to the absorption of nutrients, manufacturing of vitamins, essential amino acids and bioactive molecules that support brain function, mood, skin health, immunity, metabolism and even food cravings.”
Recalling the family garden in Tehran, where she was born, Ms. Mir likes to equate the microbiome to a garden.
“When we want a beautiful flower garden, when healthy, it is full of diverse flowers and plants with not many invasive unwanted plants in sight. Similarly, when our gut is healthy, it is full of a diverse range of bacteria that live in symbiosis with our human cells.
“Think of the beneficial bacteria cells as the ‘supporting cells’ for the human cells and think of the food you provide for your gut bacteria (fiber) as the food for the flowers in your garden.
“When we prune the unwanted weeds in the garden, the flowers will have access to enough water and nutrients to thrive. Similarly, If we take care of our GI microbiome and provide the essential nutrients (fiber) for it to thrive, the beneficial bacteria will thrive instead of the harmful ones.”
Ms. Mir added that the latest research suggests that the microbiome can also contribute to food cravings.
“The more fiber-full meals we consume, our microbiome will signal to our brain to consume those types of food and in return, the beneficial bacteria will flourish instead of the harmful ones. So there is a ‘continual gut-brain cycle.’
“The benefits of eating a high-fiber diet also include lower cholesterol levels, lower risk of diabetes and heart health among many other benefits. I personally do not believe in following any strict diet or completely avoiding certain food groups but rather the consistency of following a balanced diet that takes into consideration the needs of each individual. I hope the readers will find the science section approachable and the recipes enjoyable.”
Among the recipes in the book are “Apple/Persimmon Pie for Breakfast,” “Playful Pistachio Hummus,” “Persian Herb Frittata With a Twist” and “Thai Asparagus Soup.”
Ms. Mir told the News-Press she grew up in Tehran, Iran, till the age of 17, and after completing high school, she moved with her family to Toronto in 1999.
“I grew up in a very science-oriented family. My father is a dentist, my mother is a computer engineer and a dental hygienist, and my brothers are a dentist and maxillofacial surgeon. So, growing up, studying, staying active and keeping healthy were very important.
“My mother loved to cook everything from scratch, and we had a beautiful garden with many fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
“I remember my mother would surprise my brothers and me with fresh vegetable and fruit snacks from the garden. My father would always carry medjool dates, walnuts, almonds and pistachios on our ski and hike trips. My parents instilled healthy eating in us from a very young age.”
She decided to study nutrition after migrating to Canada and staying at a dormitory and not eating home-cooked meals.
“My eating habits gradually started to change, and before I realized it, I had the worst case of acne and had gained some weight, too! Every doctor I went to gave me a different antibiotic, and nothing seemed to work. I always felt tired and depressed. I decided to educate myself further, and I successfully healed the root cause, which was my gut (GI) health,” said Ms. Mir, who has owned her boutique since 2018.
“When my business was considered ‘nonessential’ during the pandemic, I decided to use my time wisely and drew on my personal experiences, science background and science teaching experiences to summarize my knowledge in a very approachable manner.
“Over the past four years of owning the boutique, my customers greatly appreciated the healthy recipes and tips I shared with them. I’m really passionate about helping people.
“In ‘Food Poetry,’ I translated science into recipes that could be useful for those interested to take better care of their health,” said Ms. Mir, who is also a model, oil painter, classical pianist and an avid photographer who enjoys taking opera lessons at UCSB and the Music Academy of the West in Montecito.