> photos by the talented jalani morgan
Best known for her role as Alli Bhandari on Degrassi and Indira “Indie” Mehta from How to be Indie, I got a chance to chat with the lovely Melinda Shankar about health, cooking, and raw diets!

A: Hi Melinda! It is so great to see you! Hope that you’ve been having a great break you start filming Degrassi Season 12.

M: Yes! Absolutely!

A: Recently, you told me that you started a new “raw” food diet! Raw gets a pretty bad rap, most people think it’s all about eating stocks of celery all day. What made you want to try it out?

M: Yeah I know! But since the New Year, I’ve put my sister and I on this new plan. We’ve always been healthy and active so this is just taking things to the next step for us. We live together now in Toronto and we grew up doing martial arts for most of our lives (16+years for me 18+for Melanie). I started ballet when I was 3, so that combined with karate always lead me to a healthy life style.

Eating healthy at home when I lived with my parents was important to them, my family owns a martial arts school in Ottawa (Where I was born and raised), and for as long as I can remember we’ve always been very health conscious especially since our father has diabetes. Going raw wasn’t hard because my diet previously wasn’t much different. My sister and friends call me a health sergeant because i’m always bringing up health facts or guilting them out of butter or fatty foods. I’ve always heard of this diet and met someone before the new year who lived 100% raw and I loved the facts and things she told me regarding the lifestyle. It was the little push I needed to commit, I was sold on the idea. Basically our new diet consists of any and every fruit and vegetable, lean meats and limited carbs. Sushi is a huge part of our diet which is amazing because it happens to be our favourite food.

A: What kind of foods to you make? Any favourite recipes?

M: Coming from a household where I was spoiled into never having to cook a thing ever, this is a fun way to explore my inner master chef. Luckily the stove/oven usage is limited when raw but necessary when cooking the meat unless it’s prepared like Japanese sashimi (raw fish).

Learning how to cook has made me happier because I know exactly what’s going into my body unlike when eating at restaurants. I’ve even become housewife and I prepare my sister’s breakfasts and lunch so she doesn’t have the urge to cheat. Quinoa -a grain, has been a large part of my diet. That must be boiled but its a rice/heavy carb substitute in meals. The point of the raw diet is that the nutrients in food are killed when heated up and cooked, so we avoid that as much as possible. Salads sound boring but the trick is to switch up the contents, adding new types of fruits/veggies, using different greens as the base, variety of meat, making your own dressings etc.. My favourite recipe is a Mango ginger soup that I make from scratch, it’s amazing if I say so myself 🙂

A: Do you have any favourite cooking sites? blogs?

M: I Google Raw recipes almost every day but Goneraw.com is my favourite site because the variety keeps me loving the diet while getting to whip up fun meal ideas. Most people thing going raw means eating like a bunny but they’re wrong, check it out for yourself on that site!

A: OH! I’ll definitely check out the site. Since starting this diet, do you feel a difference in your health? Do you ever crave anything?

M: Since starting this diet I feel like I have more energy, and i’m more excited to prepare meals since it’s up to me to not be hungry or bored of food. My parent’s laughed when they found out that I was the one in the kitchen preparing our meals and didn’t believe me until my sister vouched for my kitchen skills! Unlike most diets, this one doesn’t limit eating in the slightest.

I think I’m actually eating more than I used to because everything I eat is unprocessed, limited to no preservatives and healthy so moderation isn’t as big of a factor as it would be if ordering from McDonalds. Luckily I don’t have a huge sweet tooth and I genuinely dislike greasy fried things. I do however, have a weakness for red velvet cake. If I ever have a craving, i’ll substitute a slice of cake for a mini Red velvet cupcake to compromise. Cravings can be the death of diets, If I ever really want something, i’ll just have it. It goes back to that rule of the more you restrict something the more you want it. As long as you don’t go overboard with the cravings, you’ll be fine.

A: You are so right. It’s all about balance and about sustainable habits.  Are there any food or health tips you’d like to leave us with?

M: The main food tip I can give is just having the right kind of food/snacks available at all times. I started walking around with pre made snacks in my purse to avoid having to go to the “whatever’s closest” if I want something to eat, unless I find a healthy restaurant or store. The day I do my groceries, I wash and cut up the fruits and veggies right away and put them in containers, make salads, and smoothies so that when I open my fridge I have ready made options so I don’t have the temptation for anything else.

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Thank you so much Melinda! I l0ok forward to a fun dinner party…you’ll cook (haha)! You’ve officially inspired me to start cooking more from scratch and to learn more about the once stigmatized ‘raw’ diet. For more on the talented Melinda Shankar, you can find her on twitter @MelindaShankar and on Degrassi, with new episodes this February, only on MuchMusic!
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