Interview by Nell Diamond / Photo Courtesy of Nicole Berrie
We're going green! This week, we've added Emerald Green piping to our most popular collection, Savile. To celebrate all things green, we sat down with Nicole Berrie, founder of Bonberi, a curated editorial website dedicated food and well-being. In collaboration with Clover Grocery, we sipped on Nicole's signature Bonberi smoothie and learned more about her food combining philosophy and lifestyle.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
West Village, right around the corner [from Hill House Home on Bleecker].
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN YOUR CURRENT PLACE?
I’ve lived there for over 10 years.
WHAT’S ONE THING EVERY BEDROOM SHOULD HAVE?
An eye mask.
WHAT’S YOUR BEDTIME ROUTINE?
I usually take an Epsom salt bath. I like brands like Dr. Teal’s—I’m not fancy—I’ll even go to Rite Aid around the corner and get the big bags. As long as it’s simple magnesium sulfate. Then I’ll get into bed and troll my Instagram. If I’m lucky there will be a Real Housewives on and then I’ll watch that and go to sleep. My favorite Real Housewives are Beverly Hills and New York.
I also write a grateful list. I wrote down five things for which I’m grateful, and I learned this from my friend, Gabrielle Bernstein. You write down five things that you’re grateful for, you read them aloud, letting them seep into your consciousness, and then the next morning, you read them aloud again. It reiterates what you’re grateful for, whether you’ve had a good or bad day, it changes the level of you energy. It can call on more abundance in your life!
If you’re watching TV or looking at your Instagram, your energy can be really depleted or all over the place before going to bed. I love my trashy shows and whatnot, but it’s also important to tune in with yourself as well. If I have the time or I’m not too tired, I’ll do a little meditation to calm my energy, which resets my energy before I go to sleep and prepares me for the next day.
In terms of my beauty routine, I only use non-toxic beauty products. I’m really liking my True Botanicals hydrating cleanser, and then I slather myself with Honey Girls Organics—I’ve posted about them, I love them—their products are so natural. It’s like putting food on your face! Your skin is so slick and greasy, but I love it.
WHAT PUTS YOU TO SLEEP RIGHT AWAY?
An Epsom salt bath. I easily use half of a big bag, and because it’s magnesium, it’s extremely relaxing. If I have a massage or acupuncture before—anything to get the circulation going—I immediately fall asleep after my bath.
WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE?
My son! His sleep routine is up and down—he can be sort of an insomniac. He’ll be thinking about this life—he’s two-and-a-half—but he’ll just stay awake in bed thinking about this day…that keeps me up!
WHAT’S THE FIRST THING YOU DO IN THE MORNING?
I read my gratitude list, but the first thing I really do is dry brush. I love Yerba Prima dry brushes. It’s a really coarse bristle brush that stimulates lymphatic drainage and circulation, and that’s really my pick-me-up. It’s like a morning coffee! It gets your energy up and stimulates the energy and circulation in your body. You also want to make sure to work out or shower after you dry brush to release and detox.
RAPID FIRE FAVORITES
Hotel? Cala Saona in Formentera, Spain.
Midnight snack? I don’t midnight snack! Such a boring answer—I’m sorry!
Sound to fall asleep to? Silence.
Best night’s sleep? Usually when I’m on vacation in a beachside place after I’ve been in the ocean all day.
Worst night’s sleep? Usually when my son can’t sleep.
Instagram Live Q&A
This interview has been edited and condensed. Please see our YouTube Channel for the entire interview.
Nell: When did you start Bonberi?
Nicole: I started Bonberi about five years ago with a friend, and then two years later, I re-launched as a food-combining, plant-based blog.
Nell: Have you always had the same approach to nutrition?
Nicole: No! Through my teenage years and early-twenties, I struggled with fad diets that were bombarding us and some eating disorders that inspired me to find my own way of health and nutrition. I got so sick of it all! I would say I started this way of life when I was in my early-twenties—so it’s been about 10 years of me living this life now. But I did not come born this way!
Nell: That’s heartening to know! I first learned about food combining from you. I had never heard of it before, and just like you, I have sort of been back-and-forth on different eating paths, constantly thinking I had discovered the “dream routine,” and then I was saddled with either nausea, or not feeling well, especially during pregnancy. I first heard about food combining through you, and I remember trying to Google it for some research, and it does take some real studying to get it down. Given that, could you give us a brief background on what food combining is and tell us what about the central tenants are?
Nicole: Sure. I always think of as the redheaded stepchild of wellness because…
Nell: [Laughs] Well as a redhead, I will say we are not all the stepchild…but…
Nicole: Meaning that it’s not the most followed diet! It’s really a lifestyle, not a diet. We think about tenants because it’s all meant to aid digestion and detoxification. In the food-combining world, the goal of wellness is movement and anti-accumulation. In any normal diet, things tend to accumulate in our system and overload it, which can result in weight gain, breaking out, stress, and insomnia—all of those things! In food combining, we pair certain things in a certain way, so that our bodies can detox and release those things. It’s also plant based, so we focus on alkaline vegetables, fruits, juices, and smoothies to keep our bodies hydrated and functioning in the best possible way.
Nell: I read a bit on your site about how food combining separates different foods into groups and then pair them. I’m going to name some popular foods and then you can tell me if they follow this idea.
Nell: Avocado toast?
Nicole: Perfect! Avocado is considered a starch, and of course, grains and bread are also starches. If you were going to do avocado toast, I would recommend using sprouted grain toast, like Ezekiel, or sourdough toast.
Nell: I’m obsessed with your ideas about sourdough! As a bread lover, I have no time for whole grain breads. I just don’t want to do it. I can get behind sourdough though.
Nicole: Sourdough is one of the best—if not the best—grain you should be eating. If you have Celiac or a severe allergy to gluten, that’s one thing, but most of us are just intolerant and think we’re allergic to gluten even though we’re not. We’re just allergic to processed starch, which means the breads we don’t react well to are made with baker’s yeast or packaged yeast. Sourdough bread is made with wild yeast, which then rises on its own while fermenting. The sourdough is a probiotic, like sauerkraut or kimchi. Sourdough goes through the same exact fermentation process, so when we eat it, our bodies can digest it properly, keep us fuller, and won’t bloat.
Nell: So are all sourdoughs created equally? What should we be watching out for at the grocery store?
Nicole: Whole grain sourdoughs are better because they sit longer, so if you find a sourdough rye or a whole-wheat sourdough, those are great! Don’t be afraid of the San Francisco sourdough though. That’s also fermented and better than getting a multigrain bread. Remember that! You want to do sourdough over any normal wheat bread.
Nell: And you love She Wolf, correct? I know you’ve posted about them.
Nell: Okay, what about avocado toast with an egg on top?
Nicole: No egg! Egg is a protein, and in the food-combining world, you have starches, proteins, and neutral vegetables. Avocado is considered a starch, egg is considered a protein, and the problem is, we digest starches and proteins and different points in the stomach. That means if we eat avocado and a grain with an egg at the same time, they’re going to collide in our stomach and start to ferment. This can cause bloating, gas, and disease, if we do this over and over again, it’ll stay in our system and won’t release. That’s when we have bigger problems, like weight gain, chronic disease, skin problems, and things like that.
Nell: So if you’re a meat-eater who wants to start following food-combining, what are some tips?
Nicole: You can definitely incorporate food-combining as a meat-eater. Before you eat any kind of meat, just make sure to eat a raw green salad. We always have a raw green salad before any kind of cooked meal—cooked vegetables, protein, or starch. We do this because the raw grains create enzymes, which help break down the heavier foods and help us release them. So for example, if you’re going to have an avocado toast, have a little green salad before to prepare yourself. You’ll find you eliminate more easily!
Nell: Tell me this—I’m breaking all of your rules. I really want a normal cheese pizza, which is combining a protein and a starch, but I’m still remembering you! So I’m going to have a ton of arugula before I dive into my pizza. Is that okay?
Nicole: Yes, absolutely. If you’re going to have a pizza, try to have a salad before. Also, try to save your indulgent meal for the end of the day. Another tenant of food combining is light to heavy.
Nell: Which, by the way, is also true for moisturizers!
Nicole: Yes! So we start the day with either a green juice or green smoothie. We do this because we don’t have to overload our system at the beginning of the day. We want to utilize all of our energy and have our bodies working at its maximum potential. We start with a green smoothie in the morning, a salad at lunch, and then if you want to have a pizza, save it for dinner. And this sort of goes into one of the questions I saw earlier from Instagram, but when we have our heaviest meal for dinner, we won’t be putting another meal on top of that. We then essentially fast during the night. That allows for our bodies to work and break everything down, letting it ultimately release. If we have our heaviest meal, like a pizza, at lunch, and then eat a healthy dinner later at night, that healthy dinner will just sit on top of that heavier meal. Our bodies will take more time to digest everything, and again, create things like fermentation and bloating. The essential principle of food-combining is release—you eat it, and it leaves. This provides us with more energy, more vibrancy, and clearer skin. It leans you out—it does everything! When we get into this cycle, our bodies aren’t constantly trying to digest food.
Nell: Got it. Tell me a bit about the morning. I feel like in every dark corner of the Internet, people tell me I should be drinking lemon water first thing in the morning. So I’m wondering—if I drink lemon water, what about coffee after? How do you go about that? The other thing Clover Grocery has gotten me on is Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C. I tend to be all-or-nothing. Kyle sent me a Clover Grocery Sick Kit recently, and it had things like manuka honey, sumac, and other things as well. I sat at my desk and ingested it all at once! How would you stagger things like that? And how should I stagger my lemon water and coffee?
Nicole: So the whole idea of hot water and lemon: Lemon is an acidic fruit, but it also has an alkaline effect on the body. When we talk about alkalinity and acidity, alkalinity is our life force—it’s all good for us. We strive to be as alkaline as possible. Acidity on the other hand isn’t our life force—in the Bonberi life, we gravitate toward alkalinity. That’s not to say we can’t indulge in acidic things like coffee or alcohol sometimes! We’re always balancing our levels and bodies. For me, I always have my coffee first in the morning. Then, I have my green juice. I just listen to my body—that’s super important to Bonberi. You don’t want to listen to someone else’s rules because you’re eventually going to rebel against them. If you’re craving your coffee, you have it first, and then follow with your lemon water and green juice. And a note about the manuka honey and whatnot—those are all awesome, but it’s just putting things on top of accumulated waste that has been building up in our bodies over the years. In the food-combing life, we strive to remove all of those things, so we can live happily without those extra things. There’s definitely a place for all of those extra things, but until clear our bodies of the old matter, we’re not going to feel like our vibrant selves.
Kyle: Quick question—what’s your take on juices versus something like your smoothies?
Nicole: Honestly, there’s nothing better than juicing. Juicing extracts the life force of a vegetable, so when you’re trying to get that chlorophyll that kale or spinach or romaine has, you can only really get it from juicing. Smoothies are great to keep us full and to have fiber. What I do is start my day with a juice, and then when I get hungrier, I have my smoothie.
Nell: Lighter to heavier!
Nell: What’s your most popular recipe? I feel like I could answer this….
Nicole: My coconut pho! It’s rice noodles with a coconut curry broth and vegetables. People are obsessed with it (Ed. note: We’re obsessed.) I would also say, my Dulse Sea Caesar Dressing, which is vegan and made with Dulse Seaweed as its base. Those are my two.
Nell: I was positively shook when I saw you having jasmine rice all the time because I always thought that was something I was never supposed to have! It brings me such joy that you’re okay with that.
Nicole: White rice is not the enemy! White rice can actually be more easily digested than brown rice. Again, you just have to make sure you’re preparing everything properly. You’re not going to have grilled salmon with your white rice. You’re going to have your salad beforehand. Zucchini noodles are great, but you can definitely use brown rice pasta as well. Carbs are not the enemy. It’s just a matter of how you eat them.
Nell: How can someone who eats cheese start food-combining? We would consider cheese a protein, correct?
Nicole: Yes, but here’s the thing about diary: We digest sheep and goat milk much better than we do cow. The enzymes and molecules in cow milk are so much bigger. If you love cheese and are going to eat cheese, I recommend switching to goat and sheep cheese—usually there are goat and sheep alternatives to any cow cheese. Also, if you’re going to push it further, I would recommend only raw cheeses and no pasteurized cheeses. Pasteurized dairy is essentially dead, and it can be acidic, whereas raw dairy can still retain the enzymes to help digestion.
Nell: What are the top three restaurants in New York that you’d recommend for food combining?
Nicole: I love Le Pain! People tease me about this, but Le Pain is great. They have an arugula salad with quinoa, which is amazing, and then a great vegetable soup. That’s my go-to if I’m not making my own food.
Nell: Do you have to make any changes to your Le Pain order?
Nicole: Actually no! That’s what’s great. You don’t need to do anything. And their everyday vegan soup is perfect. For a little bit of a fancier meal, I really like Sant Ambroeus because you can do a great pasta, like an arrabiata, with brown rice pasta. We’re not doing a sourdough pasta or anything, so I go for the gluten free options, and Sant Ambroeus has an amazing gluten free pasta. They also have a great salad that I have before my pasta, and then I also order all of the sides. I’ll do roasted potatoes, spinach, and their cannellini bean side.
Nell: So that’s a starch and vegetable situation at Sant Ambroeus, right?
Nicole: Yes! People also ask me about sushi all the time. Unfortunately, sushi is a non-food-combining meal. You have fish and rice. If you really love sushi, you can save that as your indulgent meal—have it later in the day and have your salad before the sushi. I’ve gotten really into avocado rolls, and after watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I learned that sushi is not about the fish—it’s about the rice! I love Sushi of Gari, and they make amazing avocado rolls. I’ll get two salads, a red miso soup, and then avocado rolls. It’s incredible.
Nell: Let’s talk about some questions we’ve received from Instagram. Our first one: what’s a sunchoke? I always order it expecting it to be like artichokes, but they’re more like potatoes.
Nicole: It’s a root vegetable, also known as the Jerusalem artichoke. It’s a neutral vegetable that’s actually amazing for detoxing the body because it has this slimy quality that’s similar to chia seeds. They really help you release.
Nell: Another one—does cheese give you bad breams?
Nicole: Cheese itself probably doesn’t give you bad dreams, but if you’re pairing it with something else like bread or a grain, then the cheese will sit in your system, which could give you a rough night’s sleep. Specifically dreams I don’t know though!
Sara: A question from Instagram that just came in—do you two prefer to use creams or oils on your face?
Nell: It depends on the season, but I think both. I read about using lighter to heavier products on a K-Beauty blog, so you start with a cleanser (some people double cleanse), and then add your essence, which is very light, and continue with moisturizers and oils.
Nicole: In regard to skin and food-combining—a lot of our skin issues are a result of eating junk foods that haven’t really left our bodies. And we’ve all been there! We’ve consumed products that are unnatural and haven’t left our bodies. When we do something like a juice cleanse to awaken our bodies, some people may think the juice cleanse is causing them to break out or become tired, when really, it’s the trapped toxins in our bodies having trouble getting out. That’s when dry brushing and exercise—and if you’re open to it, colonics and infrared saunas—come into play. They help us release those built up toxins. As great as creams and superfoods are for us, we fundamentally need to have a clean slate, and then those things can come into play.
Sara: Another Instagrammer is wondering: How long should we go screen free before sleep for optimal rest?
Nell: This is a good one! About 30 minutes. I know this may sound like it’s sound made up to make you feel guilty about being on Instagram, but it’s not! Our production of melatonin is interfered with when we have the blue light of a screen before bedtime. To allow your body to produce optimal levels of melatonin, a natural hormonal relaxant, you want to allow yourself 30 minutes without screens before going to bed. That’s even at the expense of your bedtime. If you know you need to be on your phone until 10:30pm every night, make sure your bedtime is 11pm. Otherwise, you’ll start this self-fulfilling cycle in which you don’t think you’re tired because you’re staring at your screens!
Nicole: I completely agree.
Sara: One interesting question we just received is: Could my food be keeping me up or waking me up during the night?
Nicole: Yes. I’ve talked about having our heaviest meals at the end of the day—even if it’s healthy and properly combined. You should leave yourself two hours to digest before going to bed. No one should be going to be with a really heavy stomach. If you go to bed too full, your body will use energy during the night to digest rather than let your body relax.
Nell: Something else about sleep and waking up because I received some DMs about this—it’s really a mind game. I learned a lot about during sleep training with my son, Henry. One of the first things I learned was that when your child wakes up in the middle of the night, you don’t want to turn on the lights and speak to them in a normal voice. When we wake up in the middle of the night, which is completely normal, we don’t want to turn on the lights and get up either. We should try to stay in bed, stay calm, and take deep breaths.
Sara: Speaking of sleep, what are your thoughts on melatonin?
Nicole: I’m not against it, but in terms of supplements, I recommend magnesium. Magnesium also helps you release, so if you’re not open to something like colonics, magnesium is a great way to boost your elimination. Magnesium is incredibly relaxing. I also really recommend taking a very hot, salty bath before taking magnesium—you’ll go right to sleep! Melatonin is okay every once in a while, and people are also really into CBD oil. I can’t do it at the moment because I’m pregnant!
Nell: I also love using Headspace, which is my favorite meditation app. I wasn’t always a meditation gal, but it’s great.