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The story behind Iida Van der Byl-Knoefel's recipe book: A Kitchen Fairytale

PUBLISHED: 10:50 17 September 2019 | UPDATED: 10:50 17 September 2019

Iida lives in the Surrey Hills (Andy Newbold Photography)

Iida lives in the Surrey Hills (Andy Newbold Photography)

Andy Newbold Photography

Struck by a rare health condition, Iida van der Byl‑Knoefel made extreme changes to her diet and discovered a passion for plant-based eating that led to her writing her own book of delicious recipes

Some food trends can be seen as 'faddy' or 'fleeting', but when Iida van der Byl-Knoefel radically changed her diet for health reasons, she was determined to find a new way of eating that would be sustainable forever. "I was out running one day and I noticed that the back of my left knee felt swollen," explains Iida. "My doctor told me to rest it, but it got worse and despite seeing a range of osteopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists and physiotherapists, no one could relieve it, and it wasn't getting any better."

There followed a downward spiral where Iida's knee became so swollen she couldn't bend it or stand for more than two minutes. After months of pain, Iida was finally referred to a rheumatologist, who diagnosed her with a form of inflammatory arthritis, similar to rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The prescribed medication had such a devastating effect on Iida's health - resulting in an extreme allergic reaction - that she vowed there and then to get well on her own.

Although Iida's diet had always been reasonably healthy, she set about researching whether there could be a link between the food she was eating and the effects on her body. "Almost all the evidence I found mentioned the positive link between diet change and better health. I started to wonder whether all auto-immune diseases are an expression of how we're eating and living," explains Iida. "And basically, if we don't give illnesses a chance to thrive, maybe they won't."

Iida began by eliminating dairy, gluten and sugar, and increasing known anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as garlic, turmeric and ginger. Around the same time she began practicing some simple yoga techniques. The results were almost instant - and astonishing. Less than a month later Iida was practically pain-free and her rheumatologist confirmed she was 'back to normal' and decided not to prescribe any more medication.

Enthused by the results, but with a suspicion she could feel even better, Iida set out on a mission to beat the disease for life, and avoid any persistent inflammation. It was then that she discovered The Paddison Program, known for its effective methods for reversing the symptoms of RA. The fundamental switch for Iida was converting to a wholly plant-based diet, with no oils.

Within weeks, Iida saw her energy levels rise, she was sleeping better and underlying niggles - such as IBS had cleared up. Motivated by a new love of plant-based eating, Iida began to research recipe ideas and found herself inventing new dishes to cook for friends and family. It made sense to start compiling these delicious creations into a book. "I love food and I've always been a keen cook," admits Iida. "I was getting such great feedback on the meals I was cooking for the people around me that I decided I wanted to share them."

Born and raised in Sweden, but now settled in the Surrey Hills, Iida lives with her South African-born husband and their young son. In fact, Iida was pregnant while writing the book - and she's raising her little boy on a fully plant-based diet. It's no wonder the book pays homage to Iida's Scandinavian roots in places. "I remade a lot of the dishes I grew up with - finding new ways to create them," explains Iida. For example, Kaalilaatikko, a dish she describes as a "Finnish cabbage delight".

It's also full of more familiar, crowd-pleasing dishes - from everyday, comforting stews to treats for special occasions. Iida raves about her version of chocolate brownies, 'Sunshiny' breakfast pancakes, and a killer 'creamy' pasta sauce, made with cashew nuts. "Some of the recipes are super basic and humble, and others require a bit more effort," admits Iida. "When people look at the book, I want them to be inspired to try this way of eating - and feel super-hungry!"

Iida hopes to help others with her book of recipes (Andy Newbold Photography)Iida hopes to help others with her book of recipes (Andy Newbold Photography)

It's a testament to the deliciousness of the recipes that many of Iida's friends and family, such as the great group of mum friends she's made since having her baby, readily adapt to this style of food whenever Iida is around - and even when she's not. But, Iida is very keen to stress that this is a way of life and not a diet. "A diet implies it's restricted, but with this you can eat everything in abundance. I never count calories, because I know that everything I eat is nurturing my body. There are only upsides to this way of eating - and by protecting your health, you're securing a great future for yourself," she enthuses. "The nutrients in whole foods are so beautifully balanced that, when we consume them in their natural state, we obtain all we need for our bodies to function properly."

As well as creating, and rigorously testing the recipes, Iida took all the photographs for the book too. "My recipes incorporate such a wide range of fruit and vegetables, so the food is colourful, satisfying and nourishing," Iida explains. And her images - most taken in the stunning kitchen of her Betchworth home, overlooking the North Downs towards Reigate and with Box Hill behind - reflect that.

Iida has plenty of plans for the future. There's talk of a book featuring toddler-friendly recipes for weaning and beyond, and enthusiastic dreams of one day opening a café, which would sell deliciously wholesome plant-based dishes. For now, Iida is promoting the book - and couldn't be a better exponent. Herself a picture of glowing health, she has been invited to speak at various medical conferences and she is now also on the advisory board for Plant-Based Health Professionals UK as a patient advocate. Iida also has a huge worldwide following on Instagram where she shares menus and inspiration from her daily life.

With no doubt Iida's own life has been transformed by her lifestyle changes, she says the best feeling is knowing it has helped others too. "It's beyond amazing when people get in touch to say they feel great and they're healing naturally," she beams. 

A Kitchen Fairytale, published by Hammersmith Books, is available from Amazon, at Waterstones and on hammersmithbooks.co.uk. For more information on Plant-Based Health Professionals UK, visit plantbasedhealthprofessionals.com. Follow Iida on Instagram.

My Favourite Surrey...

Café - The Juice Smith, Cobham

The team here is so knowledgeable about healthy eating and nutrition, always willing to point things out and make suggestions. And the juices are amazing, of course.

Shop - Fetch'em From the Cupboard, Ashstead

I go here and bulk-buy my basics from this zero waste shop. They stock such a good range of wholefoods in a sustainable, packaging-free way.

Restaurant - The Wotton Hatch, Wotton

The food here is incredible and they devote a whole page of their menu to vegan options, which makes it ideal for me.

Child-friendly food - Wagamama, Reigate

Wagamama's kiddie menu has many plant-based options, and you can ask for any sauce on the side if you want to limit sugars for your little ones. 


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