You may not know their names, but their signature swinging blond ponytails under baseball caps are hard to miss when they’re out for their daily afternoon walk in Montecito.
Twins Judi and Shari Zucker are an integral part of Santa Barbara’s health and wellness community. Authors of six books, their most recent best-seller is The Ultimate Allergy-Free Cookbook from Square One Publishers.
While I’ve been downing Claritin and Zyrtec and drowning in eye drops for my seasonal allergies, the Zuckers are tackling another aspect of the issue: serious food allergies.
Many people don’t have an allergy “season” and instead suffer from food allergies — year-round. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such allergies affect nearly 15 million Americans, including 8 percent of children.
For these sufferers, a lifelong avoidance of certain foods that are dangerous and even fatal to their health is a way of life.
I’ve begun thinking about food allergies more seriously as they’ve received increasing attention in the media — and affecting more people I know.
I really perked up after my granddaughter, Eloise, was born and introduced to milk and eventually solids. My own three children seemed to escape the Big Eight food allergy culprits: dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, fish, tree nuts and peanuts, so I wanted to make sure when I was on Grammy duty that I was on my game and on the lookout for food-related allergies.
Judi and Shari grew up in Los Angeles and graduated with honors from UC Santa Barbara with degrees in Ergonomics, the study of physiology, physical education and nutrition.
The sisters became vegetarians at age 11, teaching themselves about healthy eating practices.
“We took to cooking our own food as 11-year-olds because our mom, who may have had a green thumb in the garden, was all thumbs in the kitchen!” the Zuckers told me, half-jokingly.
They say they benefited from a plant-based diet that gave them sustained energy and helped them break the mile and two-mile track records at Beverly Hills High School. Their dad, Irwin, even dubbed them the “Double-Energy Twins.”
Not only did their parents take notice, their friends did, too. The sisters were so enthusiastic about sharing their healthy lifestyle that they wrote a cookbook — How to Survive Snack Attacks … Naturally — while still in high school.
From the success of that first cookbook, they went on to publish a second one, How to Eat Without Meat … Naturally. The third, fourth and fifth books were focused on raising energy levels though healthy eating and creating recipes that taste truly fabulous.
Their most recent publication is a cookbook and informational guide, The Ultimate Allergy-Free Cookbook, which contains more than 150 truly easy-to-make recipes that — with no milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish or shellfish — do not sacrifice flavor.
As I settled in for my before-bedtime reading ritual, I got pulled in by the Zuckers’ latest cookbook. OK, it’s not a spicy novel about a guy named Christian Grey, but it did make me sit up and rethink what I have in my kitchen, how I shop at the market, what cross contamination means, how to set up an allergen-free kitchen and why to buy organic when possible. Trust me, that will keep you up at night.
Each recipe was easy and straightforward — a big plus in our multitasking world — and most had no more that five ingredients. The next day, I decided to give some of the recipes a try so I went shopping to pick up some of the substitutes that were missing from my pantry.
According to the Zuckers, a good idea is to “read the label before putting on your table” — especially for the allergy crowd. But even without food allergies, also a large part of the twins’ audience, their recipes seemed geared toward how we live. They gave me some great ideas for snacks for my granddaughters and entrees for the rest of my family.
In between being moms and wives, the Zuckers sell real estate, are involved with an interior design business, and they continue to create and compile recipes for nutritious low-fat, high-fiber foods.
They also plan to package and market their “Zookie Cookie,” a deliciously wholesome snack they’ve developed with a closely guarded, exclusive recipe.
The twins, beautiful and fit, have had a lot of media opportunities with local and national television talk shows. They regularly appear at trade shows around the county, enthusiastically spreading their message of eating well.
While the Zuckers laugh and joke around while on their daily walks, hikes and at the pool, they are truly committed to educating others on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and how a positive attitude contributes to overall well being.
And, yes, the takeaway for me is “while you may not get to eat all the foods that are out there, it is completely possible to eat well and have it taste good at the same time!”
The Double Energy twins’ books are available locally at Backyard Bowls, Chaucer’s Bookstore, Tecolote Book Shop and Tri-County Produce, and online through their own website, Amazon or other e-tailers.
— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.