The Wellness Code: Riyana Rupani On How Food Can Change Your Life

Eating well means living well—and nutritionist Riyana Rupani knows this best
Riyani Rupani is a nutritionist and the founder of Healthy-ish & Happy
Riyani Rupani is a nutritionist and the founder of Healthy-ish & Happy

Riyana Rupani has always been a foodie, but she only learned the power of food later in life.

By the age of 30, the former financial analyst had suffered from a host of health problems, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), anxiety, infertility and autoimmune conditions. “I spent a lot of time with different doctors, received a lot of different diagnoses, and was given a lot of different medications,” she recalls. “They helped with my symptoms but the one thing I wasn’t given was an understanding on why I was facing these health issues.”

All of Rupani’s doctors told her the same thing: that she would have to be on medication for the rest of her life. “Something just didn’t sit right with me,” she says. “I started to do my own research. I looked into the body, hormones, digestion and my conditions. The more I researched, the more the topic of preventative health came up and how food plays a huge role.”

Today, Rupani is a foodie in a different sense. She left corporate life to become a certified nutritionist. She is now the proud founder of Healthy-ish & Happy, where she offers her expertise on clean eating through her Clean-in-15 programme. She also shares recipes that are equal parts nutritious and delicious—which you can prepare with the vegan and gluten-free ingredients and condiments from her food brand, Everiday Foods. Aside from her entrepreneurial roles, the 44-year-old is also a happy (and healthy-ish) mother of three.

“Living well to me means finding your balance and knowing your boundaries—understanding what makes you feel good and what doesn’t, and acting accordingly,” says Rupani. “I believe that giving ourselves grace as we learn and change is a big part of the puzzle of living well.”

How much did changing your food change your life?

I honestly feel that changing my eating habits changed my life’s entire trajectory. It has calmed my chronic anxiety, which made social situations uncomfortable; alleviated skin issues that prevented me from feeling physically comfortable; and made me able to have a family, despite being told that it might not be possible. The icing on the cake was the life-altering career change that came from it as well!

Gut health and mental health: how are they connected?

There is a reason we call our gut the second brain. We have both physical and hormonal connections between our gut and our brain. The vagus nerve, for example, is the main nerve of your parasympathetic nervous system that goes directly from the gut to the brain. Another example is serotonin. Many people believe that this neurotransmitter or “happy hormone”, which impacts mood, appetite, sleep, learning, and memory, is created in the brain. But actually, more than 90 per cent of serotonin is created in the gut. Having good gut health will definitely impact and benefit mental health.

How does nutrition affect women’s health, in particular? And how do women’s nutritional needs differ from men’s? 

Women are very different from men, mostly due to our hormones which change throughout the month and through the years. The analogy that men are like the sun and women are like the moon is a great way to explain how the genders differ hormonally. Women need to nourish with their delicate hormones in mind. How our bodies function in our 20s, 30s, 40s and so on will affect how we need to nourish ourselves. Nutrition plays a big role in how our hormones change and make us feel.

As the founder of Healthy-ish & Happy, what is different about your approach to eating well?

I remember always thinking that nutrition was an all-or-nothing way of life. Many nutritionists that I came across seemed to validate this. You were either eating healthy or you weren’t. My approach was different, maybe because I was a foodie and didn’t want to give up many of the foods that I have loved forever. I also felt there had to be a way to balance. That’s what I teach, and preach. It’s about learning how to make foods that are not only good for you but that taste amazing, and also understanding your body so that you can include those wonderful treat foods that you love. I like to say, “We all want to be healthy, but we need a bit of ‘ish’ to be happy!”

Tell us about Clean-in-15. What do you teach and share through your 15-day programme?

The Clean-in-15 is meant to help you better understand food, your body, and what’s working for you and what’s not. We follow an elimination diet for the 15 days that focuses on whole real foods, and removes food that we know causes us inflammation or blood sugar imbalance, disrupts our gut, and may have us emotionally dependent on them. We focus on intuitive eating and listening to our bodies—and there is absolutely no calorie counting. After the 15 days, we systematically bring back the foods we eliminated to understand how they impact us individually. I am there to support you through the entire process through video calls, daily messages, and email video lessons.

What are some local ingredients or dishes that are as delicious as they are nutritious?

I love Singapore for all the amazing flavours it has to offer. It’s a melting pot, and the cuisine is a beautiful example of that. Some of my favourite “local” dishes include the soft boiled eggs you get at any kopitiam. I also like yong tau foo and popiah, which are staples in most food courts. Venturing out a bit, Thai dishes like laab gai, and Vietnamese pho and fresh spring rolls are also high on the list. Lastly, stir-fried kang kong! It is such a beautiful local vegetable.

When shopping for ingredients or produce, what are some of your green and red flags that you look out for?

My green flags include anything that is grown locally or didn’t have to travel too far. But frozen veggies, even if they do come from far away, are actually a wonderful option. Frozen fruits and vegetables get a bad reputation but they are often more nutritious than fresh ones as they are picked at the height of ripeness, and frozen to preserve their goodness. My red flags would be any fruit or vegetable that is extra large, or that are known to be genetically modified. I consider how far the produce had to travel, and of course if it looks wilted, old, or just off.

With your brand Everiday Foods, you offer pantry staples made with all-natural and whole ingredients. Which is your favourite product?

That’s a tough question! It’s like asking a mother which is her favourite child. While I don’t have a favourite, I do tend to rotate through products I like more. At the moment, my highlights are the Sambal Chili Sauce, Vegan Kaya Spread, Chocolate Sea Salt Granola, and the Gluten-Free Baguette.

Do you plan to expand your offerings at Everiday Foods?

I definitely do. Everiday Foods is all about upgrading pantry staples. We have a lot of delicious new products in the pipeline such as seasoning, new chilli sauces, variations of granola and baked goods.

Starting the day right is important. What is your go-to breakfast?

Protein! I aim to get 30 grams of protein in my first meal, be it in the form of eggs, chia pudding, a protein shake, or even leftovers from lunch or dinner the day before.

What is the most surprising thing that you learned about nutrition recently?

That how we eat matters. You can eat the healthiest food in the world, but if you aren’t digesting it, it’s not going to do you any good. Your state of mind while eating and how much attention you give your food matters way more than we give credit for.


This story first appeared in the June/July 2024 issue of GRAZIA Singapore. Follow Riyani Rupani on Instagram at @healthyishandhappy.


The Wellness Code: This Holistic Haven In Bangkok Will Change The Way You Approach Wellness

The Wellness Code: The New Wave Of Wellness Therapies Celebrities Are Jumping On—And You Should Too

GRAZIA Game Changers: Maya and Mili Kale On Building A Women-Led, Women-Focused Business