Woman’s Day (Australia)
MAGGIE’S BRAVE FIGHT AGAINST DEMENTIA
A healthy lifestyle is vital, says the beloved chef, who is on a journey to help others
She’s Australia’s reigning kitchen queen. A passionate cook-turnednational treasure, Maggie Beer’s high-profile, five-decade-long career has seen her pen a stream of bestselling recipe books, create a specialty gourmet product company and grace the small screen across a raft of culinaryrelated TV shows.
But rather than resting on her laurels and enjoying the fruits of her labours, the 77-year-old has been using her fame as a platform to champion good causes – from her work within the aged care world to highlighting the impact of diet on dementia, a disease that is the biggest killer of women in Australia.
PUTTING PEN TO PAPER
“I had started this journey of wanting to know more about the relationship of food and dementia five years ago when a very close friend from my early 20s developed the disease,” Maggie tells Woman’s Day. “I found it heartbreaking to visit her, knowing it was too late for any intervention of diet.
“Whilst I have lived a good food life all my life – and followed the basic principles of exercise and mental stimulation too – my work in this field has made me very interested in understanding much more about what we can do to look after ourselves.”
One of the most debilitating diseases of our later years, more than one million Australians are affected every day by dementia. Statistically – if you live after 65 – one in two of us will develop the disease and there is no known cure.
Prompted to act after her experience with her friend, Maggie put pen to paper and released Maggie’s Recipe For Life in 2017. Teaming up with Professor Ralph Martins and based on the latest scientific research, the book features more than 200 recipes devised to help provide nutrients for optimum brain health.
“I used Ralph’s science to develop the recipes,” explains Maggie. “And we shared all the royalties between the Lion’s Alzheimer’s Foundation and the Maggie Beer Foundation.”
Her mission to drive awareness about dementia continued last year with the publication of the children’s book Dancing With Memories, in which she contributed food ideas for lunchboxes.
“It was such a beautiful project to be involved in,” she says. “A book with a heartfelt simple message to show to a child that, despite what’s happening to them, their grandparent is still there.”
The importance of food and the ageing process crosses over into the work that Maggie has been doing through her foundation, which has the core aim of improving food experiences for older Australians, particularly those living within aged care homes.
“Everyone should have good, healthy food,” says the Barossabased kitchen whiz. “And no one needs it more than those who aren’t able to cook for themselves and really need something to look forward to in life. I think many don’t understand the vital importance of good food in aged care and the difference it can make to the wellbeing of the elderly.
“One of the issues hardly discussed is that there is a
correlation between diabetes and dementia. And given that type 2 diabetes can be controlled by a good diet, I think that this needs to be talked about more within the community.”
Unsurprisingly, given the role it has played, when it comes to the go-getter’s recipe for a happy life, the ingredients are simple: good food – and lots of it.
‘Many don’t understand the vital importance of good food’
“I am driven by flavour and by seasons. I’m very lucky that almost all of our food comes from our own gardens. I live in a Mediterranean climate and I eat a Mediterranean diet. It’s healthy simply by the very nature that I’m cooking everything from scratch with beautiful ingredients that are in-season, so health is almost a by-product, but flavour always comes first.
“Life is too short to not have quality – and quality means freshness and seasonality.”
Given that Maggie is an advocate for the elderly, it’s very hard to believe that – at only three years shy of her 80th birthday – she’s very much in the age bracket when dementia can, unfortunately, strike.
“There are four things that are really important to me when it comes to my health – food, exercise, mental stimulation and my connectedness to people,” she says.
“I never stop learning and that’s really important when you’re older – to keep mentally active and to keep absorbing.
“Exercise helps, too – I love it! I’m a passionate walker and will walk five days each week, which is a great way to help handle the frenetic life I lead. I’m 77, so I have to work on my muscles and my bone density, and I make sure I do one to two workouts with weights each week.”
Indeed, with commitments from her business empire, charitable foundation and an array of other “to-dos” on her list, she juggles more plates than your average 30-year-old.
“I work very hard,” she admits. “But I have great pleasures in life and I take the time to find balance. As we get older we have a sense of freedom from many concerns and a confidence in ourselves and time to indulge in a variety of things that engage us.
“And, if we are lucky, we have gained some wisdom along the way.”
But perhaps one of the most important lessons garnered from her seven decades of life experience is the gift of giving back to others.
“Everyone gets time in their lives to be able to give back,” says the grandmother, sagely. “When you have a platform, like I do, you have a responsibility to use it to make a difference. That’s so important to me.”
To find out more about the good work being done by the Maggie Beer Foundation visit maggiebeerfoundation.org.au