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A cook, food author, restaurateur and food manufacturer, Maggie Beer is a force to be reckoned with. But her latest cookbook Maggie’s Recipe for Life may be her most important project yet.

Teaming up with one of the world’s leading Alzheimer’s researchers Professor Ralph Martin, Maggie is on a mission to stop Alzheimer’s one delicious and life-enhancing meal at a time. Each of the 200 recipes uses food scientifically proven to be good for your brain, with Professor Martin providing the scientific explanations and advice to back it up.

With an estimated 34,000 Australians currently living with Alzheimer's, and the figure expected to rise dramatically as Australia’s population ages, the simple idea behind Maggie’s book is to eat well to age well. Over60 sat down with the 72-year-old former Senior Australian of the Year to find out more about her latest cookbook.

You’ve written many cookbooks in your time, what prompted you to co-write a recipe book with Professor Martin that focuses on preventing Alzheimer’s and other lifestyle diseases?

It was entirely meeting Professor Martin [at the Australian of the Year awards in 2010 and connecting over a love of food]. It was understanding so much more from him – it was his idea, not mine! This cookbook really has something for all of us. It's not just for over-60s, it's for every age in life. Because there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s right now but what has been shown by Professor Martin and others in the field is lifestyle has a huge impact – our diet, our physicality, our engagement in life and mental acuity. So let's give people lovely ideas of beautiful tasting food that's all good for you. 

There’s a lot of focus on healthy eating these days but many people seem more confused than ever as to what healthy eating means and looks like. What does eating well mean to you?

It’s about going back to basics but it's also about variety. Meat is very important for us but it shouldn’t be the first thing we think of, which is often the case in the Australian diet. I haven't put a lot of meat in the book because everyone knows how to cook a steak or a lamb chop. What I've done is concentrate on a plant-based diet full of vegetables and fruits and grains and fish. And show how you can make a truly delicious and inexpensive meal around vegetables as the hero!

You worked closely with Professor Ralph Martin on this cookbook. What did you learn from him?

I learnt so much from him, especially the importance of variety in food. I've always had a good food life and I've lived the rhythm of the seasons but you can so easily get in to a rut so what I learnt from him was the importance of huge variety. Don't just have the same thing every day! Get out of your comfort zone. Look at whatever is in season. 

I also learnt things that I knew instinctively, like for instance the huge antioxidants in spices, the great nutrition in Australian native ingredients and how good pomegranates are for you.

I always knew that but from now on I understand why they’re so good for you. So that drives me to think, “Well I love them and they're so good for you so why not use more of them?” The “why” is what I’ve learned and it’s opened my world.

Why is this cookbook so important to you?

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This is a really important book for us on many, many levels. Ralph [Professor Martin] sees it as the conduit for his science to get out to the public because, as he often says he’s published 300 academic papers all over the world but it never gets through to the public. Plus the fact that it's important to both our foundations because the author royalties are being shared and going entirely half and half to fund research for Ralph's Lions Alzheimer’s Foundation and my Maggie Beer Foundation.This has been our driver and we so believe in it and we need it. You just never stop learning, you never stop needing research. 

Want to try Maggie’s new recipes? Here is a selection from her new cookbook Maggie’s Recipe for Life:

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