Padma Lakshmi Reveals Her #1 Self-Care Secret: ‘I Just Treat Myself Like Somebody I Love’

"It's just about giving everyone an opportunity to be their best selves,” Padma Lakshmi says of her passion to advocate for women's health. Her private routine includes nutrient-dense (delicious!) food, facials, workouts, supplements and a little peace and quiet.

If anyone knows great food, it’s Padma Lakshmi. She’s been the long-time host of Top Chef, which is going into its 20th season this spring. She’s won a James Beard Award, she hosts and executive produces the Hulu series Taste the Nation, and has written five books, including her 2021 children’s book, Tomatoes for Neela.

Now Lakshmi taking her culinary expertise to spotlight an issue close to her heart: The country’s nutritional deficit. According to the CDC, only 12.3% of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables. Lakshmi has teamed up with the brand KIND Snacks as their first culinary partner, where she created Padma’s Kind Kitchen, which are speakeasy-style pop-ups in New York City and Houston. The KIND company tells us Padma’s KIND Kitchen will be open to the public for a limited time from February 28 through March 1 from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern at the Chelsea Market in Manhattan (entrance on 16th Street).

Lakshmi spoke with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest to share how she’s taught her daughter, now 13, about healthy eating (a little maple syrup on carrots won’t hurt!), how she stays fit while being constantly surrounded by food, and how, at 52, she’s never felt sexier or happier.

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Padma Lakshmi on her passion for healthy cooking

Kind Kitchen 3D renderingCourtesy KIND Snacks

The Healthy @Reader’s Digest: How do you incorporate healthy ingredients in your recipes, and did you succeed in getting your daughter to be interested in the same foods that you eat?

Lakshmi: Not everything that I love she’s interested in. But you don’t have to choose between healthy and delicious. There are ways to incorporate both of those concepts in every bite you take. And the best way to do it is to not consider eating carrots–or whatever you’re eating–as healthy and being like, we’re going to be virtuous today so we’re gonna eat this.

It’s a mindset. You just have to say, I love carrots. So how are we going to do this? Well, let’s glaze them with a little bit of maple sugar or maple syrup. Maple syrup has a lower glycemic index than other sweeteners. Just a single tablespoon of it, a little salt, a little spice, and then just roast them and you don’t need much else. You’re trying to bring out what’s best in them.

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The Healthy: That’s a great tip! Now you’ve partnered with KIND to create Padma’s KIND Kitchen, where people can try food you’ve created. Tell me how you created the delicious dishes.

Lakshmi: I wanted to be inspired by their bars. I’ve never really made energy bites, but I liked the idea of it. In India, we have these snacks that are made with caramel and peanut or sesame clusters. So taking the ethos of what makes a KIND bar a KIND bar: Whole foods, whole nuts—things you can pronounce, things as they appear in nature—and then taking my childhood treat and bringing them together.

The energy bites have almond butter and dates, and cranberries, but they also have sesame and crushed almonds in them for texture. There is a pecan toasty. I love doing little toasts with my daughter as a snack. It’s a perfect after-school snack. It’s been fall and winter here in New York, and what’s best is butternut squash or acorn squash. And there was some great squash at the Union Square market.

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The Healthy: Because eating vegetables that are in season is actually better for your health, right?

Lakshmi: That’s why I wrote [the children’s book] Tomatoes for Neela, because kids don’t know when things grow anymore, because we live in an abundant society but vegetables that are eaten in season not only taste way better, they are better for you, they contain more nutrients.

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Padma Lakshmi on healthy aging

Secret Kind Farmer's Market RenderingCourtesy KIND Snacks

The Healthy: Next fall, you’ll turn 53. I think people would find that utterly unbelievable or a typo. There’s been a lot of debate recently in the media and in Hollywood about the expectations of how a woman is supposed to age, what they should look like, and how they should speak about their bodies. Now we’ve got Naomi Watts starting a menopause company, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez are constantly in the conversation. What’s been your experience growing older in the spotlight?

Lakshmi: I definitely feel that society is conditioned to only value youth and only value women who are in their childbearing years, even if we have no intention of having any more children anyway. It’s actually good that we don’t have to worry about getting pregnant! I work out a ton, because I eat a ton. And also, to be honest, even when I don’t eat a ton and I’m home, just eating my own diet, which is mostly plant-based, I want to exercise because whatever it does for me physically, it does more for me mentally.

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I’m proud of my body. Every now and then I’ll put a sexy picture up in a bathing suit, and because I’m supposed to be this very, serious, substantial woman who’s done all these things, it’s like, “Oh, you don’t need to do that. You don’t need to exploit yourself.” And I think it does have to do with age. You’re supposed to be this older woman with gravitas. But people aren’t one-dimensional. They can be silly, they can be sexy, they can be serious, they can be thoughtful, they can be not thoughtful. When I was young and I modeled a lot of bathing suits and lingerie, nobody had a problem with me being in those outfits. But suddenly, I’m supposed to be past all that. Well, I’m still a sexual being. In fact I’m more comfortable in my own sensuality now than I ever was in my twenties or thirties. And so I just find that there is a big fat, double standard. I would never go back to my twenties for all the money in the world. I feel so much more happy now.

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Padma Lakshmi on women’s health

The Healthy: We know you are passionate about your endometriosis foundation. Recently, Sally Rooney’s book, Conversations with Friends, had a character with endometriosis, and Lena Dunham came out about her experience. I feel like you’ve been ahead of your time when it comes to talking about women’s bodies. What made you want to speak out initially when it comes to health and what we go through?

Lakshmi: It was really just my personal experience. You know, I went through this really big health ordeal that affected every aspect of my life. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 36. And I got my period at 13. So that was 13 years of suffering every month. And once I got on the other side of that illness after having laparoscopic surgeries and other treatments, I just I was mad about all that time I lost. And I didn’t want the next generation of girls and women to go through what I did and my niece started having problems with her period and that was really big light bulb to me. And so I just wanted to do something to raise awareness. Because sometimes people don’t even know how to pronounce endometriosis. And it affects more than one in 10 women worldwide—that’s 200 million women. It’s a lot. And so I want to do everything I can to even the playing field for women so that they can compete with men, or people of color so they can compete on equal footing. If you’re down with chronic pain, that’s really hard to do. And so it’s just about giving everyone an opportunity to be their best selves.

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Padma Lakshmi’s wellness routine

The Healthy: What else does staying healthy look like in your life in terms of rituals, routines, and supplements?

Lakshmi: I’m very religious about getting a facial. I get a facial every four to six weeks without fail. That’s the one big thing I do. I have darker skin so I can’t do chemical peels or harsh lasers so the facial and the microdermabrasion becomes really essential for me. I have a lot of hyperpigmentation due to Indian skin.

I really do take a lot of vitamins. I take different vitamins and collagen and an ayurvedic herb that’s supposed to help your hair. I drink a ton of water and also the thing that’s been most beneficial especially after I come off of the long haul of filming either Taste the Nation or Top Chef is giving myself free time. You know my daughter goes to her dad’s every other weekend to spend with him. Those days I wish I could tell you like I’m out dancing all night, but I really just have that time to have the house be quiet. I read on the couch. I make a nice bed picnic for myself. I build a fire, and I just treat myself like somebody I love.

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Laura Lane
Laura is a journalist, comedy writer, podcaster and co-author of two books, which have both been optioned for television. She’s spent over a decade covering celebrities, as well as writing about topics including wellness, travel, politics, fashion, food, sports, tech and entertainment. She has written about her own health journey and is deeply passionate about wellness and nutrition.