Turmeric's main ingredient is curcumin. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. Pixabay

Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo: Healthy eating is a taste of the good life

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  • March 17, 2018
I don’t mean to be a downer, but an unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor for chronic diseases in Canada. This has been the case for the past two decades, according to research cited in the medical journal Canadian Family Physician, the official publication of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

Like it or not, what we choose to put into our bodies on a daily basis has a direct impact on the quality of life we’ll enjoy down the road. That is to say, it turns out your mom wasn’t just trying to hassle you when she insisted you finish eating your spinach before you left the dinner table. 

The five Canadian doctors who wrote the article assert that “there is little doubt that the most prevalent chronic health conditions today (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness and respiratory disease) are largely the products of interactions among a small set of well-established modifiable risk factors” — one of which is diet. (Other factors include exercise, tobacco use and alcohol consumption.) 

Having decided to take a more proactive approach to my health for these very reasons, I’ve drastically changed my diet over the past couple of months — striving to choose foods that offer optimal nutrition whenever possible. 

Given that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, shifting our mindset to view the foods we eat as being meant to nourish us and fuel our health is good for body, mind and soul. Why? Because healthy foods provide us with the gift of well-being over the long-term — including increased energy and mood, which no doubt can affect the spiritual life — while processed foods laced with sugar and salt only give us satisfaction in the moment. 

For me, it’s been an adjustment. I love to eat.  Growing up in an Italian household, feasting on pasta, red meats and white bread was simply the norm. Of course, there were vegetables, too, but they were sides that required you to only takes a few bites. Stopping regular habits like prosciutto for lunch is hard. I mean, prosciutto is delicious and salted in just the right way. (Of course, the Mediterranean diet offers a whole range of health benefits, so long as you enjoy the carb-heavy options sparingly.)

Instead, I’ve now discovered pastas made from healthier ingredients such as spelt, chickpeas and red lentils. I’ve swapped Iced Capps for polyphenol-rich green tea, juice oranges at home rather than buying the store-bought drink and have taken to seasoning vegetable-heavy stirfrys with a spice called turmeric, whose active ingredient is curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (and it’s an ingredient I had never even heard of before a few short months ago.) 

Hard as change may be, the good news is that we do have the power to alter our habits. After all, in this case, it can be as easy, or as hard, as a trip to the grocery store.

On a recent shopping excursion to pick up brown rice flour — instead of the usual white flour for baking — I was faced with a wall of 20 different types of flour at a local grocery store. “I’ve never seen this many different types of flour in my life,” I remarked to a women scanning the copious selection beside me. “It’s overwhelming, isn’t it?” she responded. 

In any case, healthy eating leaves lots of room for creativity — and a wide array of new flavours and new learnings. For example, kombucha, a fermented, somewhat sweetened tea, is not the same thing as kombu, an edible form of kelp often used to enhance the nutritional composition of broth. 

I’ve learned that this lifestyle change does require an investment of time, slightly more money and dedication. Based on my experience, here are some ways to make healthy eating a little easier:

• Write out a grocery list based on particular meals you want to cook so that you don’t succumb to your every whim while shopping.

• Commit to being at peace with not eating meat every single day; opt for leaner meats.

• When snacking, consider goodies with nutritional value, not just reduced salt or sugar. 

All in all, moderation is key. Food is a huge blessing and is meant to be enjoyed, so there’s nothing wrong with indulging once in a while. As long as we’re not metaphorically slaughtering the fatted calf on a continual basis, this investment in health is sure to pay dividends. 

(Santilli-Raimondo is a communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations and Communications at the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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