What you can’t have, I won’t tell you

Do you like to be told what to do?
Do you like to be told what you can’t have?

This certainly applies to food, and making adjustments in your dietary world, right?

Years ago, I had a tug-of-war with a very smart nutritionist, who was ahead of the curve in her knowledge about gluten sensitivity. She reviewed my health concerns and announced that in her opinion, gluten was a problem for me. I, who studied cooking in Italy, who made my own pasta! I was not going to be told what I could eat and what I could not! I said NO THANK YOU. 

Two years later, I started to feel really crappy.

My nutritionist said, You know, if you choose to, you could look into your culinary toolkit… and wherever you would usually have gluten on your plate, think about what other foods might go there instead. Consider just taking a week... She made it an invitation to explore something new, not an edict. A culinary challenge! Not an evil thing. Not a restriction. I found that I could listen to that. Notice also that she had grown. She recognized that I’m a cook, and offered me an invitation to explore new culinary approaches, instead of saying, no, don’t do this.

My “week long” experiment stretched to a month. Then I ate gluten. And then I discovered for myself that gluten is NOT for me. I also did some lab testing and found out that gluten sensitivity runs through my whole family (the beginning of my education in epigenetics.) For me, definitively, gluten is not a great food.

That’s not everybody’s problem. But my story illustrates the value of the experiment, of customizing what you eat based on what is healthy for YOU, as well as the value of an invitation, as opposed to a restriction!

Join me in my playground: experiment with delicious, healthy foods.

My invitation: See what you enjoy! See what makes you feel wonderful. You may be surprised.

I recently did a food demonstration for 70 doctors, and I asked: Who in this audience doesn’t like lentils? One of the doctors raised her hand, and I invited her up.

I said, My guess is, you don’t care for them because of the texture, and offered her a spoonful of plain, cooked lentils. She took a bite, made a face, and said, Yup!

I admit: this point in my demo is a bit of a hire wire act. After all, I am about to introduce some new food strategies to my partner here -- and she could absolutely say she hates my offering and walk right off the stage. But I have a LOT of faith in the power of yum. And worst case? She just doesn’t like lentils!

We made the Mediterranean Lentil Salad from my book The Cancer Fighting Kitchen. We coated the lentils perfectly with olive oil and added texture and color, with crunchy crispy, cucumbers, red bell pepper, feta cheese, kalamata olives, lemon juice and spices… She took a bite, and her face lit up. No more plain old lentils -- the crunchies dominated! I find that the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts, when it comes to food. The same goes for a bland food like quinoa. You just have to doll it up!

May these become classics in your kitchen!

Some additional easy, colorful recipes to spark your food adventures: Kale Quinoa Salad with Red Grapes and Ginger-Lime Sweet Potato Mash.

Kale is quirky; with the right touch it shines like an emerald and tastes delish, but if you ignore a few key steps it can resemble Astroturf. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to get on kale’s good side. And I dress up the quinoa with herbs and spices, and… red grapes! There’s something about chomping on a sweet grape that’s just joyous, and the anthocyanins that give the grape its deep color are also phenomenal antioxidants, with other studies showing they may also enhance memory.

The sweet potatoes are a fun take on an American classic, perfect for this time of year. The ginger and lime are like a pair of piccolos, providing unexpected high notes of tartness and spice that play off the sweet potatoes base heartiness. If you’re craving something sweet, this mash hits the mark; the fiber in the potatoes acts as a great insulin regulator, letter their sugars metabolize and feed the brain slowly and consistently.

Connecting the dots:  What you can’t have, I won’t tell you. Instead I am going to tell you about all the wonderful things that are out there! Even things you may not think you like. Preparing them in a new way could really flip a switch for you. And if it doesn’t, it’s fine! You don’t have to like a particular food or die to find health and wellness. Forget the dogma. Explore. Enjoy!