You might think a star chef like Giada De Laurentiis has always known how to eat right. Whether she’s sprinkling parsley on top of a pasta dish or grilling crusty bread for crostini, she's always brimming with healthy energy.
But it turns out, behind the scenes in what looks like a glamorous career, there was a lot of unhealthy eating.
In her new book, "Eat Better, Feel Better: My Recipes for Wellness and Healing, Inside and Out", De Laurentiis shares how she would reach for special treats and comfort food all the time. How she was happy to take brownie bite after brownie bite in front of the camera as her crew tried to get the perfect shot. How after a long day she’d order delivery or eat out, and she’d choose cheesy pastas, rich desserts, or both.
She loved the way these foods tasted, but she didn’t love the way they made her feel. So she looked for ways to reboot her diet and to find ways to enjoy her favorite flavors without eating lots of foods that left her feeling bloated, tired and irritable.
Here, she shares six changes that worked for her.
1. She takes small steps
“Many people think there needs to be a drastic change in order to eat healthy, but that’s not true. My cooking still stays true to my Italian roots, with lots of delicious, fresh ingredients,” she said. “Eating well is not about eliminating foods — it’s about noting how they affect you and eating less of those that challenge your health. It’s about finding the right balance for you.”
For example, she found that raw kale doesn’t agree with her stomach. “On the other hand, I can eat a bunch of bitter broccoli rabe without batting an eyelash,” she said.
And some people can’t eat Parmesan, which is made from cow's milk. But they might do just fine with pecorino from sheep or goat cheese. “It’s all about taking it slow and really listening to your body to discover what is best for you,” she said.
She got a little bit healthier and mindful each day, and she reduced, but didn’t eliminate, the foods that weren’t right for her.
2. She tunes into how foods make her feel
“I started really listening to my body and eating the foods that loved me back,” she said. “That helped my body heal itself and also indicated what foods worked for my body and what foods didn’t.”
Caffeine and sugar were two things she quickly figured out that she needed to scale back on. “My body was paying the price. I started to eat better and eat more consciously,” she said.
3. She goes to the grocery store with a plan
“I used to shop for what I felt like eating in the moment, but I realized that I wasn’t buying the most nutritious ingredients or meals because of it. Planning meals helps you stay on track and not over-buy,” she said. “Eating better begins at the grocery store.”
Planning ahead helps you eat healthier throughout the week, too. If you have the ingredients you need for a healthy, satisfying, nutritious meal, you can whip that up instead of grabbing something that’s unhealthy because that’s all you have in the house.
4. She chooses foods packed with flavor
De Laurentiis shops at local farmers markets when she can. “I find that the vegetables and fruits from a smaller seller often have way more flavor than from a larger supermarket,” she said. She recommends choosing organic foods if a farmers market isn’t an option: “You’ll notice a difference in taste.”
5. She finds ways to make healthy food choices on busy days
De Laurentiis said her days on the set at Food Network could start at dawn and stretch into the evening. “I was snacking on all the wrong foods — lots of sugar, caffeine, pre-packaged snacks — basically anything that I thought would give me energy to get through the day,” she said.
She started to bring her own lunches in instead. “I would meal prep at the beginning of the week and batch cook things like quinoa, brown rice, roasted sweet potatoes or cauliflower, and chicken broth. This made it easy to throw lunches together,” she said. “Once you have everything prepped, it’s super-simple to make delicious, nutrient-dense meals in a matter of minutes.”
If you’re strapped for time you might wonder how you're going to pull this off. De Laurentiis said that prepping her foods in advance and making the most of her leftovers made it easy for her to choose the foods her body wanted. “Eating to feel better shouldn’t be stressful,” she said.
It’s all about taking it slow and really listening to your body to discover what is best for you.
6. She adds her favorite superfoods to healthy dishes
De Laurentiis loves to add:
Cocoa nibs in her coffee and spinach smoothie
Sweet potato to grain bowls
Dark leafy greens to soups and salads, and sauteed as a side dish to poultry or fish
Salmon in salads and pasta
Olive oil to all kinds of dishes. “As an Italian, I use olive oil in almost everything. It’s a huge part of the Mediterranean diet,” she said.