Food confusion

12 Oct

Growing up in an Italian household, we were taught to celebrate food. We ate a lot of lentil soup, meat, stuffed artichokes and other extraordinarily healthy food. Cakes were for birthdays and feasting was for Easter and Christmas.

My sisters, brother and I didn’t develop food issues until our family bought a grocery store and we were suddenly introduced to junk food and lots of it. We went from eating junk food occasionally to eating it every day. I feel our new habits affected our weight, moods, skin…I developed trouble concentrating and suffered from regular headaches. At the time I never connected my conditions to the food I was eating but my dad did. He has always been aware that food can be medicine or poison. He told me I was eating too many packaged foods and junk food. As a teenager I immediately assumed he didn’t know what he was talking about. I wish I had listened to him. I could have avoided YEARS of struggle when it came to food.

Lately I’ve been dealing with iron deficiency. It’s worse when I try to lose a couple of kilos because I cut down the portion sizes of foods I eat and limit nuts. My husband suffers from gout so has to avoid beans and excessive protein. I also have children with food allergies…my eldest son is anaphylactic to eggs and tree nuts, my three-year-old is allergic to honey and my daughter has just recently grown out of a milk allergy. Also, my brother-in-law has celiac disease and my sister is gluten-intolerant. Oh, and my mum and I are lactose intolerant. I think I’ve forgotten some.

As a family, we’ve been forced to take a much closer look at what we are eating. The healthfulness of food isn’t always the first consideration. First we remove the foods that can kill my kids and then we make sure my brother-in-law has gluten-free choices. Most of the food is reasonably healthy but when we get together moderation isn’t given enough importance and we usually go home feeling full and bloated.

I’ve also started worrying about other illnesses in our family as I get older. We have auto-immune diseases in my family so are meant to avoid healthy foods like watermelon because they are inflammatory. We love coffee and it’s great for preventing dementia but it can affect iron absorption and can cause sugar cravings. Nuts are great but calorie-dense. Pasta is rich in iron but hi GI. Some cereals are iron-rich but are high in salt and sugar. Some apple juices are high in arsenic (thanks Doctor Oz). Water is the best drink for kids but tap water can contain dangerous substances and bottled water doesn’t contain fluoride which we need to prevent tooth decay. Should we focus on organic food or seasonal food? Grass fed, free range, corn fed…it’s crazy.

Today began as a particularly difficult day. All our family food issues have been playing on my mind. We are also on a strict budget so I can’t always afford the healthy foods I want. Salmon is completely out of our budget. This morning I didn’t feel like my magic muesli so I ate a children’s cereal which is high in iron but is high in salt and sugar too. I ate it milk which can interfere with iron absorption. The kids drank apple juice – the healthiest one I could find (from Then I sat down to come up with some new ideas for healthy meals and started reading the scary reports again. Too much iron can kill, not enough can cause mood swings and fatigue. Is my water safe? Should the kids start the day with apple juice which is the best I could find but full of sugar?

Then my dad knocked on my door. He bought me a box of mangoes. They look and smell amazing. I have no idea if they are organic. Should I eat an entire one or is that more than one serving of fruit? Who cares? I had to have one and the kids love them. Once again my dad restored some rational thinking. Eat everything healthy you can, seasonally when possible and in moderation. That’s how he’s always done it and he is a very healthy seventy-five. He has chickens in his backyard and they are the only eggs he eats. He grows amazing vegetables that he often eats raw, straight from the garden. He eats a bit of chocolate and a biscuit here and there but not every day. And when mangoes are in season he buys a box and eats them for day but will avoid chocolate and biscuits on his mango days. My sister and I recently decided that my dad is the best example of dietary health in our family. He sure is and giving me the gift of mangoes on a sunny day to share with my family is just the latest example of that.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

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