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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

3 Healthy Chicks Interview with Christine Pirello

Ok, I tipped all of our lovely readers off about our interview with Christina Pirello a couple of weeks ago.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Christina, she's the host of the Emmy award winning Christina Cooks! author of 5 cookbooks and founder of the Christina Pirello Health Education Initiative a non-profit organization dedicated to changing America's relationship with food. Christina holds a faculty position at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, serves on the board of THe Farm Market Trust, The Green Council of Philadelphia, The Green City Youth Council of Philadelphia, The Chefs for Humanity Chef's Council and is a member of ICAP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) and Women Chefs and Restauranteurs.

We could go on forever about how fabulous Christina is an how but lets hear directly from her....

3HC: Christina, we know you have such a busy schedule, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.

3HC: You overcame leukemia when you began to eat whole, unprocessed natural foods. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in changing your diet and lifestyle?

CP: Well, I became a vegetarian when I was 14, but I ate a ton of junk food, sugar, candy, pizza, soda...it was all vegetarian, just not healthy. When I switched to a vegan macrobiotic approach to save my health, I was forced to give up sugar cold turkey...it was one of the hardest things I have ever done...I would never want to go through that again. But I also learned about balance and nutrition, something that vegetarianism had never taught me. I learned you needed to eat well, not just give up animal products.

3HC: Do you ever crave animal products? If so, what do you do?

CP: I have to say that I never crave animal foods...it's interesting, I think that those cravings are real for people, but once you change your thinking, so do your cravings. I also think that it's important that people get the fat/protein ratio right for them...once those macronutrients are 'balanced' for each person, then cravings seem to hit the road...I know it worked for me...once I got the right balance of fat and protein in my diet, I craved nothing, not sweets, nothing...plus I cook pretty richly, beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, so there is not much room to crave animal food because I am getting what I need. I have been vegan for more than 25 years, so i think those cravings left a long time ago.

But for people craving animal foods or those who feel they need them...and I think those people exist...they need to look at that find their balance...and if they decide to use animal foods, then only organic, grass-fed and as cruelty free as possible (which for me, doesn't really exist because the animal is killed...).

3HC: How do you approach sugar today? Are you still completely sugar free? What sugar alternatives do you like to use and/or cook with?

CP: I occasionally indulge in a sugar-flavored dessert, like when a bunch of friends are out for dinner...we'll order one decadent dessert and a lot of forks! And we enjoy each bite. But the cool thing is since we don't eat sugar every day, we don't crave it...we enjoy in that moment and are done with it. At home I cook with brown rice syrup and a little agave, but mostly rice syrup is my go-to sweetener. I use Suzanne's Specialties because I like the quality and the taste of her product line.

3HC: Tell us about your other business specializing in healthy trips to exotic locations.

CP: My husband and I host vacations to places like Belize, Barbados, Italy, Sicily and next year, we will add Israel to our mix. Our trips offer the same profoundly beautiful sightseeing you would expect from trips like this, but our niche is that we offer delicious, gourmet vegan food for all the meals. You get to be on vacation and go home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, rather than bloated and sick from eating food that may not be so great for health. But we embrace each culture we visit, so the foods we prepare reflect that society, so you don't miss anything. And we stay in one place, taking leisurely day trips rather than dragging from hotel to hotel and being exhausted.

3HC: Sign us up right now!

3HC: What would you say are the best tips you can give our readers for maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle when on vacation?

CP: I would say that people need to maintain some form of exercise when they travel...hotel gym, walking, running...you see the city in an amazing way and you stay active. Also, it's easy to eat well wherever you go...holidays are not licenses to go on food binges...eat the food of the culture...and live by the simple rule of eat real food, mostly plants and not too much.

3HC: So many of our clients/students are pressed for time. What do you suggest for people who are swamped with work/commute/family/extra curricular activities/etc., but who still want to maintain a healthy and balanced diet?

CP: People need to make time to cook and take care of themselves. I worry that we have made our lives too busy to do that, to cook and care for ourselves and our families in meaningful ways. I say that we need to do some re-prioritizing to make time for cooking...even 30 minutes a day. It helps you step off that treadmill of life and settle down for a minute. But people can make simple changes like making a large pot of soup and freezing it so it's around when you need it. Pasta will always be my go to meal in a jam. Canned organic beans can make life really easy. Keeping the fridge and pantry stocked are key to preparing healthy meals in the midst of a busy life. You need to be able to walk into the kitchen at any time and know you have enough ingredients on hand to make a meal.

Exercise needs to be like brushing your teeth...not negotiable. And it's easy. Take a walk after dinner (trust me; CNN will still be there with all the bad news when you get back)...and tired is not an excuse...the fitter you are, the more energy you will have...plus it's a great way to connect with the family...talking while you walk together. Everyone has time and the money to take a walk. We have to stop making excuses.

3HC: We love that.

3HC: What would be one piece of advice you would tell all the parents out there who struggle to feed and teach their about whole foods and making healthy choices?

CP: Take a gentle approach. Being a food nazi will not get you anywhere...and involve them in the process of what the family eats...when they are invested, they will be a part of it and eat...give them a voice...and remember it takes kids about 10 times seeing it to try a new food...turn a new way of eating into an adventure and they will be game...parents have a lot of challenges today because of how our kids are marketed to...we have to fight for their health.

3HC: We know you've been cooking for years now, but how did you first approach cooking on your own? Were you a natural right off the bat, or did it take a few years to really get your cooking skills together?

CP: I was a natural, sorry...I loved the kitchen from the first...I always knew it was where I wanted to be and the place where I feel the most like myself. I grew up in an Italian family and we all cooked so someone was always mentoring me...I am wired to cook and I could not be happier about it.

3HC: What's your favorite healthy snack?

CP: I have 2...peanut butter on granny smith apples or dark chocolate. yum!

3HC: It's such a blessing that real, chocolate is healthy!!

3HC: In your opinion, what are 3 important things that one can do for their health in addition to eating well and exercising? Feel free to be specific.

CP: Drink water...not so much that you wash nutrients away, but enough to stay hydrated...it's the most important thing...and most of us are dehydrated on some level. It makes us tired, cranky; we lose focus; we think we are hungry. Drink water.

Next, scrub your skin. Using a washcloth and hot water in the shower (no soap), scrub your skin all over until it's uniformly rosy...at first, your skin will be blotchy, but as you scrub each day, your skin will release toxins trapped under it and it will be uniformly rosy colored...after a month, your skin will be soft and smooth...after 2 months, you will never need moisturizer to battle dry skin again...and you will sleep better, digest better and handle stress with more grace. i kid you not.

Last, stop all eating 2 hours before you go to sleep so your body can rest and rejuvenate itself rather than spend the night digesting...you will never wake up cranky again.

3HC: This may seem silly, but you have amazing hair...what do you do to keep it so gorgeous?
CP: My hair? Wow, I hated my red hair until college...in high school, I died it black! But then I grew to appreciate it and embrace my 'redheadedness.' Now, I wash it only twice a week with a gentle shampoo and conditioner from Aveda...let it air dry and go! I am very, very low maintenance!

3HC: Ok, last question.... we understand your latest great endeavor is the Christina Pirello Health Initiative. Can you tell us a little about that? Where do you see it going in the future and how do you hope to influence both adults and children?

CP: CEPHI, as we call it in the office is dedicated to helping people have a better relationship with food. We do this through educational programs in schools and in our communities. We hope to change the future of our children by creating a generation of people who connect the dots between food and health and make choices that better serve their lives, their health, their community and the planet. And we think that can only happen through education, so we have several programs in place to do just that.

Thank you so much to taking the time to answer our questions. We truly appreciate your time and would like to say that you're an inspiration for those of us trying to make healthy waves in our communities. Click HERE to learn more about CEPHI


  1. I love the idea of being healthy as non-negotiable! There are so many things that I find time to do but treating myself right isn't always far enough at the top of that list

    its so true about having more energy too...when I get home from work its either a nap or some exercise- if I exercise I end up so much more awake than if I take a nap

  2. A good way to ensure a great hotel gym is to check out http://www.HotelGymReview.com before you leave for your next trip. Also be sure to write reviews about the facility. We're a new website so we really need people to write reviews.