At Gabriel’s Place, we believe in the benefits of cooking and eating healthy. The food here ranges from a variety of fruits and vegetables and is grown in our own backyard.

My name is Markisha Gandy, and I am a graduate of the Midwest Culinary Institute. My goal here at Gabriel’s Place as a new chef is to bring awareness to those in the community the importance of not only eating healthy, but cooking healthy as well.

In culinary school I was taught a number of things, but the one subject that caught my attention and raised my awareness was a Nutrition course. Did you know statistics show that Americans are the number one group of people who are diagnosed with obesity? Not only that, we are being diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes Type 1 and 2, high cholesterol and the number one killer – heart disease. What I have researched and been taught is that processed food is one of the main reasons why we are suffering with these diseases.

Think about it – processed foods have been made for those who aren’t motivated to cook themselves a healthier option; rather it has to do with time management or not knowing how to cook. But the prepared meals we buy in stores contain an excessive amount of sugars, fats and sodium (salt). Eating two of those processed meals alone puts us over our Dietary Reference intake, which causes us to have health problems later in our lives.

The American Heart Association states that we only need 2,300 mg of sodium daily and recommends that we reduce our sodium intake to 1,500 mg to reduce and prevent our chances of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, heart disease or hypertension. 1,500 mg of sodium amounts to 0.75 teaspoons or 3.75 grams of salt per day, while 2,300 mg amounts to one teaspoon or 6 grams of salt per day. Most people today are eating much more than that.

The average intake of sodium is about 3,400 mg, most of it coming from processed foods. All of us need to make drastic changes in our food choices, starting by reading labels and actively restricting the amount of sodium in our diets.

The body cannot function without sodium, period. But the more sodium we have in our bloodstream, the more water it binds. For this reason, sodium is thought to increase blood pressure. If our blood pressure is elevated, the heart has to work harder to push the blood throughout the body, causing increased strain on the arteries and various organs.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for many serious diseases, like heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. (See https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-sodium-per-day/) Once we make the decision to eat more fresh foods that we cook and season ourselves is when we can define how long we live. Excess sugar consumption has been associated with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, tooth decay and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (See https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-sugar-per-day/) We consume natural sugars from milk products and fruits – which are good. Where we go wrong is when we drink sweetened beverages that have added sugars as well as processed beverages. It’s best to make your own freshly squeezed or blended fruit drinks, adding honey or maple syrup to them for a healthier option.

Choosing honey over sugar results in a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels, which is believed to help with hunger levels. Honey is also known to have antioxidant, antimicrobial and soothing effects. Honey is made up of glucose, fructose and minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphate, sodium chlorine, potassium and magnesium. Honey also is believed to heal a number of infections, as it contains peroxide. (See http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/264667.ph) The health benefits of maple syrup include a healthy heart and a healthier immune system. Maple syrup has antioxidant properties that protect our body from free radicals. (See https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/maple-syrup.html)

Do your immune system a favor and pack more fruits and vegetables on your plate. Eating some of the foods listed below is great for your health, as they are packed with nutrients and antioxidants. The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. You’ll find them in colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange and yellow hues.

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids can be found in apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon. Vitamin C can be found in berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers; while Vitamin E is found in broccoli (boiled), avocado, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds.

These foods are rich in antioxidants: prunes, apples, raisins, plums, red grapes, alfalfa sprouts, onions, eggplant and beans. Other antioxidants that can help keep you healthy include: Zinc (oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, some fortified cereals and dairy products) and Selenium (Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry, fortified breads, and other grain products.) Cooking tip: To get the biggest benefits of antioxidants, eat these foods raw or lightly steamed. Don’t overcook or boil them. (See http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/antioxidants-your-immune-system-super-foods-optimal-health.)

Remember it is best for you to grow your own foods, but if you don’t have access to growing your own food it is always safer and healthier to buy fresh produce and meats. Cook these foods using healthier cooking methods such as baking, roasting, braising, poaching, boiling and blanching.

All lives matter. Take your life back and define how long you will live by choosing foods that you can benefit from eating – foods that have the power to reduce cancer, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, etc. Food can and should be medicine, not poison. It all depends on how you cook it and how fresh it is when you eat it.

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MarkishaMarkisha Gandy is a chef at Gabriel’s Place. If you’re interested in learning more about healthy cooking and eating, visit Markisha at Gabriel’s Place every Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m. for the Share a Meal program. For this free community dinner, Markisha creates healthy menu options that benefit everyone who eats them. Gabriel’s Place also has a free cooking class for adults to teach basic knife skills and cooking techniques. Learn more at gabriels-place.org or call 513.221.2306 for more information.

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