‘Comfort food doesn’t have to be junk food,’ expert says
March is National Nutrition Month—an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics through which “everyone is invited to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits.” And timing couldn’t be better as, for all too many, those well-intended New Year’s health and weight-loss resolutions are starting to wane—or, worse, have completely gone by the wayside!
Let’s face it: Dieting is hard, but it can be much less so when enjoying grocery items and recipes that are so satisfying, they don’t make us “feel” like we’re missing out on anything. For my part, it’s comfort food that I often miss the most when putting together a health-minded menu. This is especially during stressful times, as has been the case lately courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I’m not alone.
Research, like that by Cornell University, finds that our collective craving for less-healthy comfort food increases when feeling down or sad. Stress is another factor exacerbating unhealthy eating, sometimes as a “crutch.” This, as a survey by the American Psychological Association found that “thirty-eight percent of adults say they have overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods in the past month [at time of survey] because of stress. Half of these adults (49 percent) report engaging in these behaviors weekly or more.” The report further cited that “fully 33 percent of adults who report overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress say they do so because it helps distract them from stress.”
The good news is that food and grocery purveyors are taking heed, tapping into our desire to live a healthy lifestyle, while also upholding a penchant for comfort food—that which is commonly steeped in nostalgia, sentiment, culture … or all of the above.
With that, I set my sights on finding healthy options in one of my own favorite comfort food categories: Italian fare. All too often, Italian food and healthy eating are deemed to be oxymorons, but I was determined to bridge that gap. With that, I set my sights on finding Italian food options that are not only fundamentally wellness-minded, but that I could also readily procure. Happily, those research roads let me to Gianluca Mech, a company that produces Italian keto diet food and keto supplements. You can imagine my glee when I learned that this prolific wellness company—in operation since 1911—not only offers keto pasta and keto orzo options, but also a wide range of other keto-friendly Italian foods like biscuits, nutrition bars, cakes, both sweet and savory snacks and an array of beverages.
So intrigued by this brand and my newfound Italian comfort food freedom, I endeavored to connect with the man at the helm of the eponymous company: Gianluca Mech. Here is a bit of that conversation.
MK: Many people might have doubts, so let me first clarify; your company offers Italian food that is actually healthy?
GM: Yes. Most people in the U.S. associate Italian food with high-carb and high-calorie foods like pizza, pasta, cookies and more. Contrary to popular belief, eating a delicious Italian meal does not always have to make you feel guilty afterwards. My company produces Italian keto food and keto supplements that make it possible for you to enjoy your favorite Italian foods courtesy of our healthy alternatives. And you will still feel satisfied because we recreate these foods using soluble fibers. I believe you can make healthy choices and enjoy delicious food at the same time. I am passionate about transforming how people define healthy food and how they think about consuming the foods they eat every day. I believe food is nourishment for the body, and enjoying a good meal is good for your soul. Our brand of Italian keto foods makes eating healthy pleasurable!
MK: One of the things you say is that comfort food doesn’t mean you have to be eating junk food. How did you discover that comfort can also mean healthy?
GM: I wanted to include all types of food in our product line. Keto is very effective at managing your weight and keeping your heart healthy, among some other benefits, but it is typically a very restrictive diet and difficult to maintain. I realized that if I couldn’t figure out a way to make comfort foods a realistic part of a keto diet, including the keto program we ourselves offer, it might be impossible for people to stick to it. We are bombarded with societal messages to give in to our temptations and those messages have been successful at making people feel deprived. Most people think a little treat here and there shouldn’t hurt, but it all adds up. The biggest difference between our line of comfort foods and typical Italian comfort foods, which are high in carbohydrates, is that the choices we offer are healthier options. I always say my biggest competitor isn’t other diet plans; it’s good Italian food.
That being said, most people are very surprised to find out that our products allow them to enjoy eating the Italian comfort foods that smell so good and stir up feelings of nostalgia while facilitating weight-loss at the same time. I also think it is important to remember that there is comfort food and then there is food that’s critical to eat for its nutritional value. For example, you can eat the healthy version of our classic pancakes and our pasta with a lower serving of carbohydrates, but you must also eat vegetables and protein.
MK: How has the Italian market embraced this new take on classic Italian dishes?
GM: Critics from the Italian market were very impressed by the way our food items preserved the integrity of classic recipes and how great they tasted. Their initial reaction was, “Oh, this is incredible. Are you sure this is keto?” At first, customers didn’t trust our claims that Italian keto tasted just like the food from their favorite restaurant. They didn’t believe us when we said it tastes identical to the Italian dishes they loved to cook, order and serve to their families. They were very happy, however, to share with us that they noticed their energy levels were stable throughout the day and that they experienced some weight loss.
MK: What are some of your most popular items?
GM: We noticed some of the most popular items are the classic dishes and the pantry staples in the Italian diet such as cookies and croissants, which are very common breakfast items in Italy. Now, we have healthier options that are just as flavorful. Pasta is also a staple ingredient in nearly every Italian dish and our customers are happy to be able to enjoy these foods that once made them not only feel guilty, but also sleepy and sluggish.
MK: There are a lot of different diet fads out there. Tell us why you are an advocate of the keto approach to cooking meals for individuals and their families.
GM: When you consistently choose foods low in carbohydrates and high in flavor, which is the fundamental principle of a keto diet, you could lose upwards of 20 pounds in about 40 days, maintain lean muscle mass and feel good in your clothes. But, more importantly, you can experience some positive changes in your levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as other problems linked to obesity. When I realized I could make a connection between flavor and the food that I choose to fuel my body, I immediately wanted to bring that good news to everyone. A diet based on keto principles can help you lose weight very quickly because your body is burning fat and not the sugar from the carbohydrates. When your body is in a state of ketosis, or balance, you feel strong and full. In some fad diets where people lose weight very quickly, what happens is the fat releases toxins into the body and you end up feeling nauseous, dizzy or just plain old sick. The food in our diet keto products range also includes herbal remedies that will help to detoxify the body during this fat-burning process so that you are less likely to experience the side effects of fatigue and overall malaise. Plus, a diet based on keto principles has a lot of other benefits besides weight loss. It can help ease symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hypothyroidism and diabetes. Our line also includes some products formulated for people on gluten-free and vegan diets.
MK: Is your product available in the United States?
GM: We are bringing our products to brick-and-mortar stores in the United States soon, but they are currently available for purchase in America online. We are launching a new category of pastry products that will be available in the United States in the next six months. It was important to me to roll out these healthy options in the U.S. because I am concerned about the prevalence of obesity in the region, as well as the associated medical costs in its healthcare system that focuses on treatment rather than prevention. This data inspired me to do whatever I can to bring awareness and healthy options to the American people. It is my further hope to create a ripple effect of change that sweeps across the world.
MK: You say that this diet is very good for people with diabetes and other ailments. Can you tell us about any studies you have conducted that support the benefits of your line of keto Italian food and beverages, like the herbal teas?
GM: Yes, there are many scientific studies that prove the benefits of the keto diet for people living with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases and PCOS. For example, people living with diabetes find my diet helps them enjoy their food again. It might seem like a simple equation, but when you enjoy your food and you have fewer spikes in your glycemic index because that food is healthy for you. Studies also show you are more likely to continue to make healthy choices. We can correlate the consumption of healthy, low sugar, low carbohydrate foods with the successful treatment of gallstones, the onset of hypertension and slight to moderate dyslipidemia. There are also findings that suggest the effects of the keto diet appear to be particularly significant in terms of reducing blood triglycerides, lowering total cholesterol and increasing HDL-cholesterol, or good cholesterol. We have also conducted specific studies using our protocols, so we understand even more of the benefits that our products and diet approach proffers to our customers. In fact, we have conducted the most studies of any diet in Italy, the results of which you can find on our website.
So, if you’re like me and are keen on indulging in Italian comfort food, though in a way that can actually promote health and wellness—particularly if you’re following a keto diet regimen—the science and study-driven Gianluca Mech line just may be for you. After all, a life well lived explores all pasta-bilities.
Forbes Business Council Member Merilee Kern, MBA is an internationally-regarded brand analyst, strategist and futurist who reports on noteworthy industry change makers, movers, shakers and innovators across all categories, both B2C and B2B. This includes field experts and thought leaders, brands, products, services, destinations and events. Merilee is Founder, Executive Editor and Producer of “The Luxe List” as well as Host of the nationally-syndicated “Savvy Living” TV show. As a prolific consumer and business trends, lifestyle and leisure industry voice of authority and tastemaker, she keeps her finger on the pulse of the marketplace in search of new and innovative must-haves and exemplary experiences at all price points, from the affordable to the extreme. Her work reaches multi-millions worldwide via broadcast TV (her own shows and copious others on which she appears) as well as a myriad of print and online publications. Connect with her at www.TheLuxeList.com and www.SavvyLiving.tv / Instagram www.Instagram.com/LuxeListReports / Twitter www.Twitter.com/LuxeListReports / Facebook www.Facebook.com/LuxeListReports / LinkedIN www.LinkedIn.com/in/MerileeKern.
Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above may have been provided or arranged at no cost to accommodate if this is review editorial, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.
All images courtesy of www.gianlucamech.com