Recently, I had the opportunity of taking a 23 day adventure of exploration across the Atlantic Ocean.  In all the countries we visited, I was inspired by each culture as they had engrained a self care practice into their people’s way of living.  Whether the self care practices were about a slower pace of living, breathing, hydrotherapy, or food, it made me question: does our North American Culture have a self care practice that has been engrained into our routines?  Well, come with me as to explore the countries that I visited, and see how self care is a part of their culture.  First stop: Italy- where fresh food and quality ingredients are non- negotiable.

I was so excited to fly to the land of delicious wheat pastas and raw cheeses that would melt in your mouth. But what about my own food intolerances?  I got nervous thinking:  what would I eat? Will people think I’m weird for not eating the same foods?  Or would I succumb to dairy and wheat and just live with the “normal” feelings of being constipated, bloated, flatulent, and as a result a little lonely?

As we landed, my diplomatic friend was excited to take us on our first food experience: Arancini (risotto balls).   We drove through a ballet of crazy chaotic drivers and vespas, to a small cozy bakery with tiny square tables and a wall decorated with bottles of red wine.  With a slight wind blowing through the east and west end doors, the smells of the freshly made pizzas wafted through the air:  we were surrounded by a magnitude of delicious Italian desserts and pizzas!

023- risotto ballsWe ordered a variety of Arancini: plain, stuffed with mushroom, others with parmigiano cheese, and potato dumplings.  Before attempting to try anything in fear of a lactose intolerant reaction, my diplomatic friend informed me that “after living in Italy for 1 year, I lost weight eating pasta every day for lunch. I can assure you this food is different!”  My eyes widened and my mouth dropped to the floor. How is that possible?  People who want to lose weight in North America often veer away from Pasta.   After my first bite of Arincini, it was apparent that the food really was different.  Wow the flavor! I could taste the individual ingredients, but also how the ingredients danced together in a perfect medley of Arborio rice, mushrooms, tomatoes and paramigiano.  Experiment # 1: no bloating? No flatulence? Hmm interesting yet still skeptical…

038Experiment #2: a Gelato mission (how could you not?).  After a beautifully boisterous dinner at a local Italian joint, we were guided to a Gelato Shop surrounded by small gatherings of people enjoying each other’s company.  Stracciatella, Tiramisu, Chocolate, Limoncello, Lemon Basil, Crème Brule, Coffee, Pistachio, Blueberry, etc., I suddenly remembered what it was like to be a kid in a candy store.  Pistachio and Stracciatella were my choices.  Wow a creamier texture without the bad mucous-like aftertaste of Canadian ice cream.   No bloating? No flatulence? Hmmm very interesting!   But gelato experiment #3 of “poor quality” gelato didn’t work out so well. Apparently there is good quality gelato and bad quality gelato and your body can definitely tell the difference!  This only confirmed that food intolerances can still exist across the globe depending on the quality of the ingredients.

145Experiment #4- Pasta!  For this dish, we decided to take a road trip to the Southern Coast of Positano, Minori and Miori.  A small quaint restaurant on the side of the road caught our eye for lunch.  Sitting with a glass of sparkling water and a glass of white wine we found ourselves overlooking the sea.  A calm and peace suddenly overwhelmed me with an appreciation for a break – a break to take a breath, a break live a little slower, and a break to be in the moment.  What a profound idea that many of us need to learn (including myself).  Guided from my thoughts to the menu, I ordered a delicious calamarata pasta with locally fished clams and mussels caught that morning.  The quality, the simplicity, and the massive flavor led to no gastric distress.


Continually in Italy, the same theme always popped up: quality ingredients, fresh ingredients, and locally grown.  These themes produced big flavors which encouraged me to smell my food, taste my food and chew my food.  To once again live food culture as a way of sharing, a way of gathering, and a connection to our earth was humbling.  These concepts are all part of a self care practice called diet, a practice people constantly hear me talk about in our clinic.

So how do we bring these food concepts to our daily lifestyle back in Ontario?  Applying the same principles of fresh/quality ingredients, locally grown and simplicity in your recipes can be simple.  Here are a few tips to follow:

A)     Minimize/avoid the consumption of processed foods.

A lot of processed foods like candy, chips, cookies, chocolate, soup mixes, canned soups, cereals, and baby formulas are not fresh, nor of quality, and can come from far off lands.  Also, how long is that ingredient list? It doesn’t look simple does it? Well…

  • Focus on whole foods including plenty of vegetables and fruit.  The farther a food is from its natural state the lower the nutritional value.
  • Start with 6 portions of vegetables and fruit per day and work up from there.
  • Prepare your meals with colour and texture in mind and include new veggies each week.
  • Include raw, living foods as either snacks or salads each day.

B)      Know your Food and talk to your farmers! Ask Questions!

When you go to your farmers market or the grocery store build a relationship with them and ask questions. Some questions to consider include:

  • Where is your farm located?
  • What are your farming practices?
  • Where do you source your seeds from?
  • Do you use synthetic pesticides? If not, what farming practices do you do that reduce pesticide use?
  • How do you farm your cattle?  What kind of living conditions are they in?
  • Are you cattle grain fed or grass fed? If grain fed for how long?
  • How are your chickens grown? Are they free run? Are they given antibiotics?

C)      Good things grow in Ontario…

  • Does your produce or cattle have the Foodland Ontario sticker?  Is it from Ontario or imported Mexico, South Africa, China, South America, etc.?  Try to eat within a 100mile radius for fresher foods.
  • Eat with the seasons.  This will ensure maximum nutrient content of your foods and promote locally sourced foods in your diet.  Check out for fruit and vegetable availabilities.

D)     Quality ingredients also means GMO free!

  • In the European Union, GMOs are required to be labeled so the consumer has a choice whether they want to consume foods made with such ingredients.  In Canada labeling is voluntary and rather not in effect.  Avoid top GMO crops in Canada: corn, canola, wheat, soy, tomatoes, potatoes 

E)      Slow down and taste your foods!

  • Remember, the digestive process starts with smell.  When you are sitting at the dinner table, take the time to smell your food.   This allows your gastric juices to start going, you will feel your mouth water.
  • Chew your food! Slowly chew your food at least 20-30 times.  This allows your food to be digested in the mouth partly, and stimulates the body to produce digestive enzymes in preparation for digestion!
  • Taste your food! Ask yourself- what flavors am I tasting?

Remember: Fresh, Local, Quality Ingredients! 

For more information contact Dr. Melissa Lee, ND at Insight Naturopathic Clinic

Food Adventures of a Travelling Naturopathic Doctor
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