Emmy Award-winning television host and chef Christina Pirello didn’t become famous for an amazing chicken cacciatore or spicy cannoli recipe. In fact, she doesn’t cook those dishes at all. Instead, Christina Pirello has become famous for speaking up — about the harmful effects of the very foods most of us crave and indulge in every day. On a visit to Wilmington last week, she instructed health-conscious moms to purge their pantries and stock up on a new lifestyle of natural, unprocessed whole foods or risk a life of diminished health and expensive healthcare.
Christina Pirello almost didn’t live to share this advice. At age 26 she was diagnosed with terminal leukemia, rejected conventional therapy, and was given only months to live. She booked a trip to Italy, planning to and enjoy every nibble of chocolate and sip of coffee on what would be her final journey. But boyfriend Robert Pirello intervened, suggesting that if she gave up her beloved sugar and incorporated a diet of whole and natural foods, Christine might regain her health. She did, and it worked.
Her story is riveting, not just because she beat horrific odds (17 of 19 family members died of cancer) in an unconventional way, but because she has become widely popular selling recipes and meals that many would choose to avoid. Christina Cooks airs nationally on more than 250 public television stations, she lectures around the country, founded the Christina Pirello Health Education Initiative, is on the faculty at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and just launched her fifth book, “I’m Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Going to Eat It Anymore!” Her latest salvo takes aim at the food industry and marketers who continue to serve up larger portions of processed foods with artificial additives and other unhealthy ingredients, and she questions their manufacturing and farming practices.
“We are the generation that eats out of a foil tray,” Pirello told a sold-out crowd at Wilmington Country Club. She encourages adults to take their families on a “new adventure” full of natural foods, whole grains, vegetables and scratch cooking — to change the course so many families are on. “It’s time to get back in touch with real food so we can enjoy real health,” she writes.
Christine’s visit to Delaware was sponsored by Friends of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center of Christiana Care Hospital. Her message that personal responsibility can indeed affect and improve our overall health ties in nicely with the Helen F. Graham Cancer Friends, who recently published a pocket guide entitled, “Taking Charge of Your Body – Every Day!” The Friends Fighting Cancer wellness card is a guide to living healthy, with recommended cancer screenings and specific food, alcohol, and exercise recommendations.
“Lifestyle is critical in terms of disease prevention, especially cancer,” said Penny Saridakis, co-chair of the Friends of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center. “Christine Pirello’s message is a powerful one, in that our food choices have a direct impact on our short-term and long-term health.”
Here are just a few recommendations by Friends of the Helen F. Graham Center and Christina Perillo:
• Stop buying all the “junk,” including sodas and “white” foods such as bleached flour, rice, potatoes, refined sugar
• Each week take a processed food out of your pantry and replace it with something of quality – whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit, herbs and spices are good
• Replace vegetable oil with canola, flaxseed, or olive oil
• Reduce or eliminate dairy
• Introduce Chia Seeds into your diet, which Pirello says are high in protein and fiber and loaded with nutrients
Christy Fleming is a former journalist and advertising executive who lives in Wilmington with her husband and family.
Photos courtesy of: Tommy Leonardi Photography