'Bela' Bela Gil!

Music Royalty descendant Bela Gil is much more than a famous last name and a pretty face. She is creating her own path by teaching others how to live a healthy lifestyle. Bla talked to her about food, her cooking classes and we got a great reeducation of our eating habits.

Bla – I learned that you started to live a healthier life and eat healthy since your childhood and that it came from your father (Gilberto Gil). Did he impose a more natural diet to the household or did you have the freedom to choose?

BG – My father followed a strict macrobiotic diet for several years during the 1070’s but when I was born he wasn’t a strict macrobiotic anymore. Of course he maintained a healthy diet and continued to eat brown rice in his own bowl with hashi. But he never imposed what must have gone into my plate or into my brother’s. We were able to choose what to eat and what to drink from what was being served and at home we always had a healthy diet similar to many Brazilian households. We had rice, beans, vegetables, salad and a meat every day, and sometimes pasta for dinner (my Grandfather was Italian). Of course that the tofu, seaweed and adzuki beans were things that me and my brothers would pass.

Bla - Have you ever driven away from your natural and healthy way of life? If so, what were the consequences?

BG - I became a “foodie” when I turned 14 and started to practice yoga and found that the food I was eating was affecting my yoga practice. That was the first time that I related healthy food to wellbeing. And from than point own, I try to follow a healthy way of living by eating homemade food, mostly vegetarian, low in sugar and dairy, and always exercising.

Bla - You are finishing your studies at The Natural Gourmet Institute. What have you learned there that you disagree with and would not apply to your everyday life? What have you learned that you were not applying and decided to do so?
BG - I finished my studies at the NGI in 2007 and now I’m in the last year of the nutrition program at Hunter College. It is a good program, however it is quite challenging for me who came from a holist approach to nutrition. At school for example we learn that margarine is a better choice over butter since margarine in low in saturated fat and butter is highly saturated. Well, I will always believe that something done by nature will be much healthier than a manmade stuff, with one molecule apart to turn into plastic.

  Bela Gil welcomed Bla NYC @ her Cooking Class in the East Village

Bla - What is the influence of acidity on the human body?
BG - Every disease develops in an acidic environment. So to avoid any kind of disease, especially cancer, one must maintain the body slightly alkaline. Unfortunately, modern food has become very acidic and the body response to an acidic food is to balance it out by removing calcium (alkaline mineral) from the bones to turn the blood more alkaline. So if you have an acidic diet, you are more prone to osteoporosis, weak teeth, bones and nails, and cancer. The human blood is already slightly alkaline but within this alkalinity there is a range in which it can become more acid or more alkaline.

Bla – I suffered from Hepatitis type B when I was 9 years of age. Having almost died from it, I am very conscious about what can damage my liver (Tylenol). What other eating habits/foods you think can damage the liver and the gastrointestinal system?
BG - Medicines, drugs, alcohol and some foods damage the liver. So food wise I would say that alcohol and sugar are the worse foods one can give to the liver. Today, thanks to Dr. Robert Lustig and many other researches on the subject of sugar, we know that the body metabolizes sugar very differently than it does with pure glucose or starch. Refined sugar (sucrose) is a disaccharide composed of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. While glucose is readily used by the entire body, fructose has to be primarily metabolized by the liver, which then converts the fructose to a more absorbable form. If eaten in excess, the liver converts the excess fructose into fat. Therefore, too much fructose can lead to the condition known as fatty liver. So sweetened beverages, soda and industrialized fruit juices are bad choices for the liver. For the gastrointestinal track, any food that the body doesn’t digest well will be harmful for the digestive system. Some people for example can’t digest milk, others don’t digest well meat, fat, gluten or uncooked foods. So those foods are harmful for their digestive health.

Bla - Today, we live in a society that condemn carbohydrates, fatty acids, glucose, certain types of protein, etc. What do you think about it?
BG - Everyone who follows a strict diet that restrict certain food, it could be meat, dairy or sugar assume that if he or she lives much better without them, everyone else will too. But not necessarily! If meat doesn’t work for me, it can work for you. People tend to generalize and this is wrong. Not everyone digest food the same way. As a popular saying says: “One man’s meat is the other man’s poison. That’s the lesson.

Bela Gil 's Cooking Class in the East Village   

Bla - Are foods labeled “light” good for you? If not, how so?
BG - Not necessarily, the term light simply means that there is less of a certain nutrient in the food then the original one. And they usually have fewer calories as well. They can reduce the fat content, or the sugar, or the sodium content in a food and label it light. But this process doesn’t make a food healthier, because they use highly process material such as artificial sweeteners… Or when they want to make a food less fat they will add more sugar to it to compensate the lack of flavor. And if you take a look at the obesity and diabetic chart in the US, you can see that after the 1980’s the rate of these two epidemics sky rocked due to the addition of sugar in fat free products. 

Bla - Is there a good sugar and a bad sugar?
BG – I would rather distinguish them as nutritious and non-nutritious sugar. A nutritious sugar is one that provides nutrients along with carbohydrate, and a non-nutritious sugar is one that provides nothing else besides calories. For example: sweet potato vs. soda.

Bla - Women, during their menstrual times, crave sugar more than normal. What can be a healthy solution to satisfy cravings?
BG - If the person is not sick and don’t require a diet restricted of sugar I could say that he or she can satisfy her craving with raw honey and molasses.  I believe that white sugar and its codenames such as evaporated cane juice, brown sugar (in the US), raw sugar are types of sugars that should be avoided by everyone, including during PMS. And if nothing will satisfy your craving try a cake made with maple syrup, or a vegan ice cream.

Bla - I have found out that you mostly cook with coconut oil. What are the properties of it that makes it healthier? Can you cook anything with it?
BG - Coconut oil is a special fat because of its chemical/molecular structure. Coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglicerides or MCT’s, instead of the long chain triglicerides that most oils and fat have. The long chains are more difficult to digest and therefore are stored in the body as fat. In contrast, the MCT’s in coconut oil are smaller molecules, rapidly broken down by the the digestive system and immediately burned by the liver for energy. Like carbohydrates, but without the insulin spike. That means less fat deposited in fat cells and more fat being used for energy.  So it can actually help you become leaner. Coconut oil also has another positive factor in weight loss. It can be used in smaller quantities because of its lower level of viscosity, it better integrates the seasonings flavor with the food, so you can use less of it. On top of all that, coconut oil has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties.

Bla - I noticed that coconut oil tends to solidify in cold temperatures. Is it Ok to leave it like this or is there a special way that it should be handled?
BG - Yes, you can leave it in at room temperature or in the fridge. I tend to leave mine at room temperature.

Bla - Why are you an adept of almond milk? Why is it healthier than others? I myself am allergic to nuts, what is the alternative?
BG - First of all, we do not need to drink milk to assure a healthy diet. Secondly, nearly 2/3 of the world population is allergic to cow’s milk. And lastly, after pasteurization, the milk becomes very acidic, so instead of providing calcium for bone formation, it takes calcium out of from the bones to balance the acidity. It becomes a high source of beta-lactose (milk sugar), which causes cavities in bottle fed children. And it becomes very allergenic. The nut milk don’t have any of these and you can make at home very easily with any nut or seed, or both.
If you are allergic to nuts, try raw milk or goat’s milk. But very little.

Bla - Are there healing types of foods?
BG - Every food when prepared right, eaten at the right time and by the right person is a healing food!

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