So you’re an Italian who loves good food, even better wine, and you have your name behind some of the finest restaurants in the country. Sounds like the good life, right? Then, you visit the doctor and learn that you have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and you’re going to have to make some changes. For many, this would be an end to the road of a life of feel-good, taste-good indulgence. However, it might have just been the beginning for Joe Bastianich.
“I’m enthusiastic to share how healthy living transformed my own life,” Joe told us in an interview. His diagnosis of these early indicators for heart disease forced him to make some changes in his lifestyle, and the result is inspiring and attainable for anyone. He credits diet, exercise and medication with helping him to “no longer have any medical conditions.”
Joe has previously taken Lipitor, a popular cholesterol-lowering drug that he also represents, and follows a heart-healthy diet and a daily fitness regimen which he credits with helping him to change the course of his health. “Lipitor, regular exercise, and a new way of thinking about food and eating,” point this proud Italian in a better direction.
He says he fell in love with running, something that is “very much a part of my life.” Last year he completed the world championship ironman competition in Kona, Hawaii, and next month you’ll see him running the LA Marathon. He’s looking at a half-ironman competition in Italy this summer, too. For him, “running, cycling, and swimming is my personal time, my meditation time.” More than his fitness and general health, his training contributes to his “mental health and overall productivity.” He takes time every day to eat right and allow himself to train.
An athlete like this, and someone this cognizant of his heart health, is probably living on rabbit food like spinach, carrots, brown rice, and water, right? It couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I officially declare that trend dead!” he announced in our interview, the trend that pasta is off limits for anyone watching what they eat. “Pasta is back.” That’s music to some hungry ears, no doubt. He says you have to approach pasta with “Italian sensibility.” Eat a proper serving of 100 grams, which is just under one-quarter pound, is his advice. “Endless fettuccini and alfredo sauce is where you go wrong.”
He extols the benefits of pasta because it’s a food that “gives satisfaction of eating something filling and delicious.” That’s just what we need, considering he says our current approach to healthy eating is “devoid of satisfaction. When you take that out, you have a situation that becomes problematic again.” That’s why Joe’s all about pasta, gelato, and wine!
Joe recommends making your own sauces with a San Marzano tomato base that you can “put anything in.” And he means it, describing everything from garlic and olive oil to chili flakes, anchovies, olives, and more. With the sauce, Joe says you can eat it by itself, tossed with pasta, on top of a protein, or mixed with vegetables like eggplant.
He described to us the simplicity of making a Pasta Puttanesca (recipe below), with ingredients that are likely part of a well-stocked pantry. That’s the place he calls his “first line of defense,” the pantry. He cites 95 percent of healthfulness and quality decisions are decided once you’ve purchased your groceries. So his recommendation is “don’t buy for the week, buy for the next meal.” This practice ensures you’re buying the freshest ingredients possible. He likes ingredients that are sustainable, local, and not processed.
With those wholesome ingredients, like you can source from a farmers market, Joe also notes that you can replace butter and cream with the heart-healthy fat in olive oil and replace fatty cuts of meat with learner proteins. You’ll also extract more flavor without additional ingredients by focusing on your cooking methods – try searing, boiling, steaming and light sautés.
There’s one more thing you’ll need to complete this picturesque, heart-healthy Italian way of eating. “Wine is food,” Joe told us. He echoes many nutrition industry experts by saying wine can be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, he told us “a glass of wine with every meal is acceptable and necessary to complete the eating experience.”
He ended with “Keep it simple. Keep it fresh,” as guidance for eating well.
You can see more of Joe on Lipotor’s sponsored site HeartInTheKitchen.com, where he shares low-cholesterol recipes and cooking demos. On May 1, his book Restaurant Man will be available, which he describes as paralleling this story and taking people behind the scenes in his life from “blue-collar to media glitzy.”
Pasta Puttanesca by Joe Bastianich
- 1 full recipe Pomodoro Sauce
- ¼ cup Olives
- ⅛ cup Capers
- 1 tsp Fresh thyme
- 1 tsp Fresh oregano
- 1 tsp Fresh mint
- 1 lb Dried strozzapreti or other pasta
- 1 pinch Kosher Salt
- Anchovies (optional)
1. Bring salted water to a boil for pasta.
2. While the water is boiling, slice the olives.
3. Pour a little olive oil into a saucepan and add chopped olives and capers. Sauté for 5 minutes.
4. Add pomodoro sauce.
5. Toss in chopped thyme and oregano and simmer at low heat for 15 minutes.
6. Add anchovies (if using) and simmer while the pasta boils.
7. Two minutes before the pasta is done, remove from boiling water and add to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta. Add a little pasta water if necessary to keep the sauce liquid.
8. Add chopped mint leaves.
9. Simmer until the pasta is tender.