Internationally known Chef LaLa is featured on the Winter 2011 cover and, inside the magazine, healthy eating and exercise advice —and the recipes. Two of our special topics in this issue are reducing obesity and avoiding or managing diabetes—challenges facing many Hispanics today. Chef LaLa speaks to both of these challenges, which have touched her own family.
Chef LaLa: Making Better Food Choices
THE INTERVIEW: Chef LaLa is an internationally known, award-winning, and very popular chef and health advocate. This Los Angeles native speaks widely for the American Diabetes Association about cooking and healthful foods and serves as chef for many celebrities in entertainment and politics, including two U.S. Presidents. Chef LaLa is a third-generation restaurateur and grew up in the kitchens of her family’s California eateries.
NIH: Three of your grandparents and both your parents have had diabetes. How has this influenced your work to combat this disease?
LaLa: Losing my grandparents to diabetes made me aware of how serious the disease is. If it is not managed properly, it can lead to premature death. My parents now have diabetes, but are managing through medication, exercise, and, with my help, diet. They still enjoy the wonderful foods of their native Mexico, but understand they must manage their blood sugar and their individual needs. Almost anyone can manage diabetes. If my grandparents had had the tools, if I could have taught them, they would have made better choices.
NIH: You have said that small changes can have big effects in managing diabetes. What do you mean?
LaLa: It’s always interesting to see how people avoid preventative care. The most common excuse is “I just don’t have the time.” Unfortunately, when it comes to our health we often don’t get a second chance.
NIH: Some worry that changing to a more healthy diet will be too expensive. How do you respond to that?
LaLa: There are lots of ways to save money, but sacrificing your health and well-being should not be one of them. I always look for ways to save money without sacrificing what my body needs, especially at the supermarket. For myself and my family, I concentrate on quality items that feed the body, mind and soul with all the deliciousness a “good-for-you” meal provides.
Managing your weight and health is a sound long-term investment in yourself. Studies have shown that being overweight can cost an average obese person $6,000 in health care, wage discrimination, clothing and travel costs. Bottom line is, if you can’t quite find the finances, time, or creativity to be healthy—you’d better start saving a lot of money to be sick.
NIH: What can you tell people about the advice health professionals give them about changing their eating habits?
LaLa: I say it’s like building a house.Do-it-yourself can be a disaster, so seek professional help.Your healthcare professional provides the blueprint so that you can build a great house of health. If you have diabetes, consult your endocrinologist, dietitian, diabetes educator, and physical trainer. Rely on their knowledge and experience.
Don’t be intimidated or discouraged by a recommended diet. Think of it as a chance to try different cooking techniques, to explore new flavors. The most important thing is that every good building needs a strong foundation. For your health, that foundation is you. So be your best; health is a lifestyle, not just a diet.
NIH: Eating habits start young, and health problems like diabetes hit many children. What is your message as a mother and chef to children and their parents?
LaLa: As a mommy, I know that my son, Maddox, watches and absorbs everything I do and say. It is my responsibility to empower him to be his best —in all aspects of life, including managing his health. As parents, we teach our children the skills to survive. Part of survival is learning good eating habits to last a lifetime; habits that may make the difference in his health. One of every three children (and 1 in 2 minority children) born in the United States today faces a future of diabetes if current trends continue. Parents are not given a handbook on parenting, but we can look at problems and guide our children. That is why I promote daily physical activity for Maddox, and set structure around meals. He’ll often ask for yogurt, for example, because that is the norm for snacks in our family. I make sure to provide meals that are rich in the nutrients that will help him grow healthy and strong.
NIH: You are a very busy working Mom. Do you exercise? How has your health benefited from adopting a healthy lifestyle?
LaLa: I tell myself that I’ll be no good to anyone if I am not healthy. Emotionally and spiritually I constantly refresh my outlook on life and revisit what is truly important. I want to live a long, healthy life, and that means adopting a healthy lifestyle.
NIH: What does the future hold for Chef LaLa?
LaLa: It is my destiny, my mission to empower others with the knowledge they need to live healthily—without sacrificing life’s culinary pleasures. As a chef, certified nutritionist and motivational speaker, it is my privilege to show others how to prepare tasty meals that also are good for you. I take this approach in my recipes. cookbooks and Chef LaLa Homemade line of products. They are formulated to make it easy for the home cook to add great flavors for healthy meals for their families. For the immediate future I am working closely with White Memorial Hospital in East Los Angeles, NBA Fit, and the American Diabetes Association, as well as writing my next book and filming a national television show.