Celebs

Giada de Laurentiis: Why I’m cooking Italian food with less oil, salt

Nov. 5, 2013 at 11:27 AM ET

Giada De Laurentiis on TODAY with Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie
TODAY
Giada De Laurentiis cooks up some lightened up fare on TODAY Tuesday, serving up noodle paella and a pear arugula salad.

Lightening up Italian food? It might just make Nonna gasp. But that’s exactly what Giada De Laurentiis is doing with her new cookbook, “Giada’s Feel Good Food.” Here, we chat with the petite celeb chef to get the dish on what exactly she’s doing differently and why.

What prompted you to want to do lighter fare?

The reason I wrote this book and decided to go a little lighter is because the first question out of people’s mouths every time they see me is, “How do you stay so trim and eat all this food?”

And I always tell people I don’t eat a lot of anything – I eat a little bit of everything, and not a lot of anything. I thought it’d be fun to do a cookbook that has juices, and vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free recipes to help people in their daily lives feel good – not necessarily a diet, but feel good.

Video: TODAY contributor Giada de Laurentiis shares a delicious noodle paella recipe that ditches the rice, and also demonstrates how to make a radicchio, pear and arugula salad.

What were some of the biggest issues the nutritionist found in going through your recipes? Was there a particular calorie bomb?

What I learned from going through all this is the amount of olive oil and salt I use in my food. Basically, when I need flavor, I add olive oil and salt. I always thought that I wrote recipes that were light in sodium and pretty light in calories, but it’s amazing how much even just a tablespoon of olive oil can jack up those calories. I had to really scale back. And I had to retest to recipes to make sure that they still had flavor, and if they were lacking flavor in one way, I had to add it on in another.

Recipes: Guilt-free sweets: Giada's fig bites, smoothies, crumble

I also realized how much salt packaged foods have. Pasta, flour or whole wheat tortillas, grains – they all carry their own sodium. Moving forward, I will write recipes that I think will be more mindful of stuff like that.

As a replacement for olive oil, I now sometimes use grapeseed oil, which has less fat and less calories. So if I need the oil, then I can go to that.

Can you give us a before/after comparison? How much have you cut down?

I now use less olive oil and less salt in daily life. Usually I would just use two tablespoons just to start out a recipe, to sometimes three to four tablespoons. Just to start! I have found that’s way too much. I’ve now reduced it down to 1/2 a tablespoon. With salt, I would usually do a couple teaspoons, and I’ve now gone down to 1/2 a teaspoon, sometimes a ¼ teaspoon.

Recipes: Giada's noodle paella, radicchio and pear salad

What was the most difficult change to make?

The most difficult change to make was salt – and I replaced a lot of the salt with lemon juice. Salt was tough because I don’t add a lot of ingredients to my food, so the ingredients that I do use, I use often. But I found that lemon juice that can do the trick. And minimizing parmesan cheese was also very difficult, because I’m used to a certain flavor and there’s not really a substitute for parmesan.

Pasta and healthy diets almost seem like an oxymoron. How can you incorporate pasta without feeling guilty?

It does sound like an oxymoron but it’s not the pasta itself that we’re gaining weight from, it’s how much of it we eat. I think that’s what we have to change – our relationship with food. It’s not about the pasta itself, the bread itself or the dessert itself – it’s about how much we eat. In the book, I have two different portion sizes for each recipe. The way that I like to eat when I go to a restaurant is order two appetizers because the portions are small. Otherwise order a main course and ask them to bring out half. The other half, ask them to package it, and then take it home and eat it the next day.

I lived in Paris for many years studying cooking. You know how much Parisians give you to eat, it’s very small! So they can drink wine, eat bread eat cheese, but they don’t eat a lot of it and they move a lot. So it’s about rethinking the way you enjoy food. 

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