HIGHLAND PARK – After spending 15 years trying to discover the “root of the problem” for a close relative who was diagnosed with heart disease, Integrative Nutritionist Carol D’Anca decided to try reversing the symptoms through a whole food plant-based diet.
“Cancer and chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension are definitely more prevalent today than they were 100 years ago and we’re treating symptoms with medications, but the disease doesn’t reverse,” said D’Anca, of Food Not Meds. “I’m hearing about medical schools offering courses in cooking so they can help their patients take better care of themselves. We’ve left our kitchens and our gardens and it’s taken quite a toll.”
D’Anca said she will explain why these diseases are “killing people today” and what can be done about it at the Healthy Highland Park Health Fair presented by Downtown Highland Park Alliance. The Health Fair will feature other presentations on health and wellness on Saturday, January 28 from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. at The Art Center Highland Park.
“It’s amazing what’s happened to us as a nation and as a world because of diet,” said D’Anca. “Wherever our Western diet goes, so do our diseases and it’s even more fascinating that it can be reversed.”
For a portion of D’Anca’s career she worked in the medical industry with laboratory testing of blood samples, as the executive vice president of a company based in Austria. Then she realized that she’s probably been in every hospital in the U.S. and every one reminded her of what was happening to the health of our nation. “I wanted to be part of the solution and not just work for companies that test for diseases,” she said
D’Anca began her practice in Highland Park five years ago and named it Food Not Meds, because she just kept going “further down the rabbit hole” with procedures and medications to help treat her relative’s heart disease. “It doesn’t mean that I never would agree that anyone should ever take medication, but you can do so much more to prevent and even reverse these diseases with diet and nutrition, because many of them are food-born illnesses,” she said. “My mission at Food Not Meds is to raise awareness, inspire dietary change and improve the health of the nation.”
D’Anca did her undergraduate work at University of Wisconsin in biochemistry studying nutrition and her graduate work at Chicago Medical School with clinical nutrition. “It doesn’t stop there as I’m constantly learning,” she said.
D’Anca explained that she works with a cardiologist in Wisconsin at United Health System who is successfully weaning people off medication for type II diabetes through diet and weight loss. “This person is having extraordinary results,” she said. “I’ve been going to Wisconsin to do presentations and cooking demos and I’ve seen the results in this patient.”
Though D’Anca grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, her family was from Italy, so she was raised on a typical Mediterranean diet. She said she realized her calling as a nutritionist at the age of 14 one day when the kids in the lunchroom started making fun of the healthy lunch that her mom packed for her. It included raw walnuts (high in Omega-3), apricots, a piece of fruit, a homemade oatmeal cookie and a water thermos.
“While the kids were saying how weird my lunch was, I thought it was strange seeing their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread, processed cookies and sodas,” said D’Anca. “I never ate processed foods and began to wonder what their diet did for them, what my diet did for me, and the rest is history.”
D’Anca said she does not recommend sugar substitutes such as artificial sweeteners, because they’re at least “200 times sweeter than sugar and all they do is calibrate the taste buds. Artificial sweeteners have also been shown to upset glucose control and in the long run can cause diabetes.”
In 2016, D’Anca published her book Real Food For Healthy People, with photos by her husband Giovanni D’Anca. The book has 65 recipes made with dehydrated dates instead of sugar or any type of artificial sweetener. “You can actually buy date sugar, which makes your recipes a little thicker and dryer because it’s coarser, but you’re not compromising taste at all,” she said. “Dates are a natural food and one date has more potassium than a banana.”
For pasta lovers, D’Anca said she has a recipe for pesto sauce that’s made with sage and walnuts instead of oil, because there are 500 calories in a half cup of oil.
As part of D’Anca’s practice she has an annual lifestyle and culinary trip where she takes small groups to Italy. “Italians aren’t sitting around eating big bowls of pasta,” she said. “It’s the first course of the meal and it’s a small bowl of pasta. We didn’t eat large portions of food at all. Spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine Alfredo and Italian beef don’t exist in Italy.”
D’Anca explained that Real Food For Healthy People, is more than a cookbook – it’s a “training guide.” She started a small cooking school where people come to her home, which is outlined in the Kitchen Organization chapter. She said if you have the right ingredients, store them properly and have a few fruits and vegetables in the house, you can make all kinds of things if you’re willing to put some time into it. “I had a completely plant- based buffet flowing with food on New Year’s Day, and no one complained,” she added modestly.
In D’Anca’s first book Food Not Meds, published in 2013, she wrote about her grandfather’s garden where he grew enough food to sustain 11 people. “Then I went to school and the corporate world, but came back to the garden in order to get someone close to me healthy, and on less medication,” she said.
D’Anca encourages everyone to attend the Healthy Highland Park Health Fair on Jan. 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Art Center Highland Park, 1957 Sheridan Road, to see what resources Highland Park has to offer. “People should come with an open mind to learn how to improve or maintain their health and possibly prevent some things down the road,” she said.
Participating Healthy Businesses include:
Cryopure Spa, Essential Evolution Holistic Wellness, Equinox, Freedom Home Health Care, Ilya’s Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, Jamba Juice, Love That Spice, North Shore Chinese Medicine, Nutritional Health Solutions, Pilates Center of the North Shore, Pulse Fitness, SPYRL- Gyrotonic Studio, Therapeutic Kneads, Wear in Good Health, Zeifert Eye Care.
For more information visit: www.downtownhp.com.