Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (plus one delicious recipe!)

An article on the obesity epidemic once ran in our local paper with the headline “Eat, drink, and be sorry.” Eat, drink, and be SORRY? The actual quote reads, “Eat, drink, and be merry, so that joy will accompany him in his work all the days of his life.” And herein lies the problem.

Wendell Berry said that “Eating with the fullest pleasure…is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”

In the movie Chocolat, the character says, “Listen, here’s what I think. I think we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny [emphasis mine] ourselves. What we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.”

We cannot and will not reverse the epidemic of obesity and diabetes in a culture of deprivation. Obesity is not caused by overindulgence; it is caused by malnutrition. The solution to malnutrition is to improve the nutritional value of the food you eat. It’s my patients who have helped me understand that obesity is a malnourished state perpetuated, in part, by a diet that adversely affects certain individuals more than others, and a society that assigns blame to those individuals for the effects of that diet.

If you search the term kwashiorkor, an awful disease that is caused by a severe deficiency of dietary protein, you will find images of pale, swollen, listless babies with swelling around the eyes (called periorbital edema), and large, distended bellies. Anymore, I see people who look like that everywhere. I don’t think everyone is deficient in protein, but I do think many people are deficient in SOMETHING. We all know some people who need to drink more water, and others who need more calories, remaining thin despite the fact that they always take a second helping of everything. Could it be possible that some kinds of obesity are caused by a relative deficiency of certain specific amino acids (protein building blocks) or fatty acids (fat building blocks) or phytonutrients (the sources of color in fruits and vegetables)? What might be the consequences of a low-fat diet to people whose own particular metabolisms require more?

It says a lot when people feel the need to demonstrate just how little butter or cream they actually used by squashing together their thumb and index finger. The French paradox has taught me that it’s no wonder the French, who fry their fresh eggs in butter and drink their coffee with fresh cream, have no national struggle with weight. There is no French paradox. There are only large numbers of well-meaning Americans who are utterly confused about what constitutes healthy eating.

If it’s not about depriving ourselves of the healthy pleasures of the table, then what is it about? It is about the pursuit of delicious, flavorful food, where each different food supplies a different set of building blocks for your good health. Here, for example, is an abbreviated list of places to look: strong cheeses like parmigiana, or extra sharp cheddar. Herbs and spices like basil, chili powder, cinnamon, curry, ginger, horseradish, lemon balm, mustard, and rosemary. Acid in lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, or umami in soy sauce and roasted sesame oil. Sweet flavors such as ripe strawberries, peaches, and cantaloupes, not to mention roasted root vegetables and sun-dried tomatoes. Aromatics like chives, jalapeños, scallions, and onions, caramelized if you like. Bitters like all the dark, green, leafy vegetables, of which there are dozens at least. And peanuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, wheat germ, or roasted almonds.

If you’re looking for flavor, try chopping 2 garlic cloves with 1½ tablespoons lemon zest (just the yellow peel) and ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt. Mix in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and then ¾ cup finely chopped parsley. Finally, add a can of rinsed white beans. This is called White Beans & Gremolata, and it is delicious.

Dean Ornish encourages adherents to eat with ecstasy, knowing it’s a kind of joy that will last a lifetime. Forget portion control as a first-line strategy. When you are satisfied because you’ve been well nourished with flavorful and nourishing foods, portion control gets much easier. Awareness is the first step in healing. When you connect the dots between what you do and how you feel, you become more aware of how powerfully your choices affect you, for better and for worse.

Denying yourself the pleasure of eating dooms you from the start. Eating well is not about a careful mix of fat, sugar, and salt, the hallmark of processed products described by David Kessler in The End of Overeating, that hijacks our natural ability to enjoy and appreciate and feel satisfied by real food. It is about the color, texture, temperature, and flavor of real food.

Once upon a time we understood in our bones that eating well and eating smart were one and the same. I encourage you to reclaim that knowledge.


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Snap Peas & Yogurt

If you’re looking for an alternative to the rows and rows of sweet, fruit-flavored yogurty products at the supermarket, you have way more options than you even realized!

Have you ever tried mixing yogurt with a combination of vegetables, herbs, and/or aromatics like garlic and scallions? It was my father who taught me how to create a major flavor celebration by mixing plain yogurt into fresh, finely chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, sometimes with a bit of green scallion. Seriously delicious. Whether it’s handfuls of chive flowers at the beginning of the growing season, or cubes of cooked pumpkin with cinnamon toward the end, veggies and yogurt are a largely untapped treasure trove of flavor and joy.

So, speaking of vegetables and yogurt, here’s a very special recipe that could serve equally as an inspired appetizer or as a meal all by itself, and it is perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, no matter what the time of day.

Note: If dairy is not your cup of tea, feel free to use a thick (Greek style) soy- or nut-based yogurt.

3/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped coarsely
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/2 tsp. black pepper, fresh ground
3 Tbsp. raw, unsalted almonds, chopped coarsely

Stir together the yogurt, lemon juice, shallot, mint, and salt, and use the mixture to coat the bottom of a medium-sized serving bowl.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat until a light sprinkle of water from your fingers sizzles away within seconds. Add the almonds to the dry skillet, and stir or shake frequently for just a minute or two until the nuts become fragrant and their creamy inner color begins to turn light brown. [Do not look away — once you add the nuts to the pan you are committed!] Remove almonds from heat to a small plate, and set aside.

Return the skillet to the stove, add olive oil, and heat over medium-high heat until oil is fragrant and swirling. Add snap peas and toss well until fully coated in oil. Add the black pepper and cook for approximately 3 minutes, tossing often, until peas turn bright green and begin to lose their raw crispness. Pour snap peas into the serving bowl, over the yogurt mixture. Sprinkle with cooled almonds and serve.

Thank you to Cleveland Clinic Wellness and Sara Quessenberry for a prior version of this recipe.


Making Synergy: Health & Wellness

A special synergy comes from investing in three different kinds of activities that combine to improve your health and wellness: eating patterns, activity patterns, and rest & relaxation patterns. Activities that combine more than one at the same time — like gardening, picnics, or yoga, to name just a few — bring an extra special benefit. Here are a few examples of ways I have found to mix and match eating, moving, and relaxing. Continue reading


Everything You Need to Know About Your Cholesterol

Every once in a while, a friend thrusts their latest cholesterol lab results in front of me and asks a barrage of questions:

“What do you think of these results, are they okay?”
“My doctor said the HDL is too low.”
“Why are my triglycerides so high?”
“What should the LDL be?”
“And why is the total so high if the individual numbers are good?”

This week we’re talking about what your cholesterol profile results mean, and how to make them better. Continue reading


Fruit: Friend or Foe?

Here is how this all got started:
Last month I received an email from a friend asking about whether it was okay to eat a lot of fruit every day. She had seen an article in the NYTimes, “How to Stop Eating Sugar,” in which she read that fresh fruit is a good way to satisfy a sweet tooth without resorting to processed items with their excessive (absurd even, I would say) amounts of added sugar. Without specifying exactly how much was too much, the author included a warning… … Continue reading


The Art of Deception: More Ways the Food Industry is Influencing Your Purchases

Did you know that there’s a massive difference between “cereal” and “breakfast cereal?’ Cereal means grain, such as brown rice, bulgur wheat, oatmeal (not microwave-able), millet, amaranth, spelt. Breakfast cereal means Coco Krispies, Frosted Flakes, Life Cereal, Raisin Bran (one of the highest sugar breakfast cereals on the market). Cheerios and Kashi, too, in case you were wondering. Cereal comes from the field; breakfast cereal comes from the factory. Continue reading


Curried Lentil, Tomato, and Coconut Soup

Everything Yotam Ottolenghi touches turns to gold. If you don’t already have one of his cookbooks [Ottolenghi (2008), Plenty (2010), Jerusalem (2012)] in your home, prepare yourself. YO takes flavor to the next level. Look at this list of ingredients – I’ve used them all, but never to such glorious effect. And it’s not just flavor. He takes texture to the next level, and color. Surely his kitchen has more than three dimensions. Continue reading



Growing Season Begins!

The first time I joined a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project, almost ten years ago, the kickoff, late on a Thursday afternoon, sent me racing out of the office at the end of the day. The first week’s bounty included lettuce greens, herbs, onions, kohlrabi, radishes. Adults chatted and jacketed children hopped around like hungry little rabbits as we waited for the strawberries to arrive. After a long, cold winter, we were all hungry for fresh food. Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Karen’s Spiced Nuts

My friend and fellow yogi Karen Bush comes up with some of the very best recipes, and this one is guaranteed to make you very popular. You can bring it to a party, to book group, to work to share with your coworkers. You can sprinkle it on your salad and turn a little meal into a spectacular celebration. Guaranteed, everyone is going to love it. Continue reading