by Lynn Mundell
Andrew Klonecke, MD, hasn't had a hamburger since New Year’s Day 2009. And he doesn’t feel the least bit deprived. In fact, he says that eating foods like dates and quinoa has reawakened his senses and given him energy. Hear more from Dr. Klonecke, a physician in Kaiser Permanente's Sacramento’s Nuclear Medicine Department, when he is the featured guest for the Health Talks Online webinar “Fresh Food Ideas,” on Wednesday, May 2, at 12:30 p.m.
Why should we strive to improve our diet?
Three years ago I was very active and exercised, but still living in the land of denial about what and how much I was eating. My cholesterol levels were up, so I lost about 30 pounds by eating less. However, my cholesterol did not drop, and my sugar levels climbed. I learned that, despite our wealth, the U.S. has a higher incidence of deadly diseases, connected to our eating more fats and animal proteins. I decided to model my diet on the healthier countries’ four food groups: legumes, grains, fruits, and vegetables. I found it very easy to lose weight, I either reduced or avoided medications, and I felt better.
What is your vision of the ideal diet?
Make those four food groups the centerpiece of every meal, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and decrease animal protein, both meat and dairy. I now eat fish once or twice a week, chicken and egg about once a month, and no cheese. It is easy to get your calcium and protein without animals. That said, healthy eating is a continuum: Eating meat once a week is better than three times a week, which is better than daily. Everybody can do something—even reducing portions.
Fresh and organic can mean expensive. Advice?
The “Dirty Dozen” is produce more likely to be harmed by chemicals out in the field. Examples include celery, strawberries, apples, potatoes, and grapes. Buy those at the farmers markets. The “Clean 15”—such as onions, corn, and all melons, for example—are harder to harm and therefore OK to buy at any market, along with bulk grains and legumes. At farmers markets, price-compare at the different stalls or frequent a less upscale neighborhood because prices are lower. I get a community supported agriculture box delivered to my home monthly, which contains good food, recipes, and shows me what is in season. Really, it is cheaper to eat grains and produce. Animal protein is expensive and spoils quickly.
How can a hungry family make a good dinner quickly?
Super-size on a Sunday: Cook a stew or soup for the week, or even breakfast food like steel-cut oatmeal. When possible, make extra and freeze it. During the week, put everyone to work cutting up food for a salad. You can all eat that while you are heating the rest of the meal. When I am tired of cooking and I want to go out, I like Mongolian BBQ, with a bowl of vegetables such as spinach, peppers, and mushrooms.
I’m driving I-5 and all I see are fast food chains. Help!
Bring some dried snacks to tide you over. Stop at the fruit stands along the freeway. In the worst-case scenario there are fast food places that have reasonable options. Subway offers a veggie and wheat sandwich, for example, while Taco Bell has a basic bean burrito that you can dress up by asking for sides of tomatoes and lettuce.
Tell us what you grow in your garden and why.
I always grow heirloom tomatoes and eggplant because they make great summer sandwiches with tapenade, onions, spinach, and other garnishes. I like herbs and jalapenos in my garden because they can really liven up a stew or stir-fry. Peaches, Fuji apples, and Meyer lemons all lend themselves to good dishes.
What are your parting words for eating “good” food?
Plant-based food can taste so good. There is nothing better than a baked summer squash caramelized in its own sugars and juices. This is a new adventure, so take a loved one along for fun. Cross cultures and try recipes from the Asian countries where they are adroit in cooking with plants. I discovered that there are a limited number of animals to eat—but hundreds of plants.