One of the best-known American proponents of healthy eating is a Harvard Medical School-trained physician, Andrew Weil. With his folksy demeanor and flowing, white beard, Dr. Weil's moderate approach to healthy eating has won millions of followers.
His latest book, co-written with Rosie Daley, The Healthy Kitchen,, was listed recently as the 11th best-selling book in America. During a recent visit to Washington, Andrew Weil talked about some of his ideas on healthy eating.
Andrew Weil said one of the most difficult things about travelling on tours to promote his books is avoiding some of the tasty but high fat and calorie meals served in hotel restaurants. The temptation to eat not-so-healthy foods forms part of Dr. Weil's more moderate philosophy on choosing what to eat.
"I really like to eat; I like good food. I believe flavor comes first," he said. "I'm not a fan of diets: diets are by definition something you 'go off of.' I think people need to find a healthy lifestyle that's going to work for their whole lives." Dr. Weil said most Americans' expectations of eating food they like rather than what is "good for them"- leads many to shy away from healthy foods.
"I would be the first to admit that I've been served some really dreadful things that I've been told are 'good for me.' I think people need to experience that good food can also be healthy food," he said.
While Andrew Weil completed his internship and residency for his medical training, he also learned to cook tasty food. "This was in the late 1960s when I found that when I'd work for two or three day stretches on wards of hospitals, I would get in such bad states of mind. I really had to find something that got me back in a good frame of mind. For me, it turned out to be cooking: coming home, taking a shower and then preparing food. Somehow creating order, making something beautiful that got me back. It was meditative for me, relaxing and kind of neutralized all the bad influences that I'd been exposed to," Dr. Weil explained.
A key part of Andrew Weil's philosophy on healthy cooking is the so-called "Mediterranean Diet." That plan incorporates the traditional cuisine from the countries around the Mediterranean Sea, emphasizing fish rather than meat, olive oil, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
"People in the Mediterranean region who follow this way of eating have lower rates of cancer and heart disease. Yet, they're eating well. They're eating food that's satisfying and that has enough fat in it to make food interesting. They don't have the chronic health problems that we see associated with the diet in America or in many countries that America is now influencing," Dr. Weil said.
One of the problems facing those who limit their diets to healthy and organically-grown foods is their higher cost something Dr. Weil acknowledges is a trade-off.
"Eating is worth spending a little more money on. It's a way of taking care of yourself and feeding yourself. For me, I justify it that way. However, I think it's a shame if good food is only available to the affluent. It's certainly true that poor people are much more likely to have diets that consist mostly of fast food. You look at the prices of fast food and it's really hard to compete with it: You can get a whole breakfast at a fast food outlet for a few dollars. It looks very economical. But in the long run, it probably isn't -if you figure in the medical costs that result from a lifetime of eating that way," Dr. Weil said.
Another reason some Americans hesitate to prepare healthier food is that they say they don't have enough time. But Andrew Weil said some of the recipes he includes in his book are almost as easy to prepare as "instant" meals.
"I think it's a mind set. There's a recipe in this book I devised for a tomato, corn and basil soup that's excellent. It's made from canned, organic tomatoes and frozen, organic super-sweet corn. They're both easy to find and takes 12 to 15 minutes to make. It's very simple and produces a result that's absolutely delicious and conforms to my guidelines of healthy eating. We try to show that it's possible to make food in your own kitchen that's fun to make and easy to make and is also very [tastes] good," he said.
As director of Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, Dr. Weil is now turning his attention to other health concerns.
"What I'm particularly interested in now is healthy aging. I've been doing a lot of research to see what is it that you can tell people that might increase their chances of arriving at old age the way most of us would like to be with everything working and having a good quality of life. One region I've been looking at very intensively is Okinawa [Japan], which has the highest concentration of centenarians in the world. I think a lot of factors account for that, but it certainly looks as if lifestyle factors are more important than genetic factors. That's encouraging that there are things we can do," Dr. Weil added.
Dr. Andrew Weil is an advocate of healthier eating and co-author of the new book The Healthy Kitchen.