Healthy eating is easier Life's plan: Dr. Dean Ornish's latest cookbook gives you a blueprint for meals that will set your heart a-beating.

April 10, 1996|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

It's a bitterly cold, fiercely windy night in Washington, but Dr. Dean Ornish has attracted nearly 600 people to a nondescript auditorium in a nondescript federal building across from the Smithsonian Institution.

For more than an hour, they will listen as Dr. Ornish, a noted and sometimes controversial California medical doctor who has been researching the relationship of diet and heart disease for nearly 20 years, explains how his program of an extremely low-fat, vegetarian diet, no smoking, exercise, meditation and group support can really reverse heart disease.

And how they can still enjoy such dishes as risotto with peas, zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes, baked potatoes with herbed cheese and sour cherry pudding. Those are recipes in his latest book, "Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish." It's his fourth book and second cookbook. For the first cookbook, 1993's "Eat More, Weigh Less" (HarperCollins, $14 paperback), he recruited some of the best-known chefs in the country to create recipes using his guidelines.

Joyce Goldstein, of San Francisco's Square One restaurants, Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lis, also in San Francisco, and Wolfgang Puck were among those who rose to the challenge; only Julia Child turned Dr. Ornish down. ("Not compatible with my philosophy of food," he says Ms. Child told him.)

The book, which also outlined his stress-reduction, meditation, and group support philosophies, became a best seller, but he says many people complained that the chefs' recipes were too elaborate, and used ingredients they'd never heard of.

So, with the help of Jean-Marc Fullsack, the chef Dr. Ornish hired to help develop recipes, he put together the new book with much easier dishes.

When the first books came out, Dr. Ornish's diet guidelines -- 10 percent of calories from fat, and no meat, no fish, no dairy (unless it's non-fat), no oils, no nuts, and no avocados, among other things -- were considered "radical." Dietitians said it wasn't necessary to eliminate all meat, fish and oils. U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines suggested (and still suggest) people get no more than 30 percent of calories from fat, and they recommend two to three servings of meat, poultry, fish and eggs a day.

In 1993, USDA did not recognize vegetarianism as a healthy lifestyle. Nutritionists said no one would ever stick to Dr. Ornish's rigid rules, and culinary enthusiasts, such as Ms. Child, contended he was taking all the fun out of food. Other doctors said the same results could be obtained by surgery, a less-stringent diet, and drugs to lower cholesterol.

However, over time, the country moved closer to Dr. Ornish's views. The USDA announced that vegetarian diets were fine (last fall). The White House kitchens sought his advice. Surgical procedures to reduce arterial blockages were conceded in many cases to be temporary. Vegetables, with their vitamins and anti-oxidants, emerged as heroes in the battle against all sorts of diseases. And PET scans of Dr. Ornish's patients began revealing the degree to which their heart disease had been reversed. (PET stands for positron emission tomography, which is used to map how much blood is getting to the heart; tests were done independently in Houston.)

"Everyday Cooking" is designed to make the Life Choice diet simple. "The book is for people like me who don't want to spend a lot of time cooking," Dr. Ornish said.

The dishes are rich in beans and grains. There are lots of pastas, soups and salads, but there are also old favorites like coleslaw, potato salad, stuffed bell peppers and chili.

There are 150 recipes in the book, divided into 45 seasonal menus. Recipes came from Mr. Fullsack and chefs at the eight hospitals around the country participating in a Multicenter Lifestyle Heart Trial to test practicality, efficacy and cost effectiveness of Dr. Ornish's program. And some recipes came from former patients and spouses, many of them "graduates" of one of the weeklong retreats Dr. Ornish's Preventive Medicine Research Institute offers in Sausalito, Calif.

(As it happens, one of the institute's graduates is in the audience,Washingtonian William Bilawa and, at Dr. Ornish's invitation, he comes to the stage to tell his story -- angioplasty of two arteries in 1987, recurrent blockages, more angioplasty. "In 1994, I couldn't have walked across this stage without severe pain," he said. He attended two retreats, he said, "and it changed my life." He's now pain-free and has had "significant reversal" of arterial blockage.)

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