Eating well the Weil way

Health: A doctor and best-selling author says balance and enjoyment are key to stoking the body with great nutrition.

March 29, 2000|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN FOOD EDITOR

Dr. Andrew Weil believes in the pleasure principle -- especially when it comes to healthy food.

Weil, a medical doctor and author of several popular "eating well" books, contends you have to enjoy eating the food that's good for you. Otherwise, you won't eat it for long, if ever.

"How one eats affects everything," says Weil, who was in Baltimore recently to promote his newest book, "Eating Well for Optimum Health" (Knopf). "There is more confusion about food and diet than at any time [before now]. People are obsessed with weight. They want a magical solution."

In his book, he takes readers into a maze of nutrition and biochemistry, explaining metabolic reactions that we may not have thought about since our school days. It's technical stuff, but the summaries at the end of each section capsulize the sometimes complicated material.

"If you give people good, solid information, they will use it," says Weil, who is taking a breather at the Renaissance Inner Harbor Hotel before an appearance at Bibelot book store in Timonium. "I try to give people a foundation."

Weil maintains we should treat our bodies like car engines that require an input of interactive fuels to run smoothly. Essentially, he espouses carbohydrates, proteins and, yes, even certain fats for good health.

Forget low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets, he says. They provide too much or too little of the nutrients we need.

Dr. Dean Ornish, a proponent of a low-fat, plant-based, whole-foods diet, says that while he respects Weil's efforts, he takes exception to some of his conclusions.

"For the past 23 years, my colleagues and I at the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute [in Sausalito, Calif.] have conducted a series of studies proving how powerful a low-fat diet can be in reversing heart disease," he says.

The diet, which involves lifestyle changes such as moderate exercise and group support, calls for a 10 percent daily fat intake to reduce arterial damage. Research has found there are no deficiencies in essential fatty acids in the diet, says Ornish, author of several health books and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco.

Ornish also points out that studies have shown that a typical diet of 30 percent fat doesn't reverse heart disease. "It tends to get worse in most patients," he says.

In his new book, Weil -- a robust man with a bushy silver beard reminiscent of Kris Kringle's -- lays out a plan for a Mediterranean-style diet. It includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, and also some cheese and yogurt, fish, olive oil, poultry and, a few times a month, red meat.

Weil, 57, who likes to cook when he's at home in Tucson, Ariz., provides 85 recipes, including Middle Eastern Chopped Salad, Banana Bread and a tasty Pasta Puttanesca. Each includes a nutritional composition and benefits.

Even a nibble of chocolate is OK, he says. "Chocolate has some antioxidant properties like red wine," he tells an overflow crowd that night at Bibelot. "I recommend good quality dark chocolate in moderation."

His fans, numbering almost 150, perch on tables, stools and upholstered chairs to get a better look at the doctor, who is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Arizona and founder of the Foundation for Integrative Medicine in Tucson.

"I've listened to a number of food people over the years," says Henry Lee, 52, of Cockeysville, who is in the audience. "He seems to have an upfront attitude. He doesn't claim he's right."

Janet Dixon, 50, came from Germantown to listen to the man whose books and web site (www.drweil.com) helped her lose 50 pounds. Steve Rash, 54, of Towson, who had a kidney transplant a year ago, wanted to find out what foods he should eat.

"The more information, the better off you are," says Rash, as he waits in a line that weaves across the store to meet Weil.

Before a book signing, Weil reads from his book a chapter titled "The Worst Diet in the World." (You probably will never feel the same about fast food again.) He also takes numerous questions, ranging from his thoughts on processed foods (which he rails against) to genetically modified foods.

"It's a sticky issue. At the very least, we should be informed if we're buying genetic food," he says. "I'd like to see consumers here become more aroused about it [and] put pressure on those doing this and [find out] what the consequences may be."

Weil, dressed in a black suit and gray shirt, is genial and relaxed as he signs dozens of books.

He has one pet peeve, though. He doesn't like being called a guru.

"I hate the word," he says. "I'm a physician and educator. I'm not looking for followers."

This may come as a surprise to the people at Bibelot and those who flooded amazon.com to buy his book after it was released earlier this month, making it No.1.

Banana Bread

Serves 9

4-5 very ripe bananas

3/4 cup honey, liquefied in microwave (30 seconds)

1/4 cup light olive oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, sifted

2 teaspoons baking soda

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