Most Americans struggle to consume the five to seven fruits and veggies nutritionists say we need for good health.
Arnell Burghorn of Largo has that paltry amount down the hatch first thing in the morning.
Burghorn teaches cooking classes based on the popular "Eat to Live" plan at Nature's Food Patch in Clearwater and elsewhere around the Tampa Bay area. She and her family start every day with one of the plan's "green smoothies": kale, carrots, flaxseeds, a banana, blueberries, strawberries, pomegranate juice, water.
She drinks about a quart of this brew and says she's good for four hours. "It's got a lot of staying power," she said.
So does Eat to Live, whose creator Joel Fuhrman is coming to Clearwater Sunday night to spread the gospel.
His principles are simple, but not easy for meat-loving, sweets-gobbling Americans: Eat a diet that is almost exclusively fruits, vegetables and legumes, and you'll lose weight, keep it off, and lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.
"Food is really and truly the most effective medicine," says Fuhrman, 56, a former world-class ice skater whose athletic career piqued his interest in nutrition and led him to become a physician and author of several books, including his longtime best-seller, Eat to Live, and his new two-volume Eat for Health.
He also presides over a medical practice, a Web site (www.drfuhrman.com), a line of food products; and a busy speaking schedule. Singer Alanis Morissette appeared in People magazine in November attributing her 20-pound weight loss and marathon-ready fitness to Fuhrman's diet.
Shoppers at Whole Foods stores may recognize his work there, too. Fuhrman was hired to create a health plan for the company's employees that has grown into a program in which the store uses his principles to indicate the healthiest choices.
Veggies, of course
So what's involved in the Eat to Live diet? Vegetables, and lots of 'em. A pound a day of raw vegetables; a pound a day of cooked green vegetables; a cup of beans; four fresh fruits; and as much as you want of mushrooms, eggplant, tomatoes. Limited amounts of starchy vegetables and whole grains (squash, potatoes, cereal, bread), raw nuts and seeds, avocado and ground flaxseed.
Fuhrman tells his patients to post a big sign on their refrigerator: "The Salad is the Main Course.''
"I make a big salad bowl just for myself, double or triple the size of a normal salad," he said in a phone interview.
What won't you be eating on his plan? Animal products, including dairy, at least during the initial weeks. Between-meal snacks. Fruit juice (except for small quantities in dressings and cooking) and dried fruit.
You'll be eating 1,000 to 2,000 calories a day, and feeling satisfied, Fuhrman says. The trick is to eat "nutritionally dense, low-calorie foods" that fill you up and pack a nutritional wallop.
Fuhrman acknowledges that it takes perseverance and focus to stick to his "Eat to Live" plan, even after the first six weeks, when patients move into the "life plan" and can add a little animal protein, sweets and dairy.
He thinks the benefits of his eating plan outweigh the objections he hears. "You'll enjoy food as much or more than on your present diet, and what if that was possible and you'd never have a heart attack or stroke?"
The big sacrifice, he says, is time spent shopping and preparing appropriate meals.
Burghorn and her husband, Jim, went out to eat recently with a group of friends. What did they order? Green salads with guacamole as their dressing; steamed vegetable plates (broccoli, asparagus, and wild rice), and a fruit plate for dessert. "I can go anywhere and create a meal and be happy, even at red-meat restaurants," she said.
is plan too extreme?
Linda Sellers, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, says vegetarian or vegan (no animal products, including eggs and dairy) diets similar to Fuhrman's "are generally nutritional, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." That includes lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of diabetes and cancer. (Fuhrman has coined the term "nutritarian," since his "life plan" does allow some animal products.)
She echoes Fuhrman's enthusiasm for nonstarchy veggies in generous amounts. "With high-nutrition, low-calorie foods, you feel fuller overall and eat less calories," she said.
But she doesn't think it's necessary to follow such a strict plan as "Eat to Live'' to make big improvements in weight and health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Plus, Sellers said, a highly structured eating program that cuts out entire food groups is tough to live with.
"In the long term, the extremes don't work. Long-term weight loss is made through simple and practical diet changes."
Fuhrman, however, insists that if it's a big change you're after, you have to make big changes.
He cites patients who have lost 50, 75, 100 pounds or more, "the hardest cases and those who have failed to lose the desired weight on other plans."
Burghorn, 56, lost a less-dramatic 15 pounds, but says the regime changed her life.
"I don't get colds, I don't get sick, and if I do, it's so short-lived, I hardly even know it happens."
February is heart month, and asked what his plan could do to prevent that and other deadly diseases, Fuhrman had no hesitation.
"If they'd eat salad and vegetable-bean soup with mushrooms, they could lower their rate of cancer and heart disease by 50 percent at least."
Judy Stark is a freelance writer who lives in St. Petersburg.