J Morris Hicks

J Morris Hicks

Posted February 19, 2011

Published in Food

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Meal Engineering 101...turning average meals into great meals

Read More: calories from fat, health-promoting diet, optimal diet, whole plants

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Being a "big picture" kind of guy, I always strive to first get my arms around the big picture myself -- then do my best to make it simple enough to be easily understood by the average 8th grader.

With that thought in mind, we developed our "4-Leaf" health promotion program which is being introduced in our book later this year. The concept is very simple -- work on maximizing the kinds of food that your mother probably told you to eat more of -- fruits and vegetables. As Dr. Colin Campbell has often said, the closer we get to a diet consisting of whole plants, the better off we will be." In our program, our highest "4-Leaf" level of eating begins when you consume over 80% of your calories from whole plants - in nature's package.

This may seem excessive to some, but not if you accept the premise that whole plants are the natural diet for our species.  If you accept that premise, then arguably, the optimal diet for humankind would be 100% from whole plants. But, in the interest of reasonability and practicality, we chose 80% as our target threshold. Achieving that threshold will be a huge change for most people as the typical western diet derives far less than 10% of its calories from whole plants - in nature's package. So, in keeping with our commitment to simplicity, our entire program can be summed up in two words and two numbers...whole plants and 80-20:

  • Whole Plants: Try to get over 80% of your calories from whole plants -- in nature's package
  • As for the 20: Try to keep the daily percent of your calories from fat (whether from animal or vegetable sources) under 20%...As Dr. Esselstyn says, the optimal is closer to 10% (average American is closer to 40% from fat).

Simple enough, right? So, why do people have trouble eating this way? For starters, it is almost impossible to order a "4-Leaf" meal off the menu in 99% of the restaurants in the western world. The same goes for 99% of the recipes. Two problems abound: too much animal-based foods and too much fat, mostly in the form of meat, eggs, oil or cheese. So, with virtually ALL of our easy-to-order meal choices deriving well over 30 % of their calories from fat (according to Dr. Esselstyn, optimal is closer to 10%), is it any wonder that we are a nation of mostly overweight or obese people?

Here's the good news. We set up a separate page on this site to help you get started. Click on the Meals 101 tab and take a look.  From the seaside village of Stonington, CT – be well and have a great day…

Photo Tuckerman.JPG

—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at

Shown here with son Jason, my co-writer...hiking up to Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire