“4Leaf” eating…positive, simple, flexible and POWERFUL!


Health promotion is all about what you “DO” eat; not what you’re avoiding.

Leveraging the simple, yet powerful concept of maximizing the percent of your calories from whole plant foods — still in nature’s package

The 4Leaf Program that was introduced in our book is all about maximizing the percent of your calories from whole plant foods. We want to do that by always stressing the positive.

Your mother probably told you a million times that you should eat more fruits and vegetables. We want to build on that simple, positive advice…the same advice that Bill Clinton got from Dr. Campbell, Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish. (See our post on “common ground.”

First let’s define “whole plant foods.” Quite simply, our definition is plant food…still in nature’s package. So that includes all fresh fruit, greens, legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains — with a large portion of them being eaten raw.

So what about plant-based foods like bread, pasta and tofu? While not harmful like meat and dairy, these foods have been processed and simply don’t contain the nutrient density and health-promoting qualities of those foods that are still in nature’s package. Further, we have observed that many people who load up on these kinds of foods oftentimes don’t get the results that they were expecting. In my case, I have some bread almost every day and probably have pasta and/or tofu once a week. But I am still able to count most of my days in the 4Leaf column. Hopefully, you will be able to do the same.

What about fat and salt? Today, the average American derives almost 40% of her/his calories from fat and consumes 3400 mg. of sodium per day. With 4Leaf eating, we want to keep that percent of calories from fat below 20%, and we want to keep the sodium intake below 2000 mg. There are some simple guidelines in Chapter 10 of our book on how to easily do that.

Daily Goal offers flexibility. Rather than trying to make every single meal over 80% from whole plants, I shoot for a daily goal in that lofty 4Leaf range. For example, I usually eat a bowl of fruit at 8 a.m. and then a large bowl of oatmeal (with more fruit) at around 11 a.m. Those two meals total about 800 calories, with over 95% of them coming from whole plants — and both meals scoring very high in the 4Leaf range. Then, I have a big 4Leaf lunch in the afternoon — another 800 calories with about 85% of the calories from whole plants.

Just for the record, the non-4Leaf items in my diet hardly ever include any animal products; like in eating an hors ‘d oeuvre when in a friend’s home. Virtually all of my non-4Leaf items are things like bread, tofu, wine, pasta and low fat/low sodium chips.

So my 4Leaf score prior to my evening meal stands at roughly 90% of my calories from whole plants. Now I have the flexibility of having a 3Leaf meal, or even a small *2Leaf meal, for dinner; and still finish my day at 80% or more — and that makes me a 4-Leafer almost every day. Our intent with the 4Leaf Program was to make it easy for you to know exactly what constitutes the healthiest of diets for humans. How close you wish to come to that goal is totally up to you. If you want to experience vibrant health and enjoy maximum protection from chronic disease, we hope that you’ll join the healthy folks that have chosen the 4Leaf level for them and their families.

*A healthy 2Leaf meal might be a plate of whole wheat pasta with two sides of vegetables and a small basket of whole wheat bread—with 40% of the calories derived from the two sides of veggies. In the old days, I would have thought this was an exceptionally healthy meal—but now I prefer to make sure that the whole fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes make up the vast majority of my calories—at least 80%.

4 levels of eating in our “4Leaf” Program; beginning with the healthiest — at over 80% of your calories from whole plant foods.

4Leaf Level—over 80% of calories from whole plant foods 

Representing a very small minority of the population; people in this group tend to have trim bodies, vibrant health, lots of energy, take no medications, almost never have ANY disease and will very likely live a long & healthy life.

3Leaf Level—over 60% of daily calories from whole plant foods

Already eating a superior diet, this group is deriving well over half of their calories from health-promoting, whole, plant-based foods…and has experienced many benefits healthy eating…well on their way to 4Leaf.

2Leaf Level—over 40% of daily calories from whole plant foods. 

Although probably making a serious effort to eat a healthy, “balanced” diet; they are falling short of ensuring long-term vibrant health. We have found that with a little help, folks in this group will move quickly up the scale. 

1Leaf Level—over 20% of calories from whole plant foods. Although eating five times as many whole plant calories as the majority of folks, they are not consuming enough whole plant foods to provide much protection against disease…and will need help to add more leaves.

No Leaf, “Better Than Most” (From 10 to 19% from whole plants) People at this level are actually trying to eat a healthier diet. They frequently say things like “I have given up red meat and am trying to watch what I eat.” All they need is a better understanding of what promotes vibrant health.

No-Leaf (Unhealthy) (Less than 10% of calories from whole plants) Eaten by the “majority,” this is the typical Western diet with meat, dairy and highly-processed foods at almost every meal. A very destructive diet-style, providing almost no fiber from whole plants and offering zero protection against chronic disease.

Click here for printer-friendly PDF 4Leaf Chart 

Most people seem to love the simplicity and flexibility of this concept. We’re not saying you have to eat 100% vegan or give up bread, pasta, wine or tofu. We’re simply saying that you should try to get over 80% of your calories from the healthiest of all foods — whole plants in nature’s package.

Many vegans and vegetarians seem to be more concerned about what they’re not eating instead of thinking positive — and trying to maximize their consumption of the truly nutritious whole plants. And that’s a big reason that many vegetarians fall way short of having the trim figures that they are seeking.

Whole Plants, 4Leaf and Simple Health for you and the planet

One note of caution. Some whole plants like avocado, olives, nuts and seeds are near 80% fat, so go easy on these foods if you want to lose weight. Also olive oil (like all oils) is 100% fat and is not a whole plant. If you use it, do so very sparingly or you’ll have a real tough time hitting the 4Leaf level.

Establishing a 4Leaf routine. So, in order to eat consistently at the 4Leaf level, it’s a simple matter of planning lots of 4Leaf meals; particularly the meals like breakfast or lunch when most of us tend to eat the same meal frequently. By making sure that these “routine” meals are 4Leaf, you’ll be well on your way to establishing a full 4Leaf daily habit. This might require a little work and analysis in the beginning, but once you get into the habit, you simply eat all you want, when you want. Soon, you’ll know what a 4Leaf meal looks like and will never have to count calories again.

Your body will likely reward you with vibrant health, optimal weight, and the effortless avoidance of chronic disease. The really sad thing is that over 90% of Americans are currently eating at the lower end of the 1-Leaf level…which explains the obesity and chronic disease epidemic that we’re experiencing throughout the western world.

For the record, I personally reviewed this entire concept with Dr. T. Colin Campbell in his home following a “4Leaf” breakfast prepared by his wife Karen. He loved it. As he says about the optimal diet for humans, “The closer we get to eating a diet of whole, plant-based foods, the better off we will be.”

The creators of the “4-Leaf Program,” authors J. Morris Hicks and J. Stanfield Hicks pictured here on the trail to Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire

Do your body a favor, climb aboard the 4Leaf train, and take charge of your health — while simultaneously doing some wonderful things for the planet. Continue on to Part 2 (Analysis of current diet) of this 5-part series by clicking here.

If you like what you see here, you may wish to join our periodic mailing list. Also, for help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page. From the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

If you’d like to order our book on Amazon,  visit our BookStore now.

—J. Morris Hicks

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
This entry was posted in 4Leaf for Life, Healthy Eating 101, Vegan or vegetarian?. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “4Leaf” eating…positive, simple, flexible and POWERFUL!

  1. Brian Hurley says:

    We are getting ready to face some brutally hot weather here in Massachusetts. Yesterday, our veterinary hospital had their annual summer party and my partner’s wife made sure that there was plenty of 4 Leaf options for me to have throughout our day. She created a salad bar that had options for everyone and a huge fruit platter. Of course, there was plenty of the Western diet to suit the needs of our team. My favorite of the day was the grilled watermelon she made. It was absolutely delicious. I had to laugh because a few of my team members were astonished how much I ate before heading to the pond for swimming, then watched as I continued to consume food when I returned. I told them it was ok. This is how I eat all the time.

    Why start with that story? During the party, some of our team members talked to me about what I was doing to lose weight. When asked, I enjoy explaining my 4 Leaf lifestyle choice. I always begin by stating that my goal is to achieve “Vibrant Health,” and the weight loss is a benefit. For me, my body was heavier than it was meant to be and this change is helping my body move towards it’s desired weight. We all had a lengthy discussion on dietary choices and why those choices are important. I also tell them I no longer worry about calorie intake, just making the right dietary choices. It took a while but now people have accepted what I am doing and very rarely do I get asked if I there is something wrong.

    On March 21, 2011, I commented here about reaching my lowest weight since I was 15 years old at 177 pounds (31 lb weight loss). I made the decision back in December 2010 to commit to the 4 leaf program for life. As of today, I feel incredible and while the scale number is not the goal of this lifestyle change, I am proud to say that I am now 163 pounds (45 lb weight loss).

    My next marker will be when I return for follow up blood work in September. Here’s to achieving, and more importantly, maintaining VIBRANT HEALTH!!

  2. Brian Hurley says:

    Thanksgiving of 2010, while visiting my family for the holiday, I decided enough was enough. At that moment, I had to do something to change the direction I seemed to be going in over the course of the past couple of years. I had topped the scale at my heaviest weight in 10 years, my cholesterol was high, I was tired all the time, and had absolutely no energy. Fortunately, I joined a local gym and Jason, my personal trainer, introduced me to the 4-Leaf Program. To put it simply, it has changed my life and continues to be my eating and exercise lifestyle. To date, I have lost 31 pounds (lowest weight since I was 15 years old) and my cholesterol is back in the “normal” range though I would like to achieve the heart healthy level of less than 150. For those of you committed to getting healthy, look NO further.

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