Why does it all have to be so confusing? A reader asks…

Many people throughout the world are probably asking that question — and will be for a long time. In the CNN special on Sunday night, there were totally opposite viewpoints by experts regarding the nation’s #1 killer of men and women — heart disease. It’s going to be a long time before that whole process gets sorted out; meanwhile, you are free to choose the approach that makes the most sense to you. You can choose the approach that treats the symptoms or you can choose the non-invasive, inexpensive approach that eliminates the disease completely. As for disagreement among the experts, read on….

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

Even among the “veggie docs,” there is a fair amount of disagreement on a few details of plant-based eating, need for supplements, use of fish oil, nutrient density, etc. But there is a lot of common ground too. And it’s that common ground on which we have focused in our book, on this blog and in our 4-Leaf Health Promotion Program.

As a “big picture guy,” I like to keep things as simple as possible. And I wish to thank Sal from New York, who posted this comment on yesterday’s blog. It inspired me to try to better explain the thinking behind our 4-Leaf Program. Sal asks…

Where did the 20% non-plant food concept come from?  What is the rationale for 20%, why not 15%, 10%, 5%.  Who is right, MacDougall, Fuhrman, Barnard, Hicks?  It’s all confusing.

My Response. Sal, thanks for your question. First of all, it is not 20% non-plant food; it is 20% for all foods (including plant foods) — that are not WHOLE plants. Our entire 4-Leaf concept (See our 4-Leaf Page) was created to simplify and consolidate all of the confusing advice that was floating around out there. So we decided to base our program on the “common ground” on which all of the “veggie docs” seemed to agree.

Therefore, the foundation of 4-Leaf was based on the “common ground” nutritional wisdom of Campbell, Esselstyn, Ornish, Fuhrman, McDougall and Barnard. And while they may disagree among themselves on a few minor points, they all agree that we should maximize the percent of our calories from whole, plant-based foods. Best, J. Morris Hicks

All of the "veggie docs" love this book. In it, Dr. Campbell says, "The closer we get to a diet of whole, plant-based foods, the better off we will be."

So why did we choose 80% as the threshold for our 4-Leaf Level? Primarily to remove the “all or nothing” mentality from our thinking and adding a bit of flexibility to the equation. There is nothing magic about 80% or 85%; we just thought that 80% was a reasonable number and most people are already familiar with the old 80-20 rule. Since most people simply don’t like the “all or nothing” approach to anything, we were striving to create something that would seem reasonable to everyone, while still comprising a powerful, health-promoting diet-style.

By shooting for 80% or more of your calories from whole plants, you will be getting fifteen times as much of these nutritious foods than the average American, you will be eating a health-promoting diet, and your body will seek its ideal weight. As for the 20% non-plant, we have never recommended consuming ANY animal products. The 20% is for all calories that are not WHOLE plants (still in nature’s package).

So the 20 percent would include all bread, pasta, potato chips, tofu, olive oil, cookies, breath mints, sugary cereals, wine, beer and scotch — anything with calories that’s not a whole plant. So why not whole grain bread and pasta? We’re not saying that they’re harmful like meat or dairy, we’re just saying that they’re not as nutritious as the whole, unprocessed plant — with all the water, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients intact. Further, we have observed that vegetarians who load up on these type of foods never seem to achieve the results they were seeking.

So what about the guy that chooses to eat a little cheese and salmon in his 20%? He will still be eating a health-promoting diet that is far superior to that of his fellow American. He will very likely reverse whatever heart disease he has and will improve his overall well-being in countless ways. And I believe that all of the doctors mentioned above would agree with that statement. Even most vegetarians are likely to dramatically improve their diet if they follow our simple guidelines.

Even Dr. McDougall doesn’t like the “all or nothing;” saying that he has a little turkey on Thanksgiving; therefore he is not a vegetarian. As for me, I never “plan” to eat any animal products; I don’t buy any animal products and I never order any from a restaurant menu. But I did have a few bites of salmon at the sit-down luncheon at the Harvard Club in New York, where I was the guest speaker at the New York Rotary. The main thing is to maximize your calories from whole plants; and not worry too much about an occasional bite of meat or cheese.

Living in Naples, Florida, I imagine that Hunter and Suzi are buying much of their whole plant foods from the legendary organic farmer, Frank Oakes.

A new friend, Hunter, in Florida likes to call our 4-Leaf Program the “80-20 diet.” Take a look at his comment dated 8-29-11 on our Comments Page. Right now, it is the first comment listed, followed by a comment by Dr. Campbell. In Hunter’s case, if I had told him that he needed to be 100% vegan, he would probably not have found that prospect very attractive for him and his wife Suzi and would have made no changes in his diet; and would have had a zero increase in whole plant calories. By going the “80-20” route, he has increased his consumption of these most-nutritious foods by at least ten fold.

The Bottom Line. Our 4-Leaf Program is supposed to be simple. Based on the “common-ground” beliefs of many experts, the 4-Leaf level of eating can be explained very succinctly:

Over 80% of your calories from whole plants — still in nature’s package. One caveat: Less than 20% of your calories from fat – regardless of the source.

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

Dr. Esselstyn likes to see his heart patients get below 10%. We just thought that under 20% would be a vast improvement over the average American’s fat consumption (now approaching 40% of calories) and that it would be a “reasonable” number that most people could achieve. Our original goal was the old K.I.S.S. principle. Hopefully we made it as simple as possible.

One more thing, this great video illustrates that “common ground” that I am talking about.

“Common Ground” among medical experts…VegSource video


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 4-Leaf 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…blogging daily at HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com

PS: Occasionally an unauthorized ad may appear beneath a blog post. It is controlled by WordPress (a totally free hosting service). I do not approve or personally benefit whatsoever from any ad that might ever appear on this site. I apologize and urge you to please disregard. 

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.
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4 Responses to Why does it all have to be so confusing? A reader asks…

  1. Monica says:

    Hi!, As a co-worker in Worcester MA with your daughter-in-law, Lisa, I have watched her become healthier and happier over the years, due to diet and love. Recently, I have been diagnoses with Type 2 diabetes and Cardiac illness, due to my diet and excessive weight. Due to many traumatic events over the span of 3 years, I have accumulated over 70 extra pounds and had become almost hopeless in ever becoming healthy again.

    After my diagnoses, I became determined to be healthy, eat well, and heal my body from the inside out. My son deserves a mother who is healthy and there for him, and I deserve to survive! Lisa has been an amazing confidante, and was quick to forward me to your blog, and many other resources. I have just begun eliminating foods from my diet, and although I am not 80-20 yet, I am on my way! Lisa and I were just talking about how confusing it can be at first, but after reading this blog tonight, I have more insight,and feel confident that within a couple of weeks, I will be within the 80-20 range, and feeling a whole lot better.

    I appreciate you blog and look forward to reading you book. Thank you for enligtening me on a healthier way to eat, and live. And give Lisa a big hug when you see her. She is a walking billboard to what whole plant living and diet can do.

    • jmorrishicks says:

      Hi Monica, Thank you for your great comment and all the best for you on your journey to vibrant health. It may not be easy at first, but you already have the most important two ingredients for success: personal commitment and the greatest coach and role model on Earth.

      In addition to other resources that you might already have, I recommend that you order Dr. Neal Barnard’s book on reversing diabetes today. Type 2 is near 100% reversible despite that your regular doctors or the ADA might suggest. Read his book, build your commitment and never give up. Also take some “before” pictures now and start putting money in your budget for some new clothes in about six months. Best, J. Morris Hicks.

      PS: Dr. Barnard is one of eleven endorsers of our book; Dr. Dean Ornish is on the cover; he has been a consulting physician for Bill and Hillary since 1993.

  2. John Root says:

    I enjoyed the post very much and appreciated a little latitude to accomodate a “little cheese” and some salmon. I am interested in learning more about the benefits of coconut oil as opposed to the conventional wisdom on olive oil. I will appreciate your views

    • jmorrishicks says:

      John, I follow the advice of Dr. Esselstyn and Campbell and use no oil. Neither are whole plants and neither are health-promoting foods.

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