Interview with Healthy Eating Expert Jeff Novick

An Interview With Healthy Eating Expert Jeff Novick

 |Jewish Food Hero

An Interview With Healthy Eating Expert Jeff Novick

When I began exploring plant-based nutrition in 2010, Jeff Novick’s name was prominent in many of the books and research I was absorbing. His approach to healthy eating made so much common sense, and he was an important source of education for me as I went on to receive a certificate in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University.

For those of you unfamiliar with Jeff, he is a dietitian and nutritionist. With over 24 years of experience in nutrition, health, fitness, and natural living, he offers expert health advice distilled into powerful, easy-to-understand language on a variety of current topics. His insightful and humorous approach to nutrition and health has helped thousands worldwide (myself included) make the transition to healthy living. Jeff holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Indiana State University in nutrition with minors in Exercise Science.

It’s with great honor (and excitement!) that I share this interview with Jeff. I spoke with him via phone, in between his work with Dr. John McDougall at a 10-day live-in program.

Enjoy this special interview!

How do you define plant-centered eating?

I don’t like using labels like plant-centered, plant-based, whole-foods, low fat, vegan etc., because they are never enough to fully describe the way of eating I recommend. Also, one could follow a plant-centered, plant-based, whole-foods, low fat, or vegan diet that is not healthy. So, instead, I teach principles and guidelines of healthy eating.

There are five guidelines (or principles) that I use to define a healthy dietary pattern and these guidelines are backed by an overwhelming body of scientific research:

1) Plant-Centered – Center your plate and your diet predominately with plant foods (fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, roots/tubers, intact whole grains, and legumes such as beans, peas and lentils).

2) Minimally Processed – Enjoy foods as close to “as grown in nature” with minimal processing that does not detract from the nutritional value and/or add any harmful components.

3) Calorie Dilute – Follow the principles of calorie density, choosing foods that are calorie adequate, satiating, and nutrient sufficient.

4) Low S-O-S – Avoid/minimize the use of added salts/sodium, oils/fats, and sugars/sweeteners.

5) Variety – Consume a variety of foods in each of the recommended food groups.

Now, if there were ten of us in the room, we could each implement these pillars slightly differently and still each have a healthy diet and great health results. That’s because when we look at the research evidence, there’s no one specific diet that is “best.” Instead, there are common denominators across healthy diets that combine to make up a healthy dietary pattern, and these are reflected in my five guidelines/principles of healthy eating.


What foods do you recommend that people incorporate into their diets?

The healthiest foods are minimally processed fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, roots/tubers, intact whole grains, and legumes. These should make up most—if not all—of our daily calories. I recommend that people start right where they are and just keep adding in more of these foods each day.

The Healthy Eating Placemat - Jeff Novick

I’ve witnessed extreme approaches that some people have with regard to health and diet.

Yes, and, in general, I don’t think it’s good. It is important to eat healthfully and put the necessary time, energy, and attention into food, but it shouldn’t become one’s whole life.   As a mentor once told me: “We do this [eat and live well] to get our lives back, not for it to become our lives. It gives us back our health and energy so we can do the things in life we really love to do.” 

It seems today that the topic of nutrition and health has become a war with sides drawn and no discussion. I am disappointed in the conversation I see happening on social media because a lot of it is very judgmental, confrontational, and elitist. The message out there seems to be that if the food you eat is not fresh, organic, local, shade-grown, GMO-free, and picked yourself or picked up at a local farmer’s market or purchased from some elite health food store, then all blended together in some expensive hi-tech blender, you are not doing well enough. And, if you buy any frozen or canned foods, you might as well be eating bacon and cheeseburgers.

We need to have compassion, not only for the animals and the environment, but also for our fellow humans, particularly in the way we treat each other, especially those who may not follow the exact same dietary pattern we do.


What would you say are some of the immediate benefits of incorporating plant-based food into your life?

When you feed your body with the healthiest foods, you begin to notice a difference rather quickly. People begin to feel much better, more clear-headed; they’re less tired and have more energy throughout the day. What we see from a medical perspective is that elevated blood sugar and blood pressure normalize quickly and we often see the need to reduce people’s medications for blood sugar (diabetes) and blood pressure (heart conditions) in as little as 48-72 hours.

We see weight loss, too, about five to seven pounds on average in the first week. This may not sound like a lot, but this is in people who are eating whenever they’re hungry until they’re comfortably full. This is not a crash diet, or about dieting or food restriction, but rather a way of eating the healthiest foods for life.

People always ask me, “I’m eating so much, are you sure this is good for me?” What they don’t realize is that this plant-based food is so much lower in calorie density that they can eat a much greater volume of food while taking in the same or fewer amount of calories.


What are some of the long-term benefits of eating a healthy diet?

In the beginning, people are enthusiastic because they start seeing benefits so quickly. What we can measure is a quick reduction in biomarkers and a dramatic reduction or elimination of medication. For those who are able to stick with the lifestyle, we see the prevention and treatment of disease along with the reversal of disease even in those who are seriously ill. In many cases, a healthy diet and lifestyle can eliminate the need for medication and/or surgery.


So the body resets itself to its natural state of health when eating plant-based foods?

Yes. There are many factors that go into this besides just food, but when you give the body what it needs and take away what’s damaging it, the body has the ability to heal and restore itself to health.
For people who currently eat meat and dairy and aren’t able to do a residential program like yours, how would you recommend they began exploring a health-centered plant-based diet?

There are many problems with the American diet today that need to be addressed so just pick one and start there. From my perspective, people can start with the two most important ones.

First, we don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, intact whole grains, roots/tubers, and beans in their minimally processed state, so people can start right there. That’s easy.

The second issue is that we eat way too much added sugars, salt, refined grains, fats/oils, overly processed foods, and animal foods. We’ve got to cut way back on all of these.

Doing more of the first one helps us to cut back on the second one. That’s why I created the healthy plate graphic (above), to start to move people away from foods that aren’t supporting health and toward incorporating more healthy ones. Whether it’s starting with plant-centered dinner a few nights a week or choosing one meal each day, such as breakfast, to be plant-centered, you can start to move in a healthier direction. Add in more of the good stuff and cut way back on the unhealthy items. Make breakfast a bowl of oatmeal and fruit every day, or make a few dinners a week a healthy bean, rice, and veggies dish, or both.


So it sounds like your advice is to find simple ways to start eating more plant-based food.

Yes. The best way to do this is by simply filling your plate with more of the healthiest foods and eating them first, because as you do that, you will naturally eat less of the unhealthy foods. Your overall caloric intake will also go down naturally just by eating more of the healthiest foods first. For example, by eating a healthy salad, a bowl of soup, or an apple before your meal, your overall caloric intake goes down.

Don’t waste your time searching for the “healthiest” animal product or the “healthiest” cookie; just eat less of those unhealthy foods and eat much more of the healthiest foods.


You speak often about this idea of a common sense approach to eating. Tell us more about that.

I like to show people that there’s not only a scientific basis for plant-centered eating, but also an intuitive common sense to it. For example, when you see the numbers on how much fat, saturated fat, added sugars, and salt is in our food and how much overly processed junk food we’re eating, all laid out in charts, graphs, and a timeline of its progression over the last few decades, it’s literally eye-opening and jaw dropping. It hits you at a deep, intuitive gut level. We see what the problem really is and how we have been fooled and are fooling ourselves about our diets and health. It gives us the opportunity to step back, see the reality of where we are, what the problem is, and what a healthy diet is and can do for us.

Then once people start making the eating changes, their bodies respond in kind and they feel great. It all begins to make sense, and, at the end of the day, we now know the truth about what we’re eating and whether it’s good for us.


What are the most common obstacles that people face when starting to eat a health and plant-centered diet?

It is important for people to know how difficult this is if they are going to be successful at it and, without a doubt, there are two big challenges.

The first is the macro world we live in. We live in the most toxic food environment we’ve ever lived in as humans and it is a serious obstacle to eating healthy. We’re surrounded by an abundance of inexpensive calorie-rich, super-sized, junk food that is ubiquitous in our environment and available 24 hours, everywhere.

The example I use to explain how difficult this is going to be to the participants in the residential programs when they go home is for them to imagine that they just went through 30-day treatment for alcohol addiction. Going back home is the equivalent of sending them home to a bar. And not just any bar, but a bar during happy hour on Super Bowl Sunday. This is the equivalent to the toxic food environment we live in. I could pack you all the carrots, celery, potatoes, rice and bean burritos that I want, and I could give you all the psychological tools, but it doesn’t matter; it’s still going to be very challenging and one must know this and be prepared for it.

What makes it even harder is not just all the unhealthy food we’re surrounded by, but that there are so many products that are advertised as healthy which are not healthy at all.

The second obstacle is at the micro level of our family and friends. The good news is that there has never been more information about how to eat healthfully. The bad news is we don’t all have the skills or the time to analyze whether it’s good information or not. We’re just being overwhelmed with information. And, because of the way information on the Internet lives forever, articles that have already been debunked by the scientific community years ago get dug up and retweeted or posted as if they are new and credible. So, everybody’s become an expert based on information that may not always be very accurate.

So I tell people, just focus on eating a healthy diet for you, and to do it for six months, without telling anyone. Every day will be a new challenge and you have to figure out how to get through that. If after six months you are successful and still doing this, then perhaps you have a solid enough foundation and experience to begin sharing it when appropriate. However, most likely, your friends and family will be coming to you and say, “Wow! You look great!” They’ll now be interested in learning more because they’ve seen the impact firsthand.


What emotions should people be prepared for when transitioning to eating a plant-based diet?

You mean outside of the feeling of losing all their friends and never getting invited to dinner again? J That’s a joke, but it’s a common fear when someone starts this. Eating this way is going to be challenging; there are going to be both social and family challenges.

My advice is not to make a big deal out of what you’re doing. I wouldn’t judge people about what they’re eating or make it a topic of conversation. Keep any conversation about food casual and civil, and not a debate or argument. You do not have to even discuss your diet or defend your food choices. Don’t get involved in food battles.  Redirect the conversation. My go-to response when someone comments on my food choices is “Thank you for asking. By the way, how are your kids?” (Or “How was your recent vacation?”) If they ask a simple question, I may respond, but I don’t draw people into a debate.

Also, don’t try to change everyone around you, especially right away. This is really about attraction rather than promotion. One of the most personal experiences people have is the food they eat. So be sure to have compassion for them and stay focused on your own plate. You have a long journey to go and are just getting started.


What is it that keeps you motivated and excited to do this work after all these years?

On a personal level, I really love doing what I do. I love the food, I feel great and I love staying fit and healthy. I just turned 57 years old and I often forget how old I am because I feel like I’m still in my 30s physically and mentally.

On a professional level, there’s such a need for this work, and I really love seeing the positive impact my work has on people’s health and their lives day in and day out. I feel like I have the greatest and most rewarding job in the world.


What’s the most important thing you want people to know about plant- and health-centered eating and take away from this conversation?

There are two things. First, keep it simple. This includes your food, recipes, meals, and even exercise. It’s not about extremism with your health. It’s about a simple and common sense approach to good health. Start where you are and begin to move forward.

Second, be willing to put your health needs first and foremost. This is not selfish; it’s self-nurturing. You have to take care of yourself and that’s a very good thing.



The “IronCowboy” Completes 50 Ironmans in 50 Days in 50 States!…/iron-cowboy-finishes-50-triath…/…

Truly amazing! Iron Cowboy completes 50 Ironmans in 50 states in 50 days! He wanted to raise awareness for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and show the world what people can accomplish when eating real food! Love the part where he talks about following your heart, setting your own limits in life and not letting anyone tell you no! Check out his interview with Fox New by clicking the link above.


Today Show Interview with Russell Simmons on Why He is Vegan

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons shares secrets of being a ‘happy’ vegan

Lisa Flam


He’s a hip hop star-maker, a fashion mogul and a devout yogi. And for nearly 17 years, Russell Simmons has also been something else: a vegan.

Russell Simmons shows Al Roker the perks of a vegan lifestyle


Simmons, who was an early convert to the diet trend just as it was catching on, sat down with TODAY’s Al Roker recently to discuss his eating style. Roker asked what led Simmons, 57, to go vegan long before it became trendy.

“Well, it started with my yoga practice and you know, the practice of non-harming, ‘ahimsa,’” he told Roker. “So I became a vegan because [of] compassion [for] the animals.”

“The vegan diet was being discussed around me all the time, so finally,” Simmons said, “I just made the choice.”

Gluten-free and juicing: Are these diet trends right for you?

Being vegan, which is not eating any food that comes from an animal, is the subject of Simmons’ book, “The Happy Vegan,” due out this fall. Vegans are vegetarians in the strictest sense — no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs or even things like gelatin and honey.

Experts say veganism has its health rewards.

Make an easy, summery vegan quinoa salad with summer squash, scallions and almonds

“One of the biggest advantages of the vegan diet is that it is low in saturated fat,” NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar said on TODAY. “It’s also high in fiber. That’s a very heart-healthy diet.

“So for people who are looking to control their cholesterol, and high blood pressure, and certain cardiovascular risk factors, this could be the diet for you,” she added.

Being a vegan has helped Simmons drop some weight and feel good.

“The first thing I did was lose 20 pounds and I haven’t put that back on,” Simmons said. “Do I feel better than I felt 15, 17 years ago? Yeah I think so. I think I’m in pretty good shape.”

Learn how a trucker lost 65 pounds by cooking vegan meals – and get his recipe for vegan mac ‘n’ cheese

Other bold-faced names like Ellen DeGeneres, Gwyneth Paltrow and Carrie Underwood have all reportedly embraced the vegan way. Even Mike Tyson knocked the meat out of his diet.

But, there are caveats. Azar notes that “certain vitamins such as B12 are only found in animal sources, so they need to be supplemented.”

Only 2 percent of Americans eat vegan, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. To prove that a vegan meal could satisfy a carnivore like Roker, he and Simmons met up for dinner at one of Simmons’ favorite vegan spots in New York City, Red Bamboo.

After a vegan dinner followed by vegan cake and ice cream, the pair was stuffed.

“That’s insane,” Roker said. “Wow!”

“I’m done,” Simmons said. “There are fat vegans. No reason you can’t be a fat vegan.” contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her onTwitter.

Interview With Healthy Eating Specialist

Want to have more energy, look better and lose weight?  It all starts with what you put into your body!  I have been taking nutritious cooking classes/lessons from our local Whole Foods Healthy Eating Specialist Genevieve recently and have come to really admire and respect her.  I thought her story was a great one to share and her outlook on food is one we can all relate with.  Each lesson she creates these amazing and filling dishes from all real, whole plant foods.  Nothing artificial, no animal products, gluten or soy and each dish is….heavenly.  But the best part is you feel great after!  If you subscribe to our Facebook page you can see some of her dishes and recipes!

1. When did you decide to go plant-strong in your diet?
 I decided to adopt a plant-based diet originally stemming from health reasons after graduating High School. Being almost 245 pounds, and eating a diet high in processed snacks and fast food, I was literally sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I started off slowly becoming more mindful of the types of foods I was eating, decreasing the amount of refined carbohydrates, and choosing leaner meats, beans, and whole grains. After several months, I felt great and had lost about 50 pounds,  and it was then that I decided to go vegetarian as I had lowered my consumption of animal proteins to the point that I no longer craved, nor felt I needed them in my diet. About a year after becoming a vegetarian, I decided to dive into a vegan diet, and have been following one for the past 4 ½ years. Whilst it was hard at the beginning, especially coming from a large Italian family who adores food of all sorts, I have finally found a stable ground with the foods I consume and my feeling of overall wellbeing.
2. What was the transition period like?
My initial transition from eating lean animal proteins, such as chicken and fish became less and less frequent, as when I did eat it, I would have nausea and digestive discomfort. I was eating it so rarely that my body’s chemistry had adjusted and so, not ever really feeling the “need” to eat meat, I simply left it out. Becoming a vegetarian was a bit overwhelming at first, especially coming from a large Italian family who adores food, and friends who thought inviting me out to dinner was a no-go. I fell into the trap of the highly processed meat analogues, and the addictive General Tso’s “Chicken” they sell at my work, but didn’t ever feel any better. It wasn’t until I realized that although I was no longer eating meat, I was simply replacing it with vegan junk-food. It is then I adopted a more whole-foods approach, instead of trying to replicate the meat I was leaving out, I focused on what I could add in. Seitan and “chicken-less” nuggets were no longer my source of protein, instead I combined whole grains and beans, as well as a never ending array of vegetables and fruits. Whilst this took some time, I have finally come to a point where I am flexible in the types of foods and cuisines I eat, and have learned to loosen up and realize that no one is perfect. I feel the biggest eye opener for me on this journey is that we are all human, and no matter how hard you try, you are going to have slips every now and again that are out of your control, and that is okay.
3. What is 1 thing you wish every American would do?
 I honestly just wish that people were more conscious about the types and quality of foods they put into their bodies. Our bodies are our temples, and  if we fill them with junk, then junk is what we shall receive. My approach towards spreading a plant-strong diet, is to never slap anyone on their hands for eating this or indulging in that, instead I act as a constant source of support. I love to think outside of the box, and reel people in with simple recipes that are not only delicious but nutritious as well. To be honest, it does take a little bit of time and effort, but in the long run, you have to remember it is for your health and well-being. Knowing how the food you are feeding yourself and your family was raised/grown is one step, as is rethinking your plates to incorporate more plant based foods, whole grains, and beans/nuts/seeds. 
4. What are your major tips for staying healthy? 
 My biggest tip is to attempt to eat a rainbow of foods each day. A lot of times, when people start a new “diet,” they live in a state of restriction, completely cutting out specific nutrients or food groups. This is not the way to approach any long-lasting change, so instead, trying to make smaller, more impactful changes and goals, I feel leads to the biggest successes. Whether it be cooking a new-to-you grain each week, or trying to eat a green salad each day, I find people have the most success when their goals are attainable and feasible for their day-to-day schedules.
5. Where do you see yourself in the future?
 I am working on attaining my degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, but honestly feel that my experience with Whole Foods has been quite a blessing. I see myself continuing to grow with the Health Starts Here program, and one day would love to open up my own health/wellness café/clinic, but that is still sometime down the road.
Thanks Genevieve for making eating healthy fun and delicious! Looking forward to learning more from you!





Coffee… should or shouldn’t we?

I recently contacted Dr. Pam Popper to get her stance on coffee. I am constantly hearing conflicting reports through the media and wanted to get some clarification on the matter from a top physician in the country. Dr. Popper is a pH.D and N.D. and also serves on the Physician’s Steering Committee for the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington D.C. She is author of many nutritional books (her most recent, Solving America’s Health Crisis) and through her own website, the Wellness Forum, offers various classes on nutrition. Here is her response to me:


The myth that coffee is a “health food” is perpetuated by poorly designed studies, and misreporting. For example, it was widely reported that a scientist made a presentation to the American Chemical Society recommending coffee as a source of antioxidants in the diet. In the actual presentation, the scientist said that the American diet was so terrible, that coffee had become a principal source of antioxidants in the diet. He used a chart to show that there were lots of foods that were more antioxidant-dense, but the point was that Americans were not eating enough of these foods.

I don’t hassle people who are compliant with all of my other dietary recommendations if they want to include a morning cup of coffee in their routine. But, I am clear that caffeine is a drug, that using it regularly can mask signs of fatigue and the body’s need for rest; that it is addictive, it dehydrates, and that there are some people who should never have it (those with hypertension or those who are really sensitive to the stimulant effect).

The best use for coffee is an occasional treat.