Bob Arnot, physician and avid chia advocate, is a New York Times bestselling author and has written fourteen previous books on nutrition and health topics. Arnot has been a medical correspondent for NBC Nightly News, Dateline NBC, the Today show, CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes, and CBS This Morning, and he is a health columnist for Men’s Journal. He lives in Palm Beach, Florida and spends his winters in Vermont.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, everybody! I’m back! I’m Caryn Hartglass, the host of It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me on this lovely February 19, 2013. And wherever you are, I’m sending out some really energized good vibes, wherever you may be and wishing you well.
So we’re going to talk more about food, my favorite subject. And let’s get right on to my next guest. Dr. Bob Arnot, physician and avid chia advocate, is a New York Times bestselling-author and has written 14 previous books on nutrition and health topics. He has been a medical correspondent for NBC Nightly News, Dateline NBC, The Today Show, CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes, and CBS This Morning, and he’s a health columnist for Men’s Journal. He lives in Palm Beach, Florida and spends his winters in Vermont.
Welcome to It’s All About Food!
Dr. Bob Arnot: Boy, what a great introduction! Thank you so much. Very appreciative.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Now, you are like Superman, are you not? Is there nothing you haven’t done? You’ve been all around the world, climbing everything and …
Dr. Bob Arnot: I haven’t sung so I actually took opera lessons. I don’t think you want to ask me to do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, sing with me. I sing opera. Let’s sing a duet.
Dr. Bob Arnot: How about the beginning of Don Giovanni?
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
Dr. Bob Arnot: (Sings)
Caryn Hartglass: Que bene! That’s very good!
Dr. Bob Arnot: But seriously, I tell you, chia has just remade my life. I ski races 5 days a week during the winter. I do 100-mile bike races in the summer. I did the Molokai-Oahu 32-mile open ocean span of paddling race this summer with 28-foot slopes and 35-knot winds.
It’s interesting that the ancient Aztecs actually went to battle only with chia. They would fight the Spanish for weeks at a time only with chia. Tarahumara runners you hear about are born to run. They’re out there in these 100-miles plus runs fueling themselves only with chia. But the real miracle here really has been in weight loss. I have never seen anything like it. Never. It really does act almost as if you had lap band surgery, in the sense that it fills you up; you just don’t feel like eating. So I’ve never felt better. I’ve never seen a diet where basically you don’t have that brain-strained hunger. And you feel amazingly great and you feel full. It seems to be too good to be true but it isn’t. It really works. We’ve had 2 years of critical trials with real women and real men who’ve had terrible weight loss problems who’ve finally got that weight loss done and have never felt better in their lives.
Caryn Hartglass: Chia is an amazing food. And if you just add water to it you can kind of see how it fluffs up and gets all gummy and filling.
Dr. Bob Arnot: But the big thing about the Aztec diet was to take chia, which is terrific and great on its own; but the fact of the matter is if you just throw it in your burger or fries it’s not going to do that much for you, only a little bit. We really want to take the entire Aztec experience to give people foods that have staggering amounts of antioxidants and totally fill them up and make them feel great. And the big thing is it kills what we know as micronutihunger. In other words, you get a burger and fries all day long; you’re still going to be hungry. Why? Because you don’t have all the minerals and vitamins and antioxidants you need. So it solves these really big problems in a wonderful and fun way. Day one when you start out with these smoothies or shakes and you have staggering information levels that they’re just dropped down into the sewer. You’re able to take down your glucose level, which is the number one reason we’re overweight, and again, just drop it into the sewer. And not have the hunger that …. it’s what kills people, with diet; they just can’t do it that long because they feel so terrible with brain-searing pain.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, it’s very obvious that you’re full of energy. And people probably say that they get exhausted just listening to you. But I want to say something. I am a vegan and I promote a plant-based diet but I love talking to different people who have other ideas about diets and what works. And what I like to do is talk about things where we’re aligned. Clearly, everybody has differences but there are things we’re all aligned on and I think it’s so important that we all come together and talk about the things we agree on because we can all go move faster forward that way. So it’s really clear that here in the United States we have this horrible obesity epidemic. I think … I said this earlier but we all have this “bad food disorder.” We’re marketed to eat all the wrong foods and it’s a nightmare.
Dr. Bob Arnot: And actually, The Aztec Diet over the weekend hit number 9 on the Amazon bestseller list. But more importantly, number 2 on the vegetarian best-sellers’ list. And it’s largely a vegetarian diet; you can be a total vegan on it. I’m, I say, 98% of the time, vegetarian. But the key thing is this: the Aztec range allows you to be vegetarian a very easy way. Why? Because this amino acid score, 100 or above means you have a complete protein. But chia is 115. With 3 or 4 grains, you’re over 100. And by comparison a ground round is only 92 and a hamburger is only 68. So you easily get the proteins you want. You fill yourself up. When I get up in the morning I have kale, blueberries, spinach, watercress, all thrown in into a mixture with chia and a little bit of honey. It’s staggeringly good. I do lots and lots of exercise. I don’t have muscle pain. I don’t have any protein deficiency, largely because the Aztecs figured it out before anybody else, and that is how to get all the protein you need out of a completely vegetarian diet.
Caryn Hartglass: I was very sad to read in the beginning of your book when you were talking a little bit about Aztec history, how they had fields and fields of chia growing and the Spaniards came along and realized that was the secret to their success and they destroyed them.
Dr. Bob Arnot: It was such a tragedy because I think if they kept their chia fields, they probably would have won. That would maybe have found a little gunpowder. But it’s amazing that back in the time of the Aztecs that they lived roughly to the age of 38, where in France and most of European people lived to the age of 28 or29. So they were much healthier, much greater longevity. And women there would have many more children; have healthier children than any place in Europe. So it’s one of the most successful cultures anywhere and it’s because of the foods that they had. The Aztec diet was staggering in terms of its power and breadth.
Caryn Hartglass: The thing is, here we are in 2013. We don’t know everything but we do know a lot more. And so we can take some of the things that were good from a long time ago but we don’t live in that time anymore and a lot of things have changed. But we certainly can use and make a benefit of the things that we know are good and bring it into the 21st century. And things like, you mentioned, kale and blueberries; these are easily accessible foods and they do amazing things. But I think we agree that the key is to get people off of the junk, the high glycemic load, highly processed food and get them to eating more fruits and vegetables, and whole foods, and chia, and quinoa, and amaranth.
Dr. Bob Arnot: And the thing is everybody knows what they’re supposed to do but they can’t do it. The secret here is you start out with these smoothies that are great tasting, like you went to a juice bar and it taste unbelievably great. I think it’s because of the fruits, the honey that makes it tastes great, the chia, Greek yoghurt, if that’s something your diet allows. But then you add all these vegetables and they taste amazingly great. They’re sort of disguised; it hides your veggies so you’re able to get al these amazing nutrients and not feel like you’re gagging on any vegetables. Barbara Rolls, one of the researchers that we point out in the book, talks about hiding your veggies and that’s the way to do it. Hide your veggies and you feel proud of it. I’m not a vegetable eater but now I have 9 servings a day because I put it all in a shake, disguised with blueberries, cantaloupes, bananas, a little bit of honey and it tastes amazingly great.
Caryn Hartglass: Now let’s talk about you not being a big vegetable eater. Now why do you have a problem eating vegetables, doc?
Dr. Bob Arnot: There actually is a gene, apparently, for vegetable eaters; that they don’t mind the bitter kind of taste and they lived longer and it’s a great kind of asset. When I was a kid, my parents almost force-fed me cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and I just … it really …
Caryn Hartglass: Now, I think, I could be wrong, but I think when you start in with these smoothies, which is a great idea because they taste great, slowly your taste buds will change and you’ll start to appreciate these vegetables on their own.
Dr. Bob Arnot: And that’s what we actually do in the book. We have amazing recipes in there so I do that, where there’s a turkey burger now that has kale and amaranth in it. So there’s amazing ways of doing that. If you want to stay completely vegetarian, you can get great, great dishes where you do get to appreciate the taste. And I agree with you. I really tremendously appreciate the nice, crisp, bitter taste of kale now and so I’ll have it in other places. So I look at chia really as a starter drug, starter food. If you haven’t gone this way, you start to go that way. You’re right; your taste buds do change. You do accept these other things. But it’s great to start powerful.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, you started the book talking about a number of different scales or ways to evaluate different foods and I thought that was great. Maybe we can touch on some of them so that people understand how to … well, what’s in their food and what isn’t in their food. The first one is the Andes score, which Whole Foods uses a lot. If you’ve been in Whole Foods you can see them. But what I like about it is it scores kale number 1, with 1,000 points. There’s nothing kale can’t do; it’s amazing. And then all the other fruits and vegetables fall in line.
Dr. Bob Arnot: And it’s great. We’ve looked at all these different scales and there are a lot of very good ones there. I do like the Andes one. The tricky thing is that you take a look at burger, fries, and soft drink meal and on the Andes table you’re going to get a 25. But what’s even more surprising is that if you take what’s known as a healthy, all-American meal, with some chicken, rice, and two veggies, or whatever you only get 320 points, keeping in mind, as you say, that kale gets 1,000 points. So with the Aztec diet, by the time you finish breakfast you get 3,328 Andes points; that’s more nutrition than most people can hold and you get that in the morning. That’s why I feel that people on the Aztec diet just feel the best that they’ve ever, ever felt because on a rollover scale, the average American, out of 100%, is getting maybe 3% is the score for their nutrients. And when we bring them up to 500%, they just can’t ever believe that they could feel that good in their whole life.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s amazing. The question is, how did we get to this crazy place to begin with, where everybody is so sick eating all the wrong foods?
Dr. Bob Arnot: It’s a very interesting … One thing about this book is we go to a lot of traditional peoples and their traditional diet, like the Aztecs, or like the Maoris in New Zealand, like the Pima Indians in Arizona, the native Hawaiians out in Oahu. And they were tall, strong, athletic-looking people for tens of thousands of years. And when we inflict this on them, this Western diet, they tend to have staggering levels of obesity and diabetes, or heart disease. Miserable. So what this book advocates more than anything else is going back to the traditional diets because those traditional diets have cultural values that they embrace. Like the native Hawaiians, they embrace their cultural values as a way of going back to these diets. They want to do it because it’s who they are culturally rather than just going on a diet. I think it’s a very, very interesting sell. A big part of why we have branched into this fast food diet is because it’s fast so we try to solve that problem in the book. I’ve shown a video up online that shows in 90 seconds I can prepare a whole day’s worth of smoothies. With every imaginable vegetable, fruits, and just tremendous stuff in it. Like today, I could’ve even bought one. I make myself bottles full of these chia smoothies and I just drink them all day long. And in that way, that makes it fast, fast, fast and you’re never hungry, which is, I think, the most important part of the Aztec diet book is you’re never hungry.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, do you know the history between … okay, after the Aztecs were gone and now we’re here in 2013, when did chia get reintroduced? How did we get to know chia again?
Dr. Bob Arnot: Back in the 1890s there were scholars who went out across the American West. It grew in places where plants wouldn’t grow. There were couriers who would actually go from the Colorado River, all the way out to the Pacific Ocean there, just taking chias in their fuel. So there were some lure about it but it was a very, very hard crop to grow. So it was only back in 1978 out Bush Way from the University of Maine in the Agriculture Department up there, started researching it and found all these amazing, staggering health facts and slowly, it made its way back into health stores, as you can imagine, out in California in the 60s and 70s, and 80s. Then it really started in 2005. Science swooped in. As we started to see its very, very good strong studies and its competition, and its health effects started to grow. And it’s really only been over the last years when it really entered the public’s consciousness. And for a very interesting reason and that is chia really is an ingredient to survive. Kale’s a food, hamburger’s a food, French fries are a food but it’s an ingredient. So people have to get used to the idea they’re going to add it into something: add it to a recipe, add it to a soup, add it to a cereal, or as we recommend, add it to a smoothie.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. You’re not going to sit down and have chia for lunch. It’s got to be mixed with something because it doesn’t taste like much but it can be kind of gross, especially if you mix it with water it’s a little gooey and …
Dr. Bob Arnot: Well, the interesting thing is that gooeyness, we call it mucilaginous. And what it means is that that gooey substance is what actually sticks in that stomach. We had oatmeal as kids that stick to your stomach; this probably sticks to your stomach 10 times longer than oatmeal. And that’s the secret of it is that the chia stays in your stomach so long that it juts kills your hunger for hours longer than you can imagine. But the best thing about chia is that it doesn’t have any taste. So when you put it into your smoothie, or your Gatorade, or some water, or wherever you want to put it in, it doesn’t have a taste so it’s easy, easy to have. I think it’s the number one food in the world.
Caryn Hartglass: I think it’s unfortunate today that so many people want their food to be easy and as a result, they may make some wrong choices. So it is attractive to know they have some choices that are easy but are good for them and can actually help them lose weight. Just one more thing, one more thing I want to talk about and that is inflammation. So you have … you included some of the foods that have the scores for their inflammation potential. Can you explain some of that?
Dr. Bob Arnot: Sure. One of the most important things in all of health today is inflammation. That is, 50% of heart disease is due to inflammation. Some cancers are grown from inflammation. But I think the number one point is this, if you look at the average woman who’s overweight, she is a cauldron of inflammation: in her blood, in her brain, in every organ and she gets up and she feels terrible every single day. So with this diet, you’re able to take your inflammation levels from a negative 1800, which is a terrible score, up to a positive 3,000 or 4,000, or 5,000. So with that difference of 6,000-8,000 in your inflammation levels, it just turns your brain around. Inflammation in your brain, it’s all the wrong neurotransmitters; it cuts down on the good neurotransmitters and your feel terrible. Again, heart disease, blood vessel disease, lung disease, your whole body really is on fire inside with inflammation, and it’s why people feel so good. There actually is a test for inflammation called CRP, or C-reactive protein. And we tested all of our dieters and the intriguing thing is that CRP came down in every single one of them.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, people probably don’t even realize that that’s a really great marker to test health before you really find out what’s going on, that C-reactive protein.
Dr. Bob Arnot: Maybe the best of all.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, because it can really predict things before it’s too late.
Dr. Bob Arnot: Totally right.
Caryn Hartglass: Because it shows that inflammation. So what are some of the best foods that score high on anti-inflammation that don’t cost …
Dr. Bob Arnot: Well, we have these premium foods in the book …
Caryn Hartglass: Chia seeds?
Dr. Bob Arnot: Chia seeds are very, very good. But also when you look at the veggies, clearly look at them, kale, watercress, collard greens, all are 1,000. You have spinach at 700. You kind of come down form there. But the intriguing idea I learned many years ago from centers and science for the public interest is you don’t have to have tons and tons of vegetables, you have to have the right ones. So you might have a lettuce, for example, which probably has an Andes score of 50 versus kale at 1,000, why not have the kale so you can have fewer better foods? The surprising thing to me in reading and writing the Aztec Diet was that if you take any food group, take a look at the top ten, by the time you’re at the bottom of the top ten it’s not very good. You go from 1,000 points down to probably 200 in the veggie table, by the time you’ve gone from number 1 to number 10. The same thing is true with meats, and fruits, and grains, and whatnot. I’m a big believer that when you diet, if you want to be healthy, you don’t need a huge variety of foods; you need to purchase very few foods that are unbelievably good and stick to those.
Caryn Hartglass: I think most people like to have the same things most of the time anyway. We really don’t like change. So the thing is to do the work, get to the right place, and then find the foods that are really going to work for you.
Dr. Bob Arnot: I totally agree. I totally agree.
Caryn Hartglass: And then occasionally you can go out …
Dr. Bob Arnot: The dull diet.
Caryn Hartglass: A what?
Dr. Bob Arnot: We call it the dull diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, but it’s not.
Dr. Bob Arnot: I know, I know, it’s good for you. But you were saying about going out to eat … The great thing about the Aztec Diet is when you go out, you want to try to make the right choices. I try to sit down, tell people not to bring any bread, dig into the main course as quickly as I can to fill myself up. We have holidays, Thanksgiving, we have birthday, we have weddings; we’ve over-rated those. And the great joy of the Aztec diet is the day after you come home, you start the chia shakes again to wake things up and you feel amazing. So it allows you to enjoy your life but at the same time, get right back on the wagon.
Caryn Hartglass: I know that when I indulge myself, the next day that’s all I want to do is to get right back because I know how good it feels when I’m doing the right thing. When you wean yourself off of from bad foods and then you kind of let yourself have them again, sometimes that turns people totally off of them because they see how bad it makes them feel.
Dr. Bob Arnot. Yeah. When I go to a party now, I almost dread them. I’ll actually bring a thermos of the chia shake along with me.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I like to tell people to eat a lot before they know they’re going into a dangerous event so that they …
Dr. Bob Arnot: Such good advice. Well, all your advice is so good.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, thank you. Well, Bob, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. And thanks for telling the world about this miracle super-food, chia. And if you need any more tips on your opera work I’d be happy to help you with them some other time.
Dr. Bob Arnot: Well, buy a copy of the Aztec Diet and I’ll get an opera lesson from you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, that sounds good!
Dr. Bob Arnot: Thank you so much. What a pleasure.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. So we have a few more minutes left and let’s just digest what we talked about today, okay? I’m still digesting my lunch, which is one of those indulgent things that I had and I can’t wait to get back to my juicing and kale salads.
So interesting things were brought up in this book, The Aztec Diet, that we just talked about: Chia Power: The Super Food That Gets You Skinny and Keeps You Healthy. And as I said earlier, I want to talk about the things that I agreed with but I have to say that there are things in the book that I personally wouldn’t promote. And so I’d like to keep that in mind. I definitely promote chia seeds are great. I think it’s great to mix them up with flax seeds and other foods that give you a lot of mega-3 fatty acids. We don’t know enough about chia yet. I’ve seen all kinds of different numbers about nutritional value in chia and some people like to know, is flax better than chia? Is chia better than flax? I think variety works best and maybe we’ll learn more about chia as time goes on. I know that flax has more lignans and lignans are great for fighting cancer. But I don’t like to look at what’s in food and keep track of the numbers. Now sometimes it really helps when people are making a change in their diet to see what foods are going to give them more good things rather than less. But ultimately, I think it’s really good to land in a place where you don’t have to keep score, you don’t have to be counting. And that’s the beauty of green plant foods, vegetables, and beans. You can just eat them until you’re satisfied, right? And get on with your day.
Okay. I wanted to remind you, and I didn’t say this in the beginning of the program, but I like to hear form you and you’re certainly welcome to call in during the program and ask questions. It’s kind of the end of the program so that’s not really the right time to say it but in the future, please do. And you can always send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there’s something you like or something you didn’t like, or something you agree with or didn’t agree with, you can write me and let me know. I really need and love to hear from you. And we are continuing over at my nonprofit, responsibleeatingandliving.com, with our transcription project, which is enabling us to put into text all of these different programs so you can access them, not only in the audio podcasts but read and remember some of the information even better.
Well, it’s time to go. Thank you for listening. I’m Caryn Hartglass. It’s been a great moment here with It’s All About Food. Have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Diana O’Reilly, 3/4/2013