SOMETHING YOU MAY NOT ALREADY KNOW
Among other things, Ken says to try to eat only foods that taste very good and that contain either a lot of fiber or a lot of protein. He says this approach works to enable people to lose weight because these type of foods fill people up with far less calories than other foods.
Q: This is Rob Hassett for tellmesomethingidontalreadyknow.com. Today I am going to be interviewing Ken Leebow. Before Ken became engrossed in the connection between diet and health, he wrote a series of very popular books about Internet websites. More than 3 million of those books were sold.
Q. Ken, what lead you to focus on diet and health?
A: I became interested in diet and health about three years ago when I watched a video online about the American Food System. And that inspired me to learn as much as I could about what we eat. From that I became aware of the dysfunctionality of the American Food System and sadly, ultimately, the tremendous amount of diseases that it causes.
Q: You found that in the United States we have more of a weight problem than in other countries?
A: Our overweight and obesity rate here in the United States is 66%, and that’s a CDC statistic. And they know that by having that type of percentage, a lot of people will say we have an obesity epidemic. But what we really have is a food epidemic, a food crisis, and it’s what we eat that causes the problem. I mean what you actually end up seeing is overweight or obesity or disease, but really a tremendous amount of it relates to what we’re putting in our mouths today.
Q: Is there any other nation that you know of that has this much of a problem?
A: I don’t believe there’s any other nation that has the type of statistics that we have related to that. However, and very unfortunately, the diet that we’re on is known as the Western Diet. So as our Western Diet spreads to all of these other countries, which, in fact, it has done, the diseases that we see here in this country: heart disease, stroke, Type 2 Diabetes, tends to go to those locations. So it could be a country that has a very healthy diet; however, when they start seeing all the fast food and all the sugary type items we consume here and it goes to their country, they, in fact, end up with the same types of diseases that we have.
Q: Are there some countries that still have a better diet than we do by a long way?
A: Well, diets that sometimes are in Japan or Europe are better. But what’s happening again over time they tend to start eating like we’re eating. And they get the diseases that we have. So interestingly and, I guess, fortunately, there is a better way to eat, whether it’s in this country or other countries, and it’s very simple. There’s a saying that I use “you can leave the Western diet without leaving civilization.” And this is a guestimate percentage on my part. I’d say about 5% of Americans have actually decided to eat in a very healthy way, and they don’t tend to get the diseases that most other people will get. And the diseases I’m talking about are things like heart disease, stroke, Type 2 Diabetes, and all the arthritis, osteoporosis, things to that extent. So a lot of people like to think that your genes, heredity, plays a huge role in this and it does, in fact, play a role. Of course genes play a role. However, it’s what we eat that contributes to a tremendous amount of the diseases.
Q: Is weight the only thing to worry about when you’re eating, or are there other issues to focus on?
A: Well I don’t even like to think about weight. I mean that’s obviously what sells. So we spend the statistics that they use for dollars spent for diet-related products in this country. And I’ll give the wide range because I like to be a little conservative when I state statistics. But they say we spend between 30-60 billion dollars a year on diet-related products. So it’s somewhere in that range. And that’s a tremendous amount of money. So if you’re eating a healthy diet, the great news, the good news, is you really don’t have to worry about your weight per say because you can almost eat as much as you want. You know, I like to bust myths, and one of the myths that I think is out there, and even all of the experts will say this, they’ll say “eat less, exercise more.” And people have bought in to this myth. And what I like to say is “eat more.” Now exercise is very important; but I say eat more. Well, if you’re eating the right types of foods, then you can almost eat as much as you want. But unfortunately, I call the diet we’re on, I’ve labeled it the Main Street Diet. And what I tell people just visualize the next time you go down your main street, whatever that is, look at the types of foods that are there. On my main street, I have about thirteen fast food restaurants. I’ve got seven gas stations, so when you walk in to the gas station to get a snack, really all that’s in there is junk food, high in sugar, high in fat, high in calories. So the bottom line is in our main street diet, there’s very little to eat that is not in some way harmful.
Q: So if somebody’s not necessarily obese but eating a poor diet, is that a concern?
A: Absolutely. One thing just as an example, this is just one example. You know a lot of our products are in processed food. Next time you go to the supermarket, pick up a bag of, you know, I don’t care if it’s crackers or some type of a snack, and flip the package over . And I want you to look for these key words: partially hydrogenated. Now that is actually what’s called trans fats. Think of trans fats in your mind as a little bit of poison. Not a tremendous amount, a little bit! But if you eat a lot of these processed foods and snacks and baked goods and cookies, and so on and so forth, a tremendous amount of them have trans fats in them, partially hydrogenated oils. So day by day, we are putting a little bit of poison in our bodies. We know that trans fats causes heart disease. There are statistics for how many people die on an annual basis from eating trans fats. Trans fats have been in our food supply for the last thirty years or so. Slowly but surely, they are being taken out. However, it’s still used in many processed foods. So unbeknownst to any of us, if you’re eating all of these processed foods, these snacks and so forth, you might be putting poison in your body. It’s not rat poison. You know, it’s not going to kill you in one day. But now do it for ten years or twenty years or thirty years and it’s an artery clogger/killer. So these are the types of things that are in our food supply that people don’t even know about. And what really gets me hopping mad is when I see on the front of a processed food, a snack, it says “zero trans fats” on the front of the package. Guess what? If you flip it over you see that there are partially hydrogenated oils in there, and if there are, that’s trans fat. And they’re bragging on the front of the package that their product does not contain trans fat. So this is our Western diet. And the title of my newest book is Feed Your Head, and the reason for the title is because once you get a little bit of knowledge about this, you can make better decisions. And that’s it! Once you get some knowledge, you can make some better choices.
Q: Is there another, in food, another substance in food other than trans fats that is very bad for people?
A: Well, again, if you look, so many of us eat processed foods. What I mean by processed food is if you again flip the label over, and you see that there are more than five ingredients in it, it’s heavily processed. But so many of our foods, have like ten or twenty or thirty or forty or fifty ingredients in them! And, when you start reading them, you can’t even pronounce their names. So typically what I tell people is when you buy food in some type of package, I don’t care if it’s crackers or whatever it may be, look at the back of the package, read the ingredients. If it’s got five or ten or more ingredients, I have one recommendation; put it back on the shelf. Now a lot of people are probably thinking at this point “well wait a second, what in the world am I going to eat? That cookie or candy bar or whatever it may be tastes great! That’s what I live off of!” So I like to simplify things. That’s my whole claim to fame is I simplify things. So what I’ve tried to do is really make this thing simple. And I’ve boiled it down to two words. As I said, I want to make this thing simple. So here’s the thing, you love, whether it’s ice cream or cookies or whatever, you have to find … Here’s Rule number one. You have to find foods that have great flavor. So flavor is the key word, or taste! It tastes great in your mouth. That’s word number one; flavor! What’s word number two? Everytime you eat, and this takes about 30-90 days to train yourself to do this, but everytime you eat, you should think of the word “satiety.” Well what is satiety? That means that you’re eating something and it gives you the feeling of being full, not stuffed like you’re having a Thanksgiving dinner, but you feel full; you feel comfortable. So now that relates to breakfast, lunch and dinner, and that relates to any snack that you have during the day. And this is one of the great things about eating more, so again “eat less, exercise more”, forget that! Eat more! So if you’re eating a healthy or health-oriented diet, you can eat more. I encourage people to snack! If you’re hungry, eat! Now are you going to eat a candy bar? No, you don’t eat a candy bar! When you do the research, you find out that hey, you know what we really are? We were intended to be hunters and gatherers. Well obviously we don’t hunt and gather for our food today. That would be somewhat unrealistic. But here’s what I recommend, hunt and gather for foods that taste great and give you the feeling of satiety. Now that may sound like a real challenge, but it’s not. So next time you’re around a friend or acquaintance that you know eats in a healthful manner, ask them what are two items that they eat? And guess what, try it! Now you’re not going to like everything that someone that eats as a healthy person eats, but you might find one or two or three or five recipes. And that’s what I’ve done over the last three years or so. When I’m online, I read people’s blogs and try and find a simple recipe. I’m not a great cook. So I try to find simple recipes that I can cook, and make things delicious! So that’s the key. Everytime you eat, think in terms of satiety, being full. Now here’s the thing. There’s only two things that give you the feeling of satiety, two things, and this is it! One is fiber, and the other is protein. So you have to look for foods that taste great and have protein and fiber in them. It’s that simple. So anything else, as far as any diet plan or whatever, is a misdirection. Always think in terms of satiety and flavor. So if I told you, you know, Rob, you could lose a lot of weight and be healthier if you eat cardboard, well what are you going to do if I tell you to eat cardboard? You’d kick me out of your office, right?
A: So what you want to do is find foods that taste great and give you the feeling of satiety. And if this was difficult to do, I wouldn’t even be having this conversation with you, because there’s no reason to talk about it. But it’s simple! It’s truly, truly simple! And again, I think five percent of our population has figured this out. The other … Well, we know 66% of the population is either overweight or obese, so they haven’t figured it out. And I think another large percentage of people haven’t figured it out. The sad part of this is the following; we have become so used to being on drugs and medications, that we feel that being on them is normal. For example, I’m 56 and most of my peers take a variety of prescription drugs. Some of them take a Staten to lower their Cholesterol and another to reduce their blood pressure. I’ve read that the average person that’s 55 years or older is on eight different medications!
Q: Is that right, eight?
A: That’s an awful lot of medications. But sadly we’ve become a drug culture. We believe that you go to the doctor, and “give me the magic pill. Give me the magic pill! Give me the magic pill!” Well if you go on a Staten, which again, I think the statistic is 25% of our population of age 40 and over is taking a cholesterol-lowering drug. If you’re taking that, it doesn’t give you the ability to eat all this junk food. I mean, of course you can! But it gives you the false sense of security that you can go out and continue on this Western diet, this Main Street Diet, as I call it, and continue to eat junk. Now you’re cholesterol may be a little bit lower, but you’re still putting garbage in your body!
Q: Well Ken when you started this, you were trying to lose weight yourself, right?
A: Well here’s what happened. I started doing research about the American Food System, and quite candidly, Rob, I got … well, I felt like Howard Beal. If you remember the movie Network “I’m mad as you-know-what, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” And that became me as it related to diet and health. Because, to me, everyone has to have their own motivation, whether it’s losing weight or being healthy. To me it became a health issue. Now I was not on any medications; I was relatively healthy. But real simply I lost thirty pounds. In sixty days, I lost thirty pounds. It was a no brainer. Because once you find out the proper foods to eat, remember the key words, satiety and flavor, once you identify these foods … It’s not a taste grade, because if they don’t taste good, you’re going to fall off the wagon. You’re going to go back to eating the ice creams and the cakes and the candies and whatever else you eat. So you have to identify foods that taste great. So once I found out how horrible our food system was, in sixty days I lost thirty pounds. All of my test results came out better from cholesterol to other things, and I felt better. Now I was not fat, per say, but again I lost thirty pounds. I’ve kept it off, because once you find these great foods to eat, and believe me, there’s a tremendous amount, and you can go to your local supermarket. You know, I have my own vegetable garden. I love growing my own tomatoes and so forth. But you don’t have to do that. You can go to your local supermarket. You have to avoid a lot of the foods, the processed foods, typically they’re on the middle aisles. So it’s not like you have to go out of your way to find these foods. It’s relatively simple. You just have to be motivated. And what’s your motivation? Well, mine was health. Other people, you know, they may want to look good in a bathing suit, you know, whatever! They’re going to their high school reunion. You have to have the motivation whatever it may be! The visual that I give is one I learned from one of my sort of heroes. His name is Dr. David Katz. And he gave a presentation, and his visual was the following. It was a polar bear in the Sahara Desert. So think of the Polar bear. We know that the Polar bear should be in the frigid arctic. That’s what they’re body is intended for. So now you put a Polar Bear in the Sahara Desert. Well, what’s going to happen to that Polar Bear? It’s not in its natural environment. It’ll get sick, and eventually it will die. We have to think in terms of the following: we are not in our natural food environment. It’s very unnatural. So keep that in mind as you drive down your Main Street, and as you go to run your errands. Here’s another thing. On your Main Street, next time you go run your errands and you go to the pet store, and you go to the hardware store, you go to the office supply sore. I don’t care what store you go to! Guess what’s going to be at the checkout counter? A tremendous amount of candy A tremendous amount of junk food! So this is our current environment. The question I’m going to ask you is do you think that’s going to change?
Q: Not likely.
A: My answer is the following. It’s not going to change. It’s not going to change! I don’t expect that these fast food restaurants will not continue. There’s only going to be more of them. I’ll give you a perfect example. I went in to a store not too long ago on my main street. And the M&M’s, the Kit Kats. It’s bad enough like one package of M&M’s a normal package, is like 460 calories. That’s a tremendous amount of calories for a snack. Now they upsized the package, so instead of it being 460 calories, which is bad, it’s now 770 calories per package of M&M’s from one of these stores. So the environment is actually getting worse, not better, worse! And I’m not talking about global warming and climate changing, I’m talking about our food environment. So again … You know I’m not here to change public food policy. A lot of people want to put an axe on soda and all types of things. That’s not what I’m here for. What I’m here for is in essence, to “feed your head,” give you a little bit of information, a little bit of knowledge, so that you can make better choices. And the only thing that really matters is the question I raise rhetorically to anyone that’s listening; is your health important to you? And if the answer’s yes, then you should make a change. It’s so simple. You know a lot of people think that it’s all about exercise. And that’s where again the “eat less exercise more” kind of fails. Yes, exercise is very, very important! I would not want to minimize that at all, so I would instruct people or advise that find an exercise that you like and do it. I don’t care if it’s walking or running, hiking, I don’t care what it is. Just find an exercise that you like and stick with it. Going to the gym, it doesn’t matter what it is! But the eat less doesn’t work because then you’re distraught, then you’re using will power. So find the foods that are good for you. As an example, I mentioned the M&M’s earlier, they were 460 calories. A healthy snack should be the following: between 100 to 200 calories. So when you’re doing your hunting and gathering, identify snacks that are between 100 to 200 calories and give you the feeling of satiety. So I keep using M&M’s as the example, because that used to be my snack of choice. Now think in your mind, whatever your favorite snack is, I don’t care. When you have that high calorie snack which is full of a lot of sugar, after you eat it, do you have that feeling of satiety? Now I can tell you first hand from when I used to have these M&M’s. It was absolutely not! I could have had a second package! Now I normally didn’t, but I easily could have because it didn’t even fill me up. It didn’t give me that feeling of satiety. So the two key buzz words, satiety and flavor. Yes, the M&M’s tasted great, but it didn’t give me the feeling of satiety, so you have to find those snacks that give you the feeling of satiety and taste great.
Q: So basically the number of calories you eat does matter, and you just have a method for trying to make you tend to eat less calories.
A: Calories are important. But the interesting thing is, and I give a lot of presentations to groups and corporations, and one of my slides is one doctor says it’s all about calories; calories in, calories out. What you eat and what you burn by exercising. Then there’s another guy who recently wrote a book. I think the title is Why We Are Fat. And he says he’s going to give you the reason why calories don’t matter. So even on a simple thing like calories, we tend to not be able to agree on this thing. But calories are important. I’m going with the fact that calories are important. And if you are trying to be in a weight loss mode, yes you probably should count calories. As an example at this point with me, I eat as much as I want and I don’t count calories. I don’t even know what they are. I don’t care because I know what I’m putting in my mouth is one, it tastes good, and two, that it’s health-oriented food, so you could almost eat as much as you want. And I really need to get this point across, because people in their minds are probably thinking well what are you eating, celery? Well the answer to that question is absolutely not! So you find foods that truly taste great and add a lot of flavor.
Q: I want to ask you about a few different programs to see what you’re thoughts are on them. What about the Atkins Diet, as I understand it’s mostly protein, avoiding starch.
A: Well there’s an interesting thing when you start researching all kinds of different diets. And I’m going to answer your questions specifically, but as well, I’m even going to widen the answer. Because when I give my presentations, what I have is a spectrum of ways of eating. I don’t like to call them diets, but just ways of eating. On one side of the spectrum is a vegan way of eating. Simply stated, if it has a mother or a face, you don’t eat it or any of its products. So you wouldn’t eat eggs or things like that on a vegan diet. The other side of the spectrum, and this is a hot new way of eating. If you go on the internet and search it, you’ll see very passionate people about this. It’s called the Palio Diet. This is the way we ate ten thousand years ago and more.
Q: That’s also the Caveman Diet, right?
A: The Caveman Diet. It goes by a number of different names. But you asked about Atkins, and it kind of follows. It’s not exactly Atkins, but it follows that kind of a concept, which basically means you can eat about as much as meat as you want. So they say eat as much bacon as you want! Eat it till your heart’s content. That’s the Palio Diet, because they say that we were intended to eat meats and, again, back to the hunting and gathering. But here’s the thing, and again I have this on my slides, is the spectrum from Vega, that would be one end of the spectrum, and the other end is the Paleodiet. But Rob here’s the great news. You can eat anywhere on this spectrum, and eat a healthy diet. So you can be a vegan, and have a healthy diet. You can be on the Paleo side, and eat a healthy diet. Here’s the interesting thing, and I call this the Circle of Disease. Again, I told you I try to simplify things. It’s what they don’t eat that probably keeps them healthy. So let me just read off a few things to you that none of them eat, whether it’s Paleo or vegan. And I’m generalizing. Not every single person, but I’m giving a generalization. Here’s what they don’t eat, and I call this the Circle of Disease. Here’s how you stay out of the Circle of Disease. You omit fast food. You omit junk food. Well, what’s junk food? Well, that’s all the candy and processed foods, things with five ingredients or more. You stop at the processed foods. You do not eliminate, but you reduce sugar consumption. Sugar is fine in certain amounts. If you’re a soda drinker, stop with the soda. I know that sounds extreme, because if you’re drinking sugared soda, five cans a day, you’re addicted. I drink a lot of coffee, so I’m addicted to coffee. But if you’re drinking soda, and care about your health, you must eliminate it. And I’ve come up with a way to eliminate soda out of your diet. You drink seltzer water, carbonated water, so it doesn’t have all the chemicals and it doesn’t have all the sugar in it. The other thing to eliminate is candy. And you need to exercise. So those are the things: fast food, junk food, processed food, sugar, soda, candy, and exercise. And you have to exercise. So if you follow those guidelines, I say you’ll be out of the Circle of Disease. Does that assure you 100% that you’re not going to have any diseases? Well, of course not! But it’s certainly going to help. And here’s the thing. You started asking about the Atkins diet. So again, vegans all the way to Paleo/Atkins, whatever you want to call it, these people stay away from what I just told you. It’s that simple. So if you’re a vegan, you’re eating a diet very high in fruits and vegetables, and you’re avoiding things I mentioned. If you talk to a guy or lady that’s a Paleo follower, the things I just mentioned, the fast food, junk food, processed food, sugar, soda, candy? Guess what? They don’t eat that stuff.
Q: What about Weight Watchers?
A: Well interestingly, they’re on a point system which really, if you want to simplify it, points really equates to calories. They just put some foods at zero points. They just added this to their new system. So if you eat fruits and vegetables, they say that’s zero points. So any diet should lean towards more fruits and vegetables. The U.S. government, the USDA, just came out with their new what we used to call the Food Pyramid. Now there’s no more Food Pyramid, now it’s a Plate, and what they came out with is the Food Plate, if you look at it, 50% of it is fruits and vegetables. So any diet should lean towards more fruits and vegetables. And if you’re a meat eater, and this concept when I first heard it kind of sounded a little strange. At this point in my life, I’m not a huge meat eater. I do eat meat, but I’m not a huge meat eater. But say you’re having a steak. You think of a steak as the main part of your meal, and whatever’s on the side is a side dish. Well, how about flipping it? Eat your vegetables as the larger portion, and have a smaller portion of steak. So you still get your meat if you’re a meat eater. But you’re eating less of it.
Q: Interesting. Ken, I’m going to need to wrap it up, but if the listeners or readers of the transcript of this would like to learn more, what can they do to find out more from you?
A: If they want to come to my web site, they can just go to http://www.leebow.com, and I have a lot of information. I have a blog. I also have a Twitter site. So they can get a tremendous amount of information actually for free. My book is also there for $8.95. And one thing that I do is I offer 60 days of e-mail “consulting” with a purchase of the book. Because I’m really on a road here. If people are interested, we try to get them into a healthier way of eating and a lifestyle. So I’m just trying to help people out as much as I possibly can.
Q: Ken, thanks a lot. I appreciate your being on.
A: Thanks, Rob. I enjoyed it.