Eat right, or else…

David L. Katz is one doctor who practices what he preaches.

The founder of the True Health Initiative — who addressed the American Heart Association Westchester-Fairfield Chapter’s “Go Red for Women” luncheon in Stamford on the subjects of nutrition and preventive medicine — loves Thanksgiving.

“It’s a secular holiday that invites all, and we have a lot to be thankful for.”

The Katz family heads to his folks in Washington, Conn., for a formal, traditional celebration that also involves a good deal of physical activity — hiking, for one, and, if the weather cooperates, sledding.

Though the Katzes don’t celebrate Christmas, they take the festive season as an opportunity each year to explore one culture through music, table décor and food prepared by David’s wife, Catherine, founder of the Cuisinicity website. (See related story.)

But whatever the holiday, culture or activity, one thing is certain: The food will be healthy.

Indeed, even Katz’s romantic celebration with his wife after the birth of each of their five children has been marked with the same whole foods — goat cheese, French bread and a bottle of Bordeaux — reflecting not only Catherine’s French heritage but a line from “The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám,” “A jug of wine, a loaf of bread — and thou beside me….” (Katz, no doubt, would appreciate the literary reference. The author of a dozen books, he sprinkles his mesmerizing talks with poetic quotations, references to Dr. Seuss and clever turns of phrases.)

It would seem to be a no-brainer — a diet based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils and “water when thirsty” is the best for us. “We have the potential of enhancing longer life and eliminating 80 percent of disease,” says Katz, director of The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. Instead, he says, “We could be relinquishing the promised land of health,” as more people die prematurely.

And while modern medicine is such that it can keep sick people alive longer, that only creates the illusion of a healthy population.

“It’s not more years in your life, it’s more life in your years,” Katz says.

The problem lies, he adds, with “most people eating food that is not food but highly profitable junk food — soda, toaster pastries, cereal in psychedelic colors with marshmallows. … Familiarity breeds complacency. Taste buds love the junk they’re with.”

Katz recognizes that those who are just scraping by may not live in neighborhoods where healthy food is available, and that fresh produce is pricey. But studies have shown, he says, that among the packaged goods found in the middle aisles of grocery stores, the nutritious ones are no more expensive than the unhealthy ones — and may cost less. He uses the example of low-fat peanut butter, which is less nutritious than the regular kind and costs more.

Beans, lentils, cooking grains and water don’t cost a whole lot. So it’s not a question of money.

And it’s not a question of will power but what he calls “skill power.”

“People who manage to eat well, despite it all, have the skill set to navigate a menu and eating when traveling.”

This skill power needs to be part of school curriculum and workplace wellness programs, Katz says. To that end, he and his wife have created “Nutrition Detectives,” a free DVD that helps children — and by extension, adults — identify healthy foods.

But even if they can identify these foods, many people either don’t have much time to cook — or don’t know how to. Hence the Cuisinicity website — featuring flavorful, nutritious, easy-to-prepare meals made by Catherine Katz, who is not a professional cook, in the family’s own kitchen.

Food, however, is one half of the equation. The other is exercise. Today, David Katz says, “we are drowning in calories and labor-saving technology,” which was not true for most of human history. We’re making more progress, however, with exercise than with nutrition, he says, because there’s money to be made in gyms and equipment. But Katz is a proponent of “All movement is good movement.”

Take the stairs, park away from the mall, walk the dog, play with the kids, garden, do housework, go up and down every aisle of the supermarket and consider “the benefits accrued over the course of a day.”

Benefits, he adds, that you can share with those you love.

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