The Nutrition Revolution
Dr. Cluff has developed several concepts and principles over the years that he hopes will help to clarify and simplify the otherwise confusing and controversial world of nutrition, in addition to making it easier to improve your health and lose weight.
The Nutrition Star, The 4:1 Rule, and 4◊ Foods
As an introduction, it is important to provide a brief summary of the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
These guidelines were developed arguably by the greatest health and nutrition minds on the planet, so I’d think twice about summarily dismissing them. No, they are not perfect, but those on the panel not only had to compromise with each other’s differing opinions and interpretation of the data, but they also tried to balance effectiveness with livability. And I believe most of the influence of industry has been weeded out.
A quick glance at these guidelines reveals about a 70% plant-based diet (the protein section is divided into animal-based and plant-based sources such as legumes and nuts/seeds). However, since the guidelines recommend that half our grains be whole, and that an option for the fruit group is 100% juice (not really healthy), it’s really only about a 50% healthily-prepared plant-based diet (if that!).
So, the question remains, “Is this good and simple enough to accomplish our goals?” Almost everyone agrees that eating more plants would improve our health – after all, they have the greatest nutrient density. Plus, the generally low-caloric density allows one to eat more food – as long as it is prepared (as should be our goal with all food) in a healthy fashion, i.e., without processing the healthy stuff out, frying, or adding oil, sugar, or butter.
Dr. Cluff also recommends (at least) a 70% plant-based diet, but it is fairly different, summarized by his Nutrition Star:
The Nutrition Star also has five categories. Two are the same as above (fruits and vegetables), two are similar (grains and protein), and the last is different. A few qualifiers:
First, Dr. Cluff has evaluated many dietary recommendations and determined that what kind of plant you eat within each of the plant categories is far less important than preparing it “whole” (in a healthy manner). In other words, potatoes are healthy as long as they are not deep-fried (which is how ~50% of all potatoes are consumed in America) or smothered with butter, cheese, sour cream, and bacon bits. And, he says, “Why not make all your grains whole?” The protein section is also divided into plant and animal sources, but he requires that the animal protein have primarily good fats – and the only animal protein with primarily good fats is fatty seafood.
All other foods fall into the “Whatever” section, which he often refers to as the “livability and flavoring” section. This section contains all foods that are lower in nutrient density, addicting, and/or the potential harms outweigh the potential benefits. Nonetheless, you may fill the Whatever section with whatever you want – for example, if you are vegan, fill it with plants. If you believe in the Paleo philosophy, you may fill it with meat. With whatever you fill it, always try to prepare everything as healthily as possible.
The 4:1 Rule
What The Nutrition Star turns out to be is an 80% healthily-prepared plant- and fatty seafood-based diet. Simplified and summarized, it’s something Dr. Cluff calls The 4:1 Rule. It is his healthy eating strategy, and he believes it not only provides the magical intersection between what’s both effective and livable, but it is adaptable to about any eating preference (i.e., a banner behind which all may march). He believes strongly that as long as 80% of your intake is healthy, you can play with the other 20%. In other words, it’s a mass effect: A massive load of antioxidant/anti-inflammatory, multivitamin, micronutrient power (i.e., 80% or more of your intake comes from the four healthy diamonds of the Nutrition Star) will neutralize a small amount (<20%) of potentially harmful, inflammatory, disease-causing consumables, thus preventing (and possibly even reversing) the majority of diseases from which people suffer and die.
Since the Nutrition Star is essentially made up of five diamonds, Dr. Cluff calls the four healthy diamonds “4-Diamond (4◊) foods” (a much simpler way to refer to them). And to help you make healthier eating choices, he and his non-profit organization, Project Simplify Health are creating a database of foods and menu items that lists their “4-Diamond Percentage Score,” or “4◊Score” for short.
Dr. Cluff is convinced that the most addicting and most harmful ingredient – i.e., the greatest cause of inflammation (disease) and obesity – in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is something he calls plant waste. And it’s everywhere. To explain…
Our bodies were designed to extract the nutrition out of food and expel the waste, which of course is contained in our urine and feces. Plant waste, on the other hand, is created when we extract all the nutrition out of plants – but instead of consuming that nutrition, we throw it away, and consume the waste! Why would we ever do that? Because it’s so yummy and addicting! What makes plants so healthy and life-giving are the micronutrients, fiber, and water, and unfortunately, when most or all of those things are taken out, only harm results.
There are many types of plant waste, but the most obvious, most harmful, and most addicting types are:
High-fructose corn syrup
And there are other forms. To reiterate, anytime you take out the healthiest parts of the plant – the fiber, micronutrients, and/or water, you are creating plant waste. Other lesser forms of plant waste include juice, white rice, and plant-based milk (although usually much healthier than regular milk). Indeed, plants are both the Holy Grail and the Smoking Gun. When eaten "whole," they impart great health. When eating plant waste, only disease and obesity result.
“But I only use olive and coconut oils!”
Dr. Cluff is convinced that there is no such thing as a healthy oil. There are definitely healthy fats – those found in plants and fatty seafood. But as soon as you extract perfectly good fats from a plant, throwing away the nutritious parts (i.e., creating plant waste), then it becomes oil, which is not healthy.
Oil is oil is oil
Oil of any kind is a 9 calorie-per-gram sludge (plant waste) that contains little-to-no nutritional value, being devoid of fiber, water, and most micronutrients. It does not matter what type of oil it is. Oil should be used for fuel, lubrication, and conditioning – it’s not for our insides, and almost exclusively causes harm. Dr. Cluff is not the only one who believes this, and many believe that the Mediterranean diet is healthy in spite of, not because of, the olive oil. Eat the whole olive! Eat the whole coconut! You get the drift.
“But then how can I cook?”
Let’s put on our thinking caps: Grill, steam, bake, boil, broil, roast, sous vide, other. You can also sauté using non-stick spray and/or vegetable broth! Use whole fruits (e.g., ripe bananas, date paste) to naturally sweeten your foods. Use puréed cashews to create salad dressings. The internet is full of ideas and recipes that are oil- and/or sugar-free.
“But I heard that a little alcohol is good for you!”
Alcohol is inflammatory and consists of empty calories – and most people don’t drink just a little.
Vegan- and Vegetarianism
Since, by definition, vegans and vegetarians can eat plant waste, if they do not understand this concept and make wise choices, they can become as addicted and suffer the same health issues as the rest of us.
Dr. Cluff understands that this sounds a bit disgusting, but he uses the term for effect. Essentially this refers to anything (besides waste) that comes out of an animal. It refers essentially to dairy and eggs. Cow’s milk is made to turn a calf into a cow, and it and its products do the same to us, and cause more harm than good. No matter how many celebrities smile with a milk mustache, milk does not do a body good. One of many pieces of evidence is that the countries that consume the most milk have the highest levels of osteoporosis. Dr. Cluff (is not alone when he) encourages you to get your calcium and vitamin D from other sources – beans, dark greens (other than spinach), the sun, and other fortified foods (calcium supplements are no longer recommended because of an increased risk for kidney stones, but vitamin D supplements are for those who are deficient). And did you know that it takes about 10 pounds of cow’s milk to create one pound of cheese? That’s all we need – concentrated cow’s milk. Sadly (because it’s so flavorful!), cheese is one of the most addicting and least healthy foods there is. And what about butter? People argue about which is healthier: Butter or margarine? He says, “No and no.” See the discussion above about oil. And yet he’s OK with no-calorie spray butter and non-stick spray. The debate rages on, but a recent powerful study (i.e., well-designed, with a multitude of participants) shows that there is a direct dose response between egg consumption and heart attacks/strokes/death. In other words, the more eggs you eat, the higher chance you'll die. You may ask, “Does this mean I can never eat eggs?” Dr. Cluff says of course not. Just don't call them healthy – they belong in the "Whatever" section.
Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat
Dr. Cluff feels strongly that the use of these terms is a waste of breath and time, since he feels they are next to irrelevant in the discussion of nutrition. The relevant, meaningful distinction is not whether or not something is “low-carb” or “low-fat,” or which is a better dietary approach – it is whether or not a carb or fat is good or bad. And the answer is simple: If the carb or fat comes from a whole plant or fatty seafood, it is good. If it comes from plant waste or an animal product other than fatty seafood, it is bad. So the best diet is low in both bad carbs and bad fats (you mean like The 4:1 Rule?). If someone follows a low-carb or a low-fat diet, if they are cutting out good carbs or fats, they are damaging their health. So the next time someone says they are on a low-carb diet, feel free to instruct (especially since most who are on a “low-carb diet” are on a high-bad fat diet).
Dr. Cluff is not in the camp that believes that most artificial sweeteners are dangerous, or directly cause weight gain, despite popular belief. However, he calls them “gateway drugs” – they perpetuate the sweet tooth, i.e., the addiction to sweets. However, if you must have sweets (cannot resist the craving), he thinks that indulging in a small amount of something that is artificially sweetened (e.g., soda) is far less damaging than sugar-sweetened treats.
In January 2018 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released its new-and-improved Nutrition Facts label, which is already starting to appear on some products. Manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales must start using the new label by January 1, 2020, and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have until January 1, 2021 to comply.* Dr. Cluff feels it’s a good step in the right direction, since it now clearly identifies the grams of added sugar (yummy, but a plant waste), which he sometimes refers to as “legal cocaine” because of how addicting it is.
If you have read the section above about Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat, however, you would understand how he might be highly disappointed that the new label does not do anything to distinguish between good and bad fats. Hopefully it won’t take decades before that change occurs. For now, we are stuck reading the ingredients and trying to guess – which is very difficult when products contain both oil (bad fat, a plant waste) and good fats, like nuts and seeds. It also does not distinguish between good and bad types of cholesterol (HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, which protects against heart disease, vs. LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, which contributes to the development of heart disease).
In addition, the listing of vitamins present can either give you a false sense of nutritional value or ignore the fact that there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of other ignored or yet undiscovered micronutrients contained in whole plant foods. It would also be nice to know the source of the protein, i.e., animal- vs. plant-based. The reality (and good news) is that the more you move towards a diet of predominantly healthily-prepared plant- and fatty seafood-based foods, the less you have to worry about labels.
Dr. Cluff learned in medical school that a significant portion of the population has adequate mechanisms in place (well-functioning kidneys) to handle a fair amount of salt, and although a lot has changed since then, over the years the debate has not been settled. The problem is that we don’t have a great way of predicting who can and who cannot tolerate a lot of salt. As such, it is wise to do your best to avoid excessive salt, and follow the guidelines on product labels (see the “% daily value” column on the right – I agree with looking at that) – especially if you have found that you are sensitive to salt (blood pressure goes up, fluid collects in your lower legs, etc.) or are at high risk (personal or strong family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, etc.). It is also my very strong opinion that what you put the salt on is far more important than whether or not you use salt (in other words, it’s the “fry” in French fry that hurts you, not the salt on it). If you won’t tolerate broccoli and other vegetables without salt, however, Dr. Cluff advises to salt it! Consider reading Dr. John McDougall’s take on it.
The Meat Façade
Dr. Cluff can enjoy a good steak just like the next guy, or a flavorful piece of grilled chicken. Many people say that chewy types of meat are simply more flavorful than plant- and fatty seafood-based foods. Dr. McDougall, in his book The Starch Solution makes a fascinating point. He asks the question (paraphrased), “How many times have you eaten chicken by itself, without any seasoning or flavoring?” Sounds kind of gross, doesn’t it? To Dr. Cluff, it sounds far more flavorless than raw vegetables, which many have a hard time enjoying. Ironically, most of what we use to season meat is…plants! Think herbs, spices, even ketchup, steak sauce, mustard, relish, and barbecue sauce.
Indeed, we expend great energy perfecting the flavor of different kinds of meats and processed foods. If we spent the same amount of effort perfecting the flavor of healthily-prepared plant- and fatty seafood-based foods, we’d get addicted to them, too! And that is a healthy addiction – eat to live! Dr. Cluff envisions cooking competition shows using mostly plant- and fatty seafood-based foods (possibly completely “whole,” i.e., without any “Whatever” foods like plant waste or animal secretions), which he is confident would rival all the less-healthy cooking shows with which television is replete these days. Is it really that difficult to imagine a chili cook-off that qualifies for The 4:1 Rule? Makes our mouths water just to think about it.
Most of us like to sink our teeth into something with substance, and meat definitely satisfies that urge. If you are accustomed to eating meat at every meal, you may still do so, but do your best to keep the portion size to <20% of your total meal (consider simply cutting your intake in half). Hearty plant-based foods that temper one’s craving for meats (and also have plenty of protein) include legumes, nuts, cooked mushrooms, whole grains, and even potatoes (which, remember, are very healthy, as long as you don’t fry them or load them with butter, sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits!). Shrimp also satisfies the need to chew for some folks. So make sure most of your meals contain at least one of these things!
Of course not. Just try to keep these things to <20% of your overall intake. Splurging periodically is not what kills us. What’s ruining our weight loss efforts and leading to disease is how much we indulge in these things. The average American currently follows “The 1:4 Rule,” i.e., gets over 80% of his or her calories from “Whatever” foods? Some estimates are even higher. That is mainly because these foods have such a high caloric density (calorie:volume ratio). Imagine how much more food you could eat if you ate all healthily-prepared plant- and fatty seafood-based foods!
To test the power of an entirely plant- and fatty seafood-based diet, try our 4D4D Challenge. However, remember that you don’t have to go all-in to achieve amazing health and fitness. Simply follow The 4:1 Rule. To your health!
*Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label, U.S. Drug and Food Administration website, accessed July 16, 2019 at https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/changes-nutrition-facts-label