Dr. Andrew Weil Offers Sage (and Tofu) Advice at True Food Kitchen

It was standing room only last Thursday at True Food Kitchen at the Biltmore, where nutrition and health expert Dr. Andrew Weil weighed in on healthful breakfast options and answered audience questions about everything from vitamin deficiencies to quinoa (which isn't a grain as most people think, but is in the beet and chard family). 

The audience lapped up his tips like a strawberry-soy smoothie, many of which were based on his famous anti-inflammatory diet pyramid.

Dr. Weil (left) with Chef Michael Stebner, who whipped up a tofu and soy chorizo scramble for the audience.

Lest you think Dr. Weil's diet means resigning yourself to tofu and rabbit food, he's quick to point out that he loves leftover Chinese food and cold pizza just like everyone else. The trick? These two supposedly "bad" foods can be part of the two most healthful diets on the planet: the traditional Asian diet and the Mediterranean diet. 

More tips and a Q&A with Dr. Weil, after the jump...    

The cool thing is that, unlike the old-school USDA Food Pyramid, Dr' Weil's version is flexible depending on your dietary concerns and preferences.

Not to say you can move dark chocolate to the base of the pyramid and vegetables to the "use sparingly" pinnacle -- there are some rules that always need to be followed. But people with Celiac disease can substitute rice pasta, for example. And Dr. Weil completely avoids meat and dairy in favor of incorporating more vegetables, soy, fish and pasta.

According to Dr. Weil, about 30% of the calories we eat should come from fat. "Don't be afraid of fat," he quips. "Fat does not make you fat!" Good to know. Of course, he's probably talking about healthy fats like olive oil and avocadoes, not Krispy Kreme.       

We had a few questions of our own for Dr. Weil.

Chow Bella: What's the best advice for people who live in a hot, dry climate like we have in Phoenix?

Dr. Andrew Weil: Drink plenty of water. The anti-inflammatory diet [available on his website at www.drweil.com] I think is a diet that will reduce allergic responses in most people.

Often I find that if people reduce or eliminate cow's milk in all of its forms, that's helpful for allergies. And increasing consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, that's helpful for skin. Make sure you get enough of the good fats -- avocadoes, olives...

CB: A few diet fads have totally vilified carbs. What do you think about pasta?

Dr. Weil: Pasta is a special carbohydrate. It's very different from bread; it has a lower glycemic load.

Pasta in moderation is great. There are also decent pastas that are made from rice, if you're sensitive to wheat.

CB: Even healthful eaters are sometimes forced to eat fast food when they're on the run. If someone wanted to keep a "healthy snack kit" in their car or desk for such emergencies, what would you suggest they put in it? 

Dr. Weil: Nuts are great, dark chocolate, dried fruit. Those wasabi-coated peas are great if you like a little spice.

CB: What about restaurants? Isn't it difficult to eat out healthfully -- unless you happen to be near True Food Kitchen? 

Dr. Weil: I'm on the road a lot and I often eat out at ethnic restaurants. I like Middle Eastern restaurants, Japanese restaurants. Sometimes I'll even go to a steakhouse because I can get a salad or a baked potato and vegetables. Still, in some parts of the country, it's pretty dismal. In airports, it's pretty dismal!

CB: Is there really a health benefit to using sea salt vs. table salt? 

Dr. Weil: A lot of chefs like sea salt. I cook with sea salt.

I think the main thing is what kind of additives are in the salt. A lot of table salt brands have aluminum-based compounds to prevent caking, which you probably don't need.

CB: If someone could only make one dietary change right now, what should it be?

Dr. Weil: The most important advice is to try and cut down on processed and manufactured foods and eat more things made from whole foods.

CB: What's your favorite food?

Dr. Weil: I love sushi, I like pasta. I love to eat, so it's hard for me to pick a favorite food.

Taste Dr. Weil's food pyramid in action at True Food Kitchen at the Biltmore. The chefs there are so committed to his program, they don't even keep white sugar in the building. Instead, you'll find agave nectar in most of the sweet breads and desserts, and tons of seafood, vegetables and healthful pastas on the menu. 

Three new True Food locations are in the works, including one in Scottsdale.  

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