Arthur Agatston, MD is a world renowned preventive cardiologist and creator of the groundbreaking South Beach Diet. His latest book is THE SOUTH BEACH WAKE-UP CALL: Why America Is Still Getting Fatter and Sicker and he’s also just launched the “Sign Up to Wake Up” campaign on Facebook to help people take control of their lives and their health. Dr. Agatston is in my kitchen today discussing his thoughts on combating childhood obesity, the importance of organics in our diet, and why we should all indulge in some dark chocolate every once in a while.
Why is living organic important to you?
I have to admit that I used to be a skeptic about the value of organic food, partly because it was hard for shoppers to find it and even more difficult to be confident that what was advertised as “organic” was the real thing. My first concern had been getting people to stop eating junk food and to eat more nutritious foods—organic or not. Reading Organic Manifesto gave me a new appreciation for how organic foods promote a healthy lifestyle and helped me better understand the importance of knowing where our food comes from. It has become clear to me that our DNA is designed to eat the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors did, consuming naturally organic foods rather than those that are highly processed or artificially produced. I really want to know what the cow, chicken, pig, or lamb that I eat ate, and how the produce I consume was grown. I believe that eating organic today comes closest to the way that we were meant to eat.
What was your favorite food growing up?
I am embarrassed to say it was Wheat Thins. I could easily consume an entire box while watching a sporting event on TV. Honestly, I have gotten over that addiction.
What’s your go-to comfort food now?
Dark chocolate. I’ve always loved dark chocolate, and today, the medical literature is showing that it’s looking healthier all the time. Several studies have found that eating dark chocolate in moderation can lower blood pressure (probably due to the beneficial effects of its polyphenols on blood vessel elasticity and blood flow) and reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the body, a predictor of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
What’s the one thing in your kitchen you just couldn’t live without?
The refrigerator. I’ve never gotten out of my habit of coming home after work or after being out and opening the fridge to see what’s in there. Fortunately, my wife makes sure our refrigerator is stocked with berries and other fruits, cut-up veggies, and plenty of other healthy snack options.
What magazine, website, book, album, or product are you most obsessed with right now?
I was a history major in college, and most of my recreational reading is in history and current affairs. I just finished Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt and highly recommend it. I’ve found that it provides the best explanation of our current economic situation. I’m a World War II buff, and my favorite book about that era, which I reread recently, is Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham. It’s a great description of their relationship and that period in history. Another recent favorite is Munich, 1938 by David Faber. When it comes to other obsessions, I love my iPad, of course, but my current favorite “toy” is the flight simulator app on my computer because I’d like to learn to fly.
What’s the most important news story today that you think we all need to pay more attention to?
The rise of childhood obesity—not just in America, but around the world. We have the knowledge to completely reverse this trend, but we have to apply it. Clearly taking charge of this problem begins in the home, but we must also attack it on a community level. Schools, especially elementary schools, are the best place to begin to change poor eating habits. It is in schools that we can teach kids to appreciate and enjoy healthy food, which will make them feel better and perform better academically, while helping to prevent obesity and all its terrible health ramifications.
Where do you get your news?
Primarily from the Internet, where I read newspapers, blogs, and medical updates. My favorite paper is the Wall Street Journal and I enjoy pulling up New York Post headlines. As far as news websites go, I like Realclearpolitics.com because it provides a full spectrum of political ideas from left to right. For medical information, I am able to review the journals much more quickly and easily online, and the Internet has also facilitated much more effective communication with my cardiology colleagues and with our practice’s research group, which is geographically diverse.
I had the pleasure of spending some time with Dr. Agatston a few years ago. What a kind, down-to-earth man!