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Dr. Kelly Fisher follows the 80% Rule while serving up healthy portions of culinary medicine

Dr. Kelly Fisher is a big proponent of culinary medicine. Fisher, an Assistant Professor of Professional Practice in TCU’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, says that culinary medicine coursework “changes many students’ opinions about food.”

Two Blue Zones Power 9 principles - eating with a Plant Slant and the 80% rule – are key features in the culinary medicine elective class that Fisher helps coordinate for University of North Texas Health Science Center medical students. “One thing we teach in culinary medicine is how the microbiome (the complex and interconnected bacteria found in the human gut) is influenced by food,” she says. “If you want to increase immune function and decrease chronic disease, you need food with fiber.” Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains “help our gut health,” she says, while fad diets that demonize a particular macronutrient, like carbohydrates or fats, miss the point.

Fisher says fiber is more filling and will help people achieve the elusive 80% principle – pushing away from the table before you feel completely full. Fiber ­­­­­­– found in most vegetables, many fruits, and whole grains – is a healthy way to fill up your stomach without filling up on empty calories. Protein is also filling, and she says there are plenty of ways to get protein from plant sources. Take quinoa – it’s not a grain like cereal, but a plant related to spinach. And quinoa by itself is a fiber-packed complete protein source.

As an adjunct to their classwork, TCU undergrad dietetics students have an opportunity to take a Blue Zones shopping tour at a local grocery store, looking at it through a Blue Zones lens. Simply recognizing the Blue Zones labels on food shelves goes a long way to helping the students, who will ultimately work with patients, retain the message. The other advice that Fisher shares involves a level of mindfulness – another Blue Zones principle – about how we eat. “Look at what’s on your plate,” Fisher says. “Don’t eat in front of a screen, and don’t eat at work or while you’re distracted. Think about your bites.”

Eating in our cars has become an unfortunate necessity, as many of us rush from commitment to commitment. And Fisher is cognizant that we all are simply doing the best we can on any given day. “If you eat at home, going to a restaurant is a treat,” Fisher says. “But if you eat outside the home a lot, it has to be viewed differently.” Registered dietitians work hard not to tell people that their favorite foods are not ever allowed. Most, if not all, foods can be eaten in moderation in the course of a healthy eating pattern. “Most restaurants have options,” she says. Substituting salad or fruit for fries ­­– as long as the salad isn’t drowning in dressing – is one way to make a healthy change.

But if you don’t like vegetables or don’t know how to prepare them in things other than a plain salad, how do you eat with a Plant Slant? Fisher admits that, even as a registered dietitian, it was hard at first to pack her diet with vegetables. “I started thinking how I needed to fix how I ate,” she says. “At first, my goal was just to have a vegetable once a day.” She says she didn’t worry about a particular number of servings, just that she had veggies at a meal. It can be as simple as adding a large portion of lettuce and tomato on a sandwich or putting vegetables in an omelet. “Roasting veggies makes them yummy,” Fisher says. “I typically just add a drizzle of olive oil, minced garlic, a small amount of salt and pepper.” Fisher says most vegetables will roast well at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20-25 minutes. Root vegetables like potatoes will need 30-45 minutes.

Another key to health that Fisher recommends for everyone is hydration. “Drinking water and being hydrated helps with everything,” she says. “Drinking a soda will never make you feel full.” It’s not rocket science, it’s culinary medicine.