It's a bitterly cold, fiercely windy night in Washington, but Dr. Dean Ornish has attracted nearly 600 people to a nondescript auditorium in a nondescript federal building across from the Smithsonian Institution.
For more than an hour, they will listen as Dr. Ornish, a noted and sometimes controversial California medical doctor who has been researching the relationship of diet and heart disease for nearly 20 years, explains how his program of an extremely low-fat, vegetarian diet, no smoking, exercise, meditation and group support can really reverse heart disease.
And how they can still enjoy such dishes as risotto with peas, zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes, baked potatoes with herbed cheese and sour cherry pudding. Those are recipes in his latest book, "Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish." It's his fourth book and second cookbook. For the first cookbook, 1993's "Eat More, Weigh Less" (HarperCollins, $14 paperback), he recruited some of the best-known chefs in the country to create recipes using his guidelines.
Joyce Goldstein, of San Francisco's Square One restaurants, Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lis, also in San Francisco, and Wolfgang Puck were among those who rose to the challenge; only Julia Child turned Dr. Ornish down. ("Not compatible with my philosophy of food," he says Ms. Child told him.)
The book, which also outlined his stress-reduction, meditation, and group support philosophies, became a best seller, but he says many people complained that the chefs' recipes were too elaborate, and used ingredients they'd never heard of.
So, with the help of Jean-Marc Fullsack, the chef Dr. Ornish hired to help develop recipes, he put together the new book with much easier dishes.
When the first books came out, Dr. Ornish's diet guidelines -- 10 percent of calories from fat, and no meat, no fish, no dairy (unless it's non-fat), no oils, no nuts, and no avocados, among other things -- were considered "radical." Dietitians said it wasn't necessary to eliminate all meat, fish and oils. U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines suggested (and still suggest) people get no more than 30 percent of calories from fat, and they recommend two to three servings of meat, poultry, fish and eggs a day.
In 1993, USDA did not recognize vegetarianism as a healthy lifestyle. Nutritionists said no one would ever stick to Dr. Ornish's rigid rules, and culinary enthusiasts, such as Ms. Child, contended he was taking all the fun out of food. Other doctors said the same results could be obtained by surgery, a less-stringent diet, and drugs to lower cholesterol.
However, over time, the country moved closer to Dr. Ornish's views. The USDA announced that vegetarian diets were fine (last fall). The White House kitchens sought his advice. Surgical procedures to reduce arterial blockages were conceded in many cases to be temporary. Vegetables, with their vitamins and anti-oxidants, emerged as heroes in the battle against all sorts of diseases. And PET scans of Dr. Ornish's patients began revealing the degree to which their heart disease had been reversed. (PET stands for positron emission tomography, which is used to map how much blood is getting to the heart; tests were done independently in Houston.)
"Everyday Cooking" is designed to make the Life Choice diet simple. "The book is for people like me who don't want to spend a lot of time cooking," Dr. Ornish said.
The dishes are rich in beans and grains. There are lots of pastas, soups and salads, but there are also old favorites like coleslaw, potato salad, stuffed bell peppers and chili.
There are 150 recipes in the book, divided into 45 seasonal menus. Recipes came from Mr. Fullsack and chefs at the eight hospitals around the country participating in a Multicenter Lifestyle Heart Trial to test practicality, efficacy and cost effectiveness of Dr. Ornish's program. And some recipes came from former patients and spouses, many of them "graduates" of one of the weeklong retreats Dr. Ornish's Preventive Medicine Research Institute offers in Sausalito, Calif.
(As it happens, one of the institute's graduates is in the audience,Washingtonian William Bilawa and, at Dr. Ornish's invitation, he comes to the stage to tell his story -- angioplasty of two arteries in 1987, recurrent blockages, more angioplasty. "In 1994, I couldn't have walked across this stage without severe pain," he said. He attended two retreats, he said, "and it changed my life." He's now pain-free and has had "significant reversal" of arterial blockage.)
Dr. Ornish's lecture, which was part of the Smithsonian's Resident Associate program, is neither dry science nor evangelical pleading. He uses jokes ("People ask me, If I eat this way, will I live longer, or will it just seem longer?") and plenty of illustrations (a photo of a tabloid page with the headline "Soda Flushes Cholesterol!") to punctuate his points, and his message is fairly simple: Big lifestyle changes are easier than small ones because you feel much better right away; clogged arteries are "a 20th-century disease;" stress comes "not from what you do but how you react to what you do.
"It's not about living to 86 instead of 85," he says. "It's about feeling better."
Here are some recipes from "Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish." The first is Mr. Fullsack's secret weapon: He uses the vegetable broth as a base for soups and for sauteing, in risotto, and dozens of other ways. You can double or triple the recipe and freeze the extra for up to 3 months.
Makes 4 cups
2 large carrots, peeled, ends removed, diced
2 onions, diced
2 cups sliced mushrooms
4 ribs celery, diced
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
6 whole cloves
2 teaspoons whole coriander seed
Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Add water to cover, about 6 cups. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Strain.
Fresh tomato soup
4 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup vegetable broth, homemade or store-bought
1/4 cup chopped onion
In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, combine tomatoes, broth, onion and salt to taste. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce to medium and cook until onion is tender, about 15 minutes.
Risotto with zucchini, peas, sun-dried tomatoes
6 cups vegetable broth, homemade or store-bought
1 1/2 cups arborio rice (see note)
1/2 cup diced roasted onions (see note)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup grated nonfat cheese
1/4 cup minced parsley
salt and pepper
Put broth in a saucepan and bring to a simmer; adjust heat to keep liquid barely simmering.
In saucepan, combine rice, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and 3 cups hot broth. Bring mixture to a simmer over moderately high heat, adjust heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most broth has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.
Add more hot broth 1 cup at a time, stirring often and waiting until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid before adding more. After 7 more minutes, the rice should still be a little firm to the bite, and it should have absorbed about 5 cups total liquid.
Add zucchini and peas and cook until tender, about 3 minutes more, adding a little more liquid if rice seems underdone, or if mixture seems dry.
Risotto should be creamy, but not soupy. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Note: Arborio rice is an Italian variety that becomes especially creamy when cooked. Look for it at gourmet food shops, Italian groceries and in the gourmet section of supermarkets.
To roast the onions: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place whole, unpeeled onions on a baking sheet and bake until they are soft to the touch and slightly browned on the outside, about 30 minutes. Cool, then cut off root end and squeeze out the soft interior.
One onion yields 1 to 1 1/2 cups diced roasted onion, depending on size.
To microwave: Microwave whole unpeeled onions on full power until very soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Cool, then cut off root end and squeeze out the soft interior.
For the cooking-impaired
People who really don't cook can still have meals based on the Life Choice diet. Dr. Ornish has worked with ConAgra to develop a series of frozen meals that can be shipped by three-day Federal Express service.
The dinners include sun-dried tomato manicotti, garden potato casserole and vegetable lasagna. They cost $42.95 delivered for 8 dinners, and $59.45 for 14 dinners.
To order, or for information packets, call ConAgra at (800) 328-3738. For information about the retreats or the hospital programs (the eight hospitals are in Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Columbia, S.C., La Jolla, Calif., Concord, Calif., New York City, Des Moines and Omaha), call (800) 775-7674. The weeklong retreats cost about $3,500, which includes all meals and accommodations.
Pub Date: 4/10/96