Interview with Tosca Reno, Author of "The Eat-Clean Diet"

Thursday, July 19, 2007 - 11:09am

By Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN

How did you come up with the name of your book The Eat-Clean Diet?

Well, eating clean is actually a term that is borrowed from the world of bodybuilding.  Eating clean is the way you get your body down to its leanest possible form in order to show lean muscle. I borrowed the term and adapted it to suit someone who doesn't want to look like a bodybuilder but does want a lean physique.

You devote whole chapters to very important topics such as breakfast, nutrition for kids, hydration, packing your lunch, etc. What are the most important (four or five) categories essential to optimal nutrition, in your opinion?

The key is really to incorporate lean protein, complex carbohydrates (fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and adequate hydration into daily nutrition.

If you could pick out the single worst thing you see people eating in the modern diet what would it be?

The big one is sugar and a close second is fat--the wrong kind of fats.  Mostly it is the processed foods that are really very difficult for the body to process and eliminate.  It is not a good situation.

One concept that really stuck with me was the ‘beautiful body' formula.  You say that a beautiful body is built with 80% nutrition (and 10% each genes and training, respectively; 80:10:10).  Exercise seems to be a big part of your lifestyle.  How did you come to the conclusion that it's 80:10:10 versus maybe more than 10% training to achieve a beautiful body?

Well, the 80:10:10 is not something I made up.  Again it is based upon empirical data from hundreds of thousands of people from the fitness world who have done this in the past.  I also knew it worked beautifully for me.  Even though I work out frequently, I do not work out for hours at a time, so that is the difference.  If you can combine the best of the plan through clean eating, which you have to do 2,190 times per year (if you eat six times a day), then you might as well do it right and lean on the 10% training when you can fit it in even if it is 30 minutes 5 times per week.

What ancillary benefits have people reported after following and embracing The Eat-Clean Diet (other than weight loss)?

In truth people have reported to me that their cholesterol levels have dropped dramatically, they are able to reduce or eliminate their diabetes medications and even blood pressure meds. They experience increased energy, radiant skin and improved mental clarity.  The body just seems to function better and that's pretty amazing.  I am no doctor though so please follow the advice of a physician above all else.

I get the sense that you de-emphasize counting calories/following a strict caloric level.  It's more about sample menus and eating natural, real foods.  Why do you think that approach seems to work better for many people?

Eating Clean works because no one has ever been able to count calories accurately, for one.  Secondly, it is because all calories are not created equal.  Calories from a donut are not the same as calories from an apple.  Certainly the way the body processes those calories is not the same either.  So, to me, counting calories is not a good way to lose weight while Clean Eating is the only way to do it.

Some readers may find, depending on how they currently eat, that giving up sugar, soda, all refined carbohydrates, desserts, and alcohol is difficult.  What is your advice to people struggling with this/working with these restrictions?

I do find that there are some people will say, "Oh my gosh! I can't give this or that up!"  You can occasionally treat yourself to have those items in your diet but you do not have to have it every day/all the time as these foods were never meant for us to consume continuously.  If you think back to the Mayans and the Incas you know what they ate? They ate foods from the land and quinoa (a super food and grain) that has protein, minerals, vitamins, calcium, and loads of nutrients in it; they did not survive on donuts, candy, and sugar.  They were a super people who survived on superfoods.

Many individuals are short on time.  What are some of your favorite time-saving tips?

We are lucky today in that we can shop in a grocery store where we can find precut/prepared fruits and vegetables.  You can also grab pouches of water-packed tuna, and if you are going to a natural food store, you can get hardboiled eggs ready- to-go or a piece of grilled chicken.  Plan on cooking in bulk and preparing extra food to get you through the next couple of meals instead of just one meal.  I make pilafs and wholegrain salads because you can have them with your meal but you can also throw the leftovers into wraps. AND, there is nothing quicker than picking up an apple which is completely portable with all of its nutrients in one little perfect package!

Regarding protein needs, you recommend eating protein with every meal (not unusual) but approximately four ounces of protein four to five times a day.  That is about 20 ounces of protein a day or over 100 grams.  Later you state that women need about 60 grams a day of protein.  Which is it?

It is a range depending on your size. The actual formula is one gram of protein per pound of body weight.  But that is per pound of lean body weight; in other words if you are 210 pounds, and you want to get down to one 150 pounds, you should be eating 150 grams of protein per day spread out over six meals.  The body can only incorporate about 20 to 25 grams of protein at a time.

In regards to oils, I was impressed with the diversity and selection you suggest, but was wondering what you recommend doing with grape seed, flax seed, and pumpkin oils since they are unstable/cannot be heated?

These are gorgeous oils; just beautiful.  Use them on your salads as a dressing, drizzle over raw foods or throw some into a smoothie.  You can even add a tablespoon to your oatmeal or smoothie in the morning because these are excellent essential fatty acids that you need (to help manufacture healthy body tissue).  I love pumpkin oil on its own, but you can't heat these so for cooking oils you should use canola, safflower, and best quality olive oil.

I love that you provide a sample shopping list and tell readers to beware of healthy-sounding foods that masquerade as health foods. Aside from the obvious (granola and fruit snacks), what are some other examples?

Products that have labels that say reduced fat, or healthy, or good for you, may indicate that the product is "good for you," but relative to what? This is where the consumer gets confused.  You have to actually read the nutrition label/what is in the product versus assuming that it is good for you.

Shrimp and the shellfish are healthy sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but you mention that they should be eaten sparingly due to their cholesterol content.  There is a school of thought that it is actually trans and saturated fats (not necessarily dietary cholesterol) that are responsible for raising blood cholesterol.  What are your thoughts on that?

Well, there is a lot of debate over whether even an egg yolk causes an increase in the serum cholesterol.  These foods need to be eaten in balance.  If I am going to have 6(six) eggs per day, then I will eat one egg yolk along with those 6 whites.  I usually eat about 6 egg whites for breakfast because egg whites contain a nearly perfect source of protein.

The nutrients in some vegetables are enhanced by cooking (like carrots). You recommend eating veggies raw whenever possible.  Why?

There are many people who believe it is beneficial to eat everything raw, and I understand that that may have its place.  But again, I think everything ought to be done in balance, so I do not suggest that you should eat everything cooked or raw.  Sometimes a crunchy carrot tastes just great on its own, and other times you want to steam it or toss it in a stir-fry.  However it is up to you - if you like it raw rather than cooked then eat it.  That would be better than not eating veggies at all. 

Do you think, in terms of supplementation, that it's one-size-fits-all or should supplement recommendations depend on the individual person?

I think there is an argument to take a multivitamin, given that our soils are depleted and we are living in an increasingly polluted world. But you shouldn't overdo it either.  If you can get the bulk of your nutrients out of your food, that is best.  The two top supplements I recommend are Coenzyme Q10 and bee pollen. CoQ10 is a super-powered antioxidant that has a multitude of benefits for the body and bee pollen is loaded with nutrients including complex carbohydrates and vitamins - it is a complete food on its own.  Some supplements are questionable.  I mention the supplements in my book simply because people always ask about them.  They never had enough information. 

Tell me a little bit more about bee pollen. You put that in your oatmeal in the morning, right?

I put it in my oatmeal every morning.   Bee pollen is a food made of tiny spheres of pollen collected from the bees after they travel from flower to flower. Someone came up with an ingenious way to collect the bee pollen by putting a little brush at the entrance to the hive.  I take it every day because I feel it gives me stamina. 

What was your inspiration for those great recipes?  And is there a cookbook in the works?

The inspiration is that I wanted to be able to show people that they can "eat clean" and still enjoy wonderfully delicious foods, and I thought about all of the different ways that my mother and father provided those types of foods for us.  I did not want to stray too far from the basics of clean eating, so I combined all of the best foods possible (in recipes) to make us feel and look our total best.  I have a clean eating cookbook coming up, and that should be out sometime later this summer or early fall.  You can preorder the book through by visiting the site.

I am excited about that.  How does it feel to be a top-selling author and to have such great reception for your book?

The thing that makes me the happiest, that I want people to realize (who think that nothing can work for them and that they are trapped in their bodies) is that there is a plan that can work and that is not all about meetings, gimmicks, pills, and processed, packaged foods.  This lifestyle plan is just an uncomplicated, truthful way of eating--the way we should all be eating, anyway.