Get to Know: Clean Plates

03/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I'll admit it right out of the box: I eat vegan. And, by the way, you can stop making that face like someone farted. Believe me, I get it; the word "vegan" is a turnoff, like dirty feet or nose hair. There'd probably be a lot more interest in eating vegan if it was called "pure" or "clean." Just goes down better, don't you think? Anyway, keep reading. You won't want to miss this.

My friend James Costos, who's been vegan for years, recently turned me on to a Tiffany-blue book called Clean Plates. Written by Jared Koch, a nutritional consultant and wellness counselor, the book is small (4 x 6 inches), gives you well-rounded nutritional advice and reviews "civilian" as well as vegan and vegetarian restaurants in New York City.

What does Jared want us to know? That food choices impact our immune system and help us weigh less (and not for some wacko Madison Avenue fashion magazine reason!) and that when we're lean, we have lower medical bills, more energy and better sex. Yeah, baby; now I've got your attention! Jared thinks we're tempted by insidious forces affecting our food choices; the desire for instant gratification and comfort especially when tired or stressed; biochemical addictions caused by eating processed foods; and emotional pressure from peers when we're out socially. Any of this sound familiar?

Food issues haunt most of us for many reasons least of all is our national obsession with physical perfection. We need food for sustenance and it tastes good, but, at the same time, we're afraid we'll overeat and--God forbid--gain weight. Some quandary! The scale becomes a tyrant living in our heads and assigns us a number each morning with the blink of its Cyclops glass eye. The number tells us if we're okay and whether we'll have a good or bad day. If the news is bad, we walk with heads down, look in mirrors with disgust, and, frankly, feel all wrong. I know a man who copes by having multiple scales in his bathroom, mounting them all and going with the lowest reading. Believe me, I'm not judging; I've been there and done it all one way or another. So many people think their lives would be better if only they could lose five pounds. This obsession keeps our eyes off the real business of life.

Weight gain often occurs when we eat too much processed food; because our body is not getting the nutrients it needs, we develop various cravings and an inability to feel sated. This constant hunger makes us feel out of control and guilty rather than relaxed when it's time to refuel and eat. It's a real mind fxxx! Clean Plates suggests ways to eat organic so your body gets what it needs to function optimally and then you can throw that nasty tyrant out of your head and onto the street.

Here's how Jared states his four main precepts:

1. There's no one right way to eat for everyone.

2. The overwhelming majority of your diet should consist of natural, high-quality and whole foods.

3. Everyone would be better off if a larger proportion of their diet consisted of plants--mostly vegetables (in particular, leafy greens), along with some nuts, seeds and fruits.

4. If you choose to eat animal products, consume only high-quality and sustainably raised animals (ideally pasture-raised and grass-fed, but at least hormone and antibiotic-free); and do so in moderation--meaning smaller portions with less frequency.

And if I may, here are a few of my own:

1. Eat when you're hungry. Don't eat when you're not hungry (even if it's mealtime).

2. Stop eating when you're full.

Our lives have become crazy-hectic to the point of absurdity. Think about how and when you eat: probably on the run with a Blackberry or iPhone close at hand, the television on or, possibly, in the middle of an argument. Don't you think that we should eat in a peaceful environment where we can relax and enjoy our food slowly? Did you know that it takes 20 minutes for the brain to register that the body is full. If we're speed eaters think how much extra we're throwing down the hatch. The dinner table should be an oasis where family and friends come together and appreciate delicious food, each other's company and conversation. My particular family were "lock-and-load" eaters: they lowered their heads into position and they got the job done. Love them as I do, this was not the best environment for peaceful eating. If we operate under the assumption that food is fuel and our engine works best when not overloaded, then we learn to practice moderation with interest and enthusiasm rather than with obsession and fear.

So how did Jared come to write Clean Plates? He was born in Brooklyn, raised in Rockland County and was a premed major at the University of Michigan. Weeks away from beginning medical school doubts surfaced and he decided to work with his brother for a year in event planning. The year turned into 11, and though it was financially rewarding, it lacked meaning and purpose. He sold his part of the biz and began an inward journey studying yoga and meditation. After completing two years at the Global Institute for Alternative Medicine and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition he realized that as a culture, we don't know how to feed or heal ourselves and are slaves to advertising and processed foods. Jared also realized his passion for good food, entrepreneurship and helping people. Teaming up with Alex Van Buren, a former food writer and restaurant reviewer for Time Out New York, Jared gave birth to Clean Plates, hoping to let people know that delicious and healthy food choices are just a tiny book away.

Once we accept our bodies as intricate and amazing machines rather than things we must deny and control, our emotional load will be lighter and, finally, we'll be free. I owe my sweet friend James a real debt of gratitude for this referral and offer him a delicious dinner from any restaurant of his choice. . . as long as it's listed in Clean Plates.