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Dr. Broccoli

Meet the physician who writes prescriptions


Usually when your doctor says, “Take two of these … ” he’s talking about pills—not florets of broccoli. But Preston Maring, M.D., associate physician in chief at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, has seen the power of a healthy diet during his 34 years in medicine. He’s so fired up about everyone getting five daily servings of fruits and vegetables that he spearheaded the effort to open a farmers market on the Kaiser campus in 2003. Since then, thanks to Maring’s enthusiasm, 30 other Kaiser farmers markets have opened in five states. We asked the doc about how you can incorporate more healthy eating habits into your life.

So you prescribe fruits and vegetables to your patients?

As a primary care physician, I often talk to patients about their diets. I take my prescription pad and write out recipes, or I may tell someone that they have to cook one of my recipes at least once a month, just to get them interested in cooking at home.

What if you don’t like vegetables?

I tell people how spectacularly tasty these things can be, and how easy it can be to [prepare them]. A lot of people say they don’t mind vegetables, but they just don’t like to cook. Showing them that cooking can be fun is half the battle.

What’s an easy way to do that?

If you like listening to music or watching TV, put your stereo or your TV in the kitchen, and cook while you do something else you like to do. Building cooking at home into your life will be cheaper, and can be healthier for you. You can control what goes into your meals at home; if you don’t want a big glop of cheese sauce, you don’t have to add it. Eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t eat a strip of bacon. You just have to pay attention and make good choices when you can.

What prompted you to start the Kaiser farmers markets?

I saw some vendors selling purses and jewelry down in the hospital lobby, and I just thought, “What could we do here at the hospital that would be more consistent with our mission?” I like to shop at farmers markets. My theory was that if people could run outside on their lunch hour, from Kaiser or nearby businesses, maybe people would shop at the market who might not otherwise. And they do. We did a survey to see if it’s changed people’s habits. The preliminary data show the majority of shoppers say they are eating more fruits and vegetables.

Is the food at the markets cheaper?

Kaiser Permanente Oakland’s market is all certified organic produce, and the prices here are lower than at the grocery stores. What I’m encouraging people to think about is, if you wanted to buy a pound of Doritos, it would be really expensive compared to a pound of fruit.
How important is it to buy organic?

I’m practical. If I’ve got someone who doesn’t cook, or eats a lot of junk food or fast food, I’m not necessarily going to push organic. I’m just interested in having them cook their own meals with fresh, healthy food. But you can taste the difference between an organic strawberry from a farm in Watsonville versus a conventional strawberry that was flown into California from somewhere else.

Do we put too much faith in pills?

Medications clearly have their place, but people could take fewer medicines if they had good diets and exercised. Even a weight loss of four to five pounds in a heavy person can make the difference between whether they need to take blood pressure medicine.

Are you happy to see books like Fast Food Nation become best-sellers?

Absolutely. I’m glad to see awareness increasing. If people learn over time to eat well, then their weight will come down, and if their weight comes down, they tend to exercise more, and then they’ll feel better and work better. It really is about putting your body and spirit first. 

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