Clean Plates—a healthier eating Web site, published guides, free app to restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles, and now, a cookbook—is the brainchild of Jared Koch, a nutritionist, health coach, and food critic. Clean Plates focuses on choosing real food; eating more plants; if you eat meat, knowing its source, and reducing toxins—all concepts familiar and cherished by Civil Eats readers. Starting with this post, we’re excited to begin sharing some of Clean Plates’ content, including this recent post about the freaky facts about conventional orange juice.
Koch is bringing these ideas to a wider, more mainstream audience, something that’s bound to be good for us all. Clean Plates’ approach, through Koch’s concept of “bio-individuality,” shows that eating healthier can be an easy, pleasurable, and sacrifice-free adventure. We recently talked with Koch about what inspired him to help everyday folks live more conscious, healthier lifestyles
What has the reaction been to including extensive nutrition information in the front of a restaurant guide?
You’d think that people wouldn’t want nutritional information at the start of a restaurant guide, right? But the reality is that nearly everyone we spoke to loved it and wanted more of it. It was important to us to keep it friendly and easy to follow—no dogma or preaching—we want it to be simple for anyone to eat healthier, whether at a restaurant or at home.
Tell us more about the Clean Plates philosophy and your concept of “bio-individuality.”
Clean Plates is about eating healthfully as well as deliciously. We believe that food tastes best when it has a lot of nutrients, is sustainably produced, and is lovingly and artfully prepared. The quality of ingredients is what matters most, whether you’re a carnivore, a vegan, or somewhere in between.
The idea of “bio-individuality” is based on the idea that every body is different, which means there’s more than one right way to eat. Embracing healthy eating means finding the way of eating that makes your body thrive. We’re all different: we have different genetic makeups, our cultures and backgrounds are different, we have different lifestyles, and we’re at different places in our lives. We also live in different climates and have various levels of day-to-day physical health.
So the philosophy is that there is no single way of eating that is right for everyone. It’s not new, but I’ve come to this approach based on my own experiments on my clients and myself. I healed myself from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) through experimenting with different diets, from raw to vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy- and sugar-free. Over time, I was able to figure out for myself what worked best, for my individual factors. In my case, it turned out there was no one diet, but a combination.
The factors started to click for me and then, studies came out to back up some of my own experiences. For example, one study shows that some individuals metabolize caffeine from coffee differently than others. Another study shows that some people take up the phytochemical compounds in broccoli better than others. I realized that each of us has unique factors that make any certain “diet” really not appropriate for others.
My overall big picture advice to mostly all my clients is to reduce animal foods. That, and eating more organic produce and eliminating most canned foods is pretty critical. But, I look at the overall picture of a person’s health and I know that being dogmatic about eating is really doing a disservice to the overall mission.
There seems to be a lot of conflicting nutrition advice out there and general confusion about what to eat. How do you help clients navigate these waters?
Nutrition science is a new science and a lot of it is inconclusive at the end of the day. There is a lot of conflicting information about whether we should eat meat, gluten, and dairy—the jury’s out on a lot of this. My job is to give people the lay of the land to help them make informed choices and decisions.
Relatively speaking, a “healthy” food can make some people sick; we see this with celiac disease or lactose intolerance. Ultimately, as a society, we have an incredibly dysfunctional relationship to food: We are confused about what to eat, we feel bad and guilty about what we eat, and we’re stressed out about food. Stress about food is also harmful to the body. I want to help people heal their relationships with food.
I also try to get people to the point of being more connected to the food they eat, to help them make decisions that are aligned with their values. I know if I eat better, I’m going to feel better. It’s neither perfect nor extreme—I explain this with my 80/20 rule: aim to eat really healthfully 80 percent of the time so if you indulge in habits that may not be as healthy the other 20 percent of the time, your body will have the nutrients to better deal with it. The end goal of life is not to have a perfect diet, but to eat well and to serve a greater purpose while we’re here.
How have you seen consciousness change about our food choices?
People are starting to realize that the food we put into our bodies matters for personal health, for the environment, and for social justice. I believe that the biggest impetus for change around food will be economic. When it hits home in our pocketbooks due to rising healthcare costs is when the real change will happen. To stay out of the doctor’s office, we’ll all need to start eating healthier. I meet more people who are realizing that, and improving their diets, every day.
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What do you tell people who don’t have easy access to the ingredients and ideas in the books?
There are more Whole Foods markets and more farmers’ markets growing in areas across the nation every day. We’re making progress, and I tell people to just try to make the best decisions with what they have. Ideally, I would advise people to eat local, organic food, but if you can’t get organic, just make sure you’re eating vegetables.
What’s next for Clean Plates?
Our main focus is expanding our free e-mail newsletter (sign up here). We’re working on answering all your big food questions, from which fats can actually help keep you slim, to what’s a great recipe for dinner. We want to be your nutrition coach in your inbox.
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The new Clean Plates cookbook includes loads of healthful recipes from some of both coasts’ finest establishments, including Pure Food & Wine’s raw pad Thai (recipe included below), Northern Spy’s kale salad, and Bill Telepan’s broccoli pasta salad. If you can’t get to the restaurants to eat these delicious and nutritious dishes, learn how to make them yourself!
Since opening in Manhattan in 2004, Pure Food and Wine has become one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants and continues to revolutionize the world of raw food. Of its entirely plant-based vegan menu, nothing is heated above 118°F, to preserve valuable vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Co-owner and executive chef Sarma Melngailis shares her kelp noodle pad thai recipe, which proves that raw cuisine can be delicious, inspiring, and much more than just salads.
SERVES 4 TO 6
2 limes 1 (11⁄2 inch/4 cm) square tamarind pulp (see notes) 1⁄2 medium-size tomato, chopped coarsely 1⁄2 small shallot, quartered 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil 11⁄2 teaspoons raw agave nectar 1⁄4 Thai chile, seeded, or more to taste (see notes) 1⁄2 garlic clove 6 tablespoons/90 mL organic naturally brewed soy sauce or organic wheat-free tamari, divided 1 medium-size orange bell pepper, cored and cut into matchsticks 1 medium-size baby bok choy, cut crosswise into 1⁄4-inch/0.65 cm shreds 1 medium-size carrot, cut into matchsticks 1 large king oyster mushroom, cut into 1⁄4-inch/0.65 cm slices 1 cup/90 g snow peas, cut into 1⁄2-inch/1.25 cm pieces 1 medium-size zucchini, cut into matchsticks 3 scallions, sliced thinly 1 tablespoon organic extra-virgin olive oil 2 (12-ounce/340 g) packages kelp noodles, chopped into 4-inch/10 cm pieces (see notes) Bean sprouts, for garnish Microgreens, for garnish Chopped raw cashews, for garnish
Cut one of the limes into wedges. Juice the remaining lime to yield 41/2 teaspoons of juice.
Set the wedges and juice aside separately.
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In a small bowl, combine the tamarind pulp with 1⁄2 cup/120mL of very hot water. Use a fork to work the mixture into a paste, removing any seeds. Set aside and let soak for 15 minutes.
In the jar of a blender, combine the tomato, shallot, sesame oil, agave, chile, garlic, 2 tablespoons
of the soy sauce, and 11⁄2 teaspoons of the lime juice and process to a puree. Add the tamarind mixture and process until very smooth. Add more chile to taste and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the bell pepper, bok choy, carrot, mushroom, snow peas, zucchini, and scallions. Add the olive oil, remaining 1/4 cup/60 mL of soy sauce, remaining 1 tablespoon of lime juice, and 2 tablespoons of the pureed sauce, stirring to evenly coat. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
Add the noodles to the vegetable mixture. Add more sauce to taste, tossing with tongs to evenly distribute the sauce.
Serve garnished with bean sprouts, microgreens, cashews, and lime wedges.
Notes: Tamarind pulp can be found in Asian, Latin, and Indian markets and at some naturalfoods supermarkets. Look for it packaged in blocks wrapped in cellophane.
Thai chiles can be found in Asian markets.
Kelp noodles can be found in the Asian section or the refrigerated produce section of most natural foods supermarkets.
Naomi Starkman is the founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats. She was a 2016 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford. Naomi has worked as a media consultant at Newsweek, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, WIRED, and Consumer Reports magazines. After graduating from law school, she served as the Deputy Executive Director of the City of San Francisco’s Ethics Commission. Naomi is an avid organic gardener, having worked on several farms. Read more >
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