Michael Jacobson’s

Nine Weeks to a Perfect Diet (TM)

Americans are bombarded with advice on what to eat. But much of that advice — like in ads sponsored by the meat, dairy, and fast-food industries — promotes a high-fat, high-cholesterol, high-salt, high-sugar disease-causing diet.

The predictable result is sickness instead of health, with high rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

Whether you are concerned about weight, heart disease, or just maximizing your health, this guide will help you eat a diet that is far more healthful . . . but just as tasty as what you’re accustomed to. Unlike some diet books, this guide will provide you with a way of eating that should last a lifetime. It will help you to make relatively simple and gradual changes that add up to major improvements.

The new eating patterns should help you shed unwanted pounds, lower your blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol level — and feel better about yourself. Enjoy!

The contents of Nine Weeks to a Perfect Diet are not intended to provide personal medical advice, which should be obtained from a qualified health professional.

Week 1

Eat Less Margarine, Butter, Shortening, and Oil

The fat that we, restaurants, and food manufacturers add to our food is a big waste of calories and sometimes promotes heart disease. This first week, find healthier, equally delicious ways to flavor your food.

Ordinary stick-type margarine contains hydrogenated oils that make it almost as bad for your heart as butter. Instead, choose a lower-fat or non-fat tub margarine.

Butter is loaded with artery-clogging saturated fat. For toast, try honey, jam, fruit spreads, or a "butter" spray. For steamed zucchini and other hot vegetables, lemon juice and a dash of oregano adds some zip. Try nutmeg on cooked carrots and garlic and a touch of olive oil on spinach. For baked potatoes, fat-free sour cream or salsa is delicious. If you simply can’t give up butter, buy a whipped light butter or use just a little of the real thing.

Many packaged and restaurant foods contain partially hydrogenated oils and shortening that clog arteries. Cut way back on french fries, fried chicken, fried fish, doughnuts, cakes, and similar foods. For your sweet tooth, choose low-fat or fat-free cookies or cakes.

Ordinary vegetable oil can be a problem because of its calories. In fact, the oil in salad dressing is the biggest source of fat for many people. Even the best oils, olive and canola, have as many calories as butter or soybean oil, even though they are low in saturated fat and safe for your heart. For sautéing, use water or broth, a vegetable-oil spray, or a small amount of olive or canola oil. Choose fat-free or low-fat salad dressings. When you are cooking, use less oil or shortening than the recipes call for.

Thousands of packaged foods offer unnecessary fat. Look for baked foods that are just about as tasty, but much lower in fat and calories. So buy baked potato or tortilla chips, low-fat cookies and cakes, baked ramen noodle soup, and low-fat frozen french fries instead of the traditional versions.

Week 2

Toss the Yolks

You’ve got one simple change to make this week: avoid egg yolks.

Eggs are versatile, convenient, and tasty. Too bad one yolk contains almost a day’s worth of cholesterol. That cholesterol clogs arteries, promoting heart disease and stroke. The fewer egg yolks — and the less cholesterol — you consume, the better.

When cooking, think of yolks in eggs like bones in chicken — and just discard them instead of eating them. It’s easy to make tasty scrambled-egg dishes with just egg whites or egg substitutes like Egg Beaters (see recipes below).

For many recipes, such as pancakes and waffles, you can replace one whole egg with two whites. When you’re preparing a recipe that calls for two whole eggs, experiment first with one whole egg and two whites; next time with four whites.

At fast-food restaurants, avoid egg-containing sandwiches and muffins. At regular restaurants, look for egg-white omelets on the menu or ask the chef to prepare eggs with egg whites only or an egg substitute.

Yolkless Scrambled Eggs

  • In a frying pan, sauté (in water or a bit of oil) diced mushrooms, zucchini, onions, or green pepper; season with pepper, oregano, basil, or herb-spice mixture. Beat 3 egg whites, pour on top of vegetables, stir occasionally, cook until firm.
  • Beat 3 egg whites and add a dash of turmeric. Stir in 1 tablespoon of mustard or 2 tablespoons of salsa or mixture of pepper, oregano, and basil. Pour on hot, lightly oiled (or non-stick) frying pan, stir occasionally until firm.

Week 3

Dairy: Go Nonfat

Whole milk, American cheese, and ice cream are tasty and calcium-rich. But they are also loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, which promote heart disease. This is the week to change your dairy-food habit.

Switching to skim or 1% milk is one of the most important changes that most people could make. Over a lifetime, the average one-glass-a-day milk drinker, by drinking skim instead of whole milk (3.5% milkfat), would consume 400 pounds less fat — that’s 1.6 million calories!

The dairy industry now produces low-fat or fat-free versions of everything from milk to cream cheese to frozen yogurt. Those foods have all (or more) of the calcium and other nutrients that occur in old-fashioned high-fat dairy products.

If you like ice cream, this week your onerous task is to sample one each: sorbet, fat-free frozen yogurt, and fat-free ice cream. But don’t go overboard — they are still loaded with sugar and calories.

By contrast, fat-free cheeses are all too often taste-free as well. But most supermarkets have a dizzying array of reduced-fat cheeses that taste great. This week, try a couple of those lower-fat cheeses. If you can’t give up regular cheese, at least have a smaller portion: make a cheese sandwich with one slice instead of two.

At restaurants, skip some or all of the cheese on sandwiches and in salads. Ask for half — or none — of the cheese on a pizza topped with tomato sauce and lots of vegetables.

Breakfast in a Bowl

Fill cereal bowl with

  1. 1 cup of plain fat-free yogurt
  2. Top with diced fruit (apple, banana, berries, orange or tangerine, raisins), wheat germ, Grape -Nuts, or other whole grain cereal
  3. Dig in!

Week 4

Whole Grain Goodness

This week start enjoying whole grain varieties of breads, cereals, and other foods.

They’ll add loads of flavor and variety to your meals . . . and provide more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than white bread, white rice, and other "refined" grains.

Fiber, the indigestible part of whole grains, has long been known to prevent constipation. It may also reduce the risk of diverticulosis, heart disease, and colon cancer. Most of the fiber is lost when whole wheat flour or brown rice is milled and refined.

You can buy ordinary whole wheat bread (make sure that whole wheat is the only wheat flour ingredient) in a supermarket, or find a far more delicious, crusty whole grain bread at a local bakery, or bake a loaf yourself. Eat it plain, or top it with apple butter, honey, low-fat tub margarine, low-fat cream cheese, or a few brush strokes of olive oil.

One great thing about whole grains (and vegetables, beans, and other fiber-rich foods) is that they tend to be filling and that helps control calories. If you load up on whole grains (and fruits and vegetables) you will almost certainly eat fewer foods high in fat and sugar.

This week, switch to a whole grain diet. Start with each item on this shopping list:

  • whole grain cereals like shredded wheat, Wheaties, Cheerios, raisin bran, All-Bran, 100% bran, oatmeal, or Wheatena.
  • loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread
  • loaf of crusty whole wheat bread from a bakery
  • package of whole wheat pita bread
  • whole wheat pasta and whole wheat couscous (super-fast to cook) from a health-food store
  • long grain brown rice (try basmati for extra flavor) and a box of quick-cooking brown rice
  • package of whole wheat tortillas for making wraps with beans, rice, diced sautéed vegetables

Week 5

Eat Less Meat and Poultry

For many people, eating less meat is the toughest dietary change to make — but the most important.

Red meat is a major source of saturated fat and cholesterol, which are major causes of heart disease. Meat has also been linked to cancer of the colon and prostate.

Even modest servings are loaded with saturated fat. A four-ounce hamburger or 12-ounce sirloin steak (the leanest meat at a steak house) can use up nearly half a day’s worth of saturated fat.

A "perfect diet" needn’t eliminate all meat, but you should eat only small or occasional portions of the leanest meat (round or sirloin steak; pork tenderloin) and trim them carefully.

Chicken and turkey are lower in saturated fat than red meat. But it’s still important to choose lower-fat varieties, such as the breast (second-best: drumstick). Thighs and wings are fattier. In any case, always remove the skin. And forget fried chicken — the breading soaks up the fat!

This week, try not eating any (gasp!) meat or poultry. Eschewing meat may sound less tempting than chewing it, but what is tempting is the enormous variety of delicious meatless dishes:

  • Try pizza topped with loads of vegetables (and half the light cheese)
  • pasta (whole wheat for a chewier change) topped with tomato sauce and steamed zucchini or broccoli
  • frozen veggieburgers (such as Gardenburgers or Boca Burgers) with vegetable side dishes
  • a hearty home-made or canned lentil soup with crusty whole wheat bread.

Burrito Basics

Warm a whole wheat tortilla in oven or microwave. Place on tortilla several tablespoonsful of any combination of: rinsed, heated black beans; brown rice; diced tomatoes; or sautéed vegetables. Add salsa, wrap up, and eat. Repeat until full.

Week 6

Fill Up on Vegetables

Vegetables are the nutritional powerhouses of your diet, and this is the week to turn on the power!

Vegetables contain relatively few calories and are brimming with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and "phytochemicals that may protect against cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.

The National Cancer Institute recommends eating at least five to nine half-cup servings a day of vegetables and fruit. Eat them raw, steamed, or sautéed. Eat them as main courses, snacks, or side dishes. When you eat lots of vegetables, you’ll have much less room in your stomach for fatty foods. . . so you might lose a few pounds without even trying.

Eating "5 A Day" is easiest when you make vegetables the main course, such as sautéed vegetables on rice or a thick lentil-vegetable soup with whole wheat bread and salad. That way you’re sure to get several servings worth in that meal. You might even experiment with a vegetarian diet, even if it’s only a couple of days a week.

Vegetable super stars, such as sweet potatoes, spinach, and broccoli, can be dimmed if they’re buried in butter and salt. Instead, season vegetables with lemon juice plus a sprinkle of oregano, an herb-spice mixture, basil or dill, or even nothing at all. On a baked potato, try low-fat margarine, low-fat sour cream, or salsa. Try low-fat salad dressing on steamed broccoli.

This week, start two new habits:

  • Eat three half-cup servings of vegetables with every dinner.
  • Try one new vegetable every day, such as steamed artichoke (with lemon juice), arugula, red or green cabbage, steamed kale, raw or sautéed rutabaga, or baked sweet potato (mush in crushed pineapple or applesauce).

Rice & Vegetables Nirvana

Stir-fry sliced vegetables (carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, green pepper, onion, etc.), spices. Serve on brown rice (top with Parmesan cheese).

Week 7

Cut the Salt!

Salt is ubiquitous. Most of us became accustomed to salty foods in infancy . . . and continue eating salty processed foods all our lives.

The sodium in salt increases the risk of high blood pressure — and that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Processed foods provide about 75 percent of the sodium in the average diet. After all, salt is much cheaper than flavorful natural ingredients.

The quickest way to cut back on sodium is to avoid processed foods (unless they are "low salt" or "no-salt-added"). Canned or dried soups, frozen dinners, pizza, processed meats (hot dogs, ham, sausages), and processed cheeses are among the worst offenders. Check the "Nutrition Facts" label and buy the lower sodium products.

Restaurant foods, too, are loaded with salt. And you often can’t tell the sodium content by taste. For example, McDonald’s sandwiches all have more sodium than the french fries.

If you add salt to everything you eat, you should — today — replace your salt shaker with an herb shaker, containing a commercial (e.g., Mrs. Dash’s) or a homemade blend (see recipe below).

When you’re cooking, replace salt with pepper, curry powder, salsa, mustard, and similar spicy ingredients. Routinely, use half as much (or less) salt as the recipe calls for. Keep lemon juice in a spray-top bottle in your refrigerator. Then you can easily spray your vegetables, fish, or other food and add a sprinkle of herbs.

At first, dishes low in sodium may taste bland. But as your taste buds adjust, those "bland" foods begin to taste better and better.

Herb Blend

Mix in a small bowl equal amounts of some or all of the following: basil, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, white or black pepper, thyme. Chop in a small mill or blender. Put in a shaker and keep on the table.

Week 8

Fruit’s the Snack

This week, eat plenty of fruit! Carry fruit as a snack. Eat it for dessert. Slice it into your cereal.

Fruit is naturally sweet and delicious — and often provides lots of vitamin A and C, folic acid, and other vitamins and minerals. Fruit also provides fiber and the phytochemicals that appear to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

A ready supply of fruit or fruit salad at home and at the office should ward off the temptations of junk foods in vending machines, snack bars, and fast-food restaurants. Dried apricots or dried fruit mix are convenient ways to make sure a sweet snack is always at hand.

At breakfast, it takes just 60 seconds to peel an orange or section a grapefruit . . . or add lots of chopped fruit to your hot or cold whole grain cereal.

You should have fruit juice at home and at your workplace when you want more than water to quench your thirst. Orange juice is by far the most nutritious; apple and grape the least. Some juices now have calcium added to appeal to people (especially women) who need more calcium. To lighten up a juice and cut the calories, mix together equal portions of seltzer water and juice.

With the National Cancer Institute urging people to consume at least four or five servings of fruit each day, make sure that fruit is your morning or afternoon snack. Stock up now!

Next time you’re at the grocery store, seek out a few kinds of fruit that you never ate before. How about papaya, mango, star fruit, or new varieties of apples and pears?

Fruit Compote

Slice 6 ounces of dried fruit (apricot, prune, pear, apple, peach) into big pieces. Put in a saucepan with 13 ounces of water and add a cinnamon stick. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Delicious hot or cold (or with a scoop of fat-free frozen yogurt on top for a special occasion).

Week 9

Sugar: Wasted Calories

Sugar (or corn syrup, dextrose, white grape juice, etc.) is a waste of calories, promotes obesity, causes tooth decay, and dilutes the nutritional quality of your diet.

Refined sugar is not a poison, and you don’t have to eliminate it entirely. The problem is excess — which is what most Americans consume.

Soft drinks are a major source of sugar calories (a 12-ounce drink has ten teaspoons of sugar, which provide 150 calories) for millions of people. What’s even worse, soft drinks may increase the risk of osteoporosis by replacing milk, or the risk of cancer by replacing fruit juice. Drink water, seltzer water, fat-free milk, or fruit juice instead of soft drinks.

Where are you getting your sugar (see Sugar Inventory below)? Once you know, start adjusting your diet: Leave sugar out of your tea or coffee. Switch to unsweetened cereals. Cut back on those fat-free, but hardly sugar-free, "healthy" frozen desserts, cookies, and cakes. Most importantly, cut back on ice cream, pies, chocolate, and other sweets that are not just loaded with sugar, but also fat.

To satisfy your sweet tooth, eat fresh fruit, fruit salad, fruit juice, or fruit compote.

Artificial sweeteners don’t have calories or cause tooth decay, but do keep your sweet tooth alive. Aspartame (NutraSweet), is the safest fake sugar, while saccharin (Sweet ’n Low) and acesulfame-K (used in sugar-free gelatin desserts, syrups, etc.) may increase your risk of cancer. Artificially sweetened foods are expensive ways of getting no nutrients — try to avoid them.

Sugar Inventory

FoodServings per week
Soft drinks
Cookies, cake, pie, doughnuts
Syrups and jams
Fruit drinks (not 100% juice)
Ice cream/frozen yogurt/sherbet
Sugar in coffee/tea

Making Your Good Diet Better


Do. Lots. Exercise helps people lose weight, strengthens the heart, and builds bones and muscle strength. Also exercise just makes you feel better. So turn off the TV and build 30 minutes of exercise into your daily life: bike, walk, jog, garden, lift weights, play tennis.


Even if you’re eating a great diet, extra supplements make sense. Start with a multi-nutrient (like Centrum or a similar store-brand) with roughly 100 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances of many nutrients. Men and post-menopausal women should limit iron to the USRDA or less.

Antioxidants may protect against chronic diseases. Consider taking daily 250 milligrams of vitamin C and 100 units of vitamin E.

Adults (especially women) and teens (especially girls) should eat three or four servings of low-fat dairy products a day . . . or take 300 milligrams of calcium for every serving they skip.

If you may become pregnant, take a multi-vitamin that has 400 micrograms of folic acid (it’s not good to wait until you are pregnant) to reduce the risk of birth defects. Folic acid also may fight heart disease in men and women.

Alcoholic Beverages

A drink (women) or two (men) a day may lower your risk of heart disease. But more than that becomes very risky. If you do not drink, do not start. Exercising and eating better are much safer ways to promote your health.


Don’t. Ask your doctor or the American Lung Association for advice on stopping.


Just take a deep breath and relax whenever you’re feeling tense . . . and don’t worry if your diet is not absolutely perfect.

© This site is copyright 1998 by Center for Science in the Public Interest