Ben Maring, MD, has a unique combination of credentials when it comes to healthy eating. Dr. Maring is a primary care physician at Kaiser Permanente Oakland with a longtime passion for cooking and a deep interest in the connection between food and health. Before he started medical school he attended culinary school, and he has worked in some impressive professional kitchens in New York City.
You may recognize his last name because he is the son of retired Kaiser Permanente physician Preston Maring, who is also considered the father of the organization’s hospital-based farmers markets.
When InsideKP NCAL interviewed Dr. Ben Maring on the subject of healthy eating, he emphasized that he promotes “healthier eating because almost everything in life and in medicine is distributed on a spectrum.” He added that the goal is to try to move people from wherever they are toward a healthier pattern.
How and when do you talk with your patients about healthier eating?
I try to acknowledge the impact of food on my patients’ health as often as I can, ideally during routine check-ups and when a patient’s medical condition is diet-related. What we eat and how we eat it impacts almost every health condition in some way. I try to understand what a patient currently eats, and will spend a couple of minutes helping them identify where possible changes might be made.
I make referrals to our nutritionists and behavioral health educators because they are the true experts in assessing dietary risk, conducting motivational interviewing, and creating healthier eating plans. Kaiser Permanente is a wonderful place to practice medicine because I have a multidisciplinary team at my fingertips, and that team is there for a patient when needed.
What does a healthier eating pattern look like?
It starts with fresh, whole ingredients and builds meals around fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and healthy oils where needed. It does not focus on meat or animal products, added sugars, and processed foods. I stress what to focus on (e.g. fresh fruits and vegetables), and don’t like to say ‘no this and no that.’
Any tips for how to move toward eating healthier foods?
Think of meat as a condiment to be used sparingly, and not the focus of the meal. If you’re making a stir-fry, use mostly vegetables and a little bit of meat. Just flip the ratio. When I’m doing a Turkey Bolognese sauce, I slice and roast button or cremini mushrooms, chop them up finely, and then substitute them for about half the meat. You get the same kind of savory flavor using less meat.
I recommend the plate method, where you make at least 50 percent of your plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter whole grains, and a quarter lean protein.
You and your dad are big believers in the home-cooked meal. Any advice for beginners?
You can make almost anything with a sharp knife, cutting board, salad spinner, a sauté pan, a pot, and a baking sheet. Keep things simple. Find a vegetable you like, chop it up, and roast it. Or steam some vegetables, and make an easy vinaigrette to go on top, like one part lemon juice, one to two parts olive oil, a little Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper.
Anything that gets you interested, gets you using your hands, building muscle memory, making something that smells reasonably good, creating memories, creating desires to do it just a little bit differently next time, or exactly the same — is a good thing.