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Healthier Eating with Ben Maring, MD

A Kaiser Permanente primary care physician with a passion for cooking with fresh, healthy ingredients shares some thoughts on food and health. You can watch Dr. Maring make some of his healthy recipes in a series of short videos.

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.

Looking for more simple, healthy home-cooking ideas? Check out Dr. Maring’s recipes on Kaiser Permanente’s Food for Health blog, or watch him make some of his recipes in a series of short videos.



This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. GREAT article!! I would love to see this as an on going segment … tips, tricks and life hacks on easy, plant-based recipes for (super) busy professionals. My latest trick is to cut up salad veggies to cover three days of lunches. I will add the cut up veggies to greens I keep in the office fridge for a healthy, easy lunch. It is simple, but it took a few weeks of daily (time-consuming) chopping for me to think of this strategy. One last thing, best veggie recipe I have right now: Butternut squash nachos, replacing corn chips with butternut squash chips, loaded with legumes, vegetables, healthy fats, and a tiny bit of cheese 🙂

  2. I am so glad to see that Dr. Ben Maring is furthering the goals his father, my dear friend Dr. Preston Maring, set at KP. I miss Dr. Maring so much, but it is a pleasure to know that the dream lives on through his son.

  3. Ben Maring, MD, is part of one of our many legacy families. I am excited and proud to see the gifts of his dad continue in him. Much love to him and his family ( Bella Luna), and his dad and Phyllis.

  4. I progressed to loving vegetable by sauteeing them in virgin olive oil and balsalmic vinegar, then can add garlic and/or other spices. Balsamic is a good flavor. You can also you Zesty Italian salad dressing the same way (Good Seasons).

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