A recent Harvard School of Public Health study showed that a healthy diet of fresh produce, fish and nuts costs about $550 more a year than a typical U.S. diet of processed foods and refined grains. But after concocting his own weight loss plan based on the healthy Mediterranean diet, celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito says that he can prove that study is erroneous. He explained his evidence in a Feb. 18 interview with CBS News.
"Pound for pound, healthy food, whole food, a head of broccoli, a whole chicken, is going to be much less expensive because you’re doing the processing," he contended.
"If you buy a package of hot pockets, and you compare pound to pound -- not serving size to serving size, which is what packaged food companies like to do, confuse people with serving size -- it’s entirely mathematical that you’ll get a lot more for your money with whole food than you will with processed food."
And as for the ideal diet for weight loss and health, Rocco agrees with research pointing to the Mediterranean diet. For those who want to shed pounds quickly, he worked with a doctor to devise a diet that cuts both calories and carbohydrates while adhering to the basic principles of the Mediterranean food plan. The resulting weight loss book is entitled "The Pound a Day Diet: Lose Up to 5 Pounds in 5 Days by Eating the Foods You Love" (click for details).
The recipes in the book are designed to be simple and quick, emphasized Rocco. They support his belief that you can blast your fat without busting your budget.
"Cooking does take time," he admits. "But the question you have to ask is, not will it take time, is it worth my time? What’s the return on investment? And I think when it comes to healthy, the return on investment is pretty obvious."
Rocco's in good company when it comes to discounting the Harvard study about the cost of healthy eating.
"There’s definitely ways people can eat healthy and have it cost even less," confirmed Dr. Christopher Ochner, an assistant professor of pediatrics, adolescent medicine and psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, who focuses on nutrition research and weight loss.
When it comes to preaching the merits of a healthy diet, Rocco definitely practices what he preaches.
In 2006, he faced the facts: His gradual accumulation of fat was impacting his health and longevity.
I was faced with my own declining health due to obesity -- I was 41 pounds heavier, I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels.
I was prescribed statin drugs, and blood pressure drugs that lower libido and have a lot of terrible side effects and when the picture was painted for me, I was given that option, the prescription medicine option or diet and exercise. And for once in my life, I made the right choice and picked diet and exercise.
After making that choice, Rocco shed the weight by devising his own reduced calorie recipes for his favorite foods. As an example, he cites a dish that consists of a few healthy, low calorie ingredients.
Pull apart a roasted chicken from the supermarket, "throw it in a bowl with miracle noodles, which are noodles that are made out of fiber and calorie-free. You add sugar-free Asian flavored sauce... and two other ingredients, broccoli slaw and cilantro, and you’re done," he declares proudly.
As for the rapid weight loss element of the "Pound a Day" diet, Ochner, from Mount Sinai, confirmed that the reduced calorie plan can be safe, noting that Rocco's approach provides dieters with a "pretty good" macronutrient breakdown of high protein, low fat and low carbohydrates.