Say you find yourself on a 5-hour flight to L.A., and in the course of conversation with your seatmate you discover that he's one of the country's leading cardiologists, or a worldfamous cancer researcher, or a nationally recognized obesity expert. Wouldn't you peek to see which parts of his in-flight meal he ate--and what he left on his plate? Wouldn't you just love to ask him--based on his extensive knowledge of disease and its causes--what he eats every day, how he exercises, what supplements he takes? Like a magician, he knows the secrets, and you'd like nothing more than to look into his hat. Well, consider your curiosity satisfied. We rounded up the country's top doctors and asked them some pretty personal questions about their daily habits and favorite foods, hoping to find some lifestyle patterns that would put us--and you--on the right path toward a longer, leaner, healthier life. (Strip off pounds with the healthy swaps you'll find in the updated 2013 edition of Eat This, Not That!)
Nicholas Perricone, M.D., board-certified clinical and research dermatologist and author of Forever Young.
Dr. Perricone was one of the first experts to promote an anti-inflammatory diet for healthy skin and a healthy body. He outlined the evidence in his earlier books, The Perricone Prescription and The Wrinkle Cure. In his latest publication, Forever Young, he introduces readers to the cutting-edge science of nutrigenomics.
"By manipulating different aspects of your diet and lifestyle, you can switch on protective genes and switch off genes that may have a negative effect on health," he says. "Eating anti-inflammatory foods at every meal--fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains--is key." (Learn the health habits that help you Live 6.2 Years Longer.)
Skip sugar, avoid wrinkles
"Avoiding foods that cause blood sugar spikes--such as products with sugar and white flour--controls inflammation, which my decades of research show is the single greatest precipitator of aging. Inflammation leads to wrinkled, sagging skin, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and some cancers."
Commune with nature
"Going outside, breathing the fresh air, and seeing the magnificent planet that we're lucky to live on renews my spirits every day. Spending time in a park, at the beach, or even just on a tree-lined street is a safe and very enjoyable method for reducing the deadly, aging effects of stress. A walk outside provides benefits that your treadmill cannot."
Mix weights with yoga
"I've incorporated yoga poses into my strength-training sessions so I maintain flexibility while building muscle mass."
"Drink at least six glasses of pure springwater and a few cups of green tea each day. Fluid helps your body process nutrients, and the tea contains powerful antioxidants that fight aging and disease."
Get your vitamin D naturally
"Sunshine triggers your body to produce vitamin D, and it's the best source of this vitamin, which helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis and many cancers. I spend about 15 minutes a day in the sun, taking a brisk walk or participating in some other activity, without wearing sunscreen. Don't go overboard, though. Any longer than 15 minutes or so increases your risk of skin damage." Beware: Does Sunscreen Cause Cancer? Find out the truth behind the controversy.
David Katz, M.D., m.p.h., director of the prevention research center at Yale University, author of Flavor Full Diet, and principal inventor of the nuval system.
Dr. Katz's motto: Love food that loves you back. "When you develop an optimal diet and sustain it, your tastebuds quickly acclimate to less salt, less sugar, and healthful foods." Dr. Katz says his wife Catherine's love of food and cooking helped him confirm that when it comes to diet, "healthy" and "enjoyable" need not be mutually exclusive.
Imagine your food as part of your body
"I never eat a food that I don't want my cells, hormones, and enzymes being built out of. That means no soda, no junk food, no deli meats, and no fast food."
"Cravings are not reliable indicators of what your body needs if your diet is poor; but if your diet is very close to nature, you don't tend to yearn for foods that are 'bad.'"
"Dark chocolate is antioxidant-rich. I eat it when I want it--in moderation, of course. One of my favorite chocolate treats is my wife's Almond-Oat - Dark Chocolate Cookies. Combine 2 cups each of rolled oats and almond meal, 1/2 cup each of canola oil and agave syrup, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1/2 cups of bittersweet chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoon on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 9 minutes."
Follow a smart fat diet
"After reviewing the evidence some years ago, I went from a very low-fat diet to a diet with more emphasis on healthy oils--nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados."
Trade up your groceries
"I developed the NuVal nutritional profiling system (nuval.com) to help people make healthier choices at the supermarket. Food scores are shown on shelf tags so you can compare nutrition along with prices. For instance, an apple scores a healthy 96, while applesauce is only 4." For your ultimate grocery guide, check out the 125 Best Packaged Foods for Men.
Arthur Agatston, M.D., medical director of wellness and prevention for Baptist Health South Florida, and author of the South Beach Diet.
The author of the bestselling South Beach Diet series has a confession: "When it comes to sweets, I have the least willpower of anyone in my family," says Dr. Agatston. "My wife helps me stick to the South Beach Diet Three-Bite Rule: Three bites of any dessert satisfies you without triggering your desire to keep eating." And he notes that sticking to his signature approach--good carbs, good fats, lean protein--has meant he craves sugary or starchy foods far less often than he used to.
Eat breakfast every day
"People who skip the morning meal tend to have higher cholesterol and insulin levels and a larger waist circumference--all risk factors for heart disease."
Jumpstart your morning! Find out The 11 Best Breakfast Foods in our slideshow showdown.
Go gluten-free for a month
"As healthy as whole grains are, I realized not long ago that certain ones might be problematic for some people--including me--who can't tolerate gluten, the protein found primarily in wheat and barley. Giving up gluten is not for everyone, but I advise many of my patients to try it for a month and see how they feel. Quite a few report that their gastrointestinal problems, skin rashes, and other health issues resolve."
Go to bed!
"Insufficient or poor sleep taxes your body and raises your risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, and weight gain. You don't metabolize food properly and have less willpower to stave off cravings for sugary and starchy carbohydrates."
Mix up your diet
"There are literally thousands of healthful micronutrients in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes that protect not just your heart but your entire body. They interact in complicated ways that we have been unable to reproduce in a pill."
Know what the animal you're eating ate
"An animal that was grass-fed in pastures is leaner and its meat has more good omega-3 fats and less bad fat than one that was fed grain, kept in a pen, and given antibiotics and hormones."
Snack on nuts
"A protein- and fiber-rich snack keeps you energized, gives your body a steady stream of good nutrients to digest (which keeps your metabolism revved), and leaves you less vulnerable to blood sugar swings. Almonds, my favorite, have vitamin E and protein and more fiber than any other nut."
Andrew Weil, M.D., director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and the author of Spontaneous Happiness.
You might expect someone like Dr. Weil, who specializes in the health of the mind as well as the body, to have a complicated stay-healthy routine. But for this bestselling author, wellness comes down to three basics: "Be physically active every day, spend time in the company of positive people, and, of course, eat a diet based on whole foods, not processed ones."
Hook into fish
"There's growing evidence for the power of anti-inflammatory foods like fish to enhance both physical and emotional health. I choose only sustainable fish, such as sockeye salmon and sardines, that are low in mercury, PCBs, and other environmental contaminants."
Build immunity naturally
"I take a daily mixed mushroom supplement for optimal immunity. When I travel I take astragalus root capsules to help protect against colds and flu."
"I avoid the fruits and vegetables on the Environmental Working Group's 'dirty dozen' list unless I can find organic versions. These 12 are apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, grapes, bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce, and cucumbers. If you can't go organic with all your food, at least choose organic when you buy these 12 foods." (Want to live a chemical-free life? Start with these 11 Easy Ways to Go Organic.)
Breathe away the stress
"This exercise calms your nervous system. Do it at least twice a day, more often if something upsetting happens or if you are having trouble falling asleep. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your upper front teeth. Exhale through your mouth making a whoosh sound. Inhale through your nose to a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and exhale with a whoosh through your mouth to a count of 8. Repeat this cycle four times."