Excerpt: 'The Diet Code' by Stephen Lanzalotta

If you're a fan of Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code," and you want to lose weight, then you may be interested in "The Diet Code" by Stephen Lanzalotta

Just as Brown's book discusses Da Vinci's Golden Ratio, Lanzalotta's does too -- and tells you how it can help you shed pounds. Lanzalotta, a baker who lives in Portland, Maine, applies mathematical principles to his cafe menu and shows you how to apply it to your daily eating for optimal health.

Below is an excerpt from "The Diet Code."

Chapter One: Leonardo da Vinci, the Golden Ratio -- and What's for Dinner

The wisest and noblest teacher is nature itself. — LEONARDO DA VINCI

Man achieves the height of Wisdom when all that he does is as self-evident as what Nature does. — I CHING

Milan, Winter 1492

The pencil drops from Leonardo's left hand as he picks up a chunk of bigio, or whole grain bread, to soak up broth from a steaming bowl of minestra, a Milanese broth featuring the region's distinctive savoy cabbage and a mix of root vegetables and their greens. He distractedly stabs at a bit of turnip with the fork in his right hand. Within reach are some thin slabs of creamy Taleggio cheese and a flask of wine from the vineyards of his patron, Ludovico Sforza, duke of Bari.

Momentarily focusing on his soup, Leonardo reminisces about his native Tuscany and the Florentine minestrone, spicy and meaty from a soffrito mix of minced and sautéed chicken giblets, pork and peppercorns. The duke had been suitably surprised by the dish when Leonardo prepared it for him. The Lombard ruler is quite fond of meat from the pig and well knows of Leonardo's reputation as a brilliant cook, but it was the last meal he expected from a vegetarian's kitchen.

Leonardo isn't painting much these days, because the duke is presently more interested in civic planning and engineering -- moats, walls, war machines and the like. But the duke has been suggesting a fresco for the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, and Leonardo is already plotting the depiction of another meal of bread and wine. Unbeknownst to his patron, the artist has in mind to use the fresco to convey a message so grand, so unexpected and so shocking that its deepest meanings will have to be encoded if the fresco is to be painted at all.

That will come later, though. Now, Leonardo occupies his peripatetic mind with plotting the geometry of what will become one of his greatest works. Lifting the bowl to sip the last of his soup, he contemplates proportioning the enormous work by what he calls secto d'aurea -- golden section or, as it is later renamed, the golden ratio. He visualizes the way lines will relate to each other, forming key angles. If the numbers governing the structure of a painting are right, he knows, the aesthetic will resonate deep within viewers.

Leonardo lifts the bowl to his lips, sips the last of his soup and mops up the final drops with a crust torn from the loaf, enjoying a secret latent in his lunch: the key to long life and good health is literally in his hands.

In this imagined scene, one of the world's great geniuses finishes a meal as ideally proportioned as any of his master works. What Leonardo da Vinci brought a tavolo (to the table) was as balanced as anything he consciously designed during his long career -- a career in which he devoted much energy to exploring and exploiting an ancient mathematical formula that's come to be known as the Golden Ratio. Leonardo's application of the Golden Ratio was arguably quite calculated when it came to his art, but it was likely intuitive when it came to his meal planning. Leonardo simply chose from the variety of fresh whole foods available to him, nourishing his body and mind with ease in a way we seem to have entirely abandoned today. The effect of proper proportions is just as powerful on the plate and in the body, however, as it is on a canvas. Leonardo dined on the particular ancient triumvirate of bread, wine and N cheese, which makes up the trinity of essential macronutrients -- carbohydrate, protein and fat.

Leonardo, for one, reaped the benefits. He was slender throughout his long life and famously strong. (He was said to be capable of bending horseshoes with a single hand or stopping a horse running past him at full gallop with his bare hands.) That's not to mention cultivating perhaps the most amazing brain ever -- one of the keenest, most synthetic and far-reaching intellects of all time!

While I can't guarantee that eating the same way will turn you into a great painter, inventor, architect, engineer, botanist, anatomist, astronomer or sculptor, I can promise that consciously re-creating the quality, combinations and proportion of foods Leonardo relied on will help you become lean and strong. Put these new proportions inside your body, and you'll soon see new proportions outside. All you have to do is crack "The Diet Code" -- master the simple formula that unlocks the secret to easy weight loss: maximizing nutrition and metabolism.

As a self-taught baker raised on my grandmother's rustic Italian cooking, I've thrived on meals much like those on which Leonardo must have supped. I make breads hardly different from those he would have known, using the exact same technology as bakers in Leonardo's time did. More directly, I've admired Leonardo's polymath mind and strived for decades to take what insights I could from him and apply them across multiple aspects of my life. Again and again, I've circled back to that one formula, famously encoded in the angles of his spread-eagle Vitruvian Man, among many of his other works, not to mention a litany of designs dating back to the earliest human civilizations: the Golden Ratio.

The Golden Ratio guided Leonardo in designing the famous fresco (The Last Supper) that I imagine him contemplating in the opening of this chapter and has been given credit for the enthralling effect of his Mona Lisa. He used it in his more practical undertakings, too, proportioning garden schematics, city planning layouts, everyday engineering plans and the like. In doing so, he was rediscovering wisdom from ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia, which had at that point been all but lost; among Leonardo's many extraordinary achievements count rescuing and revitalizing this vital knowledge.

The latest cutting-edge science and technology has proven just how deep this mathematical wisdom goes, documenting the Golden Ratio in everything from the pattern of galaxies and the shape of ocean waves to the spiral of seashells and the arrangement of petals in a rose. The same natural laws of design also dictate the form of human genetic material (the DNA double helix), the development of the human fetus and many details in the architecture of the human body. The Golden Ratio has been successfully applied by humans in so many arenas simply because they affirm the greater wisdom of nature when they do so.

This ancient formula has guided me in designing my own woodworking tools as well as whatever I create with those tools. The Golden Ratio gets credit for the impact of my abstract paintings, even fixating people who don't "like" modern art. As I later turned to bread making, what I'd learned about ideal proportions and numerical, geometric and mathematical relationships helped me perfect the breads I turn out daily at my bakery café.

And now, after decades of experimenting with applications like these, gradually extending the use of the Golden Ratio into new aspects of my life, it's finally impressed me most in the most mundane area: what I eat. I learned to use the same "magic" that perfected my tools and keeps my bread in such demand to balance my diet and fuel my body better than I'd ever done before. In tinkering with the Golden Ratio, I've discovered it describes the diet that is most closely aligned with the needs of the human body, providing foods and nutrients in the exact proportions that dictate the inherent design of the body. Once I'd figured out how to use the numbers this way, it seemed it should have been obvious: The food that's best for the body is the food that follows the same blueprint as does the human body. Of course the same formula that dictates how you are put together should also dictate how you feed yourself. And when it does, you are working in harmony with your body's systems, and the natural result is optimal health and ideal weight.

Beyond that, a diet laid out in the Golden Ratio meets -- in fact, exceeds -- all accepted nutritional standards. It also looks gorgeous on the plate, tastes amazing and satisfies completely. And it stabilized my weight right where it was while I was a high school football player, even as I hit my mid-40s! All that, plus I can fix dinner in less than half an hour. And my children will devour it.

Drawing on this same formula, "The Diet Code" is a complete, balanced, satisfying and sane way to eat. And the only thing it has you do without entirely is the denial and extremes of fad diets. It is the feeling of deprivation that makes fad diets -- even those on which many find short-term success -- unsustainable. "The Diet Code" is flexible enough to encompass what you like to eat. This plan can be followed by vegans, vegetarians or those who, like me, enjoy a good steak. If you like wine or beer with your dinner, that fits in, too. You can indulge your sweet tooth (I'll show you how) without fear of undermining your results. Yes, you can fly in the face of recent decades of dietary advice. Eat bread! Eat butter! With its unique, proportional harmony between food groups and practical advice distilled into plans for truly balanced meals that are as simple and quick to make as they are delicious, "The Diet Code" is perfect for a post-Atkins America.

But it's not meant to be a quick fix. Rather, "The Diet Code" is a lifetime plan that honors both the art and the science of eating well. It provides exacting information for maximizing metabolic power and nutritional impact while you luxuriate in the pure, sensual pleasure of eating truly good food -- foods that are easily acquired and prepared to suit people living today's hectic lifestyles. Drawing on traditional Italian foods -- and, as important, traditional Italian ways of cooking and eating -- "The Diet Code" guides you toward freedom from food fads and fears with an Old World perspective that requires you to eat for pleasure.

"The Diet Code" allows you to lose weight at nutritionists' recommended rate for healthy, stable and permanent weight loss: 1--2 pounds a week; 4--8 pounds a month. You'll be eating so well that the weight loss will seem almost effortless. Over time, eating this way will restructure your metabolism and alkalize your system, creating vibrant good health as well as maintaining your natural, healthy weight.

I've experienced the changes that eating this way has brought about in my own body and have witnessed it working for others as they discovered it at my shop, Sophia's. When I made the transition to eating essentially this way (years before I fine-tuned it exactly to the Golden Ratio), the extra pounds I'd been carrying around fell away. Once I refined my personal practices precisely to match the Golden Ratio, I grew leaner still and more muscular. The numbers on the scale didn't really change, since muscle weighs more than fat, but I looked somehow less fleshy, and my clothes fit differently. Equally important, meals proportioned according to the Golden Ratio gave me the energy I needed -- the baker's life is a physically demanding one.

As soon as I realized the power of combining foods this way in my own life, I designed a menu along the same lines to serve in my bakery café. My customers responded as enthusiastically as they always had to my bread and began asking how they could eat like this at home, too. And many reported losing weight.

One woman, for example, told me she had started on the South Beach Diet before switching over to "The Diet Code" approach. She then ate bread every day and still reached her original target weight on time, dropping 25 pounds in four months. She's now the perfect fit for one of the (size small) T-shirts I sell in my shop, the ones that brag "Body by Bread"!

Another woman in her 40s ate "The Diet Code" way during and after her recent pregnancy. Just recently she was in the store for a pizza with her family (including her 3-month-old) -- and back at her usual size 4, with no trace left of the 50 pounds she'd put on while pregnant. A woman in her 60s came into the shop excited about her early success with the plan. "You might not be able to tell, since I'm still stout," she said to me, "but I've lost 7 pounds already!"

Even my own daughter, tall and slim but, in the unfortunate way of teenage girls everywhere, conscious of her weight, lost 7 pounds in three weeks when she started eating "The Diet Code" way. Since she wasn't overweight to begin with, her weight then stabilized. On both counts (the loss and the stabilization), proportion was the key. My daughter had been eating a typical American diet at her mom's-- coffee cake for breakfast, mac and cheese for dinner -- heavy on the starch, without the fresh vegetables and the balanced fat and protein to complement the carbs.

Even people who don't need or want to lose weight can reap the benefits of following "The Diet Code." My son, who has that beanpole build many teenage boys specialize in, noticed a difference when he moved back in with me. Over dinner one night, he said, "Dad, have you noticed I haven't been sick in about a year and a half ? I haven't even had a cold. That's never happened before!" One of my employees recently told me I saved his life -- he no longer craved junk food once he started eating from my shop. Getting better nutrition as well as better taste, he said his body was just not happy when he ate anywhere else.

Now this book reveals a plan anyone can use to reap the same benefits my family, my customers and I have. As many times and as many ways as the Golden Ratio has been used through the ages, never before has it been applied to taking in foods and nutrients in proportion with the inherent design of the human body -- and the universe. When your food is correctly selected, combined, portioned and proportioned to be directly in sync with your natural metabolic needs, the inevitable result is optimal health and ideal weight.

"The Diet Code" unlocks all that for you. This is age-old math, but revealed here for the first time is how it works with food, nutrition and weight loss. The Golden Ratio has kept artists and scholars busy exploring its complexities for millennia, yet in the end "The Diet Code" is as simple as one, two, three, as you'll discover in Chapter 2. The basic weight loss formula is accessible to anyone and everyone. "The Diet Code" program consists of three stages, which I'll walk you through in Chapter 7: a gentle initiation for beginners, including the specific formula for creating Diet Code meals; more details in a somewhat more intense period in the middle of the learning curve; and a final phase in which you relax into a lifetime of eating this way, having internalized the principles.

As I developed meals according to the Golden Ratio, I saw that not only was I using the numbers Leonardo did, I was using his foods, too. Not in the strictest sense, of course -- tomatoes are a staple of mine, for example, but they weren't even introduced in Italy from the New World until near the end of Leonardo's lifetime, and I do eat meat, while he was a vegetarian for most of his adult life. Leonardo lived during a prosperous time in Italian history, in a financial and cultural capital of the world. Food was generally plentiful -- certainly for tradesmen and the upper classes -- and varied, thanks to a moderate climate, extensive agriculture and bustling worldwide trade.

Food was also fresh, whole, organic, local, free-range, antibiotic-free, pesticide-free, unprocessed and nutrient-dense. General dietary patterns at the time reflect what I've now worked out as Golden Ratio proportions: carbohydrate based and balanced by moderate protein intake and the inclusion of healthy fats -- Leonardo's lunch of bread, cheese and vegetable soup. For these reasons, I initially thought of the system I was working out as "the da Vinci diet," referencing not only the man and his math, but also the time (fifteenth century) and place in which he lived. His home village (Vinci) in the Tuscan hills was once ancient Etruria, a cultural and culinary center of Italy even before Roman civilization developed.

That seemingly simple meal fueled not just Leonardo's genius but also the genius of his whole era. He lived during the Renaissance, which saw unprecedented changes to Italy, Europe and the world. It was an awakening unlike any before or since; literally (in French, via Latin) a rebirth. The fifteenth century was a maelstrom of rebirth of human aspirations, values and visions, a time of unrepentant inquiry in science, perspective, sociology and theology. It saw perhaps the biggest paradigm shift of all time, and everything was in play. It was a rebirth following a millennium of church domination during which scientific learning was suppressed and a dark age marked by traveling laborers, serfdom and ignorance was spread. It was also a rebirth after the Black Death wiped out one-third of the population of Europe.

Father of the submarine, bicycle, automobile, flying machine and computer, along with his fine art legacy, Leonardo da Vinci was the ultimate Renaissance man. The author Maria Costantino wrote that he was "possibly the most versatile genius in the history of mankind, consistently demonstrating ideas far ahead of his time... Today both his scientific vision and his skill as an artist seem breathtaking."

Leonardo as a Renaissance man has particular personal meaning for me not in what he invented (wondrous though those are), but rather in what he ceaselessly strove to apply anew -- having inherited knowledge from a long chain of people who'd gone before him. In the age of intrigue, suspicion and unrest in which he lived, everyone was on the move, often for their very lives. Counts and dukes wrangled for alliances; artists migrated from region to region seeking paying patrons. Little wonder Leonardo encoded and secreted his occult knowledge in enigmatic works that baffle us today.

Having struggled myself for decades against indoctrination and cultural biases to keep methods and teachings of the ancients alive amidst a fast-paced consumer-oriented present, I have come to respect Leonardo's persistence as much as or more than his creative genius.

With the invention of the printing press, mass media were born, beginning with the printing of the Bible. Trade routes to the East brought Chinese gunpowder and Islamic mathematics to Europe; firepower and more sophisticated calculations led to regular trans- Atlantic navigation and the subsequent plundering of the Americas. Society's entire worldview changed, quite literally, making possible the acceptance of Copernican theory (that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa) and the proposition that the globe is spherical. Scientists and scholars working from ancient Greek and Egyptian texts upset the canon of the clergy. Renaissance culture brought about breakthroughs in thought and advances in art, architecture, anatomy, cosmology, global navigation, engineering, humanism and social reform.

Taken together, this was one of the most significant clusters of events in human history, and it simultaneously expanded and fractured provincial Europe. Yet through this revolution, cuisine and culinary arts stayed much the same. What happened in the fields and at the tables of ordinary people may have been the only area of life not subjected to a major upheaval. Those ordinary people were working from truths with roots too strong to allow dislocation. The people of the Renaissance performed intense physical and mental exertions on a balanced base of carb-rich foods, including grains, beans, vegetables and fruits, combined judiciously with healthy fats and proteins. Leonardo and his fellow Tuscan mangiafagioli (bean eaters) would have been eating bread, pasta, wine and all kinds of fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens, onions, nuts and figs -- from the whole, unadulterated and organic dieta (fare) available to him in the fifteenth century. Leonardo's diet was as much in rhythm with the design and function of the human body and the natural world around him as were his creative efforts.

You might say I'm a bit of a Renaissance man myself: abstract painter, master woodworker, amateur classical and jazz pianist and violinist, student of the martial arts -- as well as baker and chef. And a single father with three teenagers. So I'm serious about the personal expression made possible through preparing wonderful food, and equally serious about making that a real-life proposition. Some nights, you just need to get a meal on the table. But even in the midst of a busy life, that meal can be a thing of beauty: gracefully proportioned aesthetically and nutritionally, and perfectly in sync with the needs of the healthy human body.

To that end, part I of this book examines the math behind the Golden Ratio and how I came to realize that a magical-seeming series of numbers held the secret to healthy eating and weight loss. It considers how out of balance our diets have become, as we've lost touch with the foods that have nurtured us and sustained us for almost the entirety of human history, and shows how crucial it is for us to reclaim what we've left behind.

Part II of the book presents the practical part of the program, giving you a closer look at the science behind and simple methods for living by "The Diet Code." It includes a look at the problems with cutting any food group out of your diet -- a mystifyingly popular approach guaranteed to result in a drastically imbalanced diet destined to cause weight gain and malnutrition simultaneously -- and why the only food you need to avoid for weight loss success is fake food. One chapter describes the short list of Fundamental Foods at the heart of "The Diet Code" program and introduces how to apply the Golden Ratio to be sure you get them in the proportions necessary for weight loss.

Another gives you the five basic steps you need to take to implement "The Diet Code": choosing foods by asking yourself, What would Leonardo eat?; combining your chosen foods properly; proportioning those combinations well; speeding up your metabolism and slowing down your life. The last chapter in the section lays out the actual Diet Code program, which leads you through a three-part plan modeled on the path of classical tradespeople -- from Apprentice to Journeyman to Master -- with varied intensity according to your abilities and desires. There's a gentle initiation for beginners, including the specific formula for creating Diet Code meals, more specifics and details in a more intense phase in the middle of the learning curve, and a final phase in which you can relax into a lifetime of eating according to the program, having internalized the principles and reached your ideal weight.

Finally, in part III, I share advice on creating and maintaining a Diet Code kitchen, a range of flexible meal plans, and delicious, proportionally balanced recipes that are as quick to make as they are delectable. Diet Code food is inspired by the tastes and smells of my grandmother's Italian kitchen, honed by the ancient numbers of the Golden Ratio and presented here to allow you to get dinner ready in half an hour or less while stabilizing your weight and health without experiencing even a day of deprivation.

This book is a blend of ancient lore, Renaissance history, higher mathematics, hard science, personal stories, smart nutritional information and mouthwatering recipes anyone can manage. It unites the structural, mathematical principles of the cosmos that govern the growth of natural life and the aesthetic of natural beauty with wholesome, Mediterranean foods in a breakthrough formula for health, vitality and weight control. It's a provocative yet practical system of nutrition based on an intriguing mathematical phenomenon that's been utilized for millennia but never before applied to nourishing the human body. That makes this book absolutely unique in offering a more sustainable approach to food and eating pegged not to eliminating any one food group but to eating for enjoyment and pleasure, promoting health and reaching an ideal weight. My passion for excellent food, together with my understanding of how to combine the right foods for health, satisfaction and weight loss, gives you a plan you can quickly and easily put to work in your own life in your own kitchen, rediscovering along the way your natural waistline as well as the pure joy of eating for pleasure.

Our rightful heritage of wholesome eating as embodied by Leonardo's daily fare has been lost amidst our modern culture of fast food, fad diets and food phobias. The last three decades in particular, dominated by low-fat and then low-carb regimes that ensured nothing more than hordes of Americans eating in disastrously unnatural and imbalanced ways, have left us in sorry shape physically (more than 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese) and even spiritually.

Experts have calculated that obesity now cuts more years off our life spans than does cancer or heart disease. Americans have dieted furiously, yet grown ever fatter, no matter which way the prevailing dietary winds blow. It is time to dump the diets that have not just failed us but also aggravated (and even created) the obesity problem in favor of a lifestyle plan that will really work, once and for all. It is a lifestyle plan that puts an end to fad diets, a lifestyle plan from the ages, for the ages. "The Diet Code" reflects an ancient way of eating we've fallen away from. It's rightfully ours, however, and we need to reclaim it.

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