Excerpt: 'The Diet Code' by Stephen Lanzalotta

ByABC News via via logo

April 3, 2006 — -- 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."

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

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

Milan, Winter 1492

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

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

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

That will come later, though. Now, Leonardo occupies his peripateticmind with plotting the geometry of what will become one ofhis greatest works. Lifting the bowl to sip the last of his soup, he contemplatesproportioning the enormous work by what he calls sectod'aurea -- golden section or, as it is later renamed, the golden ratio. Hevisualizes the way lines will relate to each other, forming key angles. Ifthe numbers governing the structure of a painting are right, heknows, the aesthetic will resonate deep within viewers.

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

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

Leonardo, for one, reaped the benefits. He was slender throughouthis long life and famously strong. (He was said to be capable ofbending horseshoes with a single hand or stopping a horse runningpast him at full gallop with his bare hands.) That's not to mention cultivatingperhaps 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 youinto a great painter, inventor, architect, engineer, botanist, anatomist,astronomer or sculptor, I can promise that consciously re-creating thequality, combinations and proportion of foods Leonardo relied onwill help you become lean and strong. Put these new proportionsinside your body, and you'll soon see new proportions outside. Allyou have to do is crack "The Diet Code" -- master the simple formulathat unlocks the secret to easy weight loss: maximizing nutrition andmetabolism.

As a self-taught baker raised on my grandmother's rustic Italiancooking, I've thrived on meals much like those on which Leonardomust have supped. I make breads hardly different from those hewould have known, using the exact same technology as bakers inLeonardo's time did. More directly, I've admired Leonardo's polymathmind and strived for decades to take what insights I could fromhim and apply them across multiple aspects of my life. Again andagain, I've circled back to that one formula, famously encoded in theangles of his spread-eagle Vitruvian Man, among many of his otherworks, not to mention a litany of designs dating back to the earliesthuman 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 ofthis chapter and has been given credit for the enthralling effect of his Mona Lisa. He used it in his more practical undertakings, too, proportioninggarden schematics, city planning layouts, everyday engineeringplans and the like. In doing so, he was rediscovering wisdom fromancient Rome, Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia, which had at thatpoint been all but lost; among Leonardo's many extraordinary achievementscount rescuing and revitalizing this vital knowledge.

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

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

And now, after decades of experimenting with applications likethese, gradually extending the use of the Golden Ratio into newaspects of my life, it's finally impressed me most in the most mundanearea: what I eat. I learned to use the same "magic" that perfectedmy tools and keeps my bread in such demand to balance mydiet and fuel my body better than I'd ever done before. In tinkeringwith the Golden Ratio, I've discovered it describes the diet that ismost closely aligned with the needs of the human body, providingfoods and nutrients in the exact proportions that dictate the inherentdesign of the body. Once I'd figured out how to use the numbers thisway, it seemed it should have been obvious: The food that's best forthe body is the food that follows the same blueprint as does thehuman body. Of course the same formula that dictates how you areput together should also dictate how you feed yourself. And when itdoes, you are working in harmony with your body's systems, and thenatural 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 onthe plate, tastes amazing and satisfies completely. And it stabilized myweight 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 halfan 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 dowithout entirely is the denial and extremes of fad diets. It is the feelingof deprivation that makes fad diets -- even those on which manyfind short-term success -- unsustainable. "The Diet Code" is flexibleenough to encompass what you like to eat. This plan can be followed byvegans, vegetarians or those who, like me, enjoy a good steak. If youlike wine or beer with your dinner, that fits in, too. You can indulgeyour sweet tooth (I'll show you how) without fear of underminingyour results. Yes, you can fly in the face of recent decades of dietaryadvice. Eat bread! Eat butter! With its unique, proportional harmonybetween food groups and practical advice distilled into plans for trulybalanced 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 lifetimeplan that honors both the art and the science of eating well. Itprovides exacting information for maximizing metabolic power andnutritional impact while you luxuriate in the pure, sensual pleasure ofeating truly good food -- foods that are easily acquired and preparedto suit people living today's hectic lifestyles. Drawing on traditionalItalian foods -- and, as important, traditional Italian ways of cookingand eating -- "The Diet Code" guides you toward freedom from foodfads and fears with an Old World perspective that requires you to eatfor pleasure.

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

I've experienced the changes that eating this way has brought aboutin my own body and have witnessed it working for others as they discoveredit at my shop, Sophia's. When I made the transition to eatingessentially this way (years before I fine-tuned it exactly to the GoldenRatio), the extra pounds I'd been carrying around fell away. Once Irefined my personal practices precisely to match the Golden Ratio, Igrew leaner still and more muscular. The numbers on the scale didn'treally change, since muscle weighs more than fat, but I looked somehowless fleshy, and my clothes fit differently. Equally important,meals proportioned according to the Golden Ratio gave me the energyI needed -- the baker's life is a physically demanding one.

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

One woman, for example, told me she had started on the SouthBeach Diet before switching over to "The Diet Code" approach. Shethen ate bread every day and still reached her original target weighton time, dropping 25 pounds in four months. She's now the perfect fitfor 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 afterher recent pregnancy. Just recently she was in the store for a pizza withher family (including her 3-month-old) -- and back at her usualsize 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 earlysuccess with the plan. "You might not be able to tell, since I'm stillstout," she said to me, "but I've lost 7 pounds already!"

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

Even people who don't need or want to lose weight can reap thebenefits of following "The Diet Code." My son, who has that beanpolebuild many teenage boys specialize in, noticed a difference when hemoved back in with me. Over dinner one night, he said, "Dad, haveyou noticed I haven't been sick in about a year and a half ? I haven'teven had a cold. That's never happened before!" One of my employeesrecently told me I saved his life -- he no longer craved junk foodonce he started eating from my shop. Getting better nutrition as wellas better taste, he said his body was just not happy when he ate anywhereelse.

Now this book reveals a plan anyone can use to reap the same benefitsmy family, my customers and I have. As many times and as manyways as the Golden Ratio has been used through the ages, neverbefore has it been applied to taking in foods and nutrients in proportionwith the inherent design of the human body -- and the universe.When your food is correctly selected, combined, portioned and proportionedto 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, butrevealed here for the first time is how it works with food, nutritionand weight loss. The Golden Ratio has kept artists and scholars busyexploring 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. "TheDiet Code" program consists of three stages, which I'll walk youthrough in Chapter 7: a gentle initiation for beginners, including thespecific formula for creating Diet Code meals; more details in a somewhatmore intense period in the middle of the learning curve; and afinal phase in which you relax into a lifetime of eating this way, havinginternalized the principles.

As I developed meals according to the Golden Ratio, I saw that notonly was I using the numbers Leonardo did, I was using his foods,too. Not in the strictest sense, of course -- tomatoes are a staple ofmine, for example, but they weren't even introduced in Italy from theNew World until near the end of Leonardo's lifetime, and I do eatmeat, while he was a vegetarian for most of his adult life. Leonardolived during a prosperous time in Italian history, in a financial andcultural capital of the world. Food was generally plentiful -- certainlyfor tradesmen and the upper classes -- and varied, thanks to a moderateclimate, 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 patternsat the time reflect what I've now worked out as Golden Ratioproportions: carbohydrate based and balanced by moderate proteinintake and the inclusion of healthy fats -- Leonardo's lunch of bread,cheese and vegetable soup. For these reasons, I initially thought ofthe system I was working out as "the da Vinci diet," referencing notonly the man and his math, but also the time (fifteenth century) andplace in which he lived. His home village (Vinci) in the Tuscan hillswas once ancient Etruria, a cultural and culinary center of Italy evenbefore Roman civilization developed.

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

Father of the submarine, bicycle, automobile, flying machineand computer, along with his fine art legacy, Leonardo da Vinciwas the ultimate Renaissance man. The author Maria Costantinowrote that he was "possibly the most versatile genius in the historyof mankind, consistently demonstrating ideas far ahead ofhis time... Today both his scientific vision and his skill as anartist seem breathtaking."

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

Having struggled myself for decades against indoctrinationand cultural biases to keep methods and teachings of the ancientsalive amidst a fast-paced consumer-oriented present, I havecome to respect Leonardo's persistence as much as or more thanhis creative genius.

With the invention of the printing press, mass media were born,beginning with the printing of the Bible. Trade routes to the Eastbrought 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 possiblethe acceptance of Copernican theory (that the earth revolves aroundthe sun, not vice versa) and the proposition that the globe is spherical.Scientists and scholars working from ancient Greek and Egyptiantexts upset the canon of the clergy. Renaissance culture broughtabout breakthroughs in thought and advances in art, architecture,anatomy, cosmology, global navigation, engineering, humanism andsocial reform.

Taken together, this was one of the most significant clusters ofevents in human history, and it simultaneously expanded and fracturedprovincial Europe. Yet through this revolution, cuisine and culinaryarts stayed much the same. What happened in the fields and atthe tables of ordinary people may have been the only area of life notsubjected to a major upheaval. Those ordinary people were workingfrom truths with roots too strong to allow dislocation. The people ofthe Renaissance performed intense physical and mental exertions ona balanced base of carb-rich foods, including grains, beans, vegetablesand fruits, combined judiciously with healthy fats and proteins. Leonardoand his fellow Tuscan mangiafagioli (bean eaters) would havebeen eating bread, pasta, wine and all kinds of fruits and vegetables,including leafy greens, onions, nuts and figs -- from the whole, unadulteratedand organic dieta (fare) available to him in the fifteenthcentury. Leonardo's diet was as much in rhythm with the design andfunction of the human body and the natural world around him aswere his creative efforts.

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

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

Part II of the book presents the practical part of the program, givingyou a closer look at the science behind and simple methods for livingby "The Diet Code." It includes a look at the problems with cuttingany food group out of your diet -- a mystifyingly popular approachguaranteed to result in a drastically imbalanced diet destined to causeweight gain and malnutrition simultaneously -- and why the onlyfood you need to avoid for weight loss success is fake food. One chapterdescribes the short list of Fundamental Foods at the heart of "TheDiet Code" program and introduces how to apply the Golden Ratio tobe 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 wouldLeonardo eat?; combining your chosen foods properly; proportioningthose combinations well; speeding up your metabolism and slowingdown your life. The last chapter in the section lays out the actual DietCode program, which leads you through a three-part plan modeledon the path of classical tradespeople -- from Apprentice to Journeymanto Master -- with varied intensity according to your abilities anddesires. There's a gentle initiation for beginners, including the specificformula for creating Diet Code meals, more specifics and details in a more intense phase in the middle of the learning curve, and afinal phase in which you can relax into a lifetime of eating accordingto the program, having internalized the principles and reached yourideal weight.

Finally, in part III, I share advice on creating and maintaining aDiet Code kitchen, a range of flexible meal plans, and delicious, proportionallybalanced recipes that are as quick to make as they aredelectable. Diet Code food is inspired by the tastes and smells of mygrandmother's Italian kitchen, honed by the ancient numbers of theGolden Ratio and presented here to allow you to get dinner ready inhalf an hour or less while stabilizing your weight and health withoutexperiencing even a day of deprivation.

This book is a blend of ancient lore, Renaissance history, highermathematics, hard science, personal stories, smart nutritional informationand mouthwatering recipes anyone can manage. It unites thestructural, mathematical principles of the cosmos that govern thegrowth 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 ofnutrition based on an intriguing mathematical phenomenon that'sbeen utilized for millennia but never before applied to nourishing thehuman body. That makes this book absolutely unique in offering amore sustainable approach to food and eating pegged not to eliminatingany one food group but to eating for enjoyment and pleasure,promoting health and reaching an ideal weight. My passion for excellentfood, together with my understanding of how to combine theright foods for health, satisfaction and weight loss, gives you a planyou can quickly and easily put to work in your own life in your ownkitchen, rediscovering along the way your natural waistline as well asthe pure joy of eating for pleasure.

Our rightful heritage of wholesome eating as embodied by Leonardo'sdaily fare has been lost amidst our modern culture of fastfood, fad diets and food phobias. The last three decades in particular,dominated by low-fat and then low-carb regimes that ensured nothingmore 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 lifespans than does cancer or heart disease. Americans have dieted furiously,yet grown ever fatter, no matter which way the prevailing dietarywinds blow. It is time to dump the diets that have not just failed us butalso aggravated (and even created) the obesity problem in favor of alifestyle plan that will really work, once and for all. It is a lifestyle planthat puts an end to fad diets, a lifestyle plan from the ages, for theages. "The Diet Code" reflects an ancient way of eating we've fallenaway from. It's rightfully ours, however, and we need to reclaim it.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events