Public radio’s renowned family doctor, Zorba Paster, visits Spokane on Thursday to talk about living a longer, sweeter life while answering audience questions about their personal health conundrums.
But the truth is, the good doc and host of the popular national call-in show “Zorba Paster On Your Health” is eager for a burger and malt from Dick’s Hamburgers – Spokane’s iconic burger joint on Third Avenue. He remembers it from his past visit to Spokane and a visit to Seattle. He thinks he even owns an old blue work shirt from Dick’s Hamburgers.
Hypocrite? No. Paster isn’t a zealot even though he believes in, prescribes and practices healthy eating.
“If I can’t have a burger and fries than what good is life?” Paster asked in a recent telephone interview from his home in rural Oregon, Wisconsin. As he busily did the dishes he talked about happily accepting KPBX’s invitation to speak and raise funds for the local public radio station. After the interview and the dishes, he was off to walk the dog.
Paster, a baby boomer who calls himself a child of the ’60s, does about 12 speaking events a year in addition to the weekly radio show. He also writes a newspaper column, sees patients as a family doctor and mentors medical students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He picked Spokane because he has fond memories of Riverfront Park, the old buildings downtown and of course Dick’s. He last visited Spokane in spring of 2000.
“We sense tremendous popularity,” said Verne Windham, program director of Spokane Public Radio.
“A lot of his callers to the show are from the KPBX area. We also get fine response from donors when pledge drives happen during his show. I would attribute it to his easy style and practical advice. I also feel he handles controversial subjects well.”
Windham added that Paster’s interest in Dick’s and Riverfront Park is “compatible with his simple, good-sense approach to life.”
Paster’s Spokane talk, which will include a generous question-and-answer session and photos and autographs with fans, is Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Bing Crosby Theater. Proceeds benefit Spokane Public Radio’s three local stations.
Unlike some medical professionals, Paster said he admits to being very human and thinks living a happy and satisfied life – with the occasional hamburger – is almost as important as a healthy diet, good exercise and staying debt free. In a June newspaper column, Paster jokes that the strict, super-low-fat American Heart Association diet was probably “developed by New England Puritans” and is “embraced because of a no-pain-no-gain mindset. If it tastes good it must be bad.”
Anyone who regularly listens to Paster can imagine his gregarious trademark giggle after making such a declaration. He truly believes “laughter is the best medicine” and prides himself on an informative yet irrelevant show.
He’s in the process of writing his second book, which focuses on five steps to perfect health. It follows his successful 2001 book “The Longevity Code: Your Personal Prescription for a Longer, Sweeter Life.” At the core of Paster’s belief is that diet and exercise alone can’t prolong your life. To extend your life, he said people must also care for their mental, spiritual, social and material needs.
“It’s all about how do we make steps for perfect health easy,” Paster said.
One focus is America’s obsession with money and material possessions, which leads to debt followed by unhappiness, stress and illness. His generation knows this problem first-hand.
“For us baby boomers this is really a critical issue no matter where we are,” he said.
While his listeners and patients cover a broad spectrum of age and wealth, many are baby boomers who are obsessed with maintaining their youth.
Paster doesn’t track how many calls to his weekly radio show are from the Northwest, but they are frequent. Many are looking for lifestyle tips.
“These are people who want to enjoy their health and want to know ‘How do we do a better job?’ ”
Many callers also want a second opinion on whatever advice their personal doctor has given.
Listeners also share recipes with Paster and his sidekick, Tom Clark. In a recent pod cast, Spokane listener Louise Butler shared her recipe for “MMM MMM Mushroom Lunch” that’s a mushroom dish with fresh basil, tomato, lettuce, artichoke hearts, roasted pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds, ranch dressing and fresh parmesan cheese. Butler said she got her tomatoes from one of “Spokane’s wonderful farmers markets” and that she makes her own seasoning mix. For offering a winning recipe, Butler received the show’s cookbook.
A large part of Paster’s talk will focus on eating a Mediterranean diet, which is getting approval from recent medical studies and turning the standard AHA “low-fat” diet recommendation upside-down. He calls it the “king of diets” and has recently dedicated several columns to the topic after the Annals of Internal Medicine study pronounced that a low-carb diet helps people lose more weight – an average of eight pounds – and decrease cardiovascular risk factors.
“We doctors have been afraid to jump on the low-carb bandwagon because we worry about the cholesterol numbers,” Pastor wrote in his Sept. 18 column. “This study, by itself, shows we’re wrong.”
He said the study needs more digesting but that overall he now believes in Mediterranean eating, especially after a trip this spring to the south of France and Spain with a group of fans from Wisconsin Public Radio. Even though the food had higher fat – the good fats of dairy, olive oil and fish – that the locals had a lot less obesity than in Wisconsin. People walked more and rarely went to the gym and they sat and savored their food, often enjoying meals with friends without the presence of cellphones.
Paster reflected on the trip while at the Detroit airport, where McDonald’s displayed calories for its food.
“A Quarter Pounder with cheese and fries clocked in at 970 calories,” he wrote. “I know there was not one meal I had on the entire trip with that many calories. What’s more, the fat in the Mediterranean diet was good fat vs. the fat in the burger and fries, which is bad fat.”
Some people on the trip worried about the food, which went against their doctor’s orders for a “super-low-fat American Heart Association diet.”
Paster now believes that healthy fat in appropriate amounts is good and the way to eat for a long, sweet life. He said people, especially his patients, have a difficult time following a low-fat diet. He thinks now he has likely been giving the wrong advice like the majority of health professionals. Yet he’s quick to warn the study is not an “excuse to eat lots of red meat, bacon and brats. It’s not time to go back to the 1950s and ’60s, when we were dropping like flies from heart disease.”
So that means only enjoy a Dick’s burger and malt occasionally. The rest of the time include more dairy products, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, beans, salmon and a glass of red wine.
Even Paster’s longtime co-host Clark has given up his daily burger and only indulges one or two times a week, Paster said with that giggle. Clark attempts to eat more Mediterranean on his daily lunch outings to restaurants. For dinner, Paster said, Clark eats the same things day-after-day: a container of yogurt, a piece of fruit, half a Hershey’s bar and a handful of nuts.
Clark, who doesn’t like to travel, didn’t go on the Mediterranean trip and isn’t coming to Spokane.
Windham recently interviewed Paster for a segment about how Paster balances the demands of working as a family doctor, mentoring medical students and co-hosting a national radio show. The air date is pending. “I caught him between patients,” Windham said. “He was his typical relaxed, light yet serious when necessary.”
Paster is sure he can handle the evening solo and is looking forward to talking with people about their health and lifestyles, especially when it comes to eating well.
“There’s no need to suffer and eat bad food in order to thrive,” he said. “That idea needs to be thrown out.”
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