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A HEALTH RETREAT'S FIELD OF GREENS
BYLINE: JAN NORRIS
The Palm Beach Post
August 13, 1998

BODY: As a chef, Vinnette Thompson has a curious job. Though she prepares two of the three meals served each day at the Hippocrates Health Institute Lifechange Center in West Palm Beach, she rarely turns on a stove, combines very few foods and serves most of them raw.

"I guess it does seem a little odd, since I am formally trained in classic cooking," she said. "But I've also got a long background in macrobiotics."

A vegetarian diet, featuring 80 percent raw foods and mostly sprouts, is a main feature of the center's health program. Wheat grass juice, exercise and colonics also are part of the regimen.

The institute draws people from around the world, including some celebrities, to its retreat-like setting on 30 acres west of Palm Beach International Airport.

The "guests" seek physical or spiritual healing, or are just looking for respite from stress and bad diets, said director Brian Clement. The center is careful to avoid any claims of cure or health practices; it's billed instead as a "health encounter" retreat. A physician is on staff, however, as a consultant.

The three-week program includes a special diet, an exercise program, group and private classes and lectures on physical, spiritual and mental health. Cost for a three-week stay ranges from $ 3,550 to $ 8,250.

The diet is intended to cleanse. Guests fast once a week to help rid the body of toxins, while following the diet of only unprocessed, raw foods.

Thompson, 34, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, is in charge of feeding the guests and teaching food preparation so visitors can follow the diet once they're home.

"Some people send their chefs to learn it," she said. "We have a lot of celebrities who do that."

Three meals a day are served at the center. Breakfast includes fresh fruit juices, along with one of the only cooked foods served here - millet, a cereal dish made from the grain popularly used as bird seed. There's no bread, and of course, no eggs or bacon. "We don't serve anything with a face or a mother," Thompson said, explaining the strictly vegan diet.

The lunches and dinners, spread on a tiled-top buffet, resemble a gigantic salad bar of mostly sprouts. Bowls of alfalfa, mung bean, buckwheat, sunflower, fenugreek and other sprouted greens are at the center of the buffet bar. They are the basis of the living-foods concept that the center teaches.

"The vitamins and enzymes of the plant are concentrated when it's in its sprouted form," Clement said. Molecular changes also take place, and vitamins and enzymes are destroyed. "Sprouts contain the nutrients to support and regenerate life. We believe these living foods are the foods of the future."

Fresh bulbs of garlic

The other foods served are chosen for their known and purported health benefits. A sauerkraut made from apples, kombu (a seaweed) and red cabbage is served daily; it's both diuretic (to remove toxins) and has anti-cancer agents, Thompson said. Avocados are on the menu often - they provide the fat that every body needs. A sea algae, dulse, is high in chlorophyll and vitamins that many soil plants lack. Fresh bulbs of garlic are set out for diners to chew, raw, as a natural antibiotic and anti-cancer agent.

It's hard to be creative and get flavors into the raw foods, Thompson said, but she provides some variety with dried vegetables and other toppings. Dehydrated red peppers are sweet and chewy. Fresh mushrooms also are served for a meaty flavor and texture.

A "dressing" made with liquid amino acids is used to boost sauces and dressings.

Foods other than dairy are excluded, as well. Nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant) are not served because they are linked to arthritis and joint problems, Thompson said. Still others are high-allergy foods.

Peanuts, cashews and certain other beans that are high in oleic acid are thought to be detrimental to the body's natural digestion. High-acid fruits such as oranges and other citrus also are off the list.

There's no vinegar for the dressing - it's heavy acid, and fermented, as is soy sauce. And no liquid, other than water, is served during the meal. "Teas and juices would wash away your digestive juices that start in the mouth with saliva," Thompson said. A wheat grass juice, made on the premises, and "green" drink, made from vegetable juices, are part of the diet but served separately from meals.

So what's left? Some grains, and a surprising variety of organic vegetables and fruits - but those are never mixed. "Fruit is high in sugar - carbohydrates. Some of it is acidic as well, so we serve it by itself as a snack in the morning or afternoon," she said. "We don't want anything to interfere with the natural digestion. Everything should be easy on the stomach when you are cleansing and healing."

Desserts are offered twice a week. They're not baked, but are nonetheless tasty. A carrot cake is made from pureed carrots and fruits. An almond frosting tops it.

Thompson's most popular dessert is the frozen banana "ice cream" that is nothing but frozen bananas extruded through a powerful juicer, carob and molasses and fresh fruit for topping.

The foods are carefully placed on the buffet to indicate how much of any one food you are allowed on the diet.

"The person is supposed to stand in the center of the buffet, and fill their plate with sprouts, and lettuces, then take one small step to the left and add a little bit, and one step to the right, and add. The foods on the rim are allowed in small portions," she said.

Vegetable casseroles

Those include the dressings, sunflower seeds, carrots (they're sweet), hummus, asparagus spears, nuts, tofu sour cream and an uncooked, pureed vegetable soup. "Casseroles" made from layered dried and fresh raw vegetables and avocados filled with peas, onion or leek, and a light dressing are the entrees.

"Sure, some of the guests 'cheat' and eat much more of the rich stuff," the chef said, "but they are paying big money for the program. If they want to blow it, we can't do much about it. But we try to teach them what they are doing when that happens, and get them back on track."

Some say a diet this radical isn't a great long-term plan, however.

"I'm concerned about any diet that's restrictive," said Elizabeth Kunkel, professor of food science at Clemson University in South Carolina and a registered dietitian. "First of all, you have to watch for deficiencies, particularly in calcium, zinc and iron. Then you have restricted choices for the diner, and that doesn't recognize the important role food plays in your life - the social aspect."

She questions the practice of combining certain foods or eating them separately to aid digestion. "The body adjusts to what's put in it," she said. All the digestive enzymes go to work when food is eaten - the body can't tell the difference in an acidic fruit or sprout. Eating them separately, therefore, gains nothing.

Also, it's common sense that heat destroys many vitamins, Kunkel said. "But there are foods (legumes and grains) that must be cooked to release any of their beneficial nutrients - they won't break down until they are heated."

But some people who have been on the diet say it works wonders.

Two years ago, Alice Stern moved from Tampa with her husband to be closer to the institute.

Stern, 70, had a cancerous sarcoma in her leg that after chemotherapy, was infected by staph. "The doctors told me I was going to lose the leg. I went through the institute's program and followed their diet, and the leg finally healed on its own. Now I go dancing twice a week; I couldn't even walk when I got here without a cane." Jack Bomba, 60, a retired airline pilot from Palm Beach Gardens, said the program helped him beat prostate cancer. After a first bout with the disease and a round of chemotherapy, doctors found evidence that it was recurring.

"I opted to come here rather than go through chemotherapy again," he said. "It worked. My urologist can't believe it. He was amazed." Bomba cites blood counts that indicate the cancer is in remission.

"This is not easy to do, and I had a hard time with it in the beginning. But now, I love it," he said.

Even the chef has a hard time with all raw foods. She says she does still eat meat occasionally, though it's become hard for her to digest. "I feel it when I do cheat, and I have to get myself back on track," Thompson said. "But I aspire to be a vegan."

Here are recipes from Vinnette Thompson, chef at the Hippocrates Health Institute. Twice a week, a cooked soup is served, but most other foods are raw.

Chilled avocado soup
2 avocados, peeled and seeded
Juice from 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup Braggs liquid seasoning - see note
1 medium red pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup cucumber juice

Place all ingredients into food processor. Blend until smooth. Chill. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Braggs liquid seasoning is found in most health food stores.

'Cream' of broccoli soup
1 medium onion, sliced
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cups water
1/4 cup uncooked oats
1 tablespoon Braggs seasoning - see note
4 broccoli stalks

Saute onion in oil over medium heat until transparent.

Add water and bring to a boil. Cut flowers off broccoli stalks and save both parts.

Cut stalks into small chunks, and add to boiling water.  Allow to simmer about 10 minutes.  Add oats and simmer another 10 minutes.  Add broccoli flowers and simmer for 5 minutes.  Put all ingredients in food processor, and blend until smooth.  Season with Braggs seasoning.  Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Braggs liquid seasoning is found in most health food stores.

Red cabbage sauerkraut
2 heads red cabbage, washed, and cleaned - see note.
8 apples, halved, seeded
1 package kombu (dehydrated seaweed - see note)
Stoneware crock

Note: Remove, clean and save outer leaves of cabbage before shredding. Shred cabbage to a cole-slaw fineness.  In a wide-mouth stoneware crock, layer shredded cabbage with apple halves until all are used up. Cover top layer of apples with rehydrated sheets of kombu, and cover those with outer leaves of cabbage.  Place a plate or saucer on top of leaves, and weight it with large cans of vegetables or a large stone. Leave in a cool place (not the refrigerator) for four days before serving.   Refrigerate kraut after removing from crock.  Note: Kombu can be found in most health food stores.

Banana ice cream
4 frozen fingerling bananas (manzanitas)
1/2 pint fresh raspberries

For carob sauce:
About 3 tablespoons carob powder
1/4 cup medjul date sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon alcohol-free vanilla extract

Water

Using a high powered juicer, push frozen bananas through machine; they will come out in a creamy consistency. (A pasta extractor attachment on a large stand mixer will work; smaller juicers will not.)

Add raspberries to 1 banana before pushing through.

To make topping: mix carob powder, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract and enough water to make a smooth sauce. If too thin and not fudgey enough, add more carob.

To serve, scoop the creamed banana and a little creamed raspberries into each bowl; top with carob sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: The ingredients in the recipe can be found in most health food stores.

Components of the following taco entree can be served in other ways. Thompson suggests adding pureed carrots and beets to the red velvet sauce to create a tomato-free pasta sauce. The tofu sour cream and guacamole can be used with beans and organic corn chips to make dairy-free nachos.

Hippocrates tacos
For the red velvet sauce:
3 red peppers, seeded and sliced
1 medium onion
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Braggs seasoning (or use your favorite herbs) - see note
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro, or to taste For mock sour cream:
8 ounces soft or silken tofu
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Braggs seasoning - optional
Guacamole (recipe follows)
2 cups pureed, cooked adzuki beans
For toppings:
Chopped fresh cucumber
Chopped green onions
Chopped red onions
Fresh cilantro
Organic taco shells

To make red velvet sauce, saute onions and peppers in olive oil. Add 1 cup boiling water and cook until soft. Strain, reserving liquid.

Puree onions and peppers until smooth; add enough liquid for desired consistency, and season with fresh herbs.

Make sour cream by mixing tofu with lemon juice and herbs and refrigerate until needed.

To assemble tacos, layer in a taco shell, bean puree with guacamole, sour cream and red velvet sauce; top with chopped fresh cukes, onions and cilantro, and serve.  Makes about 8 tacos.

Note: Braggs liquid seasoning is found in most health food stores.

Guacamole
4 avocados, peeled and chopped
1 small red pepper, diced fine
1 small onion, diced fine
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Braggs seasoning or fresh herbs

Place all ingredients into food processor. Blend until smooth. Chill, and serve.  Makes approximately 6 servings.

Note: Braggs liquid seasoning is found in most health food stores.

ABOUT THE INSTITUTE

WHAT IT IS: The Hippocrates Health Institute Lifechange Center is a 30-acre retreat near Palm Beach International Airport. It's at 1443 Palmdale Court. A hacienda-style building houses the reception area with dining room and outdoor patio. It's ringed by gardens for strolling and bird-watching. The institute can accommodate 65 people in suites, shared houses and bungalows. Private and semi-private rooms are in bungalows. The grounds also include an exercise room, massage rooms, three pools, vapor cave and juice bar.

THE PROGRAM: The institute's 'detoxification' program is a three-week affair, said Don Appel, a consultant at the institute. 'You could do a shorter program, but we feel it takes 21 days to properly cleanse the body of all the toxins and adjust to the program,' he said.

COSTS: Costs range from $ 3,550 to $ 8,250 for a three-week stay. The cost includes all classes, lectures, private consultations, meals and accommodations, as well as use of all the exercise and other equipment at the center. A 'day program' is offered at $ 1,100 a week for those who choose to commute. A room is not included.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Once a month, a free health lecture by director Brian Clement and food tasting is offered at the center. Call for days and times: (561) 471-8876.

Clement also has a book available that outlines the program and provides recipes. Living Foods for Optimum Health, (Prima Publishing, 1996, $ 22.95) is available in health food stores.

VIP GUEST LIST

The guest book and celebrity photo wall of the institute are filled with well-known names from around the world. People who have come to the institute include:

CORETTA SCOTT KING, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King
WHITEY FORD, baseball legend
MICK FLEETWOOD, rock star
ROBERTA FLACK, singer
DENNIS WEAVER, actor
JAMES ARNESS, actor
KENNY LOGGINS, singer
SHERILYN FENN, actress
JOANNE WOODWARD, actress
HEATHER MILLS, model

 

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