History of 4Leaf

From an idea in 2009 to a movement in 2015

From the time I first learned about the power of plant-based nutrition in 2003, I knew immediately that we needed a better way to describe it. The “v” words (vegan and vegetarian) just weren’t getting it done for me. Here’s why:

  1. By definition, these words mainly convey information about what you’re avoiding, not about what you are eating.
  2. These words can be confusing, because they can mean different things to different people.
  3. They don’t necessarily describe a healthy diet. For example, you could eat nothing but potato chips and Diet Coke and you would technically be vegan.
  4. Finally, the “v” words carry a certain stigma among a large portion of the population.

Background. During my first six months of researching the optimal diet for humans in 2003, I studied everything from Atkins to The Zone, but finally settled on the scientific position of Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell and the clinical successes of five medical doctors (Neal Barnard, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., Joel Fuhrman, John McDougall, and Dean Ornish) who discovered the healing power of plant-based nutrition on their own and had already started healing their patients with it.

T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Nutritional Chemistry, Cornell University

T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Nutritional Biohemistry, Cornell Universit

All of their stores are shared in Chapter 1 of Health Eating, Healthy World. Since that time, I have had the good fortune to get to know all of them and learn more about their work.

Early on, I noticed that there was a fair amount of disagreement among the group on a few minor topics, but observed that they did agree on the most important piece. I concluded from my study of their work that they all agreed with the definition expressed by the Cornell professor who led the largest human nutrition study in history. This concise statement summarizes his entire life’s work in nutritional science:

“The closer we get to eating a diet of whole, plant-based foods, the better off we will be.” –-T. Colin Campbell, PhD

How simple is that? So, I thought, “let’s set up a scale and assess the quality of a diet-style on how close it is to the perfect diet (one in which all of our calories would be derived from whole, plant-based foods, still in nature’s package).” I set the top bar at 80% for 4Leaf, 60% for 3Leaf and so forth. Simple, easy, positive, and effective.

Survey Image jpg How HealthyLogo design and 4Leaf Survey. The logo design was completed in 2010, and was ready in time for the book release in 2011. Then, in early 2012, I got the idea for a survey from Dr. Walter Veith, who, sometimes in his lectures, used a simple “yes-no” survey to get an idea of how healthy the people in the audience were eating.

With an emphasis on simplicity, I began testing various combinations of questions and scoring methods in March of 2012. After refining and tweaking it for a few months, I put a self-scoring pdf on my website in May of that year, and the 4Leaf Survey was born.

Since then, we have launched the online version which you can access by clicking the image above. We developed that online version in partnership with the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and it is now being used in their highly successful plant-based nutrition course through the cCornell division of Cornell University.

eCornell logoFeedback. So far, the response has been over 99% positive. Not only is the 4Leaf diet-style helping people improve their diets, but it is also helping them share their secret of healthy eating with others. The top reasons we’ve heard regarding why people like this system so much are as follows:

  1. It is not necessarily vegan or vegetarian.
  2. There is implied “wiggle room”; it’s not an all or nothing kind of thing.
  3. It removes the debate about olive oil, bread, tofu, and pasta. We’re not saying that you should never have those foods, but all would agree that they’re not whole plants. We’re simply estimating the percent of calories from whole plants in your diet.
  4. It’s based on something positive: maximizing the consumption of the healthiest of foods instead of focusing on a laundry list of everything you should avoid.
  5. It’s easy to describe how you eat by simply stating your 4Leaf score. Of course, until it becomes more widely known, you may have to explain what it means a few times- or just send those who are curious to 4leafprogram.com.
  6. It’s not named after a person. 4Leaf for Life is named after the leaves of a plant and the name tells a story: eating lots of whole plants promotes vibrant health for the rest of your life.
Kerry Graff, MD

Kerry Graff, MD

By far, the best feedback that I have received is from Dr. Kerry Graff, who began using the survey and other 4Leaf materials in the spring of 2014 throughout her 800-patient family medicine practice in Canandaigua, NY. As she says, the results have been a “Huge Freakin’ Success.” In her own words:

I spent the first half of my career treating patients’ diseases with medication. I am dedicating the second half of my career to treating what causes the disease in the first place–primarily the woeful, typical Western diet. I am having a ball helping patients regain their health and get off their medications! –Kerry Graff, MD

The Future of 4Leaf. Our goal is for 4Leaf  & the 4Leaf Survey to become the world’s most-used tool for measuring and reporting degrees of healthy eating against the optimal diet for humans as defined by Dr. T. Colin Campbell.

This simple tool provides a common ground vehicle of understanding that may help jump start the much-needed process of moving humankind back to a way of eating that promotes health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.   

CAUTION. Eating this way may quickly decrease your need for medications. You should tell your physician what you’re doing. If he/she is unfamiliar with or skeptical of this eating-style, please direct him or her to nutritionstudies.org and plantrician.org.

Nutrition Certificate