The next time you're about to bite into the typical American fast-food lunch of a double cheeseburger, supersize fries and a large soda, Dr. Don Colbert advises that you ask yourself a question: Would Jesus eat this?
He wouldn't, according to Colbert, a family practice physician in Orlando, Fla. Nor would Jesus eat high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods, gulp down his lunch while returning phone calls or use food as a way to combat stress.
In his new book, "What Would Jesus Eat?" (Thomas Nelson Publishers, $22.99), Colbert said Christians could significantly improve their health by following the example of their savior.
"I feel that the diet that Jesus ate was the best diet," said Colbert, 45. "It's not just the food that we eat, it's the lifestyle that we live."
His book is subtitled "The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great and Living Longer." The diet advice is based primarily upon foods mentioned in the Bible, as well as scholarly texts and medical research.
Basically, Colbert advocates the Mediterranean diet favored by many medical experts: a diet low in saturated fat, sugar and red meat and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Jesus' "healthstyle," as Colbert puts it, also included plenty of exercise; he quotes evangelist Arthur Blessitt's calculation that Jesus walked at least 21,595 miles during his 33 years and said he may have walked even twice that much.
His book challenges what the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: "Bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things" (1 Timothy 4:8). As Colbert notes, Jesus, his apostles and others of their time got plenty of exercise in the course of their normal lives, equivalent to walking three to 10 miles daily.
Colbert joins a long list of authors who have linked Christianity and diet. And those are just a portion of the books that link health and spirituality.
"There's a lot of consciousness now that religion should play a role in what we eat," said Marie Griffith, associate director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. "The notion that God wants us to be healthy is almost universally accepted now."
Diet and health regimes that purport to be based upon biblical teaching advocate various regimes, from eating only raw foods to vegetarianism to weight-loss and exercise programs similar to their secular counterparts but drawing inspiration from the Bible.
Among health books being released this year that call upon Christian spirituality are an updated anniversary edition of Carol Showalter's 1971 "3D: Diet, Discipline and Discipleship" (Paraclete Press, $25) and "Daily Word for Weight Loss" (Rodale Books, $17.95), from Unity School of Christianity.
Griffith said there were no statistics to measure whether health regimes based on religious beliefs are more or less effective than secular programs.
Colbert said his book was not a diet book, but a lifestyle book. It is aimed not simply at weight loss, though it includes a weight-loss section, but at achieving optimum health through exercise and proper food choices. His next book, "Deadly Emotions," he said, will examine the link between emotion and health.
New lifestyle prescription
Colbert received his medical degree from Oral Roberts School of Medicine in Tulsa, Okla. He calls himself a "charismatic Christian" and attends Northland Christian Church in Longwood, Fla., with his wife, Mary.
After developing chronic fatigue syndrome and psoriasis as a young doctor, he began looking more closely at the links among physical, spiritual and mental health. He quit eating the normal American diet, cut out processed foods, took up exercise and found himself a much healthier person.
He detailed his experiences in "What You Don't Know May Be Killing You." He is also the author of "Toxic Relief," "Walking In Divine Health" and 18 pamphlets on the Bible cure for various diseases ranging from arthritis to yeast infections.
His experience changed his approach to medicine, he said.
"I quit prescribing so many medicines and started prescribing lifestyle and diet changes," he said. He also uses alternative medicine practices such as acupuncture, which he said could cure food cravings.
Dr. Arlette Perry, chair of the exercise and sports medicine program at the University of Miami, hasn't read Colbert's new book but agrees that the Mediterranean diet's emphasis on fruits, vegetables, legumes, bread and grains is good.
While Colbert's advice will sound familiar to the crunchy granola crowd, it's a radical departure for participants of Christian potlucks, where a covered dish is more likely to be macaroni and cheese than green beans and almonds.