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Diet DetectiveInterview with Nutrition and Fitness Expert Samantha Heller
By Charles Platkin, PhD, MPH

Samantha Heller is a powerhouse, a rock star of nutrition. Just tune into her radio show, Health and Nutrition, on SiriusXM’s DOCTOR Radio, which airs live every Friday from 12-2 p.m. ET. She is a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Center for Musculoskeletal Care and Sports Performance Center, where she works with patients and athletes to optimize health and performance. I interviewed her by email to discuss her nutrition philosophy and her new book,The Only Cleanse (Countryman Press, 2015).

Diet Detective: Samantha, thanks for the opportunity to interview you. My first question is about you. I know that you trained as a singer and actress, so what pushed you to become a foodie and an advocate for health?

Samantha: It was not a very linear path. From the time I was 6 years old, I knew I wanted to be a performer. I spent many years studying singing, dancing and acting, and performing in the theater. But it’s a tough life and difficult to make a living in show business. Being practical, I realized I would need to go back to school to find a way to make a living. I first became a licensed massage therapist, thinking I could do massages and still have time for auditions and doing shows. Massage school sparked an interest in health, anatomy and physiology, so I went back to undergraduate school at Hunter College in New York City, and began taking courses in science, chemistry, statistics, [etc]. After a long, winding and unexpected journey and many years in school, I received a dual Master of Science degree from Teacher’s College at Columbia University and became an exercise physiologist and a registered dietitian.

To wed my love of performing with my passion for science and health, I have created the Fusion of Science and Song as a way to educate, motivate and empower people to make healthy lifestyle choices. I give evidence-based presentations all over the country with a very talented jazz guitarist on a wide array of topics that fuse science with music, song, humor and compassion. This, I hope, is edutainment at its best.

Diet Detective: Also, you are unique as a registered dietitian — you’re also an exercise physiologist — was that before or after you became an RD?

Samantha: I first became a massage therapist. Then a fitness instructor. Then an exercise physiologist. Then an RD.

Diet Detective: What would you say is your overall diet, nutrition and exercise philosophy?

Samantha: To be kind and respectful to our bodies and each other, and compassionate to all the creatures with whom we share the planet by making healthy lifestyle choices.

Diet Detective: Your latest book is about cleansing — how is that healthy?

Samantha: The only cleanse you need is the one with which you were born. You need not fast or juice, do enemas or colonics, drink potions or take pills. Your body is designed to cleanse its system 24/7. Our job, as we inhabit this physical reality, is to support the processes of the body with a healthy, practical, mind-body connection and lifestyle.

Diet Detective: You say that your body already knows how to detox. Can you explain?

Samantha: The human body, like all other living creatures on the planet, is a miraculous creation. The mission of our body is to keep us alive, and our bodies do this in a myriad of complex, multifaceted, interconnected ways. The best way to cleanse your system is by supporting your body’s innate, amazing, complex, integrated detoxification systems. These systems, including the skin, liver, gastrointestinal tract and kidneys, are detoxifying toxins, fighting off microbial invaders, cleaning up metabolic debris and seeking inner balance, every second of every day. What you eat, how you think [and] the quality of your sleep all affect your health and well-being.

Diet Detective: I know you wrote an entire book on the subject, but how do you do your 14-day cleanse? What do you eat?

Samantha: The Only Cleanse is a mostly vegan 14-day plan that includes strategies for strengthening your immune system, managing stress, boosting positivity and creating a personal environment that foments a healthy reality. Even though there is a detailed 14-day food plan, replete with recipes and shopping lists, there are no magical foods, combinations of foods, or special order in which foods must be eaten. The plan was created to help you recalibrate your taste expectations to a more whole-food, plant-based, less-processed approach. It is also designed to give you a step-by-step guide to healthier eating. You will be surprised just how wonderful, energized and focused you feel after following this plan.

Diet DetectiveDiet Detective: You say that broccoli is a natural cleanser. Can you explain?

Samantha: Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are especially healthy because they are natural detoxifiers. They contain compounds called glucosinolates that deactivate and detoxify carcinogens in the liver. They also boast a nice dose of fiber, vitamins C and K, and folate.

Diet Detective: What are some other great foods that help to cleanse your body naturally?

Samantha: Nutrition 101: All fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans are good for you. Healthy oils and fats that come from plants such as olive, canola, peanut and grapeseed oils are important, too.

Diet Detective: What’s wrong and/or dangerous about many of the cleansing programs that are currently being used?

Samantha: There is currently no scientific evidence that any cleanse/detox, fast, enema, pill, tincture, magnetic footpad, metal bracelet, tea, or herbs can detoxify the human body of anything. Just yesterday my hairdresser told me a client of hers fainted in the salon because she had been doing a cleanse of some kind. While the notion of cleansing our bodies may be attractive, the reality is that these fads can be very dangerous and lead to serious, even life-threatening medical problems. I go into detail about this in the book and review many fads and trends.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient?

Samantha: Fresh herbs, fun spices, garlic.

Diet Detective: What was your breakfast this morning?

Samantha: Tea. Banana with peanut butter smeared on it.

Diet Detective: What’s in your refrigerator and pantry right now?

Samantha: Lots of vegetables in the fridge. Tofu. Soymilk. Seltzer. Basil. Lemons. Limes. Vegan mayo. Brown rice. Pasta. Canned beans. Canned diced tomatoes. Quinoa. Olive oil. Several vinegars. Frozen veggie burgers. Edamame. Homemade bread. Almonds. Pistachios. Walnuts. Pecans. Soy ice cream (chocolate and cherry). Bananas. Strawberries.

Diet Detective: Your last meal would be?

Samantha: Pasta.

Diet Detective: Your favorite junk food?

Samantha: I don’t really like junk food.

Diet Detective: What’s your motto?

Diet Detective


© Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Charles Platkin, Ph.D., M.P.H., the Diet Detective, is one of the U.S.’s leading nutrition and public health advocates, whose syndicated health, nutrition and fitness column, the Diet Detective, appears in more than 100 daily newspapers and media outlets in the U.S. Dr. Platkin is also the founder of DietDetective.com, which offers nutrition, food and fitness information. Additionally, Platkin is a Distinguished Lecturer at the Hunter College School of Urban Public Health and CUNY School of Public Health in New York City.

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