He’s now the model for healthy living. But as a kid Dr. Mehmet Oz was more of a cautionary tale. Growing up in Wilmington, Del., the Oprah-approved health guru’s diet consisted of sugary cereal in the morning, and a T-bone steak, mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner, plus three big scoops of ice cream-every evening. When he added a post-lunch snack of two fluffernutter sandwiches in 1971, Oz gained 15 lbs. and lost his edge. “I was the king of kickball in fourth grade,” he says. “By sixth grade, I was so slow I wasn’t even picked anymore. Even intellectually I wasn’t feeling quick.”
Once a kind teacher pointed out the problem, Oz laid off the afternoon treats-and learned his first lesson about food and willpower. “If you make it easy to do the wrong thing, you’ll do it,” he says. Now on a mission to make the country as healthy as he is-this season, over 1.2 million viewers of his nationally syndicated talk show participated in his Dr. Oz’s Transformation Nation competition-Oz continues to practice what he preaches. “Most of America is living at 20 percent of who they could be,” says Oz, 52. “I want to get everyone to appreciate what living at 90 percent would feel like.”
Even after his sixth-grade diet correction, it took him more than a decade to reach that 90 percent goal. Oz blames his still subpar eating habits for a lackluster first year of his medical internship. Then his future wife, Lisa, turned him on to the joys of leafy green salads and vegetables. By year two, the mini-fridge was filled with okra, cauliflower and sweet potatoes instead of soda-and the average student became a star. He went on to become one of the nation’s leading heart surgeons and the star of an Emmy-winning show.
At his home in New Jersey, where he opened up his fridge and pantry to PEOPLE, Oz keeps up his healthy metamorphosis by sticking to the golden rule he learned back in elementary school. “Ice cream isn’t in my house because I don’t want to deal with temptation,” he says. Instead, his regular meal plan includes Greek yogurt for breakfast, brown rice, broccoli and fish or tofu for lunch and a snack of almonds or carrots every two hours. “It’s joyless,” Oz concedes. “I’m not going to celebrate food.” But he insists that his preferred staples “taste good to me!” His four kids (Daphne, 26; Arabella, 21; Zoe, 17; and Oliver, 12) don’t always agree: They prefer their green juice sweeter than Dad’s, and Oliver dined on a gyro before PEOPLE’s photo shoot, despite Dad’s warning that “it’s the worst thing you can get.” But there is one indulgence that even he allows: On holidays, all bets are off. “When I celebrate, I overeat,” says Oz, still savoring the memory of daughter Daphne’s German chocolate cake last Christmas. “I had more than one slice and a lot of icing. It’s killer!”
Dr. Oz’s 15 ITEMS FOR HEALTHIER LIVING
Ever wonder, “What would Dr. Oz eat?” The answer: not much meat. “I’m 90 percent vegetarian,” he says. “When I eat meat, I feel heavy and lethargic.” So his home fridge and pantry (shown here) are filled with fiber, fruits, veggies and his beloved green juice (right, top shelf). “I always have it for breakfast,” he says. “It gives me an invigorated state of mind.”
YOU SHOULD HAVE IN YOUR FRIDGE
No skim milk here! Oz chooses organic 2 percent-“When you take out the fat, you’re left with carbohydrates”-or almond milk. His other musts:
1 Fresh juice Freshly juiced fruits and vegetables are a key way to get micronutrients into your blood, stat!
2 Wheat germ It’s high in folate and an easy way to add a nutrient punch to a snack. Decreases cravings too.
3 Organic eggs Leave in the yolk. It’s the most nutrient-dense part of an egg.
4 Fresh herbs Thyme and rosemary are my favorite. They’re an easy way to add luxury to even a simple dish.
5 Bitter greens The secret way to get digestion going.
YOU SHOULD HAVE IN YOUR PANTRY
His pantry is always stocked with healthy fare. Two surprises: Kind bars (“they were a gift,” he says) and Jiffy corn muffin mix (“they make better blueberry pancakes than white flour”).
1 Nuts They have healthy omega-3 fats.
2 Steel-cut oatmeal It digests slower and has a nuttier flavor.
3 Dark chocolate The antioxidant-laden treat can actually protect your heart.
4 Superfood seeds Hemp, flax or chia have fiber.
5 Legumes Lentils and black beans feed the good bacteria in our gut, reducing inflammation.
YOU SHOULD HAVE IN YOUR MEDICINE CABINET
“Most budget brands are fine,” says Oz.
1 Baby aspirin Take two a day to help circulation.
2 Omega-3 Most of us don’t get enough in our diets. From your skin to your nerves, it’s critical to protect every cell.
3 Vitamin D It’s a hormone that helps with energy, cancer prevention, even weight loss.
4 Multivitamins It’s never a substitute for a good diet, but it’s the shotgun approach to vitamins and nutrients.
5 Calcium It’s vital for bone strength, but always take with magnesium, and talk to your doctor about dosage.
Dr. Oz’s Two-Day Cleanse
My ultimate detox plan is designed to be completed over a weekend! It can be challenging, but when it’s over, you will be rejuvenated from the inside out. I don’t want you to go hungry, so partake in the detox drink throughout the day. I typically have two servings between meals. But I don’t want you eating anything after 7 p.m.
MILLET WITH PEARS
½ cup millet, rinsed
1 cup water
1 pinch cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped pears
¼ cup 2-percent milk
“This is my favorite part of the cleanse,” says Oz. “You won’t believe how good detoxifying can taste.”
2 BETWEEN-MEAL SNACK
DR. OZ’S DETOX DRINK
(A juicer is recommended, but if you don’t have one, just blend the ingredients on high, add 2 cups of water and pour into a strainer to remove pulp.)
Makes 4 servings
1/3 bunch collard greens (1 cup chopped)
1/3 bunch turnip greens or Swiss chard (1 cup chopped)
2/3 cup broccoli or ½ large broccoli stem
½ cup pineapple
1 lime, squeezed
½ cup fennel
2 large cucumbers
½ cup mint
FRESH FRUIT REJUVENATING SMOOTHIE
Makes 1 serving
½ cup rice milk (plain or unsweetened)
1 oz. chopped walnuts (sprinkle on top)
¼ cup blackberries
¼ cup frozen blueberries
¼ cup dark cherries
½ cup ice
Blend ingredients until smooth.
Makes 4–6 servings
6 artichoke hearts
1 cup sliced cauliflower
1 cabbage, roughly chopped
1 cup chopped asparagus
3 tbsp. low-sodium miso paste
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 tsp. fennel seeds
2 tsp. sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 quarts water
8 sprigs parsley, chopped stems and leaves
2–6 chili peppers to taste
Put everything in a pot, boil and simmer for an hour.