“I was standing on the corner with the low-down blues
Great big hole in the bottom of my shoes
Baby let me be your salty dog.”

– Salty Dog Blues, sung by Jerry Garcia with the Black Mountain Boys


Sometimes a person can only be talked at – okay, nagged – so much before ennui sets in and eyes glaze over, even when it’s for their own benefit. After a while, it all sounds like the grownups in those Charlie Brown shows.

So I think it’s a great idea that renowned wellness, weight loss and disease prevention specialist Dr. Tom Rifai, aka Dr. Tom, regularly brings his weight control patients straight to Hiller’s store aisles to point out, in living color, beneficial food options. He’s serious; these are three-hour stints.

Indeed, the group educational tours are a crucial part of his program at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, where he is medical director of metabolic nutrition and weight management.

And naturally, I’m flattered that he’s taken a yen to Hiller’s, particularly our Orchard Lake store. He says he likes it that we go out of our way to identify sodium-friendly foods wherever possible, especially since it’s harder to control salt than calories, which a lot of folks don’t know. We have low-salt labels and signage throughout our stores.

“When you take people on shopping tours, the whole philosophy is reality meets science,” he says. “We teach how to find diamonds in the rough. You’re not going to find a no-salt aisle, but you’re going to find diamonds. And Hiller’s has the most in town. Every aisle offers lots of low and no salt options .”

“Things in packages are not all bad, but I’m not going to tell you that all cans and all packages are good. But look at sardines – Hiller’s has the best selection anywhere – sustainable, high in omega 3’s – and Jim Hiller’s encouraged me to find out how much salt was in his fresh meat and chicken. And I’ll tell you the results were darned good.”

See, blood pressure meds only partly reduce risk of stroke and vascular damage, I’ve learned. Salt has a separate, direct effect, and can cause things like osteoporosis, kidney stones, asthma and stomach cancer.

The tours themselves are part of what’s called Lifestyle University. His program is for motivated patients interested in changing their lifestyles, losing body fat (while maintaining healthful muscle mass), and better managing or preventing diseases like hypertension, diabetes and fatty liver.

Here’s the deal: Only a woeful 2 percent of Americans have controlled blood pressure (without meds), sugar and cholesterol, eat healthy, stay physically active, don’t smoke and have a “normal” body mass index. The good news is that you only need six of the seven to achieve all the longevity benefits. But I know, we can do better than 2 percent!

What’s more, Dr. Tom, who also helps create healthful dishes for the restaurant chain Andiamo, said there’s such a thing as normal-weight obesity: thin on the outside, fat on the inside. “I hear young women say, ‘I’m only concerned about my figure.’ But what about the structure holding up your figure?” he asked. Fact is, up to 20 percent of overweight people are metabolically normal, I’ve learned. Up to 40 percent of folks who are at normal weight are at risk of major disease. Who knew?

So, there’s a lot of misunderstanding where weight is concerned. The biggest problem, he said, is when fat starts to gain in the liver, one of the first spots for insulin resistance, and where many people don’t detect it. So body composition and lifestyle are more of the issue than total weight. If you’re going to make changes, it’s vital that the family is involved.

“If you’re sitting around all the time and then the kids want Frosted Flakes, that’s not going to work. If the house doesn’t change, I can’t teach you willpower.”

The self-described plant-based omnivore who works out regularly knows whereof he speaks. At 19, Rifai, at 5’6, weighed 200 pounds. Sure, he was lifting weights, but scarfed Whoppers and pizzas, too. His dad was diabetic and on insulin by 44, and young Tom was on that path. By the time he was a medical student, he’d gotten his health act together.

If we do nothing else, according to Dr Tom, we should control caloric, salt and saturated fat intake. And get off our collective rear ends!

Check him out at DrTomRifai.com, or at Facebook.com/DrTomMD.

Hiller’s is proud to have Dr. Rifai on our team. Let’s get and stay healthy, people.



  1. Spiritualism and Good Health: Thanks for sharing your concern about promoting positive and good health. There are several misconceptions about the term health as it is not properly defined by the medical community. Health is not about the absence of illness or disease. Most of us could be living or leading a life in bad health before the signs and symptoms of specific illness or disease entity manifest and give us the alarm. The idea of Comprehensive Health Care demands prevention of disease and promotion of positive health to prevent the onset of pre-pathogenic illness. For this, we need to correctly define the various aspects of man that are central to his well-being. I define man as a physical, mental, social, moral, and spiritual being and hence health involves defending all the five aspects of man. We have been trying to understand ‘food’ as a tool to protect the physical well-being of man and stress its importance in prevention of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other problems. I describe ‘food’ as a spiritual medium that establishes a connection, relationship, partnership, association, and bonding between the energy-demanding organic molecules of human organism and the energy-yielding organic molecules sold in our grocery stores as food. As per the law, most products sold in our stores carry the nutritional facts and information and help us to make some choices by reading those labels. The label that I would like to see is that of the status of ‘food’ as a ‘spiritual substance’. It helps us to treat the substance with a sense of respect and devotion. It helps us to consume the substance to establish a ‘spiritual’ relationship with the substance that is consumed. It helps to shape our attitude towards ‘food’. We cannot really impart this attitude by simply describing the ingredients, and the nutritional contents of the product. The attitude of respect and devotion and the desire for a spiritual relationship will have a moderating influence on our eating behavior. The food thus consumed, will provide a sense of satisfaction, man experiences satiety and will not experience food cravings or excessive desire to consume food. Even healthy food such as low in Sodium, Fat, and Calories when consumed in excess would still cause all the health problems that have been stated. To fix this problem at a basic level, I recommend that we may direct our attention to the issue of our relationship with the food that we eat. There is always a spiritual relationship between the energy-seeker and the energy-provider and food is the medium for this relationship.

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