We spoke with board-certified family physician and seven-time New York Times best-selling author, Joel Fuhrman, M.D., about the health benefits of the plant-based diet. The fridge is the new medicine cabinet!
Dr. Fuhrman is the President of the Nutritional Research Foundation and on the faculty of Northern Arizona University, Health Sciences division. He specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods and coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe a nutrient-dense eating style, designed to prevent cancer, slow aging, and extend lifespan. For over 30 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition.
What inspired you to adopt a plant-based diet?
My father was somewhat sickly when I was a child, and he read many health and nutrition books, improved his health and shared this information with me. When I was a world class figure skater in the 1970s, I was already eating very healthfully and using dietary excellence to improve our stamina and resistance to infection. My passion grew as I saw the therapeutic power of nutritional interventions to reverse serious disease—and pursued a medical education so I could be a specialist in this novel field of nutritional medicine.
What do you see as the link between nutrition and health?
For permanent weight loss and disease reversal, we have to eat a diet that is rich in micronutrients and comprehensive in its exposure to all the nutrients humans require. The most important and even shocking thing most people need to recognize is that not only are heart disease and strokes completely preventable via nutritional excellence, but we can also prevent more than 90 percent of cancers. We have an unprecedented opportunity in human history to disease-proof your bodies and be healthier and live longer than any other point in human history.
And I am not only talking about preventing disease, but also the power to reverse disease. Nutritional excellence is powerful, and can enable people on drugs for high blood pressure and diabetes to get well, for headaches to resolve, and for those suffering from autoimmune disease to make a complete recovery. In summary, by embracing a Nutritarian diet you give your body the tools it needs to achieve optimal health, reverse and prevent chronic disease, and achieve enhanced longevity.
Having seen the benefits of a plant-based diet on your patients, what are the most common health transformations?
During my 30-year career practicing nutritional and lifestyle medicine, I have seen thousands of my patients lose weight, recover from chronic illnesses, and regain their health by following my Nutritarian diet and lifestyle protocols. At my Eat to Live Retreat in San Diego, California, where I direct every patient’s care, I have seen amazing health transformations in people who lost large amounts of weight and recovered from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease and other chronic diseases.
Most dramatic and fascinating is watching psoriasis resolve and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus go away. I have many of these cases described in detail in my latest book, Eat For Life.
Where do you stand on the use of unprocessed sugar (which is found in fruits) vs processed sugar?
Processed sugars – whether they come from sugar cane, coconuts, rice syrup or other sources – have no nutritional value, and are absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream, where they cause a spike in blood glucose levels. The more rapid and concentrated the elevation of glucose in the blood, the more significant the risk of life-threatening disease, including prediabetes, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and depression. Those sweetening agents also create an addictive relationship with food. We use fresh and frozen fruits and the judicious use of organic dried fruits to make fantastic healthy desserts and dishes. The presence of phytonutrients and fiber slows entry of glucose into the bloodstream and makes for a completely different biochemical response.
How do you convince a person living with a chronic illness that a plant-based lifestyle could help in curing it?
In my books and lectures, I present the scientific facts and research studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of this way of eating. But sometimes, hearing the story of someone who overcame similar health challenges is a powerful motivator. There are hundreds of success stories on my website. In my latest book, Eat for Life (HarperOne, 2020), I feature 16 incredible, real-life stories from people who have recovered from type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune hepatitis, coronary artery disease, retinal occlusion, ulcerative colitis and more while following the Nutritarian diet.
What role does a plant-based diet play in disease prevention?
Smart nutrition – eating a diet of leafy and cruciferous greens, colorful vegetables, beans, berries, onions, berries, nuts and seeds – is the only way to effectively prevent and reverse disease and save millions of lives in the process. Today in the midst of this COVID pandemic, we can save millions of lives get people back to work and restore our economy if people focused on superior nutrition. Yet almost nobody is talking about this. Greens, onions, mushrooms, seeds and berries unleash the body’s tremendous ability to activate the power of our immune system to prevent infectious agents from replicating and causing damage. Remember, the key to optimizing your health and achieving an ideal body weight is to eat a diet with a high proportion of nutrients to calories.
Diet is such an important part of your health — and doesn’t have to be difficult! Add more plants to your diet today with plant-based meals delivered to your door to feel healthier and happier.
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