Joel Fuhrman, M.D., is a board-certified family physician, a New York Times best-selling author, and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. Dr. Fuhrman’s #1 New York Times best-selling book, Eat to Live, originally published in 2003 (Little Brown), has sold over 1,000,000 copies and has been published in multiple foreign language editions. He has appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows including The Dr. Oz Show, Today, and Good Morning America. And his hugely successful PBS television shows, 3 Steps to Incredible Health and Dr. Fuhrman’s Immunity Solution, brought nutritional science to homes all across America. Dr. Fuhrman joined Meatless Monday for a wide-ranging interview, discussing his new book, “The End of Dieting,” his well-known acronym for good eating, G-BOMBS, and why everyone should become a Nutritarian.
Meatless Monday: The issue of dieting is so prevalent in our society, our culture, and our media. From Paleo to Wheat Belly to a growing interest in vegetarianism, many people are either on a diet, off a diet, or thinking about a diet. You take the opposite approach. Your goal is for people to never go on a diet again.
Joel Fuhrman: That’s right. I tell my patients: don’t go on a diet. Improve your diet. There’s a big difference between “going on a diet” and “improving your diet.” I’m not discouraging people from making good food choices but they have to make choices keeping the long range goal in mind. And the long-range goal has to be: what can I eat to keep my weight stable, what can I eat regularly, and what foods can I eat every day that will lower my chances of disease like cancer, diabetes and heart attack.
MM: In your new book, The End of Dieting, you offer the smartest advice about eating and health I’ve ever read: “Don’t go on any diet unless you can eat that way every day for the rest of your life.”
JF: People need to ask: what can I do to permanently keep my weight down at a favorable weight, so I don’t bounce back again. Fluctuating the way you eat, and fluctuating your body weight, is not good for you. Weight comes off pretty easily if you calorically restrict but, after a while, you can’t live with yourself being hungry all the time, and you go back to eating a normal amount of food and you gain the weight back. But now you gain more weight back than you originally had because you’ve slowed down your metabolic rate and your fat storing hormones because you were calorically restricting. The important thing to understand is, gaining weight back again is very unhealthy. You take years to gain all the weight, then you rapidly lose weight, then you get it back again.
MM: Your approach is based on science. And the science says eating the right food is key to good health.
JF: I just want people to take advantage of modern nutritional science. Nutritional science has made exponential advances in recent years, and the only thing that makes sense is telling someone to eat fewer foods that are bad for you and more foods that are good for you. Let me repeat that. You want to eat fewer foods that promote fat storage in the body and more foods that don’t promote fat storage in the body. What makes my work unique is I am encouraging people to eat much larger amounts of healthier food. The term is, you “crowd out” foods you shouldn’t be eating in your diet. We have to get people to eat larger amounts of the right food.
MM: Let’s discuss some of these foods. I’d love to give our readers specific information about what they should be eating for good health. You created an acronym called G-BOMBS.
JF: G-BOMBS are foods with powerful anti-cancer properties that you should eat everyday. G-BOMBS stands for: Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, and Seeds. Studies have shown that if someone eats a higher concentration of dark greens in their diet, their cancer rates drop tremendously, more than 50%. Studies also show that people who eat a higher amount of onions, compared to people who eat a normal amount, their cancer rates drop 50-80%. People who eat more mushrooms than an average person, their cancer rates drop 50-80%. People who eat more beans, their cancer rates drop 50-80%. People who eat more seeds, their cancer rates drop. It’s very simple: every food we are talking about in the G-BOMBS list, when people eat just more of those foods in particular, they have longer lives, they have lower cholesterol, lower rates of diabetes, and lower rates of cancer. And that’s just for each of these foods tested individually. Now what if a person ate higher rates of all these foods simultaneously? And, what if you did this at an age that was young enough to get the maximum benefits, before you have cancer in your body? The point is, these foods give people tremendous power to protect their own health and live a long life. We now have the evidence that can dramatically impact our life span, our quality of life, and really win the war on cancer in America. The answer is right under our noses and we can implement it right now.
MM: Regarding animal products, Meatless Monday began over 10 years ago with a simple mission: “One day a week, cut out meat.” Why is this still a good idea?
JF: There are a hundred reasons why. But the main reason is, America is eating too many animal products and too much animal protein. 40 or 50 years ago we didn’t understand everything we know now about nutrition. We thought getting cheap calories was what we needed. Then the government started subsidizing meat and dairy, making these products cheaper, and now you have Americans eating animal products three times a day. That’s 21 servings of animal protein a week, whether meat or chicken or fish or dairy, at every meal. And we’re finding out that’s much too much animal protein, leading to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and particularly leading to risk of hormonally sensitive cancers, like colon cancer and breast cancer.
JF: Whether someone is flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan or Paleo, here’s the problem: those terms don’t define the quality of food they are eating. You can be a vegan and still be eating a diet that’s not very healthful. A Nutritarian, on the flip side, is a person with the knowledge base that what they eat controls their health destiny. A Nutritarian knows that they can control their future health by the food choices they make. I want everyone to be able to say: ‘I am a Nutritarian. I eat foods that protect my health. I eat foods that have nutritional quality.’ It’s not about dieting or counting calories. A Nutritarian recognizes that certain foods have protective affects, and they choose to put these quality foods in their body.
MM: If anyone follows the Standard American Diet, they certainly would not be a Nutritarian.
JF: The Standard American Diet is quite possibly the most dangerous way anyone could eat. It’s 60% of calories from processed food, which spikes up insulin–which is a fat storage hormone and promotes cancer–and then it’s 30% of calories from animal products, which raise IGF-1, which promotes cancer, as well. Even worse, processed foods and animal products both don’t contain antioxidants and phytochemicals. So the amount of vegetation and plant food is dangerously low, combined with the particular mix of the highly processed carbohydrates with the amount of animal products. The American diet is fat promoting and cancer promoting.
MM: In your private practice, when patients switch to your dietary plan, what results do they experience?
JF: My patients see remarkable results, and it happens very quickly. People can sometimes lose a pound a day the first week, and 10 to 15 pounds the first month. Their blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar comes down within a few days. If people are taking one or two medications for blood pressure or diabetes, for example, quite often after one week we are taking one medication away and by the first month we’re cutting the second medication. So whether it’s headaches, asthma, pain, high blood pressure, high glucose levels or high cholesterol, we see people feeling better, thinking more clearly, being more physically active.
MM: So your patients become more active, they get off medication, they get their health back. No wonder people think your approach is extreme.
JF: Right, isn’t that funny? To this day, when some people hear my plan, they’ll tell me, ‘I can’t do that.’ They can go to a hospital three times a week and get dialysis. Or they can inject themselves with insulin. Or they can have their chest cut open and have a heart bypass. But they can’t change the way they eat. It’s the craziness of our society today. My approach is perfectly logical. I am a physician and a nutritional scientist. Let’s objectively look at the data in a scientific way.
MM: For all the parents in our audience, I want to plug our initiative called The Kids Cook Monday, but I also want to promote one of your most vital books, Disease-Proof Your Child. I’m sure a lot of parents don’t understand the relationship between what their kids eat now and their long-term health.
JF: Here’s the information parents need: what kids eat in the first 10 years of their life can impact their health for the rest of their life. Let me repeat that. What kids eat in the first 10 years, can give them great health their whole life. The science here is compelling and fascinating, and it’s empowering for parents. How you eat in your childhood has a bigger contributory factor with regard to diseases like cancer. What you eat in childhood has a bigger influence than what you eat in adulthood.
MM: The information in The End of Diabetes is equally important. You say just by eating the right food, a person can stop or even reverse their Type 2 diabetes.
JF: Here are the facts: if you are overweight, you are heading toward Type 2 diabetes. And 80% of our population is overweight. That’s why people need this information. Diabetics should be told that, number one, your diabetes can be reversed. Number two, diabetes doesn’t have to cut short your life. And number three, the drugs are not going to make you live longer; they might even accelerate your death. People with Type 1 diabetes should have this information; even though they will still need some insulin, this program can save their life. And people determined to have prediabetes need this information. But instead of information about food, people are given more and more drugs, and they aren’t being told that the drugs will hurt them.
MM: You don’t have a lot of good things to say about the state of our healthcare. You say, “Medications are permission slips.”
JF: Yes. Our healthcare system has evolved into an industry where doctors mostly provide drugs, instead of being teachers of healthy living. The medical profession is not predominantly focused on preventing disease. They are a profession that’s diagnosing and treating disease, and the reality is, the treatments hardly work and the small benefits place people at significant risk, while the underlying disease process continues to advance.
MM: You want everyone to focus on prevention, not treatment. Last October, at the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you wrote on Twitter, “October should be Breast Cancer Prevention Month.”
JF: Breast Cancer Awareness Month is about promoting mammograms. Mammograms will detect cancer in a woman after she’s had cancer in her body for about 10 years. So that means in that 10 year period, once a woman is diagnosed with cancer by a mammogram, a majority of women will have the cells spread outside of the breast, because the cancer has been there a long time. And then the ability to stop cancer from shortening their life has been lost. If we can get to women before they get diagnosed with breast cancer, if we can get women to eat berries, flax seeds, onions and mushrooms, all these anti-breast cancer foods before they get a diagnosis of cancer, that’s when you have the most power to prevent the cancer from developing to begin with. We have powerful interventions. We can start right now. Let’s really talk about ways women can protect themselves. But no one talks about true prevention.
MM: Last question: poor nutrition affects every aspect of our society. I saw a great comment on your Facebook page. Someone wrote, “The End of Dieting should be taught in schools.” Can you imagine if that happened, if high school students and school kids brought this information home to their parents?
JF: It would be fabulous. I always say in my public appearances, we should be teaching our children ‘reading, writing, arithmetic and nutrition.’ Because we graduate from high school, colleges, professional schools, medical schools, PhD’s, and people know nothing about nutrition. It’s the most important thing that people should be informed about because it affects their ability not just to live longer, but also to be happy in life, to have normal brain function. We know that processed foods and animal products and commercially baked goods are linked to depression. They are linked to aggressive behavior. They are linked to lower intelligence, to lower concentration in schools, to people’s inability to be productive in life. In other words, the American diet is detrimental not just to longevity but also to our performance and our happiness. Nutrition should be taught in schools. It is critical to the success of our young population.