Thursday, June 29, 2006

An Interview with Dr. Joel Fuhrman

I had the honor recently of speaking via email with Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of several books on plant-based nutrition, including Eat To Live and Disease-Proof Your Child, and host of the Disease-Proof Blog. Dr. Fuhrman emphasizes eating a healthy, vegan-friendly diet rich in nutrient-dense plant foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds. His work has been the inspiration behind my recent series of picnic posts, and following his nutrient-dense plan has helped me kick sugar addiction for the first time in my entire life.

Dr. Fuhrman, what advice would you give the vegan community? In what ways do most vegans fall short of nutritional excellence, and how can we improve?

Dr. Fuhrman:
Most vegans fall short in that they follow the same suboptimal and outmoded nutritional recommendations as omnivores, utilizing grains or white potatoes as the major source of calories in the diet and wind up eating a diet low in high phytochemical foods such as green vegetables and raw nuts and seeds. They do not understand that 90 calories from a pretzel or white potato does not have the nutrient richness of 90 calories from a kiwi or red kidney beans. Without the knowledge of nutrient density they are eating in the dark and not optimizing their longevity.

The second serious error of the vegan community is the heavy use of fake meat and cheese analogues usually made from soy and almost always high in salt. Besides the lack of nutrients and high levels of acrylamides in these highly processed foods, with continuation of the high salt diet hemorrhagic strokes are even more likely in a vegan than in a person on a heart-disease promoting diet rich in animal products. Consuming salted foods should not be taken lightly; it is a killer.

The third error common in the vegan community is the lack of concern for individual differences which may heighten nutritional requirements in some individuals, especially the elderly, which make it advisable to supplement when appropriate with Vitamin D, B12, Taurine, DHA, or iodine, for example, to assure that no one develops a medical condition as a result of sub-optimal nutritional intake. To better assure nutritional completeness I recommend to my patients my vegan multi Gentle Care Formula and my vegan DHA Purity, and then if not getting regular sunshine to also add a Vitamin D supplement. Many vegans think supplementing with B12 is enough to guarantee nutritional excellence for most people. Long-term nutritional deficiencies are not harmless. Omnivores develop deficiencies, too, and blood tests can be used to ascertain if deficiencies exist.

Many of my readers pack lunches for their children every day. What advice would you give parents on packing a healthy lunch?

Dr. Fuhrman:Make a great tasting nut-based salad dressing or sauce and then you can use that to stuff veggies or salad into a whole wheat pita. And remember kids who eat more fruit have dramatically lower cancer rates as adults, so always pack a few fresh fruits with lunch.

How should parents respond to the vast amounts of junk food offered to our kids when they go to school, parties, etc.? It seems my son gets offered cake, candy, and soda almost every place we go!

Dr. Fuhrman:There has to be time invested to discussing nutrition in the home. This is a serious matter. In my book, Disease-Proof Your Child, I review the science that reveals adult cancers are predominantly caused by what we ate in our childhood. When this information is passed along to our children, they can grasp the concept that what they choose to put in their mouth dictates their future wellness. Even young children can learn it is dangerous to eat these foods and why. Junk food is dangerous, we should fight it as strongly as we fight drug abuse and smoking. Maybe we should put tee shirts on our kids that say:

No Thank You to Drugs

No Thank You to Smoking

No Thank You to Junk Food

We value our future health!

Thank you, Dr. Fuhrman!


Barb said...

Another book to read! I am going to be busy this summer.

Question: How do think that this plan has helped you kick your sugar addiction? I'm hoping to follow your footsteps but I'm sort of afraid to even try in fear of failure. Do you gradually lose the "taste" for it? Does it just not appeal to you? Is it a mental thing or do you physically lose the need for refined sugars?

Any comments are appreciated.

Nicki Baker said...

wow, neat interview!

Lemons said...

holy doomsday! is there a chance that the vegan community (myself included) could be going a little too far? besides trying to steer clear of the over zealous rep we vegans get, shouldn't we also be concerned with doctors and experts who right books with provocative and alarming titles like "how to DISEASE PROOF YOUR CHILD"? and then try to sell us vitamins? i'm sure everyone has good intentions, but this interview seems a little, well, cultish.

urban vegan said...

thanks for this great post.

wow. compared to most people, I eat extremely healthy. but to some extent, I am guilty of all 3 nutritional mistakes he mentions (you know me--I'm the saltaholic!}

Mary said...

Jennifer, thanks to you I eat much healthier. I thought that being vegan automatically meant healthy eating, and it did to a certain extent. But I would eat so much bread, cereal, and pasta that I would have no room for vegetables at all! Now I've exchanged pasta for vegetables and I love them! I'm hoping to lose the last stubborn 10lbs (lost 12 total from going omni to vegan). I didn't even know I was a sugar addict, but after reading Eat To Live I knew I was. I am completely addicted to sugar. I love brownies, cakes, cookies, ice cream, etc. And since you can get vegan of any of those things in the store, I would eat them. Everyday. Now I still have some sugar (I just bought some soy yogurty today), but I watch out for desserts. I save those for my special occassions and I've learn to enjoy them. Thanks alot! You're truly an inspiration.

StephB said...

Very interesting, but does anyone else think it odd that Dr. Furhman mentioned products that he was selling at least three times?

I'm all for capitalism (go, Dr. Furhman) but isn't it interesting.

t. said...

Jennifer, thanks a million for this interview! I have crossed Dr. Fuhrman's books a thousand times but never got around reading an entire book. I have to buy his books and read them. I have to buy his books and read them. I have to buy his books and read them. I have to buy his books and read them. I have to buy his books and read them.
Come on, I m just too lazy!

Milinda said...

Thank you for the interview and the food for thought. That said, I am still stuck on those gorgeous apricots from yesterday.

Jennifershmoo said...

>>How do think that this plan has helped you kick your sugar addiction?

Hi, Barb! I wrote a lot more about my sugar addiction and different ways I've tried fighting it over at my personal blog. This post has a quote explaining how E2L is supposed to help food addiction:

Physically, since I've been eating this way my sugar cravings have subsided. Sweets just don't seem to have the same irresistable appeal they usually do, and the foods I am eating keep me full so much longer. I think partly it's because I've finally completely eliminated all processed sugars and flour from my diet, so I'm not being "triggered" to keep eating more and more by these foods my body finds addictive.

Emotionally, though, it's still hard. I'm still trying to figure out what to do when I'm feeling lonely or depressed besides eating cookies. :-P

Christina said...


I have visited Italy many times and always come back thinner even though I eat gelato every day of my holiday. Why? Well, besides walking 5-10 miles/day, I eat a lot of vegetables and fruits and relatively little starches compared to my "American" diet. This is even AFTER consuming a plate of pasta at least once a day! I would say I would eat at least a pound of vegetables and fruits per day in Italy: at least two green salads, vegtables with two meals, fruit with all meals, and snacks of fruit. I don't know if I will ever go to the extremes that you are going to to kick a sugar addiction, but your blog and my time in Italy has shown me that foods that grow out of the ground are the best food, nutritionally. And this is coming from someone who dreams about bisteca alla fiorentina!

Anonymous said...

Thanks - I found this really informative. I know I'll never be a perfect it's good to be informed!

Tere said...

Thank you Jennifer,
How interesting! I was especially affected by the comment Dr, Fuhrman made about vegans being more vulnerable to high salt health issues. I'll have to do more research on this. Luckily, I've tried a lot of meat analogues and faux cheeses, and didn't care for them. It's good to hear that I'm not missing out on any health benefits from not eating these things.
Congratulations again on sticking with your sugar free lifestyle. It really does make sense to me that taking something out of your diet would eventually cause you to not want it so much--I have found this in attempting to cut out junk food and high fat foods, it's like you adapt and begin to crave new things. We like things that are familiar, us humans :)
As an aside, I always find it funny when you tell an omnivore that you're a vegan for the first time, and they inevitably say "oh you must have to take lots of supplements". What's funny I guess is that many people who have responded this way eat so much junk food, and vegetables are a part of their diets in the form of dehydrated peas in carrots found in soup packages. Yet this is considered completely normal and healthy.
Take care

Anonymous said...

just wanted to drop you a note saying thanks!!! i've been a lacto-ovo for a little over a year and finally, thanks in part to this blog, i've made the plunge into veganism.

i've been at it for three days now, which i suppose doesn't sound like much, but i feel better already! thanks for showing me that veganism can fit into a mainstream lifestyle!

MeloMeals said...

I don't get his assertion that vegans are more likely to have strokes because of high sodium intake linked to processed "meats".. the last I heard, the SAD is loaded with sodium due to the high amount of processed foods, so why would a vegan be more at risk than a meat eater? Am I missing something here?

Jennifershmoo said...

Hi, melody -- Dr. Fuhrman goes into more detail re. the elevated risk of strokes in veg*ans in this post from his blog:

"A number of studies both in Japan (where the high-salt had made stroke a leading cause of death) and in the West have illustrated that fewer animal products and a low serum cholesterol were associated with increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke."

Essie said...

Jennifer, if I understand his findings/conclusion correctly, vegan live longer then meat-eaters to begin with and have less chance of a heart attack. But to even extend this longevity vegans should watch their sodium intake.
"especially since they will often live longer and not have a heart attack first."

"Of course, excess sodium increases both heart attack and stroke death in all diet styles, but in a vegan, the high-salt diet is even more likely to rear its ugly head as a cause of late-life morbidity and mortality, especially since they will often live longer and not have a heart attack first."

scs said...

For those people turned off by Dr. Furhman's mention of his own products, all I have to say is, definitely read one of his books (I've read "Disease Proof Your Child" and have started "Eat to Live.") It will be very hard to see this man as self-promoting or a huckster of any kind after you read through the smart things he has to say about health. His compelling evidence and obvious good intentions shine through. Let's do our homework before wading into the guy.

Also, I don't see anything "cultish" about taking cues from a doctor who encourages your serious commitment to good health. The so-called cult I would actually be concerned about in this country is the one that preaches greed, gluttony, and blatant disregard for the future of our bodies and the planet. Okay, stepping off my soapbox now. :)

Web said...

I started following Dr. Fuhrman's dietary advice in January 2005 after I'd already lost 40 pounds on my own by basically avoiding soda pop and fast food. With "Eat to Live" I easily dropped another 20 pounds and have maintained my weight of 167 for the past 2 years, after reaching about 230 at my highest weight.

My BP has gone from 150/90 to 115/70, my waist size is 32, I play full-court basketball 3 times a week for an hour and a half, I lift weights for 45 minutes 3-4 times a week. I am 46 years old and feel pretty good thanks to the nutrient-dense diet recommended by Dr. Furhman. I know you can get thin with other nutritional plans but that doesn't make them healthy.

Rebwar said...

Dr. F's multivitamin in fairly unique. It contains no vitamin A and no Eat to Live to learn why he doesn't recommend these supplements, or visit his website and click on the vitamin tab for more info.
I went to my local Whole Foods store and they didn't carry a single multi that didn't contain 1 or both of these. As soon as I returned home, I ordered Dr. F's product.

Kris said...

I have to agree with Rebwar. I'm ordering Dr. F's vitamins as well. I wish he didn't come across as selling something to people. He has so much valuable information that I hope his mention of his products doesn't make people not implement the advice. People get really defensive when their salt and sugar intake is questioned. It really is an addiction. They'd rather make the doctor sound bad than try to do what he says. My whole family was omni and junk food addicts and in the last two weeks, we've become vegan and have been eating a pound of greens a day, as he suggests and we've never felt better. Including my 70 year old mother! My kids love his blended salad recipes.

He also sells fruit vinegars that are not found anywhere else and instead of adding oil to a salad, you can just use these really light vinegars and they're yummy. My take on it is that he and his wife created some recipes to go along with what research proves is healthy and now he sells them. Helpful, in my opinion.

Shell said...

Given that most vitamins and supplements sold in stores are "placebo" effect due to binding agents used to form the pill that prevent little if any nutrient absorbtion, I would be more prone to buy a superior product made by a doctor who understands the limitations of the 'cheap' ones. Dr. Furhman knows most other products are pretty much, ahem, "peeing" out your money. So as a doctor he has formulated a superior product. I see nothing wrong with that.

Shboogoo's Mommy said...

I've just found this, several years later. Thank you for sharing the interview. I love Dr. Fuhrman's book and have been trying to (my husband likes cheese and other "normal" things) Eat to Live since November 2010.

I agree with Rebwar and Hormonal Chick. Also, another person mentioned supplements for pregnant and lactating women. I've taken Dr. Fuhrman's Gentle Prenatal for about a year and a half -- since I became pregnant with our third child. It's interesting to me that this child is the happiest of any of our babies. I feel good, too. I am not completely vegan but I stay away from salt; I don't even like it anymore.