Dr. Fuhrman Discusses Eat to Live

This spring, Dr. Fuhrman was interviewed by Marshall Glickman of Green Living Journal. The conversation gives an overview of the unique equation that underlies Dr. Fuhrman's approach (health = nutrition/calories), touches on the social challenges of healthy eating, and concludes with some meaningful news for those concerned about heart disease. With Mr. Glickman's permission, here is some of their conversation:

Thanks so much for the chance to ask you some questions, and especially for the huge amount of hours you've put into research. It seems hard to disagree with the formula Health = Nutrients/Calories. Can you flesh out your approach a bit, with a quick summary of what you advocate in Eat to Live?
Sure. There are a few points that together make the H = N/C approach unique. One is the concept of nutrient density; that is, as you start to meet the body's nutrient needs, it desires less food. This mean we're not going to crave food as much or want to eat as often.

Another is that when you eat foods that have toxic properties or that aren't healthy for you, they create addictive withdrawal symptoms once you stop eating them. Since those addictive withdrawal symptoms are relieved by frequent eating, they drive people to eat more frequently than is necessary. For example, if you stop drinking coffee, you get headaches. You can get rid of the headaches by breaking the caffeine habit or by drinking more coffee. Likewise, a diet that contains processed foods and trans fats, lots of saturated fats and plenty of salt is relatively toxic, and when you stop eating for a few hours, you start to feel lousy. Weakness, achiness, abdominal spasms, and headaches are not symptoms of true hunger. Like thirst, true hunger is felt in the throat, not the stomach. So the point is, in order to stop the addictive drives and perverted cravings that lead to compromised health and our current obesity epidemic, we must restore nutritional excellence. This puts people back in touch with the amount of calories they actually need. Dieting doesn't work because you are always fighting your addictive sensations.

Restoring nutritional excellence not only improves health, drops weight, and lowers cholesterol, once the perverted food cravings and addictions are gone, you can make appropriate connections between the body's natural signals--directing you to the right amount of calories needed to maintain an ideal weight. Otherwise, dieting becomes a guessing game of how much food to eat, measuring of calories, walking around starving all the time, and fighting against the natural drive to eat.

The third point is taste. As you start to eat more healthfully in a nutrient-dense diet, your taste adjusts itself so that you actually get more pleasure from eating, not less. That's why I say this is a knowledge-based system. You need to know that giving up some of your favorite, unhealthy foods requires only a temporary loss, but after a while you'll actually like this way of eating as much or more than your old way. When you're eating food that tastes good and aren't restricted on the quantity, you don't feel deprived.

What you're saying makes perfect sense; for example, in the past when I've stopped eating sugar, it's hard for a while, but then the cravings go away. After that, desserts that I used to like taste too sweet. But abstaining from treats can be hard to maintain. In part, because we're not in a culture that supports healthy eating. Even though I travel in reasonably alternative-lifestyle circles, as a mostly vegan, I'm considered a fringe pain in the palate. Do you have any ideas for maintaining healthy eating in a culture that's antagonistic to it?
Absolutely. This is exactly why I've spent the last couple years developing DrFuhrman.com. Because you're right, we are in a society where a person who eats sanely so as to maintain an ideal weight or be less likely to die of a heart attack is seen as being odd, where the people who are essentially killing themselves with food are in the majority. And it does help to get the emotional support of a community of like-minded people. There are also a lot of simple tricks and things we've learned from experience that help -- little things like making a big pot of vegetable bean soup once a week, taking plenty of extra food with you to work, or making great- tasting healthy desserts -- in other words, not putting yourself in a position where you're hungry when the only foods around you are unhealthy ones. Obviously it would be much easier if convenience foods and most restaurants catered to truly healthy eating. So it can be a hindrance. I know people who after months of eating only a nutrient-dense diet say, "I love the food and have dropped 50 pounds; the problem is that I have no friends anymore."

I haven't lost or even damaged friendships from being vegany, but it does seem at times that people are threatened or frustrated by someone who eats differently than they do.
I believe there are a couple of reasons for this. First, food has become a form of recreation and is often, understandably, a focus of social gatherings. When you say no to the foods others are eating, people can feel that you're saying no to them. So of course, when you pass on any food you don't want, it's always wise to do it in a thoughtful way. At times, though, the annoyance is a result of someone's food addictions. Like the alcoholic that doesn't want to drink alone, they may feel threatened if there is some suggestion that there's something wrong with the food they are eating.

I assume it's usually not a good idea to point this out to someone else.
Exactly. I don't expect to change the way the majority of people eat, but I do want to give a good, tasty option to those who want to eat in a way that protects them from cancer, heart attack, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

It's not just 51% of the population that has heart disease. Fifty-one percent of Americans will die of heart attacks and strokes, but 99% of the population that eats a typical American diet has some degree of atherosclerosis. And we can never know for sure which person is going to die or be permanently damaged by it. There's no medical test, cardio catheter, CT scan, or stress test that can tell you for certain that you're not going to have a heart attack. The only real way to protect yourself is by eating an ideal diet.

No doubt some are more susceptible to heart attacks than others. Is it true that heredity accounts for 20% of the likelihood that you'll become ill from something like heart disease? If so, how can one lower that 20% risk?
We all have different genetic weaknesses and various susceptibilities to various diseases. However, if the question is it possible to prevent disease among individuals who are highly susceptible, the answer is yes. Nutrition is such a powerful regulator of disease incidence that when an optimal diet is consumed through much of life, genetics will have little effect on the most common causes of death that we see in our society today.

Forget that 20% figure; it's really useless. Family history is almost meaningless when individuals utilize superior nutrition to avoid the nutritional causes of illness. What is not meaningless is risk factors and risk-factor reduction. When we look at people living a lifetime on healthy, natural vegetable- and fruit-predominant diets, none of them get heart attacks, period. Family history only matters when you follow the same disease-causing diet-style that your family did. Luckily we have learned the way to avoid these illnesses.

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jane Ross - October 21, 2005 2:37 PM

1) Do you recommend glucosamine sulfate for persons in their 50s who get lots of exercise?

2)In making blended salads, is it necessary to cut off all stems (such as stems found on spinach or arugula) or can you just put it all in the blender, stems and all. Including stems is a real time-saver for me. Do stems help you, hurt you, or make no difference?

Henry Abbott - October 21, 2005 3:25 PM

Dr. Fuhrman recently discussed glucosamine in the member section of his website, in response to a question about an arthritic knee. Here's the key excerpt: "The effect of glucosomine supplementation on knee arthritis has only been marginal in the medical literature and I am not convinced it will offer any benefit to those already eating healthfully. If you don't have any arthritis problems, I would not recommend it."

And as for the stems issue, a scan of the discussion boards in the member center reveals lots of differing views as to what makes a good blended salad. The main message seems to be: if you don't like it at first, tinker with the recipe. They can be delicious.

If your blender can handle it (Dr. Fuhrman is really into the super-tough Vita-Mix), I can't imagine they could hurt. You'll have to make some decisions about stems--most spinach and arugula has tiny stems that shouldn't pose a problem, but sometimes greens, even some arugula, has a beefier stem that can be easily removed.

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