An Interview with Dr. Fuhrman: Eat to Live

Feb 6, 2013 by

eat to liveCynthia Kleyn Kennedy and Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Dr. Fuhrman, can you first tell our readers a bit about yourself, your background, and experiences?

I am a board certified family physician and nutritional researcher, and I have been practicing nutritional medicine and studying the scientific literature on nutrition for over 20 years. Working with my patients, I have seen the self-healing power of the body, as long as we give it the right foods. My life’s mission is to let everyone know that heart disease and diabetes are preventable and reversible diseases, that aging doesn’t have to mean living in pain or on medication; and to teach people how to take control of their health destiny.

My patients and readers who follow my nutritarian eating style experience permanent weight loss and a shift in their food preferences – they prefer high-nutrient food no longer desire their old low-nutrient foods. Thousands have lost weight, kept it off, and regained their health and their youth. Many people have lost more than 100 lbs. and thousands reversed serious chronic diseases. On the Success Stories section of my website, you can read the stories of many who have recovered from serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, migraines, and autoimmune diseases using my dietary recommendations.

2) What initially got you interested in diet and nutrition?

I was interested in nutrition even as a teenager as I saw my father recover from serious illness by changing his diet. Then when I was on the U.S. World Figure Skating Team in the early 1970’s, I ate healthfully for better stamina and to infections that could derail training. I read extensively on nutrition for the last 40 years, and decided to go back to medical school to further pursue this career path, knowing all along that superior nutrition had powerful benefits for individuals and society.

3) What is wrong with the TYPICAL American Diet?

The typical American diet is made up primarily of processed foods and animal products – high-calorie foods that do not provide a significant micronutrient load and fuel disease processes. Only about 5 percent of calories in the American diet come from unrefined plant foods such as vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds – foods with a significant quantity of protective phytochemicals. As a result, the American diet is grossly deficient in disease-fighting, plant-derived compounds. When the human body doesn’t have the raw material it needs to function properly, the body ages prematurely and becomes vulnerable to disease.

The high-calorie, low-nutrient foods characteristic of the American diet are more than just empty calories. They are disease-causing, weight-gain-promoting, and addictive. Meats cooked at high temperatures produce toxins that can cause carcinogenic changes in the colon; and red and processed meats are now considered a cause of colon cancer. High animal protein consumption also raises blood concentrations of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone that promotes tumor growth and is associated with increased risk of several cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. Refined carbohydrates – white flour, white rice, sugars, etc. – are just as dangerous. Their high glycemic load causes dangerous spikes in blood glucose that increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.

These high-calorie, low-nutrient foods activate pleasure pathways in the brain, similar to addictive drugs, and produce withdrawal symptoms often misinterpreted as hunger, leading to an addictive drive to eat more. It is almost impossible to maintain a healthy weight on a typical American diet.

To be in excellent health, your diet must be rich in micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals) and you must not overeat on calories. I demonstrate this relationship with the equation H=N/C (Health equals Nutrients divided by Calories). This simple formula is the basis of nutritional healing; it means that your future health can be predicted by the micronutrient per calorie density of your diet.

Eating a high-nutrient (nutritarian) diet, primarily composed of whole plant foods, is the key to longevity and a healthy weight. The foods with the highest nutrient to calorie ratio are leafy green vegetables, followed by other vegetables, beans, and fruits. Nuts and seeds are higher in calories, but nutrient-rich and essential for excellent health.

4) Let’s talk meat and fish—how much of each does the human body need? And are there differences?

I mentioned the health hazards associated with animal products earlier. These are not health-promoting foods. Also note that fish is not the health food it is believed to be by most people. Fish is one of the most polluted foods we eat, and these pollutants, including mercury, can remain in the body for decades, resulting in a higher risk of serious diseases. Fish consumption is also associated with breast cancer in women in some studies, likely due to exposure to more pollutants. You can get the beneficial fatty acids usually obtained from fish from algae-based supplements instead, without the excess animal protein, and pollutants. Similarly, vitamin B12, which is scarce in plant foods, can be easily supplemented.

The human body thrives on a diet primarily composed of natural plant foods. Provided that 90 percent of calories come from unrefined plant foods, there is some room in a healthful diet for a small amount of animal food, for those who desire to include it. I recommend limiting animal products to just a few servings per week, used as a condiment rather than as the focus of a meal.

5) In your program, you emphasize 3 meals a day, whereas many health advocates seem much inclined to encourage 6 smaller meals a day, the idea of eating small amounts every couple of hours to stabilize and/or encourage better functioning of metabolism; why the difference?

I don’t recommend snacking between meals. After the body has finished digesting food, it can divert its efforts toward beneficial detoxification processes. If we eat too often, we miss out on these benefits. Plus, in order to reach our ideal weight, we need to get back in touch with our bodies’ true hunger signals – most Americans don’t know what hunger feels like; they eat according to addictive drives, and they eat too much and too frequently, causing them to consume too many calories. Most people do not get truly hungry more than three times a day – if they do, it is most likely toxic hunger, not true hunger. The standard American dietary habits are so stressful to the detoxification systems of our liver and kidneys that we start to get withdrawal symptoms the minute digestion finishes. I call this “toxic hunger.” Eating six meals a day may mitigate these symptoms, but it is not health-promoting.

You simply will not need to eat so frequently once your body is well nourished with micronutrients – toxic hunger will disappear. Eating right removes cravings and reduces the sensations driving us to eat too frequently and too much. For most people who follow a high-nutrient diet-style, eating when truly hungry means eating three meals a day.

6) There is a great deal of talk of “gluten-free” eating these days; what is your opinion of the dangers of gluten?

The “dangers” of gluten are only dangerous to those who are allergic or otherwise sensitive to gluten. Gluten sensitivity is common among sufferers of autoimmune diseases, so I do recommend that those individuals avoid gluten.

Gluten-free eating is being touted as a weight-loss tool, probably because many processed gluten-containing foods promote weight gain; all white flour products, for example, contain gluten. However, it is not the gluten that causes weight gain, it is the huge load of calories with almost no fiber or phytochemicals. Gluten-free processed foods (breads, crackers, pastas, baked goods, etc.) are generally just as calorie-dense and nutrient-poor as the gluten-containing versions.

Whole grains that contain gluten and whole grain-based breads and pastas are acceptable foods for many but may hinder weight loss in some. Certainly nutritional features of squash and beans are advantageous for those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome. For this reason, I recommend focusing on beans and other legumes rather than whole grains, not because of any danger of gluten, but because beans and lentils are more nutritious and more effective for diabetes and weight loss – beans are more satiating, more fiber-rich and have a lower glycemic load compared to grains.

7) With your strong advocacy of the whole food, plant-based diet, is there any way to counteract the negative effects of pesticide contamination for those with little or no access to organic foods?

It is still an unanswered question, whether the low level of pesticides on our fruits and vegetables presents us with any significant risk. We do know, however, from the many studies performed on conventional (pesticide-treated) produce that greater consumption of vegetables and fruits is associated with lower rates of cancer and other diseases. In other words, the health benefits of eating phytochemical-rich produce greatly outweigh any potential risk of pesticide residues. It is better to eat pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables than to not eat fruits and vegetables at all. However, it is also wise to minimize our pesticide exposure.

Check the Environmental Working Group’s website for the most updated “dirty dozen” list – the types of produce with the most pesticide contamination. If you do buy the conventional versions of these foods, it is best to wash them with soap and remove the skin before eating them. Another important thing to remember, is that by focusing on whole plant foods, you automatically reduce your pesticide exposure because pesticides are more concentrated higher on the food chain; animal foods have far more pesticides and chemicals within them compared to fruits and vegetables.

8) Any ideas as to how we proceed to effectively convince others about the critical importance of improving the American diet?

I find that those who do not want to be convinced will not be. Most people make their food choices based on emotions and addictive drives, not based on logic, science and reason. Unhealthy foods are addictive, and addicts will usually find excuses and rationalizations to continue their habits. In short, many people will ignore this information regardless of how it is presented. If you are an example of excellent health, those that are interested in improving their health will approach you and ask questions. However, we are seeing a growing interest in healthier eating all over America today and I am encouraged by this direction of travel.

9) There are those who feel that the MAIN problem in America is too much stress- Can we balance diet, exercise while diminishing stress?

Stress, like a poor diet and lack of exercise, contributes significantly to disease risk. Many people don’t make the lifestyle changes they need to make because they think that it will be too difficult or stressful to prepare the right foods. As humans we naturally want what is best for us, yet we also fear change, and this can create a stressful mind state. Sadly, this usually results in continuing an eating style that places substantial stress on the body.

Some simple time management strategies are useful when transitioning to a high-nutrient eating style, to mitigate the mental discomfort. Planning ahead helps to put your mind at ease; figure out ahead of time when you will shop for groceries, when you will cook, and when you will exercise. Of course, exercise itself also alleviates stress. Cook in large batches for several meals at a time. Utilize frozen fruits and vegetables and pre-washed salad greens to save time. Over time, this way of eating will become easier and eventually routine.

Also, don’t forget that food has effects on one’s mental state. Several studies have confirmed that healthful foods promote feelings of calmness and wellbeing, and that low-nutrient foods are associated with negative mood states.

10) You have a number of educational materials. Can you describe a few?

I’ve written six books as of now. In Eat to Live, I describe now to use the concept of nutrient density to achieve your ideal weight without hunger or deprivation, and reduce your disease risk in the process. Super Immunity explains how a properly fueled immune system protects us against cold, flu, other infections and even cancers. It also discusses my list of super foods, G-BOMBS: greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. My newest book, The End of Diabetes informs readers that diabetes does not have to shorten one’s life span or result in life-threatening complications. It outlines a dietary and exercise program to prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes. With this approach, both type 1 and type 2 diabetics can maintain excellent health and quality of life into old age. Women with gestational diabetes can reverse their disease, have a healthy pregnancy and prevent type 2 diabetes later in life.

11) Do you have a web site where our readers can get more information?

Yes, readers can find more information at


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