On The New Potato, we love divulging diet and wellness advice from some of our favorite doctors and nutritionists. Rarely though, do we get to ask them about their personal routines and opinions. Today, we’re talking to Dr. Joel Fuhrman; we trust him to debunk fad diets, explain micronutrients, and help us get over our snacking habits. He gave us the scoop on his daily diet, eating lose weight and improving our energy. We promise, you’ll want to add his recommended foods to your grocery list ASAP…
What’s your personal diet like? What do you typically eat in a day?
I eat a quick and easy-to-prepare diet, and I eat simply. Most days I eat steel cut oats, with berries, seeds and walnuts for breakfast. I usually take my vegan DHA and other supplements with breakfast too. For lunch, I have a huge salad including a dressing (made from nuts and seeds – not oil), topped with some beans (or with a vegetable bean soup on the side), and some fruit. There are some delicious seed and nut-based dressing recipes in my books and on my website; these healthy whole food fats are important – they help your body absorb phytonutrients from the veggies and prolong lifespan. I usually start dinner with raw vegetables (usually that I grow myself) and a healthy dip, and have a cooked vegetable-based main dish – often with beans or tempeh, wok greens, onions and mushrooms served with a nut-based cream sauce. Sometimes I have one fresh fruit or a fruit-based dessert, like a berry sorbet.
What foods give you the most energy?
Foods that give you the most energy are the most unhealthy (calorically dense). Only foods that are unhealthy provide people with bursts of energy. People who eat healthfully don’t need to eat special foods for energy; they have full energy available to them all waking hours because they are healthy and they get enough sleep.
Food addicts and unhealthy eaters feel the detoxification low after digestion is finished, so they look to eat for energy, even though they are already overeating calories. This inevitably leads to being overweight and unhealthy. To sum this up, when you are eating a plant-rich, nutrient-dense ‘Nutritarian’ diet you no longer need to overeat just to feel okay. If a person needs to eat to keep their energy up, you can be certain they are not eating healthfully.
Are there any foods and drinks that are cancer-preventative? If so, what are they? Can you give us a sentence about each?
The phytochemical density, micronutrient density and diversity of the diet offers the most dramatic protection against cancer. Following a high-nutrient diet rich in G-BOMBS (Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, Seeds) protects against many chronic diseases, cancer included. Green vegetables and mushrooms are the most powerful anti-cancer foods. Vegetables and fruits have been consistently associated with both reduced risk of cancer and improved survival of cancer patients. Cruciferous vegetables contain powerful anti-cancer compounds that halt the growth of cancer cells. Mushrooms block tumor growth and have anti-estrogenic activity – regular consumption of mushrooms – as little as one mushroom per day – has been shown to decrease breast cancer risk by up to 60%. Organosulfur compounds in onions and garlic also prevent the development of cancers by detoxifying carcinogens, halting cancer cell growth, and preventing tumors from obtaining a blood supply.
Are there any foods that you will never eat? What are they?
Barbecued meat, processed meat, and commercial red meat. These foods contain a number of potentially carcinogenic substances, such as N-nitroso compounds in processed meats and heterocyclic amines in high temperature cooked red meats. Actually, every type of meat (not just red meat) produces carcinogenic compounds when cooked at a high temperature. Red and processed meat consumption is now considered a convincing cause of colon cancer. Furthermore, several studies have linked higher red meat consumption to an earlier death. Too much animal protein in general also raises blood levels of IGF-1, a hormone linked to increased cancer risk and worsening of diabetes
Full-fat dairy products (cheese, butter, whole milk, ice cream) and trans fats (margarine). These are dangerous, calorie-dense foods that are loaded with saturated fat, contributing to weight gain, elevated cholesterol levels, reduced insulin sensitivity, and several cancers. Of all animal products, milk has the greatest IGF-1-raising effect, potentially increasing cancer risk.
Fried foods and baked goods. In addition to the empty calories provided by cooking oils, high heat cooking (including frying) of starchy foods (French fries, potato chips, crackers, cookies, muffins, breakfast cereals, etc.) produces acrylamide, a toxic and potentially cancer-promoting substance. In addition, these cooking methods produce advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which contribute to diabetes complications.
Soft drinks, sugars, and artificial sweeteners. Sugary foods and soft drinks produce dangerous spikes in blood glucose and there is also substantial evidence that these elevated blood glucose levels contribute to the development of cancer. Contrary to popular belief, artificial sweeteners are not the answer and not even helpful for weight loss. Sweetened foods enhance appetite and weight gain (even if the calories from the sweetener are insignificant) and perpetuate the desire for excessively sweet foods.
Processed foods, white flour products, and white rice. Most processed foods are primarily a combination of refined grains, sugar, and oil. These foods do more than simply add a few extra calories; they can produce harmful nutritional deficits and cellular inflammation. Devoid of fiber and stripped of vital nutrients, they act in the body just like sugar, rapidly elevating blood glucose while providing almost no micronutrient value, promoting diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Can you give us a few tips for people looking to lose a little weight?
The first step should be to take the focus off macronutrients and shift your focus to micronutrients. It is not the ratio of carbohydrate, protein, and fat that determines our health. Eating more micronutrient and phytochemical-rich food naturally suppresses the desire to overeat calories. That means eating more salads, steamed green vegetables, bean dishes and bean soups, nuts and seeds and fruit-based deserts. When you focus on and achieve micronutrient adequacy by consuming a variety of plant foods, you lose your cravings and addictive drive to overeat. Before you put something in your mouth, ask yourself:
1. Is the food a whole, natural, plant source of calories?
2. Is it packaged with fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals?
3. Does it contain the undiscovered, but beneficial, nutrients that are lost when food is processed?
In other words, more plants and less animal-based foods, and stay away from highly processed foods of all types (and that means oil too).
Is there any one diet that you try to follow or recommend most to your patients? What is it & why do you recommend it?
I coined the term Nutritarian as an eating style that is very dense in micronutrients per calorie. This puts vegetables at the foundation of my food pyramid, followed by fruits, beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains. As a food becomes less nutrient dense, it is consumed in smaller quantities in the diet. For instance, animal products contain only small amounts of micronutrients per calorie and lack the disease protective phytochemicals found in natural plant foods, so I recommend that they be consumed only in small quantities. On the other hand, cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage contain powerful anti-cancer compounds and contain little calories and can and should be eaten in unlimited quantities. The key to not only longevity, but also healthful and sustained weight loss and disease protection is to eat predominantly those foods that have a high proportion of nutrients compared to calories. It is important to understand my health equation, which is the foundation of nutritional science:
H=N/C Or Health=Nutrients/Calories
I call this concept the nutrient density of your diet. You can determine if a food is healthy or not-so-healthy based on how much fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and other unnamed (or yet to be discovered) nutrients it contains in proportion to its calories. By evaluating the foods you choose to consume against my health equation you can grade food quality, create menus, and make food choices that support excellent health and longevity. It’s very easy to determine which foods have the highest nutrient density, and this information makes you an expert in nutrition. By consuming sufficient nutrient dense foods you optimize your health, prevent disease and maintain a healthy slim waistline. My health equation is truly longevity supporting, while at the same time allowing you to effortlessly achieve an ideal weight and dramatically reduce your risk of disease.
What is your opinion on fad diets?
Most fad diets are unhealthy, and most people who follow them end up gaining all their weight back. High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets are likely the most dangerous as they raise IGF-1 too high and animal products contain no antioxidants and phyto-chemicals. This combination increases cancer risk, so you may lose some weight, but it will be at the expense of your long-term health such as developing breast or prostate cancer. The vast preponderance of evidence in modern epidemiology shows that those who eat more whole plant foods and fewer animal products and processed foods have lower rates of chronic disease and longer lifespans. Portion-control diets also fail because they require eating smaller quantities of foods that are too low in micronutrients and are inherently addictive, which is unsustainable in the long term. There are other fad diets, such as The Blood Type Diet which are gimmicks based on tricking people with scientific-sounding explanations. A Nutritarian diet-style is different. It is based on eating foods that have been determined by an overwhelming amount of science to be health and lifespan promoting. In my book, The End of Dieting, I discuss the problems with several popular fad diets at length.
Are there any foods we should be eating every day? What are they?
My list of super foods goes by the acronym G-BOMBS: G-greens, B-beans, O-onions, M-mushrooms, B-berries (and pomegranate), S-seeds/nuts. I encourage people to make these foods staples, ensuring that G-BOMBS are incorporated into their regular food choices. These foods are extremely effective at preventing chronic disease and promoting health and longevity, and have been extensively researched for their beneficial health effects.
Is there a way to snack mindfully? What snacks are doctor-approved?
None, snacking shortens the lifespan. Snacking is generally eating for recreation, when not truly hungry. Studies demonstrate the more frequently people eat, the more likely they are to be overweight. The more frequently you eat, especially if eating after dinner and spending less time in the non-feeding stage at night, the higher your risk of various cancers. After the body has finished digesting food, it can divert its efforts toward beneficial detoxification and healing processes. If we eat too often, we miss out on these benefits. Plus, snacking leads to excess calorie consumption; in order to reach and remain at our ideal weight, most people need to eat less frequently, finish dinner earlier, and not eat between dinner and bedtime. If a person has real hunger due to regular heavy physical exertion, the foods they choose to eat between meals should be fruits and vegetables.
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