When it comes to diet, many people make bargains with the devil: If I eat this piece of cake tonight, I’ll run an extra mile tomorrow.
But nutritional expert Dr. Joel Fuhrman argues that kind of approach isn’t the best way to stay healthy and avoid heart disease – the nation’s No. 1 killer.
Fuhrman, who just published his sixth New York Times bestselling book, “The End of Heart Disease: The Eat to Live Plan to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” also makes a strong case that prescription drugs and surgery are not the only way to prevent or deal with heart disease.
Even extra exercise doesn’t always improve cardiac health as much as we think it should. In his opinion, if people followed a nutrient-rich diet they can experience near-reversal of heart disease – something that neither surgery nor drugs can claim.
“People think that meds make them OK,” he says “But their risk continues to get worse. My contention is that if people had informed consent, and if they understood the risks of meds and surgery, millions would embrace diet change.”
What’s more, Fuhrman maintains that more than 95 percent of heart-disease related deaths are preventable – “and that is a conservative estimate,” he adds.
People who smoke, or are involved in other risky behaviors like a poor diet, should do so with the full knowledge of risks, he adds.
For instance, calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure and statins both increase the risk of breast cancer. Once you have a stent in your heart, you are at greater risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
“It’s like a Band-Aid,” he says. “This would be OK if people were given all the options; otherwise we are imposing these things on people.”
His new book is based on extensive studies and evidence of how a diet rich in nutrients – which he calls a “nutritarian diet” – can decrease heart disease. Fuhrman’s book is also supported by his recent groundbreaking study, published in The Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
“There is a preponderance of evidence supporting a nutritarian diet,” he says.
His three-step plan involves these strategies:
• Get rid of high-glycemic foods like white bread, sugar, and refined carbohydrates that boost blood sugar and increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions.
• Eat a diet rich in "natural foods like vegetables, including healthy fats found in fish, nuts, olive oil, and certain vegetables, such as avocadoes. “The full rainbow of veggies – the full spectrum – is full of phyto-chemicals that benefit the heart,” he says.
• Change the types of fats you use. Make your salad dressings, for instance, by blending nuts and seeds, roasted garlic, and balsamic vinegar.
• Limit animal products, including meat, pork, fish, eggs, and chicken. “Americans eat 21 servings a week of animal products when 3 servings would be much better,” he says. Reducing the intake of animal products significantly would reverse heart disease.
Fuhrman argues that we should think of the food we eat as medicine.
“Diet is not just preventive, but therapeutic,” he explains. “After a short period of time – it doesn’t take years – you will see benefits.”
One major obstacle to eating a healthier diet is the fact that that sugar affects dopamine and brain chemistry, which boosts cravings for unhealthy foods.
“People want the ice cream and cake. It’s possible for motivated people to make change, but you have to change your taste buds which takes three to six months,” Fuhrman notes.
Although some people won’t adopt a nutritarian diet, Fuhrman feels that it is the obligation of doctors to give them this information.
Fuhrman – a board-certified family physician and research director of the Nutritional Research Foundation – recommends the following tips for adopting a nutritarian diet:
• Make one meal a day a salad.
• Make a big pot of vegetable bean soup and put it in five containers for the week ahead.
• Try healthy desserts like a cake made of pineapple, banana, carrots, and beets.
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