Have you ever been to a health seminar? The Chicago Health Immersion Seminar, led by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, was my very first. Going in I was a bundle of questions. After all, what really happens at such a foreign sounding thing as a ‘health seminar’? Would it be some elusive club of fit Americans who all decided to be roadies and travel to every seminar on health? Is it smoke and lights, and just buy these supplements and live forever? I entered this new domain with much skepticism. After all, who was this man, Joel Fuhrman? Could he be trusted as a venerable leader in this field, shaping a diet that all could safely and healthfully live by?
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a world renown nutritional researcher, certified family physician, three-time NY Times best-selling author (Eat to Live, Super Immunity, The End of Diabetes), and the father of a style of eating, dubbed the nutritarian diet. When Lou and I arrived to the sold out event in the Grand Ballroom of the Rosemont Hilton in Northwest Chicago, I spotted him among those buying books and signing in. He stood comfortably and quietly, with a small yet sturdy stature, sporting youthful looking skin and a crown of dark grey hair. He seemed lightyears away from 59 years old. When the event began and he took the reigns of our attention, he filled the stage with a unique style that was 2 parts fierce intelligence, 1 part approachable warmth, and 1 part only-a-physician-would-say-that jokes. He was effective, and proved himself within moments to be a brilliant man, whose true calling was to know just exactly what ought we all to eat every day to live clear-minded, active lives?
I can’t share with you every ounce of information the seminar contained. You and I both wouldn’t make it through all that. But I do intend to share the things that struck me hardest.
Let us begin with the facts that ought to remind you why this discussion is still so important:
The United States has the worst HALE (Healthy Life Expectancy: Average number of years that a person can expect to live in “full health”) of developed nations (67.4 for women, 66.3 for men) yet we spend 2.5x more money (conservative estimate) on health care than any other developed nation. 17 cents of every U.S. dollar is currently going towards health care. And yet:
- We have less physicians per person (2.4 per 1,000 people, the OECD avg. is 3.1)
- A lesser number of hospital beds (2.6 per 1,000 people, OECD avg is 3.4)
- A lower total life expectancy than many other developed nations (women 80.5, men 78.6)
What does this mean? As a nation we are spending two and a half times more money than anyone else, yet most American women still lose their health around 67 years old, and spend an average of the last 13 years of their life succumbing to crippling chronic illnesses. Obviously the availability of funds is not the issue.
Something is broken here.
Dr. Fuhrman, and many other wise doctors and health advocates, believe it is what we eat. It is no secret that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is nothing to be proud of nutritionally (yet, emotionally it is like our next of kin.)
Does it burn your eyes to read that chart? Half of the meager 12% plant food category can be considered processed vegetable foods, like french fries and ketchup. This is how your average American Joe eats daily.
Because of this diet rich in processed foods and animal products (especially ones that are processed then later fortified with vitamins to seem adequate in nutrition) we have seen cancer rates grow each year, from 1945-1995, explosive amounts of autoimmune disease, and increases in neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Morbidity caused by diabetes, including diabetic foot, neuropathy, retinopathy, amputation, and chronic kidney disease are large and increasing. Half of all deaths in the U.S. per year are caused by either heart disease or cancer (HD: about 600,000 people. C: about 577,190 people) Basically, we are sick, and generally speaking, getting sicker each year.
So what is the equation to good health? Dr. Fuhrman actually has one.
H = N/C
Health = Nutrients/Calories. Simple enough, yes? Your lifelong health can be determined by how densely nutritious each calorie of food is that you eat.
This image is called an Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI). Foods that score highest on the ANDI are the ones we ought to east most often, and in the highest quantity. Those foods are rich in nutrients, phytochemials, minerals, and vitamins, all the things that fuel our cells and enrich our bodies. Anything low on this score is a food that does not promote health (H=N/C) and therefor should rarely be eaten.
A low-calorie, high nutrient diet does these things:
- Enhances cell’s ability to repair
- Reduces the body’s inflammatory response
- Suppresses genetic alterations
- Decreases free radicals in the body
- Slows metabolic rate
- Enhances DNA repair
- Removes toxins and free-radicals
Eating this way allows the natural processes within your very own body to be active in healing and maintaining you. You can heal yourself.
So what should a diet that aligns with H=N/C look like?
How does that strike you? As nutritarians, we ought to be consuming at least a pound of raw vegetables, a pound of cooked vegetables, 1 cup beans, 1-2 oz of raw nuts & seeds, and a pound of fresh fruit per day. I believe this diet recommendation to be the most wholesome and freeing– no calorie counting, no living in a state of constant hunger. You can eat after 7pm if you desire, and you don’t have to feel deprived.
Unlimited — green veggies, raw veggies, non-starchy cooked veggies, fresh fruit, beans, legumes
Limited Weekly — cooked starchy veggies, whole grains
Limited Rarely — animal products, whole fat dairy products, fish, processed oils, refined grains, sugars
A phrase may come to mind for some of you is, “Rabbit food.” Consider this: a rhinoceros can grow to weigh well over 7,000 lb. and lives mostly on leafy green plant foods. You will not wither away without steak.
Another alarming fact for all you vegetarians out there:
Two types of Strokes:
high cholesterol = high risk of embolic stroke
low cholesterol = higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke
Vegetarians (who generally have low cholesterol) are left more vulnerable to hemorrhagic stroke because they still consume high amounts of salt. Long term, eating high amounts of salt leads to stomach cancer and stroke, even for vegetarians.
My last exciting fact:
Studies have shown that altering an animal food from it’s natural state (skim milk, egg whites) actually increases it’s cancer causing properties. Fat and cholesterol are not to be singled out as enemies, and if you consume these foods (rarely) you ought to have them in their whole fat form. The fats are essential in their proper digestion.
So, there you have it. This is what I learned in an 8- hour seminar with Dr. Fuhrman, in a freaking crazy-condensed nutshell. It was a lot of information, but since I left I have been sticking to these guidelines, and have lost 5 pounds. Eating is simple and enjoyable (I actually look forward to the salads and soups I’ve been making) and would venture to say– yes it truly is the way we all ought to eat.
For far too long Americans have lived behind a veil, never fully admitting the implications our diet has had on society. We are hurting, from the inside out, and we cannot be healed by medications and surgeries alone. If you want to live a long life, and be functioning with the fullest capacity of mind and body, you will commit to living this way. We like to pretend the matter isn’t to important– isn’t so urgent– because that’s just human nature, we love to indulge our temptations. But I know each and every one of you wants to be able to dance to silly songs with your grandkids, or still be a wise and influential member of your community for as long as you are given. Truly, life is short. Be well, for the longest time.
My Simple Conclusion:
- Attend a Health Seminar every year. Human beings live in need of constant reminders to stay the path. With a yearly immersion you will learn new things you didn’t catch the last time, and be renewed in spirit over what you already know and believe.
- Set the bar for health high. We are fragile, broken people, and over time the bar will lower and lower on it’s own, because we allow exceptions and emotions to change our path. This information provides a clear basis for what is right, and if you decide to follow it you should follow it wholly, not with one foot in and one foot out in that sad wasteland of processed foods.
***This post is SO long, I’ve decided to share recipes in the coming days!