Maybe he’s just another hawker wanting to sell books or sit next to Oprah, or maybe he’s got it right. Joel Furhman is a doctor and up and coming weight loss healthy eating guru. I’m now reading one of his earlier books, Eat to Live, from 2003 and here’s his proposition in a nutshell: Make the overwhelming bulk of your diet nutrient-dense foods and you’ll avoid disease, particularly heart disease and cancer, your diabetes’ symptoms may go away if you’re type 2, your blood pressure and cholesterol will lower and you’ll lose weight and maintain a “normal” body weight. Furhman says most of our weight, ills and diseases come from our (profit-making-big-business) unhealthy American diet which is high in fat, refined carbohydrates and calories and low in nutrient-dense foods, leaving us hungry, unsatisfied, fat and unhealthy.
Further, our most recent mania to control portions is like putting a band-aid on a levy that’s bursting; limiting our portions of non-nutritive food may cut some calories but it still leaves us nutritionally deficient with over stimulated appetites. He says if you have type 2 diabetes you can eradicate insulin resistance using his eating plan, if you have type 1 you can dramatically lower your insulin requirement. And I believe him. It seems common sense to me that the over-processed, packaged, chemically-formulated and steroid-pumped, refined junk we eat causes weight gain and disease.
Furhman just hates the food pyramid the U.S. Department of Agriculture rolls out each year and proposes one of his own. Drum roll please: our personal food pyramid’s bottom, the foundation of our diet, should be built on vegetables and leafy greens, then fruit, beans and legumes, whole grains, with the top of the house giving us a trickle of non-fat diary, animal protein and healthy fats derived from foods like nuts and avocado. If you think you’ve heard this a million times, his USP (unique selling proposition) is he rates foods according to their nutrient density. Something by the way is going to soon make an appearance in supermarkets. But what I found compelling was Furhman’s forceful argument, continue to eat unhealthy foods and your sickening yourself every day, want to truly “fortify” yourself against disease? Do it with food, not drugs. Highlights from his book:
1. Olive oil is not the miracle drug we all thought, 97% of its fat will go straight to your hips so use it limitedly.
2. Leafy greens like salad greens and green vegetables are 1/2 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/4 fat. Who knew? You don’t need to eat a side of beef to get enough protein if you’re eating lots of veggies.
3. If you’re eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies you’re getting enough water. 8 glasses a day, fugedabout it, 3 is plenty!
4. Furhman agrees, don’t be fooled be foods that say “fortefied.” A spray of folic acid won’t do it.
5. Animal protein whether white, as in chicken or red, as in beef is equally disease causing. Fish is better but even fish should only be eaten 2xweek and mercury-free.
6. Don’t worry about getting the right mix of veggies and beans etc. on your plate to get your protein covered, eat this healthy way and you will.
Mind you, always, any significant change in your eating plan may create a change in your blood sugars, which means a change in your medication–and I guarantee you if you follow this plan you will definitely need less medicine, whether you’re on orals or insulin. So, be alert and discuss this with your health care provider. If you have a condition like kidney disease you may not be able to eat enough veggies, fruits, nuts and legumes for this to work for you, so please don’t undertake this without consulting with a professional. Also if you have vitamin or mineral deficiencies talk with a professional before making any dietary changes.
You might call this a super-charged slightly left of center vegetarian eating plan, but many vegetarians rely on refined carbs and saturated fats like pasta, crackers, pretzels and cheese, which are not nutrient-dense, whereas this plan is mostly vegetables, fruits and beans. Whole grains, healthy fats and animal protein are parceled out according to your weight loss goals.
Of course, restaurants and social outings are harder to maneuver than home cooking, so he proposes using outings as a time when you indulge a little. If you’re living in this century, time is the other nasty. Who has much time to shop and prepare vegetarian meals? Furhman offers recipes, but darn, somebody’s got to make them. I mostly do the simplest thing: steam an assortment of fresh veggies every night for dinner, lunch is a spinach salad with beans, left over veggies from the night before and a little feta cheese. Breakfast is steel cut oats.
If you want to really get healthier and drop some pounds read the book, try the diet and see what you think. Wouldn’t it be remarkable to shed those 20 pounds forever, really feel full and satisfied, and watch your health transform, including your energy and outlook?
End note: I will be away this week at the American Association of Diabetes Educators annual conference in Washington D.C. I am not an educator or any other type of medical professional, merely a lay person interested in knowing what educators are learning, talking about, being taught, where their struggles are with patients, what they see for the future and will let you know.