Recipes, not pre­scrip­tions

A grass- roots move­ment to pre­vent dis­ease and treat ill­ness with food.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - HEALTH - By BLAIR AN­THONY ROBERT­SON

WATCH tele­vi­sion for any length of time and you’re sure to see count­less com­mer­cials for pre­scrip­tion drugs. And whose ears don’t perk up when those spots end with a laun­dry list of po­ten­tial side ef­fects – ev­ery­thing from di­ar­rhoea to death?

Flu- like symp­toms? De­pres­sion? Sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies? Those, too.

But what if there were al­ter­na­tives to many of the pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions and over- the- counter drugs that treat what ails you?

In many cases, there are. By­pass the phar­macy and head straight to the gro­cery store. And when you get there, steer clear of pack­aged foods with a long list of in­gre­di­ents, most of which sound noth­ing like food.

Fresh vegeta­bles, fruits, whole grains and clean cook­ing without lots of added oils and salt can lower blood pres­sure and choles­terol, pre­vent or even re­verse heart dis­ease, com­bat di­a­betes, curb can­cer risks, re­duce in­flam­ma­tion and, in do­ing all that, trim your waist­line and give you more en­ergy.

If that sounds too good to be true, it might be be­cause for gen­er­a­tions now doc­tors have been more likely to write a pre­scrip­tion than sit you down for a primer on how to eat your way to op­ti­mal health. That’s chang­ing. Med­i­cal schools are plac­ing more em­pha­sis on nutri­tion ed­u­ca­tion. More doc­tors are urg­ing pa­tients to re­vamp their eat­ing habits.

And nu­mer­ous re­sources such as forksoverknives.com and nu­tri­tion­facts.org on­line have emerged in re­cent years to lay out the facts about the dire health risks of a poor diet and of­fer am­ple recipes to make this food- based cure seem palat­able, if not de­li­cious.

If you’re al­ready eat­ing a whole foods, plant- based diet that lim­its or skips fatty meats, dairy, sug­ary treats and pro­cessed foods, you’re in the mi­nor­ity.

The so- called Stan­dard Amer­i­can Diet – aptly short­ened to SAD – is laden with all kinds of bad and very lit­tle that’s good.

In his book The End of Di­et­ing, author and physi­cian Joel Fuhrman makes a strong case for over­haul­ing your di­etary habits, and in do­ing so, leav­ing the pre­scrip­tion drugs be­hind.

“The stan­dard Amer­i­can diet is killing us,” Fuhrman writes. “In­stead of pro­vid­ing us with our ba­sic needs for good health, it has pro­duced a na­tion where dis­ease and chronic ill­ness are con­sid­ered to be in­evitable and just an­other nat­u­ral con­se­quence of age­ing.

“By the time most Amer­i­cans reach the age of 50, they are al­ready hooked on pre­scrip­tion drugs, and al­most half of Amer­i­cans still die of heart at­tacks and strokes.

“You don’t have to be one of them. Twenty- eight mil­lion Amer­i­cans suf­fer from the crip­pling pain of os­teoarthri­tis. You don’t have to be one of them. Thirty- five mil­lion Amer­i­cans suf­fer from chronic headaches. You don’t have to be one of them. You sim­ply don’t have to be sick.”

In an in­ter­view, Fuhrman said the most ef­fec­tive way to lower your blood pres­sure, for in­stance, “is diet, not drugs”.

“When you use med­i­ca­tion to lower your blood pres­sure, you didn’t take the weight off the per­son and you didn’t make the blood ves­sel health­ier,” Fuhrman said.

The doc­tor says stud­ies show 90% of type 2 di­a­betes cases can be re­versed without med­i­ca­tion. The fix? “Take a big in­dex card and put it on the re­frig­er­a­tor – ‘ Salad is the main dish.’ Have a big salad once a day with a seed- based dress­ing,” he said. “Make a big pot of veg­etable bean soup or chili and have it all week long as one of the main dishes. Mak­ing beans your pri­mary source of pro­tein will ex­tend your life­span and is ef­fec­tive for re­vers­ing and pro­tect­ing against di­a­betes and heart dis­ease.

“Eat a healthy break­fast of oats, berries, nuts or muesli. If peo­ple ate a healthy break­fast and had a salad for lunch, it would change health­care in Amer­ica pro­foundly.”

Dr An­drew Klo­necke, a physi­cian spe­cial­is­ing in nu­clear medicine at Kaiser Per­ma­nente in Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia, used to con­sider him­self a foodie, so much so that he would try to visit the 50 best restau­rants ranked by Gourmet magazine.

But his eat­ing habits even­tu­ally caught up with him. By the time he was in his late 50s, Klo­necke’s health was at a se­ri­ous cross­roads.

“I was al­ways heavy. I had high choles­terol. I even found out I had di­a­betes,” Klo­necke said. “When I tried to al­ter my diet the old- fash­ioned way – con­trol your por­tions, use your willpower – I had some suc­cess, but my sugar lev­els and choles­terol were not ideal.”

He wound up hav­ing six- way by­pass heart surgery and was tak­ing pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion for high choles­terol, among other ail­ments.

“I had min­i­mal symp­toms and was an ac­tive per­son, but I ate very badly, mean­ing I ate a lot of rich foods. It was a diet high in an­i­mal pro­teins,” he said.

After the surgery, Klo­necke got rad­i­cal. He gave up meat. He avoided dairy. He turned his back on gourmet din­ing and em­braced the whole foods, plant- based way of eat­ing that con­tin­ues to inch its way into the main­stream. That was six years ago.

His wife, Kather­ine, adopted that way of eat­ing, too, even though she was in rel­a­tively good health. She cre­ated a web­site, ve­g­an­my­heart.com, to chron­i­cle their di­etary jour­ney and of­fer read­ers plant- based recipes.

“It was the re­al­i­sa­tion that I, as well as pretty much ev­ery­body I knew, was not eat­ing cor­rectly,” he said. “Once I was on a plant- based diet, my choles­terol was lower than when I was on statins. My di­a­betes dis­ap­peared. My weight is the same now as when I was a se­nior in high school.

“I re­gret that I didn’t do this 10 years ago. I wouldn’t have needed to have the by­pass.”

But if a highly ed­u­cated physi­cian had gone down the wrong path, nu­tri­tion­ally speak­ing, how are we to ex­pect the rest of Amer­ica to learn about and em­brace the right way to eat?

Rosane Oliveira, di­rec­tor of the in­te­gra­tive medicine pro­gramme at UC Davis, says it is of­ten the pa­tients, not the doc­tors, who lead the way for change in how dis­ease is treated. Cre­ated five years ago to fo­cus on how plant- based nutri­tion can pre­vent chronic dis­ease, her pro­gramme seeks to teach a new gen­er­a­tion of doc­tors to see food as a nec­es­sary com­po­nent of good medicine.

“Most med­i­cal schools will have around 14 hours of nutri­tion over four years. They are learn­ing the bio­chem­istry of nutri­tion but not how it re­lates to dis­ease or the re­ver­sal of dis­ease,” said Oliveira, who teaches a class called Lifestyle Medicine, which delves much deeper into the link between eat­ing well and liv­ing op­ti­mally.

For most peo­ple look­ing to im­prove their health, a rad­i­cal over­haul of one’s eat­ing habits can seem daunt­ing.

Oliveira sug­gests mak­ing one mean­ing­ful change each month. In fact, dur­ing the sec­ond month of her class, she asks the stu­dents to give up cheese or, bet­ter still, dairy al­to­gether.

“Over the course of a year, you’ve made 12 changes,” she said.

While she re­alises that a fo­cus on food for treat­ing or even cur­ing dis­ease has yet to reach crit­i­cal mass, Oliveira is con­vinced it’s the right pre­scrip­tion for Amer­ica.

“I be­lieve the shift is go­ing to come,” she said. “It has to be like ev­ery­thing else – a grass- roots move­ment. Why are more gro­cery stores car­ry­ing more plant- based foods? It comes from us ask­ing about it.”

the stan­dard Amer­i­can diet is killing us. In­stead of pro­vid­ing us with our ba­sic needs for good health, it has pro­duced a na­tion where dis­ease and chronic ill­ness are con­sid­ered to be in­evitable and just an­other nat­u­ral con­se­quence of age­ing. - Joel Fuhrman, author and physi­cian

Al­ter­na­tives to pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions may be found in gro­cery aisles. — TNS

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