By Robert Gluck/JNS.org
While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.”
“There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make matters worse, the dollars spent in acute care vastly favors procedural rather than cognitive medicine.”
Fuhrman is best known for his popular 2011 book “Eat to Live,” which uses scientific evidence to make a case for how Americans should change their diets and that what they eat is, in fact, killing them.
“Out of one pocket we pay billions of our tax dollars to support the production of expensive, disease-causing foods,” Fuhrman writes. “Out of the other pocket, we pay medical bills that are too high because our overweight population consumes too much of these rich, disease-causing foods. Our tax dollars are actually used to make our society sicker and keep our health insurance costs high.”
Fuhrman—a member of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), author of six books, frequent PBS show host, and former world-class figure skater—tells JNS.org that he does not consciously apply Jewish values or any religious preference to his scientific decision making regarding preventing and treating disease with superior nutrition.
He was, however, featured in the film “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World,” a 60-minute JVNA documentary from 2007 that was written and produced by Lionel Friedberg. The film focuses on Jewish teachings about caring for the earth, treatment of animals, and the environment, with a focus on vegetarianism.
Americans, Fuhrman says, have a diet of mostly animal products and processed foods.
“Five percent of calories from fruits and vegetables isn’t sufficient,” he says. “The diet, to be healthy, has to be mostly fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. We have these weapons of mass destruction on every street corner and they’re called donuts, cheeseburgers, French fries, potato chips, junk food. Our kids are living on a junk food diet.”
According to Fuhrman, if people don’t change their diets, they can expect a shorter life, and if they do live into their golden years, they will have an increased likelihood of dementia and physical ailments.
Celebrities like singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette and primatologist Jane Goodall say they have been influenced by Fuhrman’s work.
In Goodall’s book, “Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating,” the famous chimp researcher notes, “In his excellent book on family nutrition and healthy appetizing recipes, ‘Disease-Proof Your Child,’ [Fuhrman] points out that we have been conditioned to believe that animal products are the best source of protein. In fact, peas, green vegetables, and beans have more protein per calorie than meat.”
Morissette, in a 2009 interview with People magazine, calls reading “Eat to Live” a “redefining moment” in her life. The singer had battled eating disorders her whole life and was mocked for being fat. After following Fuhrman’s lifestyle change and diet plan, she lost weight and exercised more, running 20 miles a week.
Fuhrman laments growing rates of obesity and diseases resulting from unhealthy diets in America, saying, “we’re destroying the land, we’re destroying people’s health, people are getting more sick, which is requiring more medical attention and care.”
“Our population can’t walk and can’t perform; it’s ruining their intellectual abilities on the job,” he tells JNS.org. “We cannot compete worldwide and we are paying so much for medical care costs. If we’re going to expect to compete in the world marketplace, and even to survive as a nation or as a species for hundreds of years, we have got to take better care of the Earth and our health.”
According to Mark Epstein, president of the National Health Association, Fuhrman presents a nutritional roadmap to optimum health.
“His information is painstakingly researched and supported, yet he presents the results with an easy-to-follow style,” Epstein says. “He states the facts and educates us to make the food choices that will help us overcome disease and regain health. His book ‘Eat to Live’ marks the beginning of a genuine, scientifically-based health revolution.”
“Eat to Live” is not just about counting calories and eating less, but also about protecting the body against disease, says the author.
“I go through the biology and the physiology showing how higher nutrient consumption suppresses appetite and reduces food addictions and food cravings,” Fuhrman says. “The diet I recommend is much more promotion of long life, heart attack protection, reduction of cancer risk, and prevention of dementia and strokes. It’s much more aggressive as far as disease protection.”
Fuhrman coined the word “nutritarian” for those who adopt a diet based on his simple formula: Health = Nutrients/Calories. Simply, your health is predicted by your nutrient intake divided by your intake of calories, in Fuhrman’s estimation.
“Your key to permanent weight loss is to eat predominantly those foods that have a high proportion of nutrients to calories. Every food can be evaluated using this formula,” he says.
Healthy food can also taste great, notes Fuhrman.
“You like what you get used to eating,” he says. “When you start eating healthy, you start liking it. It’s all about changing your habits and giving your taste buds a chance to adapt.”
Exercise is another key element to Fuhrman’s proposed “nutritarian” lifestyle. A former member of the U.S. World Figure Skating Team, Fuhrman placed second in the U.S. National Pairs Championship in 1973. He came in 3rd place at the 1976 World Professional Pairs Skating Championship in Jaca, Spain, with partner Gale Fuhrman. At nearly 60, he still enjoys physical activities, such as playing tennis and skiing.
“If we eat these foods that are dramatically protective, we can be protected,” Furhman says. “When you are protected, you feel well, you have energy, you maintain your youthful vigor, and you can live life and do what you want to do. You can exercise, you can climb mountains.”