Q&A with Joel Fuhrman


With all our cutting-edge technology and powerful drugs, and despite the sharp decline in the death rate, half of all Americans still die of preventable disease. Every year more than a million Americans suffer heart attacks, and almost as many more million suffer strokes — a life-changing, irreversible injury that may result in serious disabilities.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D., is a board certified family physician and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. He is the author of several books including The New York Times bestsellers Eat to Live; Super Immunity; The End of Dieting; and The End of Diabetes.

He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and research director of The Nutritional Research Foundation. He is also on the science advisory board of Whole Foods Market.

Fuhrman is coming to Hilton Head Island July 6-10 for his 8th annual Health Getaway at Sonesta Resort. The event will include lectures, healthy food and cooking lessons.

Hilton Head Monthly: We've been told to stay away from red meat, dairy and cheese — foods high in saturated fats—because saturated fat is bad for the heart. But today some people are arguing that sugar is the real culprit. What is the skinny on fat?

Joel Fuhrman: People are jumping on the notion that fat is not harmful but that’s not accurate or even helpful. It’s not a question of how much or little fat you eat, it’s a question of the quality of your diet: how much fiber, micronutrients, and phytochemicals – the nutritional quality of your diet. So switching unhealthy high-fat food for unhealthy low-fat food won’t make much difference.

HHM: Which do you think is the biggest cause of vascular disease — fat or sugar?

BESTSELLING NUTRITIONAL EXPERT BRINGS HEALTH GETAWAY TO HHIJF: Saturated fat from animal products does raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol; it’s a proven cause of disease. Studies show that if you replace saturated fats with nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, we see dramatic benefits. Beans and nuts are high in fat but also high in nutrients proven to be healthy.

Americans eat too many processed foods high in sugar — sweetened drinks, juice and sodas, white bread, white rice and white pasta — and too many animal products which can be high in saturated fat, increasing their chance of vascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Today the average American diet contains 60% processed foods; 30% animal products; 5% semi-processed foods; and only 5% fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts. Any time you increase the percentage of animal products in the diet, you increase your risk of disease. We can reverse diabetes; we can reverse heart attacks and strokes by eating healthy foods, and that means more whole plant foods and less processed foods and animal products.   

HHM: What do you think about eating animal products?

JF: It’s not controversial anymore that animal products increase breast and colon cancer, vascular disease and diabetes — thousands of studies prove it. I’m not suggesting that you have to be a vegan but I am saying that if you raise the quantity of animal products consumed, we see dramatic instances of growth factors that increase cancer and aging. We see advantages when people eat a whole foods diet and cut back on animal products. We have to eat fewer animal products — I would suggest only 5% of your diet. Above 10% we see increased disease risk; at about 20-30%, we see significant increases in heart attacks, strokes and cancers.    

HHM: According to a recent CDC report, diabetes, one of the chief contributors to vascular disease, is epidemic in the U.S.: almost 30 million Americans suffer from the disease. How can we prevent or reverse the trend?

JF: I wrote a bestselling book called The End of Diabetes; today hundreds of thousands of people with Type II diabetes are getting rid of it, not merely controlling it better. People completely reversed their diabetes from eating what I call a “Nutritarian” diet high in natural plant food — fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. We need to reduce processed foods, reduce animal products, and increase higher-density nutritious foods.  

HHM: Over the past decade, we’ve had a mind-boggling increase in what is fast emerging as the most serious and costly health problem in the U.S.: morbid obesity. About 35 percent or 72 million American adults are obese, and of that number, 7 million adults are morbidly obese, a health condition which substantially raises the risk of mortality (death) and morbidity (chronic disease). Our children are not immune from the epidemic; we’ve seen a 300 percent increase in overweight children in the U.S. How do we keep children healthy and free from obesity?

JF: Parents today are misinformed; we need to reeducate American families: studies show that eating processed, sweetened foods causes depression, lowers IQ, and increases criminal behavior and higher rates of disease. Our school mantra should be Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Nutrition. Families have to change the way they eat; they can’t change what the kid wants to eat. They have to change their environment. The entire family has to get rid of the junk food and commercial baked goods. I advocate an entirely different way of eating and cooking that tastes delicious. There may be a period of adjustment, but then taste buds will change to prefer healthier foods.   

HHM: From a behavioral standpoint, how do we get Americans to change their health habits? What do you do to motivate people?

JF: Food addictions are deadly. Adult food cravings and addictions, including their emotional dependence, take weeks to change. Children recover faster. We need to reawaken our taste buds to whole foods. It’s not a burden, it’s a blessing! It’s a pleasure to be free of disease and live longer! I motivate people by giving them the potential for a healthier and happier life, free of the tragedy of disease that afflicts almost all other Americans. And, I show them it can taste great, too. Then the results speak for themselves to keep them on track because they love the way they feel.