by Sandy Pukel
Michael Greger, MD is a licensed general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition as well as an internationally recognized professional speaker on many public health issues, including nutrition, food safety and public health. A founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Greger also serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States.
In 2011, He launched NutritionFacts.org, a nonprofit, science-based public service that provides free daily videos and articles on the latest in nutrition research. An instant New York Times bestseller, his latest book How Not to Die (2015) examines the top 15 causes of premature death in America (such as heart disease and diabetes) and explains how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can sometimes trump prescription pills and other pharmaceutical and surgical approaches in helping us live longer, healthier lives.
Why is it so hard for people to change their eating habits even when the science is there to support the change?
Great question! Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “It is easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet.” (I presume she meant to include women in this statement, too.) Intellectually, we often know what science says is best for us: healthy eating, exercise, getting adequate sleep and avoiding tobacco and alcohol. However, food is more than an intellectual idea; how we eat is deeply dependent on our culture and how our friends, family and colleagues eat. If you look at the five areas on the globe (called the Blue Zones) where the longest-lived people in the world live, you will notice that they not only eat a predominantly whole food plant-based diet (WFPBD), but they also live in communities that support each other’s healthy habits. So sometimes without social support, eating a plant-based diet in an animal-eating culture can be isolating. That’s why I encourage new plant-eaters to find a community of people to start on this adventure together. I also recommend going to local WFPBD events to find new sources of inspiration and support.
What do you tell people who are skeptical that heart disease can be reversed in most patients without drugs and surgery?
Inherent in being a good scientist is also a healthy sense of skepticism. So, I certainly welcome skepticism in all forms. However, in the case of heart disease, the science is quite clear. A WFPBD is the only diet that’s ever been proven to prevent, arrest and even reverse heart disease in the majority of patients. I’ve made several NutritionFacts.org videos about heart disease. All my videos include my primary sources, including Dr. Dean Ornish’s landmark heart trial published in The Lancet in 1990. This was the study that finally clobbered me over the head and made me realize that the hamburger I was holding in my hand probably wasn’t going to help me live a long, healthy life. This study should have been front page news but apparently the most solid science wasn’t sexy enough for the popular press.
How do you support and influence medical students in learning about the power of food?
Well, I’ll answer this in two parts. First of all, I continue to speak at medical schools and medical conferences. There are even a number of medical conferences dedicated to whole food plant-based nutrition now. Two that I present at almost every year in the U.S. are the American College
of Lifestyle Medicine and the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare conference. Additionally several medical schools and allied health programs have started including my evidence-based book about food as medicine (How Not to Die) in their curricula. The second part of my answer is that thanks to the advent of the internet and the democratization of readily available, peer-reviewed, evidence-based nutrition research, patients are now frequently teaching their doctors about the power of a WFPBD. In fact, many of the plant-based docs I meet these days tell me that it was a patient who reversed or improved a common disease (such as Type 2 Diabetes) by adopting a WFPBD that helped the doc to see the power of food. So in that way, NutritionFacts.org offers a free resource that patients can share with their healthcare providers to help update everyone on the latest in nutrition science.
Greger is a presenter on the upcoming Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise, Feb. 15 to 25, 2018. For more information, call 800.496.0989, email [email protected] or visit HolisticHolidayAtSea.com. See ad page 29.