Ever wish you could sit down with one of the top plant-based health experts and just ask as many questions as you could possibly think of? I do too, yet whenever I’ve gotten a sliver of that kind of opportunity in the past, I’ve forgotten everything I wanted to ask (I never get starstruck living in LA, but meeting people I admire in the food world gets me tongue-twisted…nerd alert). Enter “Food Over Medicine: A Conversation That Could Save Your Life,” a new book by Dr. Pamela Popper (executive director of The Wellness Forum) and author Glen Merzer (who co-authored the books Mad Cowboy, No More Bull, Better than Vegan, and Unprocessed). The entire book is a conversation between these two, with Glen leading the discussion, and it’s awesome. The conversational format makes it feel like you’re sitting in the room with the two of them and at least for me, I was able to soak up useful information so much more easily than reading a dense book with a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo in it. I think this book will become required reading for anyone interested in health, and should be required reading for anyone with any kind of chronic health issue. Dr. Popper has an amazing track record of helping people reverse chronic disease, lose weight, and reach their optimal health, and her common-sense perspective just makes so much sense. In particular, I love that even though she’s completely plant-based, she eschews the word “vegan” and even allows for a small amount of animal products at the very top of her food pyramid. I believe that this approach is much more inviting than telling people they have to be vegan and will win over many more converts to health than a more rigid prescription.
For those of us who have read every plant-based book under the sun, I think the most helpful part of the book is her recommendations for dealing with doctors and her perspective on various tests, such as mammograms, CT scans, and whether they are overprescribed, safe, or necessary. Most doctors don’t know the first thing about nutrition, let alone how powerful diet changes can be for preventing and reversing almost every chronic disease. It can be intimidating going to a doctor, even if you’re steeped in the best nutritional knowledge, so Dr. Popper’s advice can provide you with a tremendous amount of confidence if you have to brave entering a doctor’s office (she never does herself though).
I was lucky enough to be able to ask Dr. Popper a few questions, and her responses are below:
Dr. Popper, thank you so much first for writing such a terrific book and also for agreeing to answer some of my questions. I’d like to know why you decided to write this book with Glen as a conversation, rather than in a traditional style?
The conversational style was Glen’s idea – he felt that people would enjoy reading it more this way and that it would make ideas that might be a bit technical or boring more interesting. I think he was right – people tell us they love this format!
It seems to me that people are having a hard time discerning between “vegan” and “Plant-based” and get confused as to what constitutes a healthy plant-based diet. What would you say to them?
We started using the terms “Wellness Forum-style diet” and “dietary excellence” a few years ago mainly because of this confusion. We wanted to establish a new definition for a health-promoting diet since vega, plant-based, and vegetarian do not necessarily mean healthy!
First, just giving up animal foods does not mean that one is eating a healthy diet. I encounter people every day who are not eating meat and dairy, but eat lots of fat, oils, and vegan junk foods
Second, there is no evidence to suggest that most people must adopt a vegan diet in order to regain and maintain their health. In fact, the populations we all like to reference because their people enjoy better health all include some animal food in their diets.
Consequently, our food pyramid is different than many in the “plant-based” world. We draw a line in the sand on several things – no dairy, no oil, an absolutely maximum of 3 servings per week of either organic animal food or wild caught fish, and lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Low-fat, high-fiber, and differentiating between food and a treat (to be enjoyed on holidays and at parties!)
I’m in a nutrition program right now that examines many dietary theories, and the head of the program has emphasized the concept of “bioindividuality.” How much do you think bioindividuality plays a role in nutrition for overall health? In other words, is one person’s perfect diet someone else’s poison?
The only role bioindividuality plays in determining diets is in avoiding foods to which one has an allergy (there is a lot of confusion about this issue, and most of the people who visit our office who have been diagnosed with allergies to foods do not really have them).
People are amazingly alike – when they eat the right diet for humans, they stay lean and have lower risks of disease. When they stray from that diet much they develop health issues. When they return to the right diet for humans their diseases stop or reverse, and the weight drops rapidly to The spectacular results reported by doctors like Esselstyn, McDougall, Swank, etc., who use diet to stop and reverse disease are consistent regardless of ethnicity, genetic predisposition, race and other factors.
If the most skeptical and stubborn person in the world read your book, what would be the one concept that you hope they’d understand and take to heart?
If you don’t believe me do your own research. I‘m always clear that taking control of your health is not just taking my word for anything, but looking at the research and making up your own mind. The key is looking at the research with an open mind. Many of the skeptical and stubborn people I encounter are not interested in changing their minds – they would prefer to hear good news about their bad habits.
Also – I want people to know that not only is diet important but the way in which we interact with the medical community has a lot to do with our health outcomes too. Most of what takes place in a doctor’s office today is hazardous to our health – be careful!
What is your absolute favorite meal?
My favorite is Del’s millet loaf with mustard dressing and a big green salad!
Stay tuned this week for the recipe for Del’s millet loaf!
–Leave a comment below to enter to win a free copy of the book! The winner will be announced next Monday.
UPDATE – Congratulations to Tatiana, she wins the free book!