In this Q&A, Dr. Fuhrman talks about what he eats on the average day, and whether or not he indulges in between-meal snacks (answer: rarely). Find out about his exercise routine, and how he stays fit when traveling for his many TV, radio and lecture appearances. He also tackles questions about saturated fat, artificial sweeteners, so-called “energy” foods and why the Nutritarian diet is the most effective way to eat for excellent health.
What do you eat on a typical day?
A: My breakfast is usually quick, easy and simple. Most days, it’s steel-cut oats with berries, seeds and walnuts. I usually take my vegan DHA+EPA Purity supplement along with my other supplements then, too. Note that the fat from the nuts and seeds are important when taking the supplements to facilitate absorption.
For lunch, I have a huge salad with tomatoes, raw onions and one of my dressings made from nuts and seeds. I either will top the salad with some beans or have a vegetable bean soup on the side. I will have fruit at lunch, too. For dinner, often I will start with raw veggies and a healthy dip, followed by a cooked vegetable-based main dish made with beans or tempeh, wok greens, onions and mushrooms served with a nut-based cream sauce. I also will have one fresh fruit or a fruit-based dessert, like a berry sorbet.
If I am on the road, I will plan in advance; I’ll either find the nearest Whole Foods Market and get a big salad with beans on top or look for another market with salad items, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables (such as frozen artichoke hearts). I carry nuts and seeds with me in my carry bag, as well as a spoon and plastic knife to eat mangos on the road. I’ll sometimes have some raw oat cereal such as unsweetened familia with me, and purchase some unsweetened almond or hemp on the road, and I add it to the cereal in cup in the room the night before, so it softens. I rarely eat in restaurants as that is too time consuming, and I am generally too busy to waste 2 hours to eat a meal.
Do you ever snack?
A: Rarely. I don’t eat if not hungry. If I am hungry I eat a whole meal, regardless of the time of day. Spending more time in the non-fed state activates biological processes that help to prevent cancer and promote longevity. When the body is not digesting food it is most effectively detoxifying and healing. If we eat too often, we miss out on these beneficial processes. Snacking is typically recreational eating, and that means excess calories you did not need.
I eat when I feel like eating, when I’m truly hungry, and that is not necessarily at the same times every day – if I do a tough workout one afternoon, I will probably get hungry earlier the next morning than if I didn’t exercise. I also make an attempt to eat dinner early in the evening, and not eat late at night, so I get the longest possible overnight fast – more time in the catabolic phase.
What is your exercise program like? What’s the most effective way to exercise?
A: For early humans, exercise was a way of life. People were active most of the day. I have been athletic all my life and I exercise and play sports a lot today. One day I might jog or do cardio, the next day I might do weight lifting where I might focus on my arms or legs, and the following day I might play tennis. I try to mix it up, that way you don’t get bored and you are sure to focus on different sets of muscles on different days.
When I’m traveling, I even work out in the room using body weight for resistance if I don’t have access to a gym. .Any amount of exercise you can do will be beneficial, but exercising more vigorously (for example, running rather than walking) will bring a benefit. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an efficient way to build fitness - a short burst (1 – 3 minutes) of increased intensity or near maximum effort then a recovery period, repeated several times – you can get a great workout even if you have little time.
In addition to building cardiorespiratory fitness, building and maintaining muscle mass is important as we age. Strong muscles help to keep bones strong and prevent falls. Exercise with impact (like running and jumping) also helps with bone strength.
I’ve heard that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease, sugar does. So what’s wrong with butter?
A: The research does not indicate that saturated-fat is harmless. Saturated fats from animal products are still linked to almost all causes of premature death. What the research actually suggests is that replacing butter, cheese and red meat with high-glycemic refined carbohydrates (such as white rice and white flour products) does not reduce heart disease risk, indicating that high-saturated-fat animal foods and refined carbohydrate foods are both detrimental to our health.
On the other hand, eating beans, nuts, and seeds (instead of butter and other high saturated-fat animal foods) is associated with a dramatic reduction in heart disease risk. Comparing fat sources, butter is not harmless and does not provide health benefits as nuts, seeds, and avocados do. I discuss the full details of the saturated fat controversy (with supportive studies) in my book The End of Heart Disease. Remember also that dairy protein is most effective at raising IGF-1, a hormone linked to increased cancer risk – an important reason dairy products should be minimized. That means that both low-fat diary and high fat dairy are implicated as causative factors in breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.
Calorie-dense, full-fat dairy products contribute to elevated LDL cholesterol, and cancer risk (via IGF-1), while leaving less room for health-promoting foods such as beans, nuts, and seeds in one’s diet. Butter is also one of the most highly contaminated foods with dangerous persistent organic pollutants like PCBs, which accumulate up the food chain in animal fat.
I understand that sugar is harmful. What about low-calorie sweeteners like stevia?
A: An important concern about non-caloric or low-calorie sweeteners is that their intense sweetness disrupts the body’s natural connection between taste and nourishment. There is evidence that regularly drinking artificially sweetened drinks is linked to enhanced appetite, weight gain, and diabetes. Excessively sweet foods keep your taste buds accustomed to that excessive sweetness, perpetuating the desire for more sweet foods, which also promotes weight gain. [DF1]
The sweetness in fresh fruit and a limited about of dried fruits for some desserts is plenty of sweets for me. When you consume overly sweetened foods regularly it makes real food such as fruits not taste as spectacular.
Are there foods you eat for energy?
A: People who eat healthfully do not need special foods for energy. If you eat healthfully and get enough sleep, you have full energy available to you during your waking hours. In contrast, eating refined foods creates chronic toxicosis, which leads to recurring fatigue and toxic hunger driving people to eat more food to halt the detoxification creating the fatigued sensations. They have to chronically overeat just to feel like they have enough energy..
Food addicts and unhealthy eaters feel the detoxification symptoms (as fatigue) after digestion is finished, so they look to eat again for energy (which halts the detoxification, so they feel better) even though they don’t need the calories. This inevitably leads to being overweight and unhealthy.
To sum it up, when you eat a Nutritarian diet you no longer need to overeat just to feel okay, and you don’t feel the need to eat something or drink caffeine for more energy. If you need to keep your energy up, you are most certainly not eating healthfully – or maybe not getting enough sleep. Follow a high-nutrient diet that contains G-BOMBS (Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, Seeds) to protect against chronic disease, including cancer and have energy that never quits.
When you are healthy, your body gives you simple signals that are easy to interpret. When you need more calories you get hungry, not fatigued. When you need more sleep, you get sleepy and when you need more fluid, you get thirsty. I occasionally feel fatigue from over-exercising, and then I need more rest, not more food.
Why is the Nutritarian Diet so effective?
A: A Nutritarian diet comprehensively considers every dietary and nutritional factor that could benefit health and promote longevity. It is not just focused on the fiber, or the microbiome, or the glycemic index or the toxic load, or the alkalinity, but instead considers everything simultaneously. The focus is on consuming micronutrient-rich foods and foods with proven anti-cancer benefits — these are important factors. Anything else is a passing fad, and will not stand up to the test of time. Most people who follow the latest fad diet end up gaining all their weight back. Portion control diets fail because they do not consider micronutrients and phytochemicals in foods — people still eat foods that are too low in micronutrients and are inherently addictive, so eating smaller amounts is unsustainable in the long term.
Lately, very high-fat diets are in vogue, then we have the extremely low-fat crowd of plant-based enthusiasts; though usually a step in the right direction, neither can be considered ideal, because they do not expose us to sufficient longevity-promoting, anti-cancer phytochemicals and the fat extremism limits the absorption of the protective phytonutrients, when they are consumed. A Nutritarian diet removes that deprivation factor. You don’t have to eat small portions – in fact, you probably will eat larger portions than before. People start losing weight, improving their blood glucose, blood pressure, or cholesterol, and feeling healthier right away, keeping them motivated to follow this eating style for life.
Whole plant foods with scientifically-backed health benefits make up the vast majority of calories in the Nutritarian diet. This focus on micronutrient and phytochemical-rich foods is consistent with the vast preponderance of evidence in modern epidemiology, which shows that those who eat more whole plant foods and fewer animal products and processed foods have lower rates of chronic disease and longer lifespans. There is no other diet-style with more lifespan enhancing evidence to support it as the Nutritarian diet.