The standard American diet and lifestyle are killing people, but the cure is deliciously simple
“When you flood your body with the nutrients it needs, it doesn’t just make you healthy, live long, and prevent disease; it stops food addictions and cravings, normalizes your appetite, and makes your body gravitate toward your ideal weight effortlessly,” Dr. Joel Fuhrman told the audience at his TEDx talk in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2013.
Nutrient density is the logical key to a transformative diet. If our body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, it’s not going to function at its best. We have been living with the wide-scale persistence of chronic diseases resulting from society’s poor nutrition, chronic stress, sedentary lifestyle, and overexposure to environmental toxins—what Fuhrman calls “the toxic American lifestyle.”
One thing is abundantly clear: With all the factors impacting health today, our bodies need all the help they can get from protective micronutrients.
While macronutrients are those big categories of food types—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—micronutrients are all the vitamins and minerals we absorb from our food or produce in our bodies with the help of our food and healthy exposure to sunlight.
Ideologies behind diets can be complex, but, in general, health-minded people seek to eat foods that promote health and wellness, and provide an enjoyable experience. That being said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Individuals must closely examine their decisions around food to resolve particular issues they may be dealing with.
The Equation for Nutritional Health
For Fuhrman, a seven-time New York Times bestselling author, a healthful diet can generally be simplified to the equation: “H = N/C,” or “health = nutrients per calorie.” In a 2016 blog post, Fuhrman asserts that “a high ratio of micronutrients to calories is the basis of a healthful diet.” This logical idea is foundational to what he calls the “nutritarian diet.”
As a medical doctor, he has seen firsthand how the U.S. health care system and pharmaceutical industry truly operate. A large population of chronically sick people is immensely profitable—but catastrophic for the country. For too many people, the vicious cycle of malnutrition and disease plays on repeat, with tragic results.
The great news is that a growing number of doctors and health-minded individuals have been finding moral, personal, and economic incentives to move away from this illness-based system. The “health and wellness” industry floods us with offers for products, programs, and services. Nevertheless, a healthy and accessible diet for our own unique, biological makeup and geographical location can still easily elude us.
A Problem of Lifestyle
We all have friends or family members who have struggled, or are struggling, with diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and various forms of cancer. While immense lip service and charitable donations are being paid to “fight” these diseases, vastly less attention is given to educating people about the lifestyle behaviors that can create them in the first place.
Many of us have lost loved ones too early to these lifestyle-related diseases. Nevertheless, there is no mandate or widespread initiative to educate Americans about, or improve access to, nutrient-dense foods and exercise programs. There is no coordinated, COVID-like response to these epidemics. This is despite the fact that many Americans face a much higher risk of death from these diseases—and are at a significantly higher risk of death from COVID-19—because they already suffer from these comorbidities. In fact, for many Americans, the only reason their immune system could not contend with COVID-19 was because they were in chronically ill health due to a poor diet, high stress levels, and lack of exercise.
The Vast Majority of Americans Are at Risk
In a 2018 article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Fuhrman explains that, “the fundamental concern as we look to reform health in America is the known reality that most chronic diseases that afflict Americans are predominantly lifestyle induced; and the belief is that the vast majority of heart attacks and strokes could be prevented if people were willing to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors.”
Fuhrman goes on to explain that “only about 5 percent of the American population is at a normal weight as a result of eating healthy and living a healthy life.” He reached this conclusion by comparing the body mass index (BMI) of Americans to those of people who live in “blue zones,” which are statistically anomalous areas around the world in which people generally live longer, with fewer chronic health problems, as a result of healthier lifestyle behaviors.
In addition to a general lack of sufficient exercise and too many maladaptive behaviors like smoking and alcoholism, Fuhrman concludes that in regard to food, “the standard American diet is clearly not a healthy diet,” even for people who manage to maintain a normal BMI.
“You can exercise off those extra calories, but they will still negatively affect your health. It is not enough to be at a healthy weight—you must actually eat healthfully to age more slowly, prevent cancer, and live a long, healthy life,” Fuhrman wrote in a blog post about junk food.
Fast Food Genocide?
According to Fuhrman, the detrimental impact of processed, industrial foods known as “fast food” on the American population is nothing short of a “genocide.”
In an interview about his book “Fast Food Genocide,” Fuhrman explained: “Genocide—the deliberate destruction of a population—is the most accurate way to describe fast food’s devastating effects on our society. Processed, nutrient-barren products are designed by the food industry to be highly addictive, cheap to produce, and highly profitable. These products do not contain the nutrients humans need to thrive, and, in those using them as a primary food source, it has created an explosion of disease and led to much suffering and death.
“Fast food and processed foods also damage our genes, which we pass on to our children and grandchildren, and we are seeing dangerous increases in autism, learning disabilities, allergies, autoimmune disease, and childhood cancer. This must be stopped.”
Fuhrman defines “fast food” as “any commercially made convenience food that includes artificial ingredients, processed grains, sweeteners, salt, and oil—all with high-caloric concentration and minimal nutrient content.”
Alarmingly, these types of foods are the main caloric input of the vast majority of Americans. Why do we pretend that a virus with a very low mortality risk is a greater threat than what we put into our bodies on a daily basis?
Fast Food and Mental Illness
With genetics as a convenient scapegoat, it’s all too easy to overlook our dietary choices and how they impact our genetic expression. “Many don’t realize the strong causative role an unhealthy diet may have in mental illness. Currently, one in five Americans suffers from a psychiatric disorder,” Fuhrman wrote in his article “The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food,” published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
As a person formally diagnosed with severe depression in my early 20s, I know how quickly medication can be prescribed without any discussion about habits surrounding the consumption of fast food, soda, alcohol, and so on. Poor dietary choices such as these are highly correlated to mood swings and depressive episodes. Medications didn’t work for me, but ceasing to put toxic substances into my body on a daily basis did.
Too many people are given a label and a prescription without first considering the consequences of their dietary and lifestyle choices. While the battle against major depression may not be that simple for everyone, these are important considerations to make if we are serious about empowering ourselves with regard to our mental health.
Giving Your Body What It Needs
If you want to be healthy, you have to slow down your relationship to food. You have to find the time to make better eating decisions. Unless you’re wealthy, you likely can’t hire someone to do these things for you. By experimenting with foods, you’ll be surprised by the delicious and nourishing meals you can create yourself.
Changing your diet doesn’t have to be a punishment. While food addiction is definitely real, it can be overcome with a dedication to shifting lifestyle behaviors. Eating nutrient-dense foods not only increases your likelihood of living a longer life, it also improves your quality of life in the present. Instead of riding the roller coaster of highs and lows that come from eating a processed diet, we can mindfully select foods that keep us stable.
What Is the Nutritarian Diet?
The nutritarian diet is a mostly plant-based diet that focuses on eating nutrient-dense foods. While it is not an exclusively vegan diet, it does recommend reducing the consumption of animal products as much as possible. Most Americans eat a lot of animal products, many of which are processed and filled with toxic byproducts, and which come from animals raised in very poor conditions. Avoiding processed, packaged foods and opting for natural, unprocessed, whole vegetables and fruits is a core component of the diet.
“No S.O.S.” is short for “no added salt, oil, or sugar,” Fuhrman’s recommendation for beginners to the diet. While at first it may seem like an extreme suggestion, what is actually extreme is the overuse of these additives throughout most processed, packaged, or restaurant-prepared foods. We may have heard how detrimental “vegetable oils” (such as soy, canola, and corn oils) can be to our health. Nevertheless, they run rampant in packaged foods, as do high levels of salt and sugar.
Rather than being a diet of avoidance, the nutritarian diet is focused on packing anti-cancer and disease-preventing micronutrients, phytochemicals, and antioxidants into our meals.
G-BOMBS to Defeat Disease
Fuhrman’s beginner’s guide on his website recommends eating a diet that includes “G-BOMBS” everyday. G-BOMBS is an easy-to-remember acronym for greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds. “These are the most health-promoting, anti-cancer superfoods on the planet,” Fuhrman writes. They are our “immune system’s special forces,” as he stated during his TED talk, because they “inhibit fat storage on the body, prevent cancer, and prolong our life span.”
Greens Help Your Body Fight Cancer
Most people don’t consume nearly enough greens. Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and sprouts are the “most nutrient-dense of all foods,” according to Fuhrman’s guide. Greens are an excellent source of plant protein and are packed with phytochemicals, which are chemicals that may prevent carcinogens from forming. They are also rich in folate, calcium, and antioxidants.
Cruciferous vegetables such as kale and broccoli are cancer-fighting powerhouses. There is a long list of cruciferous vegetables that contain glucosinolates, which are converted into isothiocyanates (ITCs) as a result of the chemical reaction brought on by chopping or chewing. This mastication causes the cell walls in green vegetables to break, which allows myrosinase enzymes to react to the glucosinolates and produce ITCs.
Sulforaphane, found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, is an ITC that has been found to have an “integrative role in preventing fatigue, inflammation, and oxidative stress,” according to a study by researchers at Waseda University in Japan. However, cooking broccoli for too long can destroy the myrosinase enzymes needed to create sulforaphane. “Steaming broccoli for only two to four minutes” or consuming broccoli in sprout form is recommended to protect its essential nutrients.
According to a meta-analysis conducted by Zhejiang University in China, “cruciferous vegetable intake is related to the decreased risk of prostate cancer.” Similar meta-analyses have found a decreased risk of ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, gastric cancer, and breast cancer. Increased consumption of leafy greens is also linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Greens are an essential component to a healthy diet whether you want to eat them raw, cooked, steamed as sprouts, or some combination thereof. To the degree that your digestive system can handle them, eat raw greens for maximum ITC production. Chew them well!
Beans, Beans, the Magical Legumes
Eating beans and legumes help to keep blood pressure and blood glucose down, because they are digested slowly. The nutritarian diet is about slowing things down and stabilizing blood sugar levels. Slowing down metabolism also helps to slow down the wear and tear on the digestive system and body.
Beans have good amounts of soluble fiber and resistant starches, which are carbohydrates that digestive enzymes don’t break down. As a result, even a small serving of beans can go a long way toward weight loss and the reduction of cravings.
According to a multisite, case-control study in Uruguay, a “higher intake of legumes was associated with a decreased risk of several cancers including those of the upper aerodigestive tract, stomach, colorectum, and kidney.”
Onions: The Pungent Smell of Anti-Cancer
You can taste the anti-cancer power when you chew onions and other vegetables in the Allium vegetable family such as garlic, chives, leeks, and shallots. These sharp-tasting veggies have been shown to have anti-cancer phytochemicals called “organosulfur compounds, which are released from the vegetables upon their processing (mincing, chewing, etc.),” according to an article by researchers from the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.
Published in Cancer Letters, the article states that “the known health benefits of Allium vegetable constituents include cardiovascular effects, improvement of the immune function, lowering of blood glucose level, radioprotection, protection against microbial infections, and anti-cancer effects”—all of which show that there are much bigger things to worry about than your breath.
The Might of Mushrooms
Regularly eating mushrooms has been associated with a decreased risk in certain cancers. Compounds contained in mushrooms called aromatase inhibitors are already used in drugs to treat breast cancer. For this reason, commonly eaten mushrooms such as white, cremini, and portobello are thought to help prevent breast cancer.
A 2006 research article published in the journal Cancer Research stated that “clinical trials have shown aromatase inhibitors to be effective in the treatment of hormone-responsive breast cancer and to significantly prevent contralateral cancers.”
In a blog about G-BOMBS, Fuhrman recommends eating all mushrooms cooked due to “a potentially carcinogenic substance called agaritine” found in mushrooms which “significantly reduces when cooked.”
Getting Berry Healthy
“Laboratory and clinical studies provide strong evidence of the cancer-preventive potential of berries,” according to a 2008 research article published in Carcinogenesis. Due to the fact that they are packed with nutrients, phytochemicals, and polyphenols, “berries and their components reduce oxidant and carcinogen-induced genetic damage and enhance DNA repair.” As Fuhrman is fond of saying, “Why don’t more people know this?”
Berries are a juicy and delicious natural dessert that are also low in sugar. They are regularly described as “superfoods” because of their cancer-preventive, heart-protective, and brain-boosting impact. “Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults,” according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The study found that three months of consuming wild blueberry juice daily “can confer neurocognitive benefit.”
Nuts About Seeds
A variety of seeds and nuts are proven to be heart-healthy snacks. They contain healthy fats, which aid in the absorption of micronutrients. In an article from the Department of Medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University in New York, researchers concluded that “nuts, a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids and fiber, have been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes mellitus.”
The researchers also highlighted that nuts exhibit a number of benefits, “including improved weight management, greater insulin sensitivity, and favorable endothelial effects, as well as having anti-inflammatory properties.”
Regularly substituting a handful of raw, unsalted nuts or seeds instead of a bag of chips can go a long way toward improving one’s health. Try exploring the many different varieties of nuts and seeds to find out which ones work for your diet.
Slow Down to Eat Right
Moving too fast has serious drawbacks. Convenience can literally be deadly. The proof is all around us. Mass production and overconsumption of processed, fast foods isn’t progress; it’s insanity.
Good nutrition requires a commitment to self-education and taking the time to find the real foods your body wants and needs. This includes knowing that not all foods are grown in a way that allows for nutrient density. Produce should be grown organically and eaten as close to the time of being picked as possible to preserve maximum nutrient density. Learn more about the life-changing potential of the nutritarian diet and G-BOMBS (greens, beans/legumes, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds/nuts) through the many books and programs found on Fuhrman’s website, DrFuhrman.com.
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