Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Food Over Medicine: The Conversation That Could Change Your Life

This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a past blog of mine active from 2013-14.

This past weekend I finished reading "Food Over Medicine: The Conversation That Could Change Your Life" by Dr. Pamela Popper and Glen Merzer. The book is written as a conversation between the two authors, making it a book anyone could read.

The more I keep reading about adopting a whole food plant-based diet, the more obvious it all seems to me: What you eat dictates your health. Opinions and knowledge I previously had about about doctors, medicine, healthy eating, health insurance, and cancer - they're all wrong. Dr. Popper writes, "If people really understood, in clear terms, what food did to them, they'd have a whole different attitude about it."

I'm starting to understand, and my attitude is completely changing - about more than just food.

The importance of diet

Reading "Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition" and now "Food Over Medicine" has got me realizing that what we eat has a huge impact on our health. And it makes sense, right? Your body needs food to survive and function. The body works with what it's given, but it doesn't stay quiet if there's a problem. The body tries to tell us when we're eating wrong, when it's not getting what it needs to function well. But are we listening?

Do we change our eating habits or do we go to the doctor with various symptoms and leave with a bottle of pills in hand? One piece of evidence mentioned in the book - attesting to the power of diet - was migration studies. Say someone moves from Wisconsin, USA to Seoul, South Korea. If this person adopts the typical diet of South Koreans in Seoul, he or she will soon have the same disease risk of natives in Seoul, South Korea. Why? Because most disease is caused by what we eat!

Diet is a combination lock

Another point related to diet that I really liked was when one of the authors compared a diet to a combination lock. To open the lock successfully, you need all four numbers to be right. If you have three numbers correct, 75 percent, you don't get 75 percent of the results - you get zero. Like a lock, diet needs to have all of the right pieces in place in order to see health results. If you're doing it 75 percent right, you won't get 75 percent of the results.

I think this could be part of my digestive problem. I'm probably missing something, and those few tweaks in diet could be the difference between suffering with IBS-D and thriving with a healthy flora. This analogy has given me motivation to adhere to a strict no-dairy, whole food plant-based diet when I return to the states in November.

Again, I'm waiting because I'll have total control over my diet at that point, as well as the time to prepare and cook all of my meals. I'm hoping John will try it with me for a few weeks at the start, and I also have this (probably unrealistic) desire that my parents will want to give it a try too.

Plant-based diet success stories

Throughout the book, Dr. Popper mentions again and again her "Wellness Forum", which is based in Worthington, Ohio. Sometimes it comes off as too self-promotional, though I'm sure the system at her Wellness Forum works. One section of the book provided success stories from Wellness Forum members.

First, the doctors described the client and their situation, and then the client wrote a first-person account of their journey to health. There was a young lady who was too sick to go to college or have a job. She's now a healthy university student. Other successes were a patient who got rid of Crohn's Disease, a woman who eliminated her ulcerative colitis, and a man who completely got rid of his cardiovascular issues and high cholesterol.

A final story that really stuck out was from a 60-year-old man. When he went back to the doctor after adhering to the Wellness Forum diet for several weeks, his doctor was stunned. The doctor said, "I think there's a mistake. Last time you were in here you had advancing coronary artery disease and now, my God, it's like you have the arteries of an eighteen-year-old." The man had reversed his disease, which doctors see often at the Wellness Forum.

Wellness Forum diet

So what is this "Wellness Forum diet"? The book unfortunately doesn't go into many details of the diet, apart from the fact that it's whole-food, plant based, with no dairy or oils. Exactly what to eat simply wasn't the main focus of this particular book.

One paragraph did describe their food pyramid. On the bottom are 64 ounces of water; followed by beans, rice, corn, and potatoes. Next are steamed and raw vegetables and big salads, with fruit up on the next, smaller level. Here's a graphic I found of the complete Wellness Forum food pyramid:

Wellness Forum Food Pyramid
Wellness Forum Food Pyramid
There were a nice selection of recipes in the middle of the book, though. And online you can see what food is served at their Wellness Forum Foods, as well as information about their cookbook "Better Than Vegan," which I plan to purchase.

Nutrition misconceptions

Another section of the book covered some common misunderstandings about nutrition - things that we're taught in school and are widely accepted in society, but that simply aren't true. I won't get into the details or research behind each one, as that could turn into an entire post itself (and it's found in the book), but here were some of the topics included:


Americans are taught that the body needs much more protein than it actually does. It's nearly impossible to be deficient in protein when you're eating 1,500 - 2,000 calories per day - no matter the combination of foods. But we're eating too much protein, and it's detrimental to our health.

The history that led to this misconception about protein was quite interesting. Protein was one of the first nutrients ever discovered. Animals died without it, so it was seen as a vital nutrient and its benefit has been exaggerated ever since. Merzer then shares of when he reminded his protein over-consumer weightlifting friend that "elephants manage to grow pretty strong on a diet of plants." Oh yeah, I guess they do!


I grew up in the dairy state (Wisconsin), so it was drilled in since childhood that milk builds strong bones. I grew up with the Got Milk? campaign on commercials and magazine ads, and at school we drank milk both in the mornings and with lunch - not to mention the gallon or two that was always in the fridge at home. The reality of the situation is that the highest rates of osteoporosis are in countries with the highest dairy intake. Your bones will be better than fine if you eat a plant-based, dairy-free diet.


I'm not at the age to think about a mammogram yet, but I had previously thought it's just something all women are supposed to do. After reading this book, I will never have one! Mammogram statistics are skewed based on the set-up of experiments/surveys. They detect pseudo-cancers, which results in gross overtreatment, and mammograms do not reduce the risk of dying from real breast cancer. Findings by the Cochrane Collaboration ("the most independent medical research organization in the world") in 2001 stated that there is actually no reliable evidence to support mammogram screening at any age.


And lastly, this book confirmed what I have been learning and realizing about health supplements: taking them is useless. Supplements fail to prevent, stop, or reverse any diseases. One of the authors did say that the B12 vitamin was special in that it could be taken as a supplement, but that's the only nutrient.

U.S. government's role in health

The idea of preventing and reversing diseases through a whole foods, plant-based dairy-free diet is somewhat new to my mind, so I hadn't yet thought about all of the implications of such a concept. "Food Over Medicine" touched on politics near the the end, looking at the U.S. government's role in our health, and introducing some new ideas to me.

I already knew that the government is outrageously tangled with farming (industrial livestock and dairy) and processed food companies. So if the government gives the right nutrition advice, they will make someone upset (most likely agriculture and manufacturing groups, the book suggests). What it really comes down to is that the government voluntarily sacrifices over tens of millions of people each year to unnecessary procedures, destructive drugs, and even deaths. For what? To be viewed in good light by the National Dairy Council and Kellogg's?

The two then go on to discuss Obamacare, one openly criticizing it as a Democrat. Obamacare is trying to give health insurance to all, not health for all. There's a huge difference between the two. If the government wants the people to have their health, they need to take away dairy/agriculture/meat subsidies and encourage a whole food plant-based diet, end of story.

The authors mention Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko" in this discussion as well, which I had always liked. But now I realize that's the wrong angle. So the pills and medications are much cheaper in other countries. Can you imagine how many more people would be on those meds if they were more easily accessible and cheaper? Prevent, stop, and reverse diseases with diet.

We need to end production and selling of "processed foods," which really isn't food at all. Introduce more farmer's markets. Tax $1 on all meats and put that money towards truthful nutrition education. I suppose it's too far for the government to control what types of foods are available for consumption. But hopefully once enough people learn about the reality of food, companies like Kraft and Nabisco will go out of business on their own. Wishful thinking, eh?

Education of doctors and health practitioners

The last section from the book that I'll mention was about medical schools, and how doctors are and aren't trained and educated. "Nobody is taught that the diet is the cause of the diseases we battle and nobody is taught that diet will reverse them," writes Dr. Popper.

To put it simply, doctors are taught to treat symptoms. It's an outcome-oriented field. But we need to be preventative and stop the symptoms from ever occurring in the first place. How can your doctor learn that the progression of diseases can be stopped - and even reversed - with diet?

Dr. Popper suggests that you heal yourself with diet, and then be the first person to show your doctor that you reversed your symptoms with diet. That idea has also become part of my motivation for adopting this diet when I'm back in the states this fall.

The conversation that could change your life

This book, "Food Over Medicine," very well could change your life. As I said, it's written as a conversation between two people, so it's not a high-tech dense book. It's interesting and important.

I'll close with a quote from one of the Wellness Forum members, Patty Yeager, sharing her success story. It's something I really need to drill into my mind: "If you continue to do what you have always done you will continue to get the same results."

Patty Yeager - Food Over Medicine quote

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