Joel Fuhrman: Eat for Health

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Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: Eat for Health; Lose Weight, Keep it off, Look Younger, Live Longer; Never Diet Again! Book One - The Mind Makeover; and Book Two - The Body Makeover (Gift of Health Press 2008)

Why I would recommend Eat for Health and following its advice:

  • Clearly explained and written by a qualified doctor
  • The four-phase plan is interesting
  • It discusses mental obstacles in an enlightening way
  • Not too 'out there' - so a good book to recommend to those sceptical of the raw food lifestyle
  • For some the non-vegan, majority raw lifestyle Joel Fuhrman promotes might be more suitable than 100% vegan and raw
  • Allows gradual change over three phases, plus an optional fourth phase
Why I would not recommend Eat for Health:
  • It is 'fluffy', with some good information but lots of repetition of the same topics
  • It is not as inspiring as many more 'cutting-edge' raw food books - many important topics are not discussed. Although the book has a sensible approach, it also feels somewhat lightweight in terms of information value.
  • Personally, I would find it too restrictive to have menus and shopping lists planned out for me (for some people this might be a benefit)
  • The recipes include some ingredients which you have to purchase from Dr. Joel Fuhrman, such as his spice-mixes
  • Dr. Fuhrman's previous book, 'Eat to Live' was #3 on the New York Times bestseller list, which makes me slightly suspicious, since lots of mainstream information is corrupt in one way or another.

Summary of Key Points/ Claims of the "Eat for Health" Diet

  • The programme is called "Eat for Health" and it is based on another book by Dr. Joel Fuhrman of the same name.
  • Book one includes information, history, tips, theory, whereas book two is a 'workbook and a cookbook', introducing a nutrient point system that Joel Fuhrman invented (MANDI points) and giving practical advice for the four-phase programme he outlines (including a meal planner, a recipe guide and a shopping guide).
  • It is a three-month programme in three phases, plus an optional fourth phase for another four weeks (a total of 16 weeks)
  • Not a strict vegetarian or raw food diet but Dr. Fuhrman calls it 'a nutritarian diet'. Being a 'nutritarian' differs from being a typical vegetarian because the focus is on high-nutrient vegetables as well as reduced amounts of animal products.
  • Dr. Joel Fuhrman promotes majority raw foods but claims that some foods are more nutritious when cooked.
  • Radically reduced consumption of low-nutrient foods and radically increased intake of high-nutrient foods. According to Dr. Fuhrman the micronutrients (which are all calorie-free): vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, are essential for avoidance of disease, cravings and overeating.
  • Promotes the healing power of high-nutrient superfoods
  • Eat food with 'high nutritional bang per caloric buck.' The relationship between calories (macronutrients) and micronutrients is important.
    "Your health is dependent on the nutrient-per-calorie density of your diet."
    (p. 49)
  • Avoid saturated fat, trans-fat and processed oils
  • You do not have to exclude all animal products, just reduce them to safe levels.
  • If you eat fish regularly, your body is undoubtedly high in mercury. Fish is not a health food.
  • Grains do not contain enough nutrients per calorie to form a substantial part of your diet.
  • Eat much larger portions than what you are used to
  • Most diseases seen in modern countries, as well as the leading causes of death, are the result of dietary and lifestyle choices. Approximately 85% of American population dies from heart disease, strokes and cancer, which all could be prevented by good nutrition, says Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Claims to be effective especially for dropping weight, high blood pressure and blood sugar problems
  • The bad foods: milk, meats, cheese, pasta, bread, fried foods, sugar-filled snacks and drinks, processed foods
  • The good foods: unrefined plant foods, including vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and fruits. An average American consumes less than 7% of his diet of these foods, whereas on this plan it will be more than 90%.
  • Inadequate consumption of plant-derived nutrients results in cellular toxicity, DNA damage, and immune system dysfunction.
  • This eating plan will address all the invisible plaque in your arteries and rejuvenate all your blood vessels. (This is an important point, David Wolfe talks a lot about plaque, i.e. 'bad calcium'...)
  • Our health is NOT controlled by our genes: "Virtually all disease is the result of the interaction of genetics and modifiable environmental and behavioural factors. Rarely does a single gene variant lead to the development of disease." (p. 63)
  • Lowering the intake of sodium (salt) is important. The plan gradually lowers your salt intake. In addition to raising your blood pressure, salt also causes [good?] calcium and other trace minerals to be leached from your body.
  • Chew your food well or blend it to break down the cell walls of vegetables, which are made of cellulose which a human body does not have enzymes for to digest.
  • "If you adopt a high-nutrient eating-style by eating lots of healthy foods, it is common to go through an adjustment period in which you experience fatigue, weakness, light-headedness, headaches, gas, and other mild symptoms. This generally lasts less than a week. Don't panic or buy into the myth that to get relief you need more heavy or stimulating foods, such as high-protein foods, sweets or coffee." (p. 127)
  • "This book is not about exercise but it is important to mention that, without regular exercise, you cannot expect great health benefits." (p. 148, Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health)

What Dr Fuhrman Promises

"The physical change that you can create is the one that the body was made to live. The body is a self-healing machine when you supply it with an optimal nutritional environment, and the information presented here is the fastest and most effective way to create that environment." (p. 2)

The above is a bold claim because it raises Dr. Fuhrman's diet not only above all the other diets but also above what you could achieve by carefully testing out and hearing your body's own reactions. As such, this claim cannot be true. Yet, perhaps it is not far from the truth. The diet may well be a fast AND effective way to heal. But it most certainly won't be the fastest and the most effective of all dietary approaches.
We have to keep in mind that whereas the raw food diet is one of the most powerful ways to help our bodies heal themselves, there are many versions of this diet, as well as individual bodies with different needs. Dr. Fuhrman's diet is only one of the raw food diets, most likely suitable for many but not for all. And it certainly is not universally the best diet.

Joel Fuhrman also hints at unprecedented longevity possible with increasing consciousness of nutrient-dense foods and healthy lifestyles:
"...researchers have found that people who exceed 100 years in age are remarkably disease free. Boston and Harvard Scientists recording the New England Centenarian Study (NECS) have been studying many long-lived individuals. [...] They've found that long-lived people generally do not have the age-associated medical conditions that develop and curtail enjoyment of life at an early age. [...] These people, who are now past 100, did not have the advantage of the scientific information we have today. For the majority of their lives, they did not have access to the healthiest foods." - p. 61, Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health

Dr. Joel Fuhrman includes testimonials from patients who experienced 'spontaneous recovery' and cured the following diseases:

Food Politics

The book starts with a statement:
"This book is dedicated to all Americans suffering with chronic disease, who were told their problem was simply genetic and that drugs and interventions such as angioplasty and bypass surgery are the only answer.
"Even though it is well accepted in the scientific literature that nutritional excellence has powerful therapeutic application, this information has not filtered down to the average American.
"People need to know they have a choice. They have a right to know they do not have to suffer and die prematurely of medical conditions that are easily prevented and reversed via nutritional excellence.
"So if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, reflux esophagitis, chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune disorders or other chronic medical conditions and you desire improved health, vitality and to free yourself of medical dependency this book is especially dedicated to you with the hope it will transform your health."


One of the major realisations for most people who discover the path of ultimate health is how much information has been hidden from us. If natural, easy and cheap health solutions are so powerful, why haven't we heard about them before? This confusion is precisely the reason why many people, unfortunately, dismiss a lot of this information as hoax before taking the chance to study it.
As an answer to this, in the foreword Dr. John Abramson, a clinical instructor at the Harvard Medical School and the author of "Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine" makes the following two statements:

"We need to get to the bottom of the dysfunction in our national approach to health. The politicians don't want to address the real issues because most of them are dependent on contributions and other support from the healthcare industry Most of the 'experts' don't want to get to the real issues either, because they too have financial ties to the medical industry; same with universities, with medical journals, and even the media."
- p. iv, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health

"When the drug and other medical industries invest in research, their primary responsibility is not to optimize your health, but to maximize their shareholders' return on investment. [...] The end result is that the 'knowledge' that your doctor receives from the sources that he or she has been trained to trust is distorted in two ways. First, the evidence is overwhelming that the conclusions presented in even the most trusted medical journals are biased in favor of their commercial sponsors. And second, in the same way that plants grow towards sunlight, the 'knowledge' produced by commercially sponsored medical research grows towards the medical interventions that have the greatest potential to generate profits instead of the greatest potential to improve our health. This may sound like dismal news, but understanding the truth points the way to enormous opportunities for you to take back control of your health" (p. v)

Joel Fuhrman on Micronutrients

According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, phytochemicals detoxify cancer-causing compounds, deactivate free radicals, protect against radiation damage and enable DNA repair mechanisms.

The relationship between calories and micronutrients is important because: "Consuming calories without the presence of antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals leads to a build-up of waste products in our cells because the body can't remove normal cellular wastes without nutrients."
- p. 45, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health

  • Micronutrients and reduction of calories (from macronutrients) are the key to defying the aging process and protecting health. Micronutrients are crucial for healthy immune system, to empower your body's detoxification and for cellular repair mechanisms.
  • Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) gives a score to certain foods according to how many nutrients they deliver to your body per each calorie consumed.
    The highest on the list are: Cooked mustard greens, raw watercress, cooked kale, cooked turnip greens, cooked collard greens, cooked bok choy, raw and cooked spinach, brussels sprouts, cooked swiss chard, raw arugula (rocket), radish, bean sprouts, red pepper, raw cabbage, romaine, raw broccoli, vegetable juice, boston lettuce, carrot juice, etc. These had an ANDI score between 1000 and 344 in diminishing order.
    Some of the lowest ANDI scores on the list are processed foods but also, surprisingly, honey, olive oil, macamadia and pine nuts, cashew butter, cashews, raisins, dates, whole milk, quinoa, whole wheat bread, figs, eggs, etc. (with ANDI scores between 1 and 28 in increasing order).
  • Green vegetables are able to deliver the most nutrients to our bodies per calorie. Vegetables in general are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
  • High nutrient foods that can be eaten in unlimited quantities: leafy green vegetables; solid green vegetables (e.g. peas, broccoli); non-green, high-nutrient vegetables (e.g. beets, eggplant, onions, mushrooms); beans and legumes (cooked, canned or sprouted); fresh fruits and berries.
  • The more high-nutrient foods you consume, the less low-nutrient food you desire (after a transition period). "We overeat because we are unknowingly seeking nutrients." (p. 86)

"...supplements can't match or duplicate all the protective, strengthening elements of real fruits and vegetables. There are too many unknown and undiscovered factors in these natural foods. There are more than 10,000 identified phytochemicals, with more being discovered all the time. [...] Supplements can be useful in delivering micronutrients found in foods that would be very difficult to incorporate into your diet [...] This is why the word supplement is a good one: the pill is supplemental to a healthy diet and cannot take the place of one." (p. 48, Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health) [author's emphasis]

Joel Fuhrman on Macronutrients

The macronutrients are those foods we are able to get calories from and thus utilise them for energy. Our three calorie sources are fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

Dr. Fuhrman recommends a higher percentage of healthy fats in the diet than some raw foodists, namely 30% of calories from fat (for moderately active individuals not wishing to lose weight. David Wolfe's recommendation in 'The Sunfood Diet Success System' is the same (although with a caviat that different people may need different amounts).

In the opposing camp are famously Dr. Douglas Graham, who recommends a maximum of 10% of the daily intake of calories from fats (even for athletes). He is joined by Frederic Patenaude, who claims he became ill as a raw foodists eating too many avocados.

"If you are slim or desirous of gaining weight, a larger amount of seeds, nuts and avocado is appropriate. [...] ...even though we need to consume a significant amount of the lower calorie, very high micronutrient foods, some of these higher calorie foods are also important to fuel our caloric needs. [...] Most healthy, normal weight individuals who exercise moderately and are in good shape can eat 3-4 ounces of seeds and nuts a day. That will bring their fat intake up to about 30 percent of total calories. Believing fat is the villain is wrong. Eating a bread, potato, and pasta-based diet is not as healthful as a diet higher in fat, where the extra calories (and extra fat and protein) come from seeds and nuts. Eating more beans and whole grains can also be helpful for a person who wants to gain weight. Do not be tempted to eat more animal products to gain weight and don't get sucked in by the myth that you need more animal products to build muscle."
- p. 135, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health

Joel Fuhrman agrees with most raw foodists about the fact that too much protein is both unnecessary and bad for you. This leaves carbohydrates as the main source of calories (together with fats). Dr. Fuhrman also mentions calorie-restriction a few times, although he does not explain much about the topic. For more on the topic, see: 'Dr. Fuhrman's nutritional pyramid'.

The Four Phases of the 'Eat for Health'/ 'Eat to Live' Diet

Phase 1: Increase the amount of high-nutrient foods

  • Eat some raw vegetables and fruit on its own, cut up in a bowl before your normal meal and chew it slowly.
  • Have at least three fresh fruits with your breakfast
  • Make some high-nutrient recipes from the menu plans
"You will need to adjust the amount of raw vegetables you eat to what your body will comfortably tolerate. If you have uncomfortable gas, cut back a little on raw vegetables and beans. [...] ...the goal is to let the body adjust the timing and secretion of its digestive enzymes and peristalsis to accommodate this healthy, more natural diet-style." (p. 68)
It may take a while for your stomach to adjust to eating so much fiber.

Phase 2: Overcome mental obstacles to eating healthy
  • Understand the causes that make you eat unhealthy food (see 'mental addiction to junk foods' below)
  • Follow phase 2 menu plan
Phase 3: Retrain the taste buds
  • "Stretch your palate": train your taste buds to like new and different tastes
  • Purposefully eat a light lunch or a light breakfast each day. Eating one lighter meal without snacking before the next meal, either lunch or dinner, will increase your true hunger before that meal. Over time, this will help to teach you what true hunger feels like.
Phase 4: Optional/ advanced health
  • Add vegetable juices and exercise. Follow an advanced meal plan.

The Subconscious, Mental and Hormonal Addiction to Junk Foods

This part of 'Eat for Helath' was for me the best part of the book. In it Dr. Fuhrman discusses the unconscious reasons why we find it hard to eat healthily. The main emotional challenges he lists are as follows:

  • False information and popular misinformation
  • Emotional overeating
  • Subconscious dimming of information that causes us anxiety (for example, the idea of having to change the way we eat can cause anxiety)
  • Wanting to overeat to raise the dopamine production in the brain so that one can dull the frustration and pain in life.
There is plenty of valuable and interesting information here. For example: Why do we believe things that we know are not true? Dr. Joel Fuhrman explains that people are NOT rational.

"...both emotional and physical addictions prejudice [our] judgment, and [we] make rationalizations to believe something that is clearly not true. [...] ...most Americans have heard over and over again that fruits and vegetables are the healthiest foods and important to eat in larger amounts [...] nevertheless [...] their subconscious is not comfortable with change, and their subconscious wins."
- p. 87, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health

In addition to our subconscious mind being able to overpower our conscious reasoning, there are also mass misconceptions at play:

"Ideas have a life of their own. [...] Once they are accepted and popular, they become difficult to displace. Much of what is now widely accepted as nutritional gospel is based on scant evidence, mistaken old notions, bad science and myths advertised to us by food manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and the government." (p. 84, Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health)

Joel Fuhrman mentions the following as examples of common but false nutritional beliefs:
  • frequent small meals aid weight control
  • being overweight is due to genetics
  • milk builds and strengthens the bones
  • heart disease and dementia are the consequence of aging
On the second point, emotional overeating ('comfort foods') Dr. Joel Fuhrman writes:

"People often overeat for emotional comfort. It can bring fleeting pleasure. Food can be a drug-like outlet to dull the pain and dissatisfaction of life [...] The solution to this cycle must include more than just food menus and diet plans; an emotional overhaul is needed. Eating behavior must be replaced with other outlets that build self-esteem and offer comfort in emotionally healthy ways. For many people, these outlets can include feeling proud of yourself for improving your health through exercise, for kindness to others, for doing a job well, for developing a new skill, and for making more choices that improve your future health."
- p. 112, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health

On the list above the third challenge was anxiety, which may be our own, stopping us from being proactive and in control of our lives... but anxiety regarding healthy habits may also be reflected onto us from the outside world. Consider the following two quotes as two different examples:

"Psychologists have long observed that we all subconsciously dim awareness to things that raise our anxiety or make us uncomfortable. Our self-deceptions often lead to absurd situations that are completely obvious to outside observers. Many people blame the media and big business for the current state of the American diet. The truth, however, is that Americans are self-deceived. [...] We are prone to believe what we want to, regardless of the evidence. Our brains are masters at suppressing facts." (p. 88)

"Some people will attempt to make you uncomfortable because you are eating healthfully. Your change in behaviour may make them uncomfortable because you are forcing them to examine their own unhealthy practices. [...] Don't let this issue subconsciously prevent you from adopting this program." (p. 83, Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health)

The connection between dopamine and junk good addiction is also very interesting. For example: "As with cocaine or heroin, eating causes the body to produce dopamine. In normal brains, routine pleasures such as watching a sunset also release the chemical." - Discover Magazine, May 2001 - It seems that if we start using addictive, unhealthy ways to produce dopamine, it will stop being produced by normal, natural situations. It is as if the substance/ food abuse overrides the capacity to enjoy natural pleasures.

"As social animals, our brains require certain hormones that are released when we have positive social interaction. Eliminate these interactions and the brain will seek out other ways to produce the hormones and receive stimulatory input. [...] Several studies have shown that overeating, like drug and alcohol abuse, leads to dopamine stimulation. For people who are dependent on dopamine surges and who lack the emotional fulfilment that can provide them, consumption of high-calorie foods gives the brain the surge it is looking for. [...] Their beliefs about themselves set in motion a chain of chemical events that predisposes them to addictive behaviours. These can make it more difficult to adopt a healthy lifestyle, so it is crucial to identify this and address it to successfully change eating behaviors."
- p. 79, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health

Two solutions to some of the above problems listed above are suggested in the quotes below, although Dr. Joel Fuhrman does not discuss actual solutions at length:

"The key to reprogramming yourself is to select an activity that elicits the desired objective, and then perform this activity habitually. As you continue to perform this activity, your skill will improve, your brain will reprogram to the preferred wiring, and your desired outcome will manifest itself." (p. 92)

"Eating healthfully and developing the skills to earn and enjoy excellent health may increase your self-esteem, which in turn may help you socially. This is very important as we know from studying the centenarians in Chapter Four that the longest-lived, healthiest people share some common traits, among them, good relationships with other people." (p. 83, Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health)

Joel Fuhrman on the Raw Food Hunger

What we usually call hunger is an uncomfortable feeling but it is not - contrary to popular belief - only due to lack of calories. To satiate hunger we have to do four things:
1) to consume an adequate amount of food
2) to consume enough nutrients
3) to get calories... but according to Dr. Fuhrman if you have enough food in amount and nutrients you won't feel the need for the third hunger quenchers: calories. (Note, warning! I'm not sure if this is true. Personally I seem to get tired even on a high-nutrition diet if it is low in calories... So ensuring enough calories could be really important. It is worth researching this although it could work differently for different individuals.)
4) to overcome addictions

What Joel Fuhrman calls 'toxic hunger' is what people commonly experience as hunger. It is not a true, healthy hunger, however, but rather a collection of detox symptoms of addictive and toxic substances. From my personal experience this point of view is absolutely true. My experience of hunger dramatically changed on a raw food diet.

Symptoms of 'toxic hunger':

  • headaches
  • weakness
  • stomach cramping
  • light-headedness
  • esophageal spasms
  • growling stomach
  • irritability
"The feelings associated with these symptoms are not how true hunger feels. [...] True hunger is not felt in the stomach or the head. When you eat healthfully and don't overeat, you eventually are able to sense true hunger and accurately assess your caloric needs. Once your body attains a certain level of better health, you will begin to feel the difference between true hunger and just eating due to desire, boredom, stress, or withdrawal symptoms. The best way to understand true hunger is to experience it for yourself. It has three primary characteristics: a sensation in your throat, increased salivation, a dramatically-heightened taste sensation."
- p. 127-128, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health

"People are consistently amazed how good the simplest foods can taste when they are truly hungry." (p. 130)

"Our excessive consumption of animal proteins and the elevated amount of waste products puts a stress on your body's detoxification channels and you wind up not feeling well - or detoxifying more - between meals. Some people are more sensitive to this excess nitrogen than others. It is not unusual to find people who are forced to eat a diet rich in protein and animal products. Otherwise, they feel too ill. They must remain on a continual high-protein binge throughout the day. [...] Just like the caffeine addict, you may have to feel worse for a short time for these symptoms to resolve." (p. 110-111, Joel Furhman, Eat for Health)

"We have adopted a toxic diet, and because of it, we are forced to overeat." (p. 111)

Taste Buds

"... you won't be entirely eliminating sodium [salt]. To do that is impossible because all foods, especially vegetables, contain sodium, and this natural sodium adds to their flavour. Up until now, you have probably never noticed this natural sodium because when we over-stimulate the taste buds with too much added salt over a long period of time, our taste receptors can't sense lower levels of salt. [...] The good news, however, is that you can re-train your taste buds to be more sensitive to slat when you decrease its presence in your diet. [...] When you get rid of the salt habit, your food may taste bland for a few weeks, but, within a few months, you will find that your taste buds, which were deadened by the overuse of salt, have gradually gained their sensitivity back. You will discover tastes that you never knew existed in natural foods. Even a simple pear or a leaf of lettuce will taste better." (p. 115-116)

Digestion

"If you have a digestive disorder, blending and juicing vegetables can be a great aid because you can increase your consumption of healing nutrients, even though your digestive capacity might be sub-par. Since eating a low-phytochemical, low-fiber diet goes against nature's design and causes most digestive disorders, eating a high-nutrient, vegetable-based diet often resolves digestive problems quickly. People suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, hemorrhoids, and reflux disease often see improvements after just a few weeks of juicing and eating blended salads. However, sometimes diets have to be modified for individual uniqueness or medical problems [...] that require fresh fruits and raw vegetables to be gradually introduced into the diet."
- p. 155, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Eat for Health

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The author is a 'radical health' enthusiast originally from Finland and currently lives in Kent, UK.

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"Your body's ability to heal is greater than anyone has permitted you to believe." - Unknown