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A Disease-Proof Diet with Dr. Michael Greger

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I’m so excited to have Dr. Michael Greger here with me on my Live Chat! We are talking all about how to eat a Disease-Proof Diet. I’m a huge fan of his work in plant-based nutrition. A founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, MD, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition. He has videos on more than 2,000 health topics freely available at NutritionFacts.org, with new videos and articles uploaded almost every day. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, testified before Congress, and was invited as an expert witness in the defense of Oprah Winfrey in the infamous “meat defamation” trial. He is a graduate of Cornell University School of Agriculture and Tufts University School of Medicine. Three of his recent books— How Not to Die, the How Not to Die Cookbook, and How Not to Diet all became instant New York Times Best Sellers. His latest two books, How to Survive a Pandemic and the How Not to Diet Cookbook, were released in 2020. All proceeds he receives from the sales of his books go to charity. Welcome Dr. Greger to my Live Chat!

Listen to the Live Chat with The Plant-Powered Dietitian and Dr. Greger here:

Dr. Michael Gregor

Things You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The correlation between diet, health, and longevity.
  • How diet can help you prevent disease.
  • Common pitfalls Dr. Greger sees people making in their diets.
  • What inspired Dr. Greger to write his books and what we can learn from them.

Dr. Greger’s Favorite Resources:

Check out the written interview of our live chat below.

A Disease-Proof Diet with Dr. Michael Greger and Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian

Sharon: We are talking about disease proofing your diet and lifestyle. It’s just so amazing the power your diet has over these things. We are going to be getting into that diet, I am so excited to have you on the show today Dr. Greger. Dr. Greger is a founding member and a fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, he is a physician, a New York Times best-selling author, I have all of his books, and he is internationally well known for speaking on plant-based nutrition. He has a lot of videos and free resources at nutritionfacts.org. I know a lot of people might know his work from this website which just has got amazing information. I go there all the time. He has new videos and articles coming up almost every day, he lectures across the world, even testified before Congress. He was invited as an expert witness for the famous case with Oprah Winfrey, when she had that meat defamation trial. He has new videos and websites showing up every day, he even spoke to congress. He is a graduate of Cornell University School of Agriculture and Tufts University School of Medicine. His three recent books are How Not to Die, How Not to Die Cookbook, and How Not to Diet, which all became instant best sellers.   He has two new books, How to Survive a Pandemic, I have not read that one yet, and How Not to Diet Cookbook. Also, he donates the sales from the books to charitable organizations, which I think is so cool. I think a lot of people might not be aware of that. So, welcome, thank you so much for being here. As a physician, a lot of them don’t have knowledge in nutrition, it’s just not part of their practice and how did you become so engaged and passionate about nutrition as a physician?

Dr. Greger: I was just a kid when my grandmother was sent home in a wheelchair to die, she was diagnosed with end stage heart disease. She had so many bypass surgeries, basically run out of complaining at some point, so she was confined to a wheelchair with crushing heart pain, her life was over at age 65. She shared about this guy named Nathan Pritikin, one of the early lifestyle medicine pioneers, and what happened next is actually detailed in my productions and biography, as I talk about Francis Gregor, my grandma. They wheeled her in and she walked out and she was given a medical death sentence of age 65, but thanks to a healthy diet she was able to survive another thirty-one years on this planet, that is why I became a lifestyle doctor. I started NutritionFact.org, and wrote How Not to Die and the proceeds of all my books are donated to charity, I just want to do for everyone’s family what Pritikin did for my family.

Sharon: I remember Pritikin as a RD studying, you know, he was just a pioneer in that area, so he was your real kind of role model that really inspired you to get into that, which is great. So I am interested in what charitable organizations you are supporting and passionate about?

Dr Greger: NutritionFacts.org that operates at Pfizer, acts as a nonprofit organization so a lot of the proceeds go directly to that. We realized early on that all the nutrition research in the world may not help if it can’t be put into practice. So, we started a new nonprofit called Balance to change the food policy at a corporate level and school cafeterias programs and all around; they are doing wonderful work and so we continue to give money to them and there’s all sorts of wonderful organizations. My office is supporting PCRM as a group; in fact, after this tonight I am doing a lecture with a group in Germany working on changing dietary guidelines around the world. So, all sorts of good things are happening to take this mountain of research to turn it into policy and making the default option the healthier option.

This recipe for Sesame Tempeh Grain Bowl is one of my favorite ways to include more plant-based meals in your diet.

Sharon: I really love that you are thinking this way; there are a lot of visionary experts who are starting to think that if we create policies that make that the default, the easy choice, then it’s really going to set people up for success. So, I really appreciate that, and I am a big fan of some of the organizations you just listed. I do some volunteer work with PCRM. So those are great places, and they provide such great resources and can really change lives, which kind of brings me to my next question. A lot of times, some people undervalue how powerful diet is in health, we are giving all of this information, but I will still hear in my work that people say, oh it’s my genes, my mother had heart disease. I just want to just shake people to really let them know that diet can overcome these things, you know, how can you talk to us about the power of diet on health?

Dr. Greger: We have a lot of power on our longevity, and most of these diseases are preventable with a plant-based diet. With a plant-based diet and other healthy lifestyle behaviors can correct the current burden of disease. Today, the largest study on risk factors in history, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that the number one cause of diet in the US is our diet. It is bumping tobacco and smoking to number two; cigarettes only kill about half a million Americans every year, it’s worse for diet, which kills many more, so it’s the number one cause of death. The number one thing we can do to improve health and wellbeing of ourselves, our families, our communities is to stop killing ourselves three times a day with a fork. 

Sharon: Yeah, that’s so true, it’s very powerful and it is something we do every day, you know it’s like you can actually treat your health conditions, you can prevent those conditions just with the power of the plate, so it’s so important. I was wondering if you could get into some of the research, like heart disease, diabetes, I think people are really starting to know that these are related to diet as well as obesity, but there are other areas opening up in health, you know, what are some of the new areas where a plant-based diet is related to health outcomes?

Dr. Greger: It’s not just preventing these diseases, but treating, arresting, and potentially reversing these diets, which is the most exciting work. Dating back to, for example Dr. Dean Ornish, his work on the lifestyle around 1990, a couple decades ago now. He took Pritikin’s hypothesis in a randomized control trial and use something called quantitative angiography; we actually look at the arteries and you can see if you can reverse the progression of coronary disease, the number one killer of men and women, with a healthy plant-based diet. And it’s like, wait a second, a plant-based diet can reverse heart disease? Shouldn’t that be the default diet, plus it can be so effective that it can reverse or prevent other leading killers, like type two diabetes and high blood pressure, which seem to make the case for plant-based eating. It’s so simple it’s overwhelming.

Sharon: I am familiar with Dr. Ornish and his work and its really compelling, you know it’s one thing to explain to people that you could prevent these conditions, and even if you have a family history, but then to actually reverse them is very exciting and I don’t think a lot of people are aware of that. Could you give us in a nutshell, if you could paint a picture of it, what this disease protective diet looks like?

Dr. Greger: It is a diet that minimizes the intake of meat, eggs, dairy, and junk and maximizes a diet of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes or beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and mushrooms—basically real food that grows out of the ground not in a factory. Those are our healthiest choices.

Sharon: Yeah, that’s kind of the way I put it, I always like to say that we should be eating things that come close to mother earth. That you can recognize the food, the way it grew on the plant, you can see when you eat a beet, you can see the leaves of the beet now like, compared to when you turn a beet into sugar, it’s about really getting back to whole foods. When you are shopping in stores these days it can be easy to find plant-based foods, but a lot of junk food is plant-based. When you pick up the package can you even identify those whole ingredients anymore? Is it just refined? You know it could be plants, but if it’s so refined it doesn’t even resemble the original plant, then we are straying away from those benefits.

Dr. Greger:  Stick to the produce aisle.

Sharon: Yes, and one more thing I am really interested in is more diversity of plants, is that something that you are recommending too? Like even within the plant world, do you suggest more diverse diets, like more, different types of vegetables that you may not recognize?

Dr. Greger: Oh, absolutely. I have videos on this, as I say the studies being done on dietary diversity, just as there are different nutrients in, you know, fruits and vegetables, different vegetables, so there’s leafy vegetables, the leaves are stem vegetables like rhubarb and celery. There are root vegetables like beets, and sweet potatoes, there are flower vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli. And different parts of the plant, and different nutrient compositions; so even different parts of the same plant. In general, we should eat the rainbow every day.

Try to focus on more pulse-based dishes, such as this recipe for Spicy Lentil Tacos.

Sharon: Yeah, absolutely, so I know that a lot of people are trying to eat more plant-based, I hear from them all the time. What are the pitfalls that people are making, and some opportunities they can eat more of this whole plant based diet?

Dr. Greger: Some people are used to eating the standard western diet and when they start eating plant-based, they may not be eating enough food. People don’t realize how calorically dilute whole plant foods are. If you eat the same amount of food, so you look down on your plate for dinner, okay, this is dinner, this is how much food is considered dinner, we can’t eat just that much food you would be on some weird starvation diet, so some people may need to eat more calorically dense meals or snacks. You just have to eat more food, in fact some people may have to eat more frequent meals, have some trail mix or something with some calorically dense foods like nuts, dried fruit, smoothies, things like that. Just to get their caloric needs for the day, I mean it’s great for people who are trying to lose weight, but some people are like, I’m hungry. Well, of course you are, you only ate 500 calories for this day.

Sharon: I see that too. I know people will say, especially when they are new to plant-based eating, they will say, I am hungry, I just don’t feel satisfied, and they are not. And the other thing I see is they are maybe just eating vegetables, it’s like, you’ve got to eat the whole thing, you’ve got to have some pulses, some whole grains, you know, you need balance. I would love to hear what you eat in a typical day? What is in your fridge and on your plate?

Dr. Greger: Well, that is why I came up with my daily dozen, that is available for free on apple iPhone and Android, that talks about all the things that I try to fit into my daily routine. For examples, berries every day, for example the healthiest foods.  Greens every day for the healthiest vegetables, beans every day, ground flaxseeds, and of course turmeric, the best beverages, how much exercise to get every day. Again, just trying to inspire people to include some of the healthiest of the healthy options into their daily diet and if you actually want to put it all together, a good book is How Not to Diet Cookbook, and my third cookbook coming out December 2023.

Sharon: Yeah, I think that is really helpful, people are always asking me for specifics. So, okay what do I actually do with that kind of information? It’s really great, because when you are eating a certain way, you know the standard American diet, sometimes it’s hard for people to imagine how you switch that all out. So, really that specific information can be super helpful. I love what you are talking about with berries, I do recommend the same thing, berries, there is so much research about that. Green leafy vegetables every day. I will have links to everything we are talking about today. I am also going to be sharing one of Dr. Gregor’s favorite recipes that he shared with us, a Stone Fruit Bowl. I know you are a busy man, just keep doing all this wonderful work you are doing, you are saving countless lives so thank you for your inspiration!

Dr. Greger shared one of his favorite recipes with us!

Stone Fruit Bowls

3 tablespoons ground chia seeds
1 ½ cups of fresh or thawed frozen diced mango
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 pitted soft dates, soaked for 10 minutes in hot water and then drained
3 ripe apricots pitted and quartered
3 ripe plums, pitted and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 ripe peaches or nectarines, pitted and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups pitted cherries

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine the chia seeds and ¼ cup of water and mix well. Set aside for 10 minutes to thicken.
  2. In a food processor or blender, combine the mango, lemon juice, dates, and the chia mixture and process until smooth. Divide equally among four small glass dessert bowls. Cover and refrigerate until firm, 4 hours or overnight.
  3. Combine the apricots, plums, peaches, and cherries in a large bowl. Toss gently to combine.
  4. To serve, spoon the fruit evenly over the chilled mango mixture. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Recipe and Image, Dr. Michael Greger.

 

For more live chats with food experts, check out the following:

Celebrating Hispanic Plant-Based Food Traditions
How to Eat a Healthy, Plant-Based Mediterranean Diet
Plant Chat: Stephanie McKercher, MS, RDN, The Grateful Grazer

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