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Why Joel Fuhrman, M.D., Believes in a High Raw Plant-Based Diet

In this special interview with RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com, Dr. Fuhrman discusses, among other things, how B-12 deficiencies have killed vegans, including the famous raw foodist pioneer T.C. Fry. Dr. Fuhrman is an advocate of a high raw "plant-based" diet.

Joel Fuhrman, MD is a board certified family physician in private practice in Belle Mead, NJ, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. As an author and authority on nutritional healing, he has appeared on dozens of television and radio shows including Good Morning America, CNN, Good Day NY, and the TV Food Network.

Through years of experience in helping patients remove the cause of disease, Dr. Fuhrman has learned that each individual may have unique biochemical and physiologic differences that have to be considered to devise the optimal recommendations for them to get well and maintain optimal health. For example, he does not recommend the same diet or the same type of supplementation for everyone. He does not recommend that everyone is an appropriate candidate for fasting.

Dr. Fuhrman is the author of Fasting and Eating for Health, A Medical Doctor's Program for Conquering Disease, published by St. Martins Press. His new book, Discover the Health Equation, A Guide For Those Requiring Substantial Weight Reduction, will be published in 2002 by Little, Brown & Company.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: What are your thoughts about eating a 100 percent raw vegan diet?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: A 100% raw vegan diet is unnecessary for excellent health. Obviously, raw foods are an important part of an optimal diet. Any diet that doesn't contain a significant proportion of raw plant foods isn't an optimal diet.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: What would you consider a significant portion?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: The majority of calories. Some people can do well on 100 percent raw. Some don't.

Raw FoodsNewsMagazine.com: What does it depend on?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: It depends on individual biodiversity, including metabolism and digestive function. However, anyone who prescribes a 100 percent raw vegan diet without Vitamin B-12 supplementation is irresponsible because the majority of people in the long run (over period of 10 to 20 years) will develop a B-12 deficiency. Which can manifest as heart disease. Some famous vegans--like T.C. Fry, a popular promoter of a raw vegan diet have died of severe B-12 deficiency. I saw his blood test results near his death.

B-12 deficiency disease can cause little or no symptoms until irreversible damage occurs, but very often the neurologic difficulties are reversible. I have seen vegan patients who could no longer walk unassisted, gain back their ability to walk, after treatment with B-12. The proper blood test to ascertain whether you have B-12 deficiency or not is an MMA (methlymalonic acid).

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: Some books on the Mediterranean Diet say that cooking foods--especially in olive oil--increases phytochemical absorption, and our diet should be mostly cooked food. Do you disagree?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: Many studies show that raw fruits and vegetables enable people to obtain the highest blood levels of nutrients to protect against cancer. The Brassica Chemoprotection Lab at Johns Hopkins University studies the effects of cooking on nutrients and phytochemicals.

Many of these important compounds are made more available via cooking and many are weakened and inactivated with cooking.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: What would you say to those people who say that we're born with the ability to produce enzymes but that as we get older, we lose that ability, and that the loss of such enzymes is what causes the body to age?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: Not an opinion with scientific support and contrary to the leading theories on aging which do have significant scientific support.

Many vitamins are heat sensitive. Twenty to 60 percent of Vitamin C is lost with cooking And 20 to 40 percent of minerals are lost in many cooking methods. My upcoming book contains the scientific references.

One benefit of a raw vegan diet is the reduction of the high level of cooked grains and other cooked starches, in most vegan diets. These cooked plant-foods are not as nutrient-dense as greens and other raw vegetables. That does not mean I think these foods have to be completely eliminated from the diet, only reduced.

But I do not see any advantage, only a disadvantage to removing cooked green vegetables from the diet. They have a huge nutrient per calorie density. There are certain advantages to eating cooked foods. You can fit more cooked vegetables into your stomach, thus ingesting a larger quantity of nutrients.

The real question is: Why has the advantages of eating raw foods become so much of a religion to many so that they can't eat any cooked food? What are the benefits of being that radical?

We're in agreement that we should strive to eat a diet with lots of raw food, but we don't want to go so far to think that some cooked food in the diet is poisoning us.

In my new book, I recommend restricting the amount of cooked starches in the diet, and increasing the percentage of both raw foods and cooked greens, thus increasing the satiety index [making a person feel full]. Raw foods are a good strategy to maintain a healthier weight.

But some people lose too much weight on an all raw vegan diet, and they don't tolerate huge amounts of nuts. They need more concentrated calories. So if you don't want your diet to be so high in fruits and nuts, it will help these individuals to eat some cooked (steamed) vegetables, especially those that are usually not relished in their raw state.

To conclude, even if it is supplemented with B-12, an all raw vegan diet may be ideal for some, but not for all.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: How would you recommend that people get B-12?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: It doesn't matter, that is a decision based on personal preference. One may take a multi-vitamin, B-12 fortified soy milk, a B-12 supplement, or occasionally eat some animal foods.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: Which B-12 supplement would you recommend, or does it depend on the individual? And when should they take it, and in what dosage?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: It doesn't matter.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: I've heard that vegans might produce B-12 on their own. Is that true?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: B-12 is produced by bacteria, so a minority of people will produce B-12 in their gut [without supplementation]. If you're vegan and don't take B-12 supplementation, you should have your B-12 monitored with a Methymalonic Acid (MMA) test once every three years.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: What symptoms should a vegan look for to see if they might be deficient in B-12?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: You shouldn't wait for symptoms. Once a person has symptoms, he or she already has nerve damage.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: What do you think of the Zone diet?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: I call it "The Cancer Zone." Any diet that advocates that high a level of animal foods consumption is increasing cancer risks. Of course I agree that processed foods and refined grains are disease promoting.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: Some people advocate eating raw animal foods as well as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. They make the argument that wild animals eat everything raw, including animals. What do you think of that diet?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: Animals can eat raw animal foods because they don't have to worry about bacterial contamination and parasites the way we do. A dog's stomach, for example, contains a much higher concentration of hydrochloric acid than a human stomach, thus reducing the risk of salmonella and other micro-organisms. Whether cooked or raw, I would not recommend a substantial portion of calories (more than 10%) come from animal products for many other reasons as well. The average American consumes more than 40% of calories from animal products.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: How do you feel about soaked or sprouted grains?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: When you soak or sprout a grain, you increase its nutritional value.

RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com: What will your new book cover?

Joel Fuhrman, M.D.: Discover the Health Equation, A Guide For Those Requiring Substantial Weight Reduction is a well-referenced and complete book on weight loss, longevity and human nutrition. It emphasizes the value of eating a nutrient dense diet with a high percentage of raw plant foods, especially greens.

Editor's Note: To learn more about Dr. Fuhrman, see his website: www.drfuhrman.com. The website contains a forum and other helpful information.

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