Another dietician's advice

I’ve recently been reading and watching material from Jeff Novick, a dietician who used to work with Dr. Fuhrman and now works with Dr. McDougall.  It’s been interesting to compare advice from all three of these guys.  I think they all offer very healthy eating plans.  The average advice is pretty similar but the ranges are different.   Here is a description of Dr. McDougall’s Maximum weight loss program.  Here is a description of Dr. Fuhrman’s 6 week plan.

From what I’ve read, I think all three would agree that 1-1.5 oz of nuts and seeds per day is an okay amount to eat.  All of their food plans include some nuts and seeds in some of their recipes, and none in others.  They differ in their minimum recommended amounts.  Mr. Novick says you shouldn’t go above 1-2 oz for normal activity, or 2-4 oz for very active folks per day.  Dr. Fuhrman says active people and athletes can go up to 4 oz or more.  Both Novick and McDougall say your minimum can be 0 and I think they recommend that when trying to lose weight.  In Novick’s video on fats, he says you can get all you need from vegetables:  “Where do you think corn oil comes from?”   I’ve asked Dr. Fuhrman explicitly even for small people or overweight people with low metabolism, and he says everyone should eat a minimum of 1 oz of nuts or seeds per day and more active people should consume more.  I find nuts hard to digest and feel better when I stick to under 2 oz per day.   I have tried going super low-fat in the past with no nuts and seeds, and my irregular heartbeats returned (I used to get them all the time before adopting a healthy diet).  Dr. Fuhrman has discussed this, and this is one reason he recommends nuts and seeds.  Dr. Fuhrman says you need to eat fat to burn fat.  Dr. Mullin, who is on Dr. Fuhrman's staff, explains why:

Healthy fats communicate with your genes in a different way compared to unhealthy fats. Healthy fats bind to receptors called PPAR receptors which improve insulin sensitivity and enhance fat burning. Trans fats do the opposite. 

Since eating 1 oz of nuts and seeds fits in with the guidelines of all of these guys, I will stick with that recommendation.

Regarding sweets, I like the advice of Novick.  He says all sweeteners are the same as far as health goes.  Pick whichever one you want and keep it to less than 5% of your calories—and he includes that with all unhealthy calories including oils, etc.  So he’s saying your total unhealthy calories should comprise 5% of the total, not just your sweets.  This is consistent with Dr. Fuhrman’s “Life Plan”, where he says no more than 10% of your calories should come from less healthy sources.  Dr. Fuhrman distinguishes refined sweeteners (sugar, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup)from dried fruits such as dates and raisins, which are whole foods.  Almost all of his dessert recipes use dried fruits as sweeteners.   I think many Fuhrman followers go overboard with their use of dates and other dried fruits.  I know I did for a while.  I thought it was okay because it was a whole food.  But after a while I realized it’s having the same effect on my body, a sugar surge (probably an insulin surge too), and cravings for more.  Combine this with nuts and you have very high-calorie, hard to digest food.  I once got sick on “healthy” brownies made from dates and walnuts and cocoa powder.  I learned the hard way that I can eat too many dried fruits or nuts.  I tend to agree with Novick and prefer to think of all sweeteners, including dried fruit, as in the 5% category.

With salt, Fuhrman wants you to include no added salt in your diet.  McDougall is more relaxed about it.  He allows people to add salt at the table in small amounts and most of his recipes include some sodium in the form of salt or soy sauce, though it is much less than processed foods have.  McDougall’s advice might be easier to follow and it still cuts way back on salt.  I started out following McDougall’s advice and then eventually decided to go cold turkey, following Fuhrman’s advice.   There is an advantage to this, which is that you taste all the subtle flavors in produce.  I can taste the difference in sweetness from one carrot to the next, and one pea pod to the next.  Even kohlrabi and broccoli taste sweet when your taste buds are sensitized again.  My sweat still tastes salty, so clearly my body has learned to extract what it needs from whole foods. Dr. Fuhrman talks about the many harmful effects of salt in his teleconferences, mainly related to heart disease and stomach cancer and the increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke for people with lower cholesterol.  There are two disadvantages to going without salt completely:  1) Some recipes and especially grains can taste bland.  However, this is often solved with a little sweet flavor which you can get from any number of sources:  fruit, carrot juice, fruit juice, dried fruit.  You don’t need much and these can add a nice creative dimension to a recipe.  2) It makes it harder to find acceptable food to eat in restaurants.  Soups are especially bad.  Your best best is salads without dressing or fruit plate.  Unfortunately, these can be pretty lame at a lot of restaurants.

Another way I agree with Novick is that he seems to like simple recipes, and he isn’t a big fan of smoothies and juices and other ways of processing your food.  I think of smoothies, “ice creams”, and sorbets as treats, a once a week type thing rather than daily.  Even carrot-juice sweetened beans and soups I save for special occasions, partly because it’s more work, ha. 

Regarding supplements, I think McDougall and Novick say that you only need to supplement B12.  I’m not sure where Novick stands on vitamin D, but I know McDougall thinks you can get enough D from exposure to sunlight.  Dr. Fuhrman says that vitamin D is so important to your health (in fighting cancer for one thing) that if you don’t want to take the supplements, get your blood levels checked to verify that you are not deficient.  He says the same thing about DHA.  That makes sense to me. 

Regarding animal products, I think McDougall would recommend an all-vegan diet, Novick probably too, though I’m not sure, and Fuhrman says animal products could be included in your 10% of unhealthy calories, unless you have certain conditions such as heart disease and some autoimmune illnesses where an optimal diet is required to reverse your condition.

Then there is the grain/starchy vegetable debate.  Again I think all their recommendations intersect and you can design a diet that agrees with all of them.  Dr. Fuhrman emphasizes eating more leafy green vegetables.  He also emphasizes cruciferous vegetables, onions and mushrooms to fight cancer.  I can get on board with that.  Then how should you fill out the rest of your calories?  I think many Fuhrman followers eat too much fruit and nuts and therefore too many calories (I speak from experience)—and for me, that also leads to a stomach ache which I have no interest in getting.  Novick says it’s better to fill out your calories with starchy vegetables and grains.  Dr. Fuhrman would say the best starchy vegetable to eat is beans.   Novick and McDougall don’t put particular emphasis on beans and include it as one of many healthy options, including white potatoes.  Fuhrman thinks white potatoes are one of the least healthy vegetables and would recommend other vegetables above them.  Fuhrman recommends a minimum amount of beans per day (1 cup).  Novick and McDougall have no such minimum.  Once you get your GOMBS in, (Greens, Onions, Mushrooms, Beans/Berries, and Seeds/nuts), Dr. Fuhrman is fine with filling out your calories with starchy vegetables and grains, though he would prefer you eat sweet potatoes instead of white.

What do I do?   I’ve chosen to follow Dr. Fuhrman’s approach.  I think McDougall’s plan might be easier to adopt for a person starting out (though I found their recipes more bland than Fuhrman’s so maybe it’s a tossup, or depends on your taste preferences).  I really like Novick’s advice, which is practical and makes a lot of sense to me.  I follow the daily guidelines that Fuhrman recommends:  lots of vegetables, especially leafy greens and cruciferous, and onions and mushrooms, 1 cup of beans, 1 oz nuts/seeds, 1-1 ½ lbs of fruit.  Then to fill out the rest of my calories, I prefer starchy vegetables and beans over nuts and fruit, in agreement with Novick.  I love baked sweet potatoes.  In the summer it’s sweet corn.  In my beans, I can add some unhulled barley (yum), or wild rice or wheat berries or oat groats (these look a lot like brown rice).  In the winter I might have oatmeal at breakfast.  I don’t like to eat many dried fruits or smoothies or juices, in agreement with Novick.  I like some, but not on a daily basis, more like weekly.  I like the idea of 5% play calories, in agreement with both.  That means that no food is forbidden which is useful psychologically, given the culture we live in.