Highlights of the interview with Dr. Pamela Popper author of the book “Food as Medicine”
There are lots and lots of books related to health and dieting but there are a few authors who have the courage to say things as they really are. What do I mean by that? Doctors who publically raise the issue that the health system in the United States is not a health system but a sick system considering the influence of the food and pharmaceutical industries in our decision making, food politics and lack of clear information to consumers like you and me. This is the reason I got interested in Dr. Pamela Popper.
I first heard about Dr. Popper watching the documentary “Food Choices” and later on I read her book “Food as Medicine” where she talks about these specific aspects: food as a way to avoid diseases, over medication and lack of honest information for consumers. So to make the story short, I had the incredible opportunity to interview Dr. Popper and ask her about specific parts of her book which now I can share with you. The full interview was 40 mins so I decided to summarize the session and show you the highlights. Everything I write and share is with a high dose of love and dedication so I hope you find it useful.
MXO: Dr. Popper you are an advocate for a plant based diet. Can you briefly, in layman terms, explain why you recommend this diet?
Dr.Popper: Well, there are two major examples to show why this diet is the best for humans. The first thing is that if you look around the world, there are still a few places left where the diabetes rate, cancer rate, heart diseases rate are very low, and these people eat a plant-based diet, and this should be a clue. I mean our health statistics in the United States are terrible, we are eating a diet that is comprised of animal foods and processed foods so that is a clue. Another very significant clue we have is a growing number of studies where using a plant-based diet has shown to stop the progression of or reverse conditions like diabetes, coronary artery disease, even some cancers, so between those two we have a pretty powerful case we can make for eating a plant based diet.
MXO: What do think about animal protein? Do we really need it?
Dr. Popper: There are economical reasons throughout history to explain why eating animal protein became popular. In wealthy areas, people would eat more and more animal foods, and it was considered the food of rich people which many aspires to. And it’s an honest inverse relation between the increase of animal food intake and the health status which goes down at the same time, so that is what’s actually happening. We have been told that we need animal protein and this is mythology. My take is that there is no compelling reason to include it in the diet. For people like me who don’t eat any of it, I am not missing out on something, I am not going to be deficient in anything. For people who insist that they must have some, then at least limit it to the amount that is eaten by people who live in areas of the world where they have significantly better health.
MXO: Moving away from animal protein also means we need to bring more variety of food in our plate. What can you advise people to start diversifying their foods?
Dr. Popper: I have a lot of clients is my wellness center who are picky eaters and what I tell them is that variety is a luxury of western civilization. The story of a specific person comes to me, a guy who had very compelling medical reason to change his diet, he was scared to death. Right away he said to me “I don’t like the food that you eat” however, I am willing to do it. So I said to him “every so often I would like you to try something that is just new”, we went through the foods that he likes (that are healthy) and he started adding new ones every now and then. Last time I saw him he said “Guess what? I ate kohlrabi” and I thought, now he is getting adventurous! I can see that giving him a comfort zone to start from and get more adventurous later on was the way to go.
I also tell people they need to have this visualization in your head, when you go into the grocery store, farmer’s market or whatever, I want you to think about food as drugs as my book Food over Medicine like this: There are some vegetables that are called cruciferous vegetables, I want to choose a couple of those “drugs”, there’s a class of fruits called stone fruits, so pick some of those “drugs” too (peaches, cherries), then we have leafy greens, this one is a great set of drugs too, tubers, etc. When you start seeing these foods as foods that can heal your body, and maintain your body, this will make a huge difference.
MXO: Let’s talk about over testing and overmedication. You mentioned in the book that many times patients are asked to get a lot of unnecessary tests that can actually cause health problems such as infections or simply create unnecessary panic. What would you recommend to people when they are faced with this situation?
Dr. Popper: Well, unless it is an emergency, If I was in a car accident and I am bleeding, I don’t want a bake potatoe and a copy of the China Study (Study about effects of nutrition in health), I want to be taken to a hospital and get the best of western medicine: anesthesia, drugs, surgery, anything that is required. Most of the time medicine is about sitting in a doctor’s office and been told to take this drug, do this treatment, get this test, so the answer (from consumers) should be “that’s an interesting idea, I want to research about this information you are giving me so please provide me with information sources that back up what you are advising me to do. Once I review it I will come back to you with my decision”. Medicine should not be about a patient agreeing to anything the doctors says, we need to ask ourselves: what are the side effects of taking the drugs or having a test done? Will the testing reduce my risk of dying? If the answer is no, then don’t do it. Basically, assess the risks and the benefits of doing what the doctor is advising. If you buy a house in this country, you make sure you understand all the details of the house and the commitment you are getting yourself into. It should be the same approach.
MXO: How can health coaches work together with medical professionals to improve the health of the population?
Dr. Popper: There are good medical professionals who are out there and take their profession very seriously. Some even take nutrition classes which is great. What health coaches can do is to empower the patients, prepare them to have a real conversation with their doctor, to help them look at everything: is this a good idea or a bad idea? ask more questions and take control of the situation.
Health coaches can help educate consumers and guide people through habit change in a way it is sustainable and lasting.
I am grateful that I had the chance to talk with Dr.Popper and be able to share valuable information with all of you. If you want to learn more about her work visit her websites: http://drpampopper.com/ , http://wellnessforumhealth.com/about/dr-pamela-popper/ .
Hasta la proxima!