Investigating Plant-Based Nutrition with The Wellness Forum’s Dr. Pam Popper

September 13, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re going to Columbus, Ohio, to have Doctor Pam Popper on with us. Welcome to Green is Good, Doctor Pam Popper. DR. PAM POPPER: Well, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, we’re going to be talking today about wellness and about the great movie and book, Forks Over Knives, and the whole phenomena of eating well, taking care of ourselves, and veganism but before we get into talking about all these great things, can you share with us a little bit your journey, Doctor Pam Popper, and how you even got to this position and why you’re one of the leading advocates and thought leaders on these important topics? DR. PAM POPPER: Well, it’s an interesting story because I really had no interest in health and diet and didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be in the nutrition business or anything like that and I think this is important. My habits were the worst of anybody you’ve ever talked to in your entire life and that’s good because I’ve been through the process of changing my diet from one that was just awful to one that’s optimal and I know what that’s all about. I know the difficulties that you can encounter and that sort of thing, although it’s a lot easier than people think it is, but anyway, what happened to me is I spent the first 20 years of my adult life in sales and marketing and just having jobs and not taking very good care of myself, eating cookies and three pots of coffee a day. People used to tell me I was energetic, which I kind of find funny now, and by accident, I rented a book written by John McDougall, who’s in the movie, and here was a medical doctor who had been curing disease with diet for 25 years and I never heard of anything like this. It just fascinated me and so I decided I would change my own diet and my family’s diet and one thing led to another and the more I read about it and found about it, the more passionate I became about and at some point in time, it turned into a career, not just a self improvement project, and so that’s why we’re here today having this conversation. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome and I’m so thankful for that intro because we’re going to be talking about plant-based nutrition and there’s two website. I’m on one right now. I’m going to ForksOverKnives.com, which is an amazing movie. It’s a wonderful book but also, the WellnessForum.com so these are two important websites for our listeners out there to bookmark and use and engage with but I want you to talk a little bit about plant-based nutrition. What does that really mean for adults and children, not only across the United States. We have listeners all over the world so what does plant-based nutrition even mean? What’s the umbrella? DR. PAM POPPER: What is it? Well, we’ll start with a concept I think everybody can understand, which is that there is a specific and good diet, optimal diet for human beings just as there is a specific and optimal diet for every creature on the planet. Cats eat a different diet than elephants than gorillas than zebras than house cats than humans, etcetera so what we’re talking about is the diet that’s ideal for humans and your principal food groups are going to be fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes so people who live on a plant-based diet like me eat lots of beans and rice and vegetables and big salads and fresh fruit and potatoes and corn and the foods that humans have traditionally lived on for thousands and thousands and thousands of years and it’s a very high fiber, low fat diet and it’s very important to minimize the fat, drink lots of fresh water every day, and that’s it and people say is it really that simple? It really, really is and you just try to stay away from so much packaged food and processed food. I think one of the big awakenings for me was when I started looking at the labels on the stuff I was buying at the store and realized that for a lot of it, there wasn’t even any food in it. I needed to go back to the produce section and buy the food I was going to eat there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about the benefits. Our listeners want to know that if they switch from their Big Macs and their Twinkies — and there’s nothing the matter with that. That’s their business. We’re not being judgmental — but if they start eating beans and rice and salads and soups, what’s the benefit? DR. PAM POPPER: Well. the benefits are amazing and the first thing is you get to avoid most of the common degenerative conditions that so many of our friends are suffering from. I’m 57 years old and I have a lot of friends who are diabetic, who have had cancer, who have had surgeries and procedures and they’re taking medications and you don’t have to worry about that stuff most of the time. If you’ve already developed some of those conditions, you can expect that you’re most likely going to be able to eat your way out of those conditions. You ate your way in. You can eat your way out. Weight; you maintain optimal weight easily. I eat a lot of food, I eat whenever I’m hungry, and my weight doesn’t vary by six ounces from day to day so I’m leaner now than I was when I was 20 with absolutely no effort and here is the key: Not only do you get all these fabulous benefits, but once you learn how to prepare the food properly, you eat fabulous, wonderful delicious food. I’ve had so many carnivores as guests in my home or taken them out for a plant-based meal at a local restaurant, ordered for them, and they all say the same thing, ‘My gosh, I thought people like you lived on tree bark and pine cones. This stuff is fabulous,’ so they love the food if you prepare it right and serve it to them so you enjoy food, you’re never hungry, you eat as much as you want, and you enjoy optimal health and lots of energy. Those are the benefits. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You talked about your children a little while ago. I assume you have a few children. DR. PAM POPPER: I have two. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, are they following mom’s footsteps? DR. PAM POPPER: Not so much. The younger one’s starting to, but the hard part about this is that sometimes, you might have heard the saying, ‘It’s hard to be a prophet in your own land,’ so I’ve influenced some people. My dad eats a really, really healthy diet and that’s one of the things that we really enjoy and share and he’s 82 and he’s optimally healthy. Gosh, he weighs what he weighed when he graduated from high school at the age of 82 and mentally sharp. My dad has just lost nothing mentally so I’ve influenced some members of my family. Others, not so much. I think the key, if you’re all excited about this, and it’s kind of a mistake I made early on, is I was almost evangelical and I’ve learned to be a little quieter and wait for teachable moments and people that know me gradually come around. I’ve influenced some good friends to change their habits and I think I’ll win in the end with everybody because sooner or later, bad things happen to people who don’t eat well and then they show up on my doorstep. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Isn’t that true? And I think also, our youth — because I have two young children also and they’re in their early 20s. I think when we’re younger, our bodies can do more with the processing the junk whereas, as we get older, we become much more susceptible so I think you’re right. I think you’re going to win in the end on all levels. I think everyone’s going to come your way. There’s still an unbelievable proliferation of fast food, junk food, sodas, and things of that such. Why don’t more people know about all the great work you’re doing at The Wellness Forum and Forks Over Knives and veganism? Why is still sort of a small group that’s involved with this way of eating? DR. PAM POPPER: That’s a great question and I always proceed what I say with I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist. If you add up all the money that is spent on traditional health care, which means drugs, surgeries, procedures, hospitalization and then you add to it the agricultural organizations and the money that they make and the farmers and the food producers and the whole nine yards, you’re talking about trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars every year and so the vested interests have a good reason to protect their financial interests to not have people know this message so that’s why medical school still focuses on drugs and surgeries, which are sometimes needed, by the way. We want to say in with the good and out with the bad part but there’s just no focus on nutrition in medical school. Dieticians are taught about the traditional food pyramid and the USDA puts out that eating scheme every few years and the USDA is an advocacy organization for farmers so of course, they’re going to protect their farmers’ interests and they’re not going to tell people to eat less of foods they produce so if you add all this up, what we’re talking about is a few dozen doctors and health professionals in the country who have had these spectacular results with their members, patients, however their schemes work in terms of reaching people and we are getting a louder voice. Forks Over Knives has helped to bring this message to the mainstream public and that’s helped a lot but we have a lot to overcome because it really isn’t a billion-dollar advertising budget for broccoli and asparagus like there is for drugs, right? JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so well put and for our listeners out there, we’re so excited and we’re so lucky to have with us today Doctor Pam Popper. We’re talking about two organizations: Forks Over Knives, which is the book, the China study, and then became the movie and also, the cookbook but then also, Pam runs The Wellness Forum and people can go and actually get Doctor Popper’s services at WellnessForum.com and I’m on your website right now. Talk a little bit about what the tenets in Forks Over Knives is, about all of the fallacies that we’ve grown up with and we’ve heard about; getting enough protein, eating oils, and also the benefits or non-benefits of dairy products. DR. PAM POPPER: Well, those are just great examples of I call it dietary mythology. You start with the protein issue. People think that they can’t get enough protein and the reality is most people are eating too much. Protein needs are like 2.5% of calories so it’s really easy to get enough protein. You can’t eat enough calories every day, not matter what foods you eat, without getting enough protein and then we’ve been told that oils are heart healthy. There’s nothing further from the truth. We now have the technology to take products and we know that they’re filled with mono and polyunsaturated fat just like saturated fat. We can do the brachial artery tourniquet test on a person who’s consumed olive oil and you see arterial constriction like you do when people eat saturated fat and then we’ve been told that dairy products and calcium are helpful for building strong bones. Not true. If you take a look at the four studies that have been done all independent of one another, we used one of them in the movie but there are four total, all of these research groups concluded the same thing, which is the more calcium intake in a country, the higher the fracture rate so what we’ve been told is a lot of untruth about diet and a lot of these have been fueled by special interest. Who tells us that dairy products build good bones? The dairy industry and we live in America so I respect their right to advertise but somebody’s got to be out there saying, ‘Listen, that’s an advertisement. It’s not a health message. You need to look at the research and see what the research says,’ so the movie addresses a lot of that. We address the dietary miss. We address the idea that illness is some random genetically induced thing because all the patients in the movie eat their way out of their disease, which, by the way, is a pretty predictable result, not just the patients in the movie but what we see in our office and what the other doctors in the movie experience in their practices and it’s a hopeful message because you know, if you really think that disease is just some random thing that just strikes you when you’re walking down the sidewalk because it’s just isn’t your lucky day, that kind of makes you a helpless victim but if you know it’s your diet and if you change your diet, you can change your health, that’s an empowering message and that’s the one we wanted to give people. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great and we have about three minutes left, Doctor Popper, but here’s the issue. People hear about eating this way and they hear about plant-based diets. Is it more expensive than other traditional diets in America? DR. PAM POPPER: Absolutely not. Some of the worst things people eat are the most expensive things they eat. You can eat lots of beans and rice and potatoes and foods that are health promoting and that by the way, people like — people love potatoes. They’re excited to hear that they can go back to eating them again, so you can eat much better and actually, some of the folks in the movie, including me, were involved in a project in Sacramento a couple of years ago where we taught people who were eating out of the food bank, the working poor, we taught them how to this and they reversed their diseases and lost weight just like people who are more economically advantaged, if you will, so it actually makes the grocery bill go down. It’s cheaper to eat better and that’s before you even start considering the prescription drugs and the co-pays for doctor visits. There’s no free health care in America anymore. Everybody’s paying a co-pay of some sort so when you start getting rid of the drugs and the doctor visits and that sort of thing and you look at the food bill, almost everybody saves a bunch of money when they adopt this diet. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, also, Doc, the last question is we love to give solutions on this show and you’ve been so inspiring. You’ve told us about the problems and also, you’ve shared what the opportunities are in terms of better health, lower bills, and just general good feeling here. How do people get involved? How does listeners right now, sitting wherever they are sitting, how do they get started? DR. PAM POPPER: Well, a couple things I’ll recommend: If you haven’t seen the movie, watch the movie. It’ll inspire you. The companion book, which I was privileged to co-author, has a lot of great recipes and answers a lot of the questions that we’ve been talking about on the show. At Wellness Forum, you can join The Wellness Forum. We’ll teach you how to do it from any place. You can come to where we are if you live near our center. If not, we have virtual membership. You can learn at home with books and DVDs and conference calls and that sort of thing but just start down the path of doing this and when people are a little hesitant, I tell them, ‘Look, why don’t you just try it. If you don’t like the better health, the lost weight, the more energy, the whole nine yards, you can just always go back to cheeseburgers and French fries but why don’t you just dive in and try it with the idea that if you don’t like it, you can go back but I think once you try it, you’ll be like me. You’ll be a lifer because life is just better when you eat this way.’ JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so nice and for our listeners out there, please go to these two important websites: WellnessForum.com and ForksOverKnives. Doctor Pam Popper, you are an amazing ambassador of good nutrition and health and truly living proof that green is good. DR. PAM POPPER: Thank you.