Experts on the Plant-Based Diet

In medicine and nutrition science consensus is growing that a plant-heavy diet (one that is strongly focused on plants, with few animal products) or a plant-based diet (one that exclusively relies on plants), is the healthiest way of eating  for the largest number of people. Below you’ll find an overview of several experts who promote this kind of diet. They may disagree on the details of implementing plant-heavy nutrition, but they are in agreement on the big picture: Minimally processed plants have wide-ranging health benefits and therefore deserve pride of place on our dinner tables.

Dr. Donald Abrams

Plant-heavy. View bio. Back to top.

A well-established expert on HIV/AIDS, Dr. Abrams decided to shift his research focus to integrative medicine and oncology in 2006. He now practices at the University of California San Francisco Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, and he is chief of hematology and oncology at San Francisco General Hospital. His views on nutrition have been influenced by the work of Dr. Weil of the University of Arizona. In the video below Dr. Abrams provides advice on how to minimize one’s cancer risk through nutrition:

Dr. Neal Barnard

Plant-based. View bio. Back to top.

Born in Fargo, North Dakota, to a family of cattle ranchers, Dr. Barnard earned his M.D. degree at George Washington University and subsequently became one of the most prominent advocates of a diet free of animal products. He is the founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit organization dedicated to a compassionate and ethical medicine that aims to prevent chronic diseases rather than treating their symptoms, and that utilizes alternatives to chemical tests on animals wherever possible. Dr. Barnard has published over a dozen books on nutrition and is frequently called upon by network television as a commentator on controversies in the medical/nutritional profession.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Plant-based. View bio. Back to top.

Dr. Campbell has a Ph.D. in nutrition, biochemistry and bacteriology from Cornell University. From 1965 to 1975 he held a faculty position at Virginia Tech’s Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition. Then he returned to Cornell to serve as professor of nutritional biochemistry, a position he held until his retirement. During his teaching career, he published approximately 250 peer-reviewed journal articles and several books on the relationship between dietary toxins, metabolism, and cancer. In 2005, his book The China Study came out. It is based on a large-scale, two-decades-long epidemiological study of rural Chinese communities and draws the conclusion that an exclusively plant-based diet free of processed foods is best for minimizing one’s risk of cancer. Campbell’s work has been central to mainstreaming plant-based nutrition in the academic debate. He stars in the documentary Forks over Knifes.

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

Plant-based. View bio. Back to top.

A 1956 olympic gold medalist (he won his medal in rowing), Dr. Esselstyn is a general surgeon by training. Based at the Cleveland Clinic, he grew increasingly frustrated with the atomized approach of traditional medicine to cardiovascular disease and decided to pursue a holistic, nutrition-focused approach. He took on patients with severe cardiovascular disease. By changing their dietary habits he prolonged their lives far beyond what their cardiologists had thought possible. His conviction:

A plant-based diet with less than 10% fat will prevent coronary disease from developing, halt the progress of existing disease, and even reverse the disease in many patients.

Esselstyn starred in the documentary Forks over Knives. His most famous adherent may be Bill Clinton, who after a quadruple bypass procedure decided to radically change his eating habits in order to avoid a heart attack.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Plant-based. View bio. Back to top.

Once a competitive figure skater, Dr. Fuhrman is now a family physician who has helped hundreds of obese patients reclaim their health by switching to a low-fat vegan diet. The book Eat to Live summarizes Fuhrman’s approach: Unlike many other diet books it does not settle for calorie counting but strives instead for an optimal balance of macro and micronutrients. Fuhrman has developed the ANDI scoring system, which ranks foods according to the amount of nutrients they provide per calorie consumed. The system has since been embraced by Whole Foods. His 2011 book Super Immunity explores how proper nutrition helps boost your immune defenses.

Dr. Steven Masley

Plant-heavy. View bio. Back to top.

Dr. Masley is the author of the book The 30-Day Heart Tune-up, which provides strategies for preventing cardiovascular disease. Originally an adherent of Dean Ornish’s dietary method, he came to the conviction that a strict vegetarian low-fat diet was beyond the capacity of many patients. Hence he relaxed the diet somewhat to ease the transition to better health for patients used to the standard American fare. Masley’s approach to heart health focuses on diet, exercise, and stress reduction.

In 2014 Masley appeared on PBS with the program 30 Days to a Younger Heart.

Dr. John McDougall

Plant-based. View bio. Back to top.

While Dr. Fuhrman bases his diet on low-carbohydrate vegetables, certified internist Dr. McDougall emphasizes the benefits of starches – rice, potatoes, corn, to name a few – and he advises against the consumption of added oil. McDougall practices in Santa Rosa, California, where he has been offering a range of health and wellness programs, for example a ten-day live-in program to improve heath through food.

Dr. Dean Ornish

Plant-heavy. View bio. Back to top.

Dr. Ornish is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, and he serves as a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. His research has shown that patients suffering from atherosclerosis and heart disease could reverse their condition by changing their approach to life: Entering nourishing interpersonal relationships, engaging their spirituality, and adopting new dietary patterns.

Ornish advises individuals to consume

Mostly fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes (beans), with the option of supplementing your diet with moderate amounts of nonfat dairy and egg whites. If you don’t have heart disease, you can add a little fish. (1996 edition of Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish, p. 5)

Ornish earned wide acclaim for his work, but realized that people who were used to the standard American diet found his prescriptions difficult to implement. That may be the reason why his 2007 book The Spectrum offers readers a range of options, from less restrictive to restrictive. What option they choose depends on what their health and wellness goals are. Among his long-time followers is Clint Eastwood.

Dr. Janice Stanger

Plant-based. View bio. Back to top.

Dr. Janice Stanger holds a Ph.D. in Human Development and Aging from the University of California, San Francisco, with an added certification in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Foundation and eCornell University. She is the author of The Perfect Formula Diet.

Her goal is to make readers appreciate that the human body is a well-designed complex system. The road toward health is therefore not to “fix” perceived flaws of the human body with pills, but to understand its needs at a very basic level and learn to satisfy them. Stanger says that since evolution has adapted the human species to eating plants, men and women intent on improving their health should adopt a whole foods plant-based diet. She advises us to eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes in approximately balanced volumes and to achieve variety within each of those four food groups. That is, she says, the  perfect formula to health.

Note that in the video below, Stanger starts speaking at minute 2:57.

Dr. Ellsworth Wareham

Plant-based. View portrait by The Atlantic. Back to top.

Dr. Wareham is a retired cardiologist who turned 100 in 2014. The Atlantic writes that his profession  convinced him to adopt the plant-based life style:

As a middle-aged man, Wareham spent a lot of time in the operating room cutting into one patient after another who had heart problems. There, he noticed something: patients who were vegetarian mostly had much cleaner and smoother arteries than those who ate meat. The arteries of meat-eaters tended to be full of calcium and plaque.

So he made a choice. He decided to become a vegan.

It worked out for him. As Fox News reported in December 2014, at age 100 Dr. Wareham still went strong.

Here is an inspiring video interview he gave in 2012 at age 98:

Dr. Andrew Weil

Plant-heavy. View bio. Back to top.

Based at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Dr. Weil is the creator of the anti-inflammatory diet. The idea is that chronic inflammation leads to chronic disease and that consumers should therefore eat foods counteracting inflammation. These turn out to be primarily unprocessed plants but also fish and eggs.

According to Dr. Weil’s website, the general guidelines of this diet are:

  • Aim for variety.
  • Include as much fresh food as possible.
  • Minimize your consumption of processed foods and fast food.
  • Eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables.

Beyond that Weil provides detailed prescriptions for caloric intake as well as the consumption of protein, fiber, phytonutrients, and supplements. Dr. Weil’s focus on detail at the expense of the big picture may be why some experts have called his diet complicated. Generally speaking, says U.S. News and World Report, the diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet. In his blog “Ask Dr. Weil – The Q&A Library” he evaluates the latest scientific findings on questions such as “Does daily aspirin prevent cancer?” in ways that are thorough yet easily understandable.

In 2006 Dr. Weil could be seen on PBS discussing his insights on healthy aging.

Speakers at the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii

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During my research into healthy living I found out that the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii has a comprehensive video lecture series on the ins and out of plant-based eating. It  dates back to 1996 and contains close to 200 titles. Take a look at them – you might find a few speakers that interest you.


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