Doctor’s Tip: Ruminations on what’s radical and restrictive |

Doctor’s Tip: Ruminations on what’s radical and restrictive

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
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The health tip column two weeks ago summarized the best diet to eat if you want optimal health: plant-based, unprocessed food, no-added oil with avoidance of salt and sugar. Last week’s column discussed the science supporting this. Occasionally, someone will question whether this diet is too radical or restrictive.

Let’s address the radical issue first:

Until recently, when we started exporting the S.A.D. (standard American diet) to the rest of the world, the majority of people on the planet were on a plant-based diet, so historically it’s not radical.

Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic and cardiologist Dean Ornish, M.D., in California proved years ago using sequential arteriograms that this diet reverses heart disease. Esselstyn says that what should be considered radical is going in the hospital, having your chest cut open and the blockages in your arteries bypassed, risking serious complications including death, and incurring tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses.

Plant-based nutrition has no side effects, costs nothing, and treats and reverses the cause of heart disease (atherosclerosis, aka hardening of the arteries), extends life and within days improves quality of life (e.g. angina resolves). So maybe it’s radical that primary care doctors and cardiologists fail to talk to their patients about the plant-based option before they recommend stents or bypass surgery, especially given that these procedures have never been shown to prolong life (except in the setting of an acute heart attack) or improve quality of life.

Maybe what’s radical is to undergo costly and potentially dangerous obesity surgery such as stomach stapling or banding, when lifestyle modification is a cure.

Type 2 diabetes is preventable and reversible with plant-based nutrition. Maybe it’s radical that weight-loss surgery is one of the options in the current treatment guidelines for this chronic, diet-caused disease.

Maybe it’s radical that the majority of Americans continue to eat the S.A.D., even though it is responsible for most of the chronic diseases we suffer and die from (hypertension, high cholesterol, heart attacks and strokes, pre-diabetes and diabetes, inflammatory diseases, autoimmune diseases, dementia, osteoporosis and many forms of cancer).

Maybe it’s radical that our nation spent $3.2 trillion on health care in 2016, yet we rank far down the list of health care outcomes compared to other developed countries. It’s estimated that 75-80 percent of this cost would be eliminated if we all embraced optimal lifestyle choices.

Now the second issue: Is plant-based nutrition restrictive? Big Food has Americans addicted (literally) to salt, sugar and fat. So when people go plant-based, it takes 10-14 days for these addictions to resolve, and during that time some people feel deprived. After that though, they lose their taste for the things they shouldn’t be eating. Plant-based eating opens up a whole new world of tasty food. Asian, Middle Eastern, East Indian and many other plant-based cultures have developed delicious dishes, and many American chefs are finally getting on board. If you think vegan food is bland, treat yourself to a meal at the Pyramid Bistro in Aspen, run by Martin Oswald, the master of tasty plant-based cooking. Consider coming to the plant-based potluck in the Calaway room at Third Street Center in Carbondale at 6:30 p.m. the fourth Monday of every month (you have to bring a dish, but it doesn’t have to be gourmet). There are many good recipe books, including “Forks Over Knives Cookbook,” “Oh She Glows,” “Isa Does It” and “Thug Kitchen.”

From a nutritional point of view, a plant-based diet has all the macronutrients that an animal-based diet does: protein, carbohydrates and fat. Polyunsaturated fat from plants is a healthy fat compared to saturated and trans fats in animal products, and plant protein has been shown to be healthier for humans than animal protein (search this on A plant-based diet also has fiber, which animal products lack. And only plants have a plethora of health-promoting micronutrients such as antioxidants. When you consider that only 3 percent of Americans get the recommended amount of fiber in their diet, and only a somewhat larger percentage eats the recommended amount of fruit, nuts and vegetables, it is the animal-based diet that seems restrictive.

Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at

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