“”You cannot escape from the biological law of cause and effect — food choices are the most significant cause of disease and premature death. We cannot win the war on these diseases by putting more money into medical interventions or drugs. We must unleash the disease-fighting artillery in our own kitchens.
|—Dr. Joel Fuhrman|
Joel Fuhrman (M.D.) is an American author, physician, nutritionist, research director of the Nutritional Research Project of the National Health Association, and former competitive figure skater. He is known for promoting his 'Nutritarian' diet as a way to combat obesity and other health issues, and has been a frequent guest on American radio and television shows. He had his own television special on PBS called "3-Steps To Incredible Health."
Skating Towards Alt-Med
In 1973 at the age of 20, Fuhrman was a member of the US World Figure Skating Team, scoring a second place finish in the U.S. National Pairs Championship. His skating career was brought to an abrupt halt when he suffered a heel injury. The injury was so severe that Fuhrman couldn't walk for a year. An orthopedist for the U.S. Olympic Committee tried to convince Fuhrman to undergo an experimental surgery, but Fuhrman refused. Instead, Fuhrman sought help from a San Antonio naturopath called Herbert Shelton. Shelton 'prescribed' a regimen of only water for 46 days. Fuhrman lost 62 pounds by following this quack advice and said it nearly killed him, but it did manage to do away with his heel problem and most of his muscle mass, which prevented him from competing in the 1976 Olympics.
Fuhrman already had an interest in natural cures from observing his father utilizing them over the years, and his experience with the heel injury convinced him to pursue a medical degree. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988 after specializing in nutritional medicine. Dr. Mehmet Oz, one of Fuhrman's friends, was the president of the medical school student body when Fuhrman was at university.
Fuhrman published his first alt-medicine book in 1995, Fasting and Eating For Health, which promotes fasting combined with a roughage-heavy diet to "relieve and even cure such maladies as psoriasis, high blood pressure, diabetes, hypoglycemia, sinusitis, and chronic fatigue." Perhaps his best-known book is Eat to Live, in which he explained his concept of 'toxic hunger' (the belief that people are addicted to toxins that build up from nutrient-poor foods) and included a six-week plan for rapid weight loss.
“”I am trying to sell the concept that people do have marked control over their health destiny (that they cannot achieve with just medications) and that nutritional excellence can have profound effects on lessening disease risks and human suffering and that conventional medical care with it over-reliance on drugs is inadequate.
|—Dr. Joel Fuhrman|
Fuhrman is known for promoting the concept of nutrient density with what he dubs the "Health Equation": H=N/C, or Healthy Life Expectancy equals Nutrition divided by Calories. This is the foundation of the diet system he calls nutritarianism. It claims that "food choices are the most significant cause of disease and premature death" and that eating foods with lots of micronutrients (vitamins, phytochemicals, minerals, and antioxidants) is supposed to be able to reduce the risk of obesity, weight gain, and diseases such as cancer. Fuhrman says micronutrients are "the most important discovery in human nutrition in the last 50 years," he therefore promotes his nutritarian diet - eating the foods with the most micronutrients per calorie (generally fruits and vegetables). This diet includes tenets such as consuming a pound of raw vegetables and a pound of cooked vegetables each day.
Fuhrman also created what he calls the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index" or ANDI, which is a ranking of foods based on micronutrients. As part of an initiative to help customers eat and cook healthy foods, Whole Foods Markets embraced ANDI and began including it in their stores, resulting in surges of sales for high-scoring foods.
Fuhrman is a strong proponent of "you are what you eat" and he believes diseases such as cancer could be combated with nutritarianism. "We're not going to find a magic cure for cancer," Fuhrman has said, "We've got to prevent it." Fuhrman's children were all raised on a nutritarian diet and he cites them as evidence that it does work against health problems as he claims none of his children ever had an ear infection or the flu. He has also said healthy people don't need antibiotics (except for rare occasions such as getting bit by a cat or stepping on a sea urchin), and has said the flu shots isn't "effective at all - it doesn't work." He is also skeptical about vaccines, stating that there's "no chance of anyone getting polio in this country."
“”[T]he immediate impact is that cancer rates might decrease by half. But the long-term impact, over generations, if we get kids eating right, we could decrease cancer rates by 90 percent."
|—Dr. Joel Fuhrman, explaining what could happen if America adopted the nutritarian diet|
Fuhrman hosts 'Weekend Immersions' in which people pay $800+ to be 'immersed' in nutritarianism with a weekend of lectures, discussion, nutritarian cuisine, and cooking and exercise classes. As part of the presentation, nutritarians get up on stage and talk about the miraculous nature of the lifestyle, such as overcoming rheumatoid arthritis and stage-four ovarian cancer.
It's not the worst fad diet out there, and it probably won't hurt you (unlike low-carb diets). It's a fairly healthy mostly vegan diet. It could just do without all the overblown "nutrients will cure cancer!!!"-claims and gross oversimplifications.
In an article on Science-Based Medicine, Dr. Peter Lipson criticized Fuhrman for denigrating "the progress possible with science-based medicine, while at the same time inventing his own “science”." Lipson also took issue with Fuhrman's 'health equation,' dismissing it as a "parlor trick." Lipson got upset about Fuhrman's belief that diet and lifestyle changes can solve what ails you, and said, "As physicians, our job is to use the best available evidence to help all of our patients. It is not to dispense false promises, fake science, and a heaping portion of blame to those who don’t do everything we tell them to."
Jimmy Moore of Livin' La Vida Low-Carb read Fuhrman's Eat to Live and felt that it "certainly didn't seem to have your health in mind" and scoffed that Fuhrman was, "yet another stealth vegetarian who is attempting to spread his anti-meat agenda to the whole world by disguising it as a healthy “nutrient-dense” way of eating." Moore did say he lost around 170 pounds by following the Eat to Live diet, but believed no one - including himself - would want to follow that diet of eating "rabbit food" to fight against long-term weight gain.
Mark Adams of Men's Journal interviewed Fuhrman and followed Fuhrman's Eat to Live diet (which Adams said read like Fuhrman was preaching "something closer to fruitarianism or Christian Science than to conventional medical wisdom.") for six weeks. While he did lose almost nine pounds, had better skin, seemed to have a resistance to colds and stomach bugs, had lower blood pressure, and gained more physical stamina, Adams did not believe he would be able to keep eating the "nonpiquant nutritarian cuisine."
- Dr. Fuhrman Smart Nutrition, Superior Health — Dr. Fuhrman's website
- Dr. Fuhrman's overview at Huffington Post — Biography and links to Dr. Fuhrman's articles at HuffPo
- Huffington Post "The Cure for the American Diet: Nutrient Density" by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
- Men's Journal "Joel Fuhrman: The Doctor Is Out There"
- Huffington Post "Unjust Attacks Against Dr. Oz"
-  Dr. Fuhrman, in rebuttal of criticism
- Men's Journal "Joel Fuhrman's Micronutrient Diet"
- Fooducate "Whole Foods Market Adopts “ANDI” Nutrition Rating System"
- Men's Journal "Joel Fuhrman: The Doctor Is Out There", page 3
- Men's Journal "Joel Fuhrman: The Doctor Is Out There", page 2
- Dr. Fuhrman Smart Nutrition, Superior Health Princeton Weekend Immersion details, 2011
- Science Based Medicine "Your disease, your fault"
- Livin' La Vida Low-Carb "If This Is How I ‘Eat To Live,’ Then Kill Me Now"
- Men's Journal "Joel Fuhrman: The Doctor Is Out There", page 4