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  • October/November/December 2017
  • Healthcare: The US Medical Profession Discovers Food's Healing Power
  • Healthcare: The US Medical Profession Discovers Food's Healing Power



    The US Medical Profession Discovers Food’s Healing Power


    A hospital in West Texas is a bellwether for a young movement that teaches many of our deadly diseases can be mitigated, even cured, by a change in diet


    Historically, mankind understood that good food means good health. Hippocrates, the Greek father of Western medicine, said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.“ Over two millennia ago in the East, Tiruvalluvar wrote, “The pleasures of health abide in the man who eats moderately. The pains of disease dwell with him who eats excessively.” Those old wisdoms fell into disuse, and just 30 years ago a US doctor’s twelve years of training included a paltry two hours of nutritional science. Food’s healing powers were forgotten in the medical community. Then along came the evangelists Dean Ornish, Dr. John McDougall and T. Colin Campbell to talk about plants versus meats in our diet. Suddenly, doctors are entering the conversation. The story of this cultural and scientific shift is told below by two physicians and a health expert.


    NEARLY 15 YEARS AGO I STARTED TO share with my family, friends, colleagues and patients that a diet consisting of whole plant-based foods can prevent, suspend and even reverse the majority of the diseases impacting the world. My message was met with skepticism: “Food is just food, it can’t be that important or influential;” cynicism: “You are nice, Dr. Stoll, but this is a little out there for a doctor;” and occasionally outright hostility: “Don’t talk to me about food, I need medical care!”

    But a few people acted on the recommendation, and I watched as their lives were transformed: symptoms resolved, biomarkers normalized, medications discontinued, and life returned to their lives.

    Few healthcare practitioners at that time shared a similar passion, philosophy and practice style. There were no food-as-medicine conferences, very few books or scientific articles about vegan or plant-based food, and non-existent support in the medical or academic arena. In the early days of Google, only a handful of results would return to a search for “whole food plant based.”

    Two years ago, however, I experienced the early tremors of a cultural shift. During the annual dinner cruise that we host for our health immersions, a steward who served on the boat mentioned to me that he was reading about a whole-food, plant-based diet and had decided to make a change. I was stunned. To me this demonstrated a new level of cultural penetration.



    Change is in the air: Midland Memorial Hospital is a pioneer in the study and application of nutritional sciences. A quote from Dr. William W. Li, founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation

    So, what is a whole food plant based diet? It is a dietary lifestyle that maximizes the intake to whole plant foods and eliminates intake of processed and animal-derived foods. Consumption of meat, including chicken and fish, dairy products and eggs, as well as highly refined foods, like bleached flour, refined sugar and oil, are all eliminated or minimized.

    Today a Google search for “whole food plant based” returns over 9.2 million results. New books are published monthly. Comparing 2016 to 2000, we see a tenfold annual increase in new peer-reviewed scientific articles. Nearly four years back I co-founded the International Plant Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, with the goal and vision of educating, inspiring, equipping, and empowering healthcare practitioners to utilize whole, plant-based food as a cornerstone in their medical practices.

    In 2016, more than 800 enthusiastic healthcare professionals from 20 countries attended the conference, including 20 from Japan. Each attendee returned home as a knowledgable and powerful advocate for positive change.

    For example, Dr. Staton Awtrey, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Midland Health, his wife Blythe Awtrey and Marcy Madrid, VP of planning and marketing, have inspired their hospital to transform healthcare delivery for their community. In just the last two years they have helped to:


    Better choices: Midland Memorial Hospital removed unhealthy snacks for staff and patients and now provides a wide selection of items low in fat, sugar and salt

    1. Add plant-based meals to the hospital menu;

    2. Provide healthy plant-based options in the cafeteria;

    3. Remove all fryers from the kitchen;

    4. Start a monthly food-as-medicine journal club;

    5. Create a dynamic community garden project;

    6. Cultivate a monthly community plant-based meal gathering;

    7. Start a lifestyle medicine clinic at the hospital;

    8. Produce quality research studies on plant-based medical interventions;

    9. Replace unhealthy snack options at the cafeteria checkout with healthy whole plant foods: good-bye candy bars, hello bananas;

    10. Develop the annual Food as Medicine conference, expected to attract more than 1,000 people this year.


    Dr. Stoll, an Olympian, is co-founder of the Plantrician Project and the International Plant Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. He served as a member of the Whole Foods scientific and medical advisory board. Author of the best-selling book The Change Cookbook, he resides with his wife and six children in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

    Midland Health has become a model for implementing a new paradigm of health care by providing the best true “health care” and disease prevention for their community.

    Recent evidence suggests that the cultural mindset and belief systems around food are also changing. A Nielsen survey found that nearly 75% of consumers believe they can control their health through nutrition and 32% believe food can replace medicine. Sales of the super food kale rose annually at a 56.6% rate from 2009 to 2013, with more than a doubling of the number of farms producing kale. While not all things organic are healthy, the sale of organic food has nearly tripled in the last 10 years and continues to show positive annual growth. And shoppers have changed they way they buy food, with a significant trend toward minimally processed, locally grown foods with short, recognizable ingredient lists.

    At the end of a busy day or on the weekend, when people eat away from home, 37% of US restaurant patrons in 2016 chose vegetarian or vegan options when dining out. In the last three years vegetarian menus have increased by 66%.

    Our culture is only beginning to stir from its long, self-induced food coma. Like any young movement, it must overcome many challenges to create real, enduring change. But if we only look at the biggest challenges, we will miss the solutions that are in our own hands.

    Every day we influence the culture around us with our choices: how we spend our money, how we use our words, how we help our neighbor, how we allocate our time, and how we invest our relational equity. Your choices, used wisely, will change your life, and your example will ignite change and inspire others. Eventually we will reach a tipping point when millions of people use their power of choice to positively impact their personal sphere of influence. And when those individual spheres finally coalesce, we will have transformed the culture.



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