Are The Experts Confused About Which Foods Are Healthy?

Have you ever received conflicting information about the health value of a particular diet? Of course - well all have!

In this article I want to share my viewpoint about low carb diets vs. high carb diets (and vegetarian vs. carnivorous diets).

I was inspired to write this article after reading Dr. Fuhrman’s blog . I came across a debate between Dr. Fuhrman and Barry Groves .

Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live is an excellent health and nutrition book in my opinion. Dr. Fuhrman favors vegetarian diets with little or no animal products. A diet like this will automatically be relatively high in carbohydrates.

I don’t know as much about Barry Groves, but he has written a book called Eat Fat, Get Thin! He is an advocate of a version of the low carb diet. This link is apparently his web page.

The debate between these two fellows is interesting reading, but it is possible to read both sides and still be confused. This is a good example of conflicting information from "the experts".

The best research is on Dr. Fuhrman’s side. In my opinion, he is the more reliable source of information between these two. And if the only two dietary choices were Fuhrman’s or Grove’s I could recommend Fuhrman’s without hesitation. The person following his recommendations will have a far better chance of maintaining excellent lifelong health than the person following Grove’s recommendations.

However, what prompted me to write this article is that, in my opinion, neither Dr. Fuhrman nor Barry Groves have the optimum diet. As I said, Dr. Fuhrman’s diet is much closer to ideal, but what makes this debate so interesting is that Barry Groves is closely linked to the very source of information that could solve the problem with Dr. Fuhrman’s diet.

Barry Groves is affiliated with the Weston A. Price Foundation, which is an organization that promotes some unhealthy foods and recommends (as far as I can tell) a lifelong high protein, low carbohydrate diet. Groves’ own diet is squarely in this camp. However, Price himself focused his research on micronutrients, so the foundation that bears his name is promoting macronutrient dietary guidelines (high protein, high fat) that I don’t believe Price himself ever researched directly or deeply.

However, Price did extensive research on an unnamed micronutrient -- and this factor is what I think is possibly missing from Dr. Fuhrman’s diet. Before I get into the details, let’s see if we can quickly agree that something is missing from diets similar to Dr. Fuhrman’s based on our personal experiences.

Whether we are motivated by the nutrition research or by personal ethics or religious reasons or other reasons, many of us have wanted to eat a healthy vegetarian diet like what Dr. Fuhrman recommends and many of us have tried such a diet with the best intentions and the greatest hope and expectations of good results. I was personally motivated by the scientific research starting almost 28 years ago, and when I started I was sure I was going to feel great on this plant-based diet.

My cousin, who is an actress and had a starring role in a very popular HBO series, is an example of someone who wanted to be a vegetarian for ethical reasons. My friend Gary is a medical doctor who was motivated to become a vegetarian for reasons similar to mine. Yet another example is Martina Navratilova. I read in her recent book that she became a vegetarian for a while several years back.

In the case of each and every person I mentioned, and many, many more people I have come into contact with over the years, the healthy vegetarian diet did not work well, in spite of the best intentions (and even the strong belief in the diet).

Martina Navratilova says in her book that she had to include poultry and fish in her diet in order to perform at her peak on the tennis court. My cousin the actress also had to include some meat and fish in order to perform and feel her best. My friend Gary the medical doctor found himself cooking up steaks because he felt better when eating meat. His personality is such that he wasn’t timid about going back to real meat once he discovered that the vegetarian diet left him feeling weak.

In my own case, I found myself adding protein powder supplements or eggs to my diet in spite of the overwhelming research showing that low protein diets are healthier. On the pure vegetarian diet my energy was low and I just didn’t feel that good. However, I kept reading the research on the subject and I never stopped wondering why I didn’t feel as good when I was supposedly eating better. (I had enough background in nutrition, health and biochemistry to know that the low carb diets were not the right long term answer, so I kept investigating.)

If you have ever had a poor experience with a healthy vegetarian diet, then you probably already know that there is something wrong with Dr. Fuhrman’s diet. And Dr. Fuhrman, I hope you are reading this, because you are on the right track, and you are doing good work. A few small changes in your recommendations will help a lot of people.

Now that it is clear that I am generally on Dr. Fuhrman’s side in his debate with Barry Groves, I want to go into some detail about what Weston A. Price researched many decades ago. Price focused a lot of his work on an “Activator X” micronutrient factor that was found in butter (and was more concentrated even in a purified or clarified butter – something I think is similar to the ghee of ayurveda). Dr. Price recorded significant improvements in the health of many patients as a result of supplementing their diets with this purified butter (and he also fed his undernourished patients other meat products, but that seems more like something he did out of habit or assumption rather than as a result of any substantial research).

My own experience, and the experiences of many people like those I mentioned above, tells me that it is a critical oversight to disregard the value of all animal foods, as Dr. Fuhrman seems to be doing.

Now that I have added some ghee (clarified butter) and a little bit of whole milk to my diet, I find that I do not need to eat eggs or take protein powders. I can keep my protein intake low for optimum long term health (just like Dr. Fuhrman and other good experts recommend) and yet I have the energy and well-being I was always missing on a vegetarian diet previously. I had tried lacto-vegetarian diets before, but I never included ghee. My very good experience with ghee is what makes Weston Price’s research so interesting. And it is why this particular debate between Barry Groves, who is an honorary board member of the Weston Price Foundation, and Dr. Fuhrman caught my attention. I saw the opportunity to jump into this debate as a chance to show an ironic synergy between these two opponents. Each has something the other needs, yet they are entrenched in fighting positions. (However, in all fairness, Dr. Fuhrman has posted an article about including some meat in the diet and I will respond to that in another post.)

Dr. Fuhrman is not alone in his oversight. I just finished reading "The China Study" by Colin Campbell, and as impressive as Campbell's body of work is, I think his decision to simplify nutritional things into "plants vs. animals" is too limiting. It is an over-simplification -- and it is the basis for a serious flaw in Campbell's dietary recommendations (in my opinion). Campbell carries a strong bias against anything of animal origin in the diet. Even though I support most of Campbell’s conclusions, I believe his comprehensive anti-animal foodstuff view distorts the conclusions he draws from his basic research and his epidemiological research.

Dr. Campbell’s condemnation of all dairy products is an example. He looks at various pieces of research (his own and others) and jumps to conclusions that are questionable. What he is doing is fundamentally no different from the faulty conclusions of other researchers that he correctly cites in his book as examples of what not to do in nutrition research. I believe that if Dr. Campbell actually asked the right question and carried out the right research, he would find that his current negative opinion of all dairy products would need to be modified.

Because of this "plants vs. animals" oversimplification, Campbell is forced to compromise his own strong position against nutritional supplements by admitting that supplements of Vitamins A, D and B12 may be required on a his version of a modern vegetarian diet. Campbell also seems to imply that if we ate a little dirt along with our plants that we would be doing ourselves a favor. I strongly suspect that his rationale is off base in that regard.

Rather than eat a little dirt, I would be much more confident in betting that future scientific research will confirm that Weston Price was onto one thing that has merit: the value of a small amount of clarified butter in the otherwise predominantly plant diet. Regardless of the other areas where Price may have made incorrect conclusions, I am confident that his research into the unidentified factors in clarified butter will bear fruit if someone with Campbell’s skill and integrity pursued it further.

Dr. Fuhrman carries much of this same "plants vs. animals" bias over to his own recommendations. (Indeed, Dr. Fuhrman was strongly influenced by Campbell’s good research.) I challenge Dr. Fuhrman to review the China Study research (and other research) with a more open mind in regard to the possibility that a small amount of dairy products (specifically Price's clarified butter) are necessary for optimal health. I don’t think there is anything in the (good) research that contradicts this, and there are other observations (such as healthy cultures or traditions) that support this view. In particular, if including ghee in a predominantly plant-based diet allows one to reduce or exclude meats (including fish) while maintaining optimal well-being then the result will actually be a big win on many fronts.

If one is not eating any animal foods at all on Dr. Fuhrman's diet, I would advise you to include a small amount (maybe a half teaspoon a day) of ghee. The result would still be a diet that is low in overall protein (with zero to very little animal protein), low in fat, and rich in complex plant carbohydrates. I am confident that this small change represents an improved version of Dr. Fuhrman's diet.

My recent reading has reminded me of a nutritionist from several decades ago: Dr. Paavo Airola. While reading "The China Study", I came across names such as Voit, Rubner and Chittenden in the story about protein recommendations. Recalling that I had read a very similar narrative many years ago where each of these same people were described in very similar ways, I pulled out Are You Confused? by Paavo Airola (copyright 1971). Right there on pages 28-37 is essentially the same information that Campbell presents as a "new understanding". Paavo Airola beat Campbell to the knowledge by about 30 years and fortunately for me, that gave me a several decades head start on eating well. If you find value in Dr. Fuhrman's work, you may enjoy taking a look at some of Paavo Airola's books. Are You Confused? can be found on (used) for $0.24 at this moment! At that price, it is worth reading! It is also worth reading just because Airola was so far ahead of his time and it is instructional to see what research methods he used.

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Great site. Good info.

Great site. Good info.

Great site. Keep doing.

Great site. Keep doing.

Great site. Good info.

Great site. Good info.

Thank you for the great

Thank you for the great info.

I love your articles!

I love your articles!

good info

good info

Well, a sattvic diet has ghee

Well, a sattvic diet has ghee & whole milk as essential parts in an otherwise low protein diet. So that's hardly surprising. When the ancient texts like the hathayogapradipika have spelled out the range of things to eat, I doubt if that could be improved on. Obviously I tried different things, but the ancient information stands the test easily.

Great site. Keep doing.

Great site. Keep doing.

Cool site.

Cool site.

This is interesting ...but

This is interesting ...
but you're missing the fact that Price never provided reliable data or conducted no clinical research with empirical evidences and therefore his speculation about the "activator X" in butter

Further researches to date have never been able to provide follow-up of this speculation-finding consistent with human health. In other words: Dr. Price without the means to diagnose or collect reliable clinical data is the only one who ever mentioned this factor. It is very very very likely that such activator doesn't exist and never existed

That being said one can't rule out something else is contained in purified butter that has benefits.

But I think you are not seeing the difference between all the other diets or vegan/vegetarian diets and Dr. Fuhrman approach

According to Dr. Furhman the nutrients densest food is greens. Greens have the higher nutrients/calorie ratio. Greens are also good source of vitamin A (as carotenes) just like butter is (as retinol)

If you try to drink a concentrated blended salad you will see you get the same "boost"

Standard vegan/vegetarian diets (probably the ones your friends have failed with) are often poor in carotenes and the conversion of carotenes to Vitamin A is half as effective as it was believe in the past.

The average vegan/vegetarian diet is also grain based. Grain based diets are usually poor in vegetables and expecially greens and grains are not as nutritious as beans, fruits, vegetables and nuts and so a diet based on grains is rather deficient

Besides Furhman is not low fat. He suggests a low fat approach for obese people but maintenance diet can be as high as 50% fat
Certain people on his diet consume up to 9 oz of nuts daily or eat liberal amount of avocados

With 20% or more calories coming from protein that makes his diet hardly high carb

I can only say that I've seen many people failing-to-thrive on the typical vegetarian diets but Furhman followers of any kind seem to do great. The difference is in the green based and nutrients density based approach, the focus on essential fatty acids, more fat or less fat according to one's caloric need, the amount of veggies and no or low amount of grains.

But as he said some people seems to be dependent on some animal food to get proper levels of essential fatty acids, vitamin D, taurine and vitamin B12. Of course if one doesn't want to give up veganism because of ethical reason supplements work wonder anyway

I guess you should ask your frieds that failed to thrive on their vegan diet to try a nutrient density green based Fuhrman approach supplemented in EPA + DHA, taurine, vitamin B12 and Vitamin D where blended salads are the snak and see if they fail to thrive again.
I guess they won't

@Danny: thanks for your

@Danny: thanks for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate hearing that you too have "seen many people failing-to-thrive on the typical vegetarian diets."

I agree with you that Dr. Fuhrman has a superior nutrition plan. I only know a few people following his plan and I don't think anyone has been on it long enough to really know how well it does. It often takes many years for B-12 deficiencies to show up, as I'm sure you know.

BTW, Dr. Fuhrman isn't the only one who understands nutrition. For example, many of his recommendations come from Dr. Campbell's "The China Study". And Dr. Paavo Airola has written about many of the same ideas as Dr. Fuhrman about 30 years earlier. They don't agree on all points, but for someone that was 30 years or so ahead of Dr. Fuhrman, and didn't have the benefit of The China Study as Dr. Fuhrman did, Dr. Airola's work is fairly impressive. It is worth reading some of his books (particularly, "Are You Confused?").

In regard to your points, I would ask you to check your facts on 20% of calories coming from protein on Fuhrman's diet. The China Study points out that anything over 10% may be unhealthy, and Dr. Fuhrman sticks to the China Study guidelines. So I doubt he recommends a diet with 20% of calories from protein.

I would recommend that people who seem to need some animal food (I think this is most of us) consider using ghee rather than a handful of supplements. I'm not against supplements in general, but my research indicates that ghee would be a superior choice.

The main point I hoped to make in these articles is that vegetarians who are not feeling optimal may not need to add meat - they may only need some ghee. Ghee is ethically much less problematic than meat. (Even some Hindus who wouldn't squash an ant will eat ghee because it is given by the cow with love - if the ghee is Vedic Organic.)

It's true that many others

It's true that many others have a good grasp of healthy nutrition principles and thanks for suggesting Airola's book.
What Dr. Furhman is pretty unique though is its focus on nutrient density of one's diet
It makes so sense: if a food provide certain nurients by 100 grams but those 100 grams alone provide 600 calories (for example) than 3500 calories won't be enough to secure enough vital and health promoting micronutrients

If a food on the other hand provides certain nutrients by 100 grams but those 100 grams are just 80 calories you'll have the chance to consume less calories and still obtain more nutrients than you'll ever need

So the formula is simple nutrients/Kcal
So Dr. Fuhrman states that the foods with the highest ratio of this formula should form the core of the diet while the other foods should just supplement it. As far as I know this concept although very simple is pretty unique

Many authors focus on one micronutrient, others on macronutrients, others on amount by weight (which lead to the wrong view that a meat based diet would provide more nutrients) others on specific mytical food. But all these approach fail to address the most important point: at the end of the day are you just "filling" your body or "feeding" it?

That's why I consider "nutrient density" and "true hunger" the missing link in all diets.
Low carb diet focus on meat or eggs, meditteranean diets focus on oils, asian diets focus on fish, vegetarian/vegan diet focus on grains ... all of them fail to focus on very nutrient dense foods

As for the protein intake on Furhman diet I can assure you it's on average 20% protein
I even have one of his newletter while he shows an example of a maintenance diet and protein is 22%, fat are 45% and 33% are carbohydraites

I might be wrong but I think that the China Study says that more than 10% of calories from proteic animal food is unhealthy not that overall protein intake should be no more than 10% of calories.
Also as Dr. Fuhrman says it doesn't make much sense to make limit based on percentage of calories because for a woman who is trying to lose weight on a 1200 calories diet 10% would just be 30 grams of protein while for an athletes that consumes 3500 calories 10% would be 90

Furhman also says:
A typical assortment of vegetables,
nuts, seeds and beans supplies about
55 grams of protein per 1000 calories.

That means that Dr. Furhman aspects a 2000 calories diet to provide about 110 to 120 grams of protein. That would mean 22-24% calories as protein

Also Dr. Fuhrman claims that:
"the data from the China Study does not substantiate that a vegan diet is healthier than one that includes a small amount of animal products"

Which means he doesn't completely follows the China Study ... or better yet, he doesn't completely follow Compabell conclusions but the raw data themselves especially those backed up by clinical evidence

Furhman doesn't believe in the paradigm of man as a big hunter of big animals. Neither the anthropologists Jared Diamond, Dec Twohig and Richard Wrangham believe this. But he think that as aniamals that have a metabolism and anatomy both suited for digesting plant protein and animal protein we would naturally consume some fish, small mammals, insects and tiny parasites from the leaves and fruits. As such he believes that all of us need some animal product in our diet but for environmental and ethical reason he prefers to suggest supplementation

I have though a problem with the Hindus concept of the cow giving butter with love. A cow that would otherwise live the way she wants needs to stay withing a limited area all her life. She need to be artificially made pregnant over and over in order to produce the milk then since the milk is taken by men she can't feed her calves. The calves are pretty useless and either artificially fed or killed.

I know this is Off Topic but I can't still imagine how can an animal be treated humanly and ethically if he/she is denied freedom in the first place. I'm also not sure there can exist a way to allow a cow to produce milk without using painful means. A cow would produce just little milk twice or three times in her life ... just in order to feed her calves.

But I'm pretty interested in knowing how do the Hindus do it

@Danny:I appreciate your

I appreciate your additional feedback. You might want to check out the living conditions for cows at organic dairy farms. If the dairy truly follows organic guidelines, the cows are not confined. Not all organic dairies are equal, and I personally only use ghee from Straus Creamery butter ( because of the good way Straus treats their cows. I have other articles on my site about this.

Regarding protein, check out the new article I posted today. It was inspired by you ;)

Thanks for your article. I

Thanks for your article. I believe that ghee will ultimately be the compromise between Campbell and Weston Price. I think to really settle this question, somebody with the intellectual prowess of Campbell needs to perform an "India Study," correlating disease with dietary habits of both rural and urban Indians.

SJ - I agree that an "India

SJ - I agree that an "India Study" such as you describe would be great! But it needs to happen before all the areas with large populations of people following traditional Ayurvedic diets are completely gone!