Michigan-based cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn is fit and healthy — he works out 6 to 7 days a week, tackles 18-hour shifts and has maintained his weight for the past 20 years. His secret? He’s a vegan.
“I work typically 18-hour days, day after day after day, and I have the energy to get it done, and I feel in part that’s due to a lack of chemicals and processed foods,” he says.
Kahn, a cardiologist who is the director of Corporate Wellness and Preventive Cardiology at the Detroit Medical Center, not only opts to go animal-free in his personal life, but he also prescribes it to his patients. An advocate of whole, plant foods, Kahn eschews soda in favor of coconut water and advises against the Standard American Diet (SAD).
According to Kahn, those who follow the SAD get 70% of their calories from oil, sugar and fat, which is bad news, healthwise. While that’s a distressing statistic, he says that the tide is slowly turning, thanks to the rise of raw and vegan restaurants, as well as “the farm-to-table trend, the Eastern Market, Michelle Obama (fitness), and the enormous rise of farmers markets around the country.”
In his opinion, there are several “popular” diets that are far better than the SAD one. They include flexitarianism (vegetarian with occasional fish and dairy), paleo (no processed foods) and the anti-inflammation/Mediterranean diet (produce, fish, and reduced gluten).
“Everything has to be based against the fact that most Americans aren’t eating any of the diets we’re talking about. These are all wonderful transitions on the spectrum. They’re good places for people to move to,” he says. However, he also believes the gold standard is veganism.
He credits the research done by doctors Dean Ornish and Caldwell Essylstyn (of “Forks Over Knives” fame) for proving the health benefits of a plant-based diet.
“[Cornish] did vegan [but] he did allow egg whites and low-fat yogurt. It was vegetarian, almost vegan, biofeedback, group discussion, and yoga, and he actually saw they had less blockage, less blood-flow problems.
“[Essylstyn studied] patients who were too sick for surgery to him for dietary therapy. He instituted the ultimate vegan low-fat, 100-percent plant-based, no oil, no nuts, no seeds, no fish. He followed these people and published his data [now a book], Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.
“He’s got follow-up of over 20 years with these people. Many have done unbelievably well. You have to be careful and it has to be a comprehensive program of diet and exercise. But physically, a vegan diet is an option along with other proven measures, and it can be recommended to a large group of patients,” Kahn explains.
Kahn has plenty of tips on how to transition to a healthier lifestyle. They include:
- Give up sweetened drinks in favor of water
- Replace processed/cured meats with vegetables
- Take baby steps, such as trying Meatless Mondays
- Reduce intake of barbecue, as burned meat contains carcinogens
- Watch the documentary “Forks Over Knives”
Need even more motivation? Consider this. According to Kahn, going vegan does more than just improve one’s health — it’s also better for the planet.
“There are really three reasons people do this: health, animal rights, and environmental (to reduce your carbon footprint). The data on energy used in our country on raising cattle and chickens, raising grain to feed the cattle, is unbelievable,” he says.
Although he makes a compelling argument, Kahn thinks the fight against the SAD is still an uphill battle — for now.
“You have big industry that’s feeding the vast majority of America in the army, prisons, schools, colleges, and it’s a very uphill battle to combat multi-billion dollar companies with deep pockets that do research to make food look and smell good and be modestly priced and yet be so devoid of health benefits — until it’s occupy McDonald’s or occupy Starbucks.
“The 99 percent is being fed low-nutrition food labeled as natural or as healthy; these are meaningless terms. The only term out there that means anything is USDA organic. Until people speak up, I don’t think we’re turning the corner on obesity and turning the corner on diabetes and heart disease anytime soon.
“It’s time for a national chain of truly healthy fresh food,” he says.
For more tips and info from Dr. Kahn, head to HourDetroit.com.