Interview with Dr. Joel Fuhrman on “Fast Food Genocide”
Dr. Joel Fuhrman is no stranger to questioning the status quo around nutrition. He has advocated for a plant-based diet and alternative medicine for over three decades, in multiple bestselling books. His latest is the provocatively titled “Fast Food Genocide”, which argues that processed food is killing us and that “we are unwitting participants in an unprecedented and exploding health crisis.” Parvati Magazine interviewed Dr. Fuhrman about the physical and mental health impact of fast food and why this is a socioeconomic justice issue.
Parvati Magazine: “Fast Food Genocide” has a strong message of advocacy for healthy diet and healthy populations.
Joel Fuhrman: Yes, many people are still not aware of the link between fast food and [problems like] mental illness and lower intelligence. The link between commercial baked goods, fast food and depression is being recognized, where even two servings of these processed foods is linked to a 51% increased risk of depression. These also cause dysthymia, loss of creativity and ability to think clearly. Most people in America are now addicted to these Frankenfoods. It is seen even more in vulnerable inner-city areas with more fast food restaurants and less access to fresh food. We are seeing an explosion of obesity, diabetes, depression, mental illness, and lack of ability to succeed economically. The average lifespan is 45 years in obese diabetics living in food deserts, compared to the average lifespan of 90 years for those living in areas where there is great fruit and vegetable access. Black Americans have higher rates of prostate cancer, blood pressure, et cetera. But this is not related to race. It rather has to do with the foods eaten. I went back to studies on black Americans first freed after the Civil War, when there were more centenarians living in better health than the white Southerners because they were eating better diets. It really is diet that results in better mental and physical well-being throughout life. I also discuss the link between processed foods consumption in childhood, and rates of drug use and criminality in later life. This is an important conversation.
PMAG: How do we approach these highly addictive foods, which you refer to as “Frankenfoods”?
JF: Science now recognizes that these foods have addictive properties just like cocaine and narcotics. When you try to stop consuming these foods, you feel anxious, get stomach cramps, fatigue, headaches—the same type of withdrawal symptoms from illicit drugs. When you imbibe the foods, dopamine receptors in the brain that are important for the reward system become stimulated, and over time with repeated consumption [they] become insensitive, requiring larger doses to activate the receptors. You need to eat a larger serving of dessert or a larger soda for the same satisfaction or high. You cannot stop because you feel uncomfortable when you try to stop. This leads to over-consuming of calories in a self-perpetuating cycle. People have to be willing to abstain and recognize the addictive potential of these foods. They have to be educated about this. Without that understanding, people may just believe that they have to eat frequently.
PMAG: You also refer to powerful socio-political forces that make it difficult to choose, or access healthier food choices.
JF: There is a subtle, indirect collusion between the pharmaceutical, medical and food industries: they are always looking for more drugs, diagnostic technology—everything except what is causing the problem in the first place. Right now, we have fast food manufacturers, meat and dairy, and drug industries lobbying in Washington so they can control the political arena [in the USA]. But in some countries like the Bahamas, where I have spoken to their government, there was no food industry trying to pressure the government blatantly.
We know that when efforts are made to improve the health of the population, it does work. When we explain to the inner city communities how their health is being destroyed by these processed foods, people are concerned and listen, and form groups to improve access to healthy food. When [New York City] Mayor Bloomberg made political inroads to improve the health of the population, we saw the healthy life expectancy of New Yorkers increase. This is about more than just the waistline, it’s also about the lifeline.
Our human species is dependent on healthy foods, a whole symphony of thousands of nutrients and phytochemicals to prevent and repair cellular damage. Nutritional excellence is a hundred times more effective than taking pills. People want to be healthy and to have this knowledge to protect their health. Knowledge is the power against the fast food genocide and to reduce human suffering.
Joel Fuhrman, MD specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. He is the president of the Nutritional Research Foundation. He is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestsellers Eat To Live, Super Immunity, The End of Diabetes and the End of Heart Disease.