I began practicing medicine on the big island of Hawaii, where extended families were the norm. I treated people who worked on the sugar plantations of Hawaii, people who were mostly of Oriental background – Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Filipinos. It was not uncommon for me to closely observe three and sometimes four generations within the same family. I got to know many of these families, treating the children, parents, grandparents, and sometimes even the great-grandparents of a single family.
At the outset of my medical career, I was not the least bit interested in diet and nutrition. My medical training had included nothing about nutrition, and consequently I considered the subject irrelevant to health. But as I practiced medicine in Hawaii, I observed a rather startling phenomenon that changed my life: The older generations of Hawaiian and Oriental peoples were in exceedingly good health, trim and active, even after they were well into their eighth, ninth, and tenth decades of life.
Oddly, the older generations contrasted remarkably with their children and, even more so, with their grandchildren. The younger the generation, the more likely the people were to suffer from gout, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, overweight, and even obesity.
When I looked closer at those I treated, I found that the generations had much in common. They all worked physically hard on the plantations; they observed many of the same customs. The single greatest difference between the older and younger generations was in their diets.
The older generation followed the traditional diets of their ancestors. Their regimens were based primarily on plant foods – grains (like rice), fresh vegetables, beans, and fruit. The younger generation, by stark contrast, ate "modern" diets that were based primarily on animal foods, especially beef, ham, chicken, eggs, dairy products, and fish. They also ate enormous quantities of processed and refined foods that were loaded with fat, sugar, salt, and artificial ingredients. If genes were the cause of disease then why wasn't the younger generation protected against common chronic illnesses, like their older relatives had been? Why was the younger generation deteriorating so rapidly? It was obvious: Something more than genetics was at hand.
Researchers discover that diet controls destiny
My observation caused me to plunge into the study of diet's relationship to health, a pursuit that changed my practice and my life forever. It wasn't long before I realized that the observations and conclusions I was drawing from my medical practice were being duplicated on a much larger scale by researchers around the world. Scientists were finding that the people who ate the traditional human diet – based primarily on low-fat, no-cholesterol, unprocessed plant foods – escaped the scourges of degenerative illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, and overweight. On the other hand, populations that subsisted on the modern diet, rich in meats, dairy products, and processed fare, were ravaged by such illnesses.
I learned something else from the people I treated, and from the medical literature I studied: Given the right diet and lifestyle, the body can recover its health, even after a serious illness manifests. When we remove the poisons from our lives and eat an abundance of health-promoting foods, the body very often can heal itself, even from illnesses deemed "incurable." This medical marvel should not be so hard to believe. After all, you have likely seen smokers cured of disabling shortness of breath and cough when they replaced the smoke with clean air. A drunk also quickly recovers after stopping alcohol. Replacing junk with nourishing foods should be expected to be no less of a miracle.
You don't need milk to get calcium!
Many people ask me, "Where will I get my calcium if I don't drink milk?" Actually, all plant foods contain generous amounts of calcium. A cup of cooked collard greens contains about 360 mg of calcium, while a cup of milk contains about 300 mg. A cup of cooked kale contains 210 mg. There is no disorder known as dietary calcium deficiency – in other words, there is plenty of calcium in all diets made of plant foods to meet the needs of children and adults. Osteoporosis is not a disease that results from too little calcium, but rather primarily from too much animal protein animal food derived acids that rob the body of calcium and structural materials, and thus weaken bones. A diet based on starches with a plentiful supply of fruits and vegetables (alkaline foods), and some exercise, will preserve skeletal strength and regrow lost bone.