Interview with a Nutritarian: Helen

A year ago this month I received a phone call from my sister informing me that my mom had experienced a stroke and was en-route to the ER via an ambulance. Living five minutes from the hospital I made a mad dash there only to discover my mother intensely suffering in a triage unit. The next day would be her 86th birthday, but at that moment her future looked grim. 

Having older parents who have faithfully put their trust in their doctors’ instructions over the years, I’ve been with them through their heart attacks, bypass and stent surgeries, and ongoing maladies and procedures. I’ve witnessed the negative side effects of their multiple (and astronomically expensive) pharmaceuticals that filled their kitchen counter top. I’ve seen first hand the results of conventional disease management, yet this episode was different. As my mom lied there on the gurney, writhing in excruciating pain from a leg spasm, paralyzed on one side of her body, unable to speak clearly, and crying; I could tell that this was the ultimate nightmare that she didn’t want to be experiencing. However, thankfully my mom discovered that it’s never too late to improve one’s health by eating to live.


What was your life like before following Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian eating-style?

I was tired all the time, but I thought it was due to old age; not wrong food choices. Because my mother had diabetes, suffered a stroke at age 66, and my siblings and I cared for her in my parents' living room for two years before her death, I made a conscious decision to carefully follow everything that my doctors told me to do over the years; not knowing that it would lead me down a dangerous path. Plus, other women my age were also being instructed to do the same so I thought I was doing the right thing. There was no different way at the time. 

Around age 60 I developed diabetes and was put on an oral diabetes medication for a couple of years, and then the doctor put me on insulin. I followed the recommended meal plan, insulin calculations and dosages; and when my blood sugars kept rising I complied with increasing the units of insulin. I even carried a glucose meter and injections in my purse so I would never miss a shot. 

I also ate animal protein at every meal; it was a part of the food plan that the diabetic educators instructed me to follow: eggs with breakfast, lean meats with lunch and dinner, and a peanut butter sandwich before bed. Every endocrinologist that I went to said the sandwich before bed was important to prevent dangerously low blood sugars in the night. Even with carefully following instructions, my blood sugars were either too high or too low. I lived in fear of the lows, especially when I was out in public or during the night. I even took a sandwich and juice to bed with me, just in case. 

Then my blood pressure also climbed higher with each passing year so blood pressure medications were added to my growing list of medications. However, even with four medications, my cardiologist could never get it below 199/99.  I had two heart attacks and multiple stents put into my body over the years: four stents in my kidneys, seven in my legs, and four in my heart, but I never got well. By the time of my stroke, I also had congestive heart failure and weighed 215 lbs. (5'8") 

Even though you [Emily] improved your health through Eat to Live, I was too dependent upon my doctors’ instructions to feel safe to make such radical changes at my age. Plus, a part of me thought it was too late to change; what’s the use.


What changed your mind?

Having the stroke changed my mind.  I was paralyzed on the entire right side of my body. My leg went into an intense spasm that wouldn’t let up, even with medication to try to relax it. I couldn’t speak so that others could understand me. I couldn’t swallow my food. I couldn’t even swallow a drink of water without a special ingredient to thicken it. My hand was clutched tight and I couldn’t open it. I couldn’t use the toilet without help. I wore adult diapers.  I was suddenly trapped in a body that was immobile which required 24/7 nursing care; totally dependent upon others for everything. 

After being discharged from the hospital, I was transferred to a nursing home for ongoing care and therapy. The night staff neglected to clip my call button onto my gown for me to reach it. I’d accidently wet myself during the night and couldn’t call anyone for help. I was totally at the mercy of someone discovering my situation early the next morning. Needless to say, my family transferred me to a stroke rehab facility that following day; but even with the best care, the total loss of independence was enough to change my mind. I was ready to do anything to get better if/when I would be discharged; no matter if my doctors approved it or not. * 


When did you start following Eat to Live?

After spending five weeks eating pureed meat and processed institutional foods, totally void of color, I was delighted to watch Dr. Fuhrman’s 3 Steps to Incredible Health that aired on our local PBS station the weekend after I returned home. Something “clicked” that day; plus I liked watching TV versus reading a book as my eyesight hadn't been good for the past couple of years. I totally understood what Dr. Fuhrman was talking about in his presentation. I began eating for health from that moment onward, and I’ve never looked back!

What’s happened since then?

I’ve been off insulin for over six months now, and after giving myself four shots a day for over twenty years it’s been wonderful to be totally free from them!  Also, with eating this way I don’t experience low blood sugars anymore so that all-consuming fear is gone.

I’ve lost about 65 lbs so far, and my blood pressure is never higher than 115/65. I’m down to just ½ dose of a blood pressure medication now, compared to four medications and continual, dangerously high blood pressures before following Eat to Live.

I’m more alert, I don’t tire so easily, and I even have the stamina to ride a stationary bike for 2 ½ miles/day; plus, I lift weights and do various exercises to continue to strengthen my arms, legs, back, and facial muscles. I noticed this past winter when I got a cold and cough that it only lasted for a couple of days. The same thing happened with a sore and infected toe; it healed quickly, when it used to take a long time for a wound to heal.   

Had I not followed high-nutrient eating this past year, there’s no way that my weakened muscles from the stroke could’ve supported the obese weight. It would be very difficult for me to get around with sixty-five extra pounds on my body. I use a walker for stability, but I can now walk in grocery stores, go to the mall with assistance, attend church and family events, and see my friends. I know that I would be completely homebound without following Eat to Live


Do you have any success tips to share?


  • Yes, keep it simple. You [Emily] had knee surgery at the same time that I started eating high-nutrient foods so I had to find an easy way to make it work on my own. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way. I kept the meals simple. I steamed enough vegetables to have on hand for several meals. I made a pot of lentils once a week. I made sure to include cooked mushrooms and chopped onions daily. Bob [her husband of sixty-five years and my dad] has always grown a big garden, and he helped me prepare the vegetables, but I haven’t made fancy recipes yet; that may come this next year.


  • However, the most important tip is that one’s health should come first above all other priorities. Health first; everything else second! That’s got to be the mindset or other things will crowd it out. My main occupation now is making time for my food preparation, daily exercises, and adequate rest.  If you are young, don’t wait until you are old to change your eating habits. If you are old, it’s never too late to change and get health restored. Don’t cheat yourself out of the best health that’s possible.


Congratulations Mom ~ I’m truly proud of you for overcoming a myriad of obstacles to contend for your health, no matter what. And happy eighty-seventh birthday this year!

[By the way, the top picture was taken the day after the stroke, on her 86th birthday.  She had a smile on her face only because the grandchildren were in the room with balloons and cards to celebrate her birthday.] 



* Helen has been medically supervised, via phone consultations, by Jay Benson, D.O. Dr. Benson is board certified in family medicine, specializing in nutritional medicine, and sees patients at Dr. Fuhrman’s Medical Associates in 19126, New Jersey. 

Refined carbohydrates and excess fats may drive the insulin gene in colon cells to promote cancer

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer type, and the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.1 These cancers are the ones most closely linked to lifestyle; the good news is, that means that colon and rectal cancers are also highly preventable by following healthful lifestyle habits – including avoiding disease-causing foods.

Scientists believe that elevated insulin levels contribute to cancer development; insulin in high concentrations may promote growth and division of cancer cells, and cancerous cells often have elevated levels of insulin receptors.2 Foods with a high glycemic load (GL) such as white bread, white rice, sugar, and white potatoes, produce dangerous spikes in blood glucose, and consequently insulin levels. Diets including large quantities of high GL foods increase the risk of several chronic diseases, and a meta-analysis of several studies found a 26% increase in colorectal cancer risk in people who consumed the most high glycemic load foods in their diets.3,4

Examples of high, medium and low GL carbohydrate sources:5,6

High GL (20 or higher)  
White potato (1 medium baked) 29
White rice (1 cup cooked) 26
Medium GL (11-19)  

Black rice (1 cup cooked)

Low GL (1-10)  
Butternut squash (1 cup cooked) 8
Kidney beans (1 cup cooked) 7

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, there is suggestive evidence that cheese and foods containing animal fats increase the risk of colon and rectal cancers. Cheese, the fattiest food in the American diet, is particularly high in saturated fat, which is known to impair insulin sensitivity.7,8

Research suggests that over time, these dietary factors – excess, low-nutrient carbohydrate and fat – may disturb carbohydrate and fat metabolism in the colon by altering DNA methylation in colon cells.

DNA methylation acts essentially as an on/off switch for a gene, usually decreasing (but sometimes increasing) the amount of protein made from that genetic code. Dietary factors are known to affect DNA methylation, and too much or too little methylation can contribute to the development of cancer.9

A study compared methylation patterns of thousands of genes in the colon mucosa of control subjects without colon cancer to normal mucosa of colon cancer patients; the researchers found hundreds of genes whose methylation patterns differed in the two sets of subjects. When they looked at those genes with the greatest differences in methylation, they made an interesting observation: a common theme among many of these genes was that they are involved in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism – one of these was the insulin gene. In short, “normal” colon cells in colon cancer patients were making more insulin than normal colon cells from healthy subjects – and we know that excess insulin promotes cancer.

The authors hypothesize that an unhealthy diet full of refined carbohydrate and excess fat may cause this metabolic change – and once excess insulin is being produced by colon cells, it then feeds the growth of cancerous cells.10

Though the research may be complex, the message is simple: refined foods like sugar and white bread, and low-nutrient fats like oils and cheeses are harmful to the health of your colon. Colon cancer is a preventable disease – whole, natural foods provide the fiber, resistant starch, and phytochemicals that will keep the cells of the colon healthy and expressing the proper genes in the proper amounts.



1. American Cancer Society. What are the key statistics about colorectal cancer? [ ]
2. Vigneri P, Frasca F, Sciacca L, et al: Diabetes and cancer. Endocr Relat Cancer 2009;16:1103-1123.
3. Gnagnarella P, Gandini S, La Vecchia C, et al: Glycemic index, glycemic load, and cancer risk: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:1793-1801.
4. Barclay AW, Petocz P, McMillan-Price J, et al: Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk--a meta-analysis of observational studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:627-637.
5. Carbohydrates and the Glycemic Load. Harvard School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source. 
6. Atkinson FS, Foster-Powell K, Brand-Miller JC: International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. Diabetes Care 2008;31:2281-2283.
7. WCRF/AICR Expert Report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective.: World Cancer Research Fund; 2007.
8. Vessby B, Uusitupa M, Hermansen K, et al: Substituting dietary saturated for monounsaturated fat impairs insulin sensitivity in healthy men and women: The KANWU Study. Diab tologia 2001;44:312-319.
9. Kulis M, Esteller M: DNA methylation and cancer. Adv Genet 2010;70:27-56.
10. Study shows how high-fat diets increase colon cancer risk. 2012. EurekAlert! Accessed March 28, 2012.



More white rice, more diabetes risk

Over 20 million people in the United States (about 8% of the population) have type 2 diabetes.1 Worldwide prevalence of diabetes in adults is about 6%, and Asian countries have somewhat higher rates (9% in China and Korea, and 11% in Japan).2,3 This is interesting to consider. In spite of considerably more overweight and obesity in the USA and our dangerous diet, there is considerably more diabetes in China, Korea and Japan. This is mostly because of white rice.

White rice. Flickr: Calgary Reviews

Type 2 diabetes arises out of insulin resistance, a state in which the body’s cells cannot respond properly to insulin – a hormone that allows for the transport of glucose into the body’s cells and storage of the energy contained in that glucose. Carrying excess fat and eating high glycemic load (GL) foods contribute to the development of insulin resistance (and of course, eating high glycemic foods contributes to weight gain).

Refined carbohydrates like white rice, devoid of fiber to slow down absorption of sugars, raise blood glucose more and faster than their intact, unprocessed counterparts. The effect of a food on blood glucose is indicated by its glycemic index (GI) – a 1-100 measure of the blood glucose response per gram of carbohydrate. Glycemic load (GL), a related indicator, takes into account both the GI and the carbohydrate content of a typical portion size.

meta-analysis has explored the link between white rice and diabetes
An analysis of four prospective studies on white rice consumption and diabetes has been published – it included 2 studies in Asian populations and 2 in Western populations. In Asian countries, where white rice is a staple food, the average intake of white rice was 3-4 servings per day, and in Western countries the average was 1-2 servings per week. A comparison of the highest vs. lowest white rice intake groups yielded a 55% increase in diabetes risk in Asians, and a 12% increase in Westerners. Overall, the researchers found that each daily serving of white rice increased the risk of diabetes by 11%.4

This research serves to remind us: High-glycemic, nutrient-depleted, refined carbohydrates (like white rice) are more than just empty calories – they are disease-causing foods.

Westerners on average ate less than one daily serving of white rice – but what about the other high-GL foods that Americans eat daily? White pasta, white potato, and white bread are also high in GL and therefore likely to be just as dangerous. It’s no wonder that U.S. diabetes rates have tripled in the past 30 years, and are expected to double or even triple by 2050.2


Glycemic Load

(High = 20 and above; Low = 1-10)

White potato (1 medium baked) 29
White rice (1 cup cooked) 26
White bread (1 bagel, 3.5 in. diameter) 24
White pasta (1 cup cooked) 21
Chocolate cake (1/10 box cake mix + 2T frosting) 20
Black rice (1 cup cooked) 14
Butternut squash (1 cup cooked) 8
Green peas (1 cup cooked) 8
Lentils (1 cup cooked) 8
Black beans (1 cup cooked)5 6


Indeed, more and more research is demonstrating potato consumption is associated with diabetes, and this association was found to be most likely due to glycemic load (not due to preparation or added fats). Substituting 1 serving of whole grains per day with potatoes was estimated to increase diabetes risk by 30%.6 Also, in a 6-year study of 65,000 women, those with diets high in refined carbohydrates from white bread, white rice, and pasta were 2.5 times as likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate lower-GL foods such as intact whole grains and whole wheat bread.7  

Not just diabetes – cancer too
High GL foods have dangers that reach beyond diabetes. Diets including large quantities of high GL foods increase the risk of several chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.8 Let’s make it clear: white rice, white flour products, and white potatoes are foods that should not be central in our diets. Low-nutrient, high glycemic foods are not only unfavorable from the perspective of weight gain and diabetes, but could also contribute significantly to cancer by causing excessive insulin secretion. High insulin levels in the blood can promote the growth of cancer cells, in part by interacting with the receptor for insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).9 A study of Korean women found that each daily serving of white rice increased breast cancer risk by 19%.10 Similarly, a U.S. study found a link between starch consumption and breast cancer recurrence.11 Diabetics are 30% more likely to develop colorectal cancer, 20% more likely to develop breast cancer, and 82% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than non-diabetics. This increased risk of cancer observed in diabetics is thought to be due in part to cancer-promoting effects of insulin therapy.12,13

In the past, white rice was looked upon as a healthful, low fat staple in a vegetarian diet. We have progressed in knowledge and science and it is clear that white rice can no longer be considered healthful, or even neutral – it is a disease-causing food. The damaging effects of high-GL foods have been brought to light, and we now know that the most healthful carbohydrate sources are those that minimize glycemic effects – beans, peas, intact whole grains, and starchy vegetables.

1. American Diabetes Association: Diabetes statistics []
2. World Health Organization. Diabetes Fact Sheet. [ ]
3. IDF Diabetes Atlas: Fifth Edition. International Diabetes Federation; 2011.
4. Hu EA, Pan A, Malik V, et al: White rice consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: meta-analysis and systematic review. BMJ 2012;344:e1454.
5. Atkinson FS, Foster-Powell K, Brand-Miller JC: International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. Diabetes Care 2008;31:2281-2283.
6. Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, et al: Potato and french fry consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:284-290.
7. Salmeron J, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al: Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA 1997;277:472-477.
8. Barclay AW, Petocz P, McMillan-Price J, et al: Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk--a meta-analysis of observational studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:627-637.
9. Gallagher EJ, LeRoith D: The proliferating role of insulin and insulin-like growth factors in cancer. Trends Endocrinol Metab 2010;21:610-618.
10. Yun SH, Kim K, Nam SJ, et al: The association of carbohydrate intake, glycemic load, glycemic index, and selected rice foods with breast cancer risk: a case-control study in South Korea. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2010;19:383-392.
11. Emond JA, Patterson RE, Pierce JP: Change in Carbohydrate Intake and Breast Cancer Prognosis. In San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, vol. Presentation #P3-09-01; 2011.
12. Pollak M, Russell-Jones D: Insulin analogues and cancer risk: cause for concern or cause celebre? Int J Clin Pract 2010;64:628-636.
13. Experts call for further research into the relationship between insulin therapy and cancer. 2010. EurekAlert! Accessed October 20, 2011.