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The plant-based solution with Dr. Joel Kahn

On episode 329 of the 40+ Fitness Podcast, we meet Dr. Joel Kahn and discuss his book, The Plant-Based Solution.


Allan (0:46): Our guest today is a world leading cardiologist, a best-selling author, and a popular lecturer who inspires others to think scientifically and critically about the body's ability to heal through proper nutrition. He serves as a clinical professor of medicine at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, and is founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity. He also opened a restaurant for healthy food called GreenSpace Cafe. With no further ado, here's Dr. Joel Kahn.

Dr. Khan, welcome to 40+ Fitness.

Dr. Kahn (1:20): Good day. Wherever you're listening, whatever time of day. And thank you, I'm excited to be on this and chat about some important stuff with you.

Allan (1:29): And it is very important. There's so much information out there, that I think it's hard for people to really grasp how much diet means, and then actually get to the bottom of, what is a good eating strategy for us to be healthy, to live longer, to have energy, to do all the things we want to do in our lives? We need good nutrition to do those things. Your book The Plant-Based Solution, I think is a very good primer for someone that wants to understand the eating style of being a vegan. So I appreciate this because there was a lot of information, a lot of science in here, a lot of things that I sat back for a moment and pondered. There are not many health and fitness books that do that to me anymore, because I've read so many. But yours was one where I sat down and read it, and then I wanted to just absorb what that study was about, or absorb what you were talking about in one of your classic rants in this book. So again, I appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation with you.

Dr. Kahn (2:32): Thank you very much. I appreciate the podcast both takes time and effort, and the whole idea is to have an impact.

Allan (2:39): Yes, absolutely. I think one of the things that I found really interesting as I got into it was that folks will try an eating style, and vegan is what I would term as a more restrictive eating style than a lot of others. You had a background in having somewhat of a restrictive eating style, and then you noted in the book that when the eating style is associated with ethics, that it has a much better uptake than when we're just doing it for health reasons. I think that's a commitment thing that comes out of that, because of the emotion associated with it. But let's take a moment and get into CAFOs the and how our meat now is produced, because I think that's one of the big stepping stones for people that want to consider. Can you tell us a little bit about how our meat is produced and what's going on out there? Because we're trying to feed almost 8 billion people as we go, but we're not doing a very good job of managing our resources, are we?

Dr. Kahn (3:45): No. There is pressure to produce food for more people, and it lead 60-70 years ago to adopting some of the strategies that Henry Ford and production lines, assembly lines did in my home town of Detroit to make higher production and more efficiency. But that meant concentrating animals not free to graze and live a life of clover and grass, but putting them into buildings without sunlight, with food that was cost-effective and rapid growing, but not their natural food, nor the healthiest food. And it's led to both a nutritional disaster and an environmental disaster. And if you care at all and have been around for the last decade, you can’t help but have seen on occasion videos, that despite all these tough laws and trying to keep the public isolated from the idea that their burger or steak actually ever was connected to a living animal with feelings that probably went through absolute hell to end up on their plate – if you care at all about that, you realize this system has to change. Even the media industry and visionaries – Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines and such are talking about, this is the worst thing we could have created, and it will be different from technology.

But the pressure there is still to feed a lot of mouths, and I agree. I’ll just make one comment on your intro. A fully plant-based diet is restrictive in that at Thanksgiving and some corporate functions, there's going to be a moment that you pause, because the things on the table may not all meet your criteria. But almost every health diet out there is different than the standard American fare. And it requires some restriction, mindfulness and decision-making, until we have it that a corporate celebration, a hospital celebration, National Nurses Day actually is carrots, celery, hummus, salad and bean burgers, which is not what's happening now. It's ice cream, cakes, donuts and sugary drinks, all versions; it's not just the plant-based vegan version. I've had lunch sometimes with some of my friends that would sit on the other side of the table doing hardcore Paleo, hardcore keto diets. And they have more difficulty than I do eating in a cafeteria, eating at an office building where we lectured on a panel. So, nutritional excellence takes work and nutritional excellence is crucial. But I think sometimes it's easier just to grab an apple, a banana, an orange or some steamed broccoli than it is to try and construct the perfect alternative health movement menus of the Paleo movement, even the Mediterranean diet. Garbage food is everywhere. That's still the “go-to”, unfortunately.

Allan (6:57): I agree. I've tried various types of eating styles, and you're right – you have to be thoughtful about it, you have to be mindful about it. Probably to me that might be one of the best benefits of the vegan diet initially, is that it really gets you thinking about the food that you're putting in your body. There's a lot of science to back up the vegan diet from a health perspective, but there's actually also a lot of science out there that supports the DASH Diet, which is an Americanized version of the Mediterranean diet. You talked about the DASH diet a little bit in your book and you cited some studies where the DASH diet was actually put forward as a healthy diet. And then you said there's also a vegan version of the Mediterranean diet that they could have included in the study but didn't. Can you go a little bit into the DASH diet and why maybe having a small amount of meat and some fish is a problem?

Dr. Kahn (8:00): I think a lot of the public, if you ask them questions about what's a Mediterranean diet, would be like a Jimmy Kimmel interview on the street and you'd get all kinds of interesting responses. The Med diet might be Meditation diet or something. Trying to define what is the Mediterranean diet, even amongst health experts engenders controversy, but amongst the public, it's probably almost uninterpretable. When indeed it’s, reduce red meat, fish if you choose, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, wine and olive oil. That's the traditional Mediterranean diet. There is a cardiologist in England trying to turn the Mediterranean diet into a low-carb, high-fat version and taking away all the grains and putting in coconut oil. It's a total insanity. I only point that out because we disagree about some things.

The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. It's a research study that our government has done twice, paid for twice – DASH1 and DASH2. It’s a way to eat to reduce the burden of high blood pressure on the public health. In fact, high blood pressure worldwide is the single number one cause of death from its consequences – heart disease, kidney disease, strokes, blood vessel disease like aneurysms, so it's a big deal. And they did it further and they repeated it. You’re right – when the planning committee went to sit down and they positioned Dr. Frank Sacks from Harvard, it really was geared to be a vegetarian diet, and then they backed off before they launched it, saying that they don't think the acceptance amongst the public was going to take a full vegetarian diet. So they allowed it to be a version of the Mediterranean diet, I agree. It proved to be beneficial and it proved that reducing salt, adding in plants, cutting back red meat, increasing your whole grains, fruits and vegetables was beneficial and lowered blood pressure. Even though that's 10 to 15-year-old news, lately when the US news and world report rates the overall best diet for anyone in America to follow, the DASH diet is popped up as number one on the list, and that's reasonable. It's way better than what most people are eating. You can always refine it, but if we could instantly flip the switch and every work cafeteria, hospital cafeteria, vending machine all supported only the DASH diet, we'd be, from a health standpoint, way down the road towards a better place.

Allan (10:30): It's funny how much people will take something that works and there's a study saying, “This diet's great”, and then they want to spin it a little bit and add something or take something away and say, “This should be just as good.” There's no science behind coconut oil with the DASH diet, so obviously it's not the DASH diet. I understand what they're trying to do there with the big popularity of ketosis and ketogenic diet. I don't know that adapting the Mediterranean diet to that style is going to give you the same health effects that you would have had with that. And I'm guessing also with the DASH diet and him trying to make it a little bit more fatty, that we're talking about adding a little bit more olive oil than you would normally have in a DASH diet. You're not a big fan of olive oil. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Kahn (11:22): Yeah. I actually want to make sure – let me just quickly circle back. You asked about how food is produced, particularly meat. More than 95% of any meal an American is eating, whether it's a burger, a piece of pork, a piece of chicken, a piece of beef, other fowl, turkey, are not out there enjoying life like Sound of Music and Julie Andrews. They’re in contained, high-efficiency organizations called CAFOs – confined animal factory organizations. And because of the inability of these animals to have any kind of reasonable fresh air, fresh food, free existence, there are horrible abusive practices – the need for antibiotics is uniform. In fact I think it's about 85% of all antibiotics in the United States are given to animals in this setting to allow them to live long enough without mass infection, to allow the manufacturer to garner some profits from selling them to a slaughter house. Plus hormones to grow them as quick as possible, plus terrible, terrible, terrible abuse. The workers in these CAFOs suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, and others suffering premature diseases from the occupational exposure to unbelievable dust and chemicals, as well as just the emotional stress of dealing with this situation. And then they spill all the contents into surrounding ground water. The unbelievable quantities of manure and such have to be dealt with.

So it's easy, and you hear many meat-based podcasts talking about that they’re absolutely in agreement that CAFO raised meat is the worst choice amongst any animal eater. But when you get down to the reality, if you live near whole foods and you’ve got a few extra dollars, you can buy all the grass-fed beef you want – maybe that's a better choice. But for 95% plus of Americans, eating at a work cafeteria, hospital cafeteria, vending machine or in fast food, even most restaurants – they're not getting that. They're supporting the CAFO world and they're experiencing a dirty form of food for their own health.

And then you get to olive oil, in teaching that's promoted by both the Harvard School of Public Health and a very well-known and close friend of mine, Dr. David Katz of Yale. When we talk about a single food you want to talk about, is it good, is it bad, is it healthy, but what are you using it in place of? There's clear cut data from the Harvard School of Public Health that if your “go to” is ghee, butter and lard to sauté, to cook, to spread on bread, as is a common practice – lard on bread – and you substitute, unbelievably, vegetable oils or olive oil as a slightly different vegetable oil than, let’s say, safflower oil, sunflower oil, that you will lower your risk of developing heart disease by that substitute. And in a very large study last July, it was estimated with way over 100,000 data points that if you switch to vegetable oils, and I’d put in the word “organic” right away, you can actually lower your risk of heart attacks and such by 25% plus percent. And if you substitute olive oil, it's actually not as much of an advantage, but it's still about a 10% advantage compared to lard, butter and ghee. So it's the better choice for somebody that says, “I'm putting something slimy or oily or greasy on my food.”

Then you still ask the basic question, what’s in olive oil? And it's mainly what are called monounsaturated fatty acids, which is better than the mixes on lard, butter and ghee. There still is a reasonable amount of saturated fat. It's plant-based saturated fat, but our body doesn't always discern where it's coming from; about 15%. And there's a mix of data out there. I'm a cardiologist – if you're dealing with serious heart disease, and there's millions of people out there that are, and you're wanting to use your diet to prevent serious heart disease, stop serious heart disease, or reverse serious heart disease, as has been shown to be possible by Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, approved by Medicare as an authorized treatment plan for heart patients – oil drops out of the picture. It's actually dropped out of the picture since the 1940s, when some very bright researchers identified that diets free of added fats, diets free of added oils, actually seemed to make heart patients live longer. So in my world, olive oil is not a health food for the sick heart patients that I’m seeing in my office. You're 28 years old, you're at a restaurant and you could make the choice of putting a creamy, buttery dressing on your salad or a mixture of balsamic and olive oil – for the reason I just told you…

You’ve got to be as careful with olive oil as you’ve got to be with your meat source. There's a lot of fraud and the olive oil world and you can pay extra for extra virgin olive oil at the store and not always is it extra virgin olive oil. It's more expensive, so it's a no brainer for people with no ethics to put in a cheaper version and charge more. So you want to get a good source, know where it’s coming from. Spain, Italy, Greece are some of the big countries that you might want to strive to find a better source from. So, I do not live a complete olive oil free diet. I don't have heart disease and I know that as a fact. I do the proper testing. But I keep it very, very light. Now, in my restaurants – I own three restaurants – we always have a multitude of entrees that require no oil to produce, to allow patients who are following that to have an option that's healthy and without oil. You sauté in water, you sauté in wine. It's an easy process to cook without oil.

Allan (17:38): Yes. Now, with any diet that is going to be restricting certain foods, limits certain foods that we're just not going to eat – there's the potential that we're not going to get all the nutrition that we need. In being mindful of, if we're going to go vegan, what are the supplements that we would need to consider because we're just not getting enough of them or any of them from our foods?

Dr. Kahn (18:06): I want to just intro this. If you construct an entirely vegan diet – a whole food, plant-based, lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds diet – the odds are your health will be enhanced. It's not a 100% guarantee, but the odds are very favorable. Let's talk about the things you're not going to need if you, early in life or anytime in life, follow the whole food, plant-based diet. Many medications, Viagra been one, diabetic medications, blood pressure medications, heart medications – it’s not 100% guarantee, but you are favoring the chance that you’re not going to need to be that. I’m almost 60 years old, I've had the pleasure of being completely plant-based for 40 years, which started as an accident, but it was a very good accident. I was 18 years old. Now I’m taking no prescription drugs and feel good every day. That's a pretty good place to be as you're approaching 60, and I wish that on everybody. A healthy plant diet is a great foundation to get to that point. But if you're going to eat nothing but plants, beans, seeds, grains and such, you want to be cognizant that B12 is in dirt, and cows graze on dirt and their meat gets enriched with B12 because they’re beasts. If we would get down and eat some dirty carrots, we wouldn't need to consider supplementing, but we do. It’s just inappropriate to be on long-term completely plant diet and not be aware that B12 can be a deficient nutrient. It's in some soy milks and hemp milks and such. But take a B12 pill three or four times a week.

Vitamin D is a challenging nutrient for everybody to get – meat eaters, fish eaters, plant eaters. There’s a lot in mushrooms. A lot of the plant milks are fortified with vitamin D as is cow milk, but Dr. Michael Greger recommends, I recommend 2,000 international units of vitamin D3 a day, maybe 250 micrograms of vitamin B12 three, four, five times a week. And finally the new one on the block is Omega-3. Fish don't make Omega-3 fatty acids like EPA, DHA. Fish eat algae, algae make it. So now there are algae-based supplements that have EPA, DHA, just enough to make sure you're getting enough to make your membranes in your brain and your other organs work optimally. Adding in one a day. There are some multivitamins out there for vegans that have all of these; makes it brainless. There's a spray out there you can take that has all these and it makes it very easy and brainless. It's a very, very small price, literally in terms of what it costs, and habit-wise to say, “I've constructed the whole food, plant-based diet that favors longevity and health. I've watched the amount of oils or limited them. I take a couple of vitamins a day.” Really in my practice of advanced cardiology in Detroit, where everybody gets nutritional testing, my meat eaters are missing as much or more than plant eaters. Be a smart plant-eater, not a sloppy one.

Allan (21:17): I think there were two really good points that you had in there. One is that we have a need for some of these. If we're eating whole foods, and I think that's one of the big things I want to put out there, they are not manufactured in a box foods. These are the whole foods. You get them in the produce section, you get them at the farmer's market, and you're starting from that base. The other side of this that I wanted to get into was that you had mentioned that you can actually get a blood test for vitamin D and vitamin B12. You can actually test for that when you get your labs done. I don't think there's anything for Omega-3 at this point.

Dr. Kahn (22:02): There is, there is. If your healthcare provider doesn't want to do it, some of the online companies like WellnessFX or LifeExtension.com – you can pay to get an Omega-3 blood level and such. So they are out there and I do them on every patient. Some of my patients are so deficient in Omega-3, and what follows that is your cholesterol goes up, inflammation goes up, sometimes blood sugar goes up. And you don't need a diabetic drug, a cholesterol drug or a blood pressure drug. You need to start eating two tablespoons a day of ground flaxseed and maybe some hemp, maybe some chia seeds, walnuts, leafy greens, and maybe taking one small capsule a day of algae Omega-3. I routinely six weeks later repeat their blood work, and the Omega-3 levels are up and all those other numbers are down. Sophisticated but really widely available nutritional analysis should be pretty darn good at this stuff.

Allan (23:04): Now, one of the important things that’s out there when people are going to try to start something is, I think, having a plan that gets us at least into it long enough. Three weeks – 21 days – is probably enough time for you to start recognizing some of the health benefits to get some of the hard parts of it out of the way. You actually have a plant-based solution – 21-day menu set in here that I think is actually quite brilliant, because there's enough variety there. We're not talking all you're going to get is celery and carrots. These are actually foods, whole food meals that you can get by with, and you actually recognize as a meal, not a salad all the time. Do you want to take a few moments to talk about your 21-day menu and the recipes?

Dr. Kahn (23:58): Sure, thank you for that. I am not a culinary trained chef. I mentioned it briefly, I do own three restaurants – two in Detroit, one in Austin, Texas, that are completely plant-based. So I'm around food people, I employ food people, I research food people, but I am in the kitchen a pretty primitive guy. I'll tinker around and make some mistakes, but I'm not making mirepoix. The 21-day program is based… First of all, many, many people say that when they feel better is when they switched from their previous diet to a plant-based diet. And after about three weeks the dairy is gone, then the processed food is gone, and the fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds have been increased. And number two, it takes about that long to acquire the taste there. Some people are just aren’t grooving on Brussels sprouts and such. You sometimes can bite into an apple and it's an explosion of flavor after a few weeks of not having had a burger, bacon, cheese fries, and eating in a healthier pattern.

So that's the three-week part and why, and more importantly the recipes are simple. Let’s get some simple breakfast with overnight oats, overnight chia pudding, easy smoothies, chickpea omelets, some stir fries for breakfast. Frankly, I didn't put it in the book – half of Europe eats salad for breakfast. When you go to the salad bar in a European hotel, just cut up some cucumbers and tomatoes and mint and cilantro, and if you're into it, some olive oil, and you'll be in a good place. And then, also simple lunches. The one that's been the biggest hit in the book is a chickpea mash. I take a tuna sandwich to work every day. What am I going to take instead of a tuna sandwich? Well, get two pieces of good whole grain bread like Killer Dave’s or Ezekiel, put a chickpea mash in the middle. You don't need to do it with mayonnaise and eggs and high fat. There are now some plant-based mayonnaises out there. Put a lot of spices. Almost all the recipes enjoy health-boosting benefits of turmeric, ginger, garlic, parsley, rosemary and such. This chickpea mash has been great. And then we just need a few staples for dinner. We need a good soup, a good chili, a good casserole. For people who are on the move, one good bean burger. So there's a variety of choices in this three-week eating plan that really will satisfy most everybody. There’s the ability to explore, people can alter the recipes a bit. Some people don't like cilantro, some people do. Some people hate mushrooms, some people like them. I think people will find it pleasing. They come right out of my kitchen. They’re not gourmet recipes out of my restaurant that might challenge people. It would be practical. And I think at the end of three weeks, maybe a few pounds less, maybe a little bit clearer skin, maybe a little better digestive track with less heartburn and easier bowel movement. These will be some of the expectations people could actually expect to see happen.

Allan (27:23): As I look at and think about all the different eating styles that are out there – and they're coming up with new ones every day, it seems like – I just want to put this out there, that vegetables have to be a core of our diet. They are going to be what's providing us with the nutrition, the fiber, all the things that are going to keep us healthy. So any move that you can make towards a more plant-based, and by that we mean whole food, plant-based diet – I believe is a helpful decision. I really appreciate the opportunity to review your book. Like I said, it had me thinking through things, at times just stopping to meditate on them. I learned a lot and I really appreciate the opportunity to have you on the podcast. If someone wanted to learn more about you, learn more about the book, where would you like for me to send them?

Dr. Kahn (28:10): Probably the central point where I live on the web is my website, DrJoelKahn.com. Lots of blogs, lots of YouTube connections, Twitter connections, Instagram connections, Facebook connections. Then the book is there, and that’s the fifth book I've written. There will be more. I enjoy the process of writing blogs and writing books. And I appreciate it too. Like you say, the worst meal with a salad is a dramatically better meal. The worst pizza piled up with arugula, green peppers, garlic and onion is a far better choice. And you can learn to say, “Actually the part here that’s really good for you is if I take the cheese off and leave the marinara and all the vegetables.” You’ll actually have an amazing platform for health. So it's a process. For most people, inch by inch it’s a cinch, yard by yard it’s hard. Not a bad place to be, but get going, start today. Eat more plants, eat less animals. Save the world by closing down these CAFOs. These are real issues right now today.

Allan (29:19): I agree. So this is episode 329. You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/329 and I'll make sure to have a link to Dr. Khan's website and whatnot there. Dr. Khan, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.

Dr. Kahn (29:36): Thank you. And 40+ is really the time when the body starts to kick back from the habits during those first decades, and there couldn't be a better title or why a whole food, plant-based diet like the plant-based solution is a path to getting your mojo back. Maybe that'll be in my next book.

Allan (29:56): You have some very intriguing titles, I have to say that. Again, thank you, Dr. Kahn.

Dr. Kahn (30:02): Thank you, sir.

Allan (30:08): I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Dr. Khan. I think we can all agree that there is room for more plant-based foods on our plate each night and each day. Do take to heart the things you learned today and try to apply them in your life. And if you got something valuable from today's episode, I'd really appreciate if you would go to iTunes and tell me about it in a review. You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Review, and that'll give you an opportunity to give us a rating. I hope you give us a 5-star, and you can give us a review. So if there's something you took special out of today's episode, I really would appreciate if you take the time to go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Review and leave that short review today. Thank you.

Also, I really want to encourage you to join our Facebook group. You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Group, and that's a great place for you to generally interact with me. If you have questions, that's a really good place to be. It's a lot of likeminded people and a great opportunity for you to share your winds, ask your questions, and really have a very supportive group of people that all want the same thing that you do, and that's to be healthier and more fit while we're over 40.

And then finally, I want to apologize – I had put a link in the show a couple of weeks ago for an opportunity to have a 15-minute session with me. I inadvertently blew up on the tech. Apparently I didn't flip a certain button, and as a result people got some errors when they were trying to go through that link. And I sincerely apologize about that. It was a little technical glitch, it's my fault, so I do apologize about it. But if you go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Talk, that's actually going to take you to some spots I've put on my calendar to have a specific answer session with you. So if there are some questions you've got about health and fitness, some topics you want me to talk about on the podcast, this is the place to go. Just go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Talk. It'll allow you to book a 15-minute time with me, and then we'll go ahead and get on the phone or on Zoom and we'll have that conversation. So, go ahead and go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Talk, and we can have a conversation about the things that matter most to you.

Short of that, I do hope that you enjoyed the podcast, and I do want to see you back here next week. Next time on the 40+ Fitness podcast, we'll discuss modes of transportation. How are you going to get through your wellness journey? Until then, have a happy and healthy day.