Australian doctors turning over a new leaf on diet

10 Jan 2017

Australian doctors, specialists and dieticians are beginning to recognise the important link between nutrition and overcoming many of our modern-day chronic lifestyle diseases. Lucy Stegley explains.

It was not so long ago that recommending a plant based diet as sound medical advice would have been disregarded and shunned by healthcare professionals and patients alike as useless and unprofessional. Doctors would have been left out in the career cold for being so brazen as to suggest that diet had anything of significance to do with chronic disease outcomes. What then is behind the current increased interest in the role of a plant based diet in disease prevention - and even (in some cases) reversal? From presidents of medical specialist organisations to the local family doctor, it seems we are approaching a tipping point for the recognition by the medical fraternity that their hero Hippocrates really was onto something profound when he declared, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."

But what exactly should doctors recommend we eat according to the best available medical evidence? With nutrition studies accounting for on average less than 20 hours of curriculum within university medical training, doctors are dispensed a major information gap when it comes to food. Not satisfied with living in the dark on diet, a growing number of medical professionals are going out of their way to follow the data trail to seek answers for themselves.

Dr Kim Williams, 2015-2016 President of the American College of Cardiology, says:

"Getting nutrition information to physicians and nurses is critical for prevention of disease. It always concerns me that cardiologists die of heart disease so often. My plumber has good pipes in his house. My electrician has good wiring. Why would a cardiologist die of heart disease. Perhaps it should be widely recognized that we champion treatment of heart disease, not prevention yet. We would like to move from 'sickcare' to 'healthcare'.

"I was fortunate, in retrospect, to hear about Dean Ornish and prevention of heart disease very near the time in March, 2003 that I found my elevated LDL cholesterol. I went plant-based that day and had a dramatic improvement in my cholesterol level. The number of articles on mortality with animal product consumption has led me to feel very fortunate that I changed when I did. This was a lot more than just a cholesterol level. It was about avoiding multiple chronic diseases and early mortality."

Dr Heleen Roex, a paediatrician from Adelaide, says:

"We are not passing on chronic diseases by our genes, but more so by our recipes. It's our habits, culture and beliefs passed on generation by generation that is keeping us in the food-choice-trap.

"Whole food plant based nutrition is the best nutrition for human health, based on a wealth of research. The problem is that it is not yet mainstream knowledge and I have made it my mission to spread the word. We have to approach this at several levels, grass roots movements and also educating the health professionals, because sound nutritional education is not part of the medical curriculum yet. Therefore I have educated myself further in plant based nutrition through Cornell University and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and I am now a Food for Life instructor. This involves conducting 5-week classes, which include education and cooking demonstrations with tastings. Furthermore, I do presentations for the general public and also for health professionals through Grand Rounds in hospitals."

As it turns out, doctors don't have to venture far to get a big hint about what foods not to recommend to their patients. In the wake of the World Health Organisation's 2015 classification of, "processed meat … as carcinogenic to humans" and "of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans", the writing is on the wall for animal products being legally able to be promoted by medical professionals for much longer.

Are medical curriculum creators, national nutrition guidelines departments, doctors and dietitians heeding the wake-up call?

Despite published studies emerging from universities and even the tobacco industry themselves in the 1940s and 50s, "As late as 1960 only one-third of all US doctors believed that the case against cigarettes had been established." Is it not time that we swiftly enact measures to avoid repeating the drawn out inaction of the tobacco-smoking-doctor era? From the many preventable deaths from diet-induced diseases and the accompanying unnecessary human suffering, to the economic, environmental and ethical burden the consumption of animal products brings to our nation's productivity and healthcare system, the ramifications of our diets can no longer afford to be ignored by the governing bodies of our nation. Let's champion the swift uptake of a plant based diet by medical doctors who are at the forefront of incorporating the avoidance of animal products into action within their own lives and their professions. These are the healthcare visionaries who practice what they teach.

Special nutrition symposium with Dr Kim Williams

A special Nutrition In Healthcare symposium will be held in Melbourne on Wednesday 18 January 2017 to bring light to the growing movement towards plant based preventative medicine practices. This event is the first of its kind in Australia and includes a keynote presentation, 'Nutrition and Heart Disease - Let's take the DIE out of DIET', by international guest Dr Kim Williams, 2015-2016 President of the American College of Cardiology. Dr Williams' catchphrase is "There are two kinds of cardiologists: vegans, and those who haven't read the data!"

Other presentations include up-to-date research and evidence-based practice on the leading dietary factor to influence chronic disease outcomes, presented by Australian doctors Alphonse Roex (Obstetrician), Heleen Roex (Paediatrician) and Anthony Hadj (General Practitioner). There will also be presentations by heart attack and heart transplant survivors, George Younan and Adam Guthrie, who have successfully turned their health around with the implementation of evidence-based vegan nutrition upgrades.

The event is being coordinated by Raw Events Australia. Tickets are from $99 to $149 and include 100% vegan catering.

The following discount codes are available if booked online by midnight Sunday 15 January:

Social enterprises, not-for-profits, registered charities
$50 discount code (reducing ticket price to $99)
Code: notforprofits

High school and tertiary students
$50 discount code (reducing ticket price to $99)
Code: student

Concession and healthcare card holders
$40 discount (reducing ticket price to $109)
Code: concession

Australian medical and healthcare association members
$20 discount code (reducing ticket price to $129)
Code: healthcareassoc


Vegan Australia is an animal rights organisation that campaigns nationally for veganism. 
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