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Q & A Interview with Dr. Ralph Felder (Dr. Chef)

Are any of your patients on the Bonus Years Diet?  If yes, how is it working for them?
I am actually giving formal cooking classes at a well known cooking school here in Phoenix (Kitchen Classics) using the diet and the book as a basis for the classes.  That way the participants in the diet can learn the proper techniques of healthy cooking, which form such an important part of the book, by actual demonstrations.  We have had an overwhelming response in terms of weight loss for those who want to lose weight and an improved feeling of well-being for those interested in a healthier lifestyle.  Based on this experience, Dr. Carol Johnston, who is the chairperson of the Department of Nutrition at Arizona State University and I have submitted a grant, along with Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, to do formal testing of people on this diet compared with the traditional heart healthy diets of the American Heart Association.

Of the seven ingredients for this “diet”, what do you do if you are allergic to any of them, in particular nuts?
If you are allergic to nuts, just take them out of the diet, you will still get about a 70% reduction in cardiovascular risk (because the other six foods can be eaten), which will still mean about 6.2 bonus years for men and 4.4 for women  For those people who want to do more however, I would eat fish more often.  Recent data has shown that people who eat fish five times a week for example, continue to get more benefits than those who eat fish three times a week.  Also eat more fruits and vegetables; go up to eight cups a day, there will be a further decrease in blood pressure.  I would also add non-fat/low-fat dairy products like milk and yogurt, this will also help to decrease blood pressure even further and therefore reduce cardiovascular risk.

Can you eat red grapes if you’re not a wine drinker?
Yes you can eat the red grapes, and they are great, but you have to recognize that the alcoholic component directly causes an increase in the good cholesterol (HDL), which you won't get with just grapes.  Also, the process of macerating and fermenting the red wine causes the production of polyphenols (plant chemicals) that you simply won't get with grapes.

Can you eat shrimp instead of the fish?
Shrimp can be part of the diet occasionally, and we have recipes with shrimp, but it certainly can't substitute for fish such as salmon or mackerel all the time.  The shrimp just doesn't have enough omega three fatty acids to be the only source of seafood.

Do you think doctors will in the future talk to their patients more about food than about drugs?  If yes, why has it taken so long?
I certainly hope that doctors will adopt a proactive approach to diet and disease prevention.  I just gave a talk to the residents and interns at Good Samaritan Medical Center here in Phoenix on the Bonus Years Diet, and spoke about the critical importance of the Bonus Years Foods in preventing vascular disease.  I reminded them that in the real world of primary care, disease prevention is probably their most important job, and that begins with diet and exercise.

Although this is not a weight loss diet per se, does one have to lose weight prior to changing one’s eating habits, or can you make the change no matter your weight and health?
No, you can certainly start the diet without weight loss first, but I would recommend that those people who do have weight problems try to lose those excess pounds because they really add to the risk of vascular disease.  As we discuss in the book, the Bonus Years can easily become a weight loss diet by cutting down on the nuts and dark chocolate, say to one ounce a day for each of these instead of two ounces a day.  Then when you have achieved your weight loss goal, you can have the full complement of nuts and chocolate as prescribed by the diet.

Adding another 4.6 years to a woman’s life is difficult to comprehend, as you don’t know how long your life is going to be in the first place.  How do you get this figure to make sense?
What we are saying is that on average women will add 4.6 years to their lives, some may add six, others 3.5. Here is why.  The Bonus Years Diet decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 75%.  Fifty percent of people in our country die from these diseases, so if you can so dramatically cut down the risk, you can see why on average people will live longer.  If we could drop dramatically the risk of developing multiple sclerosis for example, that would be great, but this is relatively such a rare disease, that it wouldn't have much of an impact on the average life span of the population as a whole.  But when fifty percent of the population is dying from cardiovascular disease, when you can really impact that as this diet does, it leads to an average increase in life expectancy.  That is qualitatively what is going on.  We actually used the same quantitative methods as life insurance companies do to actually compute the number of added bonus years.

Why is it, do you think, that people have such bad eating habits?
We want to eat quickly, just wolf down any old junk food that is nearby.  Everything is super sized.  If people started preparing their own meals using fresh ingredients, we wouldn't have all these problems.

Is it because the drug companies have such a monopoly in the world of healthcare that doctors prescribe so many drugs?
Doctors prescribe drugs because people want a quick way to solve their problems; just take a pill is the attitude.  Real lifestyle changes requires a commitment that many people just won't make; it seems easier to just take a drug.

What does the future look like for Americans with regards to the obesity epidemic that is going on?
The future looks like a tsunami ready to hit America.  When I was a medical intern, Type II Diabetes was called Adult Onset Diabetes because it never occurred in people under the age of forty.  Now teenagers are getting it because of their obesity.  It is estimated that if we continue the trend of the last forty years, with the number of obese Americans doubling every ten years, by the year 2025 one third of our population will have diabetes.  The healthcare costs in terms of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure will be astronomical.  All of those kids with Type II Diabetes now will be needing dialysis and heart transplants in just twenty years.

Dr. Ralph Felder
February 2007

Dr. Ralph Felder is also known as Dr. Chef and you can visit his website for more information.
Photograph used with permission.

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