In this highly informative interview, clinical pharmacist Dustin Rudolph joins us to discuss plant-based nutrition, lifestyle medicine, and the problems inherent in a profit-driven medical system.
In this installment of our interview series, I'm talking with clinical pharmacist Dr. Dustin Rudolph, a.k.a, 'The Plant-Based Pharmacist'. With over a decade of experience in the field of pharmacy, Dustin has also become an expert in nutrition and lifestyle medicine. In 2009, he founded the website 'The Plant-Based Pharmacist' with the goal of providing high-quality, evidence-based health and wellness information to help improve the knowledge of both patients and medical professionals alike. Using his expertise as an educator, speaker, and writer, Dustin is helping others learn how to prevent and reverse chronic disease by adopting a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle.
Hi Dustin! Thanks so much for participating in our interview series- we're very pleased to be able to share your knowledge and wisdom with our readers. I was wondering how long you've been interested in plant-based nutrition? Do you remember what first sparked your interest in the subject?
I first learned about plant-based nutrition in the beginning of 2009 when I was at my podiatrist’s office. I was there to have him help me with some nerve pain in my left foot. During the exam the conversation turned to the debate on the healthcare law in the works at that time. He stated that no matter what legislation was passed it wouldn’t work to fix the American healthcare crisis. I was perplexed. 'What do you mean it won’t fix the healthcare crisis?!' That’s when he told me about two books—The China Study and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. I was instantly intrigued. I went to the bookstore that day and picked up a copy of The China Study. From there the rest is history.
I often joke with people now, stating that I went into that first appointment with my podiatrist to have my foot fixed, and instead he saved my life. We have since become good friends and work together in the local community to provide workshops discussing the benefits of plant-based nutrition and lifestyle medicine.
That's fantastic to hear- and what a fortunate coincidence! I imagine, as a pharmacist, that most of your education and training was focused on ‘traditional’ medical treatment, such as prescription medications and surgery. What do you think are some of the problems that arise from focusing solely on these forms of medical treatment?
My education was pretty much all focused on pills, procedures, and surgeries. While there is a time and a place for these approaches (i.e. car accidents, life-threatening infections, bone fractures, epileptic seizures, etc.), they lead to poor results when attempting to produce health in most patients.
The biggest problem with using conventional medicine to treat chronic diseases is that patients stay sick and medicated for the rest of their life. Nobody really gets any better. At best, they just delay getting worse in most cases. Using medications the way we do in Western civilization puts patients at risk of drug-drug interactions, side effects, and carries a financial burden that can be significantly burdensome for patients and society. The only ones who win are those in industry profiting off of sickness.
The Institute of Medicine brought to light the degree of harm being done using modern medicine in its 1999 report, To Err is Human. They stated that as many as 98,000 people die in hospitals each year from medical errors that could have been prevented. Recently this year, researchers from Johns Hopkins University did an update on this topic and found that 251,000 lives were lost every year in hospitals and other healthcare facilities due to medical errors. This makes the medical profession the third leading cause of death in the United States. That’s your doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other healthcare professional treating you. Sadly, we can be dangerous to our own patients.
The amount of harm or potential harm being done using our modern day medical practices is unfathomable in my opinion, especially considering that many of the diseases we're treating are caused by diet and lifestyle and, therefore, are diseases that are completely preventable by diet and lifestyle. As a society, we’re basically putting all our chips on the table in a game of roulette heavily favored to benefit the big casino. The big casino is the pharmaceutical industry, insurance industry, medical device industry, healthcare organizations, agriculture industry, and highly compensated politicians taking lobbying money from these industries. We’re better than this. We deserve better than this. It’s time to rethink how we approach health and disease. Otherwise, nothing is going to change for us little people. I know we can do better on an individual basis if we become informed and implement what we learn about food, medicine, lifestyle, and health.
Those are some startling statistics, and you're absolutely right- something has to change. Of course, when you have a medical system driven by profit, those changes really have to come from the ground up! I had another question on the topic of medical education and training- was there any focus on nutrition during the course of your degree?
Unfortunately, very little. The only training I received on nutrition involved training on parenteral nutrition. Parenteral nutrition is what we give patients in the hospital when they can’t eat for long periods of time (i.e. post-op patients, bowel obstruction, bowel surgery, etc.). It involves mixing an IV solution full of carbohydrates, protein, fat, electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals for the patient until they can eat again. It’s not the best way to get your calories, but it’ll keep you alive if you find yourself in the hospital for days or weeks on end unable to eat.
There needs to be a primary emphasis put on nutrition training in the medical education system. It is the single most important thing we can do for our young doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals as they prepare themselves to treat patients sick with dietary diseases. It’s the only way we’re going to reverse the healthcare crisis currently in place right now. We have to have competent doctors and healthcare providers to treat diseases caused by unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices.
Right now, neither patients nor healthcare professionals have a clue as to how nutrition plays a part in these chronic illnesses (heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cancer, etc.). Unfortunately, ignorance is not bliss in this instance. Ignorance is disability, unnecessary suffering, and premature death. We have an enormous amount of intelligent, capable human beings working in the healthcare system right now that want to do the right things for their patients, but are just clueless as to how to do it.
Basically, if I had to give the medical education system a grade for how we’re doing in this country, in terms of producing appropriately educated and top qualified candidates to serve the best interests of patients, I would give it an F! The first step in fixing this is to eliminate industry’s influences on the medical educational system. Currently, it is littered with free gifts and handouts to universities and students. And it’s not coming from the blueberry farmers. It’s coming from Big Pharma and the medical device industry, among others. We’ve got a lot of work to do going forward. The good news in all of this is the only way to go from here is up. Hopefully, we’ll start to see some positive changes in our university systems going forward.
I'm definitely hoping for the same! You're certainly doing your part to help educate people through your website, community workshops, and with your book, 'The Empty Medicine Cabinet'. Could you tell us a little more about the book's subject?
The Empty Medicine Cabinet is my best effort to give people the information they need to lead as healthy a life as possible. It’s divided into three separate parts.
Part 1 discusses many of the common chronic diseases (heart disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.). I go through what causes these diseases by explaining what is going on in the human body. Then I discuss the facts on the success rates (or lack thereof) associated with medications, along with their side effects. I also go in depth with the facts on using plant-based nutrition to treat these same diseases. I hope to help people understand their body better, especially when things aren’t working correctly. Remember, knowledge is power and becoming informed is the first step to better health.
Part 2 consists of the ‘how to’ of adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet and lifestyle. Reading nutrition labels, shopping, creating meal plans, understanding how to deal with social aspects of this lifestyle, and learning how to dine out are just a few of the topics I cover.
Part 3 consists of fifty delicious, plant-based recipes. I do not use animal foods or oils in any of my recipes. Sweeteners and salt are rarely used, and if they are they are in minimal amounts. You’ll find ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, and more. A few of these recipes can be found on my website as well.
I’ve gotten really good feedback on my book thus far. One of the most common comments by others is, “You make complex information seem so easy to understand with your writing. Your book is such an easy and informative read.” This was one of my goals all along, so I guess I accomplished what I set out to do!
You definitely did, and I for one think it's a book that should be on everybody's bookshelf! I really love that there's so much practical information included. Often people understand the 'whys' of plant-based eating, but struggle with figuring out how to actually make the transition. A lot of people who are new to this way of eating also get stuck for meal ideas, so I wanted to ask- what does a typical day of plant-based eating look like for you?
For breakfast I will eat oatmeal with blueberries, ground flaxseed, and cinnamon or shredded whole-wheat cereal with blueberries, sometimes topped with Grapenuts. Other times I'll have a smoothie with frozen bananas, frozen strawberries, cacao and greens. I would say cereal is my favorite option.
For lunch I typically eat leftovers from dinners throughout the week.
For dinner I will cook a lot of dishes that combine a whole grain (brown rice, quinoa, couscous, etc.), beans (black and pinto are my favorites), and an assortment of vegetables. A variety of frozen veggies are super easy to cook on the stovetop with different spices and seasonings added to them. Finally, I will mix the grains, beans, and veggies together into a large pot before serving. If I want more flavoring I will add salsa or hot sauce.
I also cook from actual recipes one or two times every couple of weeks. My favorite cuisines include Mexican (enchiladas, burritos), Asian (stir fries), American (homemade bean burgers and home-style potato fries baked in the oven), and Italian (veggie lasagna). I try Indian dishes like curry from time to time. For the most part, I cook in large batches so I have left overs to take to work or eat from the next day. If I’m not feeling up to cooking some nights I’ll just throw a giant sweet potato in the oven and have that. Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods.
For snacks I eat a lot of fresh fruit like bananas, mango, strawberries, grapes, apples, kiwi, tangelos, etc. I also have a few favorite desserts I make on a rarer basis. These include my Apple Berry Crisp from part three of my book, or homemade chocolate banana ice cream.
I rarely eat out, but when I do I treat myself to veggie wraps from local veggie-friendly cafes, or sushi, or pizza. I have a small handful of pizzerias around the city where I can order a variety of vegetables (mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, artichoke, black olives, banana peppers, and more) to have decorated on my pizza. I usually skip the vegan cheese substitutes if they offer them. I prefer my pizza without it, plus it’s healthier!
Sounds a lot like the way that we eat in our house! I have one more food-related question: if you were to recommend five foods to include in a health-promoting diet daily, what would they be?
Beans, greens, berries, cruciferous vegetables, and a whole grain (brown rice, quinoa, etc.) or potatoes. The whole grain and/or potatoes are necessary to provide sufficient healthy calories. The others are excellent for fighting various chronic diseases.
Do you think that there is more awareness about the role that nutrition plays in overall health now than there was 10 years ago? Do you foresee further progress happening in the coming years?
Absolutely. Ten years ago many people had yet to hear the words 'plant-based nutrition' or 'vegan'. Now it seems like everyone at least has heard of these terms, even if they don’t understand what they mean.
The future is bright for this field. People don’t like to be sick and obese. When they reach their breaking point they’ll try anything to lose weight and get healthy. There are many diets for losing weight, but only one in the form of a whole foods, plant-based diet to help people lose weight and reverse chronic diseases. The results keep people motivated and continuing this lifestyle.
The amount of people eating this way in the U.S. is still pretty dismal - only 1% or 2% at best (maybe even less) - but it is gaining momentum. With documentaries like Forks Over Knives, Plant Pure Nation, and the upcoming Eating You Alive, people are hearing the message. There’s a plethora of great books out there, like yours Emma, which are helping people along their journey.
Doctors and other healthcare professionals are starting to listen up too. There are a few big conferences concentrating on plant-based nutrition and health. These include the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare conference and P-POD conference. Groups like PBNSG are showing up, who provide community support, monthly plant-based nutrition meetings, and education to first and second year medical students in the Detroit, Michigan area. Heck, we even have an all-plant-based cruise each Spring that brings together the most talented and educated experts in the field. You can get healthy AND relax on the beautiful Western Caribbean seas at the same time. How can anyone go wrong there?!
All of this just scratches the surface of what is going on. The future is bright in my opinion. This grassroots movement is going to continue to grow every day as people learn how important it is to take back their health. This is important because, as we previously discussed, a top-down approach will never work. Industry interests and the political system want us to fail. They’re more concerned about profits than people. An informed and active society is essential to the health and prosperity of not only America, but also the global community at large. It’s time to take back our health and our planet. Eat your veggies! But more importantly, stop eating meat, dairy, and processed foods.
Thank you again, Dustin, for such a fantastic and informative interview! If you'd like to learn more about Dustin and his work, head to The Plant-Based Pharmacist website. You can also follow Dustin's Facebook page for information and updates.