Interview With Dr. Benjamin Ha: Revisiting The Permanente Journal On Plant-Based Nutrition

Unknown-1A fascinating report by four healthcare doctors and professionals was published last month by the Permanente Journal, a “peer-reviewed journal of medical science, social science in medicine and medical humanities.” This report, entitled “Nutritional Update for Physicians:  Plant-Based Diets,” is important because it recommends unequivocally that doctors and those in the healthcare community encourage all their patients to adopt a whole, plant-based diet to achieve better health, especially for those suffering from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.  The strength of their recommendation is backed by scientific study and supported by scientific evidence.  I recently wrote a blog called “From Doctors, To Doctors: Less Pills & Surgery, More Fruits & Vegetables,” featuring the article, touching on the main ideas of the report.

The article was written by doctors for doctors. For me, that is where it’s significance lies–if doctors became more educated and knowledgeable in the benefits of whole, plant-based nutrition then they would legitimize it’s usage as a real medical tool, which would lead to them recommending it to their patients.  If you haven’t read the report yet, it is important, educational and validating.

One of the authors of the report, Dr. Benjamin Ha, was kind enough to answer some follow-up questions that I had after reading the article. Dr. Ha is is the Associate Area Medical Director for Family Medicine at the Bakersfield Medical Center in California.

Our exchange is as follows:

Benjamin Ha, MD: “We have been surprised and pleased by the support and response it has generated from the plant-based community nationwide. Thank you in advance for your understand that my answers express my own personal opinions and do not represent those of the co-authors or of Kaiser Permanente as an organization.

Ellen Francis:  Why do you think that physicians and healthcare professionals are reluctant to recommend plant-based nutrition? 

BH: I think this starts with lack of education and understanding of the benefits of a plant based diet.  As you noted in one of the posts on your website, physicians in training receive very little in the way of formal nutrition education.  As medicine becomes increasingly more complex with newer medications and procedures and diseases, physicians in training spend more time learning how to treat illness than prevent it.  So much is taught in the four years of medical school, it is difficult to fit it all in!  That being said, I think there is rising interest in plant based diets within the medical community and hopefully interest will continue to increase in the next few years.

EF: Are there any studies of how many physicians and healthcare professionals actually prescribe to a plant-based diet for themselves and their families?  

BH: I do not know of any.  As with any trend, spread typically begins with a few passionate individuals in  positions of influence sharing their views and perspectives with their colleagues.  I think this type of spread is starting to happen within KP.  Hopefully as more and more cases highlighting the powerful effects of prescribing a plant based diet to prevent and treat disease become available, there may be greater interest.

EF: Are medical schools changing their attitudes toward the benefits of plant-based nutrition and requiring courses in it? 

BH: I am not involved in medical education within our medical schools so I am not aware of any specific changes that are taking place.

EF: Does Kaiser Permanente promote plant-based nutrition for prevention and disease-fighting properties?  

BH: Kaiser Permanente has always stood for preventive medicine.  Prevention was a fundamental principle of medicine that Sidney Garfield, MD the founder of Permanente medicine, emphasized. As more and more evidence and studies show the powerful effects of plant based diets on illness, I think that KP, along with the larger medical community, will start to embrace plant-based nutrition as a treatment for illnesses such as diabetes and other chronic conditions. ”

I’d like to thank Dr. Ha for expounding on the original article with his interesting answers to my queries. Dr. Ha and his colleagues are making an important step in furthering the cause of whole, plant-based nutrition within the medical community, which will one day  improve the health of all of us!

xox Ellen

Leaning Into Veganism

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  1. Great interview, Ellen! Dr. Ha is a shining light and this report is such a milestone in medicine.

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