Just a year ago, Dr. Philip Paden was in league with health care professionals who scoff at and advise against diets devoid of animal-derived foods.
"I thought those people were weird, and I made fun of them along with everyone else," says the 65-year-old Medford ophthalmologist.
But since a patient turned him on to "The China Study" — the 2005 nutrition and food-policy expose by researcher and Cornell University professor emeritus T. Colin Campbell — Paden has left behind the legions of meat-eaters and a host of health concerns. Now consuming a vegan diet, Paden preaches its benefits in his practice and anywhere he can muster an audience, despite the skepticism and, sometimes, outright hostility that pervade his profession.
"There is no incentive to make your patient well," says Paden of standard medical care in the United States.
"We're crashing the economy because we can't afford our health care. This is the answer."
Authored by a veteran in the fields of biomedical research and policy-making, "The China Study" proposes a simple, mealtime strategy for curtailing the crisis of modern diseases: cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, cardiovascular, autoimmune and Alzheimer's diseases, among others.
"That doesn't exist when people eat the right food," says Paden, who has practiced for 24 years in Medford, specializing in diabetic retinopathy. "I changed my diet in one day."
The menu plan, says Paden, couldn't be more straightforward: "Whole foods. From plants. No salt."
"Whole foods" means nothing processed, at least with sodium or synthetic ingredients. Whereas certain whole-grain breads are acceptable, many commercially produced loaves contain a parade of unpronounceable additives.
"You have to be the label-reader from hell," says Paden.
"From plants" means exactly that. Meat, eggs, milk, cheese, butter and other commonplace animal foods are taboo. Seasoning from salt is replaced with the full spectrum of herbs and spices, including nutritional yeast. While dishes taste "reasonably bland" the first month, says Paden, taste buds reawaken in the absence of artificial flavors and acrid sodium, just as the body's other systems start to function again as they should.
"All of my medical problems got better instantly," says Paden, explaining that he no longer has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis or gastric reflux. Formerly pre-diabetic, the eye doctor lost 50 pounds in seven months.
"The biggest change was energy, mood, patience, mental functioning," says Paden. "My staff said ... 'What are you on?' "
He isn't the only one seeing results. The diabetic patient who recommended "The China Study" a year ago no longer takes insulin-regulating medication, says Paden. Some 20 patients who follow the diet also report similar, life-changing outcomes, adds Paden, who treats approximately 7,000 Medicare-age adults, most of whom have glaucoma and cataracts.
"The people who have done it have stopped their medicines."
While every doctor knows that type-2 diabetics can avoid taking pharmaceutical drugs by following a strict diet, says Paden, few patients adhere to it. By eliminating animal protein and fat, along with refined carbohydrates, patients "trickle" nutrients into their digestive systems rather than flooding them with calories, which causes blood-sugar levels to soar then plummet, he says.
"This isn't a calorie-counting, deprivation diet."
Indeed, Paden says he still consumes a 2,000-calorie diet, only by way of much larger quantities of food. His typical breakfast is oatmeal with fruits or vegetables, plus a smoothie of greens and another containing only fruit. Lunch is some variety of beans and greens in a casserole, soup or stew, along with fruit and salad. Dinner, perhaps, is spaghetti with "noodles" from the namesake spaghetti squash.
Paden's wife, 59-year-old Debbi, and two grown children also follow the regimen, which he says provides seven times the nutrients and seven times the fiber. Paden admits that preparing all one's food from scratch requires more shopping and cooking, but the diet yields more energy for those tasks.
"You can reinvent yourself as a new person that's more fun to be," says Paden.
Unlike fad diet books, "The China Study" is based on 20 years of research in the title nation by a team from Cornell and Oxford universities with the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine. The statistically significant, peer-reviewed studies provide more than enough evidence for the most logical readers, says Paden, who obtained his medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and served an internship at Yale University. Before medical school, Paden taught chemistry at Cornell University, which gives him an additional point of reference for Campbell's work and "The China Study."
Read a synopsis of and excerpt from "The China Study," as well as reviews and news articles online at www.thechinastudy.com. Copies can be purchased at Paden Eye Care Center, 221 Stewart Ave., suite 110, Medford.