Is There a Plant-Based Doctor in The House?

Here's what a doctor has to say about a new primary care model emphasizing food and exercise.


By Lani Muelrath


Doctors, in general, do not get a strong nutritional education as part of their professional training.

Yet, as the evidence mounts for the important role nutrition plays in your health, wellness, and disease prevention, how do you approach your doctor about the subject?

With plant-based nutrition, physical activity, and stress protection leading the way as models of health care, what measures can you take to work proactively with your physician toward addressing disease prevention?

Recently, I caught up with Craig McDougall, M.D., Practice Lead at Zoom+, a Portland, Oregon-based health insurer that has recently rolled out a new primary care model emphasizing food and exercise as a means of preventing and reversing disease over the modern proclivity for pills and procedures.

Zoom+Prime clinic offers a 90-day program featuring personalized health coaching to help patients get off their medications for conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol.

McDougall supports a diet composed of starches, such as whole grains, beans, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables. At the clinic McDougall sits down with patients, goes over meal plans, sets them up with recipes and even takes them grocery shopping at the neighboring New Seasons Market.

“It’s using food over pills and procedures,” McDougall said. “We build tools in their toolbox. There’s a strong focus on the practical.”

I asked Dr. McDougall to share his thoughts about his practice, preventative care, traditional western medicine, and suggestions for how people can approach these subjects with their doctor.

Lani Muelrath: What is your recommendation to someone who has become increasingly aware of the importance of plant-based nutrition for their health, well-being, and protection from disease who would like to have a conversation with their doctor about it - so that they are working together with their doctor not only on health improvement but wellness and preventative care in mind?

Craig McDougall, M.D.: Unfortunately, it is true that physicians have very little knowledge in nutrition, and furthermore nutrition therapy; i.e. using food as medicine. People need to take ownership of their own health, educate themselves using websites, books, and documentaries about the power of plant based nutrition.

Finding a clinician who follows the same lifestyle as you are adopting can seem near impossible, and that doesn't guarantee that they will be even be a good fit for you. You should look for a clinician who is honest, caring and supportive.

Lani Muelrath: As the foundation of your practice is in preventative care, and given that new patients may be aware of your interest in the role of diet, are many of the clients that come to you already eating a plant-based diet? Or do they find out about your work with nutrition at your first meeting with them?

Craig McDougall, M.D.: The foundation of my practice is primary care, this includes wellness, prevention, and chronic condition management and reversal. I see a wide variety of people: people looking for routine primary care using pills to manage conditions (even though I try to help them see another way), people who do not want to take medications but don’t know how to reach that goal, and people who have already made the change or are interested in plant based nutrition. I help support and guide people no matter where they are in their journey.

Lani Muelrath: What are the two most challenging aspects your patients find about switching to a plant -based diet? How do you advise them to navigate these challenges?

Craig McDougall, M.D.: There are many challenges people face while changing their lifestyle, whether it be to eating more plant-based or not. It may be hard to give up this or that, but these challenges all boil down to that change is hard for anyone. I discuss the importance lifestyle choices play in health with everyone I see and offer to help them make changes if they are interested. Unfortunately, I have found that if they are not ready for change, they are not going to listen to what i have to say, regardless of the message.

Another challenge often people face is the conflicting information that is portrayed in the media and even from their clinicians, but the overwhelming body of medical literature constantly supports moving toward a diet based on more whole plant foods for preventing and reversing chronic disease.

More about Craig McDougall, M.D.:

Craig McDougall, M.D. is a board certified internist who is working to create a preventative and wellness model that could be replicated anywhere.

Previously, Dr. McDougall was a primary care physician at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, OR where he was also the physician lead and co-developer of the Northwest Permanente Healthy Living Program, a physician led lifestyle medicine clinic which used a whole foods, plant based diet to treat, prevent, and reverse chronic disease.

In addition, Dr. McDougall is a staff physician and educator for the McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, CA, where he works with his father, Dr. John McDougall. They have co-authored two publications, most recently reporting the results from 1600 patients who participated in a 10 day low-fat, starch-based, vegan diet live-in immersion program.

Lani Muelrath, M.A., is an award-winning teacher, author, and top plant-based lifestyle coach. Certified Specialist in Behavior Change and Plant-Based Nutrition, Lani has been featured on CBS TV, ABC TV, Prevention, USA Today, and The Saturday Evening Post. Presenter for Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, Complete Health Improvement Program, and guest lecturer at San Francisco State University, Lani is Associate Faculty at Butte College where her book has been adopted as required text. She is the author of The Plant-Based Journey: A Step-by-Step Guide to Transition to a Healthy Lifestyle and Achieving Your Ideal Weight, recognized by VegNews as Top Media Pick for 2015, and Fit Quickies: 5 Minute Workouts. More from Lani at www.lanimuelrath.comFacebookTwitterInstagram.

Second Photo Credit: Aleksandrova Karina/; Third Photo Credit: Africa Studio/; Fourth Photo Credit: Anna Shepulova/

Fri Mar 11 20:25:26 UTC 2016

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