Does Your Doctor Have All The Nutritional Facts?

Let me start by saying that we love our doctor. Jane and I have been going to him for the last five years or more and he is excellent. Unlike most other doctors who seem to be working on a conveyor belt mentality, our doctor epitomizes compassion. He's respectful of your time, he'll answer all of your questions, he makes sure you understand what he's talking about, all without keeping an eye on the clock. He actually appears concerned about you as a patient.

But when Jane was in for her last visit (pre-vegan) and told him we were "going vegan" he didn't have much to offer. Jane asked him if there were any specific things she needed to concern herself with and all he had to say was to make sure that we ate enough protein and took a calcium supplement. Hmmm. For the first time we felt a little less confident in our doctor's ability to take care of us.

It turns out, that's probably the norm, at least as it relates to nutritional information. In an article entitled Doctors Get Poor Marks in Nutrition in the New York Times published way back in 1993:

A nationwide survey has found that even doctors who were taught the fundamentals of nutrition in medical school and who hold a favorable attitude toward the subject are unlikely to use basic nutrition in their encounters with patients.

And it doesn't seem like things have changed all that much (from How Much Did Your Doctor Learn About Nutrition in Medical School):

A new study indicating that 60 percent of medical schools in the United States are not meeting minimum recommendations for their students’ nutrition education offers more reasons for consumers to seek food and nutrition advice from the experts: the registered dietitians of the American Dietetic Association.

The study, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concludes that “the amount of nutrition education in medical schools remains inadequate” 20 years after a report from the National Academy of Sciences found nutrition education programs in medical schools were “largely inadequate to meet the present and future demands of the medical profession.”

It seems to me if food can cause illness, food can cure illness. There's certainly an overwhelming amount of evidence to prove that diet can cause cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. And I'd like my doctor to be able to speak to me about that in depth, not just suggest that I eat a balanced diet and take a multivitamin.

(Edited 2/21 -- For further information on Vegan Nutrition, see our post dated 2/21 on Vegan Nutrition -- How To Be A Healthy Vegan.  And don't forget to check out our Vegan Resources page, which has a wealth of vegan links.)


  1. Very well said! I firmly believe that many physicians are lacking in their nutritional knowledge. It is so very true that there are many foods out there that can help cure disease, I just wish doctors were more knowledgeable about this.

  2. Great post once again! Western medicine tends to focus on treatment rather than prevention. We love our doctor too, but I doubt she has any more information on preventative nutrition than my mom. It really is up to us to do the research to ensure that we’re providing a healthy (and delicious!) diet for ourselves and for our families.

  3. You also hear a lot of complaints in the vegan community along the lines of “I told my doctor I was going vegan and they said it was a bad idea/not healthy”. This can cause a fear of telling your doctor you’ve gone vegan, which can cause problems.

    There is a cause and effect on your health depending on your diet. This should be one of the backbones of a doctors education.

    I could also give a cynical guess to why western doctors treat instead of prevent:

    Prevention = Less Sick People = Less $$

  4. I’ve gotten similar “advice” from doctors to watch my protein. I’m always surprised when doctors focus so much on protein, and not on iron. Iron is where I need to be much more careful.

  5. Thanks Mama and Eggz for your kind words! Jane read somewhere that the average doctor gets about 15 minutes of schooling on nutrition here in the US (but I couldn’t find any reference online to back that up, so I didn’t include it in my post). It’s so frustrating that it’s left up to us, the patient, to research these things ourselves. I hate the philosophy that we should be our own advocates. I didn’t go to medical school. That’s why I’m going to see a doctor in the first place. Otherwise, I’d heal myself.

    Mandy – I too agree with prevention = less sick people = $$$. But I look at it this way. If I’m coming in for a check up, I’ll probably be in and out quickly and my doctor can see more patients that way.

    Sharon — Vegan has some valuable information on
    Iron which might be helpful to you.

  6. I found this article while researching the very question you raised in your comment. How much nutrition education does the average doctor receive in med school? I had heard it was a very low number also, but am having trouble finding stats to back that up. Anybody have any updates?

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