Vegetarians in Paradise takes great pride in presenting its 24 Carrot Award to Dr. Hans Diehl, founder and director of CHIP (Coronary Health Improvement Project). Dr. Diehl is an epidemiologist and heart researcher who holds a doctorate in Health Science and a master's degree in Public Health Nutrition. He is founder and director of the Lifestyle Medicine Institute in Loma Linda, California and is a Clinical Professor in the School of Medicine of Loma Linda University.
Professor Diehl has co-authored two books--The Optimal Diet: the Official Cookbook and Health Power: Health by Choice Not Chance, translated into almost 20 languages and an international bestseller with 2 million copies in print.
For more information on CHIP, click here.
As is customary, Vegetarians in Paradise takes this opportunity to interview our award recipient to share his/her accomplishments with our readers. What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers by Hans Diehl (HD).
VIP: What circumstances in your career led you to focus on diet and nutrition as a means for combating disease? And how does that tie in with the vegan diet? What personal experiences led you to vegetarianism? How long have you been vegan?
HD: Freshly minted with my doctorate in the health sciences and a graduate degree in public health nutrition and quite self-confident that I had the answers as a healer and researcher to help people with their health problems, I met Nathan Pritikin, and that changed my life and my career. I saw for the first time what a truly healthy lifestyle--centering around a simple diet of foods-as-grown unapologetically applied--could do in a residential clinical setting, in not only preventing, but more importantly in reversing chronic disease and restoring health; and that often within a few weeks with risk factors becoming measurably affected within days!
While the Pritikin program was not a purely vegetarian program, my conviction about the advantages of an all-plant diet grew as I became more aware of its ecological and economical advantages and the health dangers of dairy products, which resulted in my next step of adopting a health-oriented plant-based diet without any animal products about 15 years ago.
I had already adopted a lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle some 45 years ago as an undergraduate at an Adventist university, where I also met my wife. This was further reinforced in my graduate studies with a growing awareness that being a vegetarian was only part of the picture of a healthy lifestyle. Reduction in the consumption of sugar and oil, an increase in the intake of fiber and water, and daily exercise all moved into the picture frame of a healthy lifestyle.
VIP: You are well known for developing CHIP (Coronary Health Improvement Project). What motivated you to develop CHIP?
HD: My ambition as a health professional during graduate school became heightened by the work of Dr. Pekka Puska, the director of the ambitious North Karelia project in Finland. This young epidemiologist transformed a region in Finland known as the "Valley of Beautiful Widows" (due to its very high fatal heart disease rate) into one of the healthiest provinces in Finland. Dr. Puska's scientific publications laid the foundation for my commitment to community-based intervention in combating Western killer diseases.
Before I could embrace this concept, however, I had to become better acquainted with the power of a simple diet of foods-as-grown. This happened at the Pritikin Longevity Center, where--as the director of research and education--I saw, observed and recorded the clinical benefits of such a therapeutic diet. But I had some concerns: it was a program that was more easily accessible to the affluent, and I was concerned about the recidivism once graduates would be in their usual environment without the needed support.
Concerned with how best to bring these concepts to society-at-large, and taking my cues from Dr. Puska's community-based intervention model, I began to better understand that advocated lifestyle changes without thorough education, skill acquisition, and a supportive infrastructure would be doomed to failure. I also learned that it was necessary to find a way to integrate the medical and public health models, and to take advantage of an ecological, social concept where people would learn in a social setting as a group, would feel supported by communal infrastructures and would have an on-going alumni maintenance program.
VIP: CHIP could be described as a community-based lifestyle intervention program. What does this intervention entail?
HD: As a community-based lifestyle intervention program that enrolls groups of self-selected people, CHIP consists of several components that are carefully integrated:
VIP: What principal benefits will people derive by participation in the Coronary Health Improvement Project (CHIP)?
HD: Participants can expect LDL-cholesterol drops of 15 to 20%, which by itself will lower the coronary risk by some 50%. In addition, high blood pressure and glucose levels consistently come down to the extent that medical intervention is often needed to lower or eliminate the prescribed medications within the first four to five weeks.
People eat more, and yet they lose 6 to 8 pounds with ease. At the same time, people learn how to walk about two miles a day with a goal of taking at least 10,000 steps a day as measured by pedometers. Many people coming into the program with clinically assessed depression, leave with significant improvements. Nearly 20 articles published in peer-reviewed medical journals (done as part of a major randomized clinical trial funded with close to $1 million by the State of Illinois) have documented the consistent benefits of a more natural diet consisting largely of foods-as-grown accompanied by an appropriate daily exercise program. These benefits are consistent with the expectation that reversal of heart disease is facilitated over time.
VIP: You have been involved in the formation of the Lifestyle Medicine Institute at Loma Linda University? Could you tell our readers about the functions of the organization and your role in the institute?
HD: Some 25 years ago, I formed the Lifestyle Medicine Institute in Loma Linda, California, to not only prevent chronic disease through a lifestyle-related program, but to also apply these preventive strategies unapologetically in the treatment of these diseases with the goal of reversing them. As the director of the CHIP program designed to educate, motivate, and inspire people to adopt healthier habits, I have seen the program grow where we now have more than 50,000 graduates. Aside from running in North America, the program has expanded to New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, India, Germany, Dubai, Egypt, and the West Indies. And the clinical results are quite similar. More than 2 million copies of our textbook Health Power have been translated into nearly 20 languages with more than 2 million copies in circulation. And our Optimal Diet Cookbook has also done remarkably well.
To help our alumni anchor their new CHIP lifestyle, we are producing not only a new and updated video series, but we are also providing professionally designed DVDs quarterly. Our weekly 30-minute radio broadcasts heard on some 175 stations are designed to spread the message of hope and good health. As a Clinical (voluntary, part-time) Professor in the School of Medicine of Loma Linda University I am engaged in bringing these lifestyle medicine concepts to the attention of students, medical residents, and colleagues.
VIP: How does CHIP differ from programs developed by Doctors Ornish, Esselstyn, and McDougall? What are the similarities?
HD: The CHIP program distinguishes itself largely through its mode of delivery. It is designed as an affordable program, envisioned as a social movement that engenders cultural transformation at the community level. It does this through intensive education, motivation, and inspiration, and is conducted in a group setting that can range from 20 to 1,500 participants at a time. It was made scalable through a state-of-the-art educational video program (16 one-hour lectures), complemented by certified trainers who have carefully delineated manuals of how to operate the program and how to conduct it virtually "minute-by-minute." This assures standardization and quality control.
All selected data is sent to a national data management center in Portland, Oregon, providing for ongoing research. The CHIP program is not a dietary dogma oriented program. It is not ideologically structured as a vegetarian or vegan program. Instead, compelling epidemiological, biological, ecological, and ethical data is presented lecture after lecture in a lego-house-building fashion that shows not only "why" lifestyle changes need to be made but also "how to" make them. CHIP points out the advantages of a diet lower in cholesterol, fat, sugar, and salt and abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables, unrefined grains and legumes, and a few nuts and seeds.
The educational receptivity and readiness influences to what extent the participants can and will embrace the total lifestyle at its optimal level. CHIP, therefore, is a program of choice not chance.
While my esteemed colleagues have done the hard work of clinical research, our Lifestyle Medicine Institute has focused on the distribution of these findings by delivering them as an educational package in a group setting via certified CHIP trainers working through and in churches, hospitals, and corporations.
VIP: You are the author of books on health. Which would you suggest as the best starting point for someone who wants to know about you and your work and how to improve his/her health through lifestyle modification?
HD: I think our most popular books are the CHIP Combo consisting of the well-illustrated, full-color Health Power and the very practical The Optimal Diet Cookbook. Our extensive web site www.CHIPhealth.com is chock full of up-to-date developments in the area of health and healing, diet and disease reversal, and a treasury of healthful information and resources.
VIP: How have your colleagues responded to your efforts to reverse chronic diseases through diet?
HD: The response from health care professionals in the early days was one of disbelief and often plain rejection. This attitude has somewhat changed. Even so, due to a lack of exposure in medical school and also later in continuing education courses, many physicians have limited awareness of the advances in the lifestyle medicine literature that demonstrate unequivocally that regression of heart disease, disarming of diabetes, and lowering of high blood pressure are no longer simply the wishful thinking of some health enthusiasts. Many physicians I have talked to, both young and old, are feeling dehumanized because they have been pushed into the business of medicine that is run with clear bottom lines, very limited patient-doctor interaction time, and well-laid-out production schedules. This, then, does not make for an environment where patient education can take place.
In recent years, more and more hospitals and physicians are getting excited about a lifestyle approach to addressing patients' health concerns. More specifically, many physicians are thrilled to have the CHIP program in their hospitals and in their communities. It gives them a resource center where they can refer their patients with confidence for intensive educational purposes, as well as for needed support to implement positive changes in their lives. It is an honor to have the opportunity of working together toward providing well-rounded care to patients. And I am certainly most grateful that the CHIP program is being acknowledged as a valuable resource and help to hospitals and physicians and to all the intellectually responsible people who recognize that they themselves hold in their hands some of the most important keys to health recovery and well being.
VIP: If a person resolves to improve his/her health and lose weight at the same time, what initial dietary measures would you recommend?
HD: The best way for adults to become involved in health is in becoming more confident in intelligent self-care within the context of an enlightened care provider, ideally with a public health/preventive and lifestyle medicine exposure. Intelligent self care has to do with getting exposed to some of the outstanding books that are now available, such as those written by Neal Barnard, Brenda Davis, T. Colin Campbell, Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn, Howard Lyman, Rip Esselstyn, and John McDougall. These authors make a strong case for a simpler diet largely consisting of foods-as-grown coupled with a consistent exercise program.
VIP: Of all of your personal accomplishments, which ones give you the most pride and satisfaction?
HD: My greatest joy resides in the fortunate fact that when my wife Lily was born, "the angels danced for joy." And when I married her, "they threw a party for me." For more than 40 years, she has been the inspiration of my life, a soul mate who bought into my dream and encouraged and nurtured a seedling concept toward maturity.
My greatest pride and satisfaction resides in the fact that I feel blessed to be able to reach out to others and to touch their lives in a clinically measurable fashion and to see them turn from despair to hope as a new reality of health recovery emerges for them. It has given my life an unusual richness that is only matched by my gratitude.
VIP: How do your friends and relatives react to your emphasis on a plant-based diet?
HD: I am fortunate in that my aim has been to intentionally preach my commitment to a healthy plant-based diet to my friends and relatives, not with words but through personal example. I have learned not to be like a "jack hammer" making a lot of noise but to be more like a cotton ball gently reaching out to others and propelled forward by a gentle wind, just being there as a "non-self-proclaiming" example.
VIP: What personal goals have you set for yourself in the coming years?
HD: I want to do my best to stay in good health so that I can leverage some of my experience with and lessons learned from life and career to those interested, including the mentoring of students and institutions. To move towards the fulfillment of that goal, I hope to have a new CHIP DVD series out by next year. And, of course, I look forward to continuing to spend time with my wonderful wife, Lily, and with my now grown-up children and their children who affectionately call me "Opa."
VIP: What leisure activities and hobbies do you enjoy?
HD: My life has been enriched by the fine arts (my wife Lily is a recording artist), lecturing, and extensive travel. I revel in hiking in the Alps and seeing the grandeur of nature and collaborating with like-minded friends and colleagues. But it has also been enriched by a commitment to tackle projects that "naysayers" believe cannot be done and by a devotion to maintain and foster relationships and friendships.
VIP: Can you give our readers the main features of your personal diet and exercise regimen?
HD: My healthy lifestyle program centers around a simple diet of foods-as-grown (fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) and daily exercise. When in town, I am at the university gym from 7 to 8 a.m., where I work my elliptical for 20 minutes, then walk a mile on the outdoor track, and then work the machines for 20 minutes.
My breakfast is simple. It's typically
My noon meal is typically
For more ideas you might want to take a look at our two-week dietary plan in the back of our Optimal Diet Cookbook used by our CHIP chapters.
VIP: What person or persons have had the most influence on your life?
HD: My parents reared me with God-fearing qualities. They instilled in me an ethic of right and wrong, to share and to be a blessing to others, and to develop my talents. They did not block me when I wanted to emigrate to North America and showed pride in my being able to hold my own in a different culture, with a different language, and with limited resources at my disposal.
My family surrounded me with loving support, provided me with much pardonable pride over their accomplishments, and their generous hearts and gave me more respect than I deserve.
My "colleagues in the trenches" stimulated, encouraged, and helped me in contributing to the emergence of a new lifestyle medicine paradigm.
My wonderful CHIP family of fellow workers, associates, colleagues, and some 50,000 CHIP graduates taught me and confirmed in their lives the validity of the advocated lifestyle medicine concepts.
VIP: We may have omitted areas that are important to you. Please feel free to add anything you would like to share with our readers.
HD: I am deeply grateful for the beauty of life with its struggles and accomplishments and for the many people and friends who brightened my pathway and contributed to my exuberance for living life to its fullest--in being called to be a servant-leader.