Acclaimed diet doctor lays out steps to health

Dr. Terry Shintani is a rarity among medical doctors because he heals people suffering from diet-related diseases like diabetes by addressing the source of the problem – the food.

His proved methods, well-documented in scientific journals, may be part of the reason he drew a standing-room-only crowd Thursday night at the Cameron Center for his presentation titled “Seven-step health makeover: Lose weight and reduce your need for medication.” The Vegetarian Society of Hawaii sponsored the event.

Shintani has written 10 books, including the “Hawaii Diet” and the “Good Carbohydrate Revolution.” He has a master’s degree in nutrition from Harvard University, as well as medical and law degrees from the University of Hawaii.

“I was in law and switched to medicine,” the formally dedicated “Living Treasure” of Hawaii told the crowd. As a medical doctor, he was taught to treat illness by giving medication. The turning point in his career came early one when a patient asked him, “Will these medicines cure me?”

“Never,” replied Shintani.

“I began to realize that most of these were diet-related diseases. . . . Two-thirds of what we saw was nutrition related. Two-thirds of the doctors should be nutrition doctors.”

Problem is, there’s no money in giving nutrition advice. “They pay me zero to counsel patients how to get off meds,” said Shintani of the drug companies.

“Our system is broken,” he said. “Drug companies are making piles of money.”

This philosophy is part of the reason Shintani doesn’t favor the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

“Obamacare continues the same system that isn’t working,” he said. “What we really need is better health and less doctors. That’s why I do what I do. I was a lawyer first,” he reminded the audience. “My first thought was ‘malpractice,’ ” he said in relation to prescribing medications that don’t cure people. “That made me very uncomfortable.”

These experiences prompted him to get his master’s degree in nutrition and set him on his current path.

Shintani displayed statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outlining the obesity epidemic sweeping the country since 1985.

“Even kids are overweight,” he said, while showing a cover story from a national magazine.

“With the baby boomers, a tsunami of diet-related disease is about to crash on the system,” he said. “Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s . . . 67 percent of all deaths are nutrition related.”

The fourth leading cause of death is prescription medicine, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“That’s not abuse medicine,” said Shintani. “That’s Ambien, Zoloft. . . . We’re hitting the wall, where for some people, treatment is worse than the disease.”

Shintani noted the irony that: “We’re treating the sixth leading cause of death (diabetes) with the fourth leading cause (prescription medicine).”

“Of course, I’m being facetious, but you have to think about that,” he told the crowd.

Shintani’s work with Native Hawaiians underscores a major tenet of his treatment, as outlined in the “Good Carbohydrate Revolution.” He said many people believe that carbohydrates promote weight gain. While Hawaiians currently have double the rate of obesity of the national average, there were no overweight Hawaiians when Captain Cook first visited these islands. This was shown in artists’ renderings and later, photographs.

“Hawaiians ate mostly carbs,” he said of taro. “Grain and starchy vegetables have been a main staple for all societies.

“How do we know we didn’t eat meat (like we do today)? In not one archaeological dig did they find a refrigerator.”

Shintani said he believes our diets are “all upside down now,” and hence the cause of many of our health woes.

“The Hawaiian main staple now is SPAM,” he said. “Hawaii consumes 700 percent the national average. It’s (SPAM) only 17 percent protein, the rest is fat. Maybe that’s why people are getting fat.”

After outlining his argument that the best diet is unprocessed carbohydrates, along with leafy greens and other vegetables, Shintani unveiled his seven-step health makeover. It incorporates the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects that make us human.

1. Make a commitment. Set a goal.

2. Find your reason or motivation. “You have to have a desire, whether it is relieving pain or being around for your grandchildren.”

3. Exercise. “The best exercise is one you like and will continue.”

4. Write it. Think it. Say it. By putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you solidify your resolve, according to Shintani.

5. Prayer. Shintani believes we are spiritual beings and this aspect of change should not be overlooked.

6. Eat more, weigh less – of Shintani’s recommended foods, of course.

7. Join a support system. Shintani mentioned the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii as such an organization.

Shintani’s talk on the same subject on Oahu is scheduled to be posted on soon. Click on the Watch VSH lectures icon.

* Rich Van Scoy can be reached at