Dr Gemma Newman
Dr Gemma Newman
The Plant Power Doctor
Dr Gemma Newman has over 17 years clinical experience as a family doctor. She is a member of The British Society of Lifestyle Medicine and is on the board of Plant Based Health Professionals UK. She is one of Happy Pear's medical experts and is on Instagram and Facebook @plantpowerdoctor.
Having just released her first book 'The Plant Power Doctor', Dr Gemma chats to us exclusively about her career as well as how the book gives us a simple prescription for a healthier you. We also give you a chance to try out a couple of recipes and to win the book.
Your first book ’The Plant Power Doctor’ is released on January 7th. Can you tell us more about the book?
The Plant Power Doctor is a simple and inviting guide showing you some of the real science behind why a plant based diet is so useful for preventing and perhaps even reversing chronic disease. Not only that, but it also provides hope, real life stories, and a road map on how to harness the power of nutrition, with over 60 delicious meal ideas to help you dive into a healthier happier life.
The New Year tends to be a time when individuals consider a healthier lifestyle for themselves. What diets and lifestyle choices have your tried in the past, before deciding on a plant-based diet?
I had tended not to think much about my lifestyle as a younger woman, I’d just eat what I wanted and when I wanted. The trouble was, I ate a standard western diet which included a lot of takeaways, fizzy drinks and chocolates. Then over time, I discovered I was sluggish, lacking in energy and overweight with a high blood pressure to boot. As a junior doctor I would fall asleep as soon as I came home from a shift, and I realised I needed to do something different if I was going to be able to help my patients get better. I tried low carb approaches as well as incorporating daily exercise, and although I was successful at losing weight and gaining energy, it felt like hard work. I had knee pains when I ran, and I was shocked to discover I had a raised cholesterol despite my efforts. My husband discovered plant based diets when he was searching for strategies to improve his marathon performance, and his incredible gains inspired me to learn more. How could a plant based diet improve recovery and sporting performance? I began to discover a whole range of data to support plant based eating for a variety of ailments, and the science behind why it works. I gave it a go. Despite being a decade older, with two pregnancies in the interim and life as a busy mum and GP which meant I no longer exercised like I used to, I was astounded to discover my blood cholesterol had normalised and my knee pains had disappeared. This fuelled my interest to research further, and gave me the confidence that the information I was providing for my patients was steeped in the science.
With 17 years of medical practice behind you, what are the key mistakes people make in changing their lifestyle choices/diets?
The two biggest sticking points I see to lifestyle change in my patients are; not looking at root causes, and jumping in head first without assessing their why. When lifestyle changes are fuelled by negative self-talk, or thinking ‘I really should…’ it is much harder to motivate yourself and keep doing new things.
My advice would be to ask yourself why you want a change. What would it mean to you? What could you enjoy once you feel better? Who could you spend time with? What will you feel like? Spend time with those thoughts, notice them and how they make you feel. It will remind you of what you really want when you’re feeling wobbly. Start slowly and praise yourself for every step – you will feel proud of each win and it will incentivise you to keep going.
What are the main benefits of a plant-based diet?
A whole foods focussed plant based diet is high in fibre, phyto-nutrients, vitamins and minerals. It is low in saturated fat, environmental toxins, microplastics, antibiotics and dietary cholesterol. This means your blood vessels can remain supple, your body can remain insulin sensitive (thereby reducing risk of diabetes), your stomach can stay full with the fibre and water rich foods (meaning it is easier to maintain a healthy weight) and your gut can remain healthy.
What is a ‘healthy gut’ and why is this important?
Gut health is crucial to many bodily processes – it is closely linked to immune health and mood, and we are discovering this is in part due to the profound importance of the microbiome. Our gut bugs are more numerous than the stars in the sky, and research is showing that variety and quantity of beneficial bugs can be a predictor of good health. What is the best fuel for these gut bugs that provide a healthy gut barrier, regulate our hormones and strengthen our immune system? Fibre. Dietary fibre only comes from plants – fruits, veggies, whole grains and pulses. So the more of them the better.
There are major environmental benefits of a plant-based diet also.
Yes, much science now supports the switch to a plant based diet is the single biggest thing an individual can do to help reduce species extinction, water use, land degradation and climate change.
For anyone still unsure of converting ’totally’, what alternatives/substitutions can be made to help ease them in?
There are many meaty substitutions to help you on your journey- and remember to enjoy it! Don’t rush it and feel miserable. Enjoy the abundance and creativity new recipes and ideas can bring to your plate! Meat replacement burgers, chicken and sausage replacements abound these days, and when you are ready, incorporate more lentils, beans, mushrooms, chickpeas, tofu and tempeh. These will be lovely healthy switches so you can make the most of your plant powered lifestyle!
What is your opinion on Vegan and Vegetarian food in our supermarkets?
Vegan and veggie options are expanding all the time, and I have been particularly impressed with the Plant Chef and Wicked Kitchen range at Tesco, as well as the Plant Kitchen range for M&S. Every major food retailer is now recognising the importance of providing a variety of delicious plant based meals for all tastes – no more soggy, sad falafels in the corner of the sandwich aisle! The market is expanding exponentially in recognition of the health and environmental benefits of a plant based pattern of eating, and of course the urgent need to shift what we are putting on our plates for the next generation to enjoy a healthy planet.
"Every major food retailer is now recognising the importance of providing a variety of delicious plant based meals for all tastes – no more soggy, sad falafels in the corner of the sandwich aisle!"
Finally, we have all gone through one of the most tumultuous years with the pandemic. What advice would you give to anyone who finds themselves in need of a lifestyle change, and what have your learnt about yourself over this time?
It has been tough for everyone. It has been heart-breaking to see how the pandemic and lockdown has affected some of my patients, and I wish I could take it all away. I do have hope though. Lifestyle changes including a shift towards plant powered nutrition has the power to change our mental and physical health for the better, something we all need more of right now. I’d advise anyone struggling to be kind to yourself, and know that you are enough. Feel good about any changes you decide to make and take it slow – that’s the best way to make it sustainable and enjoyable!
The Plant Power Doctor by Dr Gemma Newman
(Ebury Press, £16.99) Photography by Dave Brown