Following a plant-based diet can help prevent, treat, and even reverse most of today’s chronic diseases. Luckily, we know of these powerful effects thanks to a handful of passionate and famous vegan doctors without whom this huge movement wouldn’t have grown nearly as much as it already has.
Often enough, people who leave the animals off their plates have to defend their diet against those who believe it to be utterly dangerous to be following a vegetarian or even vegan diet.
But not only are millions of people living proof that you can (and probably will) thrive off of plant-based foods only, we have also accumulated a lot of scientific research conducted by brilliant professionals that backs us up, too.
Now that social media is as present and powerful, it’s so much easier to share these findings and learn more about the inspiring people behind the plant-based movement.
Some of them are already over 100 years old and still going strong, many are around 80 years old and still giving lots of talks or writing books – and others are a whole generation or even two younger, standing on the shoulders of these pioneers, while inspiring thousands of people on a daily basis themselves.
There are a few other big names that paved the way with their early research in the beginning and middle of the 20th century and who showed just how much influence one’s diet has on health and longevity. There were Ancel Keys, Nathan Pritikin, Denis Burkitt, and a few more that have been mentioned as our own hero’s heroes.
Not only has it been close to our hearts to put a spotlight on these inspiring individuals and show you where we’ve been getting all of our information from, we would also like for you to consider them for your upcoming research.
From time to time, we receive messages written by people who don’t just require the advice of bloggers, but the attention of medical professionals.
Some of the people listed below offer online or even in-person consultation and there’s a wonderful website called Plant Based Doctors that provides a database of not just MDs but also other practitioners all around the world that would gladly help you out.
So, if you’d like to get a huge dose of inspiration now and delve deep into some research on the benefits of plant-based eating, check out these famous vegan doctors that often prescribe apples, kale, and sweet potatoes instead of blood pressure pills and insulin shots.
Note: Yes, not everyone on this list is a full-blown ethical vegan but they all provide important research on this topic and promote plant-based diets.
Kim A. Williams, MD
Let's start with the 1955 born former president of the American College of Cardiology who himself has been a vegan since 2003 and since talked about his reasons for doing so – privately and professionally.
In the famous New York Times piece “Advice from a Vegan Cardiologist” he describes how his LDL (“bad”) cholesterol was as high as 170 at the age of 49, despite being physically active and not eating red meat or fried food.
He then switched to a lower fat vegan diet and six weeks later, his LDL had fallen to 90. This change of his food choices was inspired by the medical literature, observational studies of tens of thousands of people following vegetarian and vegan diets and living longer than meat eaters while also having lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and kidney problems.
Dr. Williams is passionate about the systemic changes, public programs and personal education we need to better guide the public towards healthier choices. One of his famous quotes is:
There are two kinds of cardiologists: vegans, and those who haven’t read the data.
T. Colin Campbell, PhD
One of the veterans, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, is a 1934 born American biochemist and Professor Emeritus at Cornell University who grew up on a dairy farm - so imagine the surprise when his research showed strong correlations between animal protein and cancer.
He was one of the lead scientists of the China-Cornell-Oxford Project which challenged his strong beliefs about milk and its positive health effects. Now, that's what we call an open-minded individual!
He has coined the well known term WFPB (Whole Food Plant Based) and he prefers the “wholistic” approach towards nutrition rather than the reductionist point of view because he finds that a food offers more than its individual nutrients.
He has worked as a senior science advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research and sits on the advisory board of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Campbell was featured in the documentaries Forks Over Knives, Vegucated, and PlantPure Nation - the latter of which was produced by Campbell's son, Nelson Campbell.
The two also teamed up for the famous eCornell plant-based nutrition certification program that includes presentations by over 25 well-educated experts.
Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
You could call Dr. Esselstyn one of the prime fathers of this movement and a pretty famous plant-based doctor as well. He is almost exactly as old as Campbell and still going strong, too.
Dr. Esselstyn is the heart disease expert who treated ex-president Bill Clinton in 2010 and has reversed countless people’s coronary artery issues ever since.
His program advocates a very low-fat whole food plant based diet, that doesn’t just cut out all animal products but also oils as well as nuts, seeds, and avocados. One of his famous sayings is this:
My message is clear and absolute: coronary artery disease need not exist, and if it does, it need not progress. It is my dream that one day we may entirely abolish heart disease, the scourge of the affluent, modern West, along with an impressive roster of other chronic illnesses.
Dr. Esselstyn’s advice is also likely to prevent strokes, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, adult-onset diabetes, and possibly senile mental impairment. His work has been featured in the well-known documentaries Forks Over Knives and What the Health.
Joel Fuhrman, MD
Nutrient dense foods! That's what Dr. Fuhrman, former competitive figure skater born in 1953, is mostly about. His nutrition equation is H = N / C, which translates to “Health equals Nutrients divided by Calories”.
This style of eating, referred to as “Nutritarian”, focuses on micronutrients rather than macronutrients. And unlike some other plant based doctors, Fuhrman emphasizes healthy whole fat sources and limits starch-based foods.
There are still more similarities than differences since all of the vegan doctors promote a whole foods, plant-based diet with just slightly different focuses. Unlike many other experts, Dr. Fuhrman places a huge importance on eating a lot of vegetables and raw foods.
In the past, he has been critiqued for selling his own line of supplements despite claiming his diet is the most nutrient-dense.
While his approach includes very healthy foods and discourages processed junk, it’s rather hard to stick to for most people but can offer tremendous health benefits.
John A. McDougall, MD
Starch - Dr. McDougall is the doctor who most vocally destroys the myths surrounding high carbohydrate diets.
His message is that the main source of your calories should come from potatoes, rice, corn and beans accompanied by vegetables and fruits. Similarly to Dr. Esselstyn, he doesn't allow too much fat from nuts and avocados.
The American physician, born 1947, came to his conclusions while working with different generations of people on the big Island of Hawaii in the 1970’s and watching the younger people getting “fatter and sicker” when adopting a meat-rich Western-style diet.
Some of his famous sayings are “It’s the food!”, "the fat you eat is the fat you wear." as well as:
Throughout human history, all large, successful populations of people, have obtained the bulk of their calories from starch.
To be fair, Dr. McDougall refuses to be called a vegan doctor because he wants to emphasize the importance of eating starches.
He's also known for his rejection of supplements (with the exception of vitamin B12) because he has found them having side effects during his research.
McDougall has created a 10-day live-in program based in Santa Rosa, California and offers a lot of free information on his website (including a regular newsletter).
He is the founder of “Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods” and advisory board member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Dr. McDougall is known from the documentaries ForksOverKnives, Food Choices, What The Health, and Eating you Alive as well as discussing a low-fat starch-based diet on television, or debating people like Dr. Atkins live on nutrition and health.
Dr. McDougall offers an online “Starch Solution Certification” program with 19 video lectures.
Dean Ornish, MD
Dr. Ornish, born in 1953, is a well-known advocate for using diet and lifestyle changes to treat and prevent heart disease and some types of cancer.
His work inspired and encouraged many of the other vegan doctors to pursue this path to treating patients by recommending a whole foods vegan diet.
The Harvard Medical School graduate is passionate about creating a healthy planet and healthy people by eating plant-based foods, exercising moderately, and including yoga and meditation in one’s daily life.
His “Program for Reversing Heart Disease” was built on countless of peer-reviewed studies and is supported by some health insurance companies. He allows for small portions of supplemental fish and isn’t 100% vegan in his approach, though.
You can find him in documentaries like Eating you Alive and Fat Sick & Nearly Dead 2.
Neal Barnard, MD
Funny, handsome and very informative. Dr. Barnard, who was born in 1953 as well and grew up in a cattle-ranching family in North Dakota as a son of a physician, is now a diabetes and Alzheimer disease expert.
During his medical school training at George Washington University, he began exploring the health benefits of a plant-based diet.
His educational experience also inspired him to found the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in 1985 because he "wanted to promote preventative medicine" and do something against animal testing and killing in medical school.
Similar to Dr. Esselstyn’s work, Dr. Barnard found that saturated fat and cholesterol don’t just clog the arteries to our heart, but also our brain. Ever since his own father died from Alzheimer's, he’s deeply invested in this research and made it his life mission to assure no one had to go through what he and his family experienced.
Together with Dr. McDougall, he contributed in the 2016 lawsuits against the unhealthy dietary guidelines that the USDA shared with the public.
Dr. Barnard’s dietary approach is just a low-fat vegan one, rather easy to follow, but not less effective in the treatment of obesity and diabetes.
In 2015, he founded the Barnard Medical Center which provides primary care and emphasizes diet and preventative medicine.
Dr. Barnard plays cello, guitar and keyboard and has been in the bands Pop Maru, Verdun, and Carbonworks – his medical work has been featured in documentaries like Super Size Me, Eating you Alive, and What The Health.
Brooke Goldner, MD
At age 16, Brooke was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Nephritis and stage IV kidney disease, struggling with her health for more than 10 years until overcoming her issues at the age of 28.
How she did it? She developed her own self-healing program together with her husband that cured her life-threatening autoimmune illness.
By following six key steps from eliminating animal products and processed foods to consuming lots of water and essential nutrients, she was able to get off all her medications, normalize her blood test results, become symptom-free, and have two children.
Today, she coaches people that suffer not only from Lupus or MS, but also common chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, chronic pain, obesity, mood disorders and more.
Dr. Goldner is a board certified physician, she completed the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from eCornell, and founded two websites.
She has appeared in multiple documentaries, on TV news, many radio shows, podcasts and has been featured on the cover of Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine.
Michael Greger, MD
The great founder of nutrition facts! Michael Greger, born 1972, is your vegan doctor when it comes to the latest scientific findings on good nutrition.
With his team of researchers, he evaluates reputable studies about food and health on a daily basis, eventually sharing his findings on his non-profit website and YouTube.
In 1998 he appeared as an expert witness testifying against cattle producers that sued Oprah Winfrey for saying that meat is unsafe.
Dr. Greger’s career was inspired by his grandmother, who was diagnosed with end-stage heart disease and sent home to die at the age of 65. Nathan Pritikin, one of the early lifestyle medicine pioneers, then took her on and after just three weeks, she couldn’t just get out of her wheelchair, but walk for 10 miles a day – living another 31 healthy years on this earth.
Witnessing this made Greger question why it wasn’t common practice to treat people that way and wondered how many more important findings existed, which didn’t make it to the public.
You can watch many of his videos on YouTube or see him in documentaries like PlantPure Nation, Eating you Alive, or What The Health. He's also written the bestseller "How Not To Die".
Michael Klaper, MD
Dr. Michael Klaper, born in 1947, teaches that “Health Comes From Healthy Living” and is dedicated to the healing and flourishing of all living beings and our planet.
Having practiced medicine for more than 40 years, he has seen countless of patients suffer from illnesses like atherosclerosis, hypertension, obesity, diabetes – all of which were made worse or actually caused by the high sugar, high fat, high salt, overly processed Standard American Diet (S.A.D.).
Dr. Klaper has become a leading educator in applied plant-based nutrition and integrative medicine, giving numerous talks and webinars, and doing his best to spread the message of how important proper nutrition is.
He was a member and advisor of many projects by institutions such as the NASA or American Medical Student Association, and hosted a popular medical information radio program for over 10 years.
Joel Kahn, MD
Have you heard of the 2016 “Sexiest Vegan Over 50”?
The charismatic cardiologist is a Professor of Medicine at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, manages is own Center for Longevity, and is a columnist at The Huffington Post and Readers Digest.
When he finds the time to author 4 books and even open up his own vegan eatery GreenSpace Café in Ferndale, Michigan… we don’t know. Maybe it’s his passion that drives him because at his core, Dr. Kahn believes that plant-based nutrition is the most powerful source of preventative medicine on the planet.
After reading John Robbins’ “Diet for a New America” which made him go vegan and Dean Ornish’s papers on reversing heart disease with plant-based foods, he started teaching his patients about this way of eating.
But not only that – he regularly speaks at many local events, such as the annual VegFest, and appears on billboards across Detroit calling on people to adopt a vegan diet in order to avoid or help beat heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Like many other vegan doctors, Joel Kahn is a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and you can also see him in the documentary “What the Health”.
As one of the world’s top cardiologists, Dr. Joel Kahn has treated thousands of acute heart attacks during his career… He’d like all that to stop. He’d like to prevent ALL future heart attacks by breaking through to the public to educate and inspire a new holistic lifestyle.
Pamela A. Popper, PhD, ND
Pam’s career took a huge turn after reading John McDougall’s books which inspired her to make some serious lifestyle and diet changes – that ultimately resulted in her getting a Master’s degree and PhD in nutrition in her late 30’s.
Having been overweight and sick for most of her young years, the whole foods plant-based diet shifted the quality of her health and life so much that she decided to make it a priority to bring this movement forward.
22 years later, she has now founded the Wellness Forum, a company that offers educational programs to both consumers and providers that facilitate informed medical decision-making, diet and lifestyle intervention, and improved long-term health outcomes.
She also serves on the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine board, is part of Dr. Campbell’s teaching team at eCornell, and has been featured in many documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, Food Choices, and Processed People.
One of her main focuses as a lobbyist and public policy expert is to work toward changing laws that interfere with patients’ rights to choose their health provider and method of care. She has testified in front of legislative committees on numerous occasions, and has testified twice in front of the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
Garth Davis, MD
One of the most prominent vegan doctors because of his activity on social media and outspoken TV appearances is Ironman triathlete and recovered “Proteinaholic” Garth Davis.
The UT Austin graduate who was born in 1970 has specialized in weight loss (bariatric) surgeries and is now recommending a whole foods, plant-based diet to his patients for best health and long-term weight loss/maintenance results.
He also teaches PCRM approved cooking classes and gives talks all around the country on diet and health implications.
His turnaround from an animal protein rich diet to a vegan one started at the age of 36 when he found out that he had cholesterol deposits in his eyes after a routine exam. He was also suffering from hypertension, high cholesterol, and a fatty liver – thinking that he was eating a healthy diet.
This caused him to review scientific literature on his own (after having received only one full hour of education in nutrition back in medical school) and learn about the power of a plant-based diet.
This change left him very energized and sparked his interest in fitness which resulted in completing 2 marathons, multiple Olympic and sprint triathlons, a half Ironman, and a full Ironman in 4 years.
Dr. Davis has been named a Texas Monthly “Super Doc” several times and is featured in the famous documentary What The Health.
Alan Goldhamer, DC
Articulate, inspiring and energetic - Dr. Goldhamer is one of the most pioneering and dedicated visionaries in health today. His diet advice goes further than just whole, plant-based foods! He is also advocating for leaving all oils, sugars, and salt off the table.
In his treatment facility, the “TrueNorth Health Center” in Santa Rosa, California, he provides medical and chiropractic services, psychotherapy, counseling, as well as massage and body work.
The TrueNorth Health Center It is also known for providing therapeutic fasting which has been shown to successfully treat lymphoma cancer according to a report in the British Medical Journal.
Dr. Goldhamer has personally supervised the fasts of over 15,000 patients and he has been following his own diet advice (“SOS-free whole food vegan”) for decades.
He likes to jokingly tell the story of how it all started by wanting to beat his school buddy Doug (Dr. Lisle, see below) in basketball, who, unfortunately, adapted his way of eating as well so that his efforts failed. This got them both interested in health and they work together until this day.
During his work, he found that when people eat foods that contain certain compounds, mainly sugar and oil, the brain becomes artificially stimulated by dopamine secretions, which leads to overeating, obesity, and the diseases of dietary excess.
You can see him featured in the documentaries Forks Over Knives as well as What the Health.
Even though his dietary recommendations are on the stricter side, it makes sense for mainly already sick people to follow them.
Doug Lisle, PhD
Dr. Lisle is the staff psychologist and director of research at the TrueNorth Health Center and psychologist and speaker at the McDougall Wellness Program.
As mentioned above, he has been following a vegan diet for decades himself and has helped countless of people to do so, too.
Although his work “Esteem Dynamics” is about more than just diet, he co-authored the “Pleasure Trap” and has brought up interesting theories on why human beings are set up by the process of evolution to prefer “rich food sources” and need a healthy food environment to thrive.
His research and clinical interests have broadened to include health and wellness, self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression, and optimizing achievement motivation.
Dr. Lisle has a very unique way of explaining his ideas and approaching people, which is something you need to witness for yourself by watching one of his brilliant speeches (or the documentary “Forks Over Knives”).
Robert Ostfeld, MD, MS
Dr. Ostfeld earned his MD at Yale, his MS in epidemiology at Harvard, and he is now an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The cardiologist believes the number 1 cause of the escalating heart disease epidemic is our toxic Western diet and describes how, across the globe, populations that eat more of a plant-based diet have better health - whereas those that eat more of an animal-based diet do not.
He is particularly concerned about the fact that 65% of teenagers in the US already have early signs of heart and blood vessel disease.
When we are born, our bodies are turbo engines. A bunch of animal products and processed foods later, we turn our bodies into clunkers. The good news, however, is that it is never too early to live more healthfully, and it is never too late.
Therefore, he recommends that everyone going to the supermarket "walks straight to the produce isle and bathe their body in colorful nutrients".
Dr. Ostfeld chose to work with underprivileged populations in The Bronx instead of taking a high-paying job while researching the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet that weren’t discussed during his medical training.
He is the director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y. and spoke at the Committee’s International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine.
Ellsworth Wareham, MD
The retired physician and heart surgeon is an American centenarian, born in 1914 in Texas.
Wareham is a Seventh-day Adventist and a World War II navy veteran, having worked in his job until the age of 74 and then continued to train residents at the Loma Linda University until the age of 95.
He was one of the earliest practitioners of open heart surgery, soon after the first such procedure was performed.
During his career, he noticed that patients who were eating a plant-based diet mostly had much cleaner and smoother arteries than those who ate meat. This caused him to change his already health-conscious diet to a fully vegan diet around 50 years ago.
Luckily, he’s been living in a town where the largest grocery stores don’t even sell any meat! Furthermore, there is no smoking and almost no alcohol or fast food available in this area.
Although he isn’t a very active member of the plant-based movement, Dr. Wareham is a wonderful example of a healthy vegan centenarian. He sometimes mows his own lawn and in his interviews he states that he feels awesome, his medical results show no problems and he doesn't fear heart disease like most people at old age do.
He has been featured on TV and in the documentary “How to Live Forever”.
Matthew Lederman, MD & Alona Pulde, MD
This wonderful couple cannot be left unmentioned! The internists have specialized in reversing disease by using nutritional and lifestyle medicine and developed the program used by patients in the documentary "Forks Over Knives", where they were also featured personally.
This groundbreaking project kind of kicked off the series of plant-based documentaries we have until today and Drs Lederman and Pulde worked as advisors for this film.
Furthermore, they are the authors of 4 books, including two of the Forks Over Knives series, and "The Whole Foods Diet" for which they teamed up with John Mackey.
It doesn't stop there, the collaboration with the Whole Foods Market founder resulted in not only a book but also other health and wellness projects that help countless people to thrive on a plant-based diet.
Matthew Lederman and Alona Pulde live in Los Angeles together with their two daughters and are wonderful examples of how to make a healthy and happy plant-based family life work!
And that concludes the list of our favorite vegan doctors. Which one of them has inspired you the most? We're curious to hear your thoughts in the comments!
About the Author
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.