"When I die, I want to leave a legacy of a plant-based doctor who actually cared about the health of her patients, and treated underlying disease with nutrition rather than pharmaceuticals."
Dr. Angie Sadeghi is a California-based physician and specialist in gastroenterology and weight loss. As an expert in all areas of the digestive system, she is passionate about helping her patients live long healthy lives. After switching to a vegetarian diet 12 years ago she later made the decision to to eliminate dairy as well, and then adopted a vegan lifestyle 3 years ago. She is a full time practicing medical doctor, a passionate vegan advocate and avid fitness enthusiast.
Dr. Angie Sadeghi - Left: age 33. Right: age 41, after going vegan.
Please can you introduce yourself to our readers by telling us a little about yourself - tell us the story of how you discovered veganism and how you got into fitness?
About 12 years ago while in residency training at the University of Southern California (USC) in internal medicine, I was having lunch with my friend Sara, who was eating a plate of healthy food with a bunch of vegetables without a piece of meat on her plate. Sara always looked slim and fit with perfect skin, while I was always chubby and out of shape. I had a big greasy beef burger with melted cheese and grilled onions on top, which I was enjoying with other greasy stuff like the French fries on the side of my plate. The burger was bigger that the size of my head and I was planning to eat every bit of it. I looked over at Sara’s plate and asked, “Where’s your meat? Is that all you’re going to eat?”
She looked at me and said “I’m a vegetarian.” I said “What? Why are you a vegetarian?”
I was expecting a random answer and was planning to make fun of her diet shortly after she answered my question. She replied “Because I love animals and I can’t eat them.”
Suddenly I paused and found myself speechless. To cut a long story short, as an animal lover who had a pet dog at the time, I suddenly made that connection and that was the last piece of meat I ever ate.
To cut a long story short, as an animal lover who had a pet dog at the time, I suddenly made that connection and that was the last piece of meat I ever ate.
I continued to live a vegetarian lifestyle until 3 years ago, May 2014 when I attended a seminar held by my brother where he spoke against dairy. He said “if you want to lose weight, stop drinking milk which is just sugar water and supposed to make you fat.”
At the time I was overweight, out of shape, extremely fatigued where I could barely get out of bed in the morning, demotivated, and depressed. My entire body used to hurt like the fibromyalgia pain people describe. I used to be covered with eczema lesions from head to toe and scratched my skin all day and all night. I used to even have a diagnosis of pustular eczema which manifested as ugly itchy pustuluar lesions on the palm of my hands. I used to go through several tubes of steroid cream to get through the day and took Benadryl to sleep through the night without itching.
At the seminar, I planned to give up dairy to lose weight, so I said to my cousin Mahsa who is also a vegan, “I’m so proud of myself for not having had meat for many years to help the animals, but now I’m going to give up dairy to lose weight.” She smiled and replied “well, if you’re doing it for the animals, you should know the dairy industry is far more cruel to the animals than the meat industry.”
I said “what? What do you mean?” She started going on and on about the cruel practices but she had me convinced after the first sentence which I can’t remember the specifics of. At that moment I made the full connection and decided to commit to a full vegan diet for life, not only for health, but also for the welfare of the animals.
She went on to say “as a doctor, you should watch Forks Over Knives.” She said “I think every doctor should watch that documentary.”
Dr. Angie Sadeghi is a full time gastroenterologist based in Newport Beach, Los Angeles
It wasn’t until later I discovered about the environment and child hunger etc…but as the result of the seminar and my conversation with Mahsa, many lives have changed and many people have escaped heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
So I started eating an extremely healthy whole food plant based diet starting May 2014, and by January 2015 (8 months later) I was in the best shape of my life. I lost close to 30 pounds! I had always lifted weights and exercised, so I already had good muscle mass, but I was overweight and unhealthy from the inside. I entered a bikini competition January 2015 and stood on that stage in a bikini which was beyond my wildest dreams. I even have a trophy to show for it!
To my surprise, my eczema has completely cleared and I haven’t had a flare up for three years!!! I must have seen 3 different dermatologists for the problem and used a truck load of steroid cream and Benadryl to clear out my skin, and not once did I ever hear from a dermatologist to stop eating dairy. Since then, I have been educating patients with acne, and eczema regarding the dangers of dairy and helping them clear their skin holistically by eating a plant based diet. In a way, I’m glad I had health problems, because I’m in a position to influence millions of people, so better me than someone else I guess.
As a double-board certified gastroenterologist and a member of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians - what are the biggest benefits for your patients of following a vegan diet? Is it something you find yourself regularly recommending to patients?
Every single day I find myself educating patients about a plant based diet to reverse disease and better yet, prevent disease. I find that most patients pick the intelligent choice when given the option between a plant based diet versus pharmaceuticals. They pick the plant-based diet, because they realize making lifestyle modifications will help them achieve a certain level of health that is unattainable with pharmaceuticals. Very rarely will I have a patient refuse to change their lifestyle and ask to take pharmaceuticals.
Of course most people don’t enjoy taking pharmaceuticals to treat disease, but if their physician gives them no other choice, they are compelled to choose the pharmaceutical route which is recommended by the physician whom they trust. Unfortunately the awareness in regards to the healing powers of the plant based diet is lacking among the medical community, and it will take some time to shift the paradigm, but in the meanwhile, the public is getting educated which is key in initiating a movement.
Do you find patients who follow a vegan diet have less gastroenterological issues?
I always joke to my patients that if it wasn’t because of the meat and dairy industry, I would be out of practice. There would be so few colon cancers in the world that we would probably not need to perform screening colonoscopies anymore. There would be so few patients with IBS, that it would probably cut down on half of all GI visits. There would be so few patients with gut bacterial imbalance that probiotic pills would never even exist. And of course last but not least, there would be no lactose intolerance which is the most common cause of diarrhea in this country.
"sustainability is key in a workout routine, therefore I plan only 25 minutes per day at the gym"
You love fitness, and you're in great shape, do you plan to compete again anytime soon?
I love fitness and in particular body building, and I really enjoyed competing one time two years ago January 2015, but recently I have decided to focus my attention to educating my patients in regards to a vegan diet, which, for me, is much more rewarding than winning a trophy at a fitness competition.
What is your biggest achievement and what are you most proud of?
My biggest achievement is obtaining a medical degree followed by completing a 3 year residency in internal medicine, a 2 year post doctoral research fellowship, followed with a 2 year gastroenterology fellowship.
I’m most proud of having a son who has a big heart, loves animals, and stands up for the voiceless.
What are your future life goals?
I dream of having a TV show to educate people about health, fitness, and nutrition.Through the TV show, I would like to make it simple for people to transition into a vegan diet.
I would like to increase awareness around the world about meat and dairy causing various diseases such as coronary disease, cancer, and gastrointestinal problems.
When I die, I want to leave a legacy of a plant based doctor who actually cared about the health of her patients, and treated underlying disease with nutrition rather than pharmaceuticals.
What does your current workout routine look like? What are your favorite exercises?
I believe sustainability is key in a workout routine, therefore I plan only 25 minutes per day at the gym, but make sure and workout every single day of the week. I rarely ever skip a day.
Some people plan to work out 2 hours per day and set themselves up for failure, because that is not a sustainable plan for someone with a full time job, children, and other responsibilities. I would rather plan a short daily workout which is sustainable, than a long workout that I can’t sustain. I don’t ever want to get out of the habit or routine of working out, so my daily workout is absolutely essential.
Day 1 - Shoulder and abs
Day 2 - Chest and biceps
Day 3 - Back and triceps
Day 4 - Legs
My favorite exercise is the shoulder press, because I had the world’s weakest, smallest, and narrowest shoulders ever, so made a commitment to grow my shoulders. Eventually the shoulder exercises became my favorite ones, but the shoulder press is my absolute favorite.
What is your favorite post-workout meal?
Beyond Chicken strips lightly sautéed with turmeric with various oven roasted vegetables, some quinoa and brown rice on the side, and a large sweet potato.
What are your favorite foods?
I love salads because I believe raw vegetables have an unmatched amount of micronutrients that your body needs, and I really enjoy counting the colors on my plate to make sure I get adequate amounts of daily antioxidants.
I literally intensely crave fresh kale salads with beans, beets, mushrooms, chia seeds, hemp seeds, almonds, mini sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, Persian crispy cucumbers, and blueberries, with a little bit of olive oil and vinegar.
Also, I love lentil soup.
My favorite sandwich is a lightly sautéed large portabella mushroom, topped with sautéed onions, with a few slices of avocado.
Do you think athletes need to use supplements? Do you take any?
I don’t believe athletes need to take supplements such as protein powders to avoid protein deficiency. I think the supplement industry wants to make you believe that you need the protein supplements to build muscle because it is a multi-billion dollar industry, and they have a financial incentive to make you believe so.
I believe that if athletes plan their meals and eat a whole food plant based diet, they don’t require any protein supplements/powders which are essentially processed food. A whole food plant based diet offers plenty of healthy protein, and provides all the essential amino acids necessary to build muscle mass.
I personally recommend to my weight loss patients to avoid protein supplements if they plan their meals in advance, but in case they don’t, they should use the plant based supplements as a meal replacement. Studies show that meal replacements help keep patients compliant with their diet, because in reality most people do not meal prep in advance, and when hungry, reach for something unhealthy or the drive through at the local fast food, which is worse than eating a meal replacement protein supplement.
I recently started using an all plant based vanilla flavored protein powder which I occasionally use as a meal replacement, but mostly to flavor my coffee in the morning. I usually eat a bowl of steel cut oatmeal, a large bowl of mixed fresh berries, put a small scoop of the protein powder in my coffee and run out of the house.
Unfortunately there are millions of people in the US using protein supplements, and they genuinely believe their bodies are dependent on taking the protein supplements. What’s even worse is the use of whey protein supplements which are unhealthy for the GI tract. I found that most people won’t listen and use the protein powder anyways, so I have come to believe that I can do much more good if I could at least switch them to a plant based source.
What is your advice to vegans looking to get fit? Where should they start?
I believe achieving fitness starts with a fun routine and continues with a sustainable plan. I recommend to my patients to do whatever they enjoy, as long as it is sustainable. For example, if you think running 15 miles per day or doing cross-fit for an hour per day is sustainable well into your 80’s and 90’s, then go for it. Otherwise, I believe having a fun but most importantly sustainable routing that you could carry into your old age.
For me, weight-lifting is the answer. I know that I will continue to lift weight until the day I die, and that could be age 100. I may have to modify some exercises and lift lighter, but the actual exercise will continue to be the same. For example, I use 35 pound dumbbells to do shoulder press now, but in my old age I will use 5 pound dumbbells, but the actual 25 minute exercise is sustainable.
In relation to your personal health, what do you feel is the best thing about being vegan?
Feeling out of this world young, strong, healthy, and energetic! When eating a whole food plant based diet devoid of animal fat and protein, the blood is clean and the arteries are wide open with no plaque, which makes it easy for the organs to be perfused and receive nutrients and oxygen.
I don’t mean to brag, but I feel so much smarter than I used to be, and light years ahead of the general population in regards to my diet. But of course I’m not secretive or selfish about my knowledge, and spend time every single day to educate my patients and spread the word. There is not one single day that passes where I don’t mention Forks Over Knives to my patients trying to get healthy.
Which six online vegans would you like to invite to a vegan dinner?
Dr. Garth Davis who wrote the book Proteinaholic, for whom I have so much respect. I met him at a medical conference a few years ago, and I have been a fan ever since.
Gene Baur, who is an animal activist and an author, who seems to have it all. He looks absolutely healthy and fit, he writes books and educates people, and saves abused animals everyday. Seems to me like the perfect guy!
Dr. Neal Barnard, because I have never met him before but he seems like such a cool guy.
Liam Hemsworth, just because he is incredibly handsome and I would love to post a picture of him and I on IG to show off to my girlfriends!
Stephen Coote, from RiseOfTheVegan.com who is by far the most influential vegan on social media, and my inspiration to publicly announce myself as a vegan. When I first started on social media, many people advised me against “pigeon holing” myself as a vegan doctor because I would lose patients, who will think I’m a “crazy vegan.” I searched Instagram and came across @veganbodybuilding, and discovered some powerful posts which encouraged me to announce myself as a plant-based doctor. I realized the only way to help invite others into this healthy and compassionate lifestyle, is by announcing my public declaration as a vegan doctor who will help others become healthier than ever.
[Editor's Note: Wow, thanks Angie! Completely taken aback - and whilst I'm by no means the most influential vegan on social media, I'm so happy to have been helpful in Dr. Angie's journey ...and I'm most definitely accepting the invitation for that dinner!!]
Alicia Silverstone - I would skip dinner and go shopping for vegan fashion. She looks like she would be so much fun to shop with!
Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story!
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