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'Living medicines': Doc prescribes plant-based diet for healing

A New Jersey doctor believes in the power of "living medicines" and he growing them right there on the farm where his practice is located.
/ Source: TODAY

A New Jersey doctor believes in the power of “living medicines” and he growing them right there on the farm where his practice is located.

Dr. Ronald Weiss prescribes medicine but he also does something less typical: For most patients, he prescribes a plant-based diet he believes will help fight chronic ailments like diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.

“The ultimate goal is to relieve suffering and to sustain life and make life better,” Weiss told TODAY Wednesday. “So I will choose any way that we have to do that.”

After 25 years of practicing medicine outside New York City, Weiss wanted to do something dramatically different, so he bought a 340-acre farm in rural New Jersey and opened Ethos Primary Care Practice.

The practice’s website says its mission is “to prevent and treat disease by emphasizing a nutrient dense plant-based, whole foods diet and lifestyle.”

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“Instead of using medications to suspend patients in states of chronic illness, we use the power of plants to reverse the diseases that turn people into patients, and use medications only when necessary,” the website says.

Farmers hired by Weiss grows what he calls “living medicines,” fruits, vegetables and herbs that are provided to the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA.

CSA members receive a share of the produce by paying a membership fee and volunteering 10 hours every season, and the office manager/culinary adviser helps members and patients learn how to create tasty dishes.

“A big part of what we're trying to accomplish as a CSA is not only hand out these beautiful vegetables, but to really help our members learn how to incorporate them into their daily eating habits,” says farmer Nora Pugliese.

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One of Weiss’ patients, Deborah Acevedo, lost 108 pounds after he prescribed a plant-based diet.

“I had felt like somebody had given me the keys to a brand new car,” she told TODAY. “I had a new lease on life. I saw things differently. I was lighter on my feet. I was jogging now. I was walking. I was being active."

While doctors and nutritionists often agree that a plant-based diet can be helpful, a strict diet can make it hard for people to get the required nutrients.

“Protein, calcium, vitamin B12, potassium and iron are all high-risk nutrients for those people who are engaged in being a vegan or a vegetarian lifestyle,” said Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “So you really need to make sure that you're following through on the lifestyle and the diet in a way that you're getting all the nutrients and you're not lacking anything."

At an open house for potential patients, Weiss gave a tour of the farm, pointing out produce like young kale before serving up testimonials and then lunch.

“Health is when you don't have diseases and illnesses and you're not a patient, you're a person,” he told TODAY. “You're a normal human being without having to go to doctors, without having to take drugs. That is health.”

Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.