My Notes From the Food Revolution Summit
Dr. Neal Barnard – The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Putting Nutritional Science to Work
In the study I did with Geico working with plant strong diets in the workplace, the results that were published in 2010 and 2013, showed significant reductions in body weight, blood sugar and absenteeism this really followed some other studies that we had done. In 2003 NIH had funded us to do a big diabetes study because our earlier research had seemed to indicate that if you go on a low fat vegan diet, meaning one with no animal products and keeping oils low, that diabetes would improve and it does it improves dramatically and people loose weight their blood pressure comes down their blood cholesterol comes down. On the heals of that I got to talking to the head of health services at Geico’s national headquarters which just happens to be a couple of blocks from my office. She explained to me that they had 2,500 people in that one building alone and the idea was if they went on a healthier diet that would be a good thing for them from the standpoint of improving their health but also a good thing financially because every time an employer looks at their healthcare costs it always seems to be higher than it was before. We started a study, the first one we began a number of years ago at two sites one here in the Washington DC area and the other one at Fredericksburg Virginia and both facilities we weighed employees we checked their blood sugar if they had diabetes we checked their cholesterol and their blood pressure. Only the site here got a vegan program and it was really simple all it meant was the employees could come to a room where they could learn about plant based diets and get some help in adopting them and there was a cooking class and they could taste the food and so forth really simple very efficient.
The second thing was they provided vegan food in the cafeteria so they might have the bacon and eggs for breakfast but they would also have the oatmeal bar with cinnamon and raisins and slices strawberries. They might have a cheeseburger but they also had the portobello sandwich and veggie burger. As time went on was exactly what you would think would happen happened, people lost weight their cholesterol improved everything got better, if they had diabetes it got better. That led to a ten city test also at Geico where five cities got the program and five cities got no program and the very same results occurred. The five cities that didn’t get the program all wanted it so then they got it to. Bottom line it’s was lots of fun and it really showed not just that a plant based diet is good but you could do it at work you could do it at any kind of big setting. For me the reason I wanted to do this was to show if you really want to reach people if their children and in school that’s the place to reach them if their adults their at work and that’s the place to reach them. So why not make these easy interventions that are easy to plug in and allow people to get exited and make some dietary changes. That’s what we did with Geico and I’m happy to say since that time right after that our power company instituted the same program and it was a big success and a number of other businesses did exactly the same. I’m hoping that many more will.
If anybody listening to this broadcast says hey I want in on that, I work at a manufacturing plant or whatever it is we have in the U.S. and quite a number of other countries we have instructors who can teach this. Their called food for life instructors you just hook up with one in your area whatever state you may be in and you can do this we have a set curriculum for you. If your a physician in practice and you’d like to invite your patients to come in and just use the waiting room as a teaching area for after hours your patients are going to love you for it. And we have a curriculum that you could use and instructors that would be thrilled to hook up with you. There’s no reason for us to just ring our hands and say people are on rotten diets what are we going to do. It is the easiest thing in the world to pump people up to take charge of their health this is not rocket science anybody can do it.
One of the obstacles that people face is the belief that you need to have dairy products to have healthy bones, there was another study recently that demonstrated milk can have a negatives effect on bones and health. This one researchers in Sweden published their findings in the British Medical Journal showing that women who drink milk have a higher incidence of bone fractures and an increased risk of mortality from heart disease and cancer. They found that women who drink three or more glasses a day have a sixty percent increased risk of developing a hip fracture. A number of years ago we started jumping on some of these dairy claims and the first one we jumped on in a big way was when they suggested dairy products could help you loose weight, we challenged that through the federal trade commission and it took them two years to finally come to a decision and they finally did they ruled in our favor and made them scrap those dairy adds. We looked at the science and it was so flimsy we went back and looked at these other claims that people had just accepted and we found the milk builds strong bones we grew up with that it’s hard to imagine that isn’t the case, when you look at the science it’s not that way.
Researchers at Penn State started looking at kids and the kids who drank the least milk or none at all had no problems with bone integrity and no worse bone integrity than the kids drinking the most milk. The same is true for the other end of the life spectrum the older women in particular who drank the most milk either they got no added protection or they were even worse off. Exactly why they would be worse off we don’t know, the bottom line is milk at best is unnecessary and a very hard recommendation to carry forward. It’s hard to get past the cultural conditioning and awaken to what the science is telling us. The Harvard school of health says there are many studies showing that high intake of milk and the risk of fatal metastatic prostate cancer. This has been going on for quite a number of years another one that caught our attention was the physicians health study under Dr. Willard at Harvard, 21,000 physicians studied for a couple of years and those that drank the most milk had the highest rates of prostate cancer it was about 30+ percent higher than the non drinking people. Predicated on that they did another study, the health professionals follow up study, it was more people tracked for a long period of time with exactly the same results. In this case people who had more dairy products had a 60% increased risk of developing prostate cancer.
One of the reasons that jumps out at us is milk is to a calf something that will provide very rapid growth, the calf is drinking milk and getting protein and a lot of fat, sugar, lactose in milk is very concentrated. Plus hormones and this cocktail within the calves body causes the production of IGF1 an insulin like growth factor it’s a potent stimulus for cancer cell growth. It’s not a problem for the calf he’s only going to nurse for a couple months and then that’s it, that was sort of natures idea that we would be weaned, human beings drink mother’s milk but then were weaned. If your going to continue to drink this cocktail of hormones, protein, fat and sugar all your life your IGF1 level will rise. This has been shown in research studies you can bring in people, not children I mean older folks that are drinking milk and you can show that their IGF1 levels go right up. You do not want that you want growth when your an infant but when your an adult growth can mean the growth of cancer cells, it’s dangerous stuff, milk is for babies and it should be milk from their mother.
Not only for men people have been looking at IGF1 and breast cancer as well, the whole idea of getting the body in overdrive with over-nutrition in other words it’s not just what the body needs but excess. What is milk, more protein than you need, more fat than you need, more sugar than you need and more hormones than anyone would ever want. Your driving your body in that kind of overdrive in my view is likely to increase the risk of a number of forms of cancer, what is cancer it’s cells that are multiplying out of control and not being contained by the body. A baby calf is a ruminant animal that has four stomachs, it will gain maybe 250 pounds in it’s first year so if you have four stomachs and you wan to gain 250 pounds in the first year drink a lot of milk. What is worrying me particularly nowadays is looking at cultures overseas that are making dietary changes right now, particularly in China that historically has been where the diet has been based on rice and other grains and vegetables but because of new found affluence we are seeing much more meat consumption much more milk consumption and were seeing exactly what one would fear more obesity more diabetes and heart disease. I think in coming generations were going to see cancers that were really quite rare in the past but now are rearing their ugly head, it’s very unfortunate to see that in China right now.
There is one thing that I think everybody can grasp is when you walk into the produce counter of your grocery store and you look at the beautiful orange carrots, the bright red tomatoes, the dark purple grapes and blueberries you think are they pretty, their very attractive but their not just pretty the human retina is able to detect antioxidants and to interperate them as positive and attractive. When your looking at the bright orange carrot what we are seeing is beta carotene it screams out at you. The red tomato, the red color comes from lycopene which is an even more powerful antioxidant. In the blueberries that deep color comes from what are anthocyanins and they are powerful antioxidants in blueberries also in grapes and a number of other plants. We take those colors today and we put them in an M&M’s bag and they mean nothing to us anymore, nature was trying to beat us over the head with this idea that these are beautiful attractive colors that we should bring into our lives and take advantage of them. What do they do in your body, antioxidants knock out free radicals, free radicals are these damaging sparks that will attack your DNA and can cause the DNA in a cell to change so that cell become s a cancer cell. You want to protect yourself with this fire extinguisher which comes from antioxidants so the carrot and the tomato and all these other brightly colored vegetables and fruits are there to protect you and that should be remembered. They also contain fiber which animal products do not and it helps you loose weight and it relives constipation and other digestive problems.
I think it does prevent cancer people have debated this back and forth and I think the jury has come back in the room and said yes this does help prevent cancer. The simple way of looking at this and really bares out is that fiber is sort of like a broom that as it goes down your digestive tract, fiber which is plant roughage it’s not absorbed, it’s not digested in the first part of the digestive process. It kind of moves things along so if carcinogens were in foods that you ingested or they were forming in your body they get swept out with the waste. Food has two kinds of fiber the insoluble fiber that’s the fiber that does not dissolve in water and you see it in wheat and in rice that’s a really good broom for your digestive tract . Then there is soluble fiber in oats, when your oats get gooey in the morning it’s because it dissolves in the water also there’s soluble fiber in beans, that fiber acts a little bit like a broom and it does move digested contents along but it also lowers cholesterol. Every bite of these foods that have soluble fibers in them will bring your cholesterol down a little bit so why do people on plant based diets have low cholesterol it’s because their not eating cholesterol, their not eating the animal fat that makes it but fiber also helps carry it away. That’s a really handy thing, I often feel compelled to cheerlead for these simple cheap foods that are loaded with fiber, beans, beans have protein, iron, a surprising amount of calcium, soluble and insoluble fiber, they even have a trace of omega 3. Beans don’t have a good lobby group but their very healthful for you they’ve got all these wonderful nutrients that help keep us healthy.
I have to tell you it’s the biggest tragedy, you can go into any drugstore and you’ll see shelf after shelf of product that are fiber supplements. What are you doing, that’s simply a sign that you did not eat the natural forms of fiber that nature had in mind for you. Beans have fiber they are the fiber champions, vegetables are right behind them, fruits are there and whole grains have a lot of fiber too. Anybody whose following a plant based diet is going to get loads of fiber. However a slice of cheese is not from a plant so it does not have any fiber at all and that’s true for fish, meat, chicken and eggs they are not plants they have no fiber. The more the animal products come into your diet the more the fiber is not there, it’s displaced and in an extreme your in something like an Atkins like diet where it’s very meaty and not in much of the way of plant foods and these people have sometimes constipation of heroic proportions. If people are taking fiber supplements what they really need to do is bring the vegetables, beans and fruits back into their diet.
A hospital is supposed to be a place where your supposed to get well but today it can be a place where you can go to get sick Greenville Memorial Hospital in Greenville North Carolina has three fast food outlets in it so you can go there so you can stop in to have chick-fil-a on your way to get a coronary bypass. We found this Grady hospital which is a big hospital with really hard working employees in Atlanta Georgia and it has a McDonalds there and we through the freedom of information act looked at the contract and what we showed was the more money the McDonalds makes, I’m talking about a McDonalds at the hospital, the more money the McDonalds makes the more money the hospital makes. Their fates are tied together, we’ve seen this in a number of places where their not only renting out space but their profiting from it and in some cases their even obliged to promote it. It’s got to stop.
I remember, it’s been a generation ago now that in my hospital George Washington University Hospital we were sitting in a room deciding about banning smoking from the hospital. It sounds ridiculous to say you would sell cigarettes in the gift shop, you would allow patients to smoke in their rooms, doctors to smoke in the doctors lounge. Yes and we made the decision that we had to do something about it and we did, we got rid of smoking and as soon as we did everyone realized it was the right thing to do. Today we are having the exact same problem with food, everyone knows there’s a problem, everyone knows these foods are not good for you and hospitals think well at least they will eat something, I need to make money. Those are not excuses and a hospital should not only take care of you when your desperately ill and get you back on your feet but send you on the road to health by teaching you healthful eating habits. While your there in the hospital, lets say your there for a hip fracture, the hip fracture is not going to kill you in most cases but what will kill you is your smoking habit. While your in the hospital three or four days they will not let you smoke and that is a good nodal point to help you get on a healthier path. While your in the hospital they should feed you low fat vegan food every day and say to you explicitly this is a chance to taste these foods, to take home some recipes, to have your spouse understand it to and if you want to continue when you get home your health is going to rebound. Your likelihood of coming back into the hospital for something else heart disease or diabetes will be dramatically reduced. That’s the hospital of tomorrow, but if we banned smoking a generation ago we can tackle food there’s no reason we can’t it’s just a question of getting together and getting the will to do it. The idea that being associated with the hospital is going to make the fast food look good and that idea is not lost on the fast food chain. There’s a hospital in the Augusta Georgia called Augusta Regents Medical Center it’s a children’s hospital, not only is a McDonalds there but you can have it delivered to you in the hospital. Your child is sick and you can have a “happy meal” delivered to the bedside there, their obviously part of the problem not part of the solution.
A number of years ago I was asked to speak on a radio show that was broadcast to a number of Native American Tribes, of course they were asking me a number of questions about diabetes because it’s such a problem. I mentioned our research where we took away the meat and the dairy products and eggs, our diet was a vegan diet of grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. A woman called into the program and she said she came from New Mexico and just toured one of the Pueblos and saw that they were talking about growing the three sisters which she said were corn, beans and squash and these were grown together it’s an agricultural system that’s centuries old for growing these plants. She said that sounds a lot like our approach and it kept our ancestors healthy, it wasn’t a meaty diet it was a plant strong diet. I flew out to New Mexico and I met with the special diabetes program at the Navaho Nation in Windowrock Arizona and I asked them lot’s of questions about their traditional diet and in turn I showed them what we had found with our research studies and the vegan diets and we decided to work together. For the past several years we have both been sharing what we know with each other and it’s been the most gratifying thing that you can imagine and a number of people have taken advantage of this and their getting healthier day by day.
When we were in our Geico trial the ten city one, we were looking at mainly body weight, blood sugar control and cholesterol however in the course of this we also looked at mood and signs of depression, anxiety and also productivity. What we found in the people that were following the plant based diet they got better, we couldn’t exactly account for it all we knew was that in prior trials we had seen people that when they do make these changes they do feel better. Their depression seems to lift a little bit, so that was an outgrowth of what we had done there. What I’d like to see now is a larger study and with people who are really suffering with depression because frankly the drugs aren’t so hot. They have side effects and there has been some studies also on exercise, now when your depressed the last thing you feel like doing is lacing up your sneakers but with a little bit of help and support you can help people to do vigorous brisk walking, get the junk out of their diets, eat in a more healthful way. I would not be surprised to see that kind of regimen helping mood and then as weight comes down and other things improve the physical changes boost mood even further.
I’m hoping that everyone out there lets their members of Congress know what they want done and part of our collective team effort is to let people know what they can do to change the world that’s why were sending out action alerts and letting people know about all the things they can get involved in.
Dr. Bernard web site pcrm.org
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M. Scherker medical researcher