WHY DOCTORS DON’T RECOMMEND VEGANISM #2: Dr Neal Barnard

WHY DOCTORS DON’T RECOMMEND VEGANISM #2: Dr Neal Barnard

July 24, 2019 100 By William Morgan


dr.neil barnard dr.neil barnard we’re very very excited about hearing from dr. Neal Barnard dr. Neal Barnard he is the founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible medicine let’s welcome dr. Neal Barnard Neal Barnard thank you so much for this interview my pleasure thank you for including me since he started veganism popularity is kind of exploded what’s it been like for you as somebody who’s been propelling this movement forward for many decades it’s really true when we got started there were not so many people following vegetarian or vegan diets and things have just exploded it used to be a health food store was a tiny little place playing folk music the cashier was named sunshine and now if you look at health food stores they are enormous they’re selling so many products and people are buying them there’s tremendous interest in it there are so many books and websites and products and it’s it’s wonderful to see but perhaps the most important thing I think is that the scientific basis for this has also matured we now know very very clearly that a plant-based diet really does help weight loss cholesterol gets better blood pressure gets better diabetes gets better all of these these things and we have a very good base of scientific evidence now that we didn’t have maybe a few decades ago but a few decades ago we had a lot of scientific data do you not think it’s the way you could sign the data is assimilated that’s more of a problem rather than us and leaving more and more data you know we’ve always we’ve known for quite a long time that a plant-based diet was better for you and one could certainly have argued that based on what we knew in the 1950s people should have already been chained to their diet at that point I think that’s really true but at the same time what we have been able to do is to really show that let’s say a person has developed diabetes and they start this diet what’s likely to happen to them will will their blood sugar really fall and will they really lose weight and how quickly and we’ve been able to nail those things down really quite well what is especially gratifying is the consistency of evidence it’s not as if some study shows that you gain weight and some study shows that you lose they are remarkably consistent you put people on a low-fat vegan diet they lose weight and it doesn’t matter if you do it with healthy young people really overweight older people you do it at work you do it at home you do it in the hospital whatever this huge range of studies has been hugely consistent and that gives people tremendous confidence and that’s why the US government now holds that a vegetarian diet is one of the healthiest ways to go you’re suing the US government ayane we have had to fight with the government quite a lot I’m back in the year 2000 we were looking at the dietary guidelines Advisory Committee which which makes the recommendations as to what every American city but it also has ripples for the rest of the world and we found that there were 11 people on a committee of whom six were industry-funded especially the dairy industry but also eggs in me and so we filed a lawsuit against the USDA at that time simply to say hey you’re nice people but you cannot be letting industry dictate what people eat and we won that lawsuit quite quickly and things haven’t been perfect since then but but we’re getting better and so industry is fighting very hard to influence these guidelines but the government is getting better at rebuffing them I have to say can you just give us a sense of what it’s like to be up against these kind of industries and agricultural industries worth more than oil with is being wars over oil what’s it like if we hadn’t got a backlash when we when we fight against industry they are bigger than than we are they are bigger than than all the Health Organization’s and all the scientists all put together but that doesn’t mean you don’t get into this I’ll give you an example years ago the dairy industry said if you try to lose weight including dairy in your diet will help you lose more weight than if you just had a low-calorie diet without the dairy we looked at the data and the data were quite suspect and we filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission the dairy industry said wait a minute you don’t tell us what kind of advertisements we can run and they fought tooth and nail but you may not be the most well moneyed group but if you’re right it helps and we won the Federal Trade Commission it took them two years to decide but they pulled the plug on these ads the egg industry went on a very expensive campaign to say cholesterol doesn’t matter the eggs are the biggest source of cholesterol and they said oh no you dollar cost all you want won’t affect you and they worked really really really hard there was quite a lot of I hate to use the word corruption but money has played a pretty bad role in this the egg industry gives money to scientists to do studies and they end up sort of buying their loyalty the definition of corruption however the US government when it was formulating the dietary guidelines the Advisory Committee said let’s go along with that cholesterol is not really such a big deal and we showed that on the committee there were four people it had economic ties to the egg industry and they were in charge of this policy we filed two and as this was percolating the government itself said wait cholesterol is a problem I don’t care if it’s egg funding or whoo it’s funny cholesterol is a problem you eat cholesterol from eggs your blood cholesterol rises and the way it came down was the government said you should eat as little cholesterol as possible how do you do that plant-based diet is as little cholesterol as possible it’s that place that has no cholesterol so you’re talking about getting the messaging out there and kind of getting rid of the misinformation but even if people didn’t know about the benefits of plant-based nutrition the everyday person of everyone knew do you think people are ready to make that change even if if they knew we’ve got the data people ready for that information everybody is different there are 12 year old kids sitting at the dinner table thinking I like chickens the ones we have at school why am i eating this chicken now and one of the reasons that they’re parents that you have to is because they had thought it was danger to be a vegetarian and so they would say no you have to eat meat well now the parents have a great deal of comfort realizing that the kid who says a mom I am NOT going to eat this meat anymore that is a future cardiologist that’s a smartest person at the table so that has been a big change and there are adults who say I’m kind of hooked on this stuff whether it’s cheese or made or whatever but they get motivated when they’re having trouble losing weight or the doctors adding more and more pills or they’re having more and more side effects and they will want to change as well and and for them it’s very heartening to know that that diet changes really well will help them so we’ve seen an elimination of the negatives and a great accentuation of the positives of the benefits that come from a plant-based diet I believe veganism is kind of boom in popularity can largely be attributed to increased grassroots participation you’re heading up an organization is Lobby lobbies earnest of governmental level what do you think is going to drive this movement forward more grassroots activism or the kind of stuff you do we have to work at more than one level at the same time if we are not working on policy then you’ve got your one arm tied behind your back for example a kid might want to have vegetarian meals at school well if the US government says you can’t we’ve got to stop that but I agree that forces the forces that really kind of win the day come from culture are you seeing this on TV or not are you seeing the products at the store or not our friends talking about it so that’s why we favor books and websites and all the things that take what we know from science and get them in front of people and that’s why we love movie makers people who get films out people who put it in their songs on their CDs all this kind of thing you put all that together between reassuring policies doctors who say this isn’t bad for you to change your diet is good for you to change your diet and just as much noise as we can make that’s the way you win see saying the increased popularity of veganism in prompt based nutrition the knowledge of plant-based nutrition has largely come last few years because of the democratization of information age of the internet last facilitated this change I think all of these things have been working together in a very good way including health professionals like dieticians who are trained in what I might call sort of fairly conservative approaches to nutrition even what was called the American Dietetic Association now called the academy of nutrition Dietetics they said decades ago a plant-based diet has health advantages it’s good thing to do and that has encouraged lots and lots and lots of folks when we got started there were not very many doctors singing that song but man has that changed so we’re seeing changes at every level and that’s a good thing let’s talk about barriers we’ve kind of talked a little bit about them what are the main barriers holding this movement back part of it is industry barrier wise industry is very eager to sell their products and very eager to create a pretense that cows are happy to give you milk and they’re enjoying a bucolic existence as opposed to the truth which is if you wanted to see them getting artificially inseminated and having their calves taken away at birth and and ultimately being slaughtered it’s not so pretty industry pushes hard industry also has found ways to extract money that it can use then for advertising and promotion and the US government subsidizes the feed grains that the cows and the chickens and the pigs eat and that keeps the prices low but industry is not our biggest barrier the biggest barrier is our culture it’s ourselves your average person eats what they grew up eating and what was familiar to them and that’s the biggest thing and so the way to deal with that is to create a new culture which which of course is happening there are so many kids now who know the word I mean nobody says vet Jan anymore they’ve heard the word vegan and they’ve seen these products and they know what they are and they’re getting familiar with them and they like them and and they’ve heard about the environment and people stop debating whether environmental change is real it’s obviously real thanks for being quite very cool talking about the environment I’ve seen couple years ago Jean Bao on the stage talking about the ethical issues of veganism do you think that makes your mission as a medical doctor harder that you’re so open about the ethical and environmental issues no I don’t think so I think I think it’s a really important to tell the truth for a couple reasons one is that if I’m talking to a 16 year old kid I can talk to them about prostate cancer until I am blue in the face they do not care but if that’s an animal oriented person or an environmentalist let them know their coronary arteries don’t care why they change their diet work with the motivations that matter to you to your patients that’s that’s number one the other thing is that in in the world of tobacco at first when the tobacco industry was coming under scientific scrutiny for its contribution to lung cancer and other conditions researchers could be quite even-handed and they would do their studies saying I don’t know let’s see what we find we find by about the 1960s it was really clear we still needed research on tobacco and on health issues but researchers no longer pretended that there was something ethical about marketing tobacco products they were clear about that even while they did their research that’s the world that I am in now I have to be clear that that the industry that I grew up with in North Dakota is not so kind to the environment of the animals and to not acknowledge that just silly but when I do research studies I do them carefully in a double-blind fashion a blinded fashion so that whoever is assessing the results doesn’t know who’s in which group and it has to be done objectively it has it has to be done in a good peer-reviewed way we have to be careful about it so that it’s real but but the fact of the facts technology guidelines should they include him should they be influenced and affected by environmental issues when the dietary guidelines were revised this last go-around the committee said we have to look at the environment because not only do food choices affect the environment which which in turn will affect health in a lot of ways flooding and accent all kinds of problems plus it the environment is affecting the environmental changes are affecting how you produce food that was the first thing the other thing is they I think made a cogent argument they said if you don’t consider the environment but let’s say you’re telling people eat wild-caught fish and there’s a wild caught fish anymore to have they said we have to talk about the environment because otherwise it’s ludicrous to try to make make dye guidelines without that well they were defeated the US government that the Secretary of Agriculture said dunas words we’re not going to color outside the lines and they took all the environmental stuff out unfortunately unfortunately I think yeah I think they should consider these things yes definitely let’s talk about another barrier like cough doctors do you see them as a threat to the movement for many many years there have been doctors who have said if you’re overweight take out all the carbohydrate or most of the carbohydrate from your diet for a while and since that’s half of what you’re eating you’re going to lose way miu take out all the potatoes and all the bread and all the fruit and all the beans and all the pasta you’ll lose weight like a hyena taking away meat it will quickly lose weight you will lose weight um however after a period of time you say this is like starvation can I bring these foods back and the weight comes back but but worse in that interim if you’re not eating all of those healthy foods what are you eating you’re eating meat you’re eating heavy cream and weight loss normally causes cholesterol levels to fall but on these fatty high cholesterol diets sometimes people’s cholesterol despite the fact that they were losing weight kind of from semi-starvation the cholesterol went up sometimes way way up and when dr. Atkins himself poor man he died of an unfortunate accident but then there was a big controversy which I was in the middle of where he had heart disease that he hid from people um because he had his agenda to push his diet my feeling was that people should know this is not a benign diet and it’s not a natural diet people are natural herbivores just like every other great ape like it or not we are not dogs and cats we are great apes and the foods that are natural to us are those that we can pick with our hands the light carpet dog is the thing this is a controversial question don’t have to go there but I’m going to ask it why not do you think they recommend meat based diets because of a lack of integrity or is it just because they’re misinformed I’ve often wondered why it is that some people are so wedded to the idea of low-carb and they’ll say you should really have a steak and and it forces them into all kinds of rationalizations like cholesterol doesn’t matter I guess saturated fat doesn’t matter and the links with heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease let’s try to discount them it puts them in a tough spot and I’m really not quite sure where that motivation comes from dependence I guess on an individual level and I don’t want to get in obviously in science in passing oh well let me say one thing um about a month ago I was invited to give a talk in New York in New York at the wild Cornell Medical Center and the talk that I gave was hosted by the Atkins foundation with money that had been left by Robert Atkins himself and I took that to mean things are changing other any of the areas that we haven’t talked about that are holding this movement back one big barrier is addiction and I’m going to put that word in quotes but what I mean by that is is not are you back in an alley shooting up cheese what I mean is do you just feel hooked on something and are you paying a price for it so if a person says I don’t think I could give up cheese and despite the fact it’s 70 percent fat and very high in calories and your weight is going up and up and up and you’ve got diet related diseases and a person says I can’t give it up it’s time to start using an addiction model for it you don’t have to say that they’re physically addicted although people have including me have made a very good case for why it there are physical things happening in the body and in the brain that do seem to get people hooked but if you used a model based on addiction tree what do you do you say first of all don’t fool around that stuff an alcoholic is gotta just not drink if you are 75 pounds overweight from eating cheese and meat just set it aside and use social supports look at good alternatives put all of the things that we know defeat addictions to work to deal with your food habits you get some payoff if you think doctors don’t recommend veganism because they themselves eat meat I say veganism I meant plant-based diets there are a lot of doctors who don’t yet promote vegan diets or encourage them and I think it’s because of a lack of familiarity they didn’t grow up with it they’ve never tried it and I hate to say it they’re a little bit like the doctor who is sitting with a smoker and the smoker can see through the doctors white coat pocket the outline of cigarettes that doctor has no credibility and years ago other doctors started writing doctor in journals to be a credible health advocate you must be a nonsmoker and doctors have quit smoking and just you know to a great degree a doctor was not a vegan not only isn’t very familiar with it and less likely to recommend it but is likely to maintain myths like it must be hard to do it telling it’s not hard to do a vegan diet it’s much harder to count calories with an old-fashioned calorie counting diabetes diet and try to lose weight by cut you know you know doing a traditional kind of diet a vegan diet means you can eat as much as you want within reason obviously of healthy fruit very simple I love the comparisons between the tobacco industry and what we’ve got at the moment trying to push the plant-based movement forward a little bit different though if tobacco is a binary thing tobacco smoking was bad I’m not avoiding tobacco smoking was good with meat it’s a little bit different because a lot of people think processed meat is really bad but then they think unprocessed meat is good so it’s going to be a little bit harder than the smoking thing that happened 50 years ago where do you see the trajectory of this movement going how long do you think it will take the people to really start giving up adding products people have already started giving up animal products and when we started the Physicians Committee in 1985 there were very few doctors talking about this today there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds maybe thousands there are lots of them all over the place and we have an annual conference the one in 2016 had 750 doctors medical students dietitians come and there is a huge movement in this direction so the old days of doctors being skeptical in whatever virtually all doctors know this is a good idea many of them are trying it the rest know that they should at the time do you have any idea about the timeline of that we don’t all eat the same meal at the same time so some people have gone vegan already others are going that way today and tomorrow in the short time period others will take a while and there are people who have an economic interest in never following a healthful diet and those people will never change but more and more people are going this direction I think one of the things that’s fueling it is not only the doctors like me who have been talking about this for a long time but athletes we are seeing so many football players the top male and female tennis players now I’m talking about Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams both said sign me up take the animal products off their plate Novak Djokovic just a set of a vegan restaurant in Monaco it’s the most chic place you know you can imagine and so people read about this and trendy it’s becoming trendy but trendy for people who for whom performance matters and we have top politicians who are doing this and by the way it’s it’s not just people who are endurance athletes like tennis players and sprinters and long-distance runners but football players I’m talking to American football these people who need to be muscular and fast at the same time and we’re seeing more and more people doing it what message do you have with the Food for Life team in the UK who have a mission open burn up Bernard Center and get there the FIFA Life programme clinically commissioned by the National Health Service the Food for Life program is a way to get practical tools into people’s hands information that they can use and an understanding of how you put it to work that’s a wonderful wonderful gift for so many people and I’m really delighted that there are folks in the UK who are going to be doing this and bringing it forward I think it is fantastic and for doctors advocates teachers who want to see this movement go forward the food for life people are your best right arm in 2016 equal animal testing ended every medical school in the u.s. what big achievement do you expect in 2017 or in in the future yeah well you 2016 has been a good year every medical school in the US and Canada stopped using animals for education leading up to the MD degree or the do dr. Bob see Doctor of Osteopathy degree the US Congress passed a new animal testing law that said animals can only be used for industrial chemicals as a last resort after use all the alternatives first that was a huge step forward that we when we were working for 10 years on that there have been many many other changes too so there are always things that have been been terrific in 2017 we’re tackling other animal uses in laboratories some educational areas at higher levels like trauma training that’s where it’s a few places still use animals and of course the biggie is getting animals off the plate because when you do that the animals are happier the earth breezy breathe is easier in your coronary arteries are gonna be a whole lot better off to coming to the end now what do you think the biggest threat to the movement is the biggest threat to the movement I think it’s important not to let things interfere with what we’re going to do a plant-based diet is a great thing on every level there is no disadvantage and to it and I don’t think we need to worry too much about the fact there’s some resistance because if a person says to you I’m not ready to go there I don’t want to do that I don’t afford it my my family would be against it I’m not sure where I get my protein that’s not know that’s a person just telling you all the problems that you need to solve for them and those problems are getting solved so I don’t really see any insurmountable threats I think that industry’s strong so what it was in ground anyway to this and they’re diversifying so we’ve got the dairy industry’s buying soy milk companies so that if soy milk is popular they’ll sell that so um yes people are addicted to all these things to a degree or we’re breaking through these addictions with healthier products great tastes big stores with very cool stuff to buy and it’s very much a winning trajectory last question your role model to so many people who are your role models there are so many people that I have looked to and have inspired me I’ll mention just a couple I’m Dean Ornish I think is a medical genius when he was a medical student he started looking at what diet could do for for heart patients this disease that kills more people worldwide than anything else he started tackling with a plant-based diet and other healthy lifestyles Colin Campbell Caldwell Esselstyn John McDougall a very humble person but John has brought people into his Center in California it completely has changed their their outlook and there are lots of doctors working in their medical centers like Rob hasta Feld and many others who are bringing this diet forward in such a great way Rip Esselstyn who’s Caldwell assistants son and they said he’s like the most macho person in the world oh but you know you too can do this diet yeah and rip is a wonderful person so I could go on and on and on and on but there have been so many people who not only have motivated me but but they’re also really cool people and so you can talk with them and get their advice and I might add one more Kim Williams is the immediate past president of the American College of Cardiology and adopted a plant-based diet for his own health but then started thinking wait a minute I’m a cardiologist let’s get this word out widely and so he’s been super effective at doing that as well so I see victory you’ve certainly motivated me so I just want to say keep up the good work keep propelling the movement forward I love your propensity and tenacity to get the message out and you work so so hard so thank you so much I don’t think there’s a lot left to do but we’re doing it together let’s get some lunch yeah all right let’s do it thanks a lot thank you