Dr. Barnard's Blog

The Physicians Committee

Let’s Not Sugarcoat Obesity’s Leading Causes

December 1, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

For the first time since 2004, obesity rates are climbing in the United States.

The news – recently released in a CDC report – took many by surprise. How could this have happened, headlines wondered, despite widespread national efforts to prevent obesity? In spite of Let’s Move? In spite of a 25 percent drop in consumption of sugary, full-calorie sodas over the last two decades?


There are plenty of reasons to exercise and plenty of reasons to limit sugar, but the truth is, neither would be enough to stem the obesity epidemic. Studies show that exercise, despite all its benefits, cannot compensate for poor eating habits when it comes to weight loss.

For the most part, too much sugar and too little exercise sugarcoat the real issue at hand: We’re eating meat and dairy products in quantities that our grandparents never imagined.

Obesity was all but unheard of a century ago in the United States. By 1970, about 11 percent of the population qualified as obese. Today, that number stands at 36 percent. So what did happen?

Since 1970, our overall energy intake has risen by about 500 calories per day. Where are most of these extra calories coming from? The bulk is from meat, eggs, dairy products, and added fats, which account for an extra 287 calories every day. That adds up to about four extra pounds per year.

Let’s rewind another 60 years. Compared to 1909, we now consume 60 more pounds of meat per person each year. Cheese consumption has soared from just four pounds per person in 1909 to more than 30 pounds today, making it a leading source of saturated fat in Americans’ diets.

Eating 100 more pounds of meat and cheese – along with saturated fat and cholesterol – every year has, not surprisingly, only made us gain weight and get sick.

Decades of science confirm that our waistlines would benefit from simply moving the animal products off our plates. Last year, my colleagues and I analyzed 15 major studies and concluded that vegetarian diets consistently lead to weight loss, even without calorie restriction or exercise. And long-term observational studies show that vegetarian—especially vegan—populations are the trimmest and healthiest on the planet.

It’s time to stop the sweet talk: Meat and dairy are the real drivers of the obesity epidemic, and setting them aside will help solve it.


VIDEO: Thanksgiving with Three Sisters

November 23, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

It’s that time of year. On NPR, Susan Stamberg continued the tradition of sharing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe. And I’m going to continue my tradition of sharing a recipe made from the Native American Three Sisters gardening tradition that uses corns, beans, and squash.

Here’s the gist of the ingenious garden design:

Even if you didn’t harvest the Three Sisters from your own garden this year, head to your farmers market or grocery store for the corn, beans, and squash to try some of my favorite Thanksgiving Three Sisters recipes:

Harvest Pudding

Harvest Pudding utilizes both corn and pumpkin. Molasses, ginger, and cinnamon give this hearty dessert the flavors of autumn. Recipe >

Pueblo Pie

Pueblo Pie is a great center-of-the-plate dish that's sure to wow your Thanksgiving guests. Recipe >


INFOGRAPHIC: Ditch the Milk Mustache this Movember

November 13, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

It’s Movember. That means many men are spending the month growing mustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues such as prostate cancer. But there’s one mustache you’ll want to avoid: the milk mustache. Milk increases men’s risk for death from prostate cancer. Instead of a milk mustache, try a Pomodoro pencil mustache this Movember. Just two servings of tomato products a week can reduce prostate cancer risk by 23 percent.




Enough Pink, Now Let’s Get Serious

November 4, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over,” wrote T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land. I think of those lines every November, when Americans put away their pink T-shirts, pink ribbons, and pink slippers and forget about breast cancer for another year.

Few of the marchers in pink tutus and wigs know that Breast Cancer Awareness Month was launched in 1985 by Imperial Chemical Industries and served to pump up the market for anticancer drugs. Since then, the month has become a cash-register-ringing, credit-card-swiping distraction from what really would help stem the epidemic.

The National Cancer Institute reports that alcohol—even one drink per day—increases breast cancer risk. So why not book a manicure and pedicure at Seagate Hotel & Spa in Delray Beach, Fla., and sip a “pink lady” martini? It’s only $100, and 10 percent goes to the American Cancer Society.

NCI also explains the link between obesity and breast cancer.  So over the years, we’ve celebrated with KFC’s pink bucket full of chicken and Bon Appétit’s Pan Seared Strip Steak with Red-Wine Pan Sauce and Pink-Peppercorn Butter—don’t overcook it; that steak should stay pink—and Lemon-Raspberry Cupcakes. The recipes come online with free pop-up advertisements for President Cheese.

This year should have been different. On Oct. 26, the World Health Organization gave women, men, and children a beautiful gift by letting us all know that avoiding processed meats will cut our cancer risk. The link between bacon, sausage, ham, etc., and several forms of cancer had been known for years in scientific circles, but the WHO announcement made it official. The debate was over. This really, really works. Get them out of your life, and your risk drops.

The response from many corners was whining and panicked. “Are you trying to tell me what to eat!?” Even some medical experts called for no more than moderation. On the PBS NewsHour, a Harvard physician said, “I don’t think that it should warrant an overall change in people’s lifestyles at this point.”

Let’s take a lesson from the fight against lung cancer. Years of study showed that smoking, asbestos, and radon cause the disease. The answer was not to put on a T-shirt, walk with a sign, make a donation, or do anything other than stop the dangerous exposures and encourage friends and family to do the same. And the campaign has worked.

For breast cancer, we have learned a lot about the causes. But if we don’t put that knowledge to work—if instead we slip on our pink socks, zip up our pink jackets, and look at cancer through our pink-colored glasses—we make a mockery of the lifesaving findings that were painstakingly elucidated.

“April is the cruelest month,” Eliot wrote. Perhaps that honor should go to October.


Escape Milk’s Horrors This Halloween

October 28, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Doctors and parents agree that gorging on Halloween candy—loaded with sugar, fat, and empty calories—once a year is more than enough. But how many parents realize that just as much sugar and fat can actually lurk in milk, a beverage many kids drink with breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Just 3 cups of low-fat milk a day amounts to more than 37 grams of sugar and 14 grams of fat—more than many of the most popular Halloween candies. Even scarier: Drinking milk increases the risk of bone fractures, early death, and other health problems.

Don’t let milk send you to an early grave. Ditch the dairy and escape milk’s horrors this Halloween.




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