As a doctor, I focus on removing meat and dairy products from the diet for disease prevention, but many folks choose to eschew meat to reduce their carbon footprint. Just as we can no longer ignore food’s impact on our own health, we can’t ignore food’s role in climate change either.
For your eco-conscious friends who still chow down on cheeseburgers, there’s a new documentary emphasizing the meat industry’s global environmental impact. Cowspiracy slams home the fact that meat production is the number-one source of greenhouse gases and deforestation. And while parts of the United States are facing a drought, it takes 660 gallons of water to produce a single hamburger.
Al Gore, Bill Gates, and James Cameron have all been decidedly outspoken about how meat production and consumption affect both health and the environment. Research shows that animal products are bad for humans—leading to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Moving meat products off your plate—for whatever reason— will have a lasting impact on your own health and the environment.
November is both Native American Heritage Month and National Diabetes Month. Though the two may seem unrelated, it’s possible—even beneficial—to acknowledge both at the same time.
A traditional Native American diet incorporates corn, beans, squash, fruits, and grains—all foods that can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. However, Native American communities have moved away from these plant foods toward the standard American diet full of meat and dairy products, which increase the risk of diabetes.
Chefs Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater making Indian No-Fry Bread.
For all Americans—no matter which race—diabetes statistics are far too high. Forty percent will have diabetes in his or her lifetime. Ten percent of Americans overall currently have diabetes. But for Native Americans in particular, the rate rises to 16 percent.
To cut diabetes rates, we need to cut out high-risk foods. Dairy products are the main source of saturated fat and cholesterol in the American diet, and diets high in fat can increase insulin resistance and increase the risk of heart disease. Meat-eating is also considered a risk factor for diabetes. A study out of Taiwan shows that women and men who avoid meat entirely reduce their diabetes risk by 70 and 45 percent respectively. The Physicians Committee’s own research has found that a low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and heart health in patients with type 2 diabetes.
The alarming diabetes statistics for Native Americans prompted us to visit the Navajo Nation and work with community leaders to implement nutrition programs to help Native Americans manage and reverse their diabetes. The Physicians Committee recently released Food for Life in Indian Country, a documentary detailing the progress and successes from our program. The film shows that a return to traditional plant-based meals can help Native American communities reverse their diabetes and experience a boost in overall health.
We brought in Native American chef Lois Ellen Frank to create recipes that incorporated cultural tradition alongside disease-fighting ingredients. The Food for Life in Indian Country booklet has several recipes for every course, along with a sample daily menu. This month, try the Posole Harvest Stew or the Indian No-Fry Bread. Spread good health—and promote diabetes awareness and Native American heritage—by bringing traditional Native American recipes to your next potluck and sharing our booklet with friends and family.
For more information, visit PCRM.org/Diabetes.
Science Contradicts Milk Marketing
This week, another study has illustrated that milk actually has a negative effect on bone health. Researchers in Sweden published 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.
According to the study, women who consume three or more glasses of milk per day have a 60 percent increased risk of developing a hip fracture and a 93 percent increased risk of death. And each glass of milk increases mortality risk by 15 percent.
However, this news should not come as a shock to anyone outside of the dairy industry’s advertising department. A 2005 review in Pediatrics showed that milk has no effect on preventing stress fractures in girls. In fact, the research linked higher milk consumption with higher fracture risk.
For strong, healthy bones, it’s important to have enough calcium and vitamin D. However, animal products tend to leech calcium from bones, yet plant foods do not have this effect. One cup of collards has 268 mg of calcium. Spinach has 245 mg in a single cup, while a cup of soybeans has 261 mg. When you take fortified orange juice and fortified tofu into account, it’s easy to obtain more than the daily calcium recommendation of 1,000 mg.
Regardless of what milk marketers would have you believe, vitamin D is not naturally occurring in dairy milk. Last week, we examined a recent Canadian study suggesting that children who consumed dairy milk had higher levels of vitamin D. After reviewing the research, we learned that the dairy milk was fortified—while the plant milks were not. Any fortified non-dairy beverage can provide the necessary nutrients, without the cholesterol and saturated fat found in milk.
The science is there: milk does a body bad. Let’s wipe off the milk mustaches and remove milk from the school lunch line. To learn how you can help get milk out of schools, visit www.HealthySchoolLunches.org.