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The Physicians Committee

Dietary Guidelines: Scientific Evidence for Nina Teicholz

September 29, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Take note, Nina Teicholz: A new Harvard School of Public Health study in the Journal of American College of Cardiology again confirms that saturated fat—found mostly in meat and dairy products—increases heart disease risk. The study also finds that replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains reduces the risk of heart disease.

But if Teicholz gets her way, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans will soon recommend that Americans start gorging on butter, meat, and cheese. And despite what she says in her recent BMJ commentary, that means more obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.


Teicholz—who wrote The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet—makes the assertion that the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) makes recommendations based on limited evidence. So when Congress holds its hearing on the guidelines on Oct. 7, I have some additional scientific evidence for consideration.

Take red meat, for example. Teicholz says that “to support the idea that red meat harms health, the committee repeatedly cites one large randomized trial conducted in Spain.” That’s easy to remedy. There are many more studies showing that red meat causes harm.

A meta-analysis of nine studies with a combined 1,330,352 participants that was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that consumption of red and processed meat products is associated with increased risk of early death from all causes. A Harvard School of Public Health study that followed 121,342 individuals followed for up to 28 years came to the same conclusion.

On the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, Teicholz says that of the “eight reviews on fruits and vegetables, none found strong (grade 1) evidence to support the assertion that these foods can provide health benefits.” Well, there are dozens of studies proving the lifesaving benefits of fruits and vegetables.

In a meta-analysis published in BMJ, researchers analyzed 16 separate studies, including one with 833,234 participants, and found that each serving of fruit and vegetables decreased the risk of dying. Another study with 65,226 participants found that those who consumed seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day saw a 42 percent decreased risk of death due to any cause, compared with those who consumed the least amount.

What about low-carbohydrate diets? Teicholz notes that “another important topic that was insufficiently reviewed is the efficacy of low carbohydrate diets.” More importantly, the DGAC didn’t do enough to warn of the dangers of low-carbohydrate diets.

A 2014 study published by the American Heart Association found that a low-carbohydrate diet high in animal products is associated with an increased risk for dying for people with heart disease. A study published in BMJ that tracked the diets of nearly 44,000 Swedish women for 16 years found that a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet boosts risk of heart disease.

The DGAC could also do more to show the benefits of carbohydrates. A recent Harvard study found that more whole-grain intake was associated with lower death rates and that every whole-grain serving was associated with a 5 percent lower risk for death in general and a 9 percent lower risk for death from heart disease. Reducing dietary fat while increasing carbohydrate intake is also good for type 2 diabetes.

Teicholz concludes by calling for “an unbiased and balanced panel of scientists to undertake a comprehensive review, in order to ensure that selection of the dietary guidelines committee becomes more transparent, with better disclosure of the conflicts of interest, and that the most rigorous scientific evidence is reliably used to produce the best possible nutrition policy.”

Here’s my plan: When the House Agriculture Committee convenes its Oct. 7 hearing on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it needs to make sure there are no conflicts of interest from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the American Egg Board, the National Pork Board, and other meat- and dairy-product industry groups that want to profit from recommendations that will keep America’s health in ruins.


Pope Francis: Tell Congress Meat and Dairy Causes Climate Change

September 22, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Meat and dairy products are a major cause of climate change and a topic Pope Francis must address when he speaks before Congress this Thursday. Members of the House Committee on Agriculture should pay special attention as they ready for hearings on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which could help fight climate change.

Earlier this year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended a shift away from animal products toward plant-based diets for sustainability. The committee stated that “a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average U.S. diet.”

Leaders across the globe are making the same recommendation. The United Nations says that “animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.” And the World Health Organization notes that “cutting back on red meat production reduces the nitrous oxide released into the atmosphere by fertilizers and animal manure. Nitrous oxide is … the most important … contributor to stratospheric ozone destruction. Reducing livestock herds would also reduce emissions of methane, which is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.”

But moving toward a plant-based diet won’t only save the planet and animal lives. It’s good for human health, too. Heart disease and stroke are the leading killers worldwide. Meat and dairy product consumption increases the risk of both, while plant-based diets can prevent and reverse these deadly epidemics.

The pope has said that “reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility.” It’s a message I hope Congress and the meat and dairy product industry take to heart this Thursday.


World Alzheimer’s Day Sept. 21: Advance Research Without Animals

September 17, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   , alzheimer's disease, alzheimer's research

Since 99.6 percent of Alzheimer’s drugs that test successfully in animals fail in humans, many researchers are turning toward promising new human-based technologies. In advance of World Alzheimer’s Day on Sept. 21, I’m sharing Alzheimer’s Research Without Animals  from the Physicians Committee’s upcoming issue of Good Medicine. To get your own copy of Good Medicine in the mail, simply join the Physicians Committee with a membership gift of $20.

Read Alzheimer’s Research Without Animals >


Here’s my editorial from the issue:


As American soldiers returned from the war in 1945, obstetrics clinics got ready for the Baby Boom. And 70 years later, geriatric clinics are doing the same. Over the next 10 years, half of the surviving Baby Boomers will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The looming crisis turns out to be a bonanza for researchers who are busy breeding mice and other animals with brain disorders that are intended to simulate Alzheimer’s, seeking to turn up a marketable drug. Federal grants for Alzheimer’s research are an estimated $566 million and have risen dramatically due to special government funding in recent years.


From an animal welfare standpoint, the situation could hardly be worse. To produce animals with genetic peculiarities, biological suppliers breed them by the thousands, and those who do not match up to the expected genetic profile are simply discarded. Those who survive to begin experiments have a far worse fate, before they too are finally killed.

From a human standpoint, the situation is similarly bleak. Of more than three dozen drugs tested in humans after appearing promising in animals, not a single one has been an effective treatment. Of the few medications that are used to treat Alzheimer’s, none actually changes the course of the disease.

The failure of animal experiments has necessitated a turning point in Alzheimer’s research. New methods are focusing not on mice, rats, or monkeys, but on human neurons, human genes, and chemical reactions within the human body. At Harvard University, the "Alzheimer’s-in-a-dish” technology should allow scientists to test new drugs much faster and more accurately than was possible with animals.

Perhaps the most exciting new research is zeroing in on diet and lifestyle. Just as, a generation ago, large population studies identified risk factors for heart disease—cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, and obesity, among others—all of which were then confirmed in randomized clinical trials, the same risk-factor pathway is bearing fruit in Alzheimer’s. The Chicago Health and Aging Project showed that saturated and trans fats (“bad” fats) and excess copper intake are linked to greatly increased risk, while other parts of the diet, notably vitamin E, reduce risk. Other researchers have shown how physical exercise can reverse the shrinkage of the brain’s memory centers and combat cognitive decline.

The shift in research from mice to humans, and from an overemphasis on drugs to studies on prevention, will not only mean that millions of animals can breathe a sigh of relief. It will mean that the generation now reaching older age will have power against Alzheimer’s.


Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

September 11, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   , Blood Pressure, hypertenstions, how to lower blood pressure

Lowering your blood pressure below current guidelines may save your life. Maintaining a systolic blood pressure of 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)—instead of the current guidelines for 140 mm Hg—could reduce risk of heart attack and cardiovascular death, according to study results released today from the National Institutes of Health’s Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT). It’s what the Physicians Committee already recommends in our Eight Ways to Naturally Lower Blood Pressure report.

In the NIH study of people 50 years or older, blood pressure medication was used to achieve a target systolic pressure of 120 mm Hg. That reduced rates of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and heart failure, as well as stroke, by almost a third and the risk of death by almost a quarter, as compared to the target systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg.

Of course, you’ll want to talk to your physician about the best way to reach your ideal blood pressure. But remember that medications aren’t the only route to lower blood pressure. You can start lowering your blood pressure today with these Eight Ways to Naturally Lower Blood Pressure. Then make sure to share the tips with your doctor at your next visit.

lower blood pressure


Jazz Tofu

September 8, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   , soy, Cancer, isoflavones

On Saturday night, I was at Washington’s Blues Alley to hear Chris Thomas King. In the great tradition of blues singers and guitarists with the same surname, CT is one of the best.

Blues Alley’s menu features dishes named for jazz greats: Dizzy Gillespie’s chicken, ham, and sausage jambalaya, Joe Williams’ stuffed pork chops, Maynard Ferguson’s Cajun chicken, and Sarah Vaughn’s filet mignon.  

I ordered Ahmad Jamal’s signature vegetarian Creole rice, made with sautéed Cajun-spiced tofu, onions, celery, carrots, red peppers, and asparagus with Creole seasoning, served over rice.

“Are you sure want it?” the server asked. “It’s tofu.”


I asked what she meant. “It’s made from soybeans,” she said, and she went on to explain that soybeans are processed.

“Have you seen how they process chickens?” I asked gently. The conversation drifted from “tofu is weird” to the oft-repeated myth that “soybeans have estrogens that can cause cancer.” Whether the myth has been kept alive by the dairy industry or simply by Web trolls, it has been remarkably persistent. And in case your friends—or restaurant server—have subscribed to the same misimpression, let’s have a quick review.

First of all, tofu is not weird. It is a centuries-old Asian traditional food. Straight out of the package, it has loads of protein, but essentially no taste—the vegan equivalent of egg white. But marinated, grilled, baked, or added to stir-fries, it is delicious and quickly becomes a favorite.      

Many years ago, researchers found that soybeans—like many plants—contain natural isoflavones, whose chemical structure is somewhat similar to human steroid hormones, like testosterone or estrogens, leading some to speculate that soy products might have hormonal effects—increasing cancer risk in women, for example.

Over the years, these biological issues have been studied in detail. And in 2008, eight prior studies conducted in Asians and Asian Americans were combined in a meta-analysis.1 The populations were selected because they have a very wide range of soy intake, from almost none to very high. It turned out that, instead of soy products causing cancer, they appeared to help prevent it. Women with the highest soy intake—including soy milk, tofu, and similar products—had 29 percent less risk of breast cancer, compared with women who generally skipped soy. By 2014, 35 studies were summarized in a new meta-analysis, showing that women eating the most soy products had a 41 reduction in the risk of breast cancer.2  

In 2012, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a different kind of study.3 This time, the focus was on women who had had breast cancer in the past. The question now was whether tofu, soy milk, or other soy products would affect the likelihood of cancer coming back.

And it did. Drawing on a total of 9,514 women previously treated for breast cancer, those who consumed the most soy had about a 30 percent reduction in the risk of cancer recurrence.

In other words, soy products are protective. They reduce the likelihood of getting cancer, and, for women previously diagnosed with breast cancer, they reduce the odds that cancer will ever come back.

That said, a healthy plant-based diet is not the soybean cheerleading club. Soy is not essential. The key nutritional theme to remember is that vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains are healthful, and you can have tofu or not. But soy products are extremely versatile and are far healthier than burgers, milks, and cheeses they replace. And they may well have health benefits of their own.

Fifteen minutes later, the server brought Ahmad Jamal’s signature dish. And the vegetarian Creole rice—tofu and all—turned out to be delicious.

By the way, Joe Williams died at age 79, Maynard Ferguson at 78, Dizzy at 75, and Sarah Vaughn at 66. At age 85, Ahmad Jamal is not only still with us; he has released two new records in each of the last two years. Credit the tofu, if you like.  



1. Wu AH, Yu MC, Tseng CC, Pike MC. Epidemiology of soy exposures and breast cancer risk. Br J Cancer. 2008;98:9-14.

2. Chen M, Rao Y, Zheng Y, et al. Association between soy isoflavone intake and breast cancer risk for pre- and post-menopausal women: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. PLoS ONE. 2014;9:e89288.

3. Nechuta SJ, Caan BJ, Chen WY, et al. Soy food intake after diagnosis of breast cancer and survival: an in-depth analysis of combined evidence from cohort studies of US and Chinese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96:123-132.



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