Our fight against obesity has become a war on sugar. Next week, Philadelphia’s city council will have a final vote to determine whether the city will become one of the first in the nation to adopt a soda tax. Meanwhile, tempers are flaring in Baltimore over a proposed bill that would require health warnings on advertisements for sugary beverages—a measure San Francisco is set to adopt next month.
When it comes to public health, these proposals are all a step in the right direction— there are no health benefits to drinking soda. But these regulations alone are not going to solve our ever-growing obesity epidemic.
Sugar has long taken the blame for our growing waistlines. But over the past two decades, sugar consumption has actually dropped by 14 percent, while sales of sugary, full-calorie sodas have dipped by 25 percent. Still, obesity rates continue to surge.
A study released this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more Americans than ever are now obese. By the end of 2014, obesity prevalence stood at 35 percent for men and an all-time high 40 percent for women.
It’s time to stop blaming sugar. When it comes to weight problems, sugar-sweetened beverages and other sweets distract from the main culprits fueling obesity: our appetite for meat and cheese.
In 2012, Americans collectively consumed 52.2 billion pounds of meat. And every year, the average American individually eats about 270 pounds. Compared to just a century ago, that’s nearly 150 more pounds per person each year. At the same time, cheese consumption has soared from just four pounds per person in 1909 to 36 pounds today, making it the No. 1 source of saturated fat in Americans’ diets. In addition to fat, meat and cheese are loaded with cholesterol and packed with calories.
Epidemiological studies consistently show that populations who base their diets on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are the healthiest and slimmest on the planet. Two major review studies released last year analyzed the diets of thousands of people and confirmed that vegetarian and vegan diets are best for weight control. Similarly, a 2015 clinical study found that participants assigned to completely meat-free diets lost more weight, compared with those following the pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous diets.
To truly turn the obesity epidemic around, we must move these high-fat foods from the center of our plates and start basing our diets on nutrient-dense plant-based foods.
It took five years. But Aaron Rodgers, who plays for the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers, finally got our message that Cheese Can Sack Your Health. In 2011, we posted this billboard near Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., where the Packers play.
This week Rodgers told ESPN that he has followed “more of a vegan diet” since his knee surgery in January. He told ESPN: “Through your eating, you can reduce inflammation because if you do research, you learn the different foods you eat can actually increase the inflammation in your body and especially in certain parts of your body.” You can find out more about the dangers of cheese and how to break your addiction here.
Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 male tennis player, just won the French Open with plant-powered diet! Djokovic is so committed to a plant-based diet that he opened a vegan restaurant in Monte Carlo earlier this year.
He’s joining a growing number of athletes—including the reigning No. 1 female tennis player Serena Williams and her sister Venus—who are using plant-based diets to fuel victories. Serena Williams has said that she saw a lot of benefits in her game from eating a vegetarian diet.
Djokovic and the Williams sisters are not alone. This past week, Griff Whalen, who plays for the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins, credited his vegan diet for his success.
“After a point, nutrition plays a huge part in how quickly you can recover, how hard you can push yourself the next day, back-to-back days and stuff like that. I feel like it’s helped me tremendously and given me a big edge in that regard,” he told ESPN.
He also described typical meals: “Breakfast is like an oatmeal, fruit, and whatever else I want to throw into it,” he said. “And then lunch and dinner, a rice-and-bean kind of dish is pretty typical. Lots of veggies. A salad. I make a lot of smoothies because I can just throw greens and fruit and stuff in there. But rice and beans or lentils, stuff like that is pretty common for me.”
NFL football player David Carter, who started a vegetarian diet in 2014, recently said that it could help prolong athletes’ lives.
Many other athletes have similar stories. They’ve all found that a vegetarian diet provides all of the fuel they need—from vitamins and minerals to carbohydrates and protein—for both endurance and recovery.
They fuel up on foods like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, beans, and bananas. A vegetarian diet fueled Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek’s speed record for completing the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail last July. It was a feat of endurance at 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes.
Plentiful protein from vegetables, grains, and beans help in their recovery. Vegetarian bodybuilder Torre Washington recently told GQ magazine: “We live in the age of ‘How much protein are you getting?’ I’ve never, ever tracked my protein. We only need about 35 percent of our calories from protein. When we take in more, we’re eating it just because we feel like we need it.”
Congratulations Djokovic and the growing number of athletes who are demonstrating that fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are power foods for athletes.
Are you our 1 millionth Kickstarter?
Since 2010, the Physicians Committee’s free 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program has helped more than 480,000 people in 144 countries across the world test-drive a healthy, plant-based diet. And now we’re looking for our 1 millionth participant.
The Kickstart—which combines healthy recipes and a free meal plan with online support, celebrity tips, and educational webcasts—is based on the idea that it takes three weeks to build a habit. So for 21 days, we encourage participants to drop the meat, dairy products, eggs, sugar, and highly processed foods from their diets and focus instead on the four healthy food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Throughout the three-week program, many people report that they feel healthier and more energetic almost from the start. Within weeks of eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet, many participants start seeing serious health benefits: Extra weight falls off without counting calories, and cholesterol levels often begin to drop. Most people also report that throughout the program, their taste buds change and they lose their cravings for animal products and highly processed foods, setting them up for long-term success. Studies show that people who consume plant-based diets lower their risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic conditions.
So how effective is it? Thirty percent of Kickstart participants who started the program as omnivores in 2015 still follow a vegan diet today. And across the board, nearly all participants significantly reduced their meat intake, while increasing the amounts of fruits and vegetables in their diets. On average, participants in 2015 consumed 1.81 servings of vegetables before starting the program, and they now eat 2.69 per day a year later.
Are you ready to kickstart your own health? The free Kickstart program runs for 21 days beginning the first day of every month. And starting today, we’re unveiling a new and improved program with an easy-to-follow meal plan, step-by-step recipe photos, and several new inspiring coaches, including Moby, Kim Williams, M.D., and Garth Davis, M.D.
Want to dip your toe in before getting started? Check out our recipe for Sweet Potato Lentil Chili from the program:
Sweet Potato Lentil Chili
Makes 6 servings
Red lentils work nicely to thicken this chili, while the sweet potato gives a mellow, smooth contrast to the spices.
Splash of water
1 3/4 cups onions, diced
1 cup celery, diced
2 - 2 1/2 cups orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1 inch cubes
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
Ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 1/4 cups dry red lentils
2 1/2 cups water
1 – 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 – 14-ounce can black or kidney beans, rinsed
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Lime wedges (for serving)
In large pot on medium heat, add water, onions, celery, sweet potatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, and spices, and stir through.
Cover and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally; reduce heat if onions are sticking to bottom of pot. Rinse lentils.
Add to pot with water, tomatoes, beans, and bay leaf, and stir to combine. Increase heat to bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes or until sweet potatoes are softened, stirring occasionally. Stir in lime juice and serve portions with lime wedges.
Cooking Note: If you only have whole or diced tomatoes, use a hand blender to “crush” them: First pour off some liquid from can into pot, then use a hand blender to puree tomatoes directly in the can.
- Calories: 306
- Fat: 1.4 g
- Saturated Fat: 0.3 g
- Calories from Fat: 3.9
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Protein: 18.5 g
- Carbohydrates: 58.6
- Sugar: 9.7 g
- Fiber: 15.1 g
- Sodium: 451 mg
- Calcium: 136 mg
- Iron: 7.4 mg
- Vitamin C: 31 mg
- Beta-Carotene: 5386 mcg
- Vitamin E: 1.8 mg
Another day, another company says that it is switching to so-called “cage-free” eggs: 7-Eleven announced yesterday that it will go “cage-free” by 2025. But the “cage-free” label is, in fact, little more than another industry ploy to pretend that eggs are something other than inhumane and unhealthy. Inhumane because thousands of birds will still be crammed together in factory-like operations. Unhealthy because eggs are still loaded with cholesterol.
The egg industry has been a master of deception. Look at what is happening right now in Congress. Industry groups that peddle commodities supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are currently urging the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on agriculture to exempt the American Egg Board and other commodity boards from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that make their communications and records public.
Why? Last year, the food technology company Hampton Creek found out through a FOIA request that the American Egg Board tried to quash its Just Mayo—an eggless, plant-based mayonnaise.
The Physicians Committee also uncovered unscrupulous American Egg Board activities through our own FOIA request. We learned that the American Egg Board directly nominated one individual who was placed on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which recommended removing cholesterol warnings from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Another member was actively receiving egg-industry research grants, and two others worked at a university that requested and received more than $100,000 from the American Egg Board for research aimed at challenging the cholesterol limits.
In violation of federal law, the American Egg Board has made a longstanding effort, costing several million dollars, to change federal policies and make cholesterol appear to be safe. Approximately 90 percent of research studies on dietary cholesterol are now funded by the egg industry.
So we filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, alleging that the government had allowed the food industry and financial inducements to dictate the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations on cholesterol.
Ultimately, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans retained cholesterol warnings, stating:
“As recommended by the IOM, individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible … Strong evidence from mostly prospective cohort studies but also randomized controlled trials has shown that eating patterns that include lower intake of dietary cholesterol are associated with reduced risk of CVD, and moderate evidence indicates that these eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of obesity. … Dietary cholesterol is found only in animal foods such as egg yolk, dairy products, shellfish, meats, and poultry.”
So rather than cage-free, it’s best to go egg-free. But until that happens, the 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations Bill should not exempt the American Egg Board or any other government-supported commodity groups from providing the American public information on decisions that impact both human and animal lives.
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