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The Physicians Committee

Celebrating Six Years of the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart

June 1, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   vegan


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:

Vegan sweet potato lentil chili

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.

Per serving:

  • 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

Source: Eat, Drink & Be Vegan by Dreena Burton of www.PlantPoweredKitchen.com.



Cage-Free Eggs: Still Bad for Human Health

May 4, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   animal products


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.”

Eggs are also linked increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, foodborne illness, and a range of other health problems.

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.  


Debunking the Paleo Myth

April 26, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   food trends


Christina Warinner, Ph.D., co-director of the laboratories of molecular anthropology and microbiome research and assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, will debunk the Paleo diet at the Physicians Committee’s International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine on July 29-30, 2016, in Washington, D.C.


You can find out more about the conference lineup and register at ICNM16.org.

Below, Dr. Warinner answers a few questions she’ll address in depth at the conference.

Paleolithic peoples are sometimes depicted as tireless hunters who consumed large quantities of meat. Is that accurate?

You might be surprised to learn that the clearest examples of recent dietary adaptations in humans are for starch-rich plants. Rather than our hunting habits, the thing that appears to set humans most apart from our primate relatives is our evolved dependence on cooking. Perhaps the most interesting thing about our dietary evolution is that we are effectively “cookivores.”

Modern “Paleo” diets eschew whole grains or legumes. Is there any evidence showing that Paleolithic peoples did eat these foods?

Plant microfossils from the barley family have been found on the teeth of Neanderthals, and starches from grains and tubers have been found on Paleolithic grinding stones that predate agriculture by more than 10,000 years. Humans did not discover these foods during the Neolithic—they had already been eating them, albeit in smaller quantities, for a long time.

How different are the foods we eat today from what Paleolithic peoples ate?

Do not be fooled by the advertisements—there were no Paleo protein bars or flourless chocolate cakes in the Paleolithic. And if you could magically transport yourself back in time, you would hardly recognize the ancestors of today’s lettuce, carrots, avocados, bananas, and apricots. Real Paleolithic foods are a far cry from what we may imagine, but that makes them all the more interesting.


Protein Demand Is Destroying the Planet

April 21, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   protein


In 90 percent of the world’s countries and territories, people eat more protein than they need, according to a new report. In the United States, 21 percent of adults consider themselves protein deficient. But in reality, the average American exceeds estimated daily protein requirements by nearly 70 percent.


The new report, released today by the World Resources Institute, highlights the consequences of our protein obsession. Globally, the demand for animal-based protein has been on the rise for more than five decades, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The report estimates that worldwide consumption of animal products will rise by 79 percent between 2006 and 2050—and not without dire consequences. Animal protein is not only linked to serious health problems—like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer—but it’s also the most resource intensive and environmentally harmful type of protein to produce (see: “Animal-Based Foods are More Resource-Intensive than Plant-Based Foods” chart).

meat-and-global-warmingProducing animal-based foods already takes an enormous toll on our planet, accounting for 75 percent of our global agricultural land use and two-thirds of food-related greenhouse gas emissions. Beef is one of the biggest culprits. Compared with plant-based protein sources like pulses, beef requires 20 times more land and creates 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein consumed. Shockingly, only 1 percent of the gross calories fed to cattle translate into human-edible calories. Yet, we use a quarter of our global landmass (excluding Antarctica) to farm cattle. It only gets scarier: The report finds that by 2050, demand for beef is expected to rise by 95 percent.

But there is hope. The report projects that by shifting our diets to center on plant-based foods, we will take enormous strides in protecting our environment. In fact, the World Resources Institute estimates that the average American could nearly cut their diet-related environmental impact in half simply by eating less meat and dairy.

The World Resources Institute estimates that a global reduction in animal protein consumption by 2050 would help us avoid 168 billion tons of food-related greenhouse gas emissions and feed the world’s growing population without further agricultural expansion.

Another recent study projected that a global shift to a vegan diet by 2050 could save 129 million human lives and trillions of dollars in health care costs.  

Adopting a plant-based diet is a simple, effective, and immediate action we can all take toward creating a healthy, sustainable world. Are you ready to get started? Our free 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program provides daily meal plans, recipes, and tips for adopting a healthy plant-based diet.

To find out more about the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, read the full report from the World Resources Institute here.


Prevention Over Pharmaceuticals

April 19, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   industry influence


The pressure is on in the pharmaceutical world, after Eli Lilly announced that its new cholesterol-lowering drug failed to prevent heart disease. The drug—which was pulled from clinical trials in October—had looked promising: It lowered patients’ LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, while boosting their HDL (“good”) cholesterol numbers. But as the trial went on, patients continued to suffer from heart attacks at the same rate as a placebo group.


The pharmaceutical industry has long been searching for a magic pill to halt heart attacks and cure heart disease. In fact, more Americans than ever before now take cholesterol-lowering drugs. Millions of lives and trillions of dollars later, heart disease remains our nation’s top killer.

So what’s the problem? While medications are sometimes necessary, our health care system’s approach to treating heart disease is upside down. When patients have high cholesterol, doctors are quick to search for a solution in a pill bottle. But many doctors never ask: Why is the patient’s cholesterol high in the first place? In most cases, the answer is a diet based on meat, dairy products, and eggs.
When we ignore diet and treat heart disease with medication alone, we might be able to mask symptoms here and there—like lowering blood pressure or cholesterol—but we fail to treat the underlying issues that caused the disease to begin with: years of damage caused by a diet rich in animal products.

Meat (including fish), dairy, and eggs are packed with fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. These substances damage our cardiovascular systems, clog our arteries, and increase cholesterol levels in the blood. On the other hand, diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol can prevent—and sometimes even reverse—heart disease.

In fact, studies show that a healthy diet and lifestyle can prevent up to 80 percent of all heart attacks—something no drug can accomplish.

Fortunately, the tide is starting to turn as more and more doctors recognize the power of prevention. Under the leadership of president Kim Williams, M.D.—who adopted a vegan diet in 2003 and lowered his own cholesterol—the American College of Cardiology is working to improve cardiovascular health with a renewed focus on prevention and nutrition.

Are you a physician, registered dietitian, nurse, or certified diabetes educator? At the Physicians Committee, we have all the resources you’ll need to emphasize prevention over pills. Our website NutritionCME offers free online continuing education to health care professionals interested in using nutrition for health promotion and disease prevention. You can also read about how the Barnard Medical Center embraces the power of food for health.



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