Dr. Barnard's Blog

The Physicians Committee

U.S. Soldiers Need to Slim Down

August 10, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   other


The Pentagon says soldiers need to slim down. So to fight the obesity epidemic, the Department of Defense will publish a new policy later this year to encourage troops to adopt a healthier lifestyle. A plant-based diet should be part of that plan.

Time and again, plant-based diets have proven best for weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. The Military Times even acknowledges that people on a vegan diet “eat more fruits and vegetables than omnivores, and higher consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with lower blood cholesterol, lower incidence of stroke and a lower risk of mortality from heart disease.”

The Physicians Committee’s own clinical trials with the GEICO insurance company have also shown the benefits of offering a low-fat, plant-based diet in the workplace: improvements in body weight, cholesterol levels, and, in individuals with diabetes, blood sugar control.

But instead of promoting plant-based diets to help troops fight obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, some members of Congress are trying to ban Meatless Mondays. This could actually exacerbate obesity. A recent study found that people who ate large quantities of protein and a small amount of carbohydrates were almost twice as likely to gain more than 10 percent of their body weight.

Perhaps the U.S. military should instead seek guidance on incorporating a plant-based menu from the Israeli army. Last year NPR reported that “the Israel Defense Forces ‘is currently working on creating a complete meal plan for vegan soldiers who serve on closed bases’” and that “soldiers will get extra plant-based products for breakfast and lunch.”

My colleagues and I can also help. The Pentagon should enroll troops in the Physicians Committee’s Food for Life Employee Wellness Program, which is based on our GEICO study. But in the meantime, I encourage service members to start a healthier lifestyle today by downloading our Vegetarian Starter Kit or joining our 21-Day Vegan Kickstart.

WATCH: Eat Like an Olympian with Vegan Ultra-Endurance Athlete Rich Roll

August 5, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   vegan


The 2016 Olympics may not officially kick off until tonight, but there is already a group of winners from Team USA! Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, beach volleyball gold-medal favorite April Ross, and weightlifter Kendrick Farris are a few of the growing number of American athletes powering their performances with plant-based foods.

More and more athletes are finding that a plant-based diet can easily provide all of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and yes—even protein—to fuel a medal-winning performance.

"I believe in the power of plant-based eating, and as an athlete, I always need to feel my best," says Venus Williams, who fuels her victories with green smoothies, brown rice, quinoa, tons of fresh vegetables, and even vegan pizza.

Australian sprinter Morgan Mitchell made the switch to a vegan diet two years before she made the trip to Rio—much to the dismay of her coaches and teammates. But after an initial learning curve, Morgan reports that she began to feel “lighter and cleaner” and her sprinting times immediately improved.

Curious about how it all works? This week, the Physicians Committee is teaming up with ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll, who was named one of the “25 Fittest Men in the World” by Men’s Fitness, to show how powerful plant-based nutrition is for athletes. Rich, fueled entirely by plants, is widely famed for being the first person to complete five Ironman-distance triathlons on five Hawaiian islands in less than a week.

In a new video, Rich joins the Physicians Committee’s Karen Smith, R.D.—the fastest Delaware woman to run the 2016 Boston Marathon—to talk about some of their favorite foods to fuel athletic performance.

Get the recipes for Rich’s Superfood Energy Balls, Veggie Burgers, One Bowls, and Epic5 Smoothies from Rich’s book The Plantpower Way.

Meat and Dairy Subsidies Make America Sick

July 22, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   dairy


Government food subsidies—including meat and dairy products—are damaging the health of Americans, according to a study just published in JAMA Internal Medicine. It’s a problem we’re working to fix.

The first study, conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University, found that “current federal agricultural subsidies focus on financing production of food commodities, a large portion of which are converted into high-fat meat and dairy products” and other items that increase the risk for cardiometabolic risks in American adults.

Researchers followed 10,308 American participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and measured the percentage of calories consumed from subsidized foods, body weight, blood pressure, inflammation measures, and cholesterol levels. Those who consumed the most subsidized foods, including high-fat meat and dairy products, were 41 percent and 21 percent more likely to be overweight and have elevated blood sugars, respectively.

It gets worse. Subsidized meat and dairy products can also lead to early death. In a related study, Harvard researchers found that eating more saturated fat—found primarily in animal products—was associated with increased risk of death.

Children’s health also pays a toll when meat and dairy producers profit. Last summer, our report “Who’s Making Money from Overweight Kids?” took a look at subsidies in school lunches. 

We found that in 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid more than $500 million to 62 meat and dairy producers for beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, dairy, eggs, and lamb that ended up in school meals.

So where are the subsidies for disease-fighting fruits and vegetable? They receive just a fraction of what goes to meat and dairy products. Maybe that’s why new USDA findings show that Americans are eating fewer fruits and vegetables than they were a decade ago.  

Congress is already starting discussions on the 2018 Farm Bill—which oversees subsidies—and we’ll be working to encourage the federal government to alter agricultural policies to address America’s diet-related chronic disease epidemics. 


Protect Against Prostate Cancer: Ditch Dairy and Other Tips

July 20, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   dairy, men's health, cancer


Metastatic prostate cancer cases are on the rise—up 72 percent in men ages 55 to 69 years old in the last decade—according to a new study in the journal Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases. Dietary changes can help reduce prostate cancer risk and prevent its progression if diagnosed. Here are a few simple steps men should take today:

1. Ditch dairy.

A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that total dairy product, total milk, low-fat milk, cheese, and dietary calcium intakes were associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer. According to a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, men who consumed three or more servings of dairy products a day had a 141 percent higher risk for death due to prostate cancer compared to those who consumed less than one serving. Both high- and low-fat dairy products were associated with increased mortality.

Learn more at MilkCausesProstateCancer.org.

2. Eliminate eggs.

A Harvard study found that men diagnosed with prostate cancer who ate the most eggs had a two-fold increased risk of cancer progression.

3. Protect with plants.

A plant-based diet can protect against prostate cancer. In a recent study, researchers compared several dietary patterns and cancer incidence rates for 26,346 participants. Men who followed a vegan diet experienced a 35 percent lower prostate cancer risk than those following a nonvegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, or semi-vegetarian diet.

Lycopene, part of the carotenoid family, is a pigment that helps give red fruits and vegetables their color and it's also one of the free radical-fighting antioxidants. In the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the authors concluded that consumption of tomato-based foods may be linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

Sense of Urgency

July 20, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   other


Every Physicians Committee doctor member and supporter is an agent of change. To read the stories of a few of them, check out the new summer issue of Good Medicine magazine. Here’s my editorial from the issue:

When we founded the Physicians Committee 31 years ago, the name "committee" fit pretty well. We were a small group of doctors determined to put prevention first, promote healthful diets, and tackle ethical issues in research.

We’ve grown a lot since then. Today, many thousands of doctors, along with other health care providers, scientists, and concerned citizens work with our 80-person staff to advance our cause.

And we’ve succeeded. The Physicians Committee eliminated the “meat group” in federal nutrition policy, put vegetarian diets front and center in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carried out human clinical research studies that have revolutionized the treatment of diabetes and other health problems, and provided the scientific data that has helped foster major reductions in meat and dairy consumption in the United States. We brought about the end of the use of animals in medical school curricula throughout the United States and Canada, were instrumental in ending the use of chimpanzees in medical research, revolutionized chemical testing legislation to favor nonanimal methods, and stopped many cruel animal experiments.

What drives these doctors and the work they do?

A sense of urgency. Americans now eat 1 million animals every hour, leading to epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems, not to mention the massive abuse of animals and environmental destruction. The United States research enterprise continues to favor pharmaceutical development, at the expense of critically needed studies addressing the nutritional causes of disease. And although many people are changing their diets and revolutionizing their health, many others still have no access to the information they need. 

Each of these problems is urgent. And our ever-growing team is committed to tackling them.


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