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The Physicians Committee

Clowning Around Won’t Save the Laughable Menu at McDonald’s

June 18, 2014   Dr. Neal Barnard   fast food


Ronald McDonald just got a makeover. He’s still a clown hawking junk food, but now he’s dressed up in a blazer and bow tie instead of a jumpsuit. As McDonald’s sales and share values keep going down, it’s pulling out every trick in the book to pump up sales. Rather than improve its product, McDonald’s has kept its menu as stale and deadly as ever. McDonald’s cheeseburger Happy Meal comes with 20 grams of fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, and a whopping 880 milligrams of sodium. Worst of all, it is marketed to children. Instead of an updated Happy Meal mascot, McDonald’s should get with the times and offer a veggie burger kids meal.

McDonald's new mascot. (Screenshot from Twitter.)


More and more fast food outlets are offering vegetarian and vegan options because that is what customers are asking for. Chipotle launched the vegan Sofritas nationwide earlier this year, and profits during its first quarter skyrocketed 24 percent. Subway released a falafel sandwich in select locations and is now rolling out a hummus spread for its sandwiches. TCBY has added coconut- and almond-based vegan fro-yo flavors to its menu. Plant-based fast food outlets are also expanding nationwide. Native Foods Café, a fast-casual plant-based chain, has received a $15 million investment toward its goal of reaching 200 restaurants coast-to-coast in the next five years. Hopefully McDonald’s gives consumers a little credit. A healthful menu overhaul is the way to bring back business. But a clown in a bow tie taking selfies? That’s just silly.

Nutrition is Actually the Sweetest Thing

May 30, 2014   Dr. Neal Barnard   dairy


A recent report from the Environmental Working Group highlights the top sugar-laden cereals. Honey Smacks dominated the list with 15 grams of sugar per serving. While it’s fashionable these days to attack sugary cereals, sugar is hardly the most dangerous thing in your breakfast bowl. That dubious distinction goes to the milk.

For starters, milk itself is high in sugar. While the top five cereals on EWG’s list all had between 14 and 15 grams of sugar per serving, milk was nearly as high with 12 grams of sugar in a cup of skim milk. One cup of chocolate milk has almost 24 grams of sugar.


What is considerably more worrisome is the fact that milk is linked with cancer—particularly prostate cancer. In international comparisons and in several prospective studies, men consuming the most milk had a substantially higher risk of prostate cancer, apparently due to milk’s effects on male hormones.

You don’t need milk. Studies show that milk does not actually help build strong bones, and the protein in milk can easily be obtained from other sources. One cup of oatmeal has 5.5 grams of protein—as well as 4 grams of fiber. Quinoa also makes an excellent breakfast, and one cup of quinoa contains has 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Making a few servings of quinoa or a pot of oatmeal, and then sticking them in the refrigerator, makes them as easy as cold cereal on a frenzied morning.

And you can sweeten them both with fruit and a little bit of agave if you’re so inclined. Ditch the milk, and we’ll all be better off in the long run.

KFC’s Double Down is a Nutritional Russian Roulette

May 19, 2014   Dr. Neal Barnard   fast food


While KFC in India is launching a “So Veg So Good” marketing campaign, KFC locations in the United States have resurrected one of its least healthful menu items to date—the Double Down.


This sandwich features bacon, cheese, and sauce crammed between two breaded chicken filets. The Physicians Committee has upped the ante by issuing KFC a SICK Award for gambling with customers’ health. The Original Recipe Double Down contains 540 calories, 32 grams of fat, and 1,380 milligrams of sodium. As evidenced in a new report, the extreme amounts of cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium in the Double Down can lead to heart disease and hypertension. During the sandwich’s initial 2010 launch, Physicians Committee dietitians wrote to David C. Novak, chairman of Yum! Brands, Inc., the company that owns KFC, requesting that the item receive a warning label regarding the high fat content.


When it comes to taking risks with your well-being, there is a 0.0007 percent chance of dying while skydiving. However, one in every four deaths is caused by heart disease, and more than 30 percent of Americans obese. Those are some poor odds. Health-conscious customers can tweet their concerns @KFC on Twitter.

JLo Goes Vegan: An Inside Look Into the Surging Popularity of Plant-Based Diets

May 13, 2014   Susan Levin M.S. R.D. C.S.S.D.   vegan


Guest Blog by Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. Jennifer Lopez is the latest celebrity to adopt a healthful vegan diet. We’re rooting for JLo and look forward to seeing her plant-powered performances on her next tour! Vegan diets conjennifer-lopez-vegantinue to surge in popularity and for good reason. Studies show people who adopt a plant-heavy diet are at reduced risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Other benefits include an increased lifespan and improvements in skin complexion, mood, and memory. Hollywood’s A-list health champions are living proof: Anne Hathaway, Beyoncé, Jay Z, Ellen DeGeneres, and Carrie Underwood are some of Tinseltown’s biggest stars who continue to tout the health benefits of a colorful plant-based diet. Need a case study? Actress Michelle Pfeiffer lowered her cholesterol by 83 points, former president Bill Clinton lost 30 pounds and revamped his heart health, and actor Samuel L. Jackson lost 40 pounds after switching to a low-fat vegan diet. Al Gore may be the next success story: The former vice president, who announced his vegan diet earlier this year, for environmental and health reasons, has lost 50 pounds. These aren’t the only New Yorker residents who are seeing results: An elementary school in the Bronx recently adopted a plant-based menu, and within a year the students’ overall attendance improved, BMIs dropped, and test scores soared to an all-time high. The good news? The students enjoy the food: Some of the most popular menu items are spiced chickpeas, salad bars with broccoli trees, and fresh mango slices. GEICO took a similar approach with employees in 2008 and offered plant-based options in workplace cafeterias, provided cooking demos for staff, and then made reference to a vegan diet in their famous “Happier than an Antelope” TV ad in 2012. This growing phenomenon could explain why a recent Technomic survey finds kale-based options have increased 400 percent on restaurant menus over the past five years. Vegan options and quick grabs, which range from a simple black bean burrito bowl at Chipotle to a macrobiotic bowl with sea vegetables at Café Gratitude, dominate menus nationwide. As our palates revert back to the healthy basics and as plant-based options continue to expand throughout K-12 schools, hospitals, workplace cafeterias, restaurants, grocery stores, U.S. airports, and on Hollywood screens, I hope to see the health of our next generation rapidly improve. Want to test-drive a vegan diet or create your own success story? Visit 21DayKickstart.org.

Get Omega-3s with Ease

May 12, 2014   Dr. Neal Barnard   other


While many people believe that eating fish is necessary to get omega-3 fatty acids and maintain heart and brain health, there is absolutely nothing healthful about fish.

Recent research has even debunked the age-old myth that Eskimos, who ate diets heavy in fish, had a lower risk for heart disease. Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based sources of omega-3s.

So what do we know about omega-3s?

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary nutrients that cannot be synthesized by the body, so we need to get them from our food. Since omega-3s do help with cell function, a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can result in negative health consequences such as liver and kidney abnormalities, decreased immune function, or dry skin.

While some studies show that omega-3s might help with aging or brain health, omega-3s from fish or other animal products come with some unwanted side effects.

Fish contains toxic contaminants, and all animal products contain cholesterol and saturated fat—and have no fiber, an essential nutrient for digestion, cancer prevention, and weight loss. In my piece for the Huffington Post, I summarize some of the research debunking the health halo of fish oil supplements.  Fast food companies have also jumped in on the popularity of fish during Lent, but don’t take the bait—fish is not a health food.

Even if omega-3s are not the fountain of youth, plant sources of omega-3s are full of fiber and rich in other nutrients. Edamame and walnuts contain omega-3s and also contain protein. Winter squash is packed with omega-3s and is also a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C.

Flaxseeds are easy to incorporate into baked goods, smoothies, and a whole variety of recipes. Research has even shown that women who follow vegan diets have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood than those who consume diets rich in fish, meat, and dairy.

Friends or family have questions about omega-3s? Just share the infographic below!



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