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The Physicians Committee

Fecal Chunks in Pork: The Other Contaminated Meat

September 20, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   animal products


The USDA is moving forward with its plan to cut the number of meat inspectors at pig slaughterhouses nationwide, despite reports of increased fecal contamination from facilities currently testing the program. Similar guidelines are currently in place at dozens of chicken processing plants, resulting in fewer inspectors examining a greater number of carcasses at faster speeds for visible fecal matter.

Physicians Committee Five Worst Contaminants in Chicken Inforgraphic

The new pork inspection pilot programs have exhibited substandard health monitoring with a greater incidence of fecal contamination in meat products. It doesn’t take a safety inspector to know that feces harbors a number of potentially dangerous bacteria, including both E. coli and listeria.

The Physicians Committee has previously examined the various contaminants in chicken and found the results alarming. Please see the infographic (click to enlarge) for more details on the Five Worst Contaminants in Chicken.

Considering all the health and safety risks, the best course of action for consumers is to leave the meat on the grocery shelves. (And sanitize your shopping cart while you’re at it.) Pick up a box of lentils instead and make a spicy curry or some hearty lentils burgers. Your cholesterol (and your unscathed intestines) will thank you.

And if neither nutrition nor foodborne illness is enough to set off your alarm bells, here’s a quote out of yesterday’s Washington Post from a representative of the inspectors union: “Tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses… Not small bits, but chunks.”

World Alzheimer’s Day 2013: Who Takes Care of the Caregivers?

September 19, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   Alzheimer's disease


Imagine you’re on an airplane. Your child is in the seat on your left. Your aging mother on your right. The plane hits some turbulence. You jostle in your seat. The plane hits significantly more turbulence, and the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. You slip on your mask, as instructed. But then you look from your child to your mother, wondering which one to help first. Nearly half of adults in the United States are in a parallel situation every day. They’re called the “Sandwich Generation.” These are moms and dads who are also caring for their moms and dads, many with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Between their children and their parents, these family caregivers carry the weight of their world on their shoulders. So which one do you help first? Actually, you can help both at the same time. A simple diet change helps the whole family. With this Saturday being World Alzheimer’s Day, it’s crucial for everyone—especially these sandwiched caregivers—to stop and think of how they can keep themselves from being another statistic in a world with rapidly increasing dementia rates, expected to nearly double every 20 years. This past summer, the Physicians Committee hosted our first International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain. We identified seven lifestyle changes that can not only help prevent Alzheimer’s, but are also good for the heart. One of the best ways to boost brain power, prevent memory loss, and ward off Alzheimer’s is eating a diet rich in low fat, plant-based foods. It’s never too early or too late to focus on prevention and nutrition by utilizing the Dietary Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention. Vegan diets are beneficial to both children and seniors and can help keep caregivers strong and focused as they navigate often harsh skies. Everyday Health put together a wonderful infographic showing just how easy these seven steps are: 7 Ways to Cut Your Alzheimer's Disease Risk Once they are put into practice, these guidelines will help everyone from grade-schoolers to great-grandparents. And for the family caregivers, it’s extra important not to lose sight of your own health and to follow these steps toward Alzheimer’s prevention. Take a moment to put your oxygen mask on first, steer clear of meat and cheese, and breathe.

Healthful Fish Is a Myth

August 13, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   animal products


Terri MacLeod of Access Hollywood and I recently discussed just how toxic fish can be. Since there are many myths about fish being healthful, I want to share Ms. MacLeod’s column on bad fats and fish:

Healthy Hollywood is still reeling over the idea that fish might not be the best thing for your diet.

After years of eating and loving fish, I was in shock when vegan guru and author of “Power Foods For The Brain,” Dr. Neal Barnard, compared fish to a “low tar cigarette.”

My love of fish just went up in smoke!

Healthy Hollywood met up with Dr. Barnard at the “Nutrition and Brain” summit held recently in Washington, D.C. where I was having breakfast with him and chatting about my favorite subject - “healthy/healing” nutrition. Then, his head-spinning proclamation about fish suddenly capsized my appetite for all things from sea.

“Many people have gotten the idea they should be eating fish and fish you could say maybe a better choice than beef. Fish is somewhat lower in fat, depending on how it’s prepared, and the fats are more of the goods fats, which are the omega-3’s, but and this is a big ‘BUT’…,” exclaimed Dr. Barnard.

Dr. Barnard favors a vegan/plant-based diet in order to achieve optimal health and decrease one’s risk for dementia. But, even Dr. Oz, was shocked when Dr. Barnard declared fish a diet don’t on his show back in March 2013. “As group, people who eat fish have more weight problems and have a higher risk of diabetes, compared with people who skip animal products altogether,” he declared to Healthy Hollywood.

In addition, all that hype about good fats in fish, like salmon, is another bottom-feeder, according to Dr. Barnard, who goes on to explain that 40% of salmon is fat and that 70 to 80% of that fat is not good for us. “Most of the fat in fish is not omega-3’s and it doesn’t do your body any good.”

Or, does it do any good for your waistline. “Every gram of fat is 9 calories. And, you don’t have to do a lot of math before you realize I’m not going to lose any weight if I’m eating salmon. Doctors will say that’s the point, ‘it is fatty fish’ and you want the fish for the good fat, but what they’re not realizing is only a tiny fraction of it is good fish. So, I wouldn’t go there,” explain Dr. Barnard.

Besides, the bad fat, fish can also be toxic, with dangerous levels of mercury and other pollutants, adding, “Keep in mind where fish are from. They live in what has become a kind of human sewer – the oceans and waterways.”

So, whether you take Dr. Barnard’s bait is up to you, but he insists it’s good to keep the dialogue going on our food system and keep in mind we are what we eat.


Plant-Based Prescription for Blocked Arteries

August 6, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   heart disease


Former President George W. Bush’s prognosis is good following his surgery to open a blocked artery, and we wish him a quick recovery. If there is a silver lining to a public figure’s health struggle, it is that it brings a serious issue back into public awareness. What people need to know is that heart disease is not caused by age or genes for the most part. Rather, it comes from things we can control, with meaty diets and smoking at the top of the list. In America, where meat-heavy diets are the norm, the disease begins in childhood, gradually narrowing arteries to the heart and other parts of the body. Narrowed arteries eventually lead to chest pain, lower back pain, erectile dysfunction, and finally to heart attacks and strokes. But the disease can be stopped—and even reversed. Doing that requires more than a switch from beef to chicken with a side of Lipitor. The best medicine for the heart is a plant-based diet. With no cholesterol or animal fat, a vegan diet is a prescription that helps the arteries begin to reopen. In 2010, former President Bill Clinton received two stents. Following his surgery he adopted a low-fat plant-based diet and turned his heart health around. And there are countless other people from all walks of life who are having similar success using a plant-based diet to fight heart disease, diabetes, and health conditions If you or someone you know could use a few tips on how to put the power of healthy eating to work, please visit PCRM.org/Health.

Boy Scouts: Offer Vegan Badge, Not Ban

July 23, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   children's health


The Boy Scouts of America banned overweight scouts from this month’s 2013 Jamboree. Their intention was to encourage the scouts to lose weight and shape up before the Jamboree—where the boys enjoy outdoor activities and learn new skills. But banning overweight kids is a mistake. They are exactly the kids who need guidance and support.

I was an Eagle Scout myself, and I remember how supportive scouting can be. But too often the organization gets the wrong end of the stick—or in this case, the fork. Instead of being banished, overweight scouts should be encouraged to come to camp and get lessons on healthful nutrition and cooking. They should be taught that the healthiest foods are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. They should learn that overweight comes, not from a lack of exercise, but from meaty, cheesy, sugar-laden diets. Given the chance to prepare and taste healthful foods, it could change their lives.

The potential benefits go beyond slimming down. New research from Thomas Jefferson University shows that the percentage of boys in the United States ages 8 to 17 with high blood pressure has increased from 15.8 to 19.2 percent. Girls also saw an increase. And according to a study published this month in JAMA, teens’ risk of developing hardened plaque in their arteries increases 2 to 4 percent each year they are obese. Healthier foods could prevent and reverse these problems.

It’s unfair for scout leaders to serve bacon and eggs in the mess hall and hot dogs around the campfire, and then blame scouts for being overweight. Instead they should send a clear message that a nutritious diet is part of an overall healthful lifestyle.

So let’s not ban kids who are having trouble. Instead, why not award a special merit badge to every scout who learns and practices the basics of vegan nutrition? These kids will save their own lives, and many more as well.


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