Dr. Barnard's Blog

The Physicians Committee

Five Ways to Fight the 'Christmas Coronary'

December 16, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   heart disease


It may be the "most wonderful" time of the year--but it's also the most dangerous time of the year. Have you heard of the "Christmas Coronary"? There is a two-week spike in cardiac deaths between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7. But there are steps you can take now to keep your heart healthy this holiday season and into 2017 and beyond.

  1. Hold the Holiday Ham. Processed meats--like holiday hams and "gift" baskets packed with sausage and pepperoni--are dangerous to your heart. Just 50 grams of processed meat a day--about a slice or two of ham--increases the risk for death from heart disease by 24 percent, not to mention its effect on colon cancer risk.
  2. Empty the Egg Nog. Traditional egg nog is loaded with eggs and high-fat dairy products. People who consume the most eggs can increase their risk for heart disease by 19 percent. For people with diabetes, the risk for developing heart disease from eating eggs can increase by 83 percent. The dairy in egg nog is equally dangerous. One study found that for each glass of milk consumed per day, the risk of dying from heart disease increased.
  3. Chuck the Cheese Ball. Cheese is the No. 1 source of saturated fat in the American diet and can increase the risk of early death from heart disease. Cheese is also a leading source of sodium and has as much cholesterol--ounce per ounce--as steak, raising the risk for heart disease.
  4. Prepare a Plant-Based Plate. A recent study found that those following a plant-based diet had lower mortality rates from heart disease, compared to omnivores. Try our holiday menus.
  5. Kickstart Your New Year. Sign-up for the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart that begins Jan. 1.

USDA: Dump Surplus Cheese on Sens. Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton

December 8, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   dairy


Yesterday, members of Congress voted on Texas queso (melted cheese) versus Arkansas cheese dip (Arkansas “won”). Finally, a solution for what the U.S. Department of Agriculture should do with its millions of pounds of surplus cheese: Dump it on Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, the cheese-obsessed senators who started the cheesy rivalry. It’s better than the USDA’s current plan to distribute the disease-causing stuff to federal food programs.


I say let these cheese-loving members of Congress foot the USDA’s $20 million cheese bill. But as a physician, I have to warn them: Typical cheeses are 70 percent fat and are among the foods highest in cholesterol and sodium, exacerbating obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.


The USDA could then take that $20 million and purchase more fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains that will help keep federal food program participants healthy. If you agree, sign our petition telling the USDA not to dump fatty cheese into federal food programs.


Our New Web Series: The Exam Room—Healthy Holidays

November 18, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   weight loss


Are you worried about staying healthy during the holiday season? Need inspiration for tasty plant-based recipes that will have your family reaching for the Brussels sprouts and butternut squash? Our doctors and dietitians are here to help!

We’re discussing all things Thanksgiving this week on The Exam Room, our new web-based talk show where Physicians Committee and Barnard Medical Center doctors, dietitians, and scientists provide lively insight and opinion on trending nutrition and science topics that matter to you. Stay tuned for upcoming episodes on gut bacteria and hospital food reform. In the meantime, check out our first episode below:

Try out the recipes we mentioned in the video:
Vegan Lentil Cranberry Walnut Loaf with Cranberry Chutney
Sweet Potato Casserole
Vegan Pumpkin Pie
Butternut Squash Soup

For more recipes, check out our plant-based Thanksgiving menu. Happy Thanksgiving!

Studies Link Eggs to Stroke, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cancer

November 2, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   cholesterol


Don’t put your health at risk by following the findings of a new American Egg Board-funded study that suggests eating eggs reduces stroke risk. Eggs can actually increase stroke risk (more on that below).

Industry-funded studies like this can mysteriously fail to reveal the health dangers that unbiased studies uncover. Just this week, Reuters reported that in an analysis of 60 studies looking at the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity or diabetes, 100 percent of those that failed to find a link were industry-funded. Of the 34 studies that found a connection, only one was industry-funded.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some studies that have found eggs can actually increase stroke risk, as well as the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

In a study published in the journal Stroke, researchers followed the diets of 11,601 participants from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study and monitored protein sources and stroke incidence rates. Those who consumed the most eggs had a 41 percent increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke, compared with those who consumed the least.

Diabetes and Heart Disease
Eggs also increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, according to a meta-analysis published in Atherosclerosis. Researchers reviewed 14 studies and found that those who consumed the most eggs had a 19 and 68 percent increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes, respectively, compared with those who ate the fewest eggs. For those who already had diabetes, the risk for developing heart disease from eating the most eggs jumped by 83 percent.

Another study published in Atherosclerosis found that participants who ate the most eggs, compared with those who ate the least, had 80 percent higher coronary artery calcium scores, a measure of heart disease risk. And a meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming three or more eggs per week increases an American's risk for type 2 diabetes.

Prostate Cancer
Eating eggs has also been linked prostate cancer by a National Institutes of Health-funded study. By consuming 2.5 eggs per week, men increased their risk for a deadly form of prostate cancer by 81 percent, compared with men who consumed less than half an egg per week.

Learn more about the dangers of eggs at TheTruthAboutEggs.org.

Five Frightful Facts About Cheese

October 28, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   dairy


Vampires and goblins outside your house? Pretty tame stuff compared to what’s inside. Slice open a pack of blue cheese. That yucky stinky feet aroma happens to come from brevibacteria—exactly the same bugs that cause—you guessed it—stinky feet. Or how about the faintly vomit-like smell of parmesan? It comes from butyric acid, the same compound that lends its odor to—yes, you guessed it again. And cheese also contains skatole, a compound that imparts some of the stinky scent of human waste—that’s waste as in number two.

Yuck, you say, and rightly so.

But I’m telling you this for a reason. Halloween and the autumn months that follow are when Americans gain weight faster than at any other time of year. Halloween candy is part of it. But most of our collective weight gain comes from cheese, meat, and other fatty foods.

From cheesy pizzas to gooey dishes of macaroni and cheese, cheese is one of the most pervasive foods in American culture. In fact, the United States now produces 11.8 billion pounds of cheese every year, and Americans’ cheese consumption—and cholesterol levels—are skyrocketing as a result.

Here are five scary stats about cheese:

1) Cheese gets its smell from the same bacteria found in unwashed feet and body odor. During the process of fermentation, cheesemakers add different types of bacteria to milk to produce distinct flavors and smells. To produce Munster, Limburger, and several other cheeses, cheesemakers add brevibacteria—the exact same bacterial species that lives on your feet, while other cheese cultures include Staphylococcus epidermidis—the bacteria responsible for human body odor. On top of that, the cheese-making process produces butyric acid—the same compound produced by your stomach acid during digestion, which gives human vomit its distinct smell.

2) Cheese is one of the most heavily processed foods you’ll find. Don’t let the advertisements fool you. Dairy products are often erroneously touted as “nature’s perfect food,” but there’s nothing natural about cheese. To make cheese, cow’s milk is pasteurized, fermented by bacteria, coagulated with enzymes, separated into solids, salted, and aged. Then it might be baked onto a pizza, stuffed into a casserole, or sprinkled over tacos, before being baked and salted again.

3) Dairy crack? After downing one slice of cheesy pizza, why is it so hard to stop there? Evolutionarily, it makes sense: We’re wired to seek out food sources that are high in fat and calories and that contain salt—a compound that was once hard to come by. On top of that, cheese contains mild opiate-like compounds called casomorphins, which attach to the same brain receptors as addictive drugs. Like other opiates, when casomorphins attach to these receptors, the brain releases dopamine, leading to a sense of reward and pleasure. This system works well to ensure that growing calves want to eat, but for humans, it’s a recipe for weight gain and health problems.

4) The government actively encourages your cheese addiction. In the Dietary Guidelines, the U.S. government notes that most people consume far too much saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and encourages Americans to cut back to improve their health. But when it comes to cheese—a top source of all three overconsumed nutrients—is the government practicing what it preaches? The U.S. government accepts about $140 million per year from the cheese industry, which it then pumps into Dairy Management Inc.—a corporation overseen by the USDA whose function is to boost milk sales. DMI spends millions of taxpayer dollars working with fast-food chains to develop cheesy, high-fat menu items and promote them to the American public. Wendy’s Cheddar-Lover’s Bacon Cheeseburger and Pizza Hut’s Ultimate Cheese Pizza—which features an entire pound of cheese in a single serving—are just two examples of DMI and taxpayer money at work.

5) The average American eats 33 pounds of cheese per year. That adds up to more than 60,000 calories per person—mostly in the form of saturated fat. In fact, cheese is the No. 1 source of saturated fat in the American diet. It’s the type of “bad” fat responsible for raising cholesterol levels and increasing the risk for heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Dairy protein, which is even more concentrated in cheese, has been linked to allergies, asthma, migraines, arthritis, psoriasis, tendonitis, acne, digestion problems, and more.

Read more about the dangers of dairy products here. For more on cheese, check out my new book, The Cheese Trap this February.  



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