Fast food is causing the dementia boom—and it’s projected to get worse. Almost 3.8 million people 71 or older have dementia, according to a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. The rise in Alzheimer’s is partly due to the aging of baby boomers. But there is another reason. When these senior citizens were teenyboppers, the fast-food craze was just taking off: The first KFC franchise opened in 1952, the first Burger King in 1954, and the first McDonald’s and Dunkin’s Donuts in 1955. As these foods caught on, America’s meat and cheese intake soared. Today’s dementia boom can be attributed to the saturated fats and trans fats that began inundating the American diet with the rise of fast food. Saturated fats—in Big Macs, fried chicken, and other meat and dairy products—appear to encourage the production of beta-amyloid plaques within the brain. The Chicago Health and Aging Study reported in the Archives of Neurology in 2003 that people consuming the most saturated fat had more than triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared with people who generally avoided these foods. Trans fats, found in doughnuts, snack pastries, and often in french fries, have been shown to increase Alzheimer’s risk more than fivefold. These “bad fats” raise cholesterol levels and apparently increase production of the beta-amyloid protein that collects in plaques in the brain as Alzheimer’s disease begins. There’s no sign that fast-food restaurants will stop slash-and-burn growth tactics. Today, McDonald’s has more than 34,000 restaurants in 119 countries. While McDonald’s and other fast-food corporations make billions, they leave Americans paying a huge health toll. The total cost of dementia in 2010 was $215 billion. By 2040, 9.1 million people in America alone will suffer from dementia and it will cost the country $511 billion. Now that generations have been raised on Whoppers and glazed donuts, what can we do? Put down the fast food, as well as other sources of meaty, cheesy, fat-laden fare. People who generally avoid saturated and trans fats—skipping the cheese, bacon, and doughnuts—have had remarkably low rates of Alzheimer’s disease in research studies. Alzheimer’s is incurable. But there’s time for the Millennial Generation—and even Baby Boomers—to halt it before it starts.
Imagine how a key works with a lock. If the lock is jammed with gum, the key won't work. Diabetes occurs when fat—from cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and other junk foods—gums up cells. That fat stops insulin from moving sugar out of the blood and into muscle, fat, and liver cells—where it’s needed. It also increases the risk of heart disease, amputations, and blindness. There’s a simple way to treat the 100 million Americans who suffer from diabetes and prediabetes. And it doesn’t come in a syringe or pill bottle. My NIH-funded clinical research proves that a low-fat plant-based diet is the way to prevent and reverse diabetes. I recently spoke at a TEDx conference about the diabetes dilemma and how we can fight it in the United States and stop exporting it overseas. Take a look:
A total of 30 people in 19 states have been infected with salmonella in recent days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The finger is being pointed at peanut butter, specifically from New Mexico nut producer Sunland Inc.
But wait a minute.
Salmonella are intestinal bacteria. And one of the nicest features about peanuts is the fact that they have no intestine. So where are the bugs coming from? Salmonella, like E. coli, are usually transmitted to humans in traces of animal feces that contaminate hands, food-preparation surfaces, and other foods handled in the same area. So the original source of salmonella is a farm raising chickens, cows, or other animals. And peanuts are an innocent bystander.
Widespread use of antibiotics in livestock operations can give rise to resistant bacteria such as salmonella. Through contact with farm workers and contaminated waste runoff, resistant bacteria can spread to humans and to other animals, as well as kitchen counters and grocery store shelves. Bacteria can also transfer resistance traits to other strains and classes of bacteria.
Salmonella and other foodborne outbreaks caused by the meat industry have become dangerous trend. A 2011 independent survey of foodborne illness due to antimicrobial-resistant bacteria found the number of outbreaks has increased each year since 1970, and 40 percent of outbreaks occurred between 2000 and 2010. The resistant bacteria responsible were mostly strains of salmonellae—28 of 35 outbreaks. These outbreaks were responsible for 19,897 infections, which lead to 3,061 hospitalizations and 26 deaths. Following a plant-based diet reduces the number of animals on farms, thereby reducing the threat of foodborne illness. Vegetarian diets also help lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.
The dairy product industry has been milking school lunches for profit since the National School Lunch Program was introduced more than a half century ago. The federal government spends more money on dairy products than any other food item in the school lunch program. But it’s time to get milk out of school lunches. Abundant research shows milk does not improve bone health and is the biggest source of saturated (“bad”) fat in the diet—the very fat that Dietary Guidelines push us to avoid. So PCRM recently petitioned the USDA to stop requiring milk in school lunches.
The nutritional rationale for including milk in school meal programs was based primarily on its calcium content. Milk was presumed to promote bone health and integrity. Time and again, this has proven false. Milk-drinking children do not have stronger bones than children who get their calcium from other foods.
A study published by the American Medical Association in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine this year showed that active children who consume the largest quantities of milk have more bone fractures than those who consume less. This was not surprising. Prior studies show that milk consumption does not improve bone health or reduce the risk of osteoporosis and actually creates other health risks.
Milk is the number one source of saturated fat in children’s diets. One in eight Americans is lactose intolerant. More than 1 million U.S. children struggle with milk allergies, the second most common food allergy. And milk also contains sugar in the form of lactose, animal growth factors, and occasional drugs and contaminants.
Calcium is an essential nutrient. But if children get calcium from milk, they miss the beta-carotene, iron, and fiber in vegetables. Children can get all the calcium they need from nondairy sources such as beans, tofu, broccoli, kale, collard greens, breads, cereals, and nondairy, calcium-fortified beverages, without any of the health detriments associated with dairy product consumption.
In this video, I explain more about eating for healthy bones:
Times have changed. So should school lunches. To safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s schoolchildren, the USDA should issue a report to Congress recommending that Congress amend the National School Lunch Act to exclude milk as a required component of meals under the National School Lunch Program. To learn more about the dangers of milk and other dairy products, visit PCRM.org/Health.
Is beef safe? That’s the question Americans are asking again after a new case of mad cow disease was confirmed in the United States this week. The answer is clearly no, beef is not safe. But the threat of mad cow disease isn’t the only reason. Not by a long shot.
Mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) is a fatal central nervous system disease. The latest case was found in a dairy cow in a random U.S. Department of Agriculture test of dead farm animals in California. Alive, the cow showed no signs of BSE. Affected cows often show increased apprehension, poor coordination, difficulties in walking, and weight loss.
In this case, it’s a wonder that the disease was detected at all. The agency conducts BSE tests on only 0.1 percent of cows, or about 40,000 of the 34 million cattle slaughtered each year.
There is strong scientific evidence that the agent responsible for BSE is the same agent responsible for Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human form of mad cow disease. But there are many other equally compelling reasons to steer clear of meat. Meaty diets harbor enough saturated fat and cholesterol to bring on a heart attack. They are also linked to cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
A switch to chicken or fish does very little to reduce risk. But plant-based diets—loaded with vegetables, fruit, grains, and legumes—can help prevent and reverse all of these diseases. That’s right. There is no “mad kale” disease.