Dr. Barnard's Blog

The Physicians Committee

White Lies? Five Milk Myths Debunked

February 11, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Last month, a study was called into question for suggesting that chocolate milk could be beneficial for teens recovering from concussions. Not surprisingly, the study was funded by the dairy industry. For decades, milk marketers have been spreading misleading information about the supposed health benefits of dairy products.


Thanks to these marketing campaigns, milk myths abound in our culture. But science doesn’t support them. Let’s take a look at five common claims about dairy products:

Myth 1: Milk builds strong bones.

The dairy and bone health link is one of the most pervasive milk myths. One large-scale Harvard study followed 72,000 women for two decades and found no evidence that drinking milk can prevent bone fractures or osteoporosis. Another study of more than 96,000 people found that the more milk men consumed as teenagers, the more bone fractures they experience as adults. Similarly, another study found that adolescent girls who consumed the most calcium, mostly in the form of dairy products, were at greater risk for stress fractures than those consuming less calcium.

Myth 2: Drinking milk can help you lose weight.

While advertisers would like you to believe that drinking milk can slim you down, studies consistently show that dairy products offer zero benefits for weight control. One major study even found that dairy products might lead to weight gain. In 2005, the Physicians Committee petitioned the FTC to put an immediate end to the dairy industry’s misleading campaigns about milk and weight control. In response, the government no longer allows advertising campaigns to claim that dairy products lead to weight loss.


Myth 3: Milk is “nature’s perfect food.”

Cow’s milk might be ideal for growing baby cows, but it’s far from a perfect food for humans. More than 60 percent of people are lactose intolerant, which can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like cramping, diarrhea, and bloating. Regular consumption of dairy products has also been linked to prostate cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Myth 4: Kids need milk to be healthy.

After babies are weaned from breast milk or formula, they do not need any type of milk to be healthy. Milk consumption during childhood has even been linked to colic and type 1 diabetes. Another study found no evidence that low-fat milk plays any role in preventing childhood obesity.

Myth 5: Milk is heart-healthy.

Milk and other dairy products are the top sources of artery-clogging saturated fat in the American diet. Milk products also contain dietary cholesterol. Diets high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease, which remains America’s top killer.



The Negative Calorie Effect

February 8, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Are there “negative-calorie” foods—foods that burn more calories than they provide? Some Web sites would like you to believe that celery, carrots, or beets fit that bill. But the fact is, none of these foods actually burns more calories than it provides.

And you don’t need them. Scientific studies show that there is actually something better: foods that give you the energy and nutrition you need, while helping you trim away excess weight.


Let me describe a study conducted by our research team that showed the remarkable power certain foods have. Our participants were women who had been wrestling with weight problems for years. Many reported that their metabolisms seemed very slow. One said, “When I was young I could eat anything, but nowadays I gain weight just by looking at food!”

And it’s true: for many people, metabolism does slow over time. We know that because we can measure it. Arriving at our laboratory early in the morning, we fitted each participant with a special device that sampled the air she inhaled and exhaled. With some simple calculations that told us her calorie-burning speed.

Once her metabolism was measured, each participant then ate breakfast. Immediately, her metabolism picked up. As she absorbed the nutrients from the foods she ate, her metabolism rose and stayed higher than it had been for several hours. That’s normal.

But then, each participant began a low-fat plant-based diet. No meat, no dairy, no eggs, and keeping oils to a minimum. Fourteen weeks later, the participants came back to the laboratory and had their metabolisms measured again. And we found that the average after-meal metabolism was now 16 percent higher than before. That might not sound like much. But if you get that extra boost three times a day, the calorie burning adds up. In other words, a low-fat plant-based gives you a weight-control edge.

You can think of this as a “negative-calorie effect.” It does not mean that foods have no calories, or less than zero calories. Rather, it is a “calorie-subtracting” effect. The foods you eat have calories and healthful nutrients, and some of those calories power your body, while others are simply lost as body heat.

Watch Dr. Barnard discuss the link between diet and metabolism on The Dr. Oz Show: http://www.doctoroz.com/episode/negative-calorie-foods-why-people-think-they-can-chew-their-way-thin.


For extra credit, tweet photos of your favorite plant-based meals to @PCRM with #PlantBasedRx and let us know what you think.  


Does Obama’s “Cancer Moonshot” Miss the Mark?

January 28, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama launched a “moonshot” to cure cancer. Today, he took the first step by creating a cancer task force.

A serious, concerted effort to conquer cancer is a noble goal. But while the initial plan references breakthrough research, new therapies, and cutting-edge technology, it misses something important: We already have knowledge at our fingertips that can often halt it before it even begins.


It’s not just wishful thinking. Research shows that applying knowledge we already have about diet and lifestyle could prevent about half of all cancer cases. A healthful plant-based diet filled with fiber has shown to be protective against certain types of cancer, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.

We know without a doubt that certain foods are linked to cancer. Late last year, the World Health Organization listed processed meat products alongside tobacco on a list of known human carcinogens. Published in Lancet Oncology, the WHO report compiled data from 800 studies and found strong evidence of the cancer-causing properties of processed meats. One meta-analysis in the study shows that just one daily serving of processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

Yet, in spite of this knowledge, we still dish out pepperoni pizza to our children on the school lunch line, we serve hot dogs to patients recovering in their hospital beds, and we think nothing of it when our president poses with a cheeseburger in a photo op.

How can this be? A generation ago, we were at a similar crossroads with another deadly product deeply entrenched in our culture: cigarettes. When I was an intern at the George Washington University Hospital in the early 1980s, it wasn’t uncommon to see doctors step away from the operating room for a quick smoke break, while patients lit up cigarettes right from their hospital beds. Even high school students could stop by smoke lounges located conveniently in their schools.

It’s hard to imagine three decades later, now that smoking bans are in place at hospitals and schools, on airplanes, and in public buildings. Once we realized the deadly toll of smoking, we launched a war on tobacco where education and prevention were key. Today, there is no question that smoking causes cancer. As a result, fewer people are smoking, and lung cancer rates are falling.

Taking a similar approach with unhealthy foods would go a long in solving the problem of diet-related disease.

That’s not to say that cancer research isn’t important. Not all cancer cases can be prevented. But while we shoot for the moon and wait for the promise of a cure, why not minimize our risk by applying knowledge we already have?


Countering Chocolate Milk Concussion Claims

January 20, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Chocolate milk doesn’t help concussions. But the dairy industry wants you to think it does. So it funded a study on high school football players that’s now being called into question. The university that conducted the study is even saying that people should not rely on results described in its recent new release. Dairy deception like this is nothing new. We’ve been debunking it for more than 20 years.


Nobody needs milk, including the teen boys in this study. All milk products—including Fifth Quarter Fresh, the “high-protein chocolate milk” used in the study—contain two things the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say teen boys already have too much of in their diet: protein and added sugar. Fifth Quarter Fresh has 20 grams of protein and 42 grams of sugar.

There are many other health reasons for everyone to ditch dairy, including increased risk for cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, lung, breast, and ovarian cancers, bone fractures, and death.

The dairy industry’s health claims are not only deceitful, they are dangerous. It’s why we’ve spent decades working to expose milk myths.


Digesting the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

January 7, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Americans have endured a dietary dilemma that began with the February 2015 release of the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. What foods promote good health? Which cause disease? We’ve spent the last year trying to clear up the confusion. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that were released this morning also attempt to answer those questions. Here’s my breakdown of what the Guidelines get right and wrong.

Plant-Based Diets

The most heartening news is that the Guidelines continue to push the power of plant-based diets to fight disease. The Guidelines recommended Healthy Vegetarian Pattern—including an entirely vegan plan—and note that this pattern is higher in calcium and fiber than the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern, which includes animal products.


Cholesterol and Saturated Fat

More good news: The Guidelines strengthen cholesterol warnings by urging Americans to “eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible” to help reduce risk of heart disease, obesity, and other conditions. The decision follows our yearlong campaign—including petitions, oral testimony, billboards, and threat of legal action—to stop industry’s efforts to remove cholesterol warnings from the Guidelines.

But in urging Americans to cut the cholesterol, the Guidelines should not have recommended cholesterol-containing seafood, lean meats and poultry, and eggs as part of a healthy eating pattern. All animal products contain cholesterol. In their defense, the Guidelines do limit meat, poultry, and eggs—all combined—to just 4 ounces per day, or even less for some groups. So it’s a step forward.

The Guidelines also recommend limiting saturated fat, but again cause confusion by recommending meat and dairy products—the leading sources of saturated fat in the American diet.

Red and Processed Meats

Again, there’s good and bad news. First the good: The Guidelines urge “teen boys and adult men … to reduce overall intake of protein foods … by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry, and eggs.” And the “protein foods” group includes healthful foods—legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products.

But the bad news—and it’s really bad—is that the Guidelines actually encourage everyone else to eat processed meats: “For those who eat animal products, the recommendation for the protein foods … can be met by consuming a variety of lean meats, lean poultry, and eggs. Choices within these eating patterns may include processed meats and processed poultry…”

This recommendation blatantly ignores the dire health consequences of consuming processed meats, carcinogens that the World Health Organization recently placed in the same category as cigarettes and asbestos. A recent study in Lancet Oncology observed associations between red and processed meat products and colon, stomach, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

Dairy Products

The Guidelines should have also ditched the dairy recommendations to help Americans cut down on sugar and reduce the risk for hip fractures, prostate cancer, and early death. However, the Guidelines did say that soy milk counts as a dairy product, so that is a step forward.

What’s Next?

We were able to keep industry from influencing cholesterol recommendations, but industry fingerprints are all over the Guidelines, from what’s included (recommendations for lean meat) to what’s missing (sustainability). In 2016, we’re continuing our legal efforts to find out how the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee could be so easily swayed by industry.



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