Andrew Freeman, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.P., is the director of clinical cardiology, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness, and an associate professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colo. He is also a founder and co-chair of the American College of Cardiology’s Nutrition & Lifestyle Work Group.
Dr. Freeman will present “Heart Failure and Plant-Based Diets: A Cure?” at the Physicians Committee’s sixth annual International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine on Aug. 10, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Learn more about ICNM and register at PCRM.org/ICNM.
Nutrition was rarely discussed when Andrew Freeman, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.P., was training in his cardiology fellowship. And his experience is not unique. A recent survey of about 1,000 cardiologists found that 90 percent received minimal nutrition education.
“When I started my practice, I was good at diagnostics and prescribing medicine,” says Dr. Freeman. “But many of my patients were dependent on pills and not getting better.”
So he started learning about how a plant-based diet, in addition to standard medical treatment, could help his patients fight heart disease. Then about six years ago, after months of research, his life changed personally and professionally.
“I had a cheeseburger for dinner,” remembers Dr. Freeman. “Then I finished reading The China Study that night and started a vegan diet the next day.”
Within a few months, he lost 35 pounds, and his health improved so much that he received a rebate following his next life insurance physical. He soon began recommending a plant-based diet to all of his patients.
“For the first time in my career, I was awestruck by my patients’ improvements,” says Dr. Freeman. “One patient who was suffering from heart failure, diabetes, and overweight was off most of his medications within about six months of starting a plant-based diet.”
He gives patients a packet of materials with literature including the Physicians Committee’s Vegetarian Starter Kit, a guide to local plant-based eating, and recommendations for documentaries such as Forks Over Knives.
“The No.1 question from patients is about diet,” says Dr. Freeman. “First, I ask my patients for permission to be critical of their diets. Then we have a patient-centered discussion that takes into account their values, culinary skills, socio-economic situation, and other factors.”
Dr. Freeman also helped launch a nine-week intensive cardiac rehab program in partnership National Jewish Health and Saint Joseph Hospital that follows the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine™ approach. Two times a week patients participate in one hour of exercise; one hour of learning about a plant-based, which includes a meal; one hour of stress relief; and a one hour support group.
On Saturdays, Dr. Freeman hosts Walk with a Doc, a weekly walk open to all members of the community, which includes tai chi, a healthy snack, and often discussion of a plant-based diet.
“We’re at a tipping point,” says Dr. Freeman, whose hospital now serves plant-based meals in the hospital lounge. “I even persuaded a Colorado cattle rancher to start a plant-based diet.”
Members of Congress are ready to let off some steam and celebrate summer. But instead of attending this year’s International Dairy Foods Association’s annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party, they should cool off with a delicious dairy-free ice cream social.
It would certainly be healthier treat than the Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party. Last year, the event served about 1,500 gallons of ice cream to members of Congress—some who might even be co-sponsors of the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which if passed would only allow the word “milk” to be used for products “obtained by the complete milking of one or more hooved mammals.”
But the DAIRY PRIDE Act’s last-ditch effort is not enough to turn the tide on the popularity of plant-based milks ranging from almond, soy, and coconut to pecan, flax, and quinoa. In fact, U.S. nondairy milk sales have grown 61 percent since 2012, while U.S. dairy sales are expected to decline 11 percent between 2015 and 2020.
Why? A recent survey found that 50 percent of U.S. dairy consumers are ditching dairy and choosing alternatives because of health concerns. Thirty-five percent say it’s because of lactose intolerance, 26 percent say dairy sensitivity/allergy, and 24 percent say to reduce saturated fat consumption.
Instead of the DAIRY PRIDE Act, Congress should help dairy producers transition from cow’s milk to plant-based alternatives to meet consumer demand for healthier products. A recent report from Rabobank, which specializes in food and agriculture financing says, “The results over the last five years have favored dairy players who have invested in milk alternatives across the supply chain—from planting almond trees to buying brands.”
Of course, Congress isn’t the only branch of government promoting dairy products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate give the American public the impression that dairy products are mandatory, which is not supported by the body of scientific evidence. Although calcium is an essential nutrient, it is available from many other more healthful foods, such as beans, green leafy vegetables, tofu products, breads, and cereals.
Dairy products harm a significant portion of the U.S. population who suffer from lactose intolerance, which causes bloating, diarrhea, and gas. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 30 million to 50 million American adults are lactose intolerant, including 95 percent of Asians, 60-80 percent of African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, 80-100 percent of American Indians, and 50-80 percent of Hispanics.
Scientific evidence also shows that dairy products offer little if any protection for bone health and increase the risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, cognitive decline, and early death.
What Capitol Hill really needs is an ice cream social like the one Elmhurst, a former dairy, is hosting in New York this weekend. After 92 years of supplying cow’s milk to 8,300 grocers and 1,400 public schools in New York, Elmhurst shut down operations, but reopened and is thriving by selling only dairy-free plant milks.
Even better: The Dietary Guidelines say most individuals in the United States would benefit from increasing their intake of whole fruits and recommends choosing them over ice cream. Congress should skip the dairy industry’s Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party and chill with One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream instead. Now that would be cool.
June 1, 2018 Dr. Neal Barnard
A new major report from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends emphasizing plant-based foods to reduce cancer risk.
The new report—Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective—analyzed data from 51 million people to create a global blueprint for preventing cancer. The researchers found strong evidence that consuming both red meat and processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer. They also found that there is evidence that consumption of dairy products could increase the risk of prostate cancer. The report notes that overweight and obesity are linked to 12 different types of cancer.
The good news is that the report highlights lifestyles that can reduce cancer risk, including eating a plant-based diet.
Here are my top takeaways from the report:
1. Healthy diet and lifestyle can prevent 40 percent of cancer cases:
2. Plant-based foods can reduce cancer risk:
3. Phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are protective against cancer:
4. Processed meats, including bacon, sausage, and hot dogs, are definitively linked to cancer. No amount is safe:
As a third-year medical resident, Saray Stancic, M.D., went from doctor to patient. After a brief nap during an overnight shift at the hospital, she woke up to find both her legs numb and heavy. An emergency MRI confirmed a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system that’s often considered incurable. But recent studies show that following a diet low in saturated fat may play a key role in managing the disease.
In a new interview, I talk with Dr. Stancic about her personal experience tackling MS with a plant-based diet. Dr. Stancic is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician and the founder and owner of Stancic Health and Wellness, where she treats patients using lifestyle modification, including a plant-based diet.
Dr. Stancic will present “Code Blue: Foods, Inflammation, and Multiple Sclerosis” at the Physicians Committee’s sixth annual International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine on Aug. 10-11, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Learn more about ICNM and register at PCRM.org/ICNM.
How did multiple sclerosis start for you, and how have things gone?
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during an overnight shift at the hospital. After a break for a nap, I woke up I could not feel my legs. I was brought to the ER, and an MRI of my brain and spinal cord confirmed the diagnosis of MS.
Today, nearly 23 years since the diagnosis, I am doing remarkably well, but this was not always the case. In 1995, I started a medicine to slow the progression of the disease that had several difficult side effects. By 2003, I was dependent on a cane and nearly 12 medicines.
It was around this time that I learned of the importance of a plant-based diet. In 2003, I made the unconventional decision to taper off the medicines and instead optimize my diet and lifestyle. This one decision changed the course of my life.
Has the experience affected the advice you give to patients?
This experience changed my perspective so much so that I left my infectious disease practice to focus solely on lifestyle medicine.
What inspired Code Blue, your forthcoming documentary?
Code Blue is a feature-length documentary that sheds light on lapses in our current health care system, which regrettably fails to promote plant-based nutrition and optimal lifestyle in preventing, reversing, and managing disease states. We hope to catalyze change in how we train physicians, who currently receive little to no nutrition education. The most important aspect of health maintenance undeniably lies in the foods we put on our plates.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps) provides nutrition assistance to more than 40 million Americans. But SNAP currently isn’t set up to provide the good nutrition they need. In a new op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, musician and author Moby, who received food stamps as a child, proposes a solution: “A better approach would be to focus the program on cheap, healthy foods like beans, vegetables, fruit and whole grains. This would save money and keep recipients out of the doctor’s office.”
He’s right. Last year, my colleagues and I published a series of articles on reforming SNAP in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Our findings show that focusing SNAP on healthful foods could actually save a lot of money and provide more food at the same time. With a few tweaks, the program could be just what the doctor ordered.
- Focus on healthy staples. Currently SNAP pays retailers to provide soda, string cheese, hot dogs, steak, and other products that are keeping SNAP recipients overweight, compared with nonrecipients. These unhealthful foods are part of the reason that diabetes risk is 70 percent higher among low-income Americans. Instead, the foods in SNAP should be healthful: vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains. These are the most nutritious and least expensive foods in the store, and they happen to be the very foods that are in short supply on American shelves. A focus on healthy staples would save an estimated $11 billion per year.
What kinds of meals would those healthy staples turn into? A breakfast of oatmeal topped with strawberries, or maybe blueberry pancakes or fresh cantaloupe. Lunch could be a hearty bean chili, chickpea salad, vegetable fajitas, a bean burrito, or vegetable soup. Dinner could be angel hair pasta topped with mushrooms, chunky vegetables, and tomato sauce, black beans and rice with salsa, or veggie pizza. And all of these foods—tasty as they may be—are simple and cheap.
Harvard University researchers developed a nutrition rating system, called the Alternative Healthy Eating Index. With that rating system, economically disadvantaged people in the United States currently have average score of 33 out of a possible 110. Those in the highest socioeconomic category have a current score of 41. But a program focusing on healthy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes would score 75. In other words, we could improve participants’ nutrition and health, and save money at the same time.
- Integrate with WIC. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is already focused on a simple list of foods that women and children need. It is continually updated with health in mind and does not include steak, pork chops, chicken, sodas, energy drinks, candy, or the other less-than-healthful products that are still in SNAP. Why have two programs? Merge them.
Some mean-spirited critics hold that poor people will insist on junk food and will complain if the government does not provide it. That is insulting. I would ask these critics simply to look at WIC. The WIC program does not include junk food, and no one complains. When people need help, healthful food is a blessing. And getting the junk food out of SNAP and the healthy staples in—that’s just what the doctor ordered.
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Andrew Freeman, M.D.: A Cardiologist’s Plant-Based Prescription - June 20, 2018
Congress: Be Cool with a Dairy-Free Ice Cream Social - June 7, 2018
Reduce Cancer Risk with Plant-Based Foods - June 1, 2018
Tackling MS with a Plant-Based Diet: Saray Stancic, M.D. - April 24, 2018
Moby Calls on USDA to Focus SNAP on Healthy Foods - April 10, 2018