Dr. Barnard's Blog

The Physicians Committee

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.  


Students Send Message: Milk is Garbage

October 20, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   dairy


Students are pouring hundreds of tons of plain milk—more than any other lunch item—into the garbage in Los Angeles schools each week. Maybe that’s because more than 88 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District students are predisposed to suffer from lactose intolerance. But instead of providing a healthful nondairy beverage that students might drink, LAUSD is compelling students to drink more milk by offering chocolate milk, which it had stopped serving in 2011.

Plain or chocolate, high-fat or low-fat, all milk can cause digestive symptoms, among other health dangers. And Latinos, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans who, according to the National Institutes of Health, are most likely to suffer from lactose intolerance comprise the majority of LAUSD’s student body: 74 percent, 8.4 percent, and 6 percent, respectively.

But LAUSD—which has designed four pilot programs to increase milk consumption—isn’t wholly responsible for pushing milk. The National School Lunch Program requires that schools offer milk with each meal—even though it’s clear that students are done with dairy.

They’re not alone. As the sales of almond milk and other plant-based milks have surged, sales of dairy milk have continued to plummet: Since the beginning of 2016, U.S. farmers have dumped 43 million gallons of milk.

Digestive issues aren’t the only reason students and other consumers are ditching dairy. Milk consumption is linked to bone fractures, heart disease, cancer, and even early death. But plant-based milks can provide all the calcium, vitamin D, and potassium without these health risks. 

It’s time for the National School Lunch Program to allow LAUSD and other school districts to keep students healthy, reduce waste, and save money by moving the milk requirement off the menu.


Five Takeaways on the White House and Big Food

October 7, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   industry influence, government and food policy


“Why did the Obamas fail to take on corporate agriculture?” Michael Pollan asks in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. It’s a complicated issue. Here’s a simple answer: Taking on Big Food is a bigger challenge than any presidential administration can tackle alone. What hindered the White House from making certain food policy changes that could have helped Americans fight obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases caused by meat and dairy products?

Below, I’ve paraphrased some of the problems Pollan identified and my suggestions for possible solutions. He also identified a positive trend: Where the president couldn’t prevail against Big Food, the public is seeing success.

  1. Industries including the beef slaughter and chicken processing industry are "dominated by a small number of gigantic firms ... represented in Washington by one or more powerful lobbying organizations," he says. Big Meat spent "$9 million on lobbying in 2010—not including political contributions to members of the agriculture committees in Congress."

    My Take: Well-heeled lobbyists represent industries that promote disease-causing animal products. Not so long ago, the tobacco lobby was equally formidable. But the science showing the dangers of tobacco was more powerful than the tobacco lobby. Public health officials spoke up, and the government cracked down on the tobacco industry. The science showing the dangers of meat is equally powerful. It’s time for the U.S. government to stand up against meat, egg, and dairy industry lobbyists.

  2.  "Big Ag in turn supplies the feed grain for Big Meat ... A substantial portion of what we spend on health care in this country goes to treat chronic diseases linked to diet."

    My Take: A broken subsidy system supplies disease-fighting grains to Big Meat for animal feed instead of for human consumption. Meat and dairy subsidies make America sick. A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that “current federal agricultural subsidies focus on financing production of food commodities, a large portion of which are converted into high-fat meat and dairy products” and other items that increase the risk for cardiometabolic risks in American adults.

  3. "Big Food’s biggest victory ... was its success in derailing voluntary guidelines for marketing food to kids."

    My Take: Malevolent junk food marketers encourage the consumption of meaty, cheesy fast-food and other junk food.  We don’t need voluntary guidelines. We need regulations. Big Food is getting sneaky. McDonald’s recently introduced Olympic-inspired trackers (that were eventually recalled for causing rashes) to “push back at critics who've painted the business as pushing junk food to kids.” But adding a fitness tracker to an order of burgers and fries doesn’t change the fact that McDonald’s is still pushing burgers, chicken nuggets, and fries—all junk food—to kids.

  4. "The food industry even managed to undermine the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act."

    My Take: Big food pushed unhealthy school lunches. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t go far enough to get chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers out of school lunches. Our report “Who’s Making Money from Overweight Kids?” found that meat and dairy industry makes money when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and School Nutrition Association promote junk foods—such as nachos, chicken wings, and pepperoni pizza—in school lunches.

  5. "While Big Food can continue to forestall change in Washington, that strategy simply will not succeed in the marketplace."

    My Take: Consumers are demanding changes that Big Food can’t ignore. As I wrote in The Hill this week: It’s clear that public health organizations, big business, and the tech industry are all working toward helping consumers get healthy by shifting from meaty meals to plant-based diets.



Connect with Dr. Barnard



Stay Connected

Receive action alerts, breaking medical news, e-newsletters, and special offers via e-mail. Sign up >