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Four Ways Vegan Diets Can Benefit Kids

August 11, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   vegan, children's health


Four Ways Vegan Diets Can Benefit Kids

Science shows conclusively that a vegan diet helps people avoid obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other conditions. But a new proposed law in Italy argues that without animal products, kids can’t grow up to be healthy. Science says otherwise.

A vegan diet supplemented with vitamin B12 provides excellent nutrition for all stages of childhood, from birth through adolescence. Children who consume nutritious vegan diets not only grow up to be strong and healthy, but they also lower the risk of developing obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Four facts that prove plant-based diets support healthy growth in children:

1. Experts confirm that vegan diets are safe for all stages of life:

The American Dietetic Association states that well-planned vegan diets that are supplemented with vitamin B12 “are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including infancy, childhood, and adolescence.” The group cites evidence showing that people who follow vegetarian diets have lower levels of cholesterol and blood pressure and lower rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. The Academy of Pediatrics agrees: “Well-planned vegetarian and vegan eating patterns are healthy for infants and toddlers.”

2. Most children’s diets are severely lacking in healthful fruits and vegetables:

It’s not animal products that are lacking in most kids’ diets. It’s fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods that have protective effects against the world’s top killers, including heart disease. In the United States, the average American child consumes only about a serving of vegetables and a serving of fruit per day. 

At the same time, the majority of children consume an excess of artery-clogging saturated fat, which is primarily found in dairy products and meat. And 9 in 10 children eat too much sodium.

3. Many children already have risk factors for heart disease:

One recent study found that 40 percent of children, ages 6 to 11, already have high cholesterol levels. High blood pressure rates are also increasingly common in children. And for the 1 in 3 American (and 1 in 3 Italian) children who are overweight or obese, the risks only increase. About 70 percent of obese children have one or more risk factors for heart disease.

Heart disease is the top killer in the United States—and Italy, where cardiovascular diseases account for 30 percent of all deaths.

But vegan diets are free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat. Studies have long shown that vegan diets can help prevent, reverse, and manage heart disease in adults. A Cleveland Clinic study released last year found that vegan diets have similar effects in overweight children. Children in the vegan group lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improved their weight, and lowered their sensitivity to two biomarkers for cardiovascular disease.

4. Type 2 diabetes rates are surging worldwide:

Between 2000 and 2009, type 2 diabetes prevalence skyrocketed by more than 30 percent in American children. Kids with type 2 diabetes face an increased risk of serious complications, like kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke. If nothing changes, projections show that 1 in 3 American children will develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives. On a global level, the story is similar. Worldwide diabetes rates have jumped from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.

But studies show that people who consume plant-based diets have a lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes. A recent major review found that diabetes patients who followed a plant-based diet improved their insulin sensitivity, reduced their diabetes medications, and lowered their intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol.

U.S. Soldiers Need to Slim Down

August 10, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   other


The Pentagon says soldiers need to slim down. So to fight the obesity epidemic, the Department of Defense will publish a new policy later this year to encourage troops to adopt a healthier lifestyle. A plant-based diet should be part of that plan.

Time and again, plant-based diets have proven best for weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. The Military Times even acknowledges that people on a vegan diet “eat more fruits and vegetables than omnivores, and higher consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with lower blood cholesterol, lower incidence of stroke and a lower risk of mortality from heart disease.”

The Physicians Committee’s own clinical trials with the GEICO insurance company have also shown the benefits of offering a low-fat, plant-based diet in the workplace: improvements in body weight, cholesterol levels, and, in individuals with diabetes, blood sugar control.

But instead of promoting plant-based diets to help troops fight obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, some members of Congress are trying to ban Meatless Mondays. This could actually exacerbate obesity. A recent study found that people who ate large quantities of protein and a small amount of carbohydrates were almost twice as likely to gain more than 10 percent of their body weight.

Perhaps the U.S. military should instead seek guidance on incorporating a plant-based menu from the Israeli army. Last year NPR reported that “the Israel Defense Forces ‘is currently working on creating a complete meal plan for vegan soldiers who serve on closed bases’” and that “soldiers will get extra plant-based products for breakfast and lunch.”

My colleagues and I can also help. The Pentagon should enroll troops in the Physicians Committee’s Food for Life Employee Wellness Program, which is based on our GEICO study. But in the meantime, I encourage service members to start a healthier lifestyle today by downloading our Vegetarian Starter Kit or joining our 21-Day Vegan Kickstart.

WATCH: Eat Like an Olympian with Vegan Ultra-Endurance Athlete Rich Roll

August 5, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   vegan


The 2016 Olympics may not officially kick off until tonight, but there is already a group of winners from Team USA! Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, beach volleyball gold-medal favorite April Ross, and weightlifter Kendrick Farris are a few of the growing number of American athletes powering their performances with plant-based foods.

More and more athletes are finding that a plant-based diet can easily provide all of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and yes—even protein—to fuel a medal-winning performance.

"I believe in the power of plant-based eating, and as an athlete, I always need to feel my best," says Venus Williams, who fuels her victories with green smoothies, brown rice, quinoa, tons of fresh vegetables, and even vegan pizza.

Australian sprinter Morgan Mitchell made the switch to a vegan diet two years before she made the trip to Rio—much to the dismay of her coaches and teammates. But after an initial learning curve, Morgan reports that she began to feel “lighter and cleaner” and her sprinting times immediately improved.

Curious about how it all works? This week, the Physicians Committee is teaming up with ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll, who was named one of the “25 Fittest Men in the World” by Men’s Fitness, to show how powerful plant-based nutrition is for athletes. Rich, fueled entirely by plants, is widely famed for being the first person to complete five Ironman-distance triathlons on five Hawaiian islands in less than a week.

In a new video, Rich joins the Physicians Committee’s Karen Smith, R.D.—the fastest Delaware woman to run the 2016 Boston Marathon—to talk about some of their favorite foods to fuel athletic performance.

Get the recipes for Rich’s Superfood Energy Balls, Veggie Burgers, One Bowls, and Epic5 Smoothies from Rich’s book The Plantpower Way.

Meat and Dairy Subsidies Make America Sick

July 22, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   dairy


Government food subsidies—including meat and dairy products—are damaging the health of Americans, according to a study just published in JAMA Internal Medicine. It’s a problem we’re working to fix.

The first study, conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University, 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.

Researchers followed 10,308 American participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and measured the percentage of calories consumed from subsidized foods, body weight, blood pressure, inflammation measures, and cholesterol levels. Those who consumed the most subsidized foods, including high-fat meat and dairy products, were 41 percent and 21 percent more likely to be overweight and have elevated blood sugars, respectively.

It gets worse. Subsidized meat and dairy products can also lead to early death. In a related study, Harvard researchers found that eating more saturated fat—found primarily in animal products—was associated with increased risk of death.

Children’s health also pays a toll when meat and dairy producers profit. Last summer, our report “Who’s Making Money from Overweight Kids?” took a look at subsidies in school lunches. 

We found that in 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid more than $500 million to 62 meat and dairy producers for beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, dairy, eggs, and lamb that ended up in school meals.

So where are the subsidies for disease-fighting fruits and vegetable? They receive just a fraction of what goes to meat and dairy products. Maybe that’s why new USDA findings show that Americans are eating fewer fruits and vegetables than they were a decade ago.  

Congress is already starting discussions on the 2018 Farm Bill—which oversees subsidies—and we’ll be working to encourage the federal government to alter agricultural policies to address America’s diet-related chronic disease epidemics. 


Protect Against Prostate Cancer: Ditch Dairy and Other Tips

July 20, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   dairy, men's health, cancer


Metastatic prostate cancer cases are on the rise—up 72 percent in men ages 55 to 69 years old in the last decade—according to a new study in the journal Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases. Dietary changes can help reduce prostate cancer risk and prevent its progression if diagnosed. Here are a few simple steps men should take today:

1. Ditch dairy.

A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that total dairy product, total milk, low-fat milk, cheese, and dietary calcium intakes were associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer. According to a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, men who consumed three or more servings of dairy products a day had a 141 percent higher risk for death due to prostate cancer compared to those who consumed less than one serving. Both high- and low-fat dairy products were associated with increased mortality.

Learn more at MilkCausesProstateCancer.org.

2. Eliminate eggs.

A Harvard study found that men diagnosed with prostate cancer who ate the most eggs had a two-fold increased risk of cancer progression.

3. Protect with plants.

A plant-based diet can protect against prostate cancer. In a recent study, researchers compared several dietary patterns and cancer incidence rates for 26,346 participants. Men who followed a vegan diet experienced a 35 percent lower prostate cancer risk than those following a nonvegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, or semi-vegetarian diet.

Lycopene, part of the carotenoid family, is a pigment that helps give red fruits and vegetables their color and it's also one of the free radical-fighting antioxidants. In the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the authors concluded that consumption of tomato-based foods may be linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.


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