In January, Physicians Committee doctors and dietitians filled the National Institutes of Health to present our recommendations to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Staring down representatives from the meat and dairy industries, we made a solid case for the inclusion of plant-based diets in the guidelines. And you know what? They listened.
During the advisory committee’s recent meeting, subcommittee members emphasized the importance of reducing meat consumption and switching to plant-based diets for both health and environmental sustainability.
While we still have to wait till Fall 2015 to learn the advisory committee’s final recommendations, doctors around the country are recognizing the importance of plants over pills. In 2013, Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health plans, sent out a nutritional update to physicians, urging health care providers to recommend a plant-based diet to their patients. Kim Williams, M.D., the next president of the American College of Cardiology, penned a blog for MedPage Today explaining why he went vegan and how recommending a vegan diet has helped his patients.
Individuals have also seen success in seeking out plant-based diets themselves. CNN recently profiled Benji Kurtz, a 37-year-old entrepreneur from Atlanta who lost 100 pounds—while improving his blood pressure and cholesterol levels—by researching and following a plant-based diet. Celebrities like Beyoncé and JLo have tweeted, Instagrammed, and blogged about their meatless meals, providing inspiration to their millions of fans and pushing plant-based diets into the pop culture spotlight.
Going forward, if the dietary guidelines committee resists the influence of meat and dairy lobbyists and follows the recommendations of health care professionals, then more people may see success like Mr. Kurtz or Dr. Williams’ patients. In the meantime, let’s all keep publicizing the science, sharing vegan recipes, and boosting this public shift toward support for vegan diets. Maybe 2015 will be the year that the government, doctors, and celebrities all find one thing they can agree on: Plant-based is best.
Interested in viewing a webcast of the fourth meeting of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee? Click here.
"When I have a kid who says ‘I love kale!’ that’s a big deal." That’s what Robert Groff, principal of New York City’s P.S. 244, The Active Learning Elementary School, told congressional staffers at a recent Physicians Committee event on Capitol Hill. But soon it won’t be such a big deal, thanks to the work TALES and other schools are doing to make healthy school lunches the new norm.
Groff knows that kids will love vegetables and legumes—and won’t miss mystery meat—if food service directors just give them a chance. He noted the positive changes—including added energy and lower BMI—in his students after the school moved to an all-vegetarian menu. And the statistics support him.
In the New York City 2012-13 school year, 21 percent of public school students were overweight or obese. But that statistic is changing, and severe obesity in New York City public school students has decreased. Some officials credit this to healthful school lunch menu changes, acknowledging that providing kids with fruit instead of fruit snacks—and beans instead of burgers—can make a huge difference in their health.
Groff is not alone in revolutionizing school lunches. Broward County’s program manager for nutrition education and training Darlene Moppert, chef Anne Cooper (aka the Renegade Lunch Lady from Boulder, Colo.), and many other school food administrators are dedicated to providing healthful lunches for their students. For the past 10 years, the Physicians Committee has presented the Golden Carrot Award to school food service directors who perform exceptional work providing healthful school lunches. Just a decade ago, it was difficult to find schools offering low-fat, plant-based options. But as more and more administrators realize that providing kids nutritious meals has positive effects lasting long after the lunch bell rings, it’s getting harder to pick a single winner!
Despite the school lunch food fight going on in Congress, there is something we can all do to highlight the good results that come from subbing fruits and veggies for hot dogs and hamburgers. Do you know a school food service director who has gone above and beyond to champion students by helping his or her school serve low-fat, high-fiber meals? Nominate the director for our 2014 Golden Carrot Award! Applications are due by Aug. 15. Learn more and submit an application.
The bacteria implicated in Crohn’s disease may be in your shower, and you can thank the meat industry for it. Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis is common in cattle, and when transmitted to humans, it is believed to cause Crohn’s disease. In the journal Pathogens, researchers at Lancaster University in the U.K. report that agricultural runoff sends the bacteria into rivers and streams and ultimately into public water supplies, often taking up residence in pipes and showerheads and vaporizing as showers are turned on. It was detected in 10 percent of samples tested.
Running a shower for a few minutes before getting in will wash away some of the accumulated bacteria. Avoiding the raising of animals for food products would dramatically reduce the risk of infectious diseases in human populations.
The USDA’s latest figures show that Americans are continuing to turn away from meat. Meat consumption reached a high of 201.5 pounds per capita in 2004 but has dropped steadily since then, reaching 181.5 pounds in 2012, the latest year for which figures are available. The last time meat intake was at this level was 1983. These figures show that the average American is consuming 20 pounds less meat each year, compared to a decade ago. In the post-World-War-II era, meat intake rose steadily. It began to decline a decade ago in the face of concerns about health, animal welfare, and the environment, as well as the ready availability of healthier foods. Skipping meat has many advantages. People who avoid meat are thinner than meat-eaters. In a 2009 study published by the American Diabetes Association, meat-eaters had an average body mass index (BMI) of 28.8, well above 25.0, the upper limit for a healthful weight. But people who avoided animal products had an average BMI of 23.6. Avoiding meat also cuts the risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease and improves blood pressure. Click here for Drop the Dog, Pick A Plant Recipe Cards.
Ronald McDonald just got a makeover. He’s still a clown hawking junk food, but now he’s dressed up in a blazer and bow tie instead of a jumpsuit. As McDonald’s sales and share values keep going down, it’s pulling out every trick in the book to pump up sales. Rather than improve its product, McDonald’s has kept its menu as stale and deadly as ever. McDonald’s cheeseburger Happy Meal comes with 20 grams of fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, and a whopping 880 milligrams of sodium. Worst of all, it is marketed to children. Instead of an updated Happy Meal mascot, McDonald’s should get with the times and offer a veggie burger kids meal.
More and more fast food outlets are offering vegetarian and vegan options because that is what customers are asking for. Chipotle launched the vegan Sofritas nationwide earlier this year, and profits during its first quarter skyrocketed 24 percent. Subway released a falafel sandwich in select locations and is now rolling out a hummus spread for its sandwiches. TCBY has added coconut- and almond-based vegan fro-yo flavors to its menu. Plant-based fast food outlets are also expanding nationwide. Native Foods Café, a fast-casual plant-based chain, has received a $15 million investment toward its goal of reaching 200 restaurants coast-to-coast in the next five years. Hopefully McDonald’s gives consumers a little credit. A healthful menu overhaul is the way to bring back business. But a clown in a bow tie taking selfies? That’s just silly.
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