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The Physicians Committee

Blue Zones Q-and-A: Eating and Living Like the World’s Longest-Lived People

July 16, 2018   Dr. Neal Barnard   vegan


Dan Buettner

Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author, discovered the five places in the world—dubbed Blue Zones™—where people live the longest, healthiest lives. He will present his findings 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.

What nutrition tips from your research should health care professionals bring to their patients?

Dietary surveys done in all five Blue Zones™ over the past century reveal that the diet associated with longevity is 95-100 percent plant-based, 65 percent of which is carbohydrates. So tell patients to beware of high-protein diets. I believe the most meaningful piece of advice is to tell patients to make friends with people who eat a plant-based diet. Healthy behaviors are contagious.

What are common plant-based foods across Blue Zones™?

The five pillars of every longevity diet in the world are: Whole grains, tubers, greens, nuts, and beans. If you’re an American and eating a cup of beans a day, you’re probably adding four years to your life expectancy.

Your latest book is The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People. How does diet affect happiness?

Many of the happiest locations are the same or similar to longevity locations, because we have found the health and happiness go hand in hand. The happiest places are Denmark, Costa Rica, Singapore, and Boulder, Colo., because the leaders and communities have set up their environment so that happiness and health will ensue. In the United States there is a strong correlation between access to healthy eating and subjective well-being. And it turns out that the happiest people report eating seven servings of vegetables daily.

Is the Western diet encroaching on and endangering existing Blue Zones™?

Yes, Western diet practices are endangering existing Blue Zones™ hotspots. Modern society has been set up for convenience. You can jump in your car and go get fast food, which is much easier than getting healthy fresh produce.

Andrew Freeman, M.D.: A Cardiologist’s Plant-Based Prescription

June 20, 2018   Dr. Neal Barnard   other


Andrew Freeman

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.”

Congress: Be Cool with a Dairy-Free Ice Cream Social

June 7, 2018   Dr. Neal Barnard   dairy


Non-Dairy Ice Cream

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.

Reduce Cancer Risk with Plant-Based Foods

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:

Healthy diet and lifestyle behaviors could prevent cancer

2. Plant-based foods can reduce cancer risk:

Eating plant foods can reduce cancer risk

3. Phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are protective against cancer:

plant foods are good sources of phytochemicals

4. Processed meats, including bacon, sausage, and hot dogs, are definitively linked to cancer. No amount is safe:

processed meat is unsafe at any amount

Learn more about how a plant-based diet can help reduce cancer risk.

Tackling MS with a Plant-Based Diet: Saray Stancic, M.D.

April 24, 2018   Dr. Neal Barnard   other


Plate with healthy plant based food

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.


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