I get it that most normal people don’t listen to hour long talks (audio only!) about food, much less 3 of them in one morning. But who ever said I was normal? Besides, as a person particularly interested in the topic and in the process of trying to open a restaurant with a plant-based menu, what could be more important for me to do (except meet with more bankers!). So rather than expect that anyone else will listen in, I did and took some notes so I can share the highlights with you. There should be at least on interesting factoid in what follows.
As always, Joel Fuhrman is very intersting. He has shown up in a number of movies over the years as the “voice of reason” in plant based eating. He is a primary care doc with a deep understanding of nutrition. There were two big moments in his talk.
- Statins – an almost ubiquitous drug in the American population now, practically given away like candy. The class of drugs is officially known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors and as used to lower cholesterol. As any reader of my blog should already know, the way to reduce cholesterol is to adopt a whole food plant-based eating pattern and eliminate the cause, rather than continue to eat crap and then try to take a pill to poison part of your body to make your numbers look better on paper. That should seem obvious. There have been many docs over the years (and some studies too) that have suggested that the statin drugs may decrease cancer rates. Turns out that is not the case. In fact (and this was news to me, so I’m guessing (hoping???) that it’s news to most docs) that statins can actually RAISE cancer rates. Click here and read the 2013 study describing an almost 2x increase in both ductal and lobular breast cancers in women taking statins for 10 years or more. It’s been said a million times, but it’s worth repeating again. ALL DRUGS ARE POISON.
- Cancer is a relatively new disease for humans – I guess I hadn’t really considered this. As a general surgeon trained in the 1980’s and 1990’s cancer in it’s myriad forms is just a problem that is relatively common. As a holder of T. Colin Campbell’s Plant Based Nutrition certificate, I know that cancer has been called a “disease of affluence”, but there is evidence to support the notion that cancer as we know it is a relatively new phenomenon that has become prevalent only since the industrial revolution.
Mark is the director of Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He has a somewhat less dogmatic style than Dr. Fuhrman and advocates a more “Peagen” approach (something between Paleo and Vegan), with emphasis on whole food plant-based eating patterns, but allowance of some animal proteins in what would be in very strict limitation to what is typically consumed on the Standard American Diet (SAD). He was all over the map, but a couple of highlights were:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – what he calls a “neon sign” for processed food to be avoided. Like others, he notes the strong correlation between HFCS and diabetes, obesity and other diseases of affluence. He believes their inclusion into soft drinks may be one of the worst things ever and cites it as a cause of the obesity epidemic. More interesting to me, though, was the presence of mercury (Hg) in high fructose corn syrup! This 2008 study by The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) documented mercury levels in several off the shelf food products with HFCS that had been processed with “mercury cell” technology, apparently an older way of refining the corn syrup. As a reminder, mercury, at any amount, is incredibly toxic. Seriously, you think you’re doing yourself a favor and grabbing an “Oatmeal to Go” and it turns out you’re getting mercury poisoned? I should note that, to the best of my knowledge, this problem has been corrected at U.S. plants. And how did the HFCS industry react to this bit of bad publicity? The way any corporation would; they rebranded! Now HFCS is seen on labels as “fructose” or “corn syrup”.
- U.S.D.A. and H.H.S. Food Guidelines – no small wonder that the much maligned food guidelines got discussed. Dr. Hyman’s beef (so to speak) was that the Food Guideline Advisory Panel recommended a ban all sugary beverages, but the final edition recommended “limiting excess sugar”. If you need a reminder on the folly of the Guidelines, review my previous post. As Dr. Hyman and others point out, hardly any individuals read the Food Guidelines, but they do form the basis for quite a bit of public policy, not the least of which is the food stamp program. And in 2015, the food stamp program paid for 10,000,000,000 (yes, that’s 10 Billion) servings of soft drinks for Americans. Kind of brings some clarity to the finding that low-income Americans have significantly higher diabetes rates…
- Citizen’s United – When asked how to improve public policy as it relates to eating patterns and the food supply, Dr. Hyman said that, in the wake of the Citizen’s United ruling, he didn’t see much hope unless things changed significantly to get money out of politics. For those not familiar, read about the Citizen’s United ruling here, read a US News and World report story of the aftermath 5 years later here, and for a chilling, depressing and meticulously documented exposé of the money and drive to get that ruling, Jane Mayer’s excellent Dark Money is a must read for anyone who cares that their country is changing from a democracy into a plutocracy.
Neal is the founder of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC. As you may recall, I was recently in the news as the local PCRM physician advocating for Hennipen County Medical Center to stop needlessly using animals for training their Emergency Medicine residents. Dr. Barnard has recently opened the Barnard Medical Clinic in Washington and has been very active in promoting veganism.
I don’t have a specific Dr. Barnard highlight to share, probably because I am pretty familiar with his message. But I will say that listening to John Robbins (son of the founder of Baskin & Robbins Ice Cream) and Neal Barnard (son of a Fargo, ND cattle rancher) diss the dairy industry, the beef industry, and the U.S.D.A. food guidelines was fairly entertaining.
They did discuss the WHO classification of processed meats as a known carcinogen and red meat as a probable carcinogen. There is a nice review of that from the UK here. They went on to discuss the irony and overall wrongness of then having Domino’s pizza prominently advertising their pepperoni pizza as a viable school lunch in trade magazines aimed at those who prepare school lunches. Sure, the pepperoni is known carcinogen. Sure, the cheese is primarily casein, a known carcinogen. Sure, most of the kids are lactose intolerant. Sure, the sauce has HFCS, but, it’s what the kids want, so we should feed it to them. Ugh.
OK, enough rambling for one day!