LottaVeg Vegan Blog

We share lots of information on our vegan blog about going vegan, being vegan, vegan nutrition, animal rights, restaurants, book reviews, documentaries and more. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get latest posts delivered to your news feed.

Can We Trust Peer Reviewed Studies?

Can We Trust Peer Reviewed Studies Bnr

In many of my online debates with people about nutrition, I’m often presented with peer reviewed scientific studies or books based on peer reviewed studies as evidence to support or refute a given stance. Most people often seem unconcerned with the actual results of the studies or the methodologies used, just the fact that they were peer reviewed, as if that’s all that’s needed to determine the validity of a study. However, after looking into the peer review process, I’m left wondering, can we trust peer reviewed studies or the books written based on them?

What Is Peer Review?

Before we dive into the questionable nature of peer review, let’s first discuss what the peer review process is. When a scientific article is written, or a study is conducted and the results documented in a scientific paper, the study must first be peer reviewed before it can be published in a legitimate scientific journal like The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) or The British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Sometimes studies are published in less reputable, industry associated journals without being peer reviewed. These studies are made to look as if they have been peer reviewed and it’s hard to tell if the studies are legitimate without deep diving into them, which is why peer review is so important. Peer review is supposed to weed out biased or unscientific studies to keep the field of science pure.

Here’s how the peer review process works… After a scientific paper has been written, the manuscript is sent to a relevant journal for review. If the editors of the journal decide the manuscript meets the criteria for publication, it is sent to a variety of peer reviewers in the same field who are asked to judge the manuscript’s validity.

Sometimes the author and the reviewers know each other, or at least know each other’s names. Sometimes they don’t have access to that information.

Can We Trust Peer Reviewed Studies Desk

It’s the reviewer’s job to make sure the methodology used was appropriate for the type of study being conducted. They also look for mistakes in the analysis, calculation errors and unsupported conclusions. And they’re supposed to check the citations to ensure they are relevant and accurately represented.

From a very high level, this all looks great. If unbiased peer reviewers spend the time and energy required to thoroughly analyze a manuscript, they would certainly find the methodological flaws, the faulty analyses, the misrepresented or irrelevant citations, and the blatant mistakes.

But we don’t live in a perfect world and even the revered field of science buckles under the pressures society puts on it.

How the Peer Review Process REALLY Works

Peer reviewers aren’t paid for their time. It’s a volunteer job; a mandatory responsibility of being in the scientific community. Without peer reviewers, nothing could be published.

And therein lies the problem. Relying on already overworked and underpaid scientists to perform such an important voluntary task doesn’t ensure it will be done to the best of their abilities.

A mantra in the scientific community is “publish or perish.” If researchers aren’t constantly publishing papers in journals, their jobs are at risk. Their career advancement is at risk. Their very livelihood is at risk.

These well-meaning scientists aren’t immune to the pressures of everyday life. They have a mortgage or rent to pay. They have car loans. Student loans. Credit card debt. Childcare costs. College funds for their kids. Etc. Etc. They’re under the same pressure as everyone else in consumer oriented, capitalist societies.

That means their focus HAS to be on publishing their own papers, rather than reviewing the papers other people are trying to publish. Peer review is a necessary but time consuming inconvenience for them.

Can We Trust Peer Reviewed Studies Journal

In a peer reviewed paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine titled, “Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals,” the author, Richard Smith who works as an editor at the BMJ, discusses just how weak this critical part of the scientific process is.

Smith starts this paper with a personal story of a friend who sent him a paper for review. As an expert in the field, Smith was qualified to review the paper, but his review and critique didn’t mean the paper had been “peer reviewed.” It didn’t go through the official process and it wasn’t reviewed by multiple peers. However, the paper was published as a peer reviewed study, anyway.

But it’s far worse than this one anecdotal example. According to Smith, “At the BMJ we did several studies where we inserted major errors into papers that we then sent to many reviewers. Nobody ever spotted all of the errors. Some reviewers did not spot any, and most reviewers spotted only about a quarter. Peer review sometimes picks up fraud by chance, but generally it is not a reliable method for detecting fraud because it works on trust.”

In other words, peer reviewers don’t spend the time needed to find all the errors, let alone determine if the study is fraudulent. They trust that their fellow scientists are honest and competent. And they probably assume someone else will put in the effort to find the errors; they have better things to do.

That means peer review isn’t the gold stamp everyone thinks it is. Rather, in most cases, it’s a rubber stamp given by time constrained editors and scientists who have bigger concerns, like getting their own papers published.

Scientific Journals are Equally Complicit

The “publish or perish” mantra doesn’t apply only to scientists. Scientific journals also must publish or perish, and they must publish papers that people want to read. Papers that will get picked up by the 5 o’clock news and broadcast across mainstream media.

The media loves to tell people good news about their bad habits. It’s good for ratings, which boosts profits and job security. So if a study gets published in a reputable journal like The Annals of Internal Medicine stating that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease, the media is all too eager to blast it out on every channel.

You’ll notice that the link I just shared about saturated fat is only for the abstract. You’ll need a membership to read the full study, and most reporters don’t have that access so they’re stuck with the abstract just like the rest of us lay people. Or worse, they rely on biased reviews of the study written by organizations with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or by individuals motivated by the desire to boost their own ratings (clicks and views).

Can We Trust Peer Reviewed Studies Butter

This study led to the Time Magazine cover telling us to “Eat Butter” and the New York Times opinion piece telling us “Butter Is Back.” These stories were great for magazine and newspaper sales, but horrible for human health.

Because, while the study was peer reviewed, it was fundamentally biased, methodologically flawed and completely misleading.

Here’s a list of the Potential Conflicts of Interest:

Dr. Franco: Grants: Nestlé and Metagenics. Dr. Butterworth: Grants: Pfizer, Merck Sharp & Dohme, and Novartis; Personal fees: Roche Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Thompson: Grants: Medical Research Council and British Heart Foundation. Dr. Khaw: Grants: Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK. Dr. Mozaffarian: Personal fees: Bunge, Pollock Institute, Quaker Oats, Life Sciences Research Organization, Foodminds, Nutrition Impact, Amarin, AstraZeneca, Winston & Strawn, Unilever North American Scientific Advisory Board, and UpToDate online chapter. Dr. Danesh: Personal fees: Merck Sharp & Dohme UK Atherosclerosis Advisory Board, Novartis Cardiovascular & Metabolic Advisory Board, Pfizer Population Research Advisory Panel, and Sanofi Advisory Board; Grants: British Heart Foundation; British United Provident Association Foundation; diaDexus; European Research Council; European Union; Evelyn Trust; Fogarty International Centre; GlaxoSmithKline; Merck; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; National Health Service Blood and Transplant; Novartis; Pfizer; Medical Research Council; University of British Columbia; University of Sheffield; Wellcome Trust; and UK Biobank; Nonfinancial support: Merck Sharp & Dohme UK Atherosclerosis Advisory Board, Novartis Cardiovascular & Metabolic Advisory Board, Pfizer Population Research Advisory Panel, Sanofi Advisory Board, diaDexus, and Roche Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Di Angelantonio: Grant: British Heart Foundation, European Union, National Health Service Blood and Transplant, and Medical Research Council; Royalties: Elsevier (France).

All of these conflicts of interest benefit from people continuing to eat, or eating even MORE saturated fat. They either sell saturated fat products like dairy or they sell medications or medical procedures or medical products used to treat people who eat too much saturated fat.

This study is a meta analysis that relied on the findings of other studies to draw their conclusions. The peer review process didn’t uncover the selection bias that was obvious to other scientists in the field. The meta analysis only included studies that were favorable to their desired outcome, while omitting studies that show a strong correlation between saturated fat and heart disease.

Three scientists from Harvard University wrote a scathing review of this meta analysis. They pointed out several errors and omissions, as well as provided a list of relevant studies showing the strong link between saturated fat and heart disease that were not included in the meta analysis. They concluded their review stating, “the conclusions of Chowdhury et al. regarding the type of fat being unimportant are seriously misleading and should be disregarded.”

Can We Trust Peer Reviewed Studies Trashcan

What the study actually found was that saturated fat is just as bad as refined carbs (processed foods), it’s slightly better than trans fats (hydrogenated vegetables oils) and slightly worse than monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil. In other words, the study didn’t exonerate saturated fat; it placed its level of harm squarely in the middle of the hierarchy of unhealthy foods.

However, the damage had already been done by the time the Harvard scientists and other nutrition experts chimed in. The media already had a hayday with the story. Books like “The Big Fat Surprise” were already on their way to the publishers. And The Annals of Internal Medicine got their 15 minutes of journalistic fame.

Book Publishers are a BIG Part of the Problem

While scientific journals must publish or perish, book publishers must sell books or perish. That means publishers care very little about truth and honesty. If they think a book will sell, they publish it.

For years, I thought that the publishing process guaranteed some level of legitimacy. I thought the editors at these big publishing companies surely read the books looking for errors, false or misleading statements, or complete fraud. But they don’t.

Can We Trust Peer Reviewed Studies Money Eye

Two books really stand out as borderline fraud: “The Plant Paradox” and “Wheat Belly.” Both of these books are riddled with citation errors, meaning the citations they provided either had nothing to do with the claims being made in the book, or the citation actually contradicted the claim being made.

The very first citation in “The Plant Paradox” used to support the claim that egg yolks “dramatically” reduce cholesterol is both unrelated and contradictory to the claim. It’s unrelated because the study didn’t look at the effects of egg yolks on cholesterol, and it’s contradictory because it did find that eggs in general (the yolks and whites) raise cholesterol.

I suggest reading the complete review written by Dr. T. Colin Campbell of all the false and misleading statements made in “The Plant Paradox.” This book is proof that publishes don’t review the books they publish for accuracy or legitimacy.

Likewise, Dr. Pamela Popper wrote a review of the book, “Wheat Belly,” which blames grain consumption for all of America’s health woes. The author relies almost entirely on anecdotal (non-peer reviewed) evidence from his medical practice, as well as studies on celiac disease, to suggest everyone should avoid wheat.

If you have celiac disease, wheat is no-doubt bad for you. But advice given to someone with a legitimate medical condition cannot be ubiquitously applied to the general public. If that were the case, we would tell everyone to stop eating peanuts because some people have peanut allergies.

These two books, as well as many others (like “The Big Fat Surprise”) were published, not because they were legitimate, but because the publishers knew they would sell.

Being published, either in a book or a peer reviewed scientific journal, does not provide the public with sufficient reason to believe the claims. Publishing is not a gold seal; it’s a rubber stamp. That means we have to do our own due diligence before trusting anything we hear or read.

How Do We Know What to Believe?

If you haven’t yet, I suggest reading my blog post, “Credible Nutrition Sources: Who Can You Trust?” This post goes into detail about how to choose reputable, trustworthy sources of nutrition advice. It also lists several of the experts that we trust, but we still verify the things they tell us.

When we hear a nutrition claim, we often go to our trusted sources first to hear what they have to say. But I also dig into the studies to look for three things.

First, I look for who funded the study. We like to think that bias doesn’t exist in science, but unfortunately it does. One meta analysis found that 100% of the industry funded studies they looked at had positive conclusions that benefited the funding source. If a study is funded by a corporation or corporate association that would benefit from a specific outcome, we have to seriously question the findings.

Second, I compare the abstract/conclusion to the actual study findings. Believe it or not, they don’t always match. It’s common to use “spin” in industry funded studies to misrepresent the actual findings in the abstract or conclusion because the researchers know that’s all most people will read. If you dig deeper into the study (assuming you have access to the whole study), you may spot discrepancies between what they said they found, and what they actually found. Peer review often doesn’t catch this type of fraud.

Third, I look at the methodology used in the study. Not all methodologies are applicable to all types of research. Some lack the statistical power to uncover anything meaningful.

Let’s say you want to measure a cup of water. Would you use a colander or would you use a measuring cup? Using the right tool for the job is important when measuring water, and when studying nutrition.

For example, cross-sectional observational studies are often used in industry funded studies because they yield no meaningful results, which appears to exonerate their products. However, for nutrition research, it’s better to use controlled feeding experiments or free-living dietary change experiments because these study methodologies minimize variability and allow scientists to compare apples to apples.

Cross-sectional observational studies are a common tactic used by the meat, dairy and egg industries to “prove” saturated fat and cholesterol are safe for human consumption. Because the study design acts like a colander, any meaningful results are lost allowing the researchers to state “no meaningful associations were discovered.”

This statement doesn’t mean saturated fat and cholesterol are healthy. Rather, it only means the study didn’t find any statistically significant or meaningful connections. And because they’re using the wrong tool for the job, we should expect nothing less.

How to Fix the Peer Review Process

It’s clear that relying on volunteers to conduct peer review isn’t working. They have too many other concerns and lack the time needed to conduct thorough reviews.

A common practice in situations like this is to require businesses to fund a consortium that is responsible for providing services used by all the businesses in the field. Sometimes we pay taxes that fund regulatory agencies. Sometimes we pay the USDA to fund Checkoff Programs. Sometimes we pay association dues to provide certifications or licenses.

To improve the peer review process, I think it’s reasonable for scientific journals, governments and corporations that rely on scientific studies to fund an independent, unbiased group of experts and support analysts who are responsible for reviewing and fact-checking manuscripts. They need to look for the same things I look for, as well as verify every single calculation and citation for accuracy and relevance.

Can We Trust Peer Reviewed Studies Rubber StampThis needs to be a double-blind process, too. The reviewers need to be hidden from the manuscript authors and the manuscript authors need to be hidden from the reviewers. If the authors don’t know who is reviewing their manuscript, and the reviewer doesn’t know who wrote it, there will be far less chance of interference or influence on the outcome of the peer review.

If a manuscript doesn’t pass a thorough, unbiased review process, it shouldn’t be published. And if an author submits a manuscript that’s loaded with errors, their revised manuscript should go to the bottom of the stack. That would transform the rubber stamp of peer review into a gold seal that we all can trust.

Conclusion

Peer review is the bare minimum standard we need to use when determining the validity of a scientific paper. If it’s not peer reviewed, we should ignore the findings completely.

However, just because a study has been peer reviewed doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. We simply can’t trust the peer review process to do what it’s supposed to do. There’s very little structure and no accountability, which means it’s easy to both misuse and abuse.

Until the peer review process is improved, we must take personal responsibility for gauging a study’s veracity. That means we need to read the studies ourselves, educate ourselves about proper methodologies, and look for errors and bias.

If you don’t have the time, access or ability to do that, rely on your trusted sources to help you decide what to believe because peer review as it currently stands simply isn’t good enough.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner

Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #2

This is the third blog in the series about my long-term battle with high cholesterol. The first blog goes into great detail about the question, “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease?” and looks at my own diet and lifestyle as contributors to my high cholesterol. The second blog, “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #1” takes a look at my progress after 1 month of dietary changes. And in this blog post, we’ll look at my progress after 3 months.

If you haven’t yet, you might want to take a look at the first two blog posts for more detail, background and the reasoning for my dietary changes. You may also like to peruse our Best Plant Based Books for the basis behind these changes.

Cholesterol, Triglycerides and Weight after Three Months of Dietary Intervention

First, let’s look at the results from my 3 different blood tests at the start, after 1 month and after 3 months:

Start July 4Month 1Month 3Total Drop
Total Cholesterol22518820025
LDL (Bad) Cholesterol12810711612
Triglycerides29624726135
Body Weight (LBS)18017116614

Not so good, huh? While still lower than the start, my total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides all went back up a little despite losing another 5 pounds of body weight.

I’ve lost a total of 14 pounds, but all of that came in the first two months of the low-fat diet. I lost nearly 2 pounds per week for two months just by cutting out the oil, chocolate and avocados. I also reduced my alcohol (beer and wine) consumption by about 80%, from several times per week to one drink every week or two.

I’m now an even bigger believe in Dr. John McDougall’s quote, “The fat you eat is the fat you wear.”

Last month, we took a 10 day trip to the coast of Ecuador so my eating wasn’t as clean. In fact, I gained 3 pounds over that 10 days from eating out and drinking more beer and wine than usual. However, I lost that 3 pounds within the first 2 weeks of being back in Cuenca.

Villa de Los Sueños La Entrada Penthouse View

Originally, I thought that my ideal weight would be 170, but I’m now 166 and still have a few more pounds to lose. Those stubborn fat pockets around the middle just don’t seem to want to go away. I’m guessing 160 is my ideal weight now. Six more pounds should rid me off my already much smaller spare tire.

Thoughts About My High Cholesterol and Triglycerides

I have to admit that these latest test results are a bit disheartening. I thought for sure that my numbers would be lower, not higher.

We have been eating out a little more than we were during the first two months of this experiment, but still not much, and our favorite restaurants cook without oil for me.

We’re eating a hearty breakfast every day of Raw Rolled Oats with ground flax and chia, which are high in fat, but also high in omega-3’s. Since we don’t eat seafood or take omega-3 supplements, we need to get omega-3’s from somewhere so we’ve selected flax and chia. We’re eating an Easy Garden Salad every day, as well as about 5 servings of fruit per day.

Raw Rolled Oats Breakfast

Easy Garden Salad

Except for an occasional piece of sourdough bread, we’re eating a truly whole-food plant-based no-oil (WFPBNO) diet, so what gives? This is by FAR the healthiest I’ve ever eaten in my life! There isn’t much left for me to eliminate!

My goal, based on recommendations from the plant-based doctors, is to get my total cholesterol under 150, my LDL cholesterol under 70 and my triglycerides under 100. At these ranges, heart disease is unheard of in populations around the world.

However, this may not be possible for me. It’s obvious that my body is super sensitive to saturated fat. Since I don’t consume cholesterol or trans fats, those two common sources that increase blood serum cholesterol in most people can’t be blamed for my high cholesterol.

Additionally, it appears that my body produces more cholesterol than the average person, making it much harder for me to lower my stats to the optimal ranges. However, some studies show that my risk of heart disease and stroke are already substantially lower simply by not consuming cholesterol, animal protein or trans fats.

In his book, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, Ornish explains that some of his test subjects were never able to get their cholesterol into the heart attack proof range, but several other biomarkers for heart disease substantially improved anyway.

I’m still not ready to give up though…

Degenerative Disc Disease

Before I go into the next steps that I’m going to take to lower my cholesterol, there’s some new information that I’ve learned since writing the first blog post in this series. Some research suggests that the Degenerative Disc Disease, which significantly contributed to my two spinal surgeries, may be caused by clogged spinal arteries. By age 20, 10% of people have advanced spinal artery blockages.

I’ve had high cholesterol for at least 13 years. That’s when I first discovered it as part of a routine blood test for life insurance. At 33 years old, my cholesterol was already close to 250 and my life insurance premiums were significantly higher as a result. The insurance company seemed pretty concerned that I might die prematurely so they doubled my rate. I went to the doctor that week and he put me on a statin after several months of diet and exercise improvements failed to significantly lower my cholesterol levels.

Given how high my cholesterol was at 33, I think it’s safe to assume it has been high for quite some time. Perhaps since I was in college or even high school. We now know heart disease starts in childhood among those eating the western diet that’s high in animal products and processed foods.

So heart disease isn’t the only concern in lowering my cholesterol levels. I would also like to avoid future surgeries on my neck and back, which means I need to clean out the arteries that feed my spinal discs so they get all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Next Steps to Lower Cholesterol and Triglycerides

From a dietary elimination perspective, there’s only one change that might make a difference: no more sourdough bread. I don’t eat very much bread anyway, but I’ve reduced total bread consumption even more and I’m limiting it to only whole grain bread.

We’ve also reintroduced walnuts back into our diet since they have been shown to lower cholesterol, as well as total heart disease related mortality.

A lot of the phytonutrients in our Easy Garden Salad are fat soluble, which means we need some fat along with the greens for our bodies to extract more of the beneficial phytonutrients. Walnuts may help lower my cholesterol or at least my chance of developing heart disease, and adding them to my salad may help my body get more bang for my salad buck.

In addition to walnuts, we’ve started adding amla powder to our breakfast oats. In a head-to-head test, amla powder did just as well at lowering cholesterol as simvastatin.

Coincidentally, simvastatin was the cholesterol lowering drug I took for several years back in my 30’s (about 10 years ago). However, the side effects of muscle loss, weakness and general fatigue became too great and I eventually stopped taking it, which resulted in my total cholesterol creeping back up to a high of 270 before we switched to WFPB diet.

Amla powder is made from Indian gooseberries and is the most antioxidant rich food on the planet with more than 100 times more antioxidants than blueberries. It has been used in India for thousands of years to treat everything from fevers to diabetes. “Indian gooseberries have also been found to have cholesterol-lowering and cough-, fever-, pain-, stress-, and diarrhea-suppressing effects.”

We brought a bag of organic amla powder back with us from the states on our last trip, but I wanted to wait and see how low my cholesterol would go with only dietary changes before I started using it.

Now that it appears I’ve reached the lowest attainable point without an intervention, I think it’s time to try this supposed magic powder. Since I’m so sensitive to everything else, maybe this will work wonders for me. I’m skeptical, but it’s worth a try. Fingers crossed.

Clinical trials show that just 1/8th of a teaspoon a day can significantly reduce total and LDL cholesterol to normal ranges in just 3 weeks. We’ve decided to use 1/2 a teaspoon in our breakfast oats for good measure, and since it’s just the powdered remains of dried Indian gooseberries, there are no side effects other than potentially better health.

In case you’re wondering, we can’t taste it in our oats. I even drank a glass of water with 1/2 a teaspoon of the amla powder mixed in. I can’t say I liked it, but it wasn’t bad. It tasted similar to an unflavored fiber powder supplement, if you’ve ever had a glass of that.

Never Give Up. Never Surrender.

After I got these latest test results, it pretty much ruined my day. It’s very disappointing to have a body that seems to be fighting its own existence, but my brain isn’t giving up.

After discussing the test results with Amelia, I told her the steps I planned to take next. She told me she was proud of me for not giving up. She said that most people would stop trying under the same circumstances, but that didn’t cross my mind. I’m determined to coax my body into the heart attack proof realm with natural methods, not statins. Maybe it’ll help my aching back, too.

Stay tuned for next month’s update. Let’s see if amla powder lives up to the claims.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner

Do Humans Need Dairy?

While visiting my parents back in July, my mom voiced her concern about my calcium intake. Thanks to my continuing spinal issues, calcium is something I can’t afford to take for granted. That left me wondering what the science has to say about our calcium requirements and the best sources of calcium. The question I wanted to answer was: Do humans need dairy?

The History of Dairy

Before we dive into the current science on dairy and calcium, it’s important to know when, where and why humans started drinking milk in the first place.

It’s believed that milk from domesticated farm animals, including goats, sheep and early dairy cows, was first consumed by humans about 7,500 years ago in Central Europe. That’s when a group of people, mostly in farming communities, developed the genetic mutation that allowed adults to consume the milk sugar lactose into adulthood without getting sick.

Prior to that mutation, humans became lactose intolerant shortly after weaning, as most people still do. If you’re lactose intolerant as an adult, there’s a good chance your distant ancestors didn’t come from Central Europe.

Do Humans Need Dairy Goat

Milk consumption during that period of human evolution provided a survival advantage. Domesticated farm animals provided an ongoing source of calories year round, even during the winter. Back then, heart disease and cancer weren’t the leading causes of death; it was starvation and communicable disease. If you were able to avoid starvation long enough and be healthy enough to reproduce, your genes got passed on to your children and eventually to those of us who aren’t lactose intolerant.

While 7,500 years may seem like a long time in human life terms, it’s a tiny speck of time in the evolutionary timescale. Our distant human ancestors diverged from the great apes about 20 million years ago. That means we’ve only been drinking the milk from other animals for the past 0.04% of our evolution. That’s still hard to comprehend. Let’s say you have $1,000. We’ve only been drinking milk for 40 cents of it. Less than a dollar of your one thousand. That’s not very much time (or money).

If your ancestors came from Central Europe, you only have a 5% chance of being lactose intolerant. But if your ancestors came from Asia, North America (indigenous populations) or Africa, you have a 95%, 80% and 75% chance, respectively, of being lactose intolerant. That means 65% of the human population can’t effectively digest milk and, therefore, consumes very little to none of it.

If more than two thirds of the human population can’t consume milk, I think it’s safe to say “humans” don’t need dairy, but what about those of us with the genetic mutation that allows us to digest lactose? Does our mutation mean the 35% of us who can digest dairy need it to be healthy?

The Nutrients in Milk

Do Humans Need Dairy Milking

As far as I’m aware, there are no studies showing that people with the lactose gene need dairy to be healthy, but dairy is full of beneficial nutrients that all humans need. It’s also full of harmful elements, which I’ll cover below.

For the following nutrition analysis of milk, I’ll use 1 cup of 1% cow’s milk. Some people would argue that we should be drinking raw milk or full fat milk or skim milk, but 1% should provide a decent average of all of them.

Protein in Milk

One cup of cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein, or roughly 31% of calories from protein. That’s a lot of protein. And the government recommends we get at least 20% of calories from protein, so maybe 31% is even better. But do we really need that much protein to be healthy?

Let’s look at human breast milk first. If we want to understand human milk consumption, let’s go back to the real beginning 20 million years ago and analyze the composition of milk specifically formulated for humans. It turns out that human breast milk has less than 1% of calories from protein. It’s roughly .8% protein or 30 times lower than dairy milk.

Adult humans can survive on only 2.5% of calories from protein, but the science seems to suggest we’re healthiest eating roughly 8-10% of our calories as protein.

Too much protein in nations eating the western diet may actually contribute to many of our top diet-related chronic diseases, especially cancer and kidney disease.

It also appears that too much protein actually contributes to bone loss and osteoporosis, contrary to popular belief. However, this has been hotly debated with several studies (mostly funded by the beef industry) calling this into question.

Some evidence suggests that high protein foods boost calcium absorption and the extra calcium secreted from our bodies is actually coming from excess calcium in the food that our bodies don’t need thanks to the higher rate of absorption. However, some of that calcium may be coming from our muscles, which may be as bad as pulling it from our bones, especially for older people.

I recommend reading Proteinaholic by Dr. Garth Davis for a thorough review of the history of our protein obsession and actual human protein needs.

While dairy does contain lots of protein, we actually need far less protein than we’ve been led to believe. Additionally, every single fruit, vegetable, legume, nut, seed and whole grain contains protein. For example, lentils also get 31% of their calories from protein and broccoli gets 33% of its calories from protein.

Calcium in Milk

One cup of cow’s milk provides 30% of our daily calcium needs (according to the RDA), or about 300 mg. We humans do need calcium in our diets to maintain healthy bones and even proper cellular function.

Do Humans Need Dairy Bones

Calcium is one of our main building blocks, and it’s also a regulator for acidity. Humans are healthiest within a relatively small pH range between 7.35 – 7.45. When our bodies have an increased acid load, from chronic illness or from eating too much acid-forming foods like animal protein, the body mobilizes calcium to bring the pH back to the normal range. Most of that calcium comes from our bones and then gets secreted when we go to the bathroom. That means if you eat more protein, you also need to eat more calcium to make up for the calcium loss it causes.

This daily calcium requirement is based on the government’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 1,000 mg of calcium for healthy adults, but where did that number come from? Is it based on the science or something else? We’ll look at that in more detail in the RDA section below. Until then, it’s important to note that unbiased scientific studies show that we actually need closer to 500 mg of calcium per day.

Dairy contains a lot of calcium, but it’s not the only source. You can also get your calcium needs met from fortified non-dairy milk, fortified juices, dark leafy greens, legumes, fruits and vegetables. In fact, most fortified non-dairy milk and juice contain more calcium than unfortified dairy milk. Check the labels next time you go to the store to see for yourself.

While most plant sources of calcium are not as bioavailable as liquid sources such as milk or fortified non-dairy milk, our bodies are still very good at extracting it. We just need to eat more to get our needs met, which most people eating a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet do anyway. Kale, broccoli, bok choy and a few other plant sources of calcium actually have higher absorption rates than dairy.

Do Humans Need Dairy Almond MilkWhile not scientific, I tracked my nutrition using MyFitnessPal for 6 weeks and found that I averaged between 600 and 800 mg of calcium per day eating WFPB No-Oil. Most days, my diet consisted of oats, ground flax & chia seeds, homemade brown rice milk and fruit for breakfast; a giant Garden Salad with dark leafy greens and assorted vegetables, a hummus veggie sandwich or potatoes, and more fruit for lunch; and stir fries with brown rice, pasta or potatoes for dinner.

Those plant sources of calcium met my calcium needs. We’ve since started using fortified almond milk instead of brown rice milk just to make sure we’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D.

Potassium in Milk

One cup of milk has 366 mg of potassium or 10% of the RDA. To put that into perspective, one medium banana has 422.4 mg of potassium or 12% of the RDA. One medium potato has 896.7 mg of potassium or 25% of the RDA. One cup of kale has 329 mg or 9% of the RDA. One cup of cantaloupe has 427.2 mg or 12% of the RDA.

The vast majority of Americans, 98%, don’t get even the minimum recommended amount of potassium of 4,700 mg per day. Referring back to my nutrition tracking, I averaged only 3,000 mg per day of potassium and I consistently eat the richest sources of it: bananas, cantaloupe and potatoes.

It’s easy to see how non-vegans have a hard time getting enough potassium since so many of them have food phobias relating to the foods highest in potassium, such as bananas and potatoes.

While milk does have potassium, plant sources have it in much higher amounts and we all need to eat more of those to get our daily potassium needs met.

Phosphorus in Milk

Phosphorus is still not as well understood as many of the other nutrients, but we do know that our bones are made up of both calcium and phosphorus. Some studies show that we need both calcium and phosphorus flowing through our systems at the same time for our bones to make the best use of each. This is why some people view milk as a perfect food: because it has both calcium and phosphorus in abundance.

However, most phosphorus in the American diet comes from whole grains. Dairy ranks number three after meat. There have been no documented cases of phosphorus deficiency when sufficient calories are consumed unless a genetic disorder is present. This is mainly because all foods contain phosphorus.

Rather, the bigger concern with phosphorus is getting too much of it, which has “been associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality in subjects with or without kidney disease.”

Iodine in Milk

Iodine is an important nutrient for a multitude of reasons, one is to prevent hideous goiters from forming due to thyroid dysfunction. Most iodine in milk comes from the disinfectants used to clean the milking equipment, not from the milk itself.

We get the majority of our iodine from fortified foods like salt and dairy (in the US), but we can also get it from sea vegetables and supplements. Seaweed also appears to have several other health benefits, such as preventing and fighting cancer.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) in Milk

Vitamin B2, also called Riboflavin, is used by many processes throughout the body from blood to brain. It’s critical that we eat foods containing B2 on a daily basis. The RDA of B2 is 1.1 mg/day for men and 1.3 mg/day for women. That’s not very much.

One cup of 2% milk has .5 mg of B2. Fortified breakfast cereals have 1.7 mg per serving. Instant oats have 1.1 mg per serving. One cup of mushrooms has .6 mg. One ounce of almonds has .3 mg. And one cup of quinoa also has .3 mg.

While pan-fried beef liver appears to contain the most B2, fortified breakfast cereals and mushrooms have more B2 than dairy so we can easily meet our RDA of B2 with plant-based foods.

Vitamin B12 in Milk

B12 is critical for brain, cardiovascular and nervous system health. Luckily, we only need 2.4 micrograms per day; a tiny amount. Plus, our bodies are very efficient at storing it. If you stop consuming B12 today, your body has enough stored up to last 2 to 3 years!

B12 is actually not a vitamin, though. It’s synthesized by microbes that live in the soil, untreated water and the intestines of animals and bugs (that we sometimes consume in fruits and veggies).

Vegans are at an increased risk of B12 deficiency because most B12 in the western diet comes from animal products, especially meat, dairy and eggs. However, some studies have shown that vegans aren’t the only people deficient in B12; so are meat eaters.

“A careful look at 3,000 men and women in the ongoing Framingham Offspring Study found 39 percent with plasma B12 levels in the ‘low normal’ range….Nearly 9 percent of the study population fell below the current deficiency level.”

As we get older, our ability to absorb B12 goes down, and there simply isn’t as much of it naturally occuring in our foods anymore thanks to the hyper-sanitization and over processing of them.

The best source of B12 to ensure you get an adequate and consistent supply is from a supplement. A lot of people object to taking supplements and claim B12 is the reason we’re supposed to eat meat, but that belief isn’t accurate.

If you drink out of the nearest lake or stream like our ancestors did, you’ll likely get all the B12 you need. Of course, you’ll also likely get dysentery, cholera and a host of other nasty diseases, but you’ll probably be just fine in the B12 department. Or, you can just take a B12 supplement costing pennies a day.

It’s also important to note that most livestock is given B12 supplements because they don’t get enough of it either, especially livestock raised in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). Additionally, the overuse of antibiotics in livestock tends to kill the microbes that produce B12. That means most of the B12 from animal products comes from supplements given to the animals, not from natural sources.

The Anti-Nutrients in Milk

In order to fully answer the question, “Do humans need dairy?” we also need to look at the bad stuff. The anti-nutrients in milk and dairy.

Cholesterol in Milk

Dietary cholesterol may not be as harmful as saturated fat in terms of heart disease, but it still raises blood serum cholesterol. If you’re a cholesterol denier like so many are these days, I encourage you to read my last blog post, “Why You Should Ignore Industry Funded Studies.” It looks at 3 frequently cited studies that show how Big Food and Big Pharma use nutrition studies to cast doubt where none exists so you keep buying their products.

Dairy, mainly cheese, is the leading source of cholesterol in the western diet, and dietary cholesterol raises blood serum cholesterol, which causes heart disease just like smoking causes cancer. Plants, including nut butters, contain no cholesterol.

Saturated Fat in Milk

One cup of 1% milk contains 1.5 grams of saturated fat. Saturated fat actually raises blood serum cholesterol more than dietary cholesterol making it worse in terms of heart disease risk. We should strive to reduce our intake of saturated fat as much as possible. It should be as close to zero as possible.

Trans Fat in Milk

One cup of 2% milk contains .2 grams of trans fats. That may not seem like a lot, but trans fat is by far the worst type of fat we can consume. Before we realized how bad trans fats were for human health, most of our intake came from vegetable derived sources like hydrogenated vegetable oils (think Crisco shortening).

However, over the past 15 years, the ratio has flipped and now 50% of our trans fats come from animal sources. The trans fats have been there all along, but now people eating the western diet are getting a larger percentage from those sources than from vegetable derived trans fats.

IGF-1 in Milk

Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 or IGF-1 is a cancer promoting hormone that our bodies naturally produce to maintain normal cell growth and function. However, we can increase the amount of it floating around in our bodies by consuming it in the foods we eat, mainly from animal sources like meat and dairy. The only way to significantly reduced the negative effects of IGF-1 is to eat a plant-based diet.

Hormones in Milk

You may have heard of the Bovine Growth Hormone used to make cows grow faster and produce more milk, but it’s not the only mammalian hormone in milk. There are multiple, including estrogen. And studies show that “the presence of steroid hormones in dairy products could be counted as an important risk factor for various cancers in humans.” Especially prostate and breast cancer.

According to Dr. Greger, “All animal-based foods contain sex steroid hormones, such as estrogen. These hormones naturally found even in organic cow’s milk may play a role in the various associations identified between dairy products and hormone-related conditions, including acne, diminished male reproductive potential, and premature puberty.”

It’s surprising that so many people avoid soy consumption because it contains phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens, that have been shown to prevent and fight cancer. Meanwhile, they continue to consume dairy which has real mammalian estrogen that is virtually identical to human estrogen and has been linked to both prostate and breast cancer (as well as the much feared man-boobs).

Antibiotics in Milk

The presence of antibiotics in milk is hotly contested, mainly by the dairy industry, and very little scientific evidence exists to suggest that the antibiotics given to farm animals makes its way into people who consume them. This video talks about one study, but it’s far from conclusive.

However, the biggest concern with antibiotics shouldn’t be how much gets ingested, but rather, how much is being given to farm animals, especially dairy cows.

The FDA estimates that 80% of all antibiotics used in the US are given to livestock. The overuse of antibiotics to treat infections, speed growth and boost production has created so-called “superbugs” that are resistant to normal antibiotics. This practice is quite literally risking all of our lives.

Nutrients Missing in Milk

Milk has a lot of essential nutrients, and some harmful ones, but it’s lacking in three of the most important nutrients that are only found in plants: fiberphytonutrients and antioxidants. While dairy and other animal products like eggs have trace amounts of antioxidants, they don’t have enough to be beneficial to human health and nearly all of them are destroyed in cooking.

Where’s the Fiber?

The RDA of fiber has been recently increased from 25 grams to 28 grams, which is still too low to prevent or reverse many of our common illnesses, especially colorectal cancers, heart disease and diverticulitis. To maximize the protectiveness of fiber, we need at least 30 to 35 grams of fiber, and ideally over 40 grams per day.

You’re limited by the number of calories you can and should eat in a day based on your height, weight, sex and age. If you’re consuming high calorie foods like meat, dairy and eggs that contain no fiber, you’re crowding out foods that have fiber in abundance, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts and whole grains.

Eating a WFPB diet, Amelia and I consume an average of 40 to 45 grams of fiber per day. I’m eating a 2,000 calorie diet. If I replaced a quarter of my calories (500) with animal products, I would immediately reduce my daily fiber intake to 30 grams, the minimum recommendation based on the science.

Let’s say I swap out my whole plant foods for 500 calories of processed foods. That will drop my fiber intake by another 8 to 10 grams, down to roughly 20 grams per day. But even that is still more than the average American who consumes just 15 grams of fiber per day!

The only way to achieve the government’s conservative fiber RDA is to eat mostly whole plants, probably at least 75% of calories. (Notice how the fiber RDA is conservative while both calcium and protein are double what we actually need.)

Where are the Phytonutrients

“Plant-based foods contain more than 100,000 different disease-preventing nutrients—more specifically, more than 100,000 phyto-nutrients, phyto for the Greek word for plant.” These phytonutrients, many of them unknown or at least not fully understood, work together synergistically to keep us alive and healthy.

Vitamin C is one phytonutrient that we must consume from the foods we eat or we risk getting scurvy, a disease that used to plague pirates due to their lack of plants on long voyages. Plants are the only source of Vitamin C…for humans.

Carnivores like lions and tigers, and omnivores like bears and dogs create their own Vitamin C. All carnivores and the vast majority of omnivores don’t need to eat Vitamin C to survive. Only herbivores do. Stop and think about the implications of that biological fact for a minute….

Where are the Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are those little powerhouse molecules that constantly search our systems for heart disease and cancer-causing free radicals. Once found, the little antioxidants destroy the agents of disease so we can go on living and reproducing.

Antioxidants are found abundantly in plants with only tiny, insignificant amounts in animal products. The best sources are herbs and spices, followed by berries, other fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The average American gets less than half the recommended daily amount of antioxidants. Again, the number of calories you consume in a day is limited so if half of your calories are coming from foods that contain no antioxidants, it’s not surprising that everyone is running at a deficit. You would need to eat nearly twice the calories you’ve been eating, all from plants, to get the antioxidants your body needs to effectively fight disease.

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA)

The RDA got its start back in World War II when the US government wanted to make sure its military personnel and citizens were getting enough to eat. The percentages were based on reasonable assumptions at the time plus a safety margin, and the values were updated every 5 to 10 years.

Unfortunately, the USDA got involved back in the 1950’s. Since they represent the farming industry first and “the people” second, they influenced the RDA’s upward, especially for nutrients contained abundantly in animal products, like calcium and protein.

The RDA for calcium is roughly 1,000 mg per day. It ranges from 800 to 1,200 based on age and sex, but for most people it’s 1,000 mg. However, several studies have shown that we only need 500 to 700 mg of calcium per day to be healthy, unless you eat a lot of animal protein.

The EPIC-Oxford study found that vegans who eat more than 525 mg of calcium per day had the same bone fracture rates as meat eaters while vegans consuming less than 525 mg/day had a 30% higher fracture rate than meat eaters.

By influencing the RDA’s upward, our government helped Big Food increase sales of their most profitable products: meat, dairy and eggs. Most of these recommendations have little or no basis in nutrition science. Rather, they were selected to increase profit margins.

Best Way to Achieve Bone Health

Contrary to clever marketing campaigns funded by the dairy industry and the US government checkoff programs, humans do not need dairy to be healthy. In fact, just the opposite is true: humans should avoid dairy to be healthy. The beneficial nutrients found in dairy can be found in more optimal forms and amounts in plants, along with fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants that aren’t found in animal products.

In terms of bone health, recent studies in Europe have demonstrated that high dairy consumption is associated with HIGHER bone fracture rates, not lower. And higher milk consumption has also been linked to increases in cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and most other diet-related diseases.

By far the best way to ensure bone health and to avoid osteoporosis in later years is to get adequate calcium, phosphorus and potassium from plant-based sources like kale, broccoli and fortified non-dairy milk.

You also need to get a good supply of Vitamin D, which helps in bone growth. Getting adequate sunlight each day (15 to 30 minutes) is the best way to meet your Vitamin D needs, but if you live far from the equator or work indoors all day, you may need to take a vitamin D supplement or consume fortified non-dairy milk, especially in the winter months.

Additionally, you need to take a vitamin B12 supplement, even if you’re not a vegan.

Finally, several studies show that weight-bearing exercises throughout life significantly contribute to bone health and density. Even if you’ve never done weight-bearing exercises before, today is a great time to start. Try Yoga, Tai Chi, Brisk Walking, Hiking, Biking, Strength Training, etc. Please be careful, though, especially if you’re out-of-shape. You should consult your doctor first before starting a new exercise program.

Environmental and Ethical Issues with Dairy

As a vegan environmentalist, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention both the environmental and ethical implications of consuming dairy products.

Environmental Impact of Dairy

An average dairy cow produces 120 pounds of excrement per day. With more than 9 million dairy cows, that’s over 1 billion pounds of waste generated every day, just in the US.

There is no requirement to treat or process farm animal waste like there is for human waste so all of that manure accumulates and contaminates the soil, air, groundwater and nearby lakes and streams.

It’s estimated that dairy alone contributes 4% of the manmade greenhouse gases. The animal industry as a whole contributes more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation industry.

Dairy also uses large amounts of water for the cows and in the production process. It’s estimated that one gallon of milk requires 1,000 gallons of water when you include the food grown to feed the cow, the water that the cow drinks, and the water used in the cleaning and production processes. Dairy is a very inefficient use of water, which is now in short supply in many parts of the world.

Most dairy cows are fed an unnatural diet of GMO grains. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This book goes into detail about the harmful environmental consequences of GMO monocrops used mainly to feed livestock.

Each of us has the ability to minimize our environmental impact on this tiny blue speck we call home. Reducing animal product consumption, including dairy, is the single most important change you can make to ensure our children inherit a livable planet.

Dairy is Scary

The treatment of most farm animals in the US and around the world is beyond horrendous. It’s an abomination. The dairy industry is perhaps worse than the meat industry in terms of animal treatment and conditions.

Dairy cows have been selectively bred, engineered and pumped full of chemicals to make them grow faster, with larger udders to produce more milk. Compared to dairy cows in the 1950’s, the typical cow now produces 6 times more milk per day. They suffer from painful mastitis, infections and sores.

They’re repeatedly impregnated for 4 to 6 years so they continue to produce milk. Their babies are taken away, sometimes immediately, but usually within a couple of days. Male calves are either killed immediately or sold for veal. Female calves are raised to replace older cows that are taken to slaughter when their milk production falls below the acceptable level.

Cows are social, intelligent animals. They form strong bonds with their offspring and other cows. They each have unique personalities, which become apparent after spending a short amount of time with them.

Humans do not need dairy to be healthy. Rather, dairy makes us unhealthy. That means there is no survival reason to consume dairy products. We can get all the nutrients we need from plant-based sources with far fewer environmental impacts and much less cruelty.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner

Why You Should Ignore Industry Funded Studies

A few days ago while debating someone on Instagram about the role saturated fat and dietary cholesterol play in raising blood serum cholesterol, the reasons for why you should ignore industry funded studies became even more clear.

The Instagram post from NutritionFacts.org stated that Alzheimers has been linked to high cholesterol. This comes as no surprise to most of us in the Whole-Food Plant-Based (WFPB) community. Autopsies showed us years ago that the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients were freckled with amyloid plaques and cholesterol deposits that were blocking blood flow. Now PET scans of living patients are showing us the same thing.

However, that’s not the point of this blog post. Rather, I’d like to address one of the comments on the NutritionFacts.org post that (incorrectly) stated that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat don’t affect blood serum cholesterol. This myth was created by several very crafty studies that were setup to fail so the sheep (that’s us) keep buying the products sold by the study’s funding sources.

Corporations and industry associations fund thousands of studies a year and every study they fund either paints their products in a positive light or their competition’s products in a negative light. Or it doesn’t get published. You can read more about this marketing strategy in my blog post, “Doubt Is Our Product 2.0: What Big Food Learned From Big Tobacco“.

 

Credible Nutrition Sources - Bribe

While there are tens of thousands of these studies that make ridiculous claims about the nutrition of food (it’s the best marketing money can buy), I’d like to address only 3 of them, two of which were quoted in the erroneous NutritionFacts.org comment mentioned above.

For a FAR more complete analysis of this topic, check out Dr. Marion Nestle’s book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

The PREDIMED Study

This study was designed to prove that the Mediterranean Diet is the healthiest diet for human consumption. Notice I didn’t say it was designed to test the Mediterranean diet to see how healthy it is. That’s how the scientific method is supposed to work. Rather, the researchers designed the study from the ground up to PROVE the Mediterranean Diet is the healthiest diet.

No Cooking OilWhy would they do that? Because the study was in-part funded by the olive oil and nut industries. Both olive oil and nuts are consumed in large quantities in the Mediterranean Diet, especially olive oil. That means if more people eat the Mediterranean Diet, or at least think olive oil and nuts are healthy and consequently eat more of them, then profits go up for both of those industries.

(There is ample legitimate, unbiased, non-industry funded evidence to suggest nuts are in fact healthy and do help prevent heart disease, so I’m not going to discuss nuts in this blog post.)

The PREDIMED Study was recently retracted due to errors in how the study subjects were randomized, but the numbers have been recrunched to eliminate the questionable data and the results didn’t change so it’s going to be republished.

However, the study should have never been published in the first place because the control group didn’t follow the prescribed control diet. That means the test group has no basis for comparison. The control “low-fat” group ate a diet consisting of 37% fat. 37% FAT!!! In what fantasy world is 37% fat considered a “low-fat” diet? It’s absurd!

To put that into perspective, Dr. Ornish, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. McDougall and Dr. Barnard (among others) recommend a diet with less than 10% of calories from fat. Now THAT is a low-fat diet that has been shown to reverse heart disease, diabetes, obesity and a host of other chronic illnesses.

But the only way to eat a diet that has less than 10% of calories from fat is to eat a WFPB No-Oil diet. If  you include any animal products or oil in your diet, you will immediately be over the 10% mark because they’re so high in fat.

Even Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who is more liberal with his stance on dietary fat, recommends only 15-25% of calories from fat, with nearly all of those fats coming from plant sources like nuts, seeds and avocados. He discourages any oil consumption.

The study’s olive oil and nut groups consumed a diet that was 39% fat so comparing them to a 37% fat control group would be like comparing a group of people who smoke 39 cigarettes a day to a group who only smokes 37 cigarettes a day and saying that cigarettes don’t cause cancer because no significant difference was detected, or the 39 cigarette a day smokers somehow showed LESS cancer risk. The comparison is meaningless. Unlike cigarettes, we do need some fat in our diet to be healthy, but that number appears to around 10% of calories, not 37%.

The PREDIMED Study has been quoted in thousands of other studies as proof that olive oil is a health food, despite the meaningless, insignificant results of the study and the uncomparable control group.

This study alone has likely caused millions of preventable deaths from heart disease, as well as deaths from Alzheimer’s, which has been correlated with unsaturated fat consumption, found abundantly in olive oil.

This is just one example of why you should ignore industry funded studies. Here’s another.

The Cambridge Saturated Fat Study

The full name of this meta-analysis is, “Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Like the PREDIMED Study, this study was setup to prove that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease.

To understand why the highly esteemed Cambridge University would stoop so low as to construct a study to prove a result, rather than construct a study to discover the truth, you only need to look at the lengthy Article, Author, and Disclosure Information from the published article:

Potential Conflicts of Interest: Dr. Franco: Grants: Nestlé and Metagenics. Dr. Butterworth: Grants: Pfizer, Merck Sharp & Dohme, and Novartis; Personal fees: Roche Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Thompson: Grants: Medical Research Council and British Heart Foundation. Dr. Khaw: Grants: Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK. Dr. Mozaffarian: Personal fees: Bunge, Pollock Institute, Quaker Oats, Life Sciences Research Organization, Foodminds, Nutrition Impact, Amarin, AstraZeneca, Winston & Strawn, Unilever North American Scientific Advisory Board, and UpToDate online chapter. Dr. Danesh: Personal fees: Merck Sharp & Dohme UK Atherosclerosis Advisory Board, Novartis Cardiovascular & Metabolic Advisory Board, Pfizer Population Research Advisory Panel, and Sanofi Advisory Board; Grants: British Heart Foundation; British United Provident Association Foundation; diaDexus; European Research Council; European Union; Evelyn Trust; Fogarty International Centre; GlaxoSmithKline; Merck; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; National Health Service Blood and Transplant; Novartis; Pfizer; Medical Research Council; University of British Columbia; University of Sheffield; Wellcome Trust; and UK Biobank; Nonfinancial support: Merck Sharp & Dohme UK Atherosclerosis Advisory Board, Novartis Cardiovascular & Metabolic Advisory Board, Pfizer Population Research Advisory Panel, Sanofi Advisory Board, diaDexus, and Roche Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Di Angelantonio: Grant: British Heart Foundation, European Union, National Health Service Blood and Transplant, and Medical Research Council; Royalties: Elsevier (France).

Nestlé? Pfizer? Roche Pharmaceuticals? GlaxoSmithKline? Why do we allow these corrupt organizations to fund studies? And why would anyone in their right mind believe a single word of any of their studies’ findings?

Nearly every one of these “conflicts of interest” stand to benefit financially from the sheep believing that cholesterol and saturated fat don’t cause heart disease. Some sell high-fat foods (Nestlé). Most sell cholesterol lowering, cancer and diabetic medications.

So how did the researchers accomplish their goal of manufacturing doubt about the REAL cause of the world’s number one killer, heart disease?

First, you need to understand what a meta-analysis is. That’s a type of study that aggregates the findings of several different studies to try to get a broader understanding of a specific topic. In the case of this Cambridge study, the specific topic was saturated fat and heart disease.

A meta-analysis can be a powerful tool when used correctly. However, all of the studies need to be unbiased, they need to employ similar methodologies, and they need to have similar test subjects. If the studies don’t share these commonalities, they can’t be compared, at least not scientifically.

In the case of the Cambridge study, the researchers did what people often accuse us WFPB eaters of doing: they cherry picked their studies. Now that the meat, dairy, egg, cooking oil and junk food industries have funded millions of studies and articles over the past 30+ years, it’s easy to look only at industry-funded research while ignoring anything funded by independent, unbiased sources.

And that’s exactly what they did. They chose several uncomparable studies previously funded by their benefactors that questioned the link between heart disease and saturated fat consumption, while totally ignoring the plethora of unbiased studies that showed the strong correlation between heart disease and saturated fat consumption.

This study led to the book “The Big Fat Surprise” and the Time article stating “Eat Butter,” as well as countless other headlines with similar disastrous messages. After this study was released and subsequently picked up by profit motivated news outlets around the world looking to boost ratings and magazine sales to people who love to hear good news about their bad habits, a Gallup Poll showed that people stopped paying attention to their saturated fat and cholesterol intake. This has likely led to millions of preventable deaths worldwide in just the past 4 years.

The corporations won. They paid researchers to create confusion and contradictory information so we would buy more of their high-fat products and the medications needed to treat the chronic illnesses caused by a high-fat diet, and they succeeded. Well done corporations. Well done.

Here in reality, we don’t need more studies on the dangers of saturated fat and cholesterol. Science soundly established their disastrous health consequences decades ago. Any industry-funded study done today is merely intended to cast doubt where none exists.

We know how penicillin works and we know that it works very well for certain types of illnesses. There is no need to fund more studies to show that penicillin works. The studies done 70 to 80 years ago are all we need.

The same is true for saturated fat and cholesterol. We know they raise blood serum cholesterol and we know high cholesterol is the primary cause of heart disease. There is absolutely no legitimate need to conduct more studies on this topic so any study done today should be taken with a grain of salt and recognized for what it is: a marketing strategy to cast doubt where none exists so people continue buying deadly products.

The UCLA Cholesterol Study

The findings of this study were actually legitimate (despite being influenced by pharmaceutical companies), and the recommendations from the study findings are mostly accurate, although they only tell half of the story.

Before I dive into the study findings, it’s important to note the lead researcher’s conflicts of interest:

Fonarow has conducted research for GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer and serves a consultant and has received honorarium from Abbott, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer and Schering Plough companies.

These companies will all benefit from the study’s recommendations, as you’ll see below.

The study found that nearly 75% of patients hospitalized for a heart attack had cholesterol levels that were within the national guidelines for normal cholesterol levels. Think about that for a minute. 75% of heart attack patients had what is considered by the government to be safe cholesterol levels.

Now, if I’m a fat pusher like the beef, dairy, egg and cooking oil industries, I would latch onto these findings and spin them to benefit my profit margins, which is exactly what they did. Their message was, “See! Cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease! Buy more of our high cholesterol, high fat products!”

However, that wasn’t the recommendation from the study. Rather, the researchers suggested the national guidelines for safe levels of cholesterol should be LOWERED. They didn’t say high cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease. They said it takes even LESS cholesterol than we thought to cause heart disease.

The researchers could have put this matter to rest had they stated that reducing or eliminating dietary cholesterol and saturated fat from animal products and cooking oil will lead to lower cholesterol levels. However, Big Broccoli didn’t fund this study; Big Pharma did.

Pills

The safe cholesterol levels discussed by Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Ornish, Dr. Greger and others are Total Cholesterol below 150 mg/dL and LDL (bad) cholesterol below 70 mg/dL. In populations around the world with levels lower than these, heart disease is nonexistent.

Big Pharma would like nothing more than to have the government lower the safe cholesterol levels because that would mean a huge financial windfall for them. As it stands, only a very small percentage of the American and European population would meet the truly safe cholesterol levels, which is why heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and kills more than 500,000 Americans each year. That means nearly everyone would need to go on cholesterol lowering medications (which don’t actually work).

OR…

They could eat a WFPB No-Oil diet. But most of the world governments are owned by the corporations so if the national cholesterol guidelines are lowered, it will likely be to increase sales of cholesterol medications rather than to encourage people to cut out the foods that cause high cholesterol in the first place.

I’m not going to blame this study for killing people because the researchers told us we need to lower our cholesterol levels. They essentially acknowledged the truth that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat cause heart disease and they recommended we strive for lower blood serum cholesterol numbers.

More meds isn’t the answer, though. Dietary changes will reverse this condition without the need for more cholesterol lowering drugs. And the researchers could have stopped animal ag and cooking oil pushers in their tracks by clearly stating that cholesterol causes heart disease and lowering our dietary intake of both cholesterol and saturated fat would erase most cases of heart disease.

Even though this study validated the conclusions of earlier studies, the funders influenced the final recommendations and tilted them to sell more drugs that treat the symptoms of heart disease rather than eliminate animal products and cooking oil, which would treat the root cause of heart disease.

So even when the study conclusions are accurate and meaningful, there is still ample reason for why you should ignore industry funded studies.

Conclusion

As the original commenter on the NutritionFacts.org Instagram post demonstrated, people see these industry funded studies on the Internet and in the media, and believe them without question. People from my Generation X and older were raised to trust what we hear on the news and from people selling themselves as experts, but times have changed. We can’t trust ANYTHING anymore.

And when it comes to industry-funded studies, they should be considered guilty until proven innocent. Industry is driven by profit. They only fund studies if the results will increase their profits. They have no interest in truth or discovery or the advancement of humanity. They only care about selling more products for more money. Period.

These 3 studies, and countless others like them, create confusion where none exists so you keep buying profitable, deadly products. Meanwhile, your health, your length of life, and your quality of life continue to suffer.

But this doesn’t have to be your reality. You can easily take back control of your health, your life and your happiness by refusing to be manipulated for profit. As Dr. McDougall demonstrated, in as little as one week, you can lose weight and significantly lower your cholesterol levels. And with continued adherence to a truly low-fat diet (roughly 10% of calories from fat), you can completely decimate your heart disease risk and even start to reverse it, as well as reduce risk factors for most other chronic illnesses like stroke, cancer and diabetes.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner

The Omnivore’s Dilemma Book Review

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanThe Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals – this book by Michael Pollan (not a vegan) provides a detailed and disturbing look into the western industrialized food system.

His desire to answer the question, “Where does my food come from?” led him on a cross-country adventure: From a cornfield in Iowa, to a cattle ranch in South Dakota, to a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) in Garden City, Kansas, to a “beyond organic” farm in Virginia, and more.

On his adventure, he learned how our “food system” has been corrupted by government and corporate greed to provide the lowest quality, most dangerous, cheapest possible food to the unsuspecting, progressively unhealthier public.

Iowa Cornfields

Pollan starts his adventure in an Iowa cornfield. Thanks to short-sighted government programs, the military industrial complex and genetically modified crops (GMO’s), farmers have diverged from the age old tradition of rotating crops to replenish the soil of lost nutrients. Instead, they now plant the same crops (monocrops) on the same fields year-after-year-after-year, effectively destroying the soil by robbing it of all its nutrients.

To make the soil fertile enough to grow corn or soy, the farmer must put down literally tons of synthetic fertilizer, which runs off the fields when it rains, contaminating ponds, lakes, streams, rivers and eventually the ocean where all runoff ends up. It’s so bad in some parts of the country that cities are forced to issue “blue baby alerts” to notify the public that the water is unsafe to drink. It’s so toxic to young children and infants that it can turn them blue from lack of oxygen in their blood.

In addition to the synthetic fertilizer, they also must spray tons of herbicides and pesticides because the plants’ natural defenses have been weakened, and the traditional, natural forms of weed and pest control have been abandoned. These poisonous chemicals not only contaminate the food, but they also run off when it rains, contaminating water supplies just as the fertilizer does.

I grew up in the country with giant hedge trees lining every pasture. Most of these were planted during the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s to help control the wind and prevent another dust bowl from happening. Those trees are now a part of history thanks to a government program that encourages farmers to plant every square inch of their soil. Farmers cut the trees down so they can plant right up to the road and to the neighbor’s property line.

The Omnivore's Dilemma Corn Field

Small farmers who plant these commodity crops barely make ends meet. In fact, the only thing that keeps most of them afloat are government subsidies (aka welfare). The price farmers get for corn and soy are consistently far below what it costs to produce them, so the government makes up the difference to the tune of $24 BILLION in 2017.

These welfare checks may help the small farmers barely make ends meet, but that’s not the purpose of the subsidies. Rather, it allows the Big Food corporations to buy the raw materials for their products at steeply discounted prices so they can sell their products more cheaply to consumers while increasing their profit margins.

Most of the corn and soy crops grown in the US are GMO (or genetically engineered – GE, to be more precise). And most of that is fed to livestock: “Over 70% of harvested GE biomass is fed to food producing animals, making them the major consumers of GE crops for the past 15 plus years.”

The cheap cost of corn and soy, thanks to government subsidies, is why beef, bork, chicken, dairy and processed foods are cheaper than fruits and vegetables in the US. It’s not like that here in Ecuador. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains are very affordable here, while meat is much more expensive, as it should be.

We bought the fruits and veggies in the picture below for $28. That’s roughly 50 pounds of non-GMO, mostly organic, delicious food for a little over 50 cents per pound. This would have easily cost us over $120 in Denver.

The Omnivore's Dilemma Grassfed Ecuador Fruits Veggies

The “Beyond Organic” Farm of Joel Salatin

Pollan’s stint on Joel Salatin’s “beyond organic” farm in Virginia showed us how everyone “thinks” farm animals are raised, but Joel’s idyllic little farm and farms like his now account for less than 5% of the animal agriculture industry in the US. In fact, farms like Joel’s “beyond organic” farm probably account for far less than 1% in the US.

The Omnivore's Dilemma Grassfed Cattle

Less than 5% Are Raised on Grass

Most meat animals are raised in CAFO’s: giant grassless, manure filled feedlots (picture below) where animals are fed an unnatural diet of GMO corn and soy, antibiotics, chemicals and the remains of their already slaughtered brethren (CAFO’s feed the processed remains of slaughtered animals back to the living animals to fatten them up, effectively turning herbivorous meat animals into cannibals).

The Omnivore's Dilemma Book Review Feedlot

95% Are Raised in Feedlots with NO Grass

While Salatin’s cows and pigs may live a more natural, happier life, they still end up in the same industrial slaughterhouses as the CAFO animals. Just like industrial-raised animals, they are forced into a shoot against their will while hearing the horrific sounds of their former pasture-mates in the slaughter line ahead of them. Their stress hormones pump through their muscles that will become meat, waiting for a long, curved knife to be pressed against their throat or a bolt gun to be pressed between their eyes. Their deaths are often anything BUT quick and painless.

If I had to choose between an industrial farm like the one Pollan tours in Garden City, Kansas, and an idyllic countryside farm like Joel Salatin’s, I would most certainly choose Joel’s model. At least the animals get to live a happy, healthy life in their natural environment until they’re slaughtered. But as a vegan, I would rather not see any animal harmed for shallow, selfish reasons such as taste and tradition.

The Omnivore’s ETHICAL Dilemma

Later in the book, Pollan dips his toe into the ethics of eating meat, but quickly yanks it out when he starts to question his decision to do so. He relies on many of the old classic excuses made by meat eaters and often heard by vegans, all of which are easily refuted.

His Stroll Through Animal Rights Issues

The Omnivore's Dilemma Animal LiberationWhile “trying to enjoy a rib-eye steak cooked medium rare” at the Palm, Pollan reads “Animal Liberation” by Peter Singer. This is one of the first and most influential animal rights treatises to date.

For a brief moment during this chapter of his book (and life), Pollan starts to see through the eyes of a vegan. He starts to see that the unmeasurable harm we cause to animals is not only unethical and immoral, but completely unnecessary. He says:

“It may be that as a civilization we’re groping toward a higher plane of consciousness. It may be that our moral enlightenment has advanced to the point where the practice of eating animals—like our former practices of keeping slaves or treating women as inferior beings—can now be seen for the barbarity it is, a relic of an ignorant past that very soon will fill us with shame.”

But as he continues writing this chapter of the book and arguing with the unresponsive pages written by Peter Singer, he slowly emerges from his brief awakening, quoting Benjamin Franklin: “The great advantage of being a ‘reasonable creature,’ is that you can find a reason for whatever you want to do.”

Then begin the justifications….

Being Vegan is Inconvenient, Selfish and Inconsiderate

In an attempt to better understand the animal rights issue, he decided to go “temporarily” vegetarian. He didn’t go vegan “because eggs and milk can be coaxed from animals without hurting or killing them.”

If you still think eggs and milk are victimless products, I encourage you to watch “Dairy Is Scary” and “What’s Wrong With Eggs? The Truth About The Egg Industry.”

If you don’t have time to watch these videos, here’s a quick summary: Dairy cows are forcefully impregnated so they produce milk. Once the calf is born, it is taken away from its mother. Some are killed immediately, some females are raised to be milk producers, and males are often sold for veal. They’ll spend their days in a pen like those below being fed an unnatural diet to fatten them up before they’re slaughtered. Once the dairy cow stops producing sufficient milk, she is also slaughtered.

Baby male chicks in the egg industry are ground alive, processed into meal, and fed back to the chickens as a source of protein and calories for the egg layers: the chicks’ own mothers (that’s right, more cannibalism in the animal ag industry). Egg laying hens are a different breed than broiler chickens, so male chicks are useless and discarded like lifeless recycling material.

After a month of eating a vegetarian diet, Pollan decided it was selfish, inconsiderate and really inconvenient. It takes more time to prepare a vegetarian meal due to all the extra “chopping” (which is done by the butcher for meat eaters). He also says:

“My new dietary restrictions throw a big wrench into the basic host-guest relationship. As a guest, if I neglect to tell my host in advance that I don’t eat meat, she feels bad, and if I do tell her, she’ll make something special for me, in which case I’ll feel bad. On this matter I’m inclined to agree with the French, who gaze upon any personal dietary prohibition as bad manners.”

This isn’t bad manners or selfish, as Amelia noted to me, it’s self-conscious. He is worried that he’ll offend his guest or host with his dietary restrictions. He’s embarrased.

But if he had a peanut allergy, would he not ask his host to avoid peanuts?  If he was Hindu, would he mind asking his host not to cook beef? If he was hosting a friend from France for dinner, would he cook horse meat for them to make them feel more comfortable?

If you’re confident in your beliefs like most vegans are…like Amelia and I are…you don’t feel selfish or inconsiderate about asking for considerations. No one need ever apologize for doing the right thing, even if it’s not the “norm” or “popular” among the masses. True friends will understand and be happy to accommodate you.

It’s Tradition

After stating how healthy and virtuous he feels eating a vegetarian diet, he then argues that we can’t simply ignore tradition. We’ve been eating meet for thousands of years and it brings great joy to us as we gather at family occasions like Thanksgiving, baseball games and religious holidays. He says:

“These ritual meals link us to our history along multiple lines—family, religion, landscape, nation, and, if you want to go back much further, biology. For although humans no longer need meat in order to survive (now that we can get our B-12 from fermented foods or supplements), we have been meat eaters for most of our time on earth. This fact of evolutionary history is reflected in the design of our teeth, the structure of our digestion, and, quite possibly, in the way my mouth still waters at the sight of a steak cooked medium rare.”

This entire argument is based on two logical fallacies: Appeal to Tradition and Appeal to Nature. It may sound like a reasonable argument, but just because we’ve always done something a certain way, or lions engage in certain behaviors, doesn’t make it right, ethical or even healthy for moral human beings.

The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is also a tradition that dates back 4,000 years in China, yet most westerners are appalled by this event. If eating a cow, pig or chicken is considered normal and traditional to Americans, why should we so fervently insist that the Chinese stop eating dogs and cats, which is considered normal and traditional to them?

The tradition argument was also used to justify slavery and the oppression of women. At what point can we stop using “that’s the way we’ve always done it” as an excuse to continue harmful behaviors?

In addition to his Appeal to Tradition, none of his other justifications are accurate, as you’ll see below. These are all Appeal to Nature Logical Fallacies.

Our Teeth are Designed to Eat Meat

If you have a dog or a cat, please go look at their teeth right now. Dogs are true omnivores; cats are true carnivores. Their teeth are almost identical in design. They have long canines, much longer than their other teeth, but more importantly, they have serrated molars, like a jagged knife. These are used to slice through raw meat, which is much tougher than cooked meat.

Now, go look in the mirror at your own teeth. Your canines are short by comparison. They’re barely longer and sometimes shorter than your other teeth. Look at your molars. They’re FLAT! Just like a cow or horse or monkey or ape; all herbivores or mostly herbivores (monkeys and apes sometimes eat bugs and very rarely eat other monkeys).

The Omnivore's Dilemma Teeth

How can anyone look at the teeth of carnivores and omnivores and say our teeth look like theirs? It’s delusional!

Our Digestive Tract is Designed to Process Meat

This is another myth that’s harder to see because our digestive tract isn’t visible. However, the human digestive tract looks just like that of other primates like apes and monkeys, who eat little to no meat. It doesn’t look or act like the digestive tract of carnivores or omnivores.

We’re optimized to extract every last morsel of nutrition from plants, which is why our intestines are much longer in relation to our body size than carnivores and omnivores. Compare that to the relatively short intestines of lions and bears, which are designed to get the putrefying flesh out of their bodies as quickly as possible.

The acid in our stomachs is also far weaker than carnivores and omnivores. The higher acidity of their stomachs allows them to more easily digest denser foods like meat. They even have special enzymes in their stomachs that help them digest meat, while humans have special enzymes in our mouths that help us digest plants and starches.

Our Mouths Water at the Sight of a Steak

The Omnivore's Dilemma Eating BugsAfter 2 and a half years of being vegan, my mouth no longer waters at the sight of meat. Instead, my stomach turns. The sight, sound and smell of meat is disgusting to me now.

When you’re raised from childhood eating a particular dish, you develop a taste for it. People in India love food so spicy it makes most American’s double over in pain, dripping with sweat. People in Ghana eat termites. People in Zambia eat grasshoppers. The Chinese eat bee and silkworm larvae.

To most American’s these foods sound and look disgusting, but to the people who have eaten them for generations, they are perfectly normal and very appetizing. Their mouths may even water at the sight or smell of them.

Just because some people find meat appetizing, doesn’t mean we evolved to eat it; we just got accustomed to eating it.

Vitamin B12

For another popular justification, Pollan says we evolved to eat meat because it’s the only source of Vitamin B12, which isn’t true. B12 is a microbe that’s found in the intestines of animals, but it’s also found in bugs (often consumed in fruits and veggies), the soil (at least it used to be in the soil before we destroyed it with chemicals and monocrops), and it’s also found in untreated water (the kind our ancestors drank before chlorine). These last 3 locations were the most likely sources of B12 for our ancestors, not animal intestines.

The Paleo Myths

Pollan also relies on many of the Paleo Diet myths about our anthropological history, which are far from settled, such as, “our brains grew larger from hunting and eating meat.” This is one possibility, however, many anthropologists think it just as likely that our ability to cook with fire and digest starches from tubers is the reason our brains grew.

After all, the main digestive difference between man and ape is the presence of starch-digesting enzymes in our saliva, which are 6 to 8 times more powerful in humans than other primates. Our unique trait among the primate kingdom is our ability to digest starch. Could that be why our brains grew larger than theirs?

The Paleo argument is a basic chicken and egg debate. Which came first? The hunter or the hunter’s brain? It seems to me that our brains would have to be pretty large to hunt while lacking any of the evolutionary advantages given to carnivores and omnivores, like speed, claws, REAL canines, serrated molars and the ability to digest raw meat without dying.

We needed to have tools (aka weapons) BEFORE we could hunt. Saying our brains evolved because we learned to hunt is like saying the egg came before the chicken. It doesn’t make sense if you think about it logically and rationally.

The Connective Tissue Digesting Enzyme, Elastase

One argument Pollan proposes for eating meat is that humans possess an enzyme called elastase that help us to digest elastin, which is a protein only found in the connective tissues of animals. If his assertion is correct, that means humans do show at least some evolutionary predisposition to eating meat. This momentarily shook my confidence in my understanding of human biology.

However, it only took a quick search to find his interpretation of the science to be lacking. In fact, “Elastase activity has been found in human, rat, cow, horse, dog, cat, guinea pig, chicken and fish pancreases….The human pancreas does not synthesize an elastase similar to pig PE I, because the human gene corresponding to the gene of rat pancreatic elastase I is silent in this tissue….The other pancreatic ‘elastases’ either do not solubilize elastin or have not been sequenced.”

In other words, even herbivores like cows and horses possess the elastase enzyme, meaning this cannot be held as proof we evolved to eat meat since they didn’t. The elastase enzyme is most likely an evolutionary genetic fragment leftover from some common ancestor millions of years ago. Additionally, the elastase enzyme gene is dormant/silent in humans, which means it doesn’t function the same way as it does in omnivores like rats and bears, or carnivores like lions and tigers.

The elastase enzyme cannot be used to justify meat eating.

The French Paradox

Another justification he uses in support of the high-fat animal diet is the French Paradox, which has been debunked since he authored this book. The French Paradox basically states that French people eat a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol, mostly from dairy and meat, but don’t suffer the same rates of heart disease as other parts of the world who eat the same way.

According to Pollan, the French are “a population of wine-swilling cheese eaters with lower rates of heart disease and obesity.” He says it’s the way they take time to “enjoy” their meals and the amount of wine they drink that has such heart-healthy consequences.

Again, the French Paradox mystery has been debunked. It turns out there is no paradox. France only started eating the western diet in large numbers back in the 80s and 90s, when the original study on heart disease in France was done. It takes time to develop heart disease after you change your diet, so the results hadn’t shown up yet. If you start smoking today, you’re not going to get cancer tomorrow.

Additionally, for whatever reason, doctors in France tended to underreport the number of deaths from heart disease on death certificates. Correcting for this underreporting puts France right in line with the rest of the western diet eating nations. There is no French Paradox, so taking time to enjoy a glass of wine with your 3 hour dinner apparently has no impact on heart disease rates.

There is No “Omnivore’s Dilemma”

There are a lot more unsound arguments made as the justifications continue, like domestication was evolutionary rather than a human construct because the animals “discovered” they had a better chance of survival by allowing us to domesticate them. Mr. Pollan, we domesticated them to improve our own chance of survival. They were just along for the ride. Refuting all of his justifications would take an entire book, which I may write at some point, but not today.

The Omnivore's Dilemma Extinction EventHere in the real world, there is no “omnivore’s dilemma” simply because we aren’t true omnivores. We’re pretenders. We used our large brains to figure out how to fake being omnivores to improve our own survival rates. And it worked really well for a really long time, but now it’s on the verge of killing us all.

Like the dinosaurs, we have become too large (in numbers) and too highly adapted to our specific environment. Our appetites for animal products have grown so dramatically over the past 100 years that our production of them is destroying the planet and our own long-term health along with it. We humans have become the proverbial asteroid, orchestrating our own not-so-slow-motion mass extinction event.

The crux of the omnivore’s dilemma, at least according to Pollan, is that we can eat virtually anything, which makes it hard to know what we should be eating. This is a valid point, and one that food marketers love to exploit.

Rather than an “omnivore’s dilemma,” what we really have is a “marketer’s dream.” Since we can eat almost anything, marketers are happy to package almost anything up and sell it to us, even if it makes us sick or slowly kills us. As long as we keep buying what they’re pushing, the corporations will continue hitting Wall Street’s quarterly earnings estimates, nothing will change, they’ll continue to get richer and we’ll continue to get sicker.

But that paradigm only works if you continue to participate in it. You can decide to use your large brain to make better, healthier, more environmentally friendly, and more compassionate choices.

For more details on how we’re manipulated for profit, check out my blog post, “Doubt Is Our Product 2.0: What Big Food Learned from Big Tobacco.”

I’m not demanding or even asking everyone to go vegan. That’s a choice I made for myself because I felt like it was the right thing to do for my own health, for the planet and for the animals. All I’m asking of you is that you think about your choices and stop allowing yourself to be manipulated by marketers who are only concerned with sales and profits and earnings projections.

To quote Pollan, “It may be that as a civilization we’re groping toward a higher plane of consciousness.” Even though he failed to reach the peak himself, let’s hope he’s right about civilization as a whole.

Conclusion

Despite this being a non-plant-based, non-vegan book, I still think it’s worth reading to understand just how tainted the US food system has become. The current state of the US food supply shows just how comprehensive and complete the takeover of America by corporations has been. In fact, a considerable amount of that food supply isn’t actually food at all. It’s petroleum, natural gas, hazardous chemicals and cannibalism.

My only complaint about the book is the author’s attempt to address the ethical issues of meat eating. As an investigative journalist and non-vegan, he lacks the necessary understanding of the biological, moral and ethical issues to mount a credible argument for or against the ethics of veganism. He should have stuck with his investigation of our food system and skipped the ethical dilemma.

This book provides an eye-opening view into the highly efficient, superficially impressive, environmentally destructive and utterly cruel western industrialized food system. If you want to learn where your food comes from and how to make better choices about what food you buy and from whom you buy it, I highly recommend reading this book.

Just don’t let the irrational and inaccurate justifications to eat meat influence your decision to choose a healthier, more sustainable and more compassionate diet.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner

Do We Need More Protein As We Get Older?

The short answer to the question “Do We Need More Protein As We Get Older?” is ‘no.’ The long answer is also ‘no,’ but with more detail and legitimate scientific evidence to back it up.

Amelia’s mom, Jane, mentioned that the latest issue of the AARP magazine had an article about the importance of increasing protein intake as we get older. The article titled “How Much Protein Do You Need After 50? Eating more may help older people prevent muscle loss” was published earlier this year on AARP.org, but was included in this month’s print edition.

Serious Conflicts of Interest

The author of the AARP article cites a “2016 study from researchers at the departments of Food Science and Geriatrics at the University of Arkansas” to support the advice that older people need to consume more protein. And while the authors of the study declare “no conflicts of interest,” the acknowledgements section seems to pretty clearly indicate a few conflicts for two of the authors:

Wolfe has received honoraria for talks or consulting from the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, PepsiCo, and Pronutria. Wolfe has also received research grants for the Abbott Nutrition and National Cattleman’s Beef Association. Baum has received grants from the Egg Nutrition Center/American Egg Board.

If these aren’t conflicts of interest when you’re recommending that people eat more protein, then I don’t know what is!

The original study cites a few other studies to support their stance, but it only took 5 minutes worth of digging to discover that one of the primary studies they quote was co-written by a researcher who is funded by a protein supplement company. And of course, “no conflicts of interest” were cited in any of that researcher’s studies, either.

You seriously CANNOT take anything you read at face value! Thanks to government and non-profit budget cuts, the majority of “science” funding comes from corporations or corporate funded industry associations, and they expect a return on their investment.

These studies may have some pretty serious conflicts of interest, but that doesn’t mean their conclusions are wrong. It really depends on their methodologies, which I’m not qualified to discuss since I’m not a trained scientific researcher. However, we luckily have several folks who are qualified to talk about the topic of protein who haven’t been corrupted by corporate greed.

Increasing Protein Intake After Age 65 by Dr. Michael Greger

You can read more about our trusted sources of nutrition advice in my blog post, “Credible Nutrition Sources: Who Can You Trust?” Suffice it to say, Dr. Greger is at the top of the list. His non-profit doesn’t sell any products or accept funding from corporations or industry associations.

Here’s what he has to say about this question:

To summarize Dr. Greger: No, we don’t need more protein as we get older. Based on several unbiased studies, we have the same protein requirements at all ages. The best way to insure against muscle loss as we age, again supported by unbiased studies, is to eat a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, while remaining physically active.

In addition, increasing protein intake in a population like the United States that already eats WAY too much protein can lead to other, more serious health issues than weakened muscles for older people; diseases like cancer and kidney disease.

The Amino Acid Leucine

Another claim made in the AARP article is that as we age, we need more of the amino acid leucine. This amino acid is one of the 9 essential amino acids that we must obtain from the food we eat and is predominantly found in animal products, although it is also found in lower (arguably healthier) amounts in legumes and other plants.

While we do need SOME leucine to maintain good health, too much of it may have very negative effects. Several studies have shown that populations who live the longest, healthiest lives, including the Okinawans and other people from The Blue Zones, consume very little leucine.

Again, here’s what Dr. Greger has to say about how too much leucine, mainly from animal products, is thought to cause aging:

In typical American fashion, we think if a nutrient is good for us, then more must be GREAT for us. But that’s not the way the human body works. We’re designed to run most efficiently and disease-free on a range of levels of thousands of different nutrients, most of which we may never fully understand due to their complex interconnections and interactions.

Based on studies of the longest lived and healthiest populations on earth, the whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet is without doubt the best diet for human consumption. This doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating all animal products, but it does mean getting fewer than 10% of your calories from them.

And if you do that, you’ll be getting 90% of your calories from whole plant foods (oil is not a whole plant food), which makes it nearly impossible to eat a high-fat or high-protein diet. It also means you’ll be getting all the amino acids, including leucine, in the right proportions to maintain optimum health while slowing the aging process.

Ideally, you would get zero percent of your calories from animal products. That offers the greatest benefit for your health, as well as the health of the environment and the wellbeing of animals. But significant health improvements have been seen in everyone who at least reduces their consumption of animal products.

Protein for Weight Loss

Another claim made in the AARP article is that eating more protein can help with weight loss. This is also unfounded, at least in the long term. Sure, if you eat a high protein diet like Paleo and you’re already overweight or obese, you’re likely to lose weight in the short term.

This is because Paleo is a much healthier diet than the Standard American Diet (SAD). Paleo encourages fruit and vegetables, which most Americans never eat. Plus, they eliminate all processed foods, which is a primary source of calories in the SAD diet along with meat and dairy.

However, the rapid weight loss most people experience on both high protein and high fat diets like keto is from water weight. The process of ketosis causes your kidneys to work overtime, which puts tremendous stress on them, as well as on your pancreas. This can lead to kidney failure, pancreatitis and even death.

If you really want to lose weight AND be healthier overall, the WFPB diet that’s low in both protein and fat is the ONLY diet shown to effectively lead to weight loss and other health benefits (such as lower cholesterol and reversal of diabetes) over both the short-term AND long term. This is primarily due to the lower energy density of plant foods compared to high fat animal products (the main source of protein in American diets).

Conclusion

The number of deaths from kidney disease has doubled over the past generation mostly due to our obsession with protein, so telling our elderly to eat more protein, and especially the amino acid leucine, is very irresponsible of AARP. This type of biased, inadequately researched article contributes to the confusion about nutrition, leading to inaction at best and more harmful dietary patterns at worst.

The answer to the question, “Do We Need More Protein As We Get Older?” is an emphatic NO! In fact, most Americans need far LESS protein than they already consume! The protein myth was intentionally created by the meat, dairy and egg industries to sell more products, and it’s now being perpetuated with the help of the nutritional supplement (protein powder) industry.

Unlike the AARP article’s advice of 30-35% of calories from protein for our elderly, a level which has been shown to cause kidney disease and cancer, we only need 8-10% of calories from protein to remain healthy, along with regular, moderate physical activity.

Please. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated for profit at the expense of your own health. Question the nutrition advice you hear or read. Ask to see the unbiased science. Look for hidden conflicts of interest. Verify it against multiple reputable, unbiased sources that you trust. And continue to question who you trust.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner

The Blue Zones Book Review

Blue Zones Dan BuettnerThe Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest – this book by Dan Buettner looks at the lives of people who live longer than anyone else in the world. They’re located in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, CA; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece.

These regions were called “Blue Zones” because the originator of the concept, Dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer, circled regions on the map with a blue marker that he thought might be areas of long life and good health.

In these areas, it’s common for people to live vibrant, healthy lives well into their 90’s and early 100’s. They aren’t laying in hospital beds, using walkers or sitting in wheelchairs, either. They’re chopping wood, gardening, walking long distances and enjoying life.

What are the common denominators among all of these seemingly disparate and far-flung peoples?

1) They eat a whole-food plant-based diet with very little or no meat, dairy or eggs. Some eat meat once per year; some once per month and some once per week. None consume dairy from cows, but some consume goats milk and cheese made from it. They eat organic fruits and vegetables grown in their own gardens. They eat lots of complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grain bread, rice, corn, potatoes and legumes. Some eat a completely vegan diet.

2) They live in sunny climates and spend a large portion of their day outdoors working or gardening (remember, many of these people are in their 90’s and 100’s). This gives them ample Vitamin D, which boosts their immune system and helps build strong bones.

3) They have a “plan de vida,” as the Costa Ricans call it, or a purpose in life. They have a strong reason to get out of bed in the morning, such as a strong religious belief, familial responsibilities, volunteerism or duty to ancestors.

4) They stay physically active, working in their gardens and walking long distances to visit nearby towns, family and neighbors. Thai Chi and Yoga are also popular activities.

5) They have a strong social and family support network which helps them reduce stress by talking through issues, and getting emotional and financial help when they need it.

6) They live very simple lives with minimal financial stress. They don’t have televisions or Internet access. They don’t have demanding bosses (except for wives, who often don’t live as long as the men).

Despite these common denominators shared among all of the Blue Zones, the author seemed determined to credit America vices for their longevity. In Sardinia, it must be the goats milk. In Okinawa, it must be something in the pork consumed once per year at the Lunar New Year festival. In Loma Linda, it must be the nuts loved by the 7th-Day Adventists. In Nicoya, it must be the calcium content in the water (since they don’t drink milk). In Ikaria, it must be the olive oil.

Even with the overwhelming similarities between the diets of these isolated and widespread people, the author couldn’t suppress his urge to justify his own dietary preferences. Meat can’t really be that bad, can it? Surely my milk and cheese isn’t to blame, is it? Maybe if I just eat more nuts and olive oil, and swap out cows milk for goats milk, that’ll make me live longer.

The cognitive dissonance is astronomical, sometimes.

My interest in this book wasn’t because of how long these people live, but how WELL they live. They are active and healthy until their bodies finally grow too old to continue in this plane of existence. Most people focus on quantity of life (especially the America medical establishment), but quality of life is what makes life worth living.

I think the moral of the story that we can all learn from these long lived, Blue Zone peoples is:

  • Eat a healthy, plant-based diet with no processed foods and very very minimal or even better, no animal products.
  • Get some sun every day.
  • Find your purpose, your big “why” in life.
  • Stay active everyday throughout your life.
  • Develop and maintain a social support network.
  • Simplify your life. In Ecuador, they call it “tranquilo,” which means stay calm and take time to smell the roses.

Despite the author’s attempt to give credit to our vices, the Blue Zones diet, sun exposure and physical activity are probably the most significant factors in the quantity and quality of their lives. Physical and mental health may be intricately intertwined, but if you fuel your body with toxic substances and shun physical activity, no amount of mental health (or medication) can repair the daily damage being done.

Overall, this book is well-written and worth reading. I enjoyed the stories of these people’s lives and the journeys the author took to meet them and document their life experiences. What an amazing adventure that must have been!

If you enjoyed reading this review or think others would benefit from reading this book, please share it with your family and friends to help spread the word about what it takes to live a long, vibrant life.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner

Credible Nutrition Sources: Who Can You Trust?

If you feel lost in a sea of confusing and contradictory information about nutrition, you’re not alone. With so many conflicting points of view, and so much readily available information to support any stance, it’s difficult to know who and what are truly credible nutrition sources. After hours of research, you may be left feeling frustrated and confused, wondering, “Who can you trust?”

Eggs are bad. No, eggs are good. Butter is bad. No, butter is good. Red meat is bad. No, red meat is good. Carbs are bad. No, carbs are good. It’s exasperating!

Not knowing what to believe or who to trust, most people decide to believe good news about their bad habits and continue their current behavior, or adopt even worse behaviors. And that’s exactly what Big Food and the purveyors of Fad Diets want them to do because that protects their profits.

Credible Nutrition Sources - Whack-a-Mole

Big Food treats nutrition science like whack-a-mole. If a study comes out that criticizes their product, they quickly fund another study to emphasize the positives. If a study praises their competition, they fund a study to criticize it or project the good qualities onto their own product (e.g. eggs have antioxidants – see below).

They also fund supposedly credible nutrition sources like the Mayo Clinic, The Cleveland Clinic, Harvard and countless others who continue to promote their unhealthy products and their biased scientific studies.

After all, those revered institutions also have a bottom line to protect, and they make millions of dollars each year from preventable medical conditions, as well as from industry funding. The Mayo Clinic alone gets nearly $100 million/year from corporations and corporate funded industry associations. That’s a big incentive to continue their support of unhealthy behaviors.

“Credible” Sources With Not So Credible Nutrition Advice

Doing some research for this blog post, I stumbled across an article on the Cleveland Clinic website that says eggs are healthy, even if you have high cholesterol. My first thought was, “It would be expensive to replace my laptop if I throw it through the window.” My next thought was, “How in the hell can a supposedly reputable source of health and diet information make such a ridiculous claim?!”

The article referenced three studies, most likely funded by the egg industry. I can’t tell for sure who funded them because only the abstracts are available without a membership, and each study is on a different website requiring a different membership. The funding sources are often omitted or hidden behind non-profit front organizations that are impossible to trace, so it may not make any difference if I had access to the whole study.

Credible Nutrition Sources - BlueberriesKnowing that researchers funded by Big Food typically spin the results in the abstract/summary/conclusion, I was highly skeptical about the claims. But one study in particular really stood out. The study claimed that eggs have recently been discovered to have “high levels of antioxidants,” those magic little molecules mostly found in herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables and whole grains that our body uses to repair itself. Blueberries come to mind; not eggs.

While I couldn’t see the actual findings without access to the whole study, I was able to find this study that looked at the antioxidant levels of 3,100 different foods. It found that eggs have an average antioxidant level of  12 mmol/100 grams. Compare that to spices and herbs with 425, vegetables with 303, fruits with 278 and grains with 227 mmol/100 grams. Even dairy has 7 times the amount of antioxidants as eggs with 86 mmol/100 grams! How can the Cleveland Clinic say that eggs are a good source of antioxidants?!

Furthermore, the abstract from the study cited by the Cleveland Clinic article claiming that eggs are a good source of antioxidants states, “All cooking methods significantly reduced the antioxidant values.” So that means any antioxidants found in the eggs will likely be destroyed by cooking Credible Nutrition Sources - Confused Manthe eggs. Who’s going to eat raw eggs for their already insignificant amount of antioxidants?!

Of course, nobody with high cholesterol who loves eggs will dig any deeper to see that it’s all bulls–t. They’ll take this “reputable” source for its word and continue their unhealthy behavior until they end up under the scalpel or paralyzed from a stroke or dead of a heart attack.

By publishing this ridiculous, easily disprovable article, the Cleveland Clinic, one of America’s top hospitals, has lost all credibility with me. If I see them come up in a search result, I won’t even click the link unless I’m looking for more absurd health claims from supposedly reputable organizations. This is especially disappointing because this is the hospital where Dr. Esselstyn worked as a surgeon and conducted his Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease study.

Since most people, including members of the media, don’t understand the Scientific Method or read the studies in their entirety, they don’t realize that industry funded study methodologies are often structured to prove a desired outcome, and the findings are often spun in the summary/conclusion/abstract to mislead us about what they really discovered. So all we see is the 30 second sound bite that was crafted to confuse us so we keep buying their products.

You can read more about Big Food’s assault on the truth about nutrition in my blog post, “Doubt Is Our Product 2.0: What Big Food Learned from Big Tobacco.”

With all of this confusing and contradictory information from people and institutions we thought we could trust, how are we supposed to determine which doctors, scientists and websites are actually credible nutrition sources?

Questions To Ask Yourself About Credible Nutrition Sources

I’ve been interested in nutrition since I first discovered that I had high cholesterol back in 2006, when I was only 35 years old. My doctor at the time told me, “There’s nothing you can do about it. I have a patient who is a marathon runner with high cholesterol. The only treatment is to take a statin.”

That’s when I started getting serious about my health. I started eating a healthier diet (at least, I thought it was healthier) and exercising more regularly. My cholesterol came down a little, but not enough. Much to my chagrin, my doctor put me on a statin.

You can read more about my frustrating experience with high cholesterol in my blog post, “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease?

When I first started studying nutrition seriously after my back surgery in 2015, I quickly realized that WHAT I was reading and watching wasn’t nearly as important as WHO was sharing the information.

That’s when I developed this list of criteria for choosing who to believe.

1. Is the nutrition source qualified to give nutrition advice?

Credible Nutrition Sources - DoctorMedical doctors spend 8 years earning their medical degree and another 3 to 8 years in residency. While most doctors don’t learn much about nutrition in medical school, some actually specialize in Clinical Nutrition as part of their medical program. They are trained experts in nutrition science and practice. Some doctors can be considered credible nutrition sources.

Nutrition scientists with Ph.D.’s typically spend 6 to 8 years in higher education studying nutrition. Some scientists spend their entire careers doing nutrition research, conducting studies and publishing their findings. Some have been doing this for decades…50 years or more. Some start out believing one thing, but change their minds after the science leads them in a different direction. That’s the beauty of science. It’s ok to change your mind when presented with new, credible information. Flip-floppers welcome.

These medical and scientific experts who spend their whole life studying nutrition are a lot different than, for example, an author or investigative reporter who writes a blog post or a book about nutrition. Especially when those people were funded by the industries that benefit from their favorable stories, and when they love their unhealthy food and will do anything to justify its continued consumption.

However, just because a doctor or scientist has spent years studying nutrition, that doesn’t automatically make him or her a credible nutrition source. They could still be biased.

2. Is the nutrition source potentially or unreasonably biased?

Bias is often a tough thing to uncover because most people like to hide their biases, which is understandable. If you want to be taken seriously on a topic that you feel very passionately about, the last thing you want to happen is for all of your hard work to be dismissed simply because of your association with a certain group, or funding from a certain source.

However, it’s very difficult NOT to let those affiliations affect your objectivity. We are human, after all, and we can be easily influenced, even subconsciously. Even doctors and scientists.

Whether personal, professional, social or financial, everyone has biases. While the Scientific Method is designed to minimize the impact of bias on the outcomes of studies, it still happens. A lot.

Again, for more on how prevalent bias is when it comes to nutrition research, read “Doubt Is Our Product 2.0: What Big Food Learned from Big Tobacco.”

With that said, there’s a difference between someone with a personal bias toward a certain cause (e.g. veganism) and someone with a financial bias to guarantee a certain outcome from a study (e.g. here’s $1,100 to show diet soda is better for weight loss than water).

Credible Nutrition Sources - Bribe

Affiliation with a cause doesn’t necessarily discredit the source. For example, some (not all) of the doctors and scientists listed below are vegan, but none were born vegan or grew up eating a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet. To quote Dr. Garth Davis, “We are physicians that, after years of research, reached the conclusion that Western medicine’s lack of emphasis on the importance of nutritional science has left the public at the mercy of industry and snake oil salesmen.”

In other words, they don’t promote the healthy WFPB diet because they’re vegan. They went vegan because the WFPB diet is healthier, and that opened their eyes to the bigger picture of social injustice, environmental destruction and animal cruelty associated with a non-vegan lifestyle. That applies to Amelia and me, too. We only went vegan after we realized the WFPB diet was a healthier diet for humans.

There’s not an exact formula for evaluating the level of bias someone has and how it might affect the credibility of their nutrition advice. You just have to look at the body of evidence from other trusted sources about them and their claims, and then make a gut call.

And just because they’re saying bad things about your favorite habits, doesn’t automatically discredit them.

3. Is the nutrition source selling products directly connected to their health claims?

The other day, I was surfing Instagram looking at all the beautiful plant-based foods when a meme arose touting the numerous health benefits of coconut oil. Even though most nutritionally aware people know that processed foods are unhealthy, a lot of them still believe cooking oil, a highly processed food, IS healthy.

All oil contains saturated fat, and coconut oil is the worst offender of them all. In fact, coconut oil has over twice the saturated fat as butter!

Suffice it to say, despite commonly held beliefs cultivated and nourished by the coconut oil industry, coconut oil is NOT healthy for human consumption. Put it on your hair and skin, but not in your mouth.

Credible Nutrition Sources - Secrets RevealedAnyway, I decided to investigate further to see who was making such an unfounded and uninformed claim. The Instagram profile linked to a website (intentionally omitted) run by an apparently popular doctor living in Malibu, California (Wouldn’t THAT be nice?!). Most of the nutrition information on her website was associated with the supplements and other products she was selling, which included coconut oil.

I’d like to think that she legitimately believes coconut oil is healthy and isn’t just spouting the false benefits to sell products on her website. But having an MD (Medical Doctor) title attached to her name means she should know better. The non-coconut oil industry funded research is readily available for anyone to see and the controversy has been all over the news recently so she should know that she needs to look into it further.

The content accompanying the other supplements and miscellaneous products on her website read like a smorgasbord of pseudoscientific, biased, misleading and uninformed mumbo jumbo. Needless-to-say, she should NOT be considered among the credible nutrition sources.

And that’s really a shame because she appears to have a large audience of people who believe whatever she says, much like the convincing and persuasive snake oil salesmen of yesteryear. They haven’t disappeared. They simply jumped off their stump and built a website.

Selling products and/or services on their website doesn’t necessarily mean the nutrition source shouldn’t be trusted, though. It really depends on what they’re selling and how it measures up against the current science.

It takes money to run a website, to pay people, to buy advertising, to pay taxes, etc. so it’s perfectly acceptable to sell things. The problem arises when the things you’re selling don’t have legitimate, unbiased science to back them up and when they cause real harm to people’s health.

This is one thing I don’t like about our website, LottaVeg. We sell a Meal Plan subscription [UPDATE: Our meal plan service is now free], not because we want to, but because we have to earn a living and cover the costs of running the website and buying all of the ingredients for our cooking experiments.

We give a meal plan away for free and we also give a free trial, but I wish we could afford to give them all away. Unfortunately, we do require electricity to run our computers and gas to run our stove.

However, by generating revenue from the WFPB diet, we have a vested interest in sticking with it, even if some new, unbiased science says it’s unhealthy in 5 or 10 years.

Now, I doubt that will happen because this is truly the natural human diet. We’ve know this for decades. We know our distant ancestors ate this way (despite the unfounded claims made by the Paleo folks). And we know the few remaining indigenous jungle tribes and isolated rural peoples around the world who are far healthier than people eating a western diet still eat a mostly WFPB diet. This isn’t a new fad diet. It’s a rediscovery of the original human diet obfuscated by decades of Big Food and Fad Diet sponsored manipulation for profit.

Herbivores are the only animals that get heart disease. Let’s apply some basic algebra here: If herbivores get heart disease and humans get heart disease then humans are herbivores. If A = B and B = C then A = C.

You can feed a lion or a dog a pound of butter a day and they’ll never develop plaque in their arteries. That’s because, unlike humans, they’re biologically designed to filter cholesterol and saturated fat out of their systems (thanks to a not fully understood function of their thyroid gland). Lucky dogs!

As I wrote before, oil isn’t healthy. But Amelia and I didn’t know that when we launched LottaVeg and started adding recipes to the website back in 2016. That’s why some of our older recipes use oil.

However, we’re changing those. It’s a slow process because we have to remake the recipes without oil, sometimes more than once to get them right, and then update the recipe, nutrition details and sometimes take new pictures. Some of our recipes, like Amelia’s delicious Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies will continue to use oil, but with a disclaimer that says they’re not healthy. Duh. They’re cookies.

While Greger likes to say “Everything in moderation; even heart disease.” We know that it’s not feasible to expect everyone to eat healthy 100% of the time. We also want to be able to show non-vegans that vegan food can be just as delicious as conventional foods, and many non-vegans don’t care anything about health and nutrition. There are also a few lucky people like Amelia who are genetic mutants and don’t seem to have any issues with high cholesterol. Grrr.

Regardless, we’re trying to do the right thing by removing unhealthy ingredients from our recipes when it doesn’t ruin the recipe, but I doubt a website completely dedicated to a diet that causes most preventable diseases will do the same thing.

For example: A website that sells meal plans for the Paleo diet, which is based almost entirely on pseudoscientific nonsense and a very subjective, unprovable interpretation of anthropological discoveries. Unlike the Paleo dietary claims that even fooled me several years ago, it’s not the natural human diet.

Credible Nutrition Sources - Paleo

I signed up for the newsletter for a Paleo meal planning website to see what they have to say about nutrition and to see how they market their meal plans. Every time their emails hit my inbox, I cringe, wondering what pseudoscientific “secret” they’re going to share today. From what I can tell, it’s a pretty large and thriving business riding on the coattails of CrossFit popularity.

It could very well be a 7 figure business (that’s over a million a year in revenue). If that’s the case and they are that successful, how open are they going to be to admitting that the products they’re selling may actually be killing their loyal followers? Would they ever be able to admit that? Even to themselves? Not likely. Especially for legal reasons.

In a world where money means everything to most people, very few would be willing to give that much of it up to do the right thing (which means very little to most people these days).

If the nutrition source you’re looking at sells a variety of supplements and cure-alls, I would be very skeptical and question the credibility of their nutrition advice.

4. Is the source healthy looking, internally healthy and still alive?

Credible Nutrition Sources - Overweight ManThis may be superficial, but does the source of nutrition advice look healthy? There’s an old saying that you should never trust a skinny chef. Well, I don’t trust an overweight or obese nutritionist (or WFPB chef).

Is the nutrition advice source healthy and still alive? It amazes me that people still believe in the Atkins diet when it’s founder died at 72 of a heart attack and at least 60 pounds overweight. How can this not be a red flag for people? Instead, they choose to believe the bogus story put out by the Atkins Nutritionals company spin doctors that he fell and hit his head as a height-weight appropriate nutrition expert. Could it be that they desperately wanted to protect their $66 million/year revenue stream? (It was reportedly much more than $66 million before he died.)

A Facebook friend suggested I watch “The Magic Pill” in response to my post, “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease?” It’s a documentary filmed in the “What The Health” conspiracy theory style, but with a radically different conclusion.

They claim the high-fat, high-cholesterol Keto diet is the answer to all of humanities health woes, despite the overwhelming evidence that consuming cholesterol and saturated fat leads to heart disease, the number one killer of people eating a western diet (that’s, not coincidentally, high in cholesterol and saturated fat).

I’ve already done a lot of research on low-carb diets like Keto, Atkins and Paleo. I even ate both the Atkins and Paleo diets in the past before I knew who to trust (my cholesterol shot up to 270 on Paleo and my doctor ordered me to stop). Anyway, I didn’t watch the film, but I did watch the review by Mic the Vegan.

As I suspected, they used cherry picked industry studies and misrepresented findings to make their points. But what surprised me the most was how unhealthy all of the so-called experts looked! Nearly every one of them was overweight, some were obese! How can people look at them and say, “Wow! This diet really works for weight loss!”

I’m not “fat shaming” here. If you’re going to tout yourself as an expert in nutrition, you should be healthy. And that means within your healthy weight range. Would you trust a swim instructor who doesn’t know how to swim? Would you trust a pilot who doesn’t know how to fly? Would you trust a doctor who tells you to quit smoking, after you spotted her smoking on your way into the office? I wouldn’t.

If the source of nutrition advice looks like you want to look and/or has lived a long, healthy life, it might be worth listening to what they have to say. At least as long as they have the credentials to be considered an expert, minimal biases and they aren’t selling a “magic pill.” (See what I did there? Hehehe!)

Credible Nutrition Sources That We Trust

I’m a research geek so I spend a lot of time reading books, studies and articles, and watching documentaries and YouTube videos from my trusted sources. But most people don’t have the time, patience or interest to do that.

And even though I enjoy reading studies, I don’t have access to all of them because they’re behind paywalls and we can’t afford memberships to all of those websites. Plus, some of them are simply too hard to understand. I often wonder if researchers get paid by the average number of syllables in their words! Or maybe they do that on purpose to sound extra smart, or to intentionally confuse the rest of us about what they actually discovered….

If you don’t have the time, patience, expertise or access, that’s when you need to rely on credible nutrition sources to interpret and summarize the findings for you. After considerable research, below are the experts Amelia and I have come to trust.

Every single one of them started their journey with the standard belief about nutrition, namely that meat, dairy, eggs and oil are healthy for human consumption, even necessary for peak health. But after being presented with (or conducting themselves) valid, unbiased, non-industry funded nutrition research, they changed their views.

That’s not easy to do. Our cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable and we try to reduce it by justifying our previously held beliefs rather than changing them. It takes a strong, open-minded person to be able to accept radically different ideas than those held by the majority. And it takes strong character to stand up to personal, professional and industry pressure while they’re doing everything in their power to humiliate and discredit you.

I admire these people for more than their credentials. I admire them for their character.

Dr. Michael Greger – NutritionFacts.org

Credible Nutrition Sources - Dr. Michael GregerThis is where I go first for nutrition advice, mainly because it’s easy to search and there are articles and videos on nearly every nutrition and health topic. Plus, he’s funny and quirky, and simplifies the complex topic of nutrition into something that’s easy for almost anyone to digest (pardon the pun).

Dr. Greger started and runs NutritionFacts.org, a non-profit 501c3 organization dedicated to uncovering the truth about nutrition.

Dr. Greger received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University, and his medical degree with an emphasis in Clinical Nutrition from Tufts University where he graduated in 1999.

In 1998, he appeared as an expert witness testifying on behalf of Oprah Winfrey when cattle producers unsuccessfully sued her for libel over statements she made about the safety of meat on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

He authored Carbophobia: The Scary Truth About America’s Low-carb Craze and the New York Time’s Best Selling How Not To Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, among other books.

He founded NutritionFacts.org with seed money from The Jesse & Julie Rasch Foundation. “Among the objectives of the Foundation is the funding of research into the role of health and nutrition in the prevention and treatment of disease and to ensure that the research results are appropriately disseminated to the medical profession. The Foundation is also striving to educate the public on the enormous role that health and nutrition play in disease prevention.”

Now, NutritionFacts.org operates on a Wiki model using donations from website visitors and revenue generated from Dr. Greger’s book sales and speaking engagements to fund operations. No donations are accepted from industry related organizations, and no products or services are sold on the website to minimize conflicts of interest.

Dr. Greger went vegan in 1994 when he was 22 years old after touring a stockyard as part of his undergraduate degree in agriculture.

Dr. Neal Barnard – PCRM.org

Credible Nutrition Sources - Dr. Neal BarnardDr. Barnard was born to a cattle ranching family in North Dakota. He earned his medical degree and performed his residency at the George Washington University School of Medicine.

In 1985, he founded Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (later, PCRM.org) because he “wanted to promote preventative medicine.”

According to PCRM.org, “Dr. Barnard is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, the 2016 recipient of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine’s Trailblazer Award, and has led numerous research studies investigating the effects of diet on diabetes, body weight, and chronic pain, including a groundbreaking study of dietary interventions in type 2 diabetes, funded by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Barnard has authored more than 70 scientific publications as well as 18 books, including the New York Times best-sellers Power Foods for the Brain, 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart, and the USA Today best-seller Dr. Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes.”

Dr. Barnard became a vegetarian during his residency at George Washington University in the 1980’s, and later became a vegan after doing extensive research into the subject of nutrition.

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn – DrEsselstyn.com

Credible Nutrition Sources - Dr. Caldwell EsselstynDr. Esselstyn was born in 1933 in New York City (he’s now 85 and still working). He graduated from Yale University in 1956 and won an olympic gold medal that same year with his rowing team. He received his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1961.

According to his website, “He was trained as a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic and at St. George’s Hospital in London. In 1968, as an Army surgeon in Vietnam, he was awarded the Bronze Star.” He continued as a practicing surgeon for several decades, chairing numerous medical boards and conferences. He has been awarded 8 different awards from universities and medical institutions for his medical achievements.

He also has over 150 scientific publications, and authored the popular book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure.

Dr. Esselstyn and his wife Ann switched to a WFPB diet in 1984 after growing frustrated with the lack of focus on nutrition in the medical industry. He wanted to test the theory that cutting out dietary sources of cholesterol and saturated fat did indeed help treat and reverse heart disease. Following the successful at-home experiment, he conducted a study that is now widely quoted in support of the WFPB diet.

Dr. Esselstyn is not vegan. Some of the recipes in his book use honey, which isn’t vegan.

Dr. T. Collin Campbell – NutritionStudies.org

Credible Nutrition Sources - Dr. T. Colin CampbellDr. Campbell was born in 1934 (he’s 84 and still working) and grew up on his family’s dairy farm in rural Pennsylvania. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1956 with a degree in veterinary medicine. In 1958, he earned a Masters degree in nutrition and biochemistry from Cornell University. In 1961, he earned a Ph.D. in nutrition, biochemistry and microbiology, also from Cornell.

After graduate school, Dr. Campbell worked as a research associate for 10 years at MIT and 3 years at Virginia Tech before returning to his alma mater, Cornell, where he continues to specialize in the effect of nutrition on long-term health as the Chair of Nutritional Biochemistry in the Division of Nutritional Sciences.

According to NutritionStudies.org, “Dr. Campbell is the coauthor of the bestselling book The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, and author of the New York Times bestseller Whole, and The Low-Carb Fraud. He is featured in several documentaries including: the blockbuster Forks Over Knives, Eating You Alive, Food Matters, PlantPure Nation and others.”

“Dr. Campbell has conducted original research both in laboratory experiments and in large-scale human studies; received over 70 grant-years of peer-reviewed research funding (mostly with NIH), served on grant review panels of multiple funding agencies, actively participated in the development of national and international nutrition policy, authored over 300 research papers and given hundreds of lectures around the world.”

He also coined the term “Whole Food Plant-Based Diet.”

Dr. Campbell does not consider himself a vegan, stating that he doesn’t identify with vegan stances on all issues and “Vegans tend to consume too much processed food and total fat.” He also still supports testing on animals for nutrition research.

Dr. John McDougall – DrMcDougall.com

Credible Nutrition Sources - Dr. John McDougallDr. McDougall earned his medical degree from Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine and performed his residency at The University of Hawaii.

After his residency, he moved to the Big Island of Hawaii and worked as one of four doctors responsible for 5,000 patients on a sugar plantation. That’s where he noticed a dramatic health difference between the older and younger generations of his patients.

According to Dr. McDougall’s website, “My elderly patients had immigrated to Hawaii from China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines, where rice was food. They brought their culture with them. Their children, tempted by Western foods, slowly changed. The third generation, had essentially given up rice and vegetables for meat, dairy, and junk. For all three generations, their health reflected their diet. The first generation immigrants were trim, active, and medication-free into their 90s. They had no diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, or cancers of the breast, prostate, or colon. Their children became a little fatter and sicker, and most of their grandchildren had lost all of their immunity to obesity and common diseases — in every way of appearance and health, they were full-fledged Americans.”

After several years in Hawaii, he returned to the mainland and joined St. Helena Hospital in Napa Valley, CA where he worked until 2002. He now runs the McDougall Program in California where he helps people who actually want to be helped and are willing to buck the high-fat trend.

He has authored several books on nutrition, including his bestseller, The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good!

Dr. McDougall does not recommend a vegan diet or a WFPB diet. He recommends a low-fat, starch-based diet consisting of potatoes, rice, corn, grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Pamela Popper – DrPamPopper.com

Credible Nutrition Sources - Dr. Pamela PopperDr. Popper is a public policy expert who has helped change laws that interfere with patients’ right to choose their health provider and method of care. She has also testified in front of legislative committees, and has testified twice in front of the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

She has a Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. in Nutrition and a degree in Naturopathy, which is the practice of Natural Medicine. She also served as part of Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s teaching team at eCornell, teaching part of a certification course on plant-based nutrition. She authored the bestselling books Food Over Medicine: The Conversation That Can Save Your Life and Solving America’s Healthcare Crisis.

She regularly posts videos to her YouTube Channel reviewing current studies and answering commonly asked questions about nutrition and medical care.

Dr. Popper has been vegan since 2008. In an interview with VeganBiteBite.com, she stated, “My intention at the beginning of the process was not to become vegetarian or vegan. My intention really was just to improve my diet and improve my health.”

Dr. Kim Allan Williams

Dr. Kim Allan WilliamsDr. Kim Allan Williams, MD, MACC, FAHA, MASNC, FESC is the first vegan president of the American College of Cardiology. He was born in Chicago, and attended the College of The University of Chicago (1971 to 1975), followed by the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine (1975 to 1979), internal medicine residency at Emory University (1979 to 1982), and overlapping fellowships in Cardiology at the University of Chicago (1982 to 1985), Clinical Pharmacology (1984 to 1985), and Nuclear Medicine (1984 to 1986). He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Diseases, Nuclear Medicine, Nuclear Cardiology and Cardiovascular Computed Tomography.

Dr. Williams joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1986, specializing in clinical cardiology, nuclear medicine, and nuclear cardiology. He served as Professor of Medicine and Radiology and Director of Nuclear Cardiology at The University of Chicago School of Medicine until 2010. Among numerous awards and honors for his teaching in the medical school, residencies and fellowships, he was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha in 2008.

In 2010, he became the Dorothy Susan Timmis Endowed Professor of Medicine and Radiology and Chairman of the Division of Cardiology at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, MI. At Wayne State, he has started the Urban Cardiology Initiative – a program of education of physicians on disparities in healthcare, primary school education on cardiovascular health and community health screening in inner-city Detroit. In November 2013 he returned to Chicago as the James B. Herrick Endowed Professor of Medicine and Cardiology at Rush University Medical Center.

Dr. Williams has published numerous peer-reviewed articles, monographs, book chapters, editorials, and review articles in the field of nuclear cardiology and minority health issues, with emphasis on education and innovations in perfusion imaging and quantitation of ventricular function. His research interests include selective adenosine receptor agonists, fluorinated perfusion PET imaging, cardiac computed tomography for plaque characterization, health care disparities and payment policy, and appropriate use of cardiac imaging.

Dr. Williams has served on numerous committees and boards at the national level, including the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology (ASNC), the American Heart Association (AHA), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Cardiology (ACC), the Certifying Board of Nuclear Cardiology, the Certifying Board of Cardiac Computed Tomography, the Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography and the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC). He served as President of ASNC from 2004 to 2005. He served as Chairman of the Board of ABC from 2008 to 2010. He also served on the Cardiovascular Disease Examination Board of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM-CV) until 2012. He served as the president of the ACC from 2015 to 2016.

Dr. Williams has been vegan since 2003. He wrote a guest post on Medpage Today discussing his motivations for switching to a plant-based diet and going vegan.

Dr. Dean Ornish – DeanOrnish.com

Credible Nutrition Sources - Dr. Dean OrnishDr. Ornish is a pioneer in the field of heart disease prevention and reversal through diet, exercise and stress management. “He holds a Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude in Humanities from the University of Texas at Austin, where he gave the baccalaureate address. He earned his MD from the Baylor College of Medicine, was a Clinical Fellow in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and completed a medical internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.” [source]

From the 1970’s through the 90’s, he conducted research into the root causes of heart disease and discovered that eating a mostly whole-food plant-based diet, along with at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day, stress management and stopping smoking seemed to be the most effective way to prevent and reverse heart disease.

Dr. Ornish is not a vegan. His diet is considered vegetarian, allowing egg whites and non-fat dairy.

Dr. Garth Davis – Proteinaholic.com

Credible Nutrition Sources - Dr. Garth DavisDr. Davis is a bariatric surgeon, helping obese people to lose weight through surgery and to keep it off by eating a whole-food plant-based diet.

Dr. Garth Davis is the medical director of the Davis Clinic at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. He graduated from the University of Texas in Austin where he was the Student Government President. He completed his surgical residency at the University of Michigan.

His book, Proteinaholic, reviews the science behind many of the high-fat diet claims, as well as the science supporting a whole-food plant-based diet. His book teaches us how to read studies to spot biases and flaws in study designs. He also dispels a lot of the myths surrounding high-protein diets. This book is a must-read and should be required reading for all doctors.

Dr. Davis was not a vegan until he did the research and determined the WFPB diet is the healthiest diet for human consumption. After he accepted that, he became open to the environmental and animal cruelty issues. He now considers himself a vegan.

Mic the Vegan – MicTheVegan.com

While not a doctor of nutrition, Mic the Vegan is a vegan science writer and a good source of accessible nutrition information. He speaks in terms that are easy to understand and he reviews the real, unbiased science behind lots of nutrition claims.

According to his website, “About 7 years ago I went vegan after reading the research on vegan populations and witnessing people that made me realize I wouldn’t drop dead from a protein deficiency. In particular, vegans were shown to have lower rates of the two diseases I was most afraid of getting, heart disease and cancer.”

He has a very active YouTube Channel and regularly posts informational videos about nutrition, with a splash of humor.

Credible Nutrition Sources Conclusion

Amelia and I didn’t enter into this diet lightly. I did months of research, most of it not believing what I was seeing. How could the decades of nutrition advice from “trusted” sources, advice that I based my entire diet on, be so inaccurate and just plain wrong?

I was also concerned that this was another fad diet like Atkins and Paleo. I fell for the hype before. Why was this any different?

The main difference this time, was that I spent a lot of energy figuring out who I could trust for legitimate, mostly unbiased, scientifically backed, nutritional advice. I didn’t rely on a friend or coworker or family member to tell me “X diet worked for me!” I didn’t listen to an infomercial. I didn’t read a book written by a journalist who loves cheese or a blog post written by a grad student who loves bacon.

Instead, I found extremely educated, highly knowledgable doctors with decades of experience in nutrition. They have hundreds of published scientific, non-industry funded studies between them and thousands of successfully treated patients who are living longer, healthier lives because of their advice.

If, after doing the research, I had discovered that humans are biologically designed to eat meat, dairy and eggs, and that we needed it to survive and thrive (as I was taught in my small Kansas farm town), I would still be eating animal products (sorry fellow vegans). But that’s simply not the case. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Those high fat, high protein foods are literally killing us by the millions. We did not evolve to eat those foods and we’re far healthier without them.

Thanks to these reputable, trustworthy experts, I now eat a much healthier diet, I’ve lost weight and I feel better. Plus, my environmental footprint is much smaller. And I’ve stopped contributing to the needless and unspeakably cruel treatment and slaughter of billions of sentient, innocent animals every year.

If you enjoyed this post or learned something new, please share it with your friends and family. Help spread the word about the doctors and scientists who truly are credible nutrition sources.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner

Banner Photo by Jack Hamilton on Unsplash

Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #1

Last month, I wrote about my long-term battle with high cholesterol in “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease?“. Despite going vegan nearly 2 and a half years ago, eating WFPB (Whole-Food Plant-Based) for over 2 years, and cooking without oil for the past year and a half, I still had high cholesterol at my annual checkup.

Since sharing my story with you last month, I made a few changes to my diet in yet another attempt to lower my cholesterol without medication.

Dietary Intervention to Lower Cholesterol

No AvocadosThe first change I made was to stop eating avocado toast for breakfast every morning. Instead, we started eating heart-healthy organic oats most morning. While avocados are a healthy food overall, they are high-fat and high-calorie. According to some research, it doesn’t matter where the saturated fat comes from if you’re worried about heart disease.

Dr. Esselstyn recommends avoiding high fat plants like avocados, nuts and coconuts if your goal is to reverse heart disease. Since I have a strong family history of heart disease and stroke, and since I’ve been battling high cholesterol since my early 30’s (even after eating WFPB for 2 years), I think it’s safe to assume my ticker isn’t in top condition.

The second and probably the most significant change, was to cut out all oil. While we rarely cook with oil at home, we didn’t make much of an effort to avoid it when eating out. And we were eating out 3 to 5 times per week. During the last month, I’ve been able to avoid nearly all oil by asking the restaurants we frequent to cook without it and they were happy to oblige.

No Cooking OilNamaste, our favorite Indian restaurant here in Cuenca, Ecuador, even omitted the coconut milk for me. They’re a vegan friendly restaurant, with the vegan/vegetarian dishes occupying the first two pages of their menu.

When I asked them to cook without oil or coconut milk, they warned me that the dishes wouldn’t taste the same. They wanted to lower my expectations. However, I like their food better without the fat. It’s not as heavy and doesn’t deliver what Amelia calls the “Namaste Knockout Punch” that we used to feel on our walk home. It made for a good night’s sleep, but wasn’t so good for our arteries.

Our good friends at Fratello Vegan are also on point to help us cut the oil. After looking at the research and learning more about the WFPB diet, they had already cut way back on oil in their dishes even before I talked to them about my cholesterol issues. Now, they’re extra sensitive with me and they’re careful to point out which items still have oil so I can order something without it. They also told me to let them know ahead of time when we’re coming and they can make something special for me sans oil.

The third change I made was to drastically reduce the amount of alcohol I was consuming. Beer and wine are my bebidas favoritas (favorite drinks), and I drank them several times per week. I had intended to cut them out completely, but I’ve had a couple of beers in the past month. We can’t get Guinness (my super favorite beer) in Ecuador, so I drank a couple while we were in the states in late July.

The fourth change was cutting out the chocolate. I had been eating a lot of delicious Ecuadorian chocolate, which is high in saturated fat. Chocolate is also loaded with antioxidants, but when you’re battling high cholesterol and the potential for heart disease, you’re better off getting your antioxidants from fruits and veggies instead of high-fat processed foods like chocolate.

The fifth change I made was to cut back on the whole grain bread consumption. I’m still eating it, just not very often; only a couple slices per week.

Spinach SaladThe sixth change was to increase my intake of dark leafy greens in colorful salads. I was eating salads a few times per week before my last cholesterol test. Since then, I’ve been eating a salad with lunch and dinner almost every day. Dr. Esselstyn explains how dark leafy greens cause our arteries to produce nitric oxide, which helps clean them. I love salads anyway, so no complaints from me.

I had intended to increase my swimming to 5 times per week, but I actually went swimming only a few times in the past month. That’s partly because we spent 2 weeks in the states, and I didn’t have access to a swimming pool for much of that time. Additionally, the heater broke in the pool at La Universidad de Cuenca where I swim here in Ecuador, and the water felt like it was just above the freezing point according to a friend. I still have extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures following my spinal cord damage so swimming in cold water isn’t an option for me.

To review my dietary intervention, I stopped eating high-fat foods like avocados, nuts and cooking oil. I cut out most of the alcohol I was drinking. I stopped eating chocolate, reduced my bread consumption and increased my dark leafy green salad consumption.

So how did all of this affect my cholesterol? I’ll get to that in one minute, but first, I want to share where I got the basis for these dietary changes.

Resources for Lowering Cholesterol with Diet

In the past month, I read 4 more books on nutrition:

Suffice it to say, all of these books reference legitimate, unbiased, non-industry funded studies to support their claims that a low-fat, high-complex carb diet can prevent and even reverse heart disease.

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Dr. EsselstynDr. Esselstyn’s book provides the most compelling evidence from his 2-decade long study of patients with advanced heart disease. The “walking dead” as they were called by their cardiologists, were told to go home and get their affairs in order; they were not candidates for further heart surgeries. But instead of throwing in the towel on life and sitting at home waiting to die, they joined Dr. Esselstyn’s program to see if their condition could be reversed with a low-fat, WFPB no-oil diet.

Twenty years later, all but one of the subjects was still alive. After being given less than a year to live following conventional treatments of surgery and medication, their heart disease improved so dramatically from eating a low-fat diet that they kept on living for two more decades after their “death sentence.”

Blue Zones Dan BuettnerIn Dan Buettner’s book, he investigates the “Blue Zones” around the world where people “forget to die.” It’s common in these areas for people to live over 100 years, while remaining active and mentally sound.

The main common denominator among all 5 Blue Zones is their largely WFPB diet. Many of the longest lived people eat an almost entirely vegan diet with very little to no animal products or oil. Some in the Mediterranean region do eat olive oil, but since they aren’t eating processed foods loaded with every other kind of oil, their oil intake is low compared to the western diet.

The people being studied by legitimate, non-industry funded researchers consistently find that people eating a low-fat, vegan diet live longer, more vibrant lives. They aren’t overweight or taking lots of medications. They don’t have heart disease, cancer, diabetes or any of the other preventable diseases that kill Americans and western eaters. They are living healthy, active lives for an average of 7 to 14 years longer!

All of these books should be required reading for doctors and other health professionals. The diet-related diseases that kill millions of people every year and reduce the quality of life for millions more do not need to exist. These books reinforced what I already knew and gave me some guidance for how to implement cholesterol lowering changes in my own diet.

You can read my full reviews of these books and others in our Recommended Books section….

Cholesterol, Triglycerides and Weight after One Month of Dietary Intervention

My doctor wanted me to wait 3 months to get my cholesterol checked again, but Dr. Esselstyn recommends getting your numbers checked every month for 4 months following the start of a dietary intervention. So I convinced my doc to send me for more blood work after one month.

Here are the results from eating a truly low-fat diet for one month:

  • Jul 4
  • Total Cholesterol
  • LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
  • Triglycerides
  • Body Weight
  • Jul 4
  • 225
  • 128
  • 296
  • 180
  • Aug 7
  • 188
  • 107
  • 247
  • 171
  • Drop
  • 37
  • 21
  • 49
  • 9

All of my levels dropped…considerably! A total cholesterol drop of 37 points puts me in the healthy range according to the US government guidelines. However, nearly 1/3 of all heart disease patients have total cholesterol levels between 150 and 200. But with a total cholesterol below 150, heart disease is virtually unheard-of. That’s the range that’s been labeled “heart attack proof” by the plant-based scientists and doctors who spend their lives studying nutrition.

You’ll also notice I’ve lost 9 pounds in about 5 weeks. That’s almost 2 pounds per week! Did I starve myself to achieve this goal? Did I double the amount of exercise I was doing? Did I take a magic weight loss pill?

Nope. In fact, I’ve been consuming more volume of food than I did before. It’s just healthy food without calorie dense fats. And I haven’t increased my physical activity, either. If anything, due to the two weeks of travel, I did LESS physical activity than I normally do. The weight has just dropped off, and surprisingly fast!

People constantly blame carbs for weight gain, but once you stop believing the Big Food and animal ag propaganda, you’ll realize that carbs don’t make you fat. Calories make you fat and fat has more than twice the calories per gram as carbs or protein.

That’s why vegans, and especially people eating a WFPB diet, are the only group of American eaters with a healthy average body weight and BMI. In fact, you’re 4 times more likely to be overweight or obese eating a non-vegan diet!

Those who blame supposedly high-carb foods like doughnuts, cookies and potato chips for weight gain are accusing the wrong culprit. Almost 50% of the calories in a doughnut comes from fat, almost 52% of the calories in a chocolate chip cookie comes from fat, and almost 60% of the calories in potato chips comes from fat. These aren’t high-carb foods! They’re high-fat foods!

Junk Food High Fat

One of the great things about eating WFPB no-oil is that you don’t have to count calories or keep track of what you eat. If you eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, with avocados, seeds and nuts sparingly, you can eat until you’re not hungry without worrying about your weight.

When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m not hungry anymore, I stop eating. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

With that said, I have been keeping track of my food consumption using MyFitnessPal since I started this dietary intervention. This is more for experimental reasons than weight loss. I wanted to know with certainty, what I was eating in terms of fat, carbs and protein. That way, I would have more context for my next round of cholesterol test results, regardless of whether they improved or got worse.

To show you that carbs don’t make you fat, here are my daily macro nutrient ratios for the past two weeks:

July 23 to July 29 Macro Nutrient Ratios

July 30 to August 5 Macro Nutrient Ratios

As you can see, I’ve been eating close to 80% of my calories from carbs and I’ve lost 9 pounds! My fat and protein intake have averaged about 10% of total calories. All of these stats are in-line with the recommendations from plant-based scientists and doctors like Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. T. Collin Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. John McDougall and others.

JP Weight Loss

And here is a chart of my weight loss over the past year eating a WFPB vegan diet. I’ve lost 24 pounds total, with 9 falling off over the past 5 weeks just by cutting back on fat.

We’ve been brainwashed to believe that we need more protein and fat than we actually need, and less complex carbs and fiber than we really need. The result is a growing population of people who are fat, sick and nearly dead.

Eating a high-carb, low-fat WFPB diet is not only healthy, it’s the only diet proven to prevent and reverse heart disease. It’s also the diet that’s eaten by the world’s longest-lived people.

My next cholesterol check is in a month. I’ll share my update with you so you can keep track of my progress.

Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #2 Now Available…

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0: What Big Food Learned from Big Tobacco

“Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. Within the business we recognize controversy exists. However, with the general public the consensus is that cigarettes are in some way harmful to the health. If we are successful in establishing a controversy at the public level, then there is an opportunity to put across the real facts about smoking and health. Doubt is also the limit of our ‘product’. Unfortunately, we cannot take a position directly opposing the anti-cigarette forces and say cigarettes are a contributor to good health. No information that we have supports such a claim.” ~Smoking and Health Proposal, 1969

Doubt Is Our Product AshtrayThis is straight from the tobacco industry playbook when they were faced with a direct assault on their profit margins. Rather than acknowledge the dangers of their products and search for alternative healthy products to sell, they launched a smear campaign to discredit the science.

In fact, they continued to deny the cancer link until a federal judge ordered them to accept it in 2006, 42 YEARS after the original Surgeon General’s warning. At that point they switched their tactic from denial to blame: “Smokers have a choice to consume our products…it’s not our fault.”

Notice I bolded the last section of the “Smoking and Health Proposal” quote. We’ll come back to that after we lay some groundwork for how this tactic has become far more sophisticated and effective.

Strategies Used to Confuse the Public Into Inaction

The Four Dog Defense

Doubt Is Our Product - Four Dog DefenseBack in 1997, David Barstow exposed a Big Tobacco tactic in “Can This Man Tame Tobacco?” that he coined “The Four Dog Defense.” It goes like this:

  1. First of all, I don’t have a dog.
  2. And if I had a dog, it doesn’t bite.
  3. And if I had a dog and it did bite, then it didn’t bite you.
  4. And if I had a dog and it did bite, and it bit you, then you provoked the dog.

In other words:

  1. Tobacco doesn’t cause cancer. Period. (Circa 1969)
  2. The science is uncertain. There’s no study that shows a causal relationship between smoking and cancer. (Circa 2006)
  3. Ok, so smoking causes cancer. But there’s no way to prove it gave YOU cancer. (Present)
  4. Ok, so smoking gave you cancer. It was your choice to smoke. We didn’t force you. It’s your own damn fault. (Present)

Along with Doubt Is Our Product, this tactic is now standard business practice by most industries and corporations, with government support.

Psychological Projection

In psychology, there’s a term called Projection. This is a theory in which “humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.”

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0 - Projection

Let’s say someone in a position of power, someone who constantly bullies his perceived adversaries both online and offline, regularly accuses others of bullying him. Or let’s say you’re married to said bully and you launch a campaign to stop bullying…oh wait, that’s a whole different psychological issue.

Anyway, when someone accuses others of doing what they do, it’s called Projection. People can project a good or a bad trait, but they usually project bad traits onto others while projecting good traits onto themselves.

Projection is a very effective way to shift blame, and more importantly attention, away from you and onto something else. It also has the added benefit of tainting any defense mounted by the accused. “I didn’t bully you! You bullied me!” (Sounds like two brothers fighting.)

The human brain is really f—ed up. Not only because so many people engage in Projection on a daily/hourly/minutely basis, but because the rest of us are so gullible to believe it.

In addition to Doubt Is Our Product and The Four Dog Defense, corporations and the government frequently use this tactic on us, too.

Conspiracy Theories

The term itself elicits a sort of emotional knee-jerk reaction, doesn’t it? Conspiracy Theory. [shivers ensue]

In the “Smoking and Health Proposal,” they used the term “controversy” instead of “conspiracy.” They stated, “If we are successful in establishing a controversy….” In this context, “controversy” and “conspiracy” mean virtually the same thing. You can interchange the words.

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0 - Conspiracy Theory

So what’s the benefit of creating a conspiracy about Smoking and Health? It creates doubt in the minds of the public, and it paints the tobacco critics as Conspiracy Theorists. That label makes it much easier to discredit the critics in the eyes of the public because, again, we’re so amazingly gullible.

To quote Mark Twain, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.”

Unfortunately for Big Tobacco (and fortunately for the rest of us), their manufactured conspiracy had a severe limitation. They couldn’t “take a position directly opposing the anti-cigarette forces and say cigarettes are a contributor to good health. No information that we have supports such a claim.”

Remember this bolded quote from the end of the “Smoking and Health Proposal” above? Let’s talk about that now.

Big Tobacco’s Big Limitation

The biggest self-acknowledged limitation Big Tobacco had was that they couldn’t refute the science. They didn’t have any studies saying that smoking was healthy. The only thing they could do was call into question the methodologies of the studies that showed smoking was unhealthy.

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0 - Tobacco Limitation

Big Tobacco still insists that without a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial, the “Gold Standard” in studies, we can’t prove, without a doubt, that smoking causes cancer.

To conduct this type of study, we would have to have two groups of people: one would smoke cigarettes and the other would smoke a product that looks like a cigarette but contains an inert substance that doesn’t cause cancer (really hard to do). Then we’d have to follow them over several years, maybe 10 or 20 years, to see who gets cancer and who doesn’t.

The problem with using this Gold Standard methodology in a smoking trial, is that it’s unethical and illegal to subject people to something we know will likely kill them. However, without this type of study, we can only prove correlation, not causation. And the tobacco industry relies on this lack of definitive certainty to create doubt and to defend themselves in court.

Briefly, the difference between correlation and causation is pretty significant. Correlation indicates a relationship, but not necessarily a cause-effect relationship. For example, people who smoke are also more likely to be alcoholics. Did smoking cause them to be alcoholics? We can’t say that. We can only say the two events are correlated.

We can’t even blame their smoking, drinking parents or effective ad campaigns or a propensity for addictive behavior for their smoking and drinking ways. All of those factors may be correlated, but the only way to prove causation is with a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial, which is impossible to do in the real world for things like smoking and alcoholism.

And chemical exposure. And climate change. And gun violence. And cancer. And diabetes. And heart disease.

But there IS a very effective way to cast doubt on legitimate scientific studies that show strong correlations: conduct your own biased, flawed pseudoscientific studies.

What Big Food Learned from Big Tobacco

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0 - Big Food No Limits

If Big Tobacco had done what Big Food is doing now, most people would still be smoking and we’d still be arguing with each other on social media about whether smoking causes cancer. Big Food (and Big Pharma and Big Oil and Big Chemical and Big GMO) learned a lot from Big Tobacco’s mistakes, and swore not to repeat them.

In addition to employing Doubt Is Our Product, The Four Dog Defense, Psychological Projection and Conspiracy Theories, Big Food figured out how to circumvent Big Tobacco’s severe limitation (the lack of studies showing the health benefits of smoking) by funding and conducting their own “scientific” studies.

I put “scientific” in quotes because we can’t really call the vast majority of studies they fund scientific in the true sense. Valid scientific studies employ the Scientific Method, which “is an empirical method of knowledge acquisition…involving careful observation, which includes rigorous skepticism about what one observes…”

The problem with industry and corporate funded studies, is that they lack the “rigorous skepticism” that is an absolutely essential part of the Scientific Method.

They also intentionally mislead and in some cases, blatantly lie about their findings. More on that below, but first, here are some examples.

How Someone Can Say Saturated Fat Doesn’t Affect Blood Cholesterol Levels

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0 - ButterLet’s say I wanted to show that saturated fat doesn’t affect blood cholesterol, even though I know from controlled feeding experiments that it does. The fact that I know saturated fat raises cholesterol is irrelevant. I want to create doubt by saying that it doesn’t so people keep buying my products.

But I need to have legitimate looking evidence. I can’t just say, “because I said so.” And I also need to use some fancy scientific terms and a methodology that media interviewers and the general public won’t understand.

This is where the Observational Study methodology comes in. This is a very popular methodology in the social sciences because we simply can’t lock large groups of random people away in rooms for long periods of time, which is required for a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial (the Gold Standard, remember?).

Unfortunately, this type of study really sucks for things like diet. It means we have to either watch people eat EVERYTHING THEY PUT IN THEIR MOUTHS for months or years, or we have to ask the subjects to fill out questionnaires, which are notoriously unreliable. Ask an alcoholic how much they drank during the last week and the answer is almost always, “Not a lot. Maybe two or three.”

A more reliable methodology is an interventional dietary change experiment where we actually do lock people in a room, measure their cholesterol levels, feed them saturated fat (like butter) and then measure their cholesterol levels again.

Cholesterol levels go up very predictably when people eat saturated fat. You can buy a cholesterol testing kit on Amazon and test yourself at home. First test your cholesterol. Eat saturated fat. Wait 2 hours. Measure your cholesterol again.

There is no confusion on this matter.

SATURATED FAT RAISES YOUR BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS.

Knowing Observational Studies are very unreliable, Big Food pays to conduct dozens of them a year, thousands of them over the past 30 years. It’s the best marketing money can buy!

Then they roll up a hand-selected group of favorable studies into a Meta-Analysis  like this one and say, “See! We have hundreds of studies showing butter/cheese/dairy/milk/eggs/beef/fish/olive oil/coconut oil has no effect on cholesterol! Vindication!”

If you want to see all the fancy diagrams and the expert explanation, here’s a good video:

How Someone Can Say Beef Can Be Included in a Heart Healthy Diet

Simple. The beef industry funded a study to show that beef is heart healthy. Here’s what the researches wrote in their peer reviewed, published, “Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet” study: “The results of the BOLD study provide convincing evidence that lean beef can be included in a heart-healthy diet that meets current dietary recommendations and reduces cardiovascular disease risk.”

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0 - BOLD Study

So how can they make this ridiculous claim that a large portion of the population now believes?

According to Dr. Michael Greger, “In a study bought and paid for by the beef industry, beef was added to people’s diets. At the same time, the subjects removed so much poultry, pork, fish, and cheese from their diet that they halved their saturated fat intake from 12 percent of their diet, down to 6 percent of their diet, causing their cholesterol levels to go down. If our diet goes from 12 percent saturated fat down to 6 percent saturated fat, it doesn’t matter if that 6 percent comes from beef, chicken, lard, or Twinkies. If we cut our total saturated fat in half, our cholesterol will follow, especially if we eat more fiber and vegetable protein as they did in the study.”

If anything, this study proves that saturated fat directly affects blood cholesterol levels, but the beef industry spun the findings to make their product look better. More on this strategy below.

Beef reduces cardiovascular disease. Yeah, right. [cue eye roll]

How Someone Can Say Cholesterol Doesn’t Cause Heart Disease

We know from decades of research NOT funded by the meat, dairy and egg industries, and purveyors of fad diet products for Atkins, Paleo and Keto, that cholesterol is the cause of cardiovascular disease. This is not new news.

You can be an obese, smoking couch potato with diabetes, but if your LDL (bad cholesterol) is very low from eating a truly low-fat diet (or from a rare genetic mutation), you have a very low chance of developing heart disease.

Just like we know that smoking causes cancer, we know that too much cholesterol in our blood causes heart disease. The plaque in our arteries is literally made of oxidized cholesterol!

The only thing we can’t do is conduct a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial on cholesterol because people would die of heart disease, and it’s illegal and unethical to do that to people.

And that tiny kink in the armor is all the animal ag and fad diet industries need to create their “controversy” about cholesterol. If scientists could conduct a Gold Standard study, the debate would be over. But since they can’t, the animal ag industries design studies they know will generate no meaningful results or misleading results to cast doubt where none exists.

Controversy created. Profits protected. Tobacco industry fate avoided.

So how do they do it? Here’s one example from the egg industry tactics.

We know cholesterol and triglycerides spike within 2 hours of eating eggs, but the levels settle back down to the baseline 7 hours after consumption. So the egg industry structures their study methodology like this:

  1. Measure baseline cholesterol and triglycerides.
  2. Feed the subject eggs.
  3. Wait 7 or more hours (not allowing the subject to eat anything else).
  4. Re-measure cholesterol.

Viola! After 7 hours, the cholesterol and triglyceride levels return to the previous levels and the happy egg industry goes on the 6 o’clock news and says, “See! We told you eggs don’t raise your cholesterol! Vindication!”

In fact, eggs are so unhealthy that the egg industry is not legally allowed to say they’re healthy, nutritious or even SAFE for human consumption! Let that sink in for a minute!

But that doesn’t stop them from selling their deadly product, from creating misleading advertising (nutrient dense does not equal nutritious) or from funding misleading studies to create controversy.

How Someone Can Say Olive Oil Is Healthy

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0 - Olive OilThey may be a little late to the game, but the cooking oil industry, especially olive oil and coconut oil, is jumping on the Big Food biased science bandwagon. This is largely due to a recent increase in the amount of criticism relating to oil and its promotion of heart disease caused by the saturated fat it contains.

Again, SATURATED FAT RAISES YOUR BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS AND CHOLESTEROL CAUSES HEART DISEASE.

Pretty much everyone agrees that refined sugar is unhealthy. It’s a processed food that’s 100% carbs, it’s loaded with empty calories (48/tablespoon) and it has no other nutritional value.

Oil, however, is also a processed food that’s 100% fat, it’s loaded with empty calories (120/tablespoon – 2.5 times more calories per gram than sugar) and only has some vitamin E and K, and a tiny amount of omega-3 on it’s plus side. Telling someone to eat olive oil for omega-3 is like telling someone to drink Coke for potassium. The cons far outweigh the pros.

So why does oil (a processed food) get accolades while sugar (another processed food) gets demonized?

Olive oil is a mainstay in the Mediterranean Diet, which was made popular in the 1990’s outside of the Mediterranean, but has existed in the Mediterranean region for hundreds if not thousands of years.

People eating this diet are generally healthier than people eating the standard western, or standard American diet (SAD) that’s high in processed foods, refined sugar and flour, and high fat animal products. While olive oil is one component of the diet, it’s hardly the only component.

In addition to olive oil, the diet consists of large quantities of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains and a little lean meat including fish. It also encourages a glass of red wine per day for the antioxidant value (which can easily be obtained from foods not containing cancer-causing alcohol). In other words, it’s a whole-food plant-based diet with the addition of olive oil, fish, small portions of lean meat and a glass of red wine.

So is it possible that the benefits of the diet are not the olive oil, meat and red wine, but the abundance of whole plant foods they consume?

In fact, that’s probably exactly the reason. “When researchers from the University of Crete recently compared residents of Crete who had heart disease with residents free of the disease, they found that the residents with heart disease ate a diet with ‘significantly higher daily intakes’ of monounsaturated fats (principally from olive oil) as well as higher fat intake overall.”

Other than a significantly higher intake of olive oil, their diets were virtually identical. Yet the subjects in the olive oil group had more heart disease. It’s kind of common sense if you accept that saturated fat contributes to heart disease (see above).

The Mediterranean Diet appears to promote health despite the consumption of olive oil, meat and red wine, not because of those things. The high level of whole plant food consumption and low level of processed food consumption probably counteracts some of the negative effects of the high saturated fat foods.

So if I’m the olive oil industry, how might I create a study that steals the limelight from whole plant foods, and attributes the success of the diet to my product? How can I project their healthy qualities onto my unhealthy product so people keep buying it by the truckload?

Easy peasy.

All I have to do is fund a study that compares the Mediterranean Diet to a low-fat diet, while providing the test subjects with free extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and telling them to eat a bunch of it everyday.

Did I mention that the low-fat diet group can’t really be low-fat for this comparison to work? They can only be slightly LESS fat, not low-fat. It’s a LESS-fat control group.

Enter the PREDIMED study, peer reviewed and published in 2013 in a “reputable” medical journal. It was funded by the olive oil and nut industries. It has been cited in over 3,000 other studies over the past 6 years as justification and explanation for the benefits of olive oil. It has been the basis for thousands of articles and news reports touting the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet.

And it was just retracted due to serious methodological flaws. It also had multiple serious conflicts of interest (being funded by the industries that would benefit from a positive outcome, as well as being conducted by researchers affiliated with those industries) and the findings were not only insignificant but totally meaningless.

The study looked at both olive oil and nuts, but I’m going to focus on the olive oil group since that’s what this section is about, and because the nut group had just about the same outcome.

The subjects in the olive oil group consumed a diet that was 39% fat, while the low-fat control group consumed a diet that was 37% fat. Not only is the 2% difference in total fat consumption meaningless, 37% of calories from fat is NOT a low-fat diet!

In a whole-food plant-based diet, the goal is to get 10% of total calories from fat. THAT, my friends, is a low-fat diet!!!

You’ll love this part… The LESS-fat group didn’t follow the recommended diet so they couldn’t be compared to the olive oil and nut groups. Rather than admit this, the researchers said they had to stop the control group because to continue feeding them the LESS-fat diet would be unethical. They said it was killing people! OMG! You can’t make this stuff up!

They spun a negative that should have prevented their study from being published in the first place, into a positive that olive oil addicts LOVE to repeat.

SOMETIMES IT’S HARD NOT TO SCREAM!!!

HOW DO THESE PEOPLE SLEEP AT NIGHT?!!!

In fact, most of the studies published in support of the consumption of a high-fat diet, are not compared to a low-fat diet, but rather, to a different high-fat diet with fewer beneficial components. Usually fewer fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains, or a combination of those.

It appears that conflicts of interest are now the norm, rather than the exception in scientific research.

You can watch what the real expert, Dr. Pamela Popper, has to say on this retracted study here:

What Happens to Studies with Unfavorable Outcomes?

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0 - Trash CanSometimes, despite the best efforts of the funding sources, the study actually does what it’s supposed to and uncovers the real science. This is usually very bad for the funders and the sales of their products, so what do they do about it?

One common tactic is to just NOT publish the study. They throw it out. If you don’t publish your findings, no one knows about them except the researchers, who are typically required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement before starting the research. An NDA prohibits them from talking to anyone about what they found.

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0 - Lipstick on a Pig

Another more common tactic is to “spin” the science so it sounds positive to the funder’s products using one or more of these tactics:

  • Misreporting the methods
  • Misreporting results
  • Selective reporting of outcomes and analysis
  • Ignoring or understating results that contradict or counterbalance the initial hypothesis
  • Misreporting results and figures
  • Misinterpretation

These tactics and more can be found in the vast majority of industry funded, peer-reviewed studies. The most common place for spin is in the summary or conclusion of the published work. “In observational studies evaluating an intervention, spin was identified in the abstract’s conclusions in more than 80% of reports.”

Researchers and funders know that the media and most laypeople skip to the abstract/summary/conclusion without reading the whole study and without analyzing the methodology so it’s the best place to spin (or misrepresent) the real findings.

Big Food Without Big Tobacco’s Limits

These are but a tiny, minuscule, few examples of how Big Food uses science to confuse the public with false and misleading studies to create a controversy where none exists. They structure studies that project their negative, unhealthy qualities onto their healthy competition, while projecting their competition’s positive, healthy qualities onto their own deadly products.

They figured out how to remove the shackles placed on Big Tobacco. They have no limits.

Doubt Is Our Product 2.0

Doubt Is Our Product LogoI gave this famous Big Tobacco “Doubt Is Our Product” slogan a 2.0 version number to indicate it’s new and improved implementation. Big Food and other deadly industries have studied Big Tobacco’s playbook and they devised a plan to eliminate its only drawback: the lack of studies showing the health benefits of their products.

Armed with their own biased and flawed pseudoscientific studies, they confuse the public into inaction with The Four Dog Defense, Psychological Projection and Conspiracy Theories. When people don’t know what to believe, they don’t do anything. They don’t change their behavior or they adopt worse behaviors. And they continue buying deadly products.

To quote my mom, “You can find something on the internet to justify any side of any position.” And she’s absolutely right. Unfortunately.

But that’s where our human cognition comes in. We can review the evidence and weigh the biases. We can look at the methodologies and the ulterior motives.

If we continue to believe what we’re told without question, we’ll continue to suffer from, and die of, preventable diseases. And so will our loved ones.

Corporations, and the industry associations they fund, have no regard for truth, human life, animal life, health, pollution, the environment or the future of humanity on this planet. They only care about hitting Wall Street’s earnings estimates for the current quarter. And they’ll do whatever it takes to hit their goals without regard for the consequences. They are a cancer that will grow until it destroys the host: Us and Mother Earth.

If we let them.

If we stop buying their deadly products, they’ll stop selling them and start creating better, healthier options. We vote for what we want with the dollars we spend.

“The average American drinks 37% less milk today than in 1970.” And dairy farms are shutting down because of it. That’s how capitalism works. If we stop buying their products, they adapt or go out of business.

It’s up to you to stop allowing yourself to be manipulated for corporate profits. To educate yourself. To stop believing good news about your bad habits. To look at new information with a critical eye. To have an open mind. And to change your mind when new, unbiased, trustworthy facts contradict your previously held opinions.

This isn’t just about living longer. This is about living better and leaving a habitable planet for our children and their children. It’s time for us to stop being selfish, blind and gullible. It’s time to fight back before it’s too late.

If you enjoyed reading this post or learned something new, please share it with your friends and family. If more people understand these tactics, they’ll have less power over us.

P.S. A lot of my references are to Dr. Michael Greger and NutritionFacts.org. That’s because he’s one of a handful of doctors and scientists that I actually trust to tell us the “mostly” unbiased truth. Everyone has biases, even Dr. Greger. But he and his team of mostly volunteers do a very good job of reviewing the studies and presenting them in an accessible way. Plus, his website is just easier to use than most of the other trusted sources’ websites. My next post will be about how I decided who to trust, and who Amelia and I trust as credible nutrition sources.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
Vegans Abroad YouTube Banner