So you want to eat healthy? No problem, just jump on the internet, check out a few health oriented diet websites and in no time you’ll get all the information you need! Oh . . . Uh . . . wait a minute, what’s all that confusing, contradictory information . . . ?
If you haven’t noticed, there’s a battle for your allegiance going on right now all over the internet and on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. If you’re not paying attention you may have missed it, but you’re being exposed to it all the time. It’s a battle about whether or not you should be eating meat.
Out of all the science and various good ideas about diet that have emerged in the last three decades, there are two camps who, at least for now, have become quite dominant in the national conversation about diet and health. Interestingly, at first glance, they appear to be almost diametrically opposed.
In one corner of the ring we have the “low carb” advocates, this would include followers of the Atkins diet, The South Beach diet, the Rosedale diet and the Paleo diet. In the other corner we have the vegans (i.e. no animal foods whatsoever). These would include followers of the ideas presented in the books “The China Study”, “Diet for a New America” and the documentary film “Forks over Knives”.
The Low carbers are well represented by the concept of the Paleo Diet, whose essential argument is that we should be eating the way our cave person (please take note of my political correctness) ancestors ate. The word Paleo comes from the term paleolithic, which refers to pre-agriculture humans, i.e cave people. Proponents of the Paleo diet recommend eating plenty of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. What is notably missing here are grains, legumes and dairy products. Thankfully, the modern Paleo diet doesn’t advocate eating grubs and insects, which I’m sure our hungry cave person ancestors ate when the circumstances dictated.
Vegans recommend eating a diet based entirely on plant foods: grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and anything that is not part of, or does not come from an animal. What is missing here is meat, dairy and eggs.
The concept of veganism has been around for many years and was originally more associated with ethical and spiritual values, i.e. being kind to animals. In more recent years a strong stance has been taken amongst it’s proponents that it is the healthiest diet for humans, and that eating meat is associated with all sorts of health problems. The promotion of this idea comes largely from a few authors, most notably John Robbins, author of “Diet for a New America” and more recently by T. Collin Campbell and Thomas Campbell who wrote the very popular book “The China Study”.
So, what’s going on here? How can presumably intelligent and sincere health researchers come to such dramatically different conclusions? While I can’t answer that question definitively, I can give an educated hunch: bias and selective reporting.
One of the greatest pitfalls in research is looking selectively at the evidence. If you are doing research on the health effects of ice cream, for instance, and you really love ice cream and don’t want to stop eating it, you may find yourself searching out or giving more credence to evidence that makes positive assessments of ice cream (such as the study that suggests that regular ice cream consumption reduces osteoporosis in premenopausal women), and ignoring or giving less credence to evidence that ice cream isn’t good for you (such as the fact that you get congested and lethargic every time you eat it). This is easy to do, consciously or unconsciously, and I have found myself doing it when researching various health topics that I had an emotional investment in.
My sense is that authors on both sides of this debate are starting from an emotional or philosophical viewpoint and then consciously or unconsciously finding evidence to support their position while ignoring or minimizing evidence that contradicts it.
Weighing In on the Paleo Diet
The argument that we should eat the same pre-agricultural foods that our ancestors ate for millennia makes a certain amount of sense. Our bodies evolved, in part, in response to the foods that were available during prehistoric times and so are arguably better adapted to them. Indeed, in evolutionary terms, there has simply not been enough time since the advent of agriculture about 12,000 years ago for any appreciable change to our digestive or metabolic processes. There has certainly not been enough time to adapt to the dramatic changes to our diet brought on by the onset of industrialization 200 years ago.
There is, however, some inconvenient evidence that contradicts the core Paleo assumption. There are a number of populations around the world currently and historically who have enjoyed excellent health, a lower incidence of chronic diseases, extremely low rates of obesity and in some cases, increased longevity who consume grains as a daily part of their diet. This would suggest that it is not grains in and of themselves that are harmful to human health, at least not for all people.
And, while certain health parameters such as energy, blood sugar and cholesterol levels do reliably improve when transitioning from a standard Western diet to a Paleo type diet (we see this regularly in our clinic), many broader health claims are made by proponents of the diet for which there is really no hard evidence, such as reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and increased longevity. (I’m not saying that the Paleo diet does not have these effects, just that we don’t really know).
Weighing in on the Vegan Diet
Clearly there is something very appealing and noble about the idea of being able to sustain our health without causing suffering to other creatures. I can’t, and wouldn’t want to argue with that at all. The suggestion, however, that avoidance of all animal based foods is necessary, or even preferable to achieve optimal health is questionable, in my opinion.
When the book “The China Study” came out several years ago, I read it and was initially very impressed and convinced by the author’s essential arguments. T. Collin Campbell is a research scientist who did studies on mice given varying amounts of animal protein in their diets. He found that when mice ate more than 5% of their diet as animal protein (in the form of casein, an isolated protein from cow’s milk) their incidence of cancer increased, furthermore, their rates of cancer increased in proportion to the amount of casein in their diet.
He was later involved in epidemiological research in China comparing a more traditional Chinese diet which contains high amounts of plant based foods and very small amounts of animal based foods with a more modern western diet. It was found that rates of cancer and certain other diseases were lower in people eating a traditional Chinese diet. Dr. Campbell’s conclusion is that it is the percentage of animal based foods in the diet which are responsible for increased rates of cancer.
The more I thought about Dr. Campbell’s conclusions, the more I was bothered. Dr. Campbell’s argument begins with mice. While his results are compelling, research has shown over and over again that mice are not human! It is quite common, for instance, to see robust results in tests of therapeutic agents on mice or rats that do not later bear out in human studies. Furthermore, despite all the images we have seen in our lifetimes of mice eating cheese, casein is not the natural diet of mice! Mice in the wild primarily eat grains, seeds, berries and bugs.
Furthermore, people eating a traditional diet in China are more likely to be living in a rural environment and living a more traditional lifestyle overall. Individuals eating more meat and dairy products are likely to be urban dwellers. People in urban centers are often exposed to increased levels of stress, pollution, refined foods, loss of social support and disturbed sleep due to noise and light pollution. All of these may account for some of the differences in disease incidence that Dr. Campbell’s team found.
In addition, it is well documented that Inuit people (historically called eskimos) living on their traditional diet, which consists almost entirely of animal products, such as fish, seal, whale meat and blubber, have extremely low rates of cancer, even in recent times. When they adopt more western diets, their cancer rates and other disease rates increase proportionately. In a similar vein, Weston Price, the famous dentist who travelled around the world studying groups of unusually healthy people found that virtually all of them ate some meat, and some of them obtained a large percentage of their calories from dairy products.
What’s going on here?
To begin with, proponents of both the Paleo diet and the vegan diet generally advocate eating whole, unprocessed foods. If one is eating a standard American diet, making that change alone will undoubtedly bring some health benefits, and for some people it will bring dramatic health benefits. What is true for all humans is that prior to about 200 years ago we were eating diets that consisted primarily of whole, unrefined foods. Diets of unprocessed, natural foods are nutrient dense, high in fiber, and very low in potentially toxic substances which can impair or derange metabolism.
I do feel that both the vegan and Paleo camps are identifying real problems in our dietary landscape and offering some useful information. For me, the problem starts when a group of useful dietary principles are solidified into a block prescription for the entirety of humanity.
I have worked with a number of vegans (and vegetarians) who were sick specifically because their bodies could not maintain balance long term on a vegan or vegetarian diet. Virtually any naturopath can tell you stories about patients who’s health improved dramatically when they started including some animal products, particularly meat, poultry and fish, into their diet. Having said that, there are some people who seem to do very well on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
I have also worked with people on a low carb diet who were living on pork chops, bacon and all sorts of low carb specialty foods and were quite unhealthy. Dr. Atkins, who started the low carb movement had a heart attack later in life. Avoiding grains and carbohydrates does not, in and of itself, make a diet healthy.
Contributions from the Vegan Camp
The current vegan movement has made a number of important contributions. It has brought attention to ethical issues related to the treatment of animals. It has created a national conversation about the health implications of eating foods produced by modern farming methods.
Modern factory farms use massive feed lots where animals are fed a diet entirely unnatural to them (genetically modified corn) and kept in cramped quarters where they have to stand in their own manure and some of them are so sick that they can’t even stand on their own feet. This is not only inhumane but factory farming produces meat, poultry and fish that comes from unhealthy animals and is high in inflammatory compounds that are associated with increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Beef, lamb and buffalo raised entirely on grass do not have these problems.
Contributions from the Paleo Camp
Advocates of the Paleo diet and other low carb diets have highlighted the connection between excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates and a variety of health conditions, including obesity, hypertension and diabetes. In addition, the Paleo diet in specific has promoted a diet based in whole, unprocessed foods, something the father of all low carb diets, the Atkins diet, lacked.
Individuals need Individualized diets
The Paleo and vegan diet movements have focused on what category of foods we should eat. The problem with that is that we are all individuals and have different needs from each other, and different needs at different times of our lives. Using our intelligence, being sensitive to the feedback our bodies give us and adjusting our habits accordingly can help us find a diet that will nourish and nurture us. This, of course, will provide an internal environment that is conducive to healing.
I’m curious to hear from people: have you been on a vegan or low carb diet such as the Atkins, Southbeach or Paleo diets? How did you benefit from it? Did it have any negative effect on your health? Please leave a comment below.
Your Body’s Talking to You, Are You Listening?
Universal Diet Principle No. 1
Dr. Sandro, thank you for putting some of my thoughts and questions of “what to do” down on paper. I was a vegan for about 7 years and I did feel my health was compromised even though I did get a lot of health benfits (lost weight, had a lot of energy). Then I was challenged by another doctor to eat according to “home cooking” – “old-fashioneded” ways, meat/fish, potato, vegetable. Then I started seeing Dr. Greta and she asked me to eat very low carb. I sustained that process well for a while, but then my body seemed to scream at me that something was missing. So, these diet changes (vegan and low carb) help for a bit, however, I cannot live long-term on them. Recently I told Dr. Greta that I just can’t seem to stay on the low-carb diet. Now I am spending time listening to my body. It generally tells me to eat greens, or some meat protein (interestingly fish does not come up). I admit I struggle with the carbs and I am sure I will eventually get these under control. Since this was an area I had to apply severe discipline over, I have relaxed a lot in this area, trying to teach my body that carbs are welcome and will be part of my diet. I am certain that when my body feels like it can trust me again (to not be extreme in any one area) all will balance out. That is my theory. We will see if it proves true. Thank you again for this blog. I enjoy and benefit from every article.
Beth, thanks for your comment. The concept of actually listening to what your body tells you is missing from almost every diet approach. Animals do this daily. Grazing animals, for instance might look like they are just eating grass, but they are very selective in what specific grasses or greens they eat. There are two parts to the process, learning to discern what your body is actually wanting, and the paying attention to how your body feels after eating particular foods. The more you do this, the more you learn to discern the healthful impulses from the cravings.
Carbs are challenging, and I will probably be writing a blog specifically about them at some time in the not too different future. I think it’s important to pay attention to what specific carbs you are craving. If you are craving refined carbs, such as bread, snack foods or sweets, then you probably have either a blood sugar problem or the carbs are helping you modulate stress. Dr. Greta can help you with that. If you are craving whole, unrefined carbs such as brown rice, quinoa and legumes, then it is probably a healthy craving that is trying to meet a physiological need.
I have been on too many “diets” in my life. I have eaten low carb which helped me lose weight and helped improve my husband’s blood work. I have also eaten a vegan diet. Dr. Sandro, you cautioned me to make sure I was getting enough protein while on the vegan diet, and sure enough, I discovered through blood tests that my protein was low. My sisters are dedicated to gluten free, Paleo, Gaps, and low carb diets. My head is spinning as I read about each one and try and decide how I should eat. The bottom line: trust and listen to my body. I don’t always like what it tells me, but nevertheless, I need to listen. By the way, what does craving cheese mean? 😀
Thanks for your comment Lynn, the proponents of a given diet generally suggest that there is “one” diet that will work for everyone. This is obviously not the case. That was basically the point of my article. Our individuality is not limited to our personality, it includes our genetics, biochemistry, physiology and current life circumstances. I put a lot of people on low carb diets for a period of time, but I individualize the diet for the patient and transition them off of it when the time is right. I agree with you that we need to listen to our bodies, and that we often don’t like what they are telling us! We often crave foods that are not good for us because they give some short term reward, such as improved mood or a feeling of comfort, but we later pay a price. We are also attracted, if we listen, to foods which will balance and restore our health. We know what these foods are because we feel better after eating them, and continue to feel well over time. With regard to your cheese craving, that could be a few things: it may be a healthful craving for protein, calories or calcium, or it may be having a mood altering affect on you, which is not necessarily bad, in and of itself. I would just pay attention to how it affects you over time and if there are no adverse effects, then I wouldn’t worry about it.
Hi, I’m currently ‘doing’ Paleo (with a slip up here and there, no stress) and have noticed the Paleo v Vegan arguments and it’s confusing. I’ve spent time being vegetarian, which included lots of vegan meals and I have a belief if I was responsible for my own food I wouldn’t be eating many of my chickens, goats and sheep because I’d want their eggs, milk, cheese and wool…and that’s where Paleo doesn’t sit right for me. I will say in the 4 months I’ve been doing it I haven’t been exercising much (post shoulder surgery) and whilst I have only lost about 2-3 kgs my body shape has changed enormously and almost daily I watch it get smaller, a dent or line here becomes bigger then goes as the fat around it reduces. I don’t know why, I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m getting smaller, thinner (though not much lighter). I have had back to back colds when I haven’t really had a cold for the last 3 years and I do wonder what my cholesterol numbers are now :O) oh and I’m Type 2 with lower numbers on this than anything else. Re Wheat – I don’t seem to have any ill effects from gluten, but I’m thinner and less hungry without it and other grains.
Thanks for your comment. I understand the confusion regarding vegan vs. paleo (as well as other dietary ideas). The primary point I was trying to make in this blog was that there are misconceptions in both the paleo and vegan camps and that there is no one diet that is right for everyone! We have to pay attention to how our bodies respond to various foods and adjust our eating patterns accordingly. It sounds like you are seeing some clear benefits from the paleo approach and if you have type 2 diabetes you will almost certainly benefit from cutting out grains, starches and sugars, which the paleo diet does (if you are on blood sugar medicine, monitor your blood sugar to make sure it doesn’t go too low). If you are like most people your cholesterol numbers are probably actually lower than before you started the paleo diet (you might also want to read my blog called “The Demon Cholesterol”). Most type 2 diabetics have very high insulin levels, which their doctors almost never check, high insulin makes weight loss very difficult, so that may account for your slow weight loss. With regard to the colds, I can’t really comment, since I don’t know your whole medical history, but if you are diabetic, remember that high blood sugar levels suppress immune function. Sometimes when our immune system is getting healthier, we actually get sick more often because the immune system is able to respond to the infectious agents that it is encountering whereas before it wasn’t. Take care.
Thanks so much for your response. Been type 2 for 9 years, not on meds, very healthy otherwise and definitely paleo makes sense with that, can vouch for the losing weight bit, although I’m not overly large as I am very careful, carbs had definitely become the issue. Really enjoying reading your posts.
Dr. sandro, thanks for the rationale balanced article. I’ve been both vegan and paleo. I started as vegan to do my part to stop factory farming. after killing my own goat and eating it I realized.. I could have my cake(goat) and eat it too. I immediately felt a massive boost in energy and every area of my healtih improved. I’m still mostly vegan, i just can’t eat grains except in teaspoon amounts, and I eat about a fish or 3 eggs a day. this for me is the magic diet: lots of leaves, some roots, some seeds nuts, some fruits, a fish or couple eggs a day. I call this paleo but i don’t eat bacon all day, the majority of my diet is plants. The only supplement i take is a little betonite clay in my water. I’ve never felt better in my life. sorry about the atrocious grammer but Im typing from a phone..
Thanks for your comment. I think you are doing what we all capable of doing but often don’t: listening to our body’s feedback and experimenting until we find a diet that optimizes our physiology. Feeling well, healthy, energetic and clear headed are signs from the body that we are on the right track!
Thank you for your balanced approach. I am a wife and mother of four. My family primarily eats food that I prepare at home, and I take my responsibility for their nutrition seriously. For a decade, I have been preparing mostly a whole food, nutrient rich diet. Last year, as I searched for natural remedies for my family’s issues with acne, eczema, and rosacea, I read a book called The Clear Skin Diet. This convinced me that dairy consumption was not doing my family any favors. That was my first venture into eliminating a “food group,” and we have all seen marked improvement in our skin. Only recently have I read more about vegan diets (The China Study, popular blogs,etc.), factory farming (Omnivore’s Dilemna), and Paleo Diets (The Paleo Diet, Whole30, etc.). My latest bout of reading came about when I started training to become a dance fitness instructor. I have been frankly shocked at the fitness world’s disdain for whole grains and legumes. These are the foods that create the backbone of my family’s diet! This has really given me some angst and confusion. So I really appreciate your balanced analysis. It has helped me relax and feel okay again about what I feed my family.
Glad to be of help. You might also want to read my blog post “Your body is talking to you, are you listening”.
Your article is thoughtful and objective. I think there are not enough good scientific studies to settle some of the “food fights”.
Dr. Esselstyn at Cleveland clinic seems to be getting very good results in arresting and reversing cardiovascular disease using a strict vegan diet. He doesn’t like any oils including olive oil and claims they damage the endothelium. Do you think that is correct?
See his comments at https://heartattackproof.com/spanish_study.htm.
His vegan diet (along with Ornish’s and Caldwell’s) is about 10-12% fat, 10-12% protein and 75-80% carbohydrates. I thought the optimum was more like 30% fat, 30% protein and 40% carbohydrates. Do you have an opinion on the optimum ratio of macro nutrients?
I will look forward to your response.
Richard, I think the key is that there is no single diet that is healthful for everyone, nor do I think there is a ratio of fats, carbohydrates and proteins that is ideal for everyone. People’s needs are just too different for that to be so. It is true that Ornish and others have shown partial reversal of atherosclerotic plaque using very low fat vegetarian and/or vegan diets which is impressive. So individuals with known cardiovascular disease may want to consider that approach, however, I think the decision needs to be individualized. I recently had a patient who went on a very low fat vegan diet for 90 days as part of a cleanse. His blood pressure and cholesterol values came down but his insulin levels went through the roof. Insulin is a known contributory factor to atherosclerosis and if uncorrected contributes to the development of Type II diabetes, also a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease. For this patient a vegan diet might actually increase his risk of heart disease.
Barry Sears would say that you should have anticipated the likeliehood of increased insulin levels on the diet you described. Have you known patients that been on a high carb diet for a significant period of time that did not show increased inslin levels (particularly if the glycemic load was high)? Do you agree with Dr. Esselstyn that oils damage the endothilium or is that terra ingognita for you. Do you think there are no general nutrition rules that apply to almost everyone? What general nutrition rules do you think apply to most people?
There is a wealth of information related to the starch-based diet at dr.mcdougall.com. It is easy to be an unhealthy vegan if one does not eat properly. Dr. McDougall himself, now 67 years old and on this diet for decades, is the picture of health, as are hundreds of his patients. http://www.dromcdougall.com/videos has enough video discussions of this approach to keep you busy for a long time. I especially recommend his talk related to his mentors, his interview with Nathan Pritikin (remember him?) and his discussion about the basis of a starch-based diet. You will also be able to watch video testimonies from people who were seriously unhealthy and turned their lives around on a whole foods, starch-based, vegan diet.
Kathleen, I have no doubt that the McDougall diet has improved the health of many people and I agree that there is a big difference between being a healthy vegan and a junk food vegan (I have worked with many of those). I’m not convinced that a vegan diet is right for everyone, however. Part of the problem with testimonials is that they represent “best case” reports. They do not give any statistical information about the entire population that have tried the diet. I am certain that there are people who have followed the McDougall diet and not had good outcomes. THIS IS DO TO BIOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALITY and not an indictment of the diet itself. Virtually all proponents of various diets, vegan, paleo or otherwise promote their diet as being the answer for everyone. I don’t think the overall evidence supports that any one diet is right for everyone. I have had many experiences of vegan diets ultimately not working for some patients. I have also had experiences of paleo type diets not working for some patients. I think we need to take a holistic, individualized approach to find the diet that is optimal for each person.
I know what you mean about a vegan diet not working well for everyone. I recently went to a large gathering of vegans and was shocked by how overweight or scrawny and unhealthy many of them were. I had tried to be vegan for an extended period, but it wasn’t until I began to fuel my body with whole food starches with veggies and fruit that I finally became completely nourished by this way of eating. This way of eating keeps cholesterol levels and triglycerides low. That is a scientific fact. But who am I to suggest that a vegan diet is the best diet for everyone? I don’t really know. I would, however, like to add a couple additional thoughts on the matter. There seems to be little doubt that the life and viability of our planet is also more nourished by a vegan diet than a paleo one, which comes with a high environmental price tag in terms of consumption of resources and oceans that are being seriously depleted. I feel an obligation to my grandchildren and yours, as well. With all due respect, I find our modern Western focus on power-packed nutrition and “biological individuality” to be somewhat confusing when I consider that other species don’t seem to have these requirements. Most of the largest animals on the planet—elephants, giraffes, horses, bison, cows—do remarkably well eating a plant-based diet that is often limited to just two or three types of grasses and leaves that appear to provide them with ample calcium for big, strong bones, along with more than enough protein and other nutrients. As we focus on the microscopic details of what’s in our food, half of the human race is close to starvation.
Many people definitely have increased insulin levels with a high carb diet. I think that depends on genetics, health history and level of regular exercise. Heatlhy people who get a lot of regular aerobic exercise, such as runners and bycyclists, can usually eat a lot of carbs without increased insulin levels. I think the question of oils damaging the endothelium is interesting but complex. Part of the problem with oils is that they become oxidized, which definitely can damage the endothelium. Similarly, foods high in saturated fats are also often high in cholesterol and many cooking methods oxidize cholesterol before it is consumed. There is no evidence that non-oxidized cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis, but oxidized cholesterol certainly does. I question whether oils consumed in their natural, non-oxidized forms, such as raw, un-shelled nuts and seeds, contribute to atherosclerosis. Finally, I do believe there are certain dietary principles that apply to everyone. I wrote several blogs about them called “Universal Diet Princples”. My clinical experience suggests, however, that the ratio of the macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) that will promote optimum health is quite individualized.
Dr Sandro, thank you for this well-written and thoughtful article. I’ve been looking into this vegan vs paleo issue just out of interest, to see what I can learn. I find that the majority of stances are biased one way or the other, and the comments are so emotionally charged that they are not useful at all to someone seeking information. It’s almost like reading a religious flame war in some blogs.
I have not practiced either of these lifestyles, but I like to read on this subject because there are “gems” out there that I may incorporate into my ever-evolving diet. I lost over 30 lbs 8 years ago by eating low-fat, but as time goes on, I am converting my diet more towards real food rather than the processed low fat options.
Since both vegan and paleo contain an element of what I’m pursuing, it’s interesting to see them pitched against each other. I appreciate your balanced view and the realistic message that we all need to find what works for us individually.
Linda, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you are finding what makes sense for you. You might enjoy reading my article Your Body Is Talking To You, Are You Listening? It goes into more depth on personalizing one’s diet by listening to your body’s feedback. Take care.
I have tried to eat a vegan diet because I haven’t liked the idea of eating “dead animals.” I’ve gone back and forth on this for a number of years. I haven’t felt adequately nourished when I’ve stuck to a vegan diet, feeling either unsatisfied, fatigued and sometimes gaining weight from an over-reliance on bread and pasta, etc. I seemed to always go back to adding cheese, yogurt and fish. I’ve been conditioned for many years, as so many of us have, toward a low-carb approach to eating, while focusing on fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds and lean sources of protein. Surprisingly, I stumbled upon how to be a happy, healthy and completely nourished vegan! Never in my 67 years would I have believed it would have come from completely changing my way of eating to embrace STARCH—and lots of it! Now I eat potatoes, rice, corn, beans to my heart’s content. I can eat bread and pasta, too, but because they are more processed, I keep an eye on how much of this I eat. I have lost all excess weight and my energy is through the roof! The trick is to not only eliminate all animal products, but most oils. John McDougall, MD has been promoting this way of eating for the past 30 years and he has collected dozens of video testimonials from people who have reversed heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis—the list goes on and on. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I LOVE eating this way. LOTS and lots of information at drmcdougall.com
Thank you for this essay, Dr. Sandro. I have tried many different approaches over the years, including veganism, macrobiotic and the blood-type diets, the latter of which also often gets applied to this discussion — i.e. people with O-type blood being supposedly naturally more “paleo oriented”, and people with A-type blood being supposedly naturally more “veggie or vegan oriented”…. But fast forward.
When I began to have bad reflux several years ago I was diagnosed with GERD and put on a proton-pump inhibitor — the worst med ever! I could eat whatever, but I noticed my digestive system felt “dead” inside. I also became severely anemic and began vomiting, first about once a week then eventually daily. I got second and third opinions and the conventional doctors ALL said to stay on the med… don’t worry about the vomiting… And even though I was supplementing with iron, my iron levels were not rising. After seeing a fourth gastroenterologist, who had nothing new to offer, I finally got fed up, threw the med in the bin, and went through the withdrawal which was terrifying. I later learned the NIH had published a report on proton pump inhibitors, warning about a rebound effect and expressing concern that it would cause people to remain on those drugs when they should not. Imagine a doctor not mentioning that! Studies also showed that people taking acid reducers all had lowered mineral levels, including iron and calcium. The incidence of hip fractures is TEN TIMES higher for women on those meds. But what to do instead? Well, the only thing I could handle initially was juice — so I drank a lot of juice. But I was frightened to still be vomiting simple foods like rice and raw carrots well chewed. I’ll skip through a lot of detail here, but the process of learning about digestion, and particularly MY digestion, has been fascinating. Unlike Kathleen above, I could not eat starches for a very long time without vomiting. I learned that polysaccharides (starches) are actually very difficult to digest. They give your gut a good workout, but your gut needs to be physically and chemically healthy to handle them. I also got help from a naturopathic physician which was invaluable. I learned about food combining — for example eating proteins preceded by acids, and fruits or carbs separately. I learned about digestive enzymes and they helped a lot at the beginning. I tried the old fashioned remedy of apple cider vinegar in water which also helped.
In the end, now that I’m healed, this is what I’ve learned (and it leads to my real point).
First — the reflux was the result of inflammation, partly as a result of diminishing chemistry due to aging, and partly due to ignorance. Even after dropping back to just juices, the inflammation needed time to heal. Hence, vomiting rice, raw carrots, raw green vegetables, etc was not strange at all — my inflamed stomach was simply rejecting the roughage. And now that I’m healed, I can eat them fine.
Second — I was much more dehydrated than I realized. I drank water daily, but not nearly enough. There’s even a book about how oftentimes people with ulcers can be healed just by drinking more water.
But lastly, and this is the most important thing I think — I was mindless and inattentive to the state of my inner flora. I only ate yogurt once in awhile and otherwise paid no attention to my inner bacteriological state. Considering that every adult carries approximately 5 lbs of good flora, it’s astonishing how little attention is paid to how to keep them healthy so that they can keep the bad bacteria in balance and at bay.
As such, I’ve recently been reading about the GAPS diet, which is kinda like paleo but places a HUGE emphasis on probiotics and naturally fermented or cultured foods. And when I consider the role our flora play in digestion, either blocking, or helping, nutrients pass through the intestinal walls, to say nothing of the role they play in preventing food allergies and intolerances, and keeping our immune system functioning, it totally makes sense that keeping THEM healthy would keep us healthy. Now I make sure to get good bacteria daily, cultivating my inner cultures, and I feel better than ever. I’m regular, I have no reflux, my blood tests are all fantastic, and I don’t vomit at all.
So more water and probiotics — those were the answer for me. It was all so simple in the end, even though the fear, pain and drama was intense for awhile.
In terms of the vegan vs paleo question, this is my thought for consideration. I tend toward paleo myself now, but not as much fat as they suggest, and I do eat beans and some grains, just modest amounts. I also have milk products but fermented like yogurt and kefir. But perhaps this is a real key to the question behind these two diets. If a vegan drinks kombucha regularly, say, she may do better than a paleo who is ignoring their inner flora. By the same token, a paleo who is eating fermented sauerkrauts, natto, homemade pickles, kefir or yogurt, may do better than a vegan who is only eating vegetables, grains and beans.
Ethical and other general nutritional questions aside, my sense is that good bacteria, or probiotics, may play a much bigger role in whether these two diets are healthy than we realize.
Maya, You make a number of good points.
Sadly, your experience with conventional doctors is not all that uncommon. It’s tragic that you, and many others, are counseled to continue with a course of treatment that is clearly worsening your health. It’s also sad that you had to work so hard to find an answer on your own, against, I’m sure the protestations of your medical doctors. I applaud you for your perseverance and your success at sorting things out for yourself!
A proper balance of probiotics is clearly very important for healthy digestive and immune function and a deficiency of beneficial bacteria in the GI tract can definitely cause reflux (GERD). For some people, high starch or sugar diets can also cause reflux. It is true that most traditional cultures have some form of fermented foods that supplied them with regular replenishment of probiotics. Even eating raw, freshly harvested vegetables (without pesticides of course) kept our “cave person” ancestors supplied with probiotics.
I think you make an interesting point about the possible role of probiotics in the success of a vegetarian or paleo type diet, however, I’m sure there is more to it than that. I feel confident that there is no single diet that is appropriate for everyone. This is one of my main criticisms of both vegan and paleo camps. I think you’ve done a wonderful job of finding, through experimentation, a diet that works for your body and keeps you healthy. If more people understood this principle and were willing to put in the research and effort we would have a much healthier population.
Thanks again for your input. I think I will write a blog post about protbiotics soon. As you point out, it’s a very important topic.
Ha! Yes, the fourth gastroenterologist actually “fired” me for not being an obedient farm animal and continuing on that horrible med. That was really hard actually. I felt discounted and abused. But whatever! There HAD to be another way… The severe anemia made me fall down a lot too. It was truly awful. An aside, do you know how I first noticed the anemia? I started craving ice. I would get a big bag of it and just chew on cupfuls. It was delicious and I thought nothing of it. It’s water, right? And calorie free. What harm could it do? I finally looked up my bizarre new craving and the Mayo Clinic pointed to iron deficiency. Who knew? My doctors weren’t testing. I had to specifically ask. And sure enough, my iron was drastically low, lower than it had ever been, and recommended supplementation didn’t help as long as I was taking that med. Later, after I got into naturopathic care I ended up having to rebuild my ferritin levels for quite awhile due to the depletion. I won’t go on but it’s almost criminal what happened. I only discovered later how deadly anemia can be. Thank god I got away from those quacks! I like my primary care physician — she’s conventional but interested in natural approaches. But I swear I will NEVER consult with a gastroenterologist again. Anyway!! As I read your other essays and comments it strikes me that any diet can be “junky” (i.e. reliant on processed foods). That’s quite a revelation, many people probably don’t “get” it. A junk-paleo diet, say, might consist of burgers and bacon…. whereas a junk-vegan diet might contain of cereals and commercially processed soymilk…. The level of processing is certainly a key, and one of the things that processed or nutritionally dead food is missing is…. beneficial bacteria and enzymes. Interestingly, while I do well on kombucha, fresh acidophilus (powdered refrigerated), homemade yogurt (made myself), etc, I sometimes get a little tummy upset with kefir. I’ve heard that kefir is more “aggressive” than the other probiotics, and maybe that’s what’s happening — I’m getting more die-off of the bad bacteria? Your comments about how we are all so individual also bring to mind how we start life by inheriting our mother’s unique complement of flora, enhanced by her breastmilk or modified by whatever formulas we were given, and then impacted over time in response to our environment. Our individual “inner cultures” are thus absolutely varied from the “inner cultures” inside others, in quantity, ratio, and vibrancy. I would add, following on from Alma’s comment above that since upping my probiotics I’ve had far fewer colds, so that’s another avenue to pursue if immunity is in question. I don’t mean to sound like such a cheerleader for probiotics! I definitely have changed my diet in other ways too — less processed food altogether, far less sugar (I still have some dark chocolate occasionally), no unfermented dairy, far less bread (toast maybe once a month), more raw vegetables (organic whenever possible), more beans (cooked with a piece of kombu!), cooking generally with coconut oil only, etc. Probiotics have just made such a huge difference in my life and it would seem that even if a diet is perfect for an individual in all other ways, if their flora is weak or dying they won’t end up reaping the expected benefit, regardless of what diet it is. I will look forward to reading a new post on our “inner cultures”!
Your article is very interesting and addresses key points in this diet debate. I am currently a graduate student at the University of California working in the field of nutritional biology and have been on the Paleo Diet for over two years now. There are just a couple of points about the Paleo Diet that I would like to point out. First, the Paleo Diet is actually very individualized. Most Paleo proponents recommend an evolution, if you will, of the diet to suit the individual. It is usually recommended that upon transitioning to the Paleo Diet that you initially start out very strict, ie fairly low carb, mainly non-starchy vegetables and animal products with some fruits and nuts. The diet is also fully a whole food diet and no processed foods are recommended, hence there really is not a “junk” Paleo Diet, whereas the same can’t be said for the vegan diet. The initial diet is meant to sort of reset the metabolism and amp up the fat-burning metabolic machinery while replenishing low nutrient stores and healing the gut. Probiotic foods are also highly recommended. After an initial period, the duration of which is dependent on your current metabolic state and goals, you are then supposed to experiment with various other whole foods such as starchy vegetables and raw organic full fat dairy. There are certain foods that are thought to be harmful to almost everyone, such as refined carbohydrates, most grains, industrial seed oils, and processed dairy products. the Paleo Diet also promotes responsible (and sustainable) farming practices that treat their animals humanely. But in the end, people evolved to eat meat and other animal products. It is the only way that our brains were enabled to grow as large as they are. The high metabolism of the brain was made possible due to decreased energy need for the gut, meaning we necessarily had to start eating more nutrient dense foods. Plants are generally poor sources of many vitamins and minerals (due mainly to low bioavailability) that are necessarily for our survival compared to animal products. Many hunter gatherer societies (past and present) survive solely on animal products where there are absolutely no vegan societies. This is not a coincidence.
Thank you for opening up this valuable discussion. In terms of my situation, I’m both Type 2 Diabetic with some abdominal gain (about 10 lb overweight). I’m also an Ovarian Cancer survivor. So here’s my issue in choosing a healthy diet. As I’m sure you’re aware, sugar feeds cancer. However, animal protein and in particular dairy is very bad for cancer in general and specifically increases the risk of Ovarian Cancer; In terms of Ovarian Cancer, casein + lactic acid (turns into galactic acid) is deadly. There is some current research that a paleo diet fights cancer. But I don’t want to go that direction based on the meat and casein connection. This is all so confusing and contradictory.
Years ago, I lost weight on the Zone Diet and may go back on it. I’m not sure I am willing to go to the Paleo extreme of low carb. First of all my diet is vegan with omega 3 fish added a few times a week. The only problem is I’m not losing much weight. I probably just need to reduce the ratio of carbs. Over the past few days I’ve become stricter in the amounts of carbs I eat. I was eating a slice or two a day of Eziekiel Sprouted Bread before. I’m now limiting all bread. Today I ate some lentils and quinoa for protein/carb combo. Do you think slow absorbing beans, lentils, grains like in quinoa or Steel Cut Oats are effective against high blood sugar? I certainly don’t mind eating tofu/tempeh for protein but I don’t want to limit myself to soy only. And I do eat some low glycemic fruit like berries for their phyo chemicals. I have read contradictory studies that slow absorbing carbs and resistant starch are good for Diabetes. Do you agree?
I guess I don’t know which way to go since I not only want to improve my Diabetes, I especially don’t want a recurrence of cancer.
Have you read the following study that compared various diets and their effect of Diabetes? The Mediterranean Diet was most successful: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130815203715.htm
Thank you again for taking time to read this!
Ilene, thanks for your comment. Given the complexity of your circumstances I think your best option would be to work with a naturopathic doctor or a highly educated nutritionist to arrive at an eating plan that will address all of your needs and reduce your risk of cancer recurrence. As I pointed out in my blog, there are pros and cons to any given diet and research needs to be looked at in context. For instance, the research you referenced in your comment found that people eating a Mediterranean diet had 12% less incidence of diabetes. It is possible for virtually 100% of people to avoid adult onset diabetes or to normalize normalize their blood sugars and other health parameters through diet modification and other reasonable health supporting measures. Different people, however, will need to do somewhat different things to accomplish those goals. A naturopathic doctor can help you determine what your individual needs are to achieve your particular goals.
It sounds like you have informed yourself well about many aspects related to diet and nutrition. I, like you, have felt thoroughly conflicted and confused by the many opposing messages related to diet that are so prevalent today, and was fortunate to finally come upon an approach that has worked wonders for me and many others. I encourage you to explore the work of John McDougall, MD drmcdougall.com who presents a very different picture than the ones that a widely accepted today. Many people have completely reversed Type 2 Diabetes and cancer on this diet, as evidenced by the video testimonials that can be viewed on his website. Dr. McDougall was a young doctor in Hawaii back in the 1970s, working for a sugar plantation where most of his patients were of Asian ancestry. He noticed that the older generation was far healthier than the younger ones and noticed that theirs was a starch-based diet with added vegetables and fruit. They ate no dairy, and if they ate meat or fish, they at it in small quantities. By following Dr. McDougall’s prescribed diet of eating LOTS of starches of the most nutritious kind—brown rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes, quinoa (not bread, crackers, pasta, etc.—many people have not only lowered their cholesterol, triclycyrides, blood pressure, etc., but have lost staggering amounts of weight. I could hardly believe it when I first learned about it, but the same was true for me! A big part of this vegan eating plan is greatly restricting fats, which means learning how to saute and prepare meals without olive oil, etc. (it’s easy and delicious!). This video presentation by Dr. Mcdougall is chock full of fascinating information https://bit.ly/17dx2Qp. My advice to anyone with health issues who is unsure of what to do, is give this plan a try for 14-30 days and see for yourself if this works for you. It’s easy to discount it without understanding it, but you have nothing to lose except poor health, excess weight and any medications that you take! If it doesn’t work for you, then you will know, and if it does work for you, which is quite likely, it could save your life!
Hi Kathleen, thanks for your post. It is clear that a McDougall type diet works very well for some people. I am not clear that it works for everyone and for some people a more Paleo type diet works wonders as long as they stick to whole unprocessed foods. Personally, I am not clear that it’s fats and animal proteins in and of themselves that are damaging, but fats, oils and animal products processed by modern methods are certainly quite damaging. You mention complete reversal of type 2 diabetes using the McDougall diet and in my investigations of it I have not seen that. Can you give me some specific references so I can follow up? Thanks.
Thank you Dr. Sarno for inviting me to share information about the McDougall diet and its effect on type 2 diabetes. While I don’t know enough to definitively say that this way of eating is best for everyone, it seems to come pretty close. This is because it appears to match the actual human diet intended for our species, which would explain why this diet is so effective in reversing heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, some cancers and a host of other health issues. There are many reports of these kinds of reversals by patients of Doctors McDougall, Esselstyn, Ornish, Barnard and others who were prescribed a low-fat, high carb diet. By contrast, we never hear someone say they cured themselves of heart disease, diabetes or cancer by eating lots of red meat, dairy products and fat! This should tell us a lot, in and of itself . . .
The McDougall diet requires a bit of a paradigm shift in our conditioned beliefs about nutrition. Simply reading about it is very different from diving in, grasping the underlying concepts and then actually trying it out, with dedication and precision. There is no doubt that many people’s health would be greatly improved if they were willing to get informed and try this for themselves before dismissing it. I’m guessing those who would not be helped by this way of eating 1) didn’t closely follow the guidelines; or 2) are the exception.
Here are a few links (some video, some written discussion) about type 2 diabetes and the starch-based diet, including the testimonial of one naturopath who turned around his diabetes this way:
This man participated in a Whole Foods-sponsored McDougall program and lost 70 pounds and reversed his diabetes.
This woman turned around type 2 diabetes, with comments at the end of the video by Dr. McDougall.
This naturopath turned his diabetes around, as well.
Video of Dr. McDougall explaining why it is important to get off medication before changing to a low-fat, starch-based diet is important:
And finally, collaborating research:
ADA recommends high carbohydrate intake: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-research/summaries/anderson-carbs.jsp
Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, et al. A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006 Aug; 29(8):1777-83. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/29/8/1777.long
Brunzell JD, Lerner RL, Hazzard WR, Porte D Jr, Bierman EL. Improved glucose tolerance with high carbohydrate feeding in mild diabetes. N Engl J Med. 1971 Mar 11; 284(10):521-4. https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM197103112841004
Egede LE, Dagogo-Jack S. Epidemiology of type 2 diabetes: focus on ethnic minorities. Med Clin North Am. 2005 Sep; 89(5):949-75, viii. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16129107
Hu FB. Globalization of diabetes: the role of diet, lifestyle, and genes. Diabetes Care. 2011 Jun; 34(6):1249-57. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/34/6/1249.long
Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Marchie A, et al. Type 2 diabetes and the vegetarian diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep; 78(3 Suppl):610S-616S.
Janket SJ, Manson JE, Sesso H, Buring JE, Liu S. A prospective study of sugar intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care. 2003 Apr; 26(4):1008-15. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/4/1008.full
Kiehm TG, Anderson JW, Ward K. Beneficial effects of a high carbohydrate, high fiber diet on hyperglycemic diabetic men. Am J Clin Nutr. 1976 Aug; 29(8):895-9.
Kitagawa T. Increased incidence of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus among Japanese schoolchildren correlates with an increased intake of animal protein and fat. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 1998 Feb; 37(2):111-5. https://cpj.sagepub.com/content/37/2/111.short
Kuo CS, Lai NS, Ho LT, Lin CL. Insulin sensitivity in Chinese ovo-lactovegetarians compared with omnivores. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004 Feb; 58(2):312-6. https://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v58/n2/abs/1601783a.html
Llanos G. Diabetes in the Americas. Bull Pan Am Health Organ. 1994 Dec; 28(4):285-301. https://hist.library.paho.org/English/BUL/ev28n4p285.pdf
Mingrone G, Panunzi S, De Gaetano A, et al. Bariatric Surgery versus Conventional Medical Therapy for Type 2 Diabetes. N Engl J Med. 2012 Mar 26. https://bit.ly/19eP3yE
Pickering GW. Discussion on the Cause of Diabetes. Proc R Soc Med. 1949 May; 42(5): 321–330. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2081100/pdf/procrsmed00609-0041.pdf
Smith U. Carbohydrates, fat, and insulin action. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Mar; 59(3 Suppl):686S-689S. https://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/59/3/686S.full.pdf
Song Y, Manson JE, Buring JE, Liu S. A prospective study of red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes in middle-aged and elderly women: the women’s health study. Diabetes Care. 2004 Sep;27(9):2108-15. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/9/2108.full.pdf
Valachovicova M, Krajcovicova-Kudlackova M, Blazicek P, Babinska K. No evidence of insulin resistance in normal weight vegetarians A case control study. Eur J Nutr. 2005 Jun 10. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00394-005-0563-x
Wolpert HA, Atakov-Castillo A, Smith SA, Steil GM. Dietary Fat Acutely Increases Glucose Concentrations and Insulin Requirements in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes: Implications for carbohydrate-based bolus dose calculation and intensive diabetes management. Diabetes Care. 2013 Apr;36(4):810-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23193216
Zhang G, Pan A, Zong G, et al. Substituting White Rice with Brown Rice for 16 Weeks Does Not Substantially Affect Metabolic Risk Factors in Middle-Aged Chinese Men and Women with Diabetes or a High Risk for Diabetes. J Nutr. 2011 Sep; 141(9):1685-90. https://jn.nutrition.org/content/141/9/1685.long
Kathleen, thank you for your very detailed comment. Obviously you have a lot of enthusiasm for the McDougall program.
The essential argument I make in the blog post is that I don’t believe there is a single diet that will optimize health for everyone. One of the problems for me with the way diets like the McDougall program are presented is that they are touted as being the optimum diet for everyone. I have no doubt that most people who are eating a standard American diet, or even a moderately healthy diet will gain some benefit from the McDougall program, but I believe there are other dietary approaches that will achieve even better health for some people and I suspect that some people’s health will actually worsen on the McDougall diet.
I did take a look at most of the testimonials you listed in your comment. While all of the patients report an improvement in their blood sugar levels and well being it is not clear that any of them have actually normalized their blood sugar. One of the patients, Scott Raphael, states that his blood sugars average 120-130 mg/dL on the McDougall program. These levels are still far from normal and are high enough to continue to promote vascular damage, which can promote heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, dementia, vision loss and other problems.
I haven’t been able to find any research done on the McDougall diet and diabetes but Neal Barnard MD has developed a low fat vegan dietary approach to diabetes treatment that is very similar to the McDougall plan. He has done several research studies and while all of his studies have shown an improvement in blood sugar levels, I don’t believe any of them have shown a normalization of blood sugar. A study of his program published in 2006 showed an average reduction of hemoglobin A1c from about 8.2 to about 6.8. While this is a dramatic improvement, the final result is still quite high, still in the range of being diabetic, and definitely still represents blood sugar levels that will promote vascular damage. So it is nothing like a cure.
You also made a comment that “we never hear someone say they cured themselves of heart disease, diabetes or cancer by eating lots of red meat dairy products and fat”. This is actually not true. I never use the word “cure” with diabetes, but I have had many patients completely normalize their blood sugar, cholesterol and insulin levels on diets high in animal products. I don’t treat cancer in my clinic, but Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez is one of the most successful alternative cancer specialists in the country with thousands of well documented cases of remission of cancer. He finds that some patients do best on a vegetarian diet and others do best on diets containing a significant amount of animal protein.
I’m not trying to invalidate the McDougall plan. I know that many people are helped significantly by it. All I am trying to say is that there is not single solution for every living person and we need to be realistic about what various approaches actually do or do not achieve.
One more thing regarding casein, cancer and China Study’s study of rats only: In the video, ‘Forks Over Knives’ there was a reference to cancer decrease for Northern Europeans eating less dairy during World War II when Germans occupied Norway. Among the first things they did was confiscate all the livestock and farm animals to provide supplies for their own troops. So the Norwegians were forced to eat mainly plant-based foods. Cancer and heart reportedly diseases went down during this period.
Hi Dr. Sandro,
Great article, very balanced and objectively written. Thanks for writing it. As a cardiac nurse and a heart attack survivor, I have a special place in my heart (so to speak) for Ornish, Campbell and Esselstyn. That being said, my brain and foodie background pushed back a little. I too question: “am I a man or a mouse?” I also have similar questions about evolution and diet. One thing that stands out to me in our current age of manmade chronic disease is the unprecedented alteration of the food supply during the last 60 or 70 years. Insecticides, petro-chemical fertilizers, chemical additives to food, fructose, fat and salt additives, meat processed in feedlots, and more recently GMO food… the list seems endless, but these are comparatively recent changes to the food supply that our bodies obviously have not had time to adapt too (if they ever will). I appreciate and agree: we need to learn how to ‘listen’ to our bodies as well as educate ourselves (understanding the addictive nature of sugar should give one pause when our body cries out for ice cream). One of the finest lessons our bodies can teach us is that of seeking and maintaining balance (homeostasis).
I agree that industrialization of food production and tinkering with the makeup of foods themselves (i.e. selective breeding, GMO, farmed fish, etc.) is without question contributing to the prevalence of chronic illness in the world. I wonder if some of the principle benefits of the Ornish, Esselstyn and McDougall diets aren’t based on the fact that in general, oils and animal products have been more greatly impacted by modern food production methods than simple plant based foods (there are no GMO yams!). We certainly don’t have adequate data, but there are some populations, such as the famed Okinawans who eat meat on a regular basis and still have excellent longevity and low levels of chronic illnesses. Westin Price also documented many cultures in the early part of the 20th century who were eating very simple, traditional diets (no refined foods), living in natural, unpolluted environments and doing their traditional work, such as farming and herding. These people showed excellent health compared to members of the same population who had adopted a modern Western diet. Some of these cultures were getting a large percentage of their calories from fats and animal products, but they were not eating oils because they did not have the technology or resources to produce them. In addition the animals they were eating were completely grass fed, never received antibiotics or growth stimulants and never saw a feed lot. It certainly is food for thought (no pun intended).
Campbell’s population study included ONLY rural provinces of China. There was no Urban/Rural comparisons, and therefore your suggestion that people in urban China were exposed to more pollution/stress, etc is irrelevant. I am no vegan, because let’s be honest, it is not easy to give up things you like. But we should all be thanking Campbell for his contributions. And diet aside, since I see the physical world as our external metabolisms, we are destroying our ability to live and thrive on this planet and most of this devastation is brought on by animal agriculture. The rainforests are being destroyed for GMO soybeans to feed to animals. The transport, irrigation, runoff, feed, slaughter, and consmption of animal foods is killing us. The basis for paleo is that the body can run on fats in the absence of carbs. We either run on glycogen by way of glycolosis, or fat by way of ketosis. If we eat high fat, and high carb, the elevated insulin levels in the blood,because fat in the blood keeps blood glucose elevated, which then in turn keeps insulin levels high, then we begin to see problems. If we eliminate the fat, but keep the carbs high(think macrobiotics asian diet), our health is fantastic. If we eliminate carbs and run on proteins and fats, then we do so for survival. How long the body can run in and out of ketosis is a serious wager many people are making. It is not clean burning and very difficult for the kidneys and liver to handle that much protein and fat. Not to mention the colon. My prediction is the low-carb approach to human diets has continually failed, encouraged the increase consumption of meat–by the way, 99% of meat in american is factory farmed-NOT grass fed, humanely raised–and worst of all, it has been so beneficial for the meat and dairy industries. Much of the basis for low carb diets began with Weston A. Price, a dentist who after observing teeth of natives people and recommending diets low in grains, and who also ended up feeding his family a mostly vegetarian diet. The Weston A. Price Foundation today is a large Washington based lobbyist firm for the meat and dairy industries, trying to get raw, unpasteurized milk to the people, and attack soy/soy baby formula, etc. Turns out one bean(the soybean, of course) could be so lethal to the meat and dairy industries. Weston A. Price would be rolling over in his grave if he were here now and saw what was going on in his name.
Research and look into your own heart and the answers will seem easy. Follow thousands of years of success and environmental sustainability with a low-fat macrobiotics diet. Eat raw if you feel compelled, but know that even “raw food” diets are in their infant stages. Maybe they’ll all live to 120? Who knows? Long, healthy lives are no secret though-eat a whole-foods plant-based diet.
This particular blog post has generated more impassioned responses than any other that I’ve written. Yours is obviously one of those. First of all, I will have to check to see if all of Campbell’s data was based on rural populations, but if is was I apologize for the oversight. If so, it still doesn’t alter the overall point of the post: that there is no one diet that is healthful for every everyone and that we have the ability through experimentation, investigation and the use of our intelligence to determine what combination of foods optimizes our particular physiology and biochemistry.
All of your environmental concerns are very legitimate and I have addressed them in the blog and in some of my responses to other comments. The environmental impact of diets heavily reliant on animal products has a lot to do with “how we do it”, factory farming, feeding animals foods not biologically compatible with their needs, etc. It also has a lot to do with the massive increase in the human population over the last century, an unprecedented burden for the planet and our species. These are real concerns that do need to be dealt with but they are a separate issue from what actually will help a sick person become well, and as a doctor that is what I contend with every day. There are certainly people who do very well on a whole foods vegan diet, but as a clinician I can tell you unequivocally that many people do not, regardless of what various research studies might say. (I just wrote a response to a comment by Kathleen Porter for this blog post on the subject of a low fat vegan diet and diabetes that demonstrates this point.) I’m not advocating an animal food based diet for everyone. I’m advocating individualized diets that actually meet each person’s health needs.
The crux of what Weston Price found was that people did very well in terms of the health parameters that he was able to measure regardless of whether they ate meat, dairy or grain based diets, as long as they continued to eat their culture’s traditional diet that was grown locally, unprocessed and relatively uncomplicated. The bulk of his argument seems to have been against refined flours and processed foods in general.
Again, the essential point of my article is that rigidity of belief with regard to diet is not conducive to optimal health. We are all incredibly different and need to respond to the evidence from our bodies and from our lives as to what type of diet will actually support our individual health. I say this after treating several thousand patients over a period of more than a decade.
Thank you so much for this article, I have been very confused lately by all the contradicting information. I first went vegetarian after discovering the horrors of factory farming, then was fascinated by the ‘China Study’ thinking that the root of all evil was meat – forgetting there might be lots of other factors involved (e.g. sugar and insulin). Then recently I discovered all the debates between Paleo and plant-based diets online, ‘debunking’ the ‘China Study’ etc, which was quite shocking and very confusing. Thank you for making it clear that there is no universal way of eating for everyone and lots of aspects need to be taken into consideration.
Thanks for your comment Ernesta. I wrote a blog a while back called “Your Body is Talking To You, Are You Listening?” which you might find helpful. Here’s the link.
Thank you for the thought-full reply, Dr. Sarno. I greatly appreciate this discussion, most especially because every one of us here, regardless of our viewpoint, is participating in a civil, respectful discussion. This is far from the case with other vegan/paleo conversations I’ve happened upon, where people are hurling insults and calling each other horrible names. Most of my friends are not vegan, and it can be a bit lonely at times when I’m the only one in a crowd. There can also be so few options for eating in the public realm where there’s such a reliance on animal products and way too much oil for my taste. I used to love it all, but my taste buds have gradually changed. Even though my initial interest in eating vegan was for health reasons, once I began to understand the environmental impacts of meat and dairy and began to look more deeply at the world as one integrated whole, I began to see animals as truly sentient beings that are a part of me, rather than apart from me. Since then, I’ve just never wanted to eat them anymore. I’ve made exceptions, such as when a friend flew in to stay overnight recently and arrived with Dungeness crab in the shell that she had caught and cooked as a gift. I ate it, not because I love the taste of crab (I do!) but because I wanted to honor her generosity and thoughtfulness. It’s interesting to watch myself changing at 67 years of age and observe a new kind of awareness that’s developing around each choice that I make.
On the issue of diet and health, I’d just like to share that I went to a very interesting talk the other night by an osteopathic oncologist. He was an Army doctor for 26 years before retiring and going to work for Kaiser Permanente. Exposed to much of the research coming out, he decided to adopt a vegan diet. He now treats most of his patients nutritionally, some with great success, and Kaiser lets him do it! He said that the medical community is changing faster than we know (thank goodness!) as other doctors he knows—mostly oncologists, cardiologists and internists—are making this switch for themselves and their families.
It’s a rapidly changing world we live in. In the face of so much violence, environmental degradation and unraveling of fairness and goodwill, there is still so much that is good.
I appreciate your response. It’s true that people can get very worked up on the topic of diet and health. I am glad that you have found a diet that really works for you and understand that it can be a lonely and challenging road to walk sometimes.
I also fully appreciate your sentiments about the environmental impact of the meat and diary industries as well as your sensitivity to the fact that the animals we eat are living, feeling beings. While I find that many people do need to consume animal products for health, I also find that people’s dietary needs change during different phases of life and under different conditions, particularly stress. For a number of reasons I think that this out of balance world we live in is part of the reason some people seem to need animal products to stay healthy. I think it is very likely that in a non-poluted, low stress, sane and secure world it would be easier for more people to be vegan. This has a lot to do with how stress responses in the nervous system effect blood sugar, stress hormones and insulin. Perhaps I will write about this some time (no promises).
I just wanted to point out that there are farmers out there who raise their animals in a much more environmentally friendly, and humane way than the meat industry. There are people who nourish their soils, their animals, and their pastures. There are people who work with the natural world, to mimic it as much as possible. Grass-fed beef is actually healing the land – if you really want to learn about how, look into the life work of Allan Savory. He has researched the effects of rotational grazing on various ecosystems, and has actually reversed desertification – which comes from the depletion of our soils – using grazing methods which mimic the natural world. A perfect example of this method was with buffalo before the West was settled – the herds were constantly moving, they never stayed on the same pasture for more than a day, as they were being driven off it by their natural predator, the wolf. There are farmers out there who use similar methods, and allow animals to live in the most natural way possible.
And also, the Paleo diet encourages people to find the farms that do produce their meat in an environmentally friendly/humane way – because not only is it good for the animals health, but healthy animals also create healthy food for humans (a point that I am aware you probably disagree with). I am neither Paleo nor vegan, but I think the most important point to take away from the discussion on whether various food is good or bad for you is that it totally depends on how it was produced. This included vegetables. Did the soil that the carrot was grown in have micronutrients in it, or was it depleted? If depleted, that carrot may not have as many nutrients as one from a farm that takes care of its soil. The same can be said for meat – what did the animal eat? Did it eat what it was meant to eat (for a ruminant, grass) or was it fed corn and soybeans – the two crops that cause lasting environmental devastation through soil depletion?
Anyway, regardless of anyone’s diet, which is always a personal choice that should be made based on how food makes us feel (thanks for pointing that out Dr. Sandro)…I am so happy that people are not only becoming more aware of what they put into their body, but how it was produced too! Both very important ideas.
Thanks for the post. I have a number of thoughts, some on the post itself, some on on comments, and others that are just notions generated after reading this very long, but interesting conversation. Thank you all for being interested in what you eat and for noticing how it influences your health. No matter who “wins” the food fight, we all ultimately win when we eat more consciously.
To start you should know that I am mostly vegan (nobody’s perfect) and have been for about a year and a half. Before that I was vegetarian for a few years, and before that ate a typical, though probably more healthy than most, American diet. My evolution to veganism (I prefer to call this a plant based diet due to the political stigma associated with the word vegan) has been gradual and actually pretty easy. People ask me if I feel different and I say not really, but I do look healthier and feel great. I am vegan primarily for health purposes, but also because I don’t think we need to kill other animals to live (sure we once did but those days are gone for the developed world), and also because I don’t agree with the amount of environmental damage and chemicals that are involved in production of animals and plants that feed animals (corn and soy). Someone stated that there are producers out there that produce animals in a caring way that heals the land, etc. But no matter how great an animal’s life is on the farm, if it ends with a bullet in the head, that seems a little insensitive. Most of the grass-fed beef in American grocery stores comes from Australia, which brings up a second irony. Is it more sustainable to eat from a local feedlot or to have your grass-fed beef shipped in from Australia via container ship and truck? This is truly a problem that we could only create in America.
Next. Someone mentioned that they read some things “online” that debunked the China Study. First of all there are no peer-reviewed scientific studies that I have seen that have debunked the China Study outright. Maybe I have missed it, but I follow this stuff pretty closely. Just because someone wrote a blog entry about it doesn’t debunk it. The China Study is not perfect and Dr. Campbell would be the first to tell you that. Large-scale studies are riddled with variables. Most studies attempt to weed out these variables and isolate single things that are driving results using statistical methods. This means that the average person can’t really follow the logic and must trust the scientist. It also means that there is a human hand in the outcomes because the way the statistics are done is determined by the scientist. This makes it more confusing and easy to poke holes in scientific studies. See the paragraph that Dr. Santo wrote about the potential stressors on urban versus rural people in China. C’mon Dr. Santo, using that logic we should not trust any scientific study conducted in a lab unless the room temperature was the same everyday, and the scientists themselves got the same amount of sleep each night while conducting the study, the list could go on. And forget about comparing research results between laboratories, there is more smog in L.A. than Chicago and it’s colder in Chicago in the winter than L.A. so researchers in those two areas should never collaborate. But the point is a good one. You can poke holes in any scientific study because we can rarely control everything. I would love for someone to poke holes in the studies conducted that show how consumption of meat is healthy, but I’m not sure those studies exist just yet. More fittingly we should not focus on the details or the variables or waste any amount of time trying to figure out why a given study is right or wrong. Instead we should focus on trends and correlations. No matter whether you think people aren’t mice or there were too many variables in a study, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Trends show us that eating more plants and less meat is the healthful choice. And on the people aren’t mice notion – you better rethink your entire existence because nearly every medicine, household product, and any other chemical that we come in contact with was tested on mice and not on people. So if you are willing to throw out the China Study based on that, I have news for you, nothing you use in your daily life is probably safe because it was tested in a lab on mice and not on humans.
So back to the confusion about diet. I would like to congratulate us all (myself included) in participating in the thing that is actually at the root of all of the confusion about diet, the internet. The reason it is confusing is that there are a bunch of people out there writing about the health benefits of one diet or lifestyle over another armed with little more than information they have gathered from a bunch of other people who are not qualified to talk about this stuff. I say if you are confused stop reading blog posts on the internet and go to the research. There are a few sites dedicated to highlighting the results in actual peer-reviewed scientific research papers. The one I find most useful is NutritionFacts.org. The beauty of this site is that it also focuses on who funds the studies so that you can decide for yourself if the information is “cherry-picked” or not. Granted this site is focused on the benefits of a plant-based diet, but that is only because that is what the research is showing. I’m sure there is an analogous site devoted to all of the research coming out that links health to eating meat. I’m sure like plants, there are probably thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers out there that have found that eating a high protein, high fat, meat based diet leads to better health, they just aren’t seeing the light of day. I can’t wait to read them. Dr. Santo if you could do a separate post linking those studies the group would probably enjoy reading them.
And finally, here is why I find this whole discussion about whether to include meat in our diet tiresome, and why the newest version of the meat lovers diets, Paleo, is ridiculous. First, I haven’t seen any evidence that paleolithic people were that healthy. We do know that they didn’t live very long by today’s American standards. So there’s that. Second, the meat that we eat today, even the healthiest meat that you can buy in a grocery store, is pretty different that something that is hunted. All you have to do is eat some wild game to see that there is very little fat on the animals. In fact when you cook it you will probably finding yourself wanting to add some oil so it doesn’t burn. Couple that with the fact that except for people in extreme northern climates, I would venture that Paleolithic people probably didn’t eat meat every day. In fact, since they didn’t have refrigeration, it probably went something like this. They hunted. Once an animal was killed they had a large feast, eating a lot of meat for a day or two, and probably little else, saving the roots and tubers for days when meat isn’t available. They probably dried the rest of the meat for later. After the initial gorging on the kill I would imagine they probably ate the dried meat pretty sparingly, and only if they really needed to to survive. We always here stories about how the native American used every part of the buffalo and nothing was wasted. That’s because it wasn’t like they were stocking freezers full of meat each week for mass consumption. So if someone wants to follow the Paleo path I think that is a great way to ensure long-term health, I’m just not sure it would actually involve that much meat.
So rather than posting blogs with titles like “food-fight” why don’t we focus on the positives coming out all of the recent discussion surrounding diet. People need to cook more and should eat mostly plants. People should only use whole foods when possible and limit all processed food, including sugars and processed grains. I say if you are eating a mostly plant based diet that is made up of whole foods that you cook yourself (meaning there aren’t any hidden sugars or chemicals) then adding a few ounces of meat a week is probably just fine. If you can rectify doing that with the realities of the animal welfare issues and environmental damage that comes from the industry, fine with me. It’s not my choice, but changing your mind does not benefit me at all.
Thanks for your comment. I think I have already addressed most of what’s in your comment in my replies to other comments, so I’ll just say one or two things.
If I’m reading you right, one of your essential arguments is that the bulk of nutrition research that you are reading is favoring plant based diets and therefore you believe this the best diet for all people. I certainly don’t disagree that increasing the intake of whole, unprocessed, plant based foods will improve the health of the vast majority of people in the developed world. I think there is very strong evidence that plant based diets are highly preventative towards cancer and heart disease, the number 1 and 2 killers in the developed world. I would challenge you, however, to find a single study that demonstrates a complete reversal of diabetes, including normalizing blood sugars to truly healthy levels, with a plant based diet. This is something that is very achievable with a diet that includes animal protein.
My point, and really the reason I wrote the post, is that there are no single answers for all people when it comes to nutrition. Science looks at trends involving groups of people. If it’s done well, science can tell you how a given population will respond in general to a given intervention. Science, as it is conducted currently, can never tell you how any one individual will respond to a given intervention. There are always outliers. Look at the scatter plots in the “Results” section of any human or animal study and you will see this. If we only make broad decisions based on how the majority will respond we will always be failing a certain percentage of the population. We need to consider the broad research, but we also need to consider the evidence presented by the actual response of a given individual to a particular dietary or other therapeutic regimen.
By the way, my name is Dr. Sandro, not Dr. Santo.
Just weighing in. Vegetarian for 40 years, minus several months twice. Vegan for 4. I feel physically clean and have the energy of a truck. Yes, I feel spiritually clean. If I did not live where I could be vegan, I would look for hand raised, very well loved animals, not for their taste, but for their quality of life.
Hi Dr. Sandro:
What a breath of fresh air – a balanced view of food!
I have a question for you – I’ll try to keep the background relatively short.
On our website, we have a section on food. I’m a psychologist and my wife has a strong background in psychology, but neither of us have any formal training in nutrition. This is not really a problem for us, as we are not focusing primarily on what food is good for you.
The website is based on psychiatrist/researcher Dan Siegel’s “Interpersonal Neurobiology’ (IPNB). In simpler terms, our site is about using breathing, mindfulness and other practices to train the brain. The “healthy habits’ section – which includes food, exercise, and sleep, among other things – is focused on how to train your brain so you will learn to engage in healthy habits.
So while we make recommendations based on the best science we can find regarding food, exercise, etc, our primary focus is on developing the brain – and most specifically, the mid prefrontal cortex, which we playfully describe as the “captain of the ship” (the mind-body “ship”) – so it becomes easier for us to avoid the temptations of the “lower” brain (limbic region and brain stem) and make conscious, mindful choices.
Ok, here comes the question. Not being a nutritionist, I’m not qualified to comment with any expertise but wanted to find some kind of consensus to recommend to people. Of course, as you started out your wonderful essay, it seems more like a war than a dialog about the best food when you look online.
So here’s my synthesis, and my question is, have you found anything like this helpful when you talk to your patients about food choices.
1. The strongest scientific support I’ve found is for the Mediterranean diet.
2. Almost everyone, in every diet book – except Paleo! – agrees with some version of the Mediterranean. If you’re vegetarian, you just leave out the meat and poultry, and if you’re vegan, leave out the animal products, but otherwise the Med diet still works for them.
3. But even for Paleo folks, you could just say, take the Med diet, leave out grains and beans, and if it’s what you believe, eat more meat and poultry.
So this comes pretty close to almost universal agreement.
Here it is in more detail:
1. Virtually everyone agrees to lessen or stop processed, junk foods.
2. Everyone also agrees that whole fruits and veggies are good. Paleo is more cautious about fruit, and they get a bit OCD (to me, sorry Paleo folks) about starchy veggies, but otherwise, fruits and veggies – good.
Beyond these agreements, and beyond the Med diet (with Paleo or vegan modifications). I would simply say:
Eat good healthy, real food veggies and fruit; check out the Med diet and make whatever modifications suit you, and most important – find out what works for you. Some people have a hard time with grains, some find them helpful. Same for beans, dairy, meat, poultry, etc.
Or go with Michael Pollan’s “eat real food”, “not too much” (and too avoid the wrath of the paleos, leave out the 3rd part – “mostly plants”:>))
So how would that work, do you think, as a simple guide to start with, to cut through all the controversy – too vague, too noncommittal?
Thanks so much for any insight you can offer. We probably won’t be putting up specific food recommendations till at least next spring (we’re hard at work creating music and video for the site)
Don, sorry it’s taken me a while to respond to your comment. I was just getting ready to go on vacation when it came in.
Your website sounds interesting and I intend to have a look when I get a chance. I’m a big fan of the brain. I try to use mine every day :).
I think your arguments are sound and if you want to give people a starting point to think about food you could certainly start there.
When I started this blog I wrote a series of posts about diet called “Universal Diet Principles” that might be interesting to you. These were written as a starting point for my patients, many of whom are having a hard time sorting through all the dietary information they’re being exposed to.
Another post you might like is “Your Body Is Talking To You, Are You Listening?” This addresses something that I think is a key issue with dietary dogmatism. We tend to get fixated on ideas or ideals and often ignore the mounting evidence from our own bodies that something isn’t working for us. To me, what’s in this post is one of the keys to finding a diet that will really help us thrive.
just reread your responses to the comments and thought I’d add another note of praise – I love how you repeat – probably can’t do it enough – that the best diets are individualized.
I think the one universal, virtually without exception, is everyone thinks green leafy vegetables are great (even though hardly anybody eats enough of them). I remember trying to convince myself to eat more kale – my wife loves it, I hated it for many years, and learned to tolerate it. But recently, I just admitted, I feel worse after eating it. My stomach feels funny after eating it. I don’t care if it’s the new hip vegetable, served in all the 4 star restaurants. George Bush #1 said he just didnt’ like broccoli and wouldn’t eat it. Well, I’m not (nor have ever been) the president, but i don’t like kale and don’t want to eat it (and I may even change my tune next year and find that I can tolerate it, or may even like it).
So paleos, lighten up. Vegans, lighten up. Listen to Dr. Sandro – (you may be interested to know that Ayurvedic physicians have a wonderfully individualized approach – everyone says you have to eat breakfast, but my Ayurvedic doctor told me that I had a partially “kapha” constitution and it may not be best for me. Well, whether Ayurveda is nonsense or not, I listened to his recommendation, and found it worked for me. So much for general consensus.)
Eat real food, not too much, especially lots of high quality fruit and veggies, the rest in moderation, and find out what works for you. Sound good?
Yes, it sounds good to me. I think the power of whole, unrefined, unprocessed, unadulturated, unpolluted foods is huge. The rest is variable.
yikes, am I allowed to write 3 responses in a row:
And what about exercise:
Find something – some group of things that involve cardio, resistance training, flexibility, coordination and balance – you enjoy doing, and enjoy doing regularly, and do it. Or to make it even simpler: “move more”
How’s that?? (and apologies for all the notes)
Agreed. Our ancestors got quite a bit of exercise, due to necessity. Most people would benefit from moving a lot more than they do.
Thanks so much for getting back to me. Yes, I found your universal diet principles very helpful. I especially love the focus on listening to your body. On our food page, we refer to a study showing that, when we develop the capacity to “listen” truly to our body’s needs, we are able to get the exact caloric intake we need within 4% of almost perfect accuracy. This is infinitely better, I think, than anything we could get by measuring basal metabolism rates, BMI, calculating our activity, etc.
Great site. Thanks much. Hope your vacation is wonderful:>))
I’ve been Vegan for two years. I suffer from chronic migraine & IBS. Encouraged by my Daughter & her husband who have been Vegan several years, I thought I’ll try this, nothing else is helping me. I went totally Vegan. After a few months, I lost several pounds, my IBS improved, no change in migraine. One of my surprise benefits was my cholesterol was almost normal! It was suggested at one time I take RX to improve it.
To date, I have lost 35 pounds, my cholesterol is absolutely perfect, my IBS rarely ever bothers me, & I feel much better. Migraines are still a problem.
I am never hungry & enjoy the healthy foods I eat. I don’t miss meat, dairy, or nasty ingrediences that are in so many processed foods.
I came here (like so many others) by way of investigating the differences between the plant based diet vs. the Paleo diet. I have read books on both and really like your approach and the great conversation in this comments section. It has helped me decide how to proceed from here after trying both diets. Thank you!
If you have not already, I recommend you get an MRI of your head and neck to rule out problems that could be contributing to your migraines.
Becky: While migraines often have clearly identifiable physical causes, our cognitive and emotional reactions always intensify migraine, as well as every other kind of pain. If you haven’t tried a program of mindfulness/relaxation and breathing, you might look into it. (Not suggesting that alone would do it, but there’s no negative side effects, a host of beneficial side benefits, and you can learn enough on the net to try it for free. at http://www.swamij.com, if you get his 61 points CD, you can try one of the best relaxation exercises I’ve ever seen. Years ago, when I had severe back pain, I used it for 7 days and the pain was completely gone.)
I get so sick of the polarization to where there is NO moderate logical middle ground! Either you are militant vegan; or you are paleo; hanging out in a cave with dr. Atkins! My extensive reading leads me to think: eat lots of leafy greens, vegetables, sweet potatoes, berries, legumes,nuts, whole grains, unsweetened coconut milk, & some stevia extract, coconut oil, whole fresh fruits, water, organic free-range eggs laid by health happy hens.
Avoid sugar, white flour bread, white flour pasta, white rice, soda, HFCS, cigarettes, booze, drugs, like the plague! Do not ever torture or starve humans or animals. If you must kill as quickly & painlessly as possible. You can be very healthy & logical vegetarian while eating eggs. Dairy is probably NOT good idea.
Get physical activity, good books, fun with friends, fiber, vitamin D, good sleep, good jobs, independence , dignity, fairness, freedom. When you hurt others; you are also hurting yourself. It is sugary junk food that is killing America & the world. Vegetable oil, corn oil, canola oil are toxic! Do not buy sugar or soda at all! Is maple syrup grade B from Vermont ok?
If you feel you must buy meat while at grocery store; buy the organ meats (liver etc); as in they are the most nutritious part of the meat and biggest bang for your buck$. Of course if you do not want meat; so long as you avoid sugar and are healthy,,
The yolk is most nutritious part of the egg; in a study; rats fed fresh whole eggs were healthy while rats fed egg-beaters were sick and died young.
I work very hard for minimum wage; live in fear ; good jobs NOT out there,,,feel unwelcome as in my needs disregarded by both Paleo & Vegan extremists. Why can we not be health-conscious and logical giving healthy food to all? What do you think of my ideas; & how can I improve my diet and health
I agree with all the points you are making about specific foods to include and exclude. With regard to maple syrup, I would say that depends on the individual. Some people can’t handle any concentrated sugars, even in a completely natural form. The one thing I would add to what you are saying is that we need to listen to the feedback from our bodies to tailor out diet to our own unique needs. I wrote a blog post regarding this called “Your Body Is Talking To You, Are You Listening?“.
Finally, if you are living in fear, as you say, then that is certainly having an adverse impact on your health, not to mention your quality of life. I would encourage you to work on that. I’m not in a position to give you specific advice, but there are many ways to move from fear to contentment and many resources available.
My diet change experience was not really related to weight loss.
During a course I took that served all my meals (Pritikin) I discovered that my ache-y joints and low energy level immediately improved. After a bit of experimentation, I tried McDougall and found it congenial. Most of the carnivore-centric thoughts (“Must have meat!”) vanished after a few days of eating tasty beans. I don’t miss the meat or dairy; it is absolutely no sacrifice to eat as I do. For one thing, your taste buds adapt to what you’re eating. If you switch from whole to skim milk, after a period of transition, if you revisit the whole milk it will taste too much like cream.
I recommend eating beans, not just grain. Even red beans with ham hock is healthier than that ham sandwich, and probably has more protein …although Americans generally eat far too much protein. After all, protein generally is just carb with a Nitrogen you’ll later have to excrete as urea.
(BTW, Don’t forget the Tabasco on those beans!…heck don’t forget salsa either. You can eat tree bark with good salsa and be satisfied)
McDougall’s emphasis, far from being “junk food vegan,” is on whole and unprocessed foods, avoiding things like sugar and oil. I’m sure the McDougall diet also handled a dairy allergy that kept me sick for years too.
Anyway, I’ve also seen others adopt the high-animal-content Adkins diet and the like. One got macular degeneration, another died of kidney cancer (a consequence of too much protein, IMHO)… doesn’t look like a great record to me. I’m sure others have lost weight with that diet, but you can lose weight with chemotherapy. It doesn’t make your body healthier.
So…these are anecdotes, not scientific studies. Campbell’s “China Study” documents studies, including lots more about diet related to humans than just the rodent studies mentioned here, and finds, for example, a high correlation of osteoporosis with dairy consumption in human populations. He also finds plenty to connect the western diet with obesity, heart and artery disease, and even Alzheimers…. so diet influences not just cancer rates.
If you want more anecdotal evidence, see http://www.drmcdougall.com/stars
I’ll also cite Covert Bailey, a biochemist and diet expert. His experience: diets were only good to *gain* weight.
I recommend the McDougall lifestyle change (let’s not call it a diet), with that caveat to avoid processed foods. Pay attention to the glycemic index for your processed food, if it’s high, it’s too processed. You’ll be hungry halfway through the morning with typical (high glycemic index) breakfast cereal. This is the excuse to eat bacon and eggs (“I’ll just be hungry sooner with cereal.”)
The truth is that oatmeal has a lower glycemic index than even bacon and eggs, though.
Oh yes, and here’s from an actual paleontologist, debunking the authenticity of the paleo diet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMOjVYgYaG8
Adam, thanks for your comments.
A couple of points:
“protein generally is just carb with a Nitrogen you’ll later have to excrete as urea”. This is true in a certain sense if your talking about the body using protein as fuel. Obviously carbohydrates cannot be used to form the structure of the body which is primarily proteins and to a much lesser degree minerals. The way that different bodies metabolize carbohydrates and whether or not an individual can remain healthy consuming primarily starchy foods is quite variable, as I’ve discussed in other responses to comments. This is something that people who do well on vegetarian diets seem to have a hard time appreciating.
I’m with you on the Tabasco and salsa. Great stuff!
I haven’t checked the glycemic index on oatmeal vs. bacon and eggs, but any glycemic index of the latter is due entirely to the sugar which is added to bacon. Pure meat or eggs have a glycemic index essentially of zero.
Finally, I agree that the term “Paleo Diet” is really more of a marketing concept than an actuality, however, it is a term that many people recognize so I use it.
Also, you might want to take a look at my most recent post “Your Average Blood Sugar: Why It Matters“. I’ve met many vegans who are running higher than optimum blood sugars which is a major contributor to the chronic diseases our society is so burdened by.
Thanks again for your input.
Thanks for a very informative article. It really puts the vegan vs paleo debate in perspective. I had wondered why both diets can have similar benefits and your discussion is quite enlightening.
Thank you Dr.Sandro for taking time to publish such reasoned advice and having the patience you demonstrate in your replies. You’re doing good work! I am in my mid age now, but my physique and bloodwork continue to astonish people who meet me and my medical providers. I am no zealot, and in fact still have a few bad habits but they appear to have negligible impact on my health. Many who struggle with weight and such as me a question I cannot answer: ‘How do you do it?’. But all my life I have suspected it’s merely been a roll of the genetic dice and most of my choices and behaviors have only one consistent theme I can think of and that is doing exactly what you advise: Listen to your body. If I crave sweets, I eat fruit, sometimes candy even. This ‘craving’ might last for the moment or a few weeks. I call these ‘phases’ because I’ll add more fruit and yogurt, things like that, without much serious thought. That phase will pass and I’ll ‘crave’ startches, so eat additional ĝreens, beans, etc. I even have a fat phase lol During all of it, I’m active and tend always towards a very low hunger drive. That’s always been true. Anyway, I could add more details BUT…I wouldn’t say how I am is how everyone should be, except maybe active and slightly underweight. I am no fan of food nazi’s or zealots. I’ve known too many who get fat or depressed due to some rigid expectations they can’t succeed at. I think genetics and environment might be important too.
Anyway, please keep up the good work as you see fit and being a balanced perspective in an ocean of diets and food fundamentalism lol
Skye, thanks for your comment and encouragement. Genetics certainly has something to do with it, but our old notions about genetics are crumbling as more and more evidence mounts that many lifestyle and environmental factors influence the expression of our genes. We can functionally modify our genetics, for better or worse, through diet, detoxification and even our emotional state and mental attitude.
The way the vegangelicals & paleovangelicals have hijacked the food debate is just WRONG! So not fair to the rest of us! The real answer from my extensive reading is : give up sugar, candy, soda, white flour, white rice, potato chips, KFC, Mcdonalds, doritos, vegetable oil, koolaid, snapple, cigarettes, booze. get good sleep, exercise, and consume; vegetables, fruit, berries, nuts, seeds, virgin coconut oil, unsweetened fortified coconut milk, unsweetened bakers chocolate, water, stevia extract, cinnamon, beans, peas, some organic cage-free eggs, .
i am a Flexitarian. i go days or weeks without eating meat and that works great. Being physically active, getting rid of junk-food, reading good books, getting needed sleep; seem to be better than dogmatism.
leave the ‘healthy’ atkins candy alone; eat real food.
i am not a fat-phobe since they too easy on sugar while restrict/ban healthy foods like coconut oil, coconut milk, unsweetened bakers chocolate, nuts, seeds, egg yolks from eggs laid by healthy happy hens,
Watch video: Food fight!
Read: Sugar Shock
Read: Medication madness
Read: the truth about statins
Read: Silence kills
Read: predictive health
Lately, I’ve been a vegan (3 months). Lost 15 lbs., and feel good about the decision. I find Dr Greger’s website (Nutrition Facts) very interesting and vegan supportive. He follows the latest scientific studies that consistently support the vegan perspective and shares a couple of times a week. I realize he may be bias, so for the sake of a balanced perspective, do you know of a paleo watch dog who is providing science based evidence in the same, easy to access fashion as Dr. Greger does?
David, thanks for your comment. First of all, if you are doing really well on a vegan diet then I see no reason for you to change. As I have said in a number of other comments, I don’t believe there is a single dietary approach that is ideal for all people. With regard to Dr. Greger’s site http://www.nutritionfacts.org, it does seem to be biased towards a vegan or plant based diet. I haven’t reviewed the material on his site extensively but what I can say is that there is no doubt that a diet containing a significant portion of calories from plant based foods, particularly low starch plant based foods is health promoting. Ideally a good paleo diet should also contain a significant percentage of it’s calories from plant based foods. Low carb diets that contain very few plant based foods are disease causing in my opinion, but low quality vegan diets are unquestionably disease causing as well.
I have not found a good single source online for research demonstrating the health benefits of a paleo diet. Here are a few sources that you might look at:
https://www.dietdoctor.com/science has a handful of links to scientific articles on low carb diets.
Dr. Eric Westman, MD has probably done more research than anyone on the health effects of low carb diets. To see his research go to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed? click “advanced” directly below the search field, then select “Author” as the field type and enter Westman, Eric C. In the next search field click “Title” as the field type and enter “carbohydrate” in the search field. This will yield about 30 research articles conducted by Dr. Westman on low carbohydrate diets and various health parameters, mostly cardiovascular disease and weight loss, but also on other conditions.
Finally, Sarah Ballantyne, PhD has written a book for the general public on the use of paleo type diets to reverse autoimmune conditions. This book is highly referenced and based on extensive research as well as clinical experience.
While a vegan diet can be a very healthy diet for some people, many vegans are not very healthy because they are not eating the right balance of foods to match their particular metabolic needs or they are eating a lot of vegan “junk foods”. Some individuals, in my experience, do need some level of animal protein to attain or maintain optimal health. While research is helpful, ultimately you are a “clinical trial of one” and need to listen to the feedback that your body is giving you about the impacts of your diet on your health.
Hello all, I have decided to close comments on this blog post. When I wrote this piece over a year ago I intended it as an educational piece for my patients. Since then I have received nearly 40 comments from people all over the US and some from outside the US as well. While it has been fun and interesting to read these comments and respond to many of them, it has been time consuming and I feel that most of the points have been covered very well at this point. Comments on my other blog posts will remain open.