A Physician’s Viewpoint On Plant-based Living with Dr. Neal Barnard [Episode #409]
Welcome to the Feel Good Podcast with Kimberly Snyder. Our goal is to help you be your most healthy, confident, beautiful and joyful! Our topics focus on health and wellness (physical, emotional/mental and spiritual), holistic nutrition, medicinal plants, natural rhythms and cycles, beauty, meditation, self care and rituals, spirituality and personal empowerment.
Feeling Good means we are healthy, balanced, peaceful, confident and joyful, right in the midst of our perfectly imperfect lives. Feeling Good requires us to tune in and nourish our whole selves, which is made up of the four Solluna Cornerstones: our food, our bodies, our emotional well-being and our spiritual growth. Feeling good naturally leads to also looking good, in a much more powerful way from glowing skin created from within, a beautifully healthy body, radiant energy, and a greater level of overall well-being and personal growth.
Every week, we provide you with interviews with top experts in their field to support you in living your most beautiful, inspired and joyful life, with a focus on physical health, wellness, meditation and spirituality and personal empowerment.
I’m your host, Kimberly Snyder, founder of Solluna, New York Times best-selling author and nutritionist. I’m so grateful and honored we found each other!
I am so excited to have my very special guest, Dr. Neal Barnard, who is an American author, clinical researcher, and founding president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Listen in as Neal shares what influenced him as a physician and being plant-based, and you too can implement a healthy diet into your daily life and start feeling good today.
Dr. Barnard shares what influenced him as a physician and being plant-based…
When family reacts to you eating plant-based and how to handle any resistance or curiosity…
How physicians view a plant-based lifestyle and if there is still some resistance…
We discuss high-fat diets and what they do to your body…
Health concerns for those who choose a ketogenic diet…
The confusion surrounding cholesterol…
Ways in which your overall health and wellbeing can improve when you eat more plant-based…
Autoimmune conditions and a plant-based diet…
Whether grains are good or bad for you…
The fat-sugar relationship demythed…
The bone broth trend and a plant-based alternative…
Our perspective on living an 80% vegan lifestyle…
About Dr. Neal Barnard
Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, is an Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, and President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He has led numerous research studies investigating the effects of diet on diabetes, body weight, and chronic pain, including a groundbreaking study of dietary interventions in type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Barnard has authored more than 90 scientific publications and 20 books for medical and lay readers, and is the editor in chief of the Nutrition Guide for Clinicians, a textbook made available to all U.S. medical students. As president of the Physicians Committee, Dr. Barnard leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, good nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research. His research contributed to the acceptance of plant-based diets in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
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Kimberly Snyder: Hi Beauties. Welcome back to our Monday interview podcast, and I am so excited for our guest today, Dr. Neal Barnard, who has been a personal hero to me. He has written over 19 books. He’s an American author, clinical researcher with over 70 scientific publications, and he’s the founding president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He also played a very large part in the documentary What the Health, as well as yours truly. So we share a lot of the same philosophies. Dr. Barnard is someone whose books line my shelves, so it’s really fantastic to have him on the show today.
Fan Of The Week
Kimberly Snyder: Before we dive in, I just want to give a quick shout-out to our fan of the week. Her name is Stephanie Joelle. She writes, “I love listening to Kimberly. Her positive energy and natural glow shines through every episode. The info is smart, concise, and yet realistic. Kimberly just gets being a busy woman at every age and stage of life. Thank you.” And thank you, Stephanie Joelle, for being our fan of the week. Thank you so much for your review. Sending you a big, virtual hug, and so grateful, so happy that we are connected.
Share The Podcast& Write A Reviewon Itunes
Kimberly Snyder: And beauties, for your chance to also be shouted out as the fan of the week, please just take two minutes out of your day, leave us a review on iTunes. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s just a great way to support the show and help others find this information. And also just a little reminder to please make sure that you subscribe to our podcast. We have our Monday interview podcast. We have our Q&As on Thursday. That way, if you subscribe, you never miss out. You’re always alerted about what’s going on, and it’s just a really great way to stay motivated, to stay inspired, and just a really great thing for you to do for yourself self-care wise, so you have that constant connection to our community. All right, so all that being said, we have the fantastic Dr. Barnard on the line with us. Hi, Dr. Barnard.
Interview withNeal Barnard
Neal Barnard: Hi. How are you doing today?
Kimberly Snyder: I’m doing great. We are so excited to have you. As I mentioned, I have been reading your books for years and years, so you have definitely had a big impact on my philosophy.
Neal Barnard: Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you.
Neal shares his pathway and what influenced him as a physician and being plant-based
Kimberly Snyder: One of the things that struck me first about, when I’m reading through your body of work and your bio, is the fact that you’ve authored more than 70 scientific publications. And your overall approach to diet includes being plant-based, as I am. I’ve been plant-based now for over 12 years. So one of the things that I hear about from readers and listeners in our community is objections from their standard doctor when they decide to go plant-based. Concerns about protein and things that have been so widely disproven as not really legitimate concerns. But I’m just curious, Dr. Barnard, when you started out as a physician, were you plant-based, or was that influenced by what you uncovered in your research? Can you tell us a little bit about your pathway?
Neal Barnard: Sure. Well, first of all, I grew up in North Dakota, and I have to tell you, I never met a vegetarian or vegan or anything. I had never even heard about it when I was a kid growing up. However, what actually happened to me, the year before I went to medical school, I had a job in a hospital in Minneapolis, and my job was in the basement of the hospital in a part of the hospital that nobody would ever go to. It was the hospital morgue. And whenever anybody died in the hospital, they would bring the body there, and the pathologist would do an autopsy to determine the cause of death, and my job was to assist at the autopsy.
Neal Barnard: And one day, there was a man who died in the hospital of a massive heart attack, probably from eating hospital food, but that’s another story. Anyhow, so the pathologist cut a big chunk of ribs off the front of the chest so that he could expose the heart, and he set the ribs on the table, and the heart was filled with atherosclerotic plaque. In other words, he would open up an artery, and instead of being wide open, it was all… It was almost like a rusty pipe inside. And he said, “Look, this is atherosclerosis. This is what comes from eating bacon and eggs and whatnot.”
Neal Barnard: And then we looked at the arteries going up to the brain, and it was the same process. So the pathologist wrote down all his findings, and he left the room, and I had to clean everything up. So I put the ribs back into the chest and made them fit with the other ribs, and I sewed up the skin and cleaned everything. And then I went up to the cafeteria when I was done, and they were serving ribs for lunch.
Kimberly Snyder: Oh!
Neal Barnard: And I want to tell you, I thought, “That looks just like a dead body.” And I said… You know, it smelled like a body.
Kimberly Snyder: Ugh!
Neal Barnard: So I realized it is a dead body. It’s just not a human body. And I didn’t become a vegetarian on the spot, but I could not eat that, and it started to play in my mind, kind of the links between what we put in our mouths and what kills us. And as time went on, I learned more about the role of nutrition. I started medical school. I started learning more, and I also started to connect the big picture, because the environmental movement was maturing at that time, and also the idea about how animals are mistreated started coming into my consciousness, which was a 180 degree turn from how I grew up. I realized there’s-
Kimberly Snyder: Did you grow up eating a lot of dairy and meat, I imagine, being from the Midwest?
Neal Barnard: Well, not only that, I hunted. I mean, I hate to tell you this, but it’s true. I grew up in North Dakota, so I hunted. And my extended family raised cattle, and I personally drove cattle to slaughter at the slaughterhouse. And we didn’t… Well, I mean, you could tell that it was kind of a creepy thing to do, but we would just figure this is business.
Neal Barnard: Anyway, I started to rethink all of this, and once I finished my residency training, I thought, “Okay, enough is enough.” And I started a vegan diet at that point. I want to tell you, it was easy and a great decision, and it just makes you start thinking about the world in a really different place. Then, of course, as time went on, then we started to learn that a plant-based diet can reverse heart disease and help people lose weight really, really easily, and it tackles diabetes and things. But then we also started getting involved in doing the research itself to prove these benefits.
What Neal’s family’s reaction was when he chose not to eat any animal products and if there was resistance or curiosity
Kimberly Snyder: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). What was your family’s reaction when you said, “Hey, this is so different than how I grew up, but guess what? I’m not going to eat any animal products anymore”? Was there natural resistance? Were they curious? Did they come on board? Maybe not at first.
Neal Barnard: Very, very slowly. I really pushed my mother to follow suit because she had high cholesterol, and she didn’t want to change. And you know what? People don’t take advice from their third-born child, you know?
Kimberly Snyder: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Neal Barnard: I would give my mother all kinds of advice. I would leave books for her. And you know how you can tell when a book hasn’t been opened?
Kimberly Snyder: Sure.
Neal Barnard: I would go back and visit her six months later, and the book’s in the same spot. And I realized parents just don’t take advice from their kids, especially not those who are in the middle of the pack, like me. Eventually, though, my mother’s personal physician basically threatened her with a statin. He said, “You’re going to have to take cholesterol-lowering drugs because your cholesterol is dangerously high.” So without telling me, my mother started a vegan diet. She went back to her doctor about seven weeks later, and the doctor took her cholesterol again, and it had dropped so much that the doctor was convinced that the lab equipment must have been broken.
Kimberly Snyder: Wow!
Neal Barnard: So he told her she had to come back and check it again because there was some physical problem with the machinery, and she just started laughing about this. Then she… Because she was the cook for my dad, he became vegan by default, and they continued that way for many years.
If there are any changes with how physicians view a plant-based lifestyle and if there is still some resistance
Kimberly Snyder: Wow! It’s powerful. It took my dad about five years to come from a very, very meat-heavy diet, burgers, very traditional, to now I would say he’s about 98% vegan. So to your point, sometimes it takes some time with parents, but I think that you plant little seeds of information from me, and then when they start trying it and they start feeling better is that is… The proof is in the pudding. But, Dr. Barnard, as a doctor, I love your approach, where, again, you’re going to the science of it. And again, to what I was saying earlier, there’s so many physicians that are also MDs and seem to be either, to speak bluntly, clueless about the benefits of a plant-based diet or even resistant because that’s not what they know. It’s not what they’ve studied in school. Do you see it changing with all the research coming out slowly but surely? Do you have hope that other physicians will wake up to this, or do you think the resistance is still very much there?
Neal Barnard: Yeah, it’s interesting. I have to say, I think you’re putting your finger on something really important, that on the good side, there are more doctors and healthcare providers, in general… I’m talking about nurses and dieticians and others. There are more and more of them who really are taking a huge interest in plant-based diets. And the reason I say that is every year we have a conference here in Washington. We just had it in July, and it’s called the International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine. And you look out over the room, and there are a thousand-plus physicians in the seats really, really excited about what nutrition can do. Top researchers come, and they’re comparing notes not just about heart disease or weight loss, but about every kind of condition, from diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis to just better mental health and so forth.
Neal Barnard: So yes, there is more excitement than ever, and I don’t need to tell you that the marketplace is responding with vegan products and vegan restaurants and one vegan film after another. But the other piece of this, Kimberly, that you were, I think, really touching on in an important way, is that there still are people who, to use your word, are clueless, who… I think they would not necessarily have been blamed 40 years ago, because the role of nutrition was not all that clear, but now it is clear. So when a patient comes in and sees some of these doctors and they’ve got a high cholesterol, what does the doctor do? They write… The doctor doesn’t say, “Well, the reason you have a high cholesterol level is because you’re eating saturated fat from animal products. You’re eating cholesterol, which is in animal products. And if you stopped eating those things, your cholesterol would very likely come back to normal.”
Neal Barnard: No, they don’t say that. They say, “Here. Is there a pharmacy near you? Here’s a slip, and you go fill it.” And once in a while, doctors will say, “Well, patients won’t change their diet. They’re resistant. They’re not compliant.” But you know what? Studies have looked at what happens when you give them a prescription for a drug. In maybe 30, 40% of the cases, the patients throw that away. They don’t want to take pills.
Kimberly Snyder: What?
Neal Barnard: Yes.
Kimberly Snyder: 40% of cases, people throw away the prescript sheets?
Neal Barnard: Specifically for statins, when doctors prescribe these cholesterol-lowering medications, in a great many cases, the patients do not want to take them, or they start and then they stop. They think, “Why am I taking this darned drug?” Now, part of it is that these drugs have side effects. Statins… You know what I’m talking about.
Kimberly Snyder: Yes.
Neal Barnard: The typical cholesterol-lowering drug, like Lipitor, they’re a hugely popular drug making lots and lots of money for the pharmaceutical manufacturers. It looked pretty innocuous except that it started causing muscle pains and liver toxicity. Not a lot. You can stop it if those things happen. But then we started to discover that it causes a little bit of weight gain, and it increases the risk of diabetes, not a lot, but a little bit. Then we started to see unusual cases of dramatic memory loss in people taking Lipitor and other cholesterol-lowering drugs. Again, these side effects aren’t in everybody, but they are in enough that you think, “Wait a minute. You don’t have a Lipitor deficiency anyway. What you’ve got is cheese and Spam and pork chops and… “
Kimberly Snyder: Spam.
Neal Barnard: “… these things in your diet. If you take them out, you’ll be better.” You know what I’m talking about.
We discuss high-fat diets and what they do to your body
Kimberly Snyder: Oh, yes, yes. Now, what do you think, Dr. Barnard, about some of these really high-fat diets? For instance, keto is very popular right now. What would you say to someone that’s like, “Oh, well, look at the research about people losing weight on these really high-fat diets,” which there’s plant-based keto, but then there’s a lot of people on animal-based keto as well?
Neal Barnard: Well, I wouldn’t do either one. The diet that we would recommend, that we have shown, and that if you do head-to-head studies of a healthy plant-based diet versus one of these so-called ketogenic diets, the weight loss on the plant-based diet is as good or better over the long run, and it’s much, much… It’s dramatically healthier for you. It started out as Atkins, the Atkins diet. And then it kind of disappeared for a while, and then it came back as South Beach. And now it’s come back as keto, and anything that has four letters becomes very popular instantly. So if people are thinking about a ketogenic diet… And what they mean really is that if you take out carbohydrate, which means fruit, beans, grain products, like bread and pasta, root vegetables, like sweet potatoes and potatoes, if you don’t eat any of that, given that that’s about 50 or 60% of what you would normally eat, you’ll lose weight, because you’re leaving out foods. There’s nothing magical about it.
Neal Barnard: So your body is starving for the carbohydrate it needs. Your body needs carbohydrate to produce glucose to run your brain. So now you’re starving for it, so your body instead is desperate. It makes these ketone bodies, which will power your brain, and you’ll go for a while, and people can eat that. And the only reason they’re losing weight is because they’re not eating the normal amount of food. But there are several things wrong with that, and the reason I would not go that way. The alternative way to lose weight, the better way to lose weight is a completely plant-based diet where you’re eating all the fruit you want.
Kimberly Snyder: All the fiber.
Neal Barnard: All the vegetables you want, because you’re getting fiber now, which gives you a healthy digestive tract and a healthy microbiome, which you need for a healthy brain. In fact, when you look… Speaking specifically for brain function, when you look at people who follow the ketogenic diet, their moods often descend and you… Well, anyway, you’ll see. I mean, when you meet these people, you know.
Neal Barnard: The other thing, though, is that when you look at people who follow plant-based diets, their moods very often improve. We happened to notice this with a study we did at GEICO, the car insurance company, where we weren’t doing the study for that reason. We were doing it for people with weight problems and diabetes. But along the way, we measured their moods, and their moods very often improved. That’s partly because they’re healthier, but partly their gut microbiome is healthier. But it’s more than that.
Neal Barnard: On a plant-based diet, because you’re saying yes to fruits and yes to healthy vegetables, you’re getting vitamins and antioxidants that your body needs for health. When people follow ketogenic diets, they’re afraid to even eat an apple.
Kimberly Snyder: Oh, my God. Don’t even get me started, Dr. Barnard. We have [crosstalk 00:16:34].
Neal Barnard: They won’t eat a mango. They’re-
Kimberly Snyder: Oh, no bananas. [inaudible 00:16:38] that grows on a tree.
Neal Barnard: So what they’re saying no to is not just healthy fruits, but what they’re saying no to is all the antioxidants and natural chemical protectors that our species and even beyond our species, all great apes, have evolved with over the millennia, and you’re saying no to them. So what we presume, but luckily people don’t stick with the diet long enough to really know, but over the long run, you’re going to be at higher risk particularly for certain kinds of cancer. But what happens even over the short run is that, on average, cholesterol levels worsen. Now, not everybody. It’s quite variable. But usually when people lose weight by any means, if you go on just a starvation diet, if you go on a keto diet, even on a vegan diet, any kind of diet, cholesterol levels normally fall when your body gets smaller. For every pound you lose, your total cholesterol drops about a point.
Neal Barnard: But the exception to that is ketogenic diets. On average, cholesterol levels worsen. And about maybe one in three, one in four, maybe… I’m sorry, one in three, maybe even one in two ketogenic diets, their cholesterol levels go up. Especially their bad cholesterol usually rises about 10%, on average, and that means you’re at cardiovascular risk, specifically heart disease and stroke. And then over the longer run, if you follow these people over the long run, people who follow low carbohydrate diets have a much higher mortality over time.
Neal Barnard: So my thought is why do that? Whether you like it or not, you’re a great ape. You’re not a cat or a dog. You’re not a carnivore.
Kimberly Snyder: No, certainly not a tiger or lion that eats meat all day.
Neal Barnard: Right. Great apes are… Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, they eat fruit all the time. They eat leaves and vegetables all the time. They don’t eat ice cream. They don’t eat cheese. They’re not eating a steak. They’re herbivores either mostly or completely. And so that’s a diet that’s natural for us because our body… To give an example, we cannot make vitamin C. Dogs make vitamin C. Cats make vitamin C. We don’t. We need it from the fruits that we’re going to naturally eat. So anyhow, the ketogenic diet is just one of many ways that you can lose weight over the short run, but it’s probably the worst way.
Health concerns for those who choose a ketogenic diet
Kimberly Snyder: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, is it… Some people are using it, as you said, short term to lose weight, but then they stay on it, and I’ve heard… Doesn’t it really acidify your blood and your body? Aren’t there some… Besides the raised cholesterol, aren’t there some real concerns for your liver and your kidneys and other organs as well?
Neal Barnard: Yes, and my favorite organ is the brain. Researchers have been studying foods that contribute to Alzheimer’s risk, and the Chicago Health and Aging Project got started in 1993, and in 2003, they reported a strong risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and it was saturated fat intake. Saturated fat is the solid fat that is found primarily in dairy products, but secondly in meat. So I refer to a ketogenic diet as a faith-based diet. You have faith that the science is all going to be wrong, that saturated [crosstalk 00:19:57] and high cholesterol won’t hurt your heart and somehow your kidneys are going to survive and that all the statistics that we have so far aren’t going to apply to you. I think don’t do it, and don’t do it for even a short period of time. You don’t need…
Neal Barnard: When people go vegan or anything, they will lose weight. There are so many good ways to lose weight, plus when you think about it, you’re also trying to bet… On a ketogenic diet, you are betting that the environmentalists don’t matter, that eating meat doesn’t really hurt them, and you’re betting that animals don’t really suffer. It’s just this absurd way of viewing the world, and I’m sorry to see that it has this on-again, off-again popularity.
The confusion surrounding cholesterol
Kimberly Snyder: Yes. Why is there so much controversy about cholesterol? Some proponents of keto will say, “Oh, well, look at this research that people thought it was bad for heart disease, but now it’s good.” Where are they pulling that information from? Are those just very limited studies? Why is there so much confusion, where all these people are saying, “Oh, keto is backed by science”?
Neal Barnard: Well, look, keto has been investigated by science, and the science is really not favoring it. There are several points that could be made. First of all, what does happen when a person follows a diet like this? On average, their cholesterol levels get worse. The mortality is higher. These are things that science has shown. Where people are trying to say that cholesterol doesn’t matter, they say that in two ways, neither of which is right, but the first thing they say is that eating cholesterol won’t hurt you. And the way they do this is they kind of curl their upper lip and will say, “Those old, foolish researchers in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s thought that if you ate eggs, that the cholesterol in an egg is somehow added to your body, but it doesn’t affect your own cholesterol.” That’s what they will say, and that’s simply just not true.
Neal Barnard: It is true that 90% of research studies in current years are funded by the egg industry, and they try to assert that eggs don’t raise your cholesterol, but they clearly do. Not as much as saturated fat does, but eggs do raise cholesterol. The second thing that they have tried to say is that if your cholesterol gets really bad, it won’t hurt your heart at all, somehow that that science is all wrong. And that’s just not true at all. If you raise your bad cholesterol, your LDL cholesterol it will rise.
Neal Barnard: Let me tell you a tragic story. There was a man named Jody Gorran, who got in touch with us years ago. He was living in Florida. He was only a little bit overweight, maybe five or six or seven or eight pounds overweight, and he’d heard about these low-carb diets. He thought, “I’ll do that. That won’t hurt me.” He believed all this mythology. So he went on it, and as fate would have it, he happened to have a heart scan shortly before he started the diet, and his heart was fine. It was clear. So he went on this diet, and he was starving himself for fruits and starchy vegetables and pasta, and he would never eat bread and so forth, and he was keeping his weight down. Then after, oh, I don’t know, maybe a year and a half or something on this diet, all of a sudden, he’s walking down the street, and it’s as if an elephant sat on his chest. He had heart disease.
Neal Barnard: So he goes to the emergency room, and he has a 99% blockage in his left anterior descending artery, and he’s going to die basically. But the doctors save his life, and they say, “What kind of diet have you been doing?” And he says, “Well, I’ve been eating all this food.” And they say, “Do you realize your cholesterol is off the scale?” He says, “Cholesterol can’t hurt you.” They say, “Look, sorry. You’ve got severe heart disease. You’re on the brink of dying.” So he looks at the writing on the wall. He stops it. He switches to a completely vegan diet. He maintains his weight loss with that much more easily, and his cholesterol is better now. So there are many, many, many people who go through that, and they get suckered into this diet, and it’s really unfortunate.
Ways in which your overall health and wellbeing can improve when you eat more plant-based
Kimberly Snyder: Well, and I would also say for our listeners, who are largely women, I use this term sometimes, which is a funny term, but you’ll probably understand what I mean, Dr. Barnard, which is old skinny. And what I mean by that is when you lose weight by certain diets, you don’t necessarily look healthy. You can start to look… Like, the pallor of your skin doesn’t look as radiant, or you just kind of look a little bit withered, or you don’t look as radiant, simply put.
Kimberly Snyder: And I have found time and time again with the hundreds and thousands of people that have come through our community, when people do eat more plant based, not only are you losing weight, but your circulation improves, and there’s more glow to your skin, and your hair grows in healthier. So it’s a much more holistic, healthy look, which again sheds light on the fact that, well, this must be our natural diet because of bio-mimicry and having a similar organ structure to these chimpanzees and gorillas. But also when you look at people’s faces and when you look at them overall, not just by weight, but their health, they visibly look more… Their vitality has increased so much.
Neal Barnard: Kimberly, it’s a little bit funny you say that. As you know, athletes are using vegan diets, a lot of them.
Kimberly Snyder: Yes, yes, it’s a huge trend.
Neal Barnard: It’s a huge trend. And I’m going to credit Scott Jurek with kind of starting this off, because Scott is an ultra-long-distance runner. He’s one of these guys who runs 150 miles at a stretch or more than that, and he does it faster than anybody. He ran the entire Appalachian Trail and holds the world record for it. Just a really, really fast guy. But I happened to run into Scott at a premiere for the great new movie Game Changers, which is, if you haven’t seen it, is a fabulous movie. It’s all about athletes following plant-based diets for performance. So Scott-
Kimberly Snyder: Really? Is it on Netflix?
Neal Barnard: If it’s not now, it’s going to… It’s just now coming out. They just premiered it about a week ago, and it’s going to be somewhere soon. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know, but I’m sure you could find it online. But it’s called The Game Changers.
Kimberly Snyder: Awesome.
Neal Barnard: And it is the coolest film ever. But anyhow, I’m at the movie premiere, and there is Scott Jurek. And I said, “Hi, Scott. How are you doing? I haven’t seen you for a really long time.” And Scott has been running for a long time, but he has… People imagine runners as being wizened. They’re in the elements, and they’re getting sunburned and the wind and the rain.
Kimberly Snyder: Sure.
Neal Barnard: Scott, he follows a completely healthy vegan diet, and he’s followed this forever, and he has skin like a baby. I mean, I told him that. He just kind of laughed, but…
Kimberly Snyder: Amazing.
Neal Barnard: And you see this very often. When people become… When the Williams sisters started improving their diet, that was because Venus Williams developed Sjogren’s syndrome. It’s an autoimmune condition, so a vegan diet got her her game back. And they just… I guess the word glow or radiance kind of fits. You’re not going to live forever, but why just throw in the towel? And when people are eating lots of fruits and lots of antioxidants, that’s what makes you glow. And people say, “No, I’m not going to eat that. I’m going to eat Spam and [inaudible 00:27:30] gravy. That’s what I’m going to eat.” This is not healthy for you.
Autoimmune conditions and a plant-based diet
Kimberly Snyder: I mean, you just look at it, and it looks dead and gross. Quite frankly speaking, it just doesn’t have that living quality to it. But Dr. Barnard, you just mentioned autoimmune, which is really interesting because I was at a dinner party recently, and I was talking to someone who has autoimmune conditions, and he was saying, “Oh, well, that’s why I can’t be plant-based.” There’s books out there like The Plant Paradox and other ones that talk about, “Okay, well, if you have autoimmune, you can’t eat any grain. You can’t eat any legumes. You can’t eat any of this. Eat meat instead to help reduce inflammation.” And I wonder, what’s your counter to that, specifically plant-based and autoimmune?
Neal Barnard: Okay. Autoimmune conditions are a very good reason to change your diet, and we are doing a research study right now on rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a classic immune condition where… an autoimmune condition, where your joints hurt. The reason that they hurt is because the lining inside the joint is all inflamed. If you could look inside the joint, it’s really ugly looking. It’s being attacked, and what it’s being attacked by are antibodies. Antibodies are little protein torpedoes made inside your body by white blood cells, and they’re there trying to attack bacteria and viruses, but by mistake, they think there’s a threat, but there’s no virus there. There’s no bacterium there. They start attacking your own joints. Or if you have asthma, they’re attacking your lungs. Or if you’re hypothyroid, they’re attacking your thyroid gland. There are many of these conditions. So what is triggering it?
Neal Barnard: And it is true that foods can be the trigger, but it’s not grains. In fact, if you look at people… Well, number one, the number-one trigger is dairy. There’s a lot of variability here, but this makes sense to you because Mother Nature never assumed that a primate could ever in a million years be exposed to milk from a cow. I mean, Mother Nature put these allergenic proteins safely in a cow’s udder knowing that nobody is going to ever drink them other than the calf. Well, human beings, being restless and creative, we figured out how to milk a cow and drink the stuff ourselves. And when kids have asthma or if an adult has rheumatoid arthritis, they should… Don’t take this on faith. Just try a completely plant-based diet, no animal products at all. And in many cases, these conditions are going to improve. Now, there are some where they may be sensitive to something else. You might be…
Kimberly Snyder: Like gluten?
Neal Barnard: Well, dairy’s probably number one. Maybe eggs could be number two. But then there are other either allergies or sensitivities to gluten, to nuts, to citrus, to tomatoes. The occasional person might react to sweet potatoes. So I actually have written out how to do an elimination diet, where what we do… We do this here. A patient comes in. They’ve got one of these conditions. They’ve got rheumatoid arthritis. They’re paying $20,000 a dose for… or per year for biologic treatment for it. And we say, “Wait, wait, wait, wait. Let’s see if we can cure this naturally. Just find out what your body’s reacting to.”
Neal Barnard: So the easy step is we just start them on a vegan diet, and for many, that’s all they need, and they’re fine. But if they still have symptoms, what I then do is I start what I call an elimination diet, and the elimination diet says, “Let’s break it down to just really a very few foods. Not for a long time, but for a couple of weeks. So I’m going to feed you rice and some cooked vegetables. You can eat as much as you want, but it’s very bland and boring because you’re just eating a very few things because I want your joints and everything to just settle down. And then after your pain is gone and your swelling is gone, then we very carefully add each food back every two days. So I’ll bring in nuts, and you eat a lot of them, and if you don’t react, then you keep them. And then I might bring in tomatoes, and you eat a lot of them, and if you don’t react, you keep them. So you’re bringing in the foods one at a time, and you see… If your joints flare up, then that food that you added, that’s a trigger.”
Neal Barnard: Some people have two or three triggers. By the way, if you want the details on this, I wrote a book a few years ago called The Cheese Trap, because many people have [inaudible 00:31:56] from cheese. And in the back of The Cheese Trap, you will see the elimination diet is described and how to do it.
Kimberly Snyder: We’ll link to that in our show notes, beauties.
Neal Barnard: For many people… And you only do this once in your whole life, and it’s the neatest experiment. If a person has never done this, it’s really interesting. If you’ve got digestive symptoms, you can do it, where you just break it down to a really simple diet. You eat all you want, but very few foods, and then gradually bringing the other foods back one by one, and you see which one hits you. Then you take it out of your diet again, just again later, a few weeks later and confirm it. And for the rest of your life, you know which foods you tolerate and which ones you don’t. We have seen people who no longer are hypothyroid. They no longer have rheumatoid arthritis. They no longer have asthma. They no longer have Sjogren’s disease driving them crazy, lupus erythematosus, eczema, all of these conditions where your body’s attacking itself.
Neal Barnard: Yes, you can go on TV, and you will see really expensive drugs that people want to sell you, and they tell you, “Take them for the rest of your life and hope that you don’t get tuberculosis or infections, and talk to your doctor about this, that, and the other thing.” Or you could try to see if changing your diet will help you.
Whether grains are good or bad for you
Kimberly Snyder: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I can understand, Dr. Barnard, how it’s confusing for the average person that maybe doesn’t really go deep, deep, deep into the research. From my standpoint, it’s you look at the Blue Zones. You look at all these really healthy cultures and Ayurvedic medicine that has a very grain-forward approach. But somehow it’s caught on that the way to lose weight is to eliminate grains, and then you have all these diets, like paleo and keto, which slam grains. And then some people say, “Well, I’ll be too hungry if I can’t eat grains, if I can’t eat this and that on a plant-based diet.” Where did that all come from, all this, you know, the grain brain and wheat belly?. All this, it just became this huge trend. What would you say to people that are just adamantly scared of all grains and legumes?
Neal Barnard: Well, it’s useful to be reassured. You mentioned the Blue Zones. For people who don’t know what we’re talking about, researchers working with the National Geographic… This was Dan Buettner, who’s a real genius, and his team. They took a map, and they marked the regions where the most people lived to be 100. And they marked them in blue, so they called them the Blue Zones. One, for example, is Okinawa, which is at the bottom of Japan. The dietary staple of Okinawa is not fish. It’s not even rice. It’s actually sweet potatoes, and they eat massive amounts of these things. It’s not a low-carb diet. It’s not ketogenic. It’s an almost entirely plant-based diet.
Neal Barnard: Or there’s one in Costa Rica as well, where they eat huge amounts of black beans and rice and that kind of thing, tortillas. There’s Loma Linda, California, and the only reason it’s a blue zone is because there are so many vegetarians and vegans and Seventh Day Adventists who live in Loma Linda, that their health statistics are just off the scale. For anybody who’s afraid of grain, remember this image. Back in the 1960s and ’70s and ’80s, Japan had a diet that was rice based. Huge amounts of rice and noodles.
Kimberly Snyder: Yes.
Neal Barnard: And they were the longest-lived, healthiest people on the planet. They had very little diabetes, almost no obesity, not much heart disease, not much breast cancer. What happened? A McDonald’s set up shop. American restaurants came in. Meaty business lunches came in, and rice started to fall in the diet. They were eating less and less rice. They started getting heavier and heavier. And heart disease, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, erectile dysfunction, and even depression started to become much more common in Japan. And then the same thing happened in China only more recently.
Neal Barnard: So when people on traditional, healthy, grain-based diets give them up and start to go to a meaty diet, they do badly. So grains are not unhealthy. They’re not high in calories. They’re quite low in calories. But there are four healthy food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes. And those are the things to really focus your diet on. It will change your life.
The fat-sugar relationship demythed
Kimberly Snyder: And Dr. Barnard, this reminds me of something I’ve heard you speak about or I must have read it in one of your 19 books somewhere, but it hearkens back to this relationship between sugar and fat. We know when the Japanese are eating rice, they’re not eating it with tons of oil, per se, like tons of really dense fat. This is an aspect of diabetes, I think, is really misunderstood. Most people think diabetes just has to do with sugar. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship, the fat-sugar relationship?
Neal Barnard: I think two things should be said. Let’s say you’re going to try to gain weight as an experiment by eating bread. You could eat a piece of bread or two or three pieces of bread, and your body doesn’t turn the carbohydrate in bread into fat. What it does is it uses the glucose that’s in the carbohydrate. It uses it for energy. So some of the glucose goes to your brain. Some goes to your muscles, and so that is useful energy. But if you say, “No, as an experiment, I’m sure that I can get fat eating bread.” So you eat a half of a loaf, and that’s more than you need. It’s more glucose than you need to power your brain, so what your body does is it stores that extra glucose, not as fat, but it stores it as glycogen.
Neal Barnard: So for people who don’t know about this glycogen, G-L-Y-C-O-G-E-N, glycogen is what marathon runners… That’s the reason they’re eating bread and carbohydrates. They’re carbo loading before a race to build up their stores of glycogen in their liver and muscles, because that’s your spare batteries. That gives you energy. And if you say, “No, I’m sure that I can gain weight by eating bread,” so I even eat two loaves of bread. At that point, your body uses the first glucose to power your brain and muscles, and it stores the rest as glycogen. But pretty soon, you can’t store any more glycogen. At that point, your body will take all that excess that you’ve eaten and will store it as fat.
Neal Barnard: However, to turn carbohydrate into fat is a little bit expensive for your body. About a quarter of all the calories in it are just burned off as heat trying to turn it into fat. But on the other hand, let’s say you eat Velveeta, or if you eat salmon… Salmon is a fatty fish. It’s about roughly 50% fat. That fat doesn’t need to be converted at all. It goes straight directly to body fat. So if you’re trying to gain weight, it’s really hard to do it by eating pure carbohydrate. It’s really easy to do it by eating pure fat.
The bone broth trend and a plant-based alternative
Kimberly Snyder: Wow! One aspect that we haven’t talked about too much, Dr. Barnard, is about environmental toxins and how… Obviously, animals are higher up the food chain, and toxins do bio-accumulate as they go up. So that’s one thing that I always think about when I see people having huge amounts of, let’s say, bone broth, for instance, which as you know is a huge trend right now. First of all, what do you think about this bone broth trend? People are treating it like it’s this miracle cure. And what would be the plant-based alternative to it?
Neal Barnard: The list of goofy things that people do is nearly endless, and it sort of makes you wonder. It’s almost like you’re sitting in a psychiatrist’s office, and people throw up one sort of defense mechanism after another, after another for why they’re not going to follow just a healthy, simple, plant-based diet that will help them, the Earth, and the animals. It’s like they come, “I’ll have bone broth instead.” I mean, goofy stuff. So no. Let me share with you something a little bit different, which I hope…
Kimberly Snyder: Uh, no.
Neal Barnard: Let me share this with you, because I think this might be helpful. People are listening to your podcast. I know you have a bazillion listeners, and bless you for this, Kimberly. But they’re thinking, “Okay, a vegan diet, I’ll believe you. It’s obviously the nicest diet for the animals. It’s obviously the best diet for the environment.” And they’ll say, “I am prepared to believe that it’s as good as any other diet for my health, but I’m not sure I could do it.” So let me give you the answer to that, and encourage people to actually try this. If you are listening to this while driving or anything else, I want you to focus on what I’m saying. And here’s what it is.
Neal Barnard: Step one, take a week, and during this week, I want you to not get rid of anything in your diet. Just try out plant-based foods to identify which ones you actually like. So you don’t have to stop eating meat or dairy or whatever. What you’re doing in this step is just identifying, “Okay, for breakfast, I normally have corn flakes with milk or bran flakes with milk. I’ve never tried almond milk. I don’t know if it’s any good.” Well, go to the store and buy some and try it, or hemp milk, or oat milk, or rice milk, or soy milk. Find the one you like.
Neal Barnard: “Could I make veggie sausage? Is it any good? I don’t know. I’ve never tasted it.” Try it. Or I go, “I always go to an Italian restaurant at night, and I have my pasta with this heavy meat sauce.” Now is your time to try the Arrabbiata sauce, the oyster mushrooms with whatever it is. Try the vegan topping. So you’re taking a week, and during this week, you’re not going vegan, but you are testing out vegan possibilities. And write them all down under categories: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack. And then after the week is done, you’ve got plenty of vegan possibilities.
Neal Barnard: Now, step two. Take three weeks and eat the foods you identified in the first week. But during the three weeks, it’s all vegan. No animal products at all, but you’re going to go totally vegan, only 21 days, and it’s easy because you’ve already identified the foods that work for you. So I’ll have my corn flakes with almond milk because it actually tastes pretty good. And when we go out eating at the Italian place, I’ll have that food. So you’re having the vegan choices that you’ve pretested.
Neal Barnard: After three weeks, two things will have happened. The first is that you are physically healthier. You’ll have lost weight. If you have diabetes, your blood sugar is improving. You’ll notice your skin is better. Your digestion is better. And then the second thing is you notice that your tastes are starting to gravitate toward healthier and healthier foods, and your cravings for cheese or meat are diminishing. And if you stick with this, you’re going to notice hormonal changes in your body. If you follow a low fat… I’m talking about a vegan diet. No animal products with keeping added oils to a minimum. If you have menstrual pain or endometriosis or PCOS, these things are going to improve mightily, and that’s hopefully another conversation that you and I are going to have.
Kimberly Snyder: Yes, for sure.
Neal Barnard: But we have been doing a lot of scientific exercises on this, and it is astounding to see women who have been suffering, not with high cholesterol or even necessarily too much weight or high blood sugar, but they are suffering from hormonal issues, and they think, “This is just my curse.” This is not your fault. Unbeknownst to you, people have been pushing foods on you that are causing you out-of-hormonal balance, and we can get you into balance really, really fast. And it is life-changing for people. So step one, seven days, try out vegan foods. Step two, three weeks, all vegan all the time. It will change your life.
Kimberly Snyder: Wow. I love the practicality of that because sometimes people change over. They get inspired. They get excited. But then they’re like, “What do I eat?” So that little prep period, I think, is really great to point out. I love that.
Neal Barnard: I do have… If people want to try this, I have a book called The Vegan Starter Kit, and I want to make a pitch for this, if you don’t mind.
Kimberly Snyder: For sure.
Neal Barnard: Because all of my books that I have are so big and fat that you could prop open a door with them. So I talked to my publisher, and I said, “I want to make a skinny, ugly, little book that you can read. I want you to be able to read it in 45 minutes.” So if a person is listening to Kimberly’s broadcast, podcast, and says, “Okay, I want to go vegan, but I don’t want to make a life study out of it,” The Vegan Starter Kit, you pick it up, you can read through the whole thing, and at that point, you’re confident. “I know how to do it. I know how to do it safely. I know how to take advantage of it. I know which foods to have.” I’ve got a couple of dozen really nice, simple, easy recipes, tips for going out. And that was the whole point of The Vegan Starter Kit. So I hope people will give it a try and-
Kimberly Snyder: That’s awesome. We will link to it directly too, Dr. Barnard, because that’s the thing a lot of people unfortunately… I’m a big book reader, too. I love your big, thick books, but not everybody wants to read a 500-page book. But having something practical, where it’s just like this, this, this, I think is so needed today. So first of all, thank you so much for writing that, and, B, we will link to it. I think that sounds amazing.
Neal Barnard: Thank you.
Our perspective on living an 80% vegan lifestyle
Kimberly Snyder: Dr. Barnard, finally, what if someone’s listening to this, and they say, “This makes a lot of sense, and I want to incorporate a lot of plant foods, but I’m thinking maybe 80-20. Maybe I’ll be 80% vegan”? What would you say to your patients that come in from that perspective? Like, they’ll still benefit, and they’ll probably feel better, and maybe for some people, that’s their starting point. So do you-
Neal Barnard: Yeah.
Kimberly Snyder: Yeah. What do you think?
Neal Barnard: It happens all the time, and what I say to those folks is, “That’s good. You’re making a good shift. That’s really great.” And I encourage them to do that, and that gives them a chance to really test out more vegan options, and they’re going to try new things. However, before very long, I encourage them to do the two steps that I described, including going all the way completely plant-based for at least three weeks.
Neal Barnard: The reason I say that is that going 80% vegan is good, but that last bit ends up being the most important part. Let me give you an analogy. I saw a smoker not too long ago in our clinic. By the way, if people are in Washington, D.C., they should come by our Barnard Medical Center and see doctors actually not writing out medication prescriptions very often. They’re writing out food prescriptions more often.
Kimberly Snyder: I love it.
Neal Barnard: But a guy came in. He was a chronic smoker, and he said, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve been smoking all this time.” Hack, hack, cough, cough. “What should I do?” I said, “Well, you really ought to quit.” And you give him advice on how to quit. So what does he do? He cuts down. He cuts down 80%. And what do you say? “That’s great. That’s really good. You’ve cut down 80%. That’s super.” But the cough doesn’t stop until he stops it completely. So what you say is, “For three weeks, just do whatever you can to just not have any cigarettes at all.” And then you discover your clothes don’t stink, and your fingers don’t stink, and your cough kind of goes away. And with food, it’s the same way. When people go 80% plant-based, that is good, but once they’ve done it 100%, they feel so much better. And one last thing, Kimberly, if you don’t mind me saying this.
Kimberly Snyder: For sure.
Neal Barnard: A plant-based diet isn’t the extreme end of your dietary exploration. It’s the beginning. You discover if I’m not eating animal products, what’s out there for me? You start to discover the whole range of beautiful fruits and vegetables and of different cuisines. When I was a kid growing up in Fargo, North Dakota, we barely had Italian food, let alone Szechuan food and Hunan food and Thai food and Vietnamese food.
Kimberly Snyder: Oh, yeah.
Neal Barnard: Ethiopian. The whole world has figured out cuisines that are based on plant foods that are fabulous for us. When I was a kid, I never tasted a papaya, a mango, a kiwi. I mean, I never had these things. And on a plant-based diet, you just start to explore what the world has for you. Should you have organic versus non-organic? Do you want more raw or whatever, or macrobiotic? There’s a million choices, but if you’re still eating Spam, you’re just not trying.
Kimberly Snyder: Well, that’s the ironic part when people say, “Oh, isn’t it limited to eat plant-based?” But there’s a billion, million plant foods, so you do, to your point, Dr. Barnard, become creative. You explore. The possibilities become exciting, and your creativity really gets sparked. So thank you for pointing that out. Dr. Barnard, it has been amazing talking to you. We appreciate you so much, not only just the information that you’re making accessible to us, but also the scientific research that’s really, like you said, going head-to-head with people that are starting to wake up to this or still, they’re having resistance to this. Those studies are so important to show that there is scientific backing for a plant-based diet. So first of all, thank you so much for all your incredible work.
Neal Barnard: Well, thank you, but I have to say, the credit really is the whole team we have here at the Physicians Committee. We’ve got a whole great research team. Our Barnard Medical Center has a wonderful medical team, and they are the ones who really get the credit for the work we’re doing.
Kimberly Snyder: You’re so humble. But you’ve been spearheading it as the founding president. So yes, I love your humbleness, and of course, it’s a team effort, but you’ve really pioneered this. And Dr. Barnard, besides your books, and we will be linking to them in the show notes, beauties, including some of my favorites and some of the ones Dr. Barnard mentioned, what other ways can people be in touch with you or find out about your work? Do you have any programs or courses besides the books?
Neal Barnard: Oh, well, we have all kinds of things. Please do go to pcrm.org. Click on our site. We have an app, which is on your iPhone and you [crosstalk 00:50:13].
Kimberly Snyder: Oh, fantastic.
Neal Barnard: 21-Day Vegan Kickstart. 21-Day Vegan Kickstart is free. We’re not selling anything. But it has videos and menus and recipes. It’s really cool. And if you are a doctor, a nurse, or other health professional, you can download The Nutrition Guide for Clinicians. So you’re thinking, “How does food affect varicose veins, or how does food affect Alzheimer’s?” It’s all there. It’s all free.
Kimberly Snyder: Wow!
Neal Barnard: It’s called The Nutrition Guide for Clinicians.
Kimberly Snyder: Wow! That’s incredible. We will link to that directly as well, Dr. Barnard. I was not aware of that. I cannot wait to check it out for myself. I could keep talking to you for hours and hours, but we will just tease a little bit that we’re going to have Dr. Barnard back on here in a couple months because he has a new book coming down the road about women’s hormones and creating balance from diet. So that’s really, really exciting for me and for all of us to hear about as well.
Kimberly Snyder: But in the meantime, Dr. Barnard has over 19 books and all these different programs and the app he just mentioned. So please check it out, beauties. Again, huge, huge gratitude. Thank you so much, Dr. Barnard, for taking the time to be with us today. Really, really, really interesting and insightful.
Neal Barnard: It’s my pleasure, but I want to thank you because you have reached so many people with information and inspiration that will encourage people to change their lives, and each one of them, in turn, spreads the message to others. So thank you and thank you for letting me share this time with you today.
Kimberly Snyder: Oh, thank you, Dr. Barnard. It’s true, we’re all one. We’re all here to support each other, and we’re all powerful and really do influence the whole. So thank you. And thank you, beauties, so much for tuning in. We are so grateful for you. We love you. Please check out the show notes. Remember that we have also daily inspiration for you on Instagram and at underscore Kimberly Snyder. We will see you back here Thursday for our next Q&A podcast. Till then, take great care of yourself. Lots of love, and see you back here soon.