This week’s topic is: How to Balance your Hormones on a Plant-based Diet with Neal Barnard
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). He’s authored over 19 books and his new book is out called Your Body in Balance: The New Science of Food, Hormones, and Health. This book is super useful and applies to the modern world and a lot of issues that a lot of us have are directly addressed in the book. Listen in to hear his perspective on hormones, the foods we eat and our health.
- What the motivation was behind Neal’s new book, “Your Body in Balance: The New Science of Food, Hormones, and Health“…
- An overview of how hormones affect us every day and what aspects of our wellbeing play a part…
- Neal and I discuss eating plant-based and how it affects fertility and beyond…
- How eating plant-based affects your hormones and menstrual cycle…
- Fertility treatments and why they’re on the rise…
- Fats that disrupt hormonal function and why…
- Plant-based sources with absorbable calcium and how to supplement…
- The truth about doctors and nutrition knowledge…
- Losing weight on the Keto Diet and at what cost to your health…
- Foods that are problematic to your hormones and your health…
- Eggs, dairy and butter and if they should be a part of your diet…
About Dr. Neal Barnard
Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C., is the founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He has authored more than 70 scientific publications as well as 19 books, including the bestsellers Power Foods for the Brain, 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart, and Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes.
Dr. Barnard is a frequent lecturer appearing throughout the world and an adjunct professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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Note: The following is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it is incomplete or inaccurate. This is due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.
Kimberly: Hi Beauties and welcome back to our Monday interview podcast. I am super excited for our guest today who is someone that I admire and love very much. His work is incredible. His name is Dr. Neal Barnard and he is a clinical researcher and the founding president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He’s authored over 19 books, beauties and his new book is out called Your Body in Balance: The New Science of Food, Hormones, and Health. So I rvead this book cover to cover and not only is it interesting and fascinating, but it’s super useful, especially for all of us women right here, right now. It applies to the modern world and a lot of issues that a lot of us have are directly addressed in the book. So I’m super excited to get into all of it.
Kimberly: I also want to point out in Dr. Bernard’s bio, I love this one. He is the editor in chief of The Nutrition Guide for Clinicians, which is a nutrition textbook that’s given to all second year medical students in the United States. So here’s someone who really knows what they’re talking about and thankfully he is helping to influence nutrition on a mass scale.
Fan Of The Week
Before we dive in with Dr. Bernard, I just want to give a quick shout out to our fan of the week. His or her name is Born to Create and he or she writes, “This podcast has helped me so much to make changes in all aspects of my life. Kimberly Snyder is someone I look up to and aspire to get knowledge from. Thank you for blessing us.” Born to Create, thank you so much for being part of our community, for writing us a review, sending you a big warm hug wherever you happen to be virtually and again, lots of love. Thank you so much beauty.
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Interview with Dr. Barnard
Kimberly: All right. All that being said, we have the fabulous Dr. Bernard waiting patiently on the line from, is it Washington DC doctor?
Neal: Yes, that’s right. It’s great to be with you today.
Kimberly: We had you on a couple of months ago and there was so much that I learned and then between time and this time I actually read your new book and I said, “Oh my gosh, we have to have you back doctor.” So thank you, thank you for coming back on.
Neal: Well it’s a great pleasure. Thank you for including me in this issue.
What the motivation was behind Neal’s new book, “Your Body in Balance”
Kimberly: So first question is, you’ve authored over 19 books. This book I have in my hand right now, Your Body in Balance focuses on hormones pretty much throughout the entire book. And I wondered why wow you’re focusing on this topic. Why right now, why hormones?
Neal: Because it’s something that people know nothing about and yet it affects every aspect of their lives. And people are often really suffering as a result of hormones that need to be dialed up or dial down. I got to tell you, I was sitting right at my desk here years and years ago and a young woman called me up and she had such terrible menstrual cramps. She was unable to get to work and she called me and she wanted me to give her some painkillers, which I said I’d be happy to do. But I started to realize that this could have a huge nutritional component that could allow her to really feel good. And yet it’s something that people don’t know and really much of anything about. So I thought, all right, it’s time. Let’s put this owner’s manual in people’s hands and let them give them an opportunity to take their health in their hands. So that they don’t have to have pain and don’t have to be struggling with so many of these issues.
An overview of how hormones affect us every day and what aspects of our wellbeing play a part
Kimberly: So I think you brought up a big one for us women as PMS and not feeling good around our periods. And it’s very common for us to say, “Oh, I’m just feeling hormonal right now.” And sometimes when there’s that type of issue, it’s the only time we think about our hormones. But can you give us an overview of how hormones affect us every day? What aspects of our wellbeing, what part do they play? Which is obviously enormous, but I want you to answer that one doctor.
Neal: Well, if we don’t get past the reproductive part, we still covered a huge amount, on how you feel month to month PMS and menstrual pain, but then also fertility and all the goofy things that go along with it, like endometriosis or fibroids as women get older or then when menopause arrives, hot flashes and so forth. And men have issues too with regard to their sexual functioning and so forth. So that’s a huge one. But that’s really just the beginning. Our hormones affect our weight and thyroid hormone at the base of your neck affects your energy level. It can either be too little or it could be too much and even our mood can be affected. So all of these things are affected. But up until now, most people think, “Well, I don’t need to change my diet unless it’s for my weight or my cholesterol or something like that.” And I guess the message of your body and balance is there’s much more to it than that. And that your hormones can be dialed up and down based on what you eat and let’s learn how and you’re going to feel so much better.
Neal and I discuss eating plant-based and how it affects fertility and beyond
Kimberly: So let’s tackle a big one right off the bat, doctor. And I want to share personally, I have also already shared this with our audience that I happen to be pregnant right now myself. And this is my second son. And I have also been plant-based now for over 12 years. And in both cases I was able to get pregnant pretty much on the first try. I’m very grateful. I’m very lucky. I know there’s other factors that we can’t necessarily control, but what’s ironic is a lot of people still say, “Oh my gosh, is it safe to be plant-based when you’re trying to get pregnant?” For me, I felt like my body was in such good shape that that was a huge reason why it was easy for me to get pregnant. What do you say about all this fertility stuff?
Neal: First of all, congratulations.
Kimberly: Thank you.
Neal: Your growing baby is lucky to have you for a mum.
Kimberly: Oh, thank you doctor.
Neal: Because what you’re doing is really great. A healthy plant-based diet is certainly good for mom, but it’s also good for the baby. And the researchers have looked at complications during pregnancy when they’d looked at growing children. What they find is that those kids who are exposed even in utero to an environment that reflects the healthy nutrition of fruits and vegetables and beans and whole grains and they are spared all the bad stuff. That’s just a great way to start out life. And when researchers have even looked at birth complications, they’re much less, they’re much less common in women who follow healthy vegan diets.
Neal: Now, of course all of your extended family is going to worry. They’re going to think are you getting enough protein and calcium and all these kinds of things? And you have to patiently remind them that, “Yes, I’m eating for two but one of us is really, really small.” And so as a result, it’s not like you’re having an elephant that you’re growing. They’re tiny. And so the added nutrition is modest, but it does have to be thoughtfully put together. You want to give your child the best nutrition and what you’re doing is really, really great.
Kimberly: Thank you doctor. And I’ve always hypothesized that we talk about complications and there is research, there is evidence about the bioaccumulation of toxins as we go higher up the food chain. So do you also concur that may be part of it. I mean obviously if you’re giving up fish, there’s less mercury and if you’re eating less beef, you’re potentially getting much less things like dioxin.
Neal: Right. Yes, that’s right. There are chemicals in the environment they might settle on things that cows and pigs and chickens will eat and they tend to be stored in fat tissue, in body fat. And so the fat that’s in meat will conduct these into your body. But you mentioned a huge source, which is fish because fish live in what is frankly kind of become the human sewer.
Kimberly: No, I know. It’s so gross.
Neal: And so the little fish that’s eating on the ocean bottom is consumed by the bigger fish and these contaminants go right up the food chain. And also similarly a lactating cow, dairy products, milk products will get the chemicals that the cow has been exposed to. And then what’s really frightening is these things will pack into your body. Starting from when a person is a little girl and they’re eating, say animal products, they’re collecting the chemicals that were in those animal products. They get in their body fat. Then when they get older and then they start to raise children, their first baby gets a lot from breast milk, gets a huge amount of the chemicals that the mother has accumulated. And when researchers have tested breast milk, they find that those women who are on plant based diets have a lot fewer of these contaminants in their body and a lot fewer in their breast milk. And the longer they’ve been vegan, the cleaner their milk is.
Kimberly: Now I want to talk about something positive, very positive that I read in your book Dr. Bernard and I actually presented to Vogue, I happen to be doing an interview and I said, “Look at this.” And they were all excited too. And I want women everywhere to hear this. For all our sisters out there who hear so much doom and gloom about fertility and for all our amazing women in the community that may be struggling with getting pregnant. And of course we want to help as many women as possible have this beautiful experience. And I just feel like there’s so many people in my circles, in my groups of friends, just acquaintances saying they’re struggling, so I want to read this study or just paraphrase it rather. It’s on page 12 and this is the foods for fertility chapter.
Kimberly: And basically there was we always hear, “Oh my gosh, if you’re getting older, your fertility is going to go down and down and down.” But they found that, this is a study in Thailand where milk was not a traditional part of the diet. Fertility only declined by about 25% as women pass from their late 20s to their late 30s. In Finland, however, where dairy products were a major part of the diet. Women had a much greater decline in fertility, about 80%. So I say this is helpful because it means, oh my gosh, what we’re eating, if you’re struggling with fertility. If you’re struggling with all that frustration and trying all these fertility treatments, what you eat can have an enormous impact on your ability to conceive.
How eating plant-based affects your menstrual cycle
Neal: It can have an amazing impact. Let me tell you a true story. And in fact, what actually got me going in this direction was it started with menstrual pain, but then it branched into fertility quickly as you’ll see. A young woman called me up, she had terrible cramps as I was mentioning earlier. And I suggested that she try a plant-based diet because we learned a long time ago that that will reduce the amount of estrogen in the blood, the female sex hormone, and you’ll have enough, but you won’t have this excess. And the problem was if you have too much estrogen, it thickens the lining of the uterus too much [crosstalk 00:12:20] by.
Neal: And so then when the lining of the uterus then disintegrates in menstrual flow, it releases too much of what are called prostoglandins that cause cramps and cause PMS. So with a plant based diet, all of those things settle down. There’s not that much thickening of the uterine lining. There’s the right amount, not too much. So you have less cramps, less PMS. And anyway, so we then did a research study where we put this to the test and it worked wonderfully. But in the course of the study we asked all of the women participating if they were sexually active, to not use the pill, to use some other kind of contraceptive method because the pill is a hormone, it’s hormones and it would goof up our result. So one of the women in the study said, “Well, don’t worry about me. My husband and I haven’t been using any kind of contraception because we’re infertile.”
Neal: She said, “We’ve been tested and it’s not him, it’s me and I just don’t ovulate normally and where it totally in fertile so we don’t use the pill.” I got to tell you the second month that she went on the completely plant-based diet, she came in and she said, “Well, I’ve got good news and I got bad news. The bad news is I’ve got to drop out of your study, but the good news is I didn’t expect this to happen but I am pregnant.”
Neal: What happened was if your hormones are an unpredictable coaster, the ovaries cannot release an egg on a normal schedule and the likelihood of pregnancy is much worse. And many people have no idea that what gets your hormones in better balance is having adequate fiber in the diet from vegetables and beans, grains because that modulates the amount of estrogens getting away from excess fats, getting away from the animal product because cheese has estrogens in it. You take these things out of the equation and a lot of women who have been struggling suddenly find that it’s so much easier than they had thought and we found the same thing with it. I had a woman who I described in the book and by the way, these are all real people, there’s a woman named Alison who had PCOS polycystic ovary syndrome.
Neal: And really wanted to get pregnant, couldn’t do it. She was a registered dietician who was treating cancer patients with healthy diets working in a medical setting. And she finally thought, “Well, what about my own diet?” And she went on a totally plant based diet and PCOs by the way, is largely genetic to a degree, but it’s influenced by the food choices you make. And suddenly she found she could do dramatically better. And so the first patient, the first person that I mentioned in our pain study, I ran into her several years later, she now had three children and Alison who I mentioned, she’s got this beautiful little baby. And she last year, she came to our medical conference that we have here in Washington every year because she wanted to share the experience that she had. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments and so forth. I mean, you may need that, but let’s first get the body in balance and see what we can do.
Fertility treatments and why they’re on the rise
Kimberly: Yes. It just feels like so many people are jumping to IVF and all these treatments, which they may need, but it just seems like my husband said to me, it wasn’t like this before. Why is everybody doing fertility treatments? What do you think is going on doctor?
Neal: Well, if you look at the big picture, let’s take cheese for example. Cheese is something most people love and they put it all over the pizza and so forth. Cheese came from milk, milk came from a cow, and cows are actually impregnated through artificial insemination every year. I know it sounds creepy and frankly it is very much so. A lot of people object to this because at the end of her nine month pregnancy, she gives birth and of course the calves are taken away. And if they’re male, they’re killed for veal. So it is a creepy system, but what it also means biologically is that if dairy cows are impregnated every year and they’re pregnant, nine months out of 12, a pregnant cow is making a lot of hormone that gets into the milk. And when the milk is turned to cheese, the hormones are concentrated, the estrogens are concentrated.
Neal: Now it’s not much, it’s still just a trace. But the average person wasn’t eating cheese like we are now say 100 years ago when the US DA started tracking American cheese intake, your average person couldn’t get through four pounds of cheese in a year. Today it’s not four pounds. Your average person is consuming probably 35 or 40 pounds of cheese every year.
Kimberly: 40 pounds?
Neal: Oh yes, absolutely. I mean you go into any school in America and there are girls of 10, 12, 14 and what’s in the lunch line? Cheese, pizza, cheese, this cheese that, much of it is given to the schools or it’s a part of the subsidy programs and every single bite has estrogens in it. Not much, but there are traces.
Kimberly: [inaudible 00:17:38].
Neal: Here’s the thing, your body has the estrogen already that nature wanted you to have. So if I could put it that way. So dribbling a little extra in on a pizza slice is giving mother nature a challenge. So anyway, the amount has gone up dramatically. But at the same time, things like bacon and sausage are kind of fats nowadays and people eat them not thinking that there’s a lot of fat in them and there isn’t any fiber at all. And those things also disrupt hormonal function. Let me just lay this out real quick-
Fats that disrupt hormonal function and why
Kimberly: Why? Why do they disrupt hormonal function?
Neal: Okay. Your liver cares about you, your liver is-
Kimberly: I hope so. Even though we abuse it.
Neal: Yeah. So many people mistreat their liver a little bit, but the liver filters estrogens out of the blood and you’ll still have plenty of estrogen but your liver will remove some of the excess and it sends those estrogens through a little tube called the bile duct and they end up in the intestinal tract. And so the liver takes the estrogens out. They go through the bile duct into the intestinal tract and you literally flush them away. They go out with the waste. But the system only works if you have fiber in your intestinal tract for the estrogens to attach to and to be carried away. So let’s say you ate chicken breast or fish or a steak or cheese for lunch or for dinner. Those foods are not from plants, so they don’t have any fiber at all.
Neal: And so your digestive track doesn’t have much fiber in it and you end up reabsorbing those estrogens because there’s no fiber to keep them in your intestinal tract. You reabsorb them back into your blood. And so once a person follows what you’re doing, a healthy plant-based diet with vegetables and beans and grains and fruits, the fiber then grabs a hold of those excess estrogens, carries them away. So you’re left with the right amount of estrogen that will allow you the best chance of pregnancy or the best chance of feeling good at the end of the month.
Kimberly: It’s just so frustrating, Dr. Bernard, because when we try to tell people this and they say, “Oh look.” And they’ll show you an article or information or a magazine put out by some of the mainstream media or even the typical registered dietician sticks to that, cheese is important for calcium. I remember I went to this mom’s group in Santa Monica and they would put out cheese at every meeting and it was run by registered dieticians. I mean it’s that old school mentality and I don’t know why they stick to that when there’s so much evidence against it.
Neal: You’re right. We’re taught this from grade school that you need a dairy product for calcium and for strong bones and so forth. And that’s it really that’s marketing because I have to tell you, cows don’t make calcium. Calcium is an element in the earth and the only reason that there is calcium in milk is because the cow eats the grass that has grown out of the earth. The calcium gets into the roots of the grass and it ends up in the leafy part of the grass. So now the cow eats the grass and some of that calcium gets into the cow’s body and it ends up in the milk. And you absorb about 32% of the calcium in the milk. What nature thought you were going to do, is east green leafy vegetables yourself. Hopefully not grass, but if you eat broccoli or kale or Brussels sprouts or collard greens, green leafy vegetables have lots and lots and lots and lots of calcium. And for most of them such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts or kale, it’s highly absorbable.
Neal: So that’s where the calcium really needs to come from. If you get your calcium from cheese, what are you getting? It’s about 70% fat and the fat will just distort your estrogens and it’s the wrong kind of fat. It’s mostly saturated fat, which is the kind that elevates cholesterol. It has a lot of cholesterol itself and it has a surprising amount of sodium in it more than in potato chips. So I often think that if cheese were any worse, it would be Vaseline.
Plant-based sources with absorbable calcium and how to supplement
Kimberly: Oh my God. Well, and doctor, sometimes you hear arguments that’s put out probably by the dairy industry or just some different organizations that calcium from plant based sources isn’t as absorbable or you can’t have it raw or you only have to have it cooked. What do you say to those naysayers?
Neal: Okay, well, it’s more absorbable than the calcium in cows milk for most green leafy vegetables, the numbers are 32% absorption for the calcium in cows milk about 64 about double for say Brussels sprouts for example-
Kimberly: Cooked. Well, does the cooked raw thing make a difference for calcium absorption?
Neal: Cooking does make a difference for certain things like vitamin C content. The more you cook it, the more the vitamin C can be destroyed, but you cannot destroy calcium. You could cook it all day every day all night long. It will not be destroyed and it’s highly absorbable. Now there are a couple of exceptions though. Spinach has a lot of calcium, but it’s a very selfish vegetable. It will not give it to you, so it’s absorption is low and that’s also true, I believe for Swiss chard. But for the others, the absorption is really, really quite high.
Neal: So you’re going to get plenty of calcium, you’ll get plenty of protein. You do need to supplement vitamin B12. That’s the one thing that I think people really should be supplementing. And of course if you’re pregnant then the prenatal vitamins have B12 and you should see your caregiver and you should take prenatal vitamins and all the usual things. But if you’re starting from a plant-based diet, you are giving your child the best nutrition and if you’re not pregnant, you’re giving your body the best nutrition possible.
Neal: Oh, by the way, when you mentioned earlier about milk in Thailand and so forth. In Thailand, they don’t drink much milk and they have very little loss of fertility. That work was done by Dan Kramer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and he compared not only Thailand and Finland, but he looked at many, many different countries and found that the more milk that’s consumed or frankly dairy products in general, the more rapid the loss of fertility.
Neal: What he thought was going on And he believed that in this case it was probably not the estrogen in the milk or the fat content, although it could have been those. But what he keyed in on, it was something different. The second biggest nutrient in cow’s milk after the fat is sugar and it’s called lactose, which is a double sugar. That in your digestive tract, it breaks apart into glucose and galactose. And the galactose is the one that he believes is damaging the ovary.
Neal: And the evidence is that the more milk women drink, the more of this galactose gets into their blood. And it also is associated not only with infertility but also with ovarian cancer risk. We believe that it’s toxic. And so you think, well, why are women exposed to it? Because they’re drinking milk. And particularly if you’re not lactose intolerant, so you can digest the milk without feeling any digestive upset. That’s the worst possible scenario because that means you’re going to drink a lot of it. And we believe that as the galactose gets into the blood, it’s going to harm the ovary.
The truth about doctors and nutrition knowledge
Kimberly: So you mentioned doctor that people don’t know about this stuff. And it just seems crazy to me because the dairy industry is so powerful and the lobbyists are so powerful. But it gave me hope when I was reading your bio about that book that you edit that gets put out to medical students, but is that a new publication? Because it seems like a lot of other doctors don’t talk about this stuff or they don’t really know that much about nutrition and then don’t read it. Is it like an elective? No offense for your colleagues.
Neal: You can lead a doctor to nutrition knowledge, but you can’t make them drink. Well, I’ll tell you, we have a bill that we’ve written as some legislation here in Washington DC that would actually require doctors to spend one hour a year learning about nutrition.
Kimberly: One hour?
Neal: One hour a year. And I have to tell you, the doctors are opposing it. They’re saying, don’t tell us what we have to know. And that’s the bad news. The good news is that there are more doctors than ever before who are learning about nutrition. Here at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, we have close to 15,000 doctors who belong. And every year we have a conference and it would warm your heart I got to tell you, Kimberly, it’s a room full of doctors who want to help people get healthy by using healthier food. And by the way, it’s not only for women to benefit. Men are going to benefit from healthier foods too.
Kimberly: Of course.
Neal: There was a big research study in Rochester, New York where they looked at male infertility and they found that the more cheese men ate with all the estrogenic traces in it, the more cheese men ate, the lower their sperm counts and they had worse what we call sperm morphology. It means the shape of it and sperm motility meaning it doesn’t move correctly. Cheese was interfering with all of these things and that makes sense. You take a guy who wants to become a father and have him eat cheese all day long, which has got estrogens in it. He doesn’t know it. But anyway, that’s why I wrote this book. I want people to know.
Losing weight on the Keto Diet and at what cost to your health
Kimberly: Well and possibly we were talking about why is there such a rise in issues now and you think also too doctor, it’s kind of… Not kind of, it has also coincided with the rise of diets like paleo and keto, which as you know are pushing these very products. I mean keto’s got to drive you bonkers. It’s also fat and you’re in the book you’re talking about having less saturated fat to preserve hormone balance. I mean what would you say to a woman that’s like, “Hey I want to try keto.”
Neal: Well the thing is there are many ways to lose weight and a ketogenic diet is one of them. And the different diets cause weight loss in different ways. And a ketogenic diet causes weight loss mainly because you take all of the carbohydrate out of the diet, which is what your body needs. Your brain needs carbohydrates. So if you take it all out of your diet, then the body has to make what are called ketones to try to as sort of an emergency energy system. And ketones they reduce your appetite, they make you feel like not eating. But here’s the problem. Carbohydrate is in fruits, it’s in sweet potatoes and other healthy root vegetables. It’s in healthy beans, it’s in healthy whole grains and the keto diet says don’t eat any of that stuff. So you’re then losing the antioxidants that are in the fruits and vegetables that you need.
Neal: You’re getting a lot of cholesterol and saturated fat in the meat that might be left behind. And so when we look at people, normally when you lose weight, your cholesterol should fall. And for some people that’ll happen. But for a lot of people on ketogenic diets, their cholesterol rise. And if you look over time with these people, if you just look at who’s alive and who’s not, I’m talking about longer term, the lower carbohydrate people have higher mortality.
Neal: So my thought is, wait, wait, wait. There are so many different ways to lose weight and we have done research on various diets. We just finished a study on Mediterranean versus vegan and I want to tell you with all the studies that we have done, it’s very, very clear that healthiest, best long-term weight loss accompanied by good health, best fertility feeling really good comes from a diet that’s rich in vegetables and fruits and beans and whole grains. The bounty of that comes from plants. And keto people do it for a little while, for a while it seems to work for them. Then they get some problem, constipation, bad breath or they get acne, they get whatever, and they give up on it and they blame themselves. They think it was their fault. It’s the fault of the diet.
Foods that are problematic to your hormones and your health
Kimberly: So we’ve talked at length about dairy. What do you think is the next worst thing or something that’s very harmful. For instance, I think, I don’t want to lead it this way, but let me let you answer first doctor and then I want to talk about a food I think is very problematic.
Neal: Well there’s lots of them. And I got to tell you, I grew up in North Dakota and my extent, I should tell you a little bit about all my biases in all this. I was not raised on anything remotely like a vegetarian diet. My dad grew up in the cattle business and so did his father and my uncles, my cousins and everybody. And I never met a vegetarian or anything like that. I never heard of any of it. However, we started to learn that the plant foods are really, really healthy. But there’s one animal product I want a key in on that will surprise people. And that’s chicken. And here’s why I want to describe it. Researchers have looked at urinary tract infections. Now I hope everybody is sitting down when I say this. If a person has a urinary tract infection, you can take a urine sample, it’s in a cup and you send it to the lab and they can tell you what the bacteria like, they’ll tell you which species of bacteria they are and whether they’re sensitive to antibiotics and so forth.
Neal: So researchers have taken those data and then they’ve tried to figure out where are the bacteria coming from? And do you know what this medical detectives found out? Is that if you go into the grocery store it can be a Safe-way or a Kroger or Publix or Whole Foods, you can name it. And you go over to the poultry section and you take some samples of the chicken and you send it to your lab. As you know chicken like all meats, they end up being tainted with a little bit of feces that came from the slaughterhouse. I’m trying to cheer you up with this nice conversation. But when you sample the bacteria and you do their genetic fingerprint, they match the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections in about 80% of the time.
Neal: What we believe is that is happening is that women have learned and men have learned that chicken is somehow healthier than beef and so they’re buying a lot of it. They bring it home. Some of that chicken juice dribbles out of the package on their counter. Well, I got to tell you, chickens are not fruit. They don’t have juice. That juice is water that’s absorbed into the muscle from the cooling vat, where carcasses went through to cool them down. And the fecal material in that chicken juice is now on your counter. You can’t see it. It’s invisible. You wipe it up with a sponge and now it’s spreading around your kitchen. It gets on your forks and knives and your turners. And if sooner or later, a tiny bit of it gets into your mouth, into your digestive tract and it colonizes.
Neal: And now it’s there, it’s going to stay there week after week, after week, after week, and sooner or later, some of it is going to creep around the corner into your urethra, up into the bladder and give you a rip roaring infection.
Neal: So anyway, I know it’s a funny thing to say that chicken is one of the most unhealthy foods, but it is.
Eggs, dairy and butter and if they should be a part of your diet
Kimberly: No. What about eggs? Because sometimes people think, oh, eggs seem innocuous. They’re not the actual meat. So they keep eating eggs regularly. What would you say to them?
Neal: Well, the egg, keep in mind, in an egg, when an egg is being laid, it can’t order out for room service. It’s going to sit there. When the egg was laid by the chicken, it has everything you need to make a chick. Inside that egg is everything you need to make feathers and bones and a liver and eyeballs and skin and all that stuff. So what’s in that egg? An enormous amount of cholesterol because the body uses cholesterol to make body tissues and there’s fat in there and other things. And so when the egg hatches, just these things have rearranged to make a chick body. So even if it’s not a fertilized egg, when you eat an egg, you’re getting more cholesterol than in any other food. You’re also getting a lot of fat as well, particularly saturated fat. Two eggs, it’s about three some grams of saturated fat, the kinds of raises cholesterol. So no you don’t want to have to be a big part of your diet or any part of your diet, really.
Kimberly: There was a movement which I do believe has died down now, but there was a movement. It was on the cover of Time Magazine saying, “Oh the butter isn’t bad. Actually, cholesterol and saturated fat are actually good for you. Eat as much as you want.” Do you remember that kind of, was it last year?
Neal: Of course, yes, I do. I was 2014.
Kimberly: Oh, was it 2014, oh my gosh. Time flies.
Neal: Time passes when you’re having fun. You’re talking about that Time Magazine article that had that swirl of butter.
Kimberly: Yes. Yes, exactly.
Neal: It’s the same thing as eggs. There are industries that want to make money and so one of the things that they do is they fund researchers to do research studies that they think will favor their product. And so what happened was in 2015 the dietary guidelines for Americans were being reformulated. So the egg industry knew that that was the case. So they conducted a number of studies to try to make eggs look innocuous and so in 2015 they could try to push the government to say don’t worry about cholesterol in eggs.
Neal: And the same thing was true for the dairy industry. Dairy products are the biggest source of bad fat, saturated fat in the diet. And that’s butter cheese, whole milk. So they fund research studies and researchers sometimes naively carry out these studies and if they can try to show that the fat and butter is innocuous. I’m not saying it is, but you can conduct your research study in such a way that the risks are not so apparent. Then you press release it. And Time Magazine of course loves like all media. They will love doing a contrarian article.
Kimberly: Of course. Yeah.
Neal: Eat butter, eat steak. A couple months ago in late 2019 same thing came out saying, red meat, go ahead and here’s the new study saying it won’t hurt you so much as you thought. That study, it turned out we’ve looked into the people who funded it, one of the authors was running Texas A&M AgriLife program that had funded four and a half million dollars’ worth of beef research alone in 2019.
Neal: Yeah, so money, I’m sorry to tell you, if you hear somebody telling you that a steak is health food or fried eggs are health food or a stick of butter is health food, that’s money. That’s money talking.
Kimberly: How about a stick of butter in your coffee or that fad, the Bulletproof fad?
Neal: You can shine your shoes with it, but I wouldn’t swallow it.
Kimberly: Yeah, exactly. It’s just so easy. People are so vulnerable. It’s so confusing, doctor. You hear one thing like we were talking about with calcium like, “Oh, you need the dairy, you should eat the cheese. Oh no, it’s bad.” So unfortunately there’s just so much conflicting information out there and like you said, who’s actually funding the studies? Who’s behind the research and who’s putting out that information in the first place?
Neal: That’s right. But the good news is that many, many, many people are taking advantage of new information, whether it’s our information or your information or others. When people are saying try out a plant based diet and see what it will do for you. There are so many people who have had weight problems they’ve really struggled with and they’ve tried so hard with calorie counting and all kinds of things and then they go on a really healthy plant based diet. And by a healthy plant based diet, I mean lots of vegetables and fruits and beans and whole grains keeping the oily foods low and suddenly they feel in charge of their diet. People who have struggled to get pregnant, they put up [inaudible 00:38:07] together and if they feel so good and for people who’ve had thyroid issues, hypothyroidism, I have a whole chapter in Your Body in Balance on that because for many women they start gaining weight because their thyroid is acting up and their hair is not the same.
Neal: The texture of the hair is not the same. They go to the doctor and the doctor says, “Yeah, you’re a little hyperthyroid. Let me start you on medication.” And that means for the rest of your life, you’re going to be taking this pill. What we’ve discovered is that for many women and men, the issue, the reason for hypothyroidism, it’s an auto immune disease they have. Meaning something is sparking their body to make antibodies that attack the thyroid. And that’s something that could be causing this, could be in their diet. So a number of people have tried plant-based diets for thyroid conditions and do see your doctor, do get tested, but it is an astounding thing to see all those numbers getting back to normal. Why? Why because certain animal products, we believe it’s probably the dairy protein, but we’re not sure, trigger the production of these antibodies that are damaging the thyroid.
Kimberly: That’s really interesting what you said a moment ago about your hair texture being affected by your thyroid. Again, this idea that everything affects everything else, but those aren’t necessarily two things you would put together. Why is that? What is that connection about?
Neal: Okay. It happens all the time. Keep in mind what is hair? Hair comes out of a hair follicle in your skin and that follicle is bathing in nutrients that come from the bloodstream. The thyroid gland is at the base of the neck. It’s shaped like a little butterfly and it is 24/7 making thyroid hormone. And that thyroid hormone affects all parts of the body, including the hair follicle. So let’s say I had a cheese sandwich for lunch, the proteins from that cheese sandwich get into my bloodstream. The body recognizes them as foreign, they’re from a cow, and so it makes antibodies to try to attack them. And this is theoretically what we believe is happening. Those antibodies then turn around and also can attack the thyroid. They’re putting the brake on the thyroid gland, so now you don’t have a normal amount of thyroid hormone.
Neal: That you can feel it in your energy level and you can feel your… To put it in sort of an anthropomorphic way, your hair follicles feel it too. They’re not getting the thyroid stimulation that they should be getting. So, and the reverse is going to happen. In some cases, thyroid hormone gets into, instead of stepping on the brake, you’re stepping on the gas. Hyperthyroidism is also caused by antibodies, but they are affecting the thyroid in a little bit different way. They’re putting it into overdrive and that’s where a person’s energy is too much and that they’re not sleeping well and they’re feeling on edge and so forth. So in all of these conditions, I do hope people will see their caregiver and get very good medical care and get good diagnosis and treatment. But there is never a reason not to put on your plate the foods that provide good health, that’s always got to be job one for help. It often makes medical treatments unnecessary.
Kimberly: Amazing. And you keep talking about grains and recently we also had Dan Buettner on here who you probably know as well, the person that discovered the blue zones. And he was talking about how in these blue zones, they’re not only eating grain most every day, but most every meal, whole grains. And yet we live in a society that’s like, ah, the scared everything’s trendy. It’s a grain free this and grain-free that.
Neal: Back in the 1960s and 70s Japan had a rice based diet. [inaudible 00:42:14] rice is a grain, phenomenal amounts of rice and they were the thinnest, longest lived, healthiest people on the planet. But in the 1980s something happened, fast food chains came in and business lunches started to emulate the American model where there was more meat and the Japanese steak house started to come in. And what happened was that rice consumption went way, way down. And as that happened, people started to gain more weight. We started to see more breast cancer a lot, dramatically more, but only in those women where their diet was being westernized. That’s where it started to increase.
Neal: And so researchers started to look into why are we seeing people eating cheese and meat and chicken? And I’m not saying they might not have had some meat before that, but it was really these small amounts used kind of as a flavoring for the rice or the noodle dishes. The dietary staples, it was a grain based diet. And as this happened, what we started to see was also more depression. The mood in Japan was changing and dramatically more so more, more cancer, more heart disease in men, more baldness. And researchers have tried to make sense of this, but what we believe is going on is that a meaty diet, a cheesy diet doesn’t just raise your cholesterol, it causes hormone haywire and that can affect all parts of how you feel.
Kimberly: Yeah. And I can attest to that personally doctor, because there was a time where I was within my plant-based years, these 12 years, I was a raw foodist for a little while and I wasn’t eating grain, but I started to eat too many nuts. I think, and I was struggling with weight gain again and now I eat rice, bread. I eat grain every day. And I have been the thinnest. I mean, not right now because I’m pregnant, but in general, when I started eating whole grains along with everything else, I actually lost weight. I didn’t gain weight, which is the fear that our society puts out there.
Kimberly: [crosstalk 00:44:24].
Neal: Some people in certain parts of the United States, they feel that their rice or grits have to have gravy and butter and stuff on the top. So if you pack all that grease in there, you’re going to have problems. But we were talking about mood, this past weekend. I was talking with one of the people who is in the book whose name is Kim. That’s her real name. She’s a translator, lives in LA. And she had the most amazing story. She was at about age 15, her mood started to just suddenly fall apart and she hadn’t had a whole lot of childhood trauma or whatever it was just as if she just felt crummy. And as time went on, her mood got worse and worse and she found herself crying and feeling out of sorts.
Neal: So her mother took her to the doctor and they started psychotherapy and there just wasn’t really anything wrong. It was like, it was physical, not a psychological issue. So they started [inaudible 00:45:20] supplements and they helped a little and then they said, “No, you need an anti-depressant.” They gave her an antidepressants and she felt sort of moderately better, but not really good, more numb than anything. One day she was asked to translate a nutrition class and the lecturer was talking about the digestive tract and he said, the digestive tract makes neuro hormones too. It makes serotonin and so forth. And so healthy foods can help not only your gut, but they help everything that’s connected to your gut, including how your brain functions. So she thought, “All right, that’s it. I got to change my diet.”
Neal: So she went sort of semi vegetarian and she felt a little bit better. And then she got the meat out of her diet and she was feeling substantially, she was not feeling perfect, but she was feeling better. And after a couple of years she thought, “Wait, let me take one more step.” And she got rid of animal products completely. And then within about two weeks the sun came out. She just felt normal. And two things actually happened. What I left out was when she was a kid, she had chronic constipation, her digestive tract was never functioning. And of course animal products, cheese and so forth, they don’t have any fiber in them. And she’s actually has mild opiates in it that accelerate constipation or they aggravate constipation. So suddenly she’s eating healthy high fiber foods. Her digestive tract is now getting normal. It’s now making the healthy bacterial colonies instead of the unhealthy ones.
Neal: They are putting out the right messengers. The brain reacts in this good way and she felt terrific. She stopped her anti-depressant. It’s been years, she feels cured. So how many people do you know who are taking antidepressants? They don’t feel really well. The antidepressants tend to cause weight gain and sexual side effects. They cost you money. And I am not saying that people should throw their pills away and cancel their therapists appointments. Depression is a dangerous thing. It can be fatal. So I mean suicide is a real thing. So take this seriously and talk to your caregiver, but if you’re not putting healthy plant based foods in your digestive tract, it’s making all the wrong compounds.
Neal: Your mood is going to be crummy. And to the extent that you’re constipated, you’re going to feel rotten too. Give a healthy plant-based diet a try and add to it, lacing up your sneakers and going out for a good run in the sunshine every day or two days or a good brisk walk. And it is astounding how your food can just physically turn this corner so that finally you feel the way other people have felt, which is a wonderful thing.
Kimberly: Oh my gosh, Dr. Bernard. I could talk to you forever. I just want to sneak in one last question about food that I want to bring up to you. You talk about it in your new book, Your Body in Balance and it’s soy. I used to avoid soy because there’s so much information out there, soy is bad, soy free, like soy bean, soy free is a good thing. But the more I learned about it, I get a lot of it was put out by the Western Price Institute or certain institutions that had a vested interest in promoting animal products. And I also went to Japan again and I saw how many people were eating tofu and of course it’s the non-GMO kind that, here there’s a lot of GMO, but if you avoid GMO, why can soy be such a healthy food potentially despite all the negative press?
Neal: Well, first of all, it’s real easy to avoid GMO soy. If you buy tofu or soy meal, just on the label it’ll say it’s organic. That’s what most of the people are buying. And by law, organic soy milk or anything organic cannot be GMO. So I wouldn’t worry about that. What happened was that in back in the 1930s researchers discovered that soy products have what are called ISO flavonoids and some of them it looks like they attach to the estrogen receptor. And so they thought, Oh my God, that means that if I eat tofu or soy milk, those isoflavones that are in soy will attach to my estrogen receptor and maybe they could cause breast cancer. Or if I have had breast cancer in the past, maybe it’ll accelerate or if a man consumed soy, maybe this will have an estrogenic effect and he’ll get man boobs or something like that.
Kimberly: It’s true. That’s the fear.
Neal: Well that’s their fear. However, it’s not as if we haven’t had enough time to sort this out. First of all, man boobs, go to the beach in August. And if you look at the guys who are a little heavy set and so they’ve got a little bit of breast development, you can ask the guy how much tofu have you had this week? And I guarantee you he is going to say, “I don’t eat that stuff. Are you kidding me? I’m a pizza guy.” So-
Kimberly: Pizza guy.
Neal: The reason he’s got man boobs, if I can use that ridiculous word, which I’d never quite gotten used to.
Kimberly: I love it [inaudible 00:50:19].
Neal: As a person gains weight, their body fat, the fat cells make estrogens. And so that’s what’s happening to him. He’s been eating cheese and sausage and things and now he’s getting heavy and his body fat is making estrogens that caused a little bit of breast development in him. So, but what about breast cancer? Researchers have studied this and they’ve measured how much soy different people eat, including Asian women, Asian-American women who sometimes consume phenomenal amounts of edamame, tofu, soy milk, miso [crosstalk 00:50:51]. They also compare them with women who generally avoid those foods. And what they found is striking, the women consuming the most soy, soy milk, tofu and so forth have about 30% less risk of breast cancer. They’re about 30% less likely to get breast cancer compared to the soy avoiders.
Neal: So there’s something about soy that turns out to be protective. Then there have been several studies looking at women who previously had breast cancer. They were treated for it and now they’re concerned, “Will my cancer ever come back?” Those women who consume the most soy have the least likelihood of their cancer coming back about a 30% reduction of dying of their cancer. So, soy it looks like soy might attach it to the estrogen receptor, but it’s like your car, if you could put your foot down on the gas, your car goes. But if you put your foot down on the brake it stops. And so soy is the brake.
Neal: It stops the estrogen from going crazy.
Kimberly: Well you mentioned your favorite food groups, fruits, vegetables, beans, grains. You don’t mention soy. So for the average person barring a soy allergy and assuming they’re getting organic, non-GMO, can soy be a weekly food, a daily food?
Neal: It could be as many times a day as you want. No, I’m not necessarily pushing it. It’s totally optional. But soy is in the bean group, the legume group and I personally, every morning I’ll have some, I make these little tempeh strips or tofu strips. It’s kind of my version of bacon only. It’s plant-based and it’s made from tofu or tempeh, it’s delicious.
Neal: And in Japan, this is kind of their normal standard breakfast. And even though I’m from Fargo, North Dakota I’ve decided to be honorary Japanese.
Kimberly: Well, Dr. Bernard, thank you so much for coming on our podcast. I could literally pick your brain all day and thank goodness you’ve written this book. So first of all, thank you so much for coming on.
Neal: Well thank you Kimberly. I want to say thank you for the work that you do because a doctor like me, we do clinical research, we talk to other doctors. We’re spreading this message and I write books like this, but you are a person who you reach people in a way that people trust you and they know you. And I thank you for all that you have done. You don’t know how many lives you have saved, but I guarantee you it’s a lot more than any doctor does in any given day. So thank you for that, Kimberly.
Kimberly: Thank you. Thank you so much doctor. I feel that in my heart and beauties, I want to say that this book I have in my hand, I honestly from the bottom of my heart, I feel like this is such an important book for women everywhere to read and share. So I doctor, I’ve already shared it with three, four friends that are struggling with fertility. I’ve shared it with a couple friends who are struggling with PCOS. Beauties, there’s chapters on cramps, on mood and stress. There’s even a chapter on healthy skin and hair, which we covered a little bit today, but there’s a lot of information here. Healthy thyroid, there’s a chapter for men about cancer for men, erectile dysfunction, a lot of different issues for men.
Kimberly: So this is a life changing book, beauties. We’re going to link to it directly in the show notes. Again, the name is Your Body in Balance: The New Science of Food, Hormones, and Health by Dr. Neal Barnard. It’s everywhere books are sold. You can get it online, you can pick it up at your local retailer. And again, I can’t recommend it enough, and I don’t say this often, Dr. Bernard, usually we have books. I’m like it’s great and blah blah, but this book is a game changer.
Neal: Well, I’m glad you liked it and thank you for sharing it. These are all the things that people didn’t know about food and I hope they find it to be a life changer for them too.
Kimberly: Oh my gosh. And the research, it’s just interesting. It’s well backed up and there’s a lot of personal stories of women that this has worked for. And so I love it. Again, thank you so much doctor for coming back with us and sharing all your wisdom. Beauties-
Neal: Can I give a quick shout out to Lindsay Nixon?
Neal: Lindsay Nixon did all the recipes in Your Body in Balance. She’s so wonderful. When she sent me these delicious recipes, she sent me a note. She said, “Neil, yeah, I didn’t tell you this before, but I had terrible cramps.” [crosstalk 00:55:09] changing her diet, fixed her cramps too, so she wanted to be part of it. So I want to say hi and thank you to Lindsay too.
Kimberly: Oh yes. Great. There are wonderful recipes in the back as well, beauties, that I can’t wait to try some of them myself. So again, not only is it life changing, but it’s also useful and applicable to everyone’s lives and delicious. So thank you doctor for giving us all that. Beauties, thank you so much for tuning in, sending you so much love. Please check out the show notes. Please check out the new book and we will be back here Thursday for our next Q&A podcast. Until then, take great care of yourself and lots of love. We’ll see you back here soon