Sure, we here at the Razz think veganism is the hotness, but we’re not M.D’s or anything! Dr. Neal Barnard, however, is an accomplished medical doctor and just so happens to share our opinion!
Barnard is the President and Founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.
This dietary rockstar has written about a trillion books on healthy living and will be attending the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida’s 20th Anniversary Gala on March 14th.
Neal was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to sit down with Ecorazzi for a chat. Check out what he had to say!! Trust me — you’re gonna be healthier for reading it!
Ecorazzi: You started the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine over 20 years ago. What inspired you to form an organization that promotes a healthy plant-based diet?
Neal Barnard: Well, when I was in medical school there was no emphasis on nutrition at all! The population at that time was following a pretty unhealthy diet that was not just bad for animals, but also very bad for our coronary arteries. So I wanted to have an organization that promoted preventive medicine, conducted research on the power of diet to improve health, and also advocated for more ethical research.
E: You mentioned your own medical training and the lack of nutrition education within those programs. How do you feel medical programs are doing these days in terms of nutritional training for future doctors?
NB: We have been working very hard to bring nutrition back into medical training where it’s been neglected — and this is a very, very important area. Medical schools still neglect nutrition, and yet research has shown that when people switch their diet — particularly with vegetarian and especially vegan food – their risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, blood pressure diminishes dramatically. Doctors need to be able to use those tools.
E: What do you think would be the most effective change somebody who follows a Standard American Diet could make to help improve their health?
NB: The change is to take animal-derived products off their plate. If you make that a personal guideline then the health benefits are dramatic. But to make that practical, I break it into steps.
The first step is: go shopping! If all the recipes you have, have meat and dairy products in them, try some new recipes and make them! If you tend not to cook but eat at restaurants, go to vegetarian or vegan restaurants and try out the menu items. Sublime, of course, is the most obvious example – the most elegant example. If you bring your family members and friends into an environment like that, you will see how eating healthy isn’t just good for your body, but a delight for your taste buds as well. So the first step is to get to know your options and go shopping.
The second step is to take a three-week period and do it 100 percent – vegan all day, all the time. But only for a three-week period. That allows you to try on the shoes and sort of walk them around the room for a little bit, so to speak. If you like how you feel after three weeks you can stick with it. For most people they are healthier, they’ve lost weight, they feel better, their energy has improved, and also their tastes have changed so they like the new way of eating. So I break it into those steps and that makes it really doable.
E: Do you have any recommendations for people out there who are already eating a vegetarian or vegan diet?
NB: Well, they’re miles ahead! What you should do is make sure you are finding ways to encourage everybody else to follow YOUR good example.
E: In the past few years we’ve seen an emergence of people following a raw food diet. What are your thoughts on raw foods?
NB: I think raw foods are great! They’re terrific! For many people their transition is into vegan foods and once they’re into vegan food they start looking about incorporating more raw foods into their routine. That’s a good move!
E: You mentioned Sublime restaurant earlier which is run by the groovy folks over at Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. I know you’re going to be attending their 20th Anniversary Gala on March 14th. How do you think this organization has helped make a difference throughout Florida and the country?
NB: I think ARFF has not only been a voice for animals, but a voice for people across Florida and in the rest of the country who’ve felt they have no voice in how animals should be treated. So people could see a model of activism. Whether it was for dogs and cats who needed to be spayed or neutered, or animals in circus’, animals in roadside zoos, or legislative battles, ARFF has been there and has been a very strong voice for animals and activism. So I have been very, very happy to support ARFF and I really am looking forward to continue working with them in the coming decades.
E: You’ve written a ton of books – most recently Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Resversing Diabetes. You mentioned previously how a plant-based diet can help improve general health. But specifically how do you think a plant-based diet can help reverse diabetes?
NB: With regards to diabetes: it’s just a completely different view of the disease. The old fashion view was to avoid eating too many carbohydrates. The new approach says focus on healthy foods. You don’t need to worry so much about the quantity if everything your eating is vegetables and fruits and whole grains and beans – those are good for the body.
We have found that the cause of Type 2 Diabetes—which is the common type – appears to be the build up of fat inside the cells of the body so that insulin can no longer affect the cell. It’s very much like having gum in your lock stopping your key from being able to open the lock. If there’s fat inside the cell the insulin key can’t open the cell membrane to allow glucose to enter. So our focus is on getting the animal fat out of the diet so that the cell can clean itself up.
However, I want to say something else. We often focus on life-threatening conditions: diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But a vegan diet is also good for conditions that are minor but annoying and motivating. By that I’m talking about the principal motivation of any 16-year-old, which is not prostate cancer. A 16-year-old boy doesn’t even know he has a prostate, but if he’s got a zit it’s a tragedy. If you can show kids that by getting away from dairy products, animal products, and following a healthy diet that their acne might go away, it’s a much bigger motivator than the health concerns of later life.
There are now several studies that have shown that dairy products in particular affect the skin. We are now in the planning stages of a clinical trial using a vegan diet for acne.
For women or girls, menstrual cramps in some cases can be disabling. In the year 2000 we published a study showing that a very low-fat vegan diet was great for reducing menstrual cramps and PMS.
For athletes, they often find that their recovery time after an intensive activity, like marathons or ultra-marathons, is dramatically shortened when they’re on a healthy vegan diet. Do you know Scott Jurek?
E: I don’t.
NB: Take a look at his website sometime! Scott is not just a marathoner, but an ultramarathoner and ultradistance runner. There’s something called the Badwater Ultramarathon,. It’s 135 miles and I’m not kidding – you’re going to think I’m making this up – they run 135 miles continuously. It takes more than a day to do it. He won it twice and holds the course record. And the Western States 100-Mile Run–the very first time Scott entered he won the race and he’s won it every single year — I think seven years in a row – and set the course record. It’s hard to even contemplate running 100 or 135 miles – that’s a long drive – but to have a person actually run it is an amazing achievement. Scott is a vegan and says that there’s no way he’d be able to compete if he weren’t vegan. You think about a horse galloping along – he is a vegan, of course, not a carnivore. It is useful love to mention that when we’re talking to young people who think a healthy diet will just help them live better when they’re 85. It revolutionizes your life NOW!
E: Now you were recently on the Ellen show and we just LOVE the fact that she’s gone vegan. Do you think that celebrity ambassadors really help to create long-term change by advocating for a vegetarian diet?
NB: Absolutely! Ellen is an honest and intelligent person that everybody respects because she speaks her mind with integrity. So if she says, “ You know, I’m setting aside the meat,” people know that she’s being honest with them. And when people see how a celebrity changes their diet and then looks younger, slims down and feels better, people know it’s totally honest. Also, sometimes celebrities will describe health problems that they have had – I’m not talking about Ellen now — but other celebrities will quite honestly discuss health problems they’ve had with other kinds of diets, or how other kinds of diets like an Atkins diet has let them down. So I think when celebrities describe their own diets and share their experiences it can motivate other people.
E: Now I always end with the same question for all the famous vegetarians I interview. If you had the chance to meet one person who you’ve found specifically instrumental in the vegetarian community – dead or alive, past or present – who would it be and why?
NB: I have to say there are a lot of people in the vegetarian community I respect. It’s a team effort and I’m happy to also say that I hook up with them a lot. So it’s not like they’re too hard to reach.
I’ll tell you one person who I’d love to see again and that’s Benjamin Spock. He wrote Baby and Child Care and he was both a pediatrician and a psychiatrist. So he was very concerned about not only kids’ physical health, but also about their emotional health. He wrote Baby and Child Care to help people raise their children and teach them how to treat their children with respect and warmth and convey to them good values and habits to last a lifetime.
In Baby and Child Care he wrote that kids need meat, eggs and dairy products. The book had a second edition and a third edition and a fourth and fifth and sixth edition, and he said the same thing in all of them. And then, as he was getting up in years, his own health was not so good. His wife — Mary Morgan is her name – said that he needed to see somebody to talk about his own diet. And he got off of dairy products, and he got off of meat and he started following a vegan diet. His health rebounded, his strength approved, he felts years younger. And in the seventh edition of Baby and Child Care he wrote that he had been wrong in promoting a meat and dairy-based diet, and that an ideal diet for kids left animal products off the plate completely. I have to say that his courage, his straight-forwardness and his honesty really command respect. Ben died a number of years ago. He was a good friend and a member of PCRM. His strength of purpose and his ability to say he had made a mistake and set things straight just shows what a great man he was.
A huge thank you is in order to Dr. Neal Barnard for taking the time to share his ideas with us. Check out all his great work at PCRM.org!