Dr. Michael Greger
Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, among countless other symposia and institutions, testified before Congress, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.
Dr. Greger’s recent scientific publications in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, Critical Reviews in Microbiology, Family & Community Health, and the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition, and Public Health explore the public health implications of industrialized animal agriculture.
Dr. Greger is also licensed as a general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition and was a founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. He was featured on the Healthy Living Channel promoting his latest nutrition DVDs and honored to teach part of Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s esteemed nutrition course at Cornell University. Dr. Greger’s nutrition work can be found at NutritionFacts.org.
His latest two books are Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching and Carbophobia: The Scary Truth Behind America’s Low Carb Craze. Dr. Greger is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine.
All speaking fees and proceeds Dr. Greger receives from the sale of his books and DVDs are all donated to charity. To invite him to speak fill out the Speaking Request form.
Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Good afternoon. You know my favorite subject—food. I love talking about food, delicious food, beautiful food, food that affects our health and that can be in a positive way and a not so positive way, food that impacts our environment and all life on earth. I’m always looking into all different things that have to do with food. There are some places I go to for information that is helpful to me and one of the sources that I really rely on is Dr. Michael Greger, as a person and his websites are loaded with really wonderful information and he is our guest today. He’s a physician, author, internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, among countless other symposia and institutions, testified before Congress, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States. There’s so much more to know about Dr. Greger. He’s an author of several books including Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching and Carbophobia: The Scary Truth Behind America’s Low-Carb Craze. You can find out more about him at his newest website nutritionfacts.org. Welcome Dr. Michael Greger.
Michael Greger: Thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: How are you doing? What are you doing?
Michael Greger: Well this website is taking over my life. It started this summer. This nutritionfacts.org put all my nutrition work over all the years up online. It’s the first noncommercial science-based website to provide free daily updates on the latest nutrition research.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, we definitely need it. We’re all trying—those who are doing this sort of work—trying to get information out there because we’re all being smothered by all kinds of false information, confusing information, junk, stuff that is killing us, our families, our environment. Your information is a lifeline.
Michael Greger: There are very powerful industry interests whose best interest is to keep us confused about nutrition but a surprisingly consistent story emerges over the last few decades in terms of what’s the best to eat. I try to stay on top of that research and post a new video every day to complement the hundreds of videos already there on over a thousand topics. It’s really something I’m very excited about and glad to be able to give it to the world.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you have any favorites that you’ve put up so far?
Michael Greger: Lots of favorites. In fact I’m sometimes surprised what other people’s favorites are not necessarily my favorites. I’m learning more and more what people are interested in. Some things I think people would be interested in no one looks at, other people love some things. They love the poop studies. The ones on bowel movements are some of the most highly rated, most watched things. You know here I am talking about reversing heart disease, our number one killer, saving hundreds of thousands of lives but they want to look at the bowel movements.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s funny. As you know when people change their diet the first thing they start talking about is their poop.
Michael Greger: And there is some really good interesting new science that I always like to hit but now I go out of my way to look for those studies knowing that they’re so popular.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Then I guess after poop is probably gas.
Michael Greger: Poop and gas… Sudden cardiac death, definitely some people are interested in as well they should. You know most people realize that the number one killer, both men and women every year for nearly a hundred years, is heart disease. But what people may not realize is that the number one killer is not just heart disease, it’s actually sudden cardiac death which is unexplained death from cardiac causes within one hour of one’s first symptoms in someone without any previous known condition. So these are people that don’t know they have heart disease and their first symptom is their last and occurs not years before they die, but literally minutes before they die. So we can’t wait to start eating healthier somewhere down the road, we need to start eating healthier today, tonight.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s really scary actually. There’s a lot of diseases out there and some of us when we’re diagnosed with them choose to make changes in our lives to get healthier but when you have sudden heart attack death, it’s over, game’s over, nothing you can do.
Michael Greger: You know even if, here we are in our last hour on this earth and in agony, even if the paramedics take away our chicken wings or refuse to stop at our favorite fast food joint on the way to the hospital, it may just be too late to start changing our diet. These are people in their 30’s and 40’s and 50’s dying from these heart attacks. One moment we can be with our family feeling fine and an hour later be gone forever.
Caryn Hartglass: That information really needs to get out there. Certainly we’re hearing more information about how heart disease is reversible and preventable but we’re not hearing it enough. You talk sometimes about doctors going through medical school and the training they get on nutrition. I was just having lunch with an old high school friend who’s a doctor today and it was really insightful to me to just talk to a regular mainstream doctor and his attitude about nutrition and health. One of the things that I got out of it was that the patients don’t want the information about health and nutrition and so the doctors might mention it really quickly before prescribing pills. I don’t believe that.
Michael Greger: Well, when they say just barely mention it, it’s true. I just profiled a study of thousands of clinical visits of over a hundred family physicians and they calculated how much time they talked about what and the average amount of nutrition advice during a visit—ten seconds, less than ten seconds. But that’s what doctors say. Doctors say oh well I don’t tell my patients to stop smoking because they don’t want to hear it. A doctor’s job isn’t to tell people what they want to hear. A doctor’s job is to tell people what they need to hear and what they need to hear is these public health messages which may save their lives and save the lives of their families.
Caryn Hartglass: I believe that. When we’re fighting with all the media information, misinformation, that we’re getting I’m not going to depend only on my medical doctors but they need to be giving the right information and stressing it. I had a fight about a cardiologist I went to see last year just to get some regular checkup. I kept saying why are you focusing on statins, why aren’t you focusing on nutrition. And he brings out a list of the things he talks about with people with heart disease and the first thing on the list is eat more fruits and vegetables but he says, people don’t want to hear it. You’re right the doctors need to tell people what they need, not what they want to hear.
Michael Greger: You’re lucky that the doctor even says that much. There’s a big push now to get doctors to talk to their patients more about nutrition but until they know more about nutrition maybe we don’t want them talking about nutrition. You know Atkins was a cardiologist, do we want him, when he was alive? We wouldn’t want him to spend more time telling people about nutrition. That’s a real, kind of fundamental thing we need to change about medical education. Currently only about a quarter of medical schools have a single required course in nutrition. And that hasn’t changed in thirty years, twenty-five years…so from 1982…but essentially no change in nutrition education and when we actually survey, when we test basic nutrition information of doctors, for example on nutrition and heart disease, the most important thing they should know, our number one killer, they fail. On average 64% correct, actually go through some of the test scores…doctors fail when it comes to their knowledge of nutrition. They need to learn more in medical school, they need to continue their education once they’re out…
Caryn Hartglass: And the education shouldn’t come from pharmaceutical companies which is where they get a lot of their information from.
Michael Greger: He who pays the piper gets to choose the tune. In fact, there’s a term called drug lunch…They have these drug lunches in medical school. They get taken out to lunch, not by the broccoli lobby, not by the cabbage association, right, but they get taken out by all the pharmaceutical companies and given free gifts, free vacations and all sorts of things because they know it actually changes people’s prescribing habits. They don’t do it out of the goodness of their heart. They do it because they know that the medical school minds are malleable. Unfortunately, if you just learn about drugs, if you’re just tested on drugs and surgery that’s what you’re going to study for on the exams and on the boards and that’s what you’re going to know when you get out. Thankfully there’s this revolution in medicine happening now with lifestyle medicine taking the forefront. The CNN documentary “The Last Heart Attack” finally bringing to light as if it was some new discovery. They talk about Esselstyn and Ornish, both those doctors have been publishing about reversing heart disease without drugs, without surgery, for decades, literally decades, and yet now it’s like some new thing. But hey, better late than never.
Caryn Hartglass: For those who are still alive and can do something about it.
Michael Greger: Exactly, that haven’t died. Hundreds of thousands have already died and we have the miracle cure, we’ve had it for decades, since at least 1990 when Dr. Dean Ornish published his first paper proving reversal of heart disease without drugs or surgery. Since then totally unnecessary deaths by the hundreds of thousands and it didn’t need to happen.
Caryn Hartglass: What I like to do is make things really simple and talk to people how important it is to eat whole fresh plant-based foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, raw nuts and seeds. Keep it really simple. Don’t worry about counting this and that. You go into a lot of detail with different foods and the nutrients they have, the specific properties that they have, what they can do if they’re good for you or if they’re not good for you, which is great. I’m a big greens person. I love my dark leafy greens. I have a green juice every day, can’t eat enough greens. But there are some greens that may not be as good as others and I know you talk about the blue-green algae, spirulina, chlorella, can you talk about them?
Michael Greger: Sure. The healthiest dark green leafy vegetables are the cruciferous family, the brafficas, the cabbage family vegetables, like the collards and kale and bokchoy and broccoli. Because they have this family of phytonutrients they actually boost your liver’s ability to detoxify carcinogens, it’s amazing. So it’s not just kind of your mom saying eat your greens. It’s actually this wonderful science showing how it boosts your body’s ability to prevent and fight cancer as well as a host of other things, so I encourage people to eat as many dark green leafies as they can possibly stuff in their face. There are however these microscopic dark green leafies. They aren’t technically vegetables, they’re in a whole different kingdom biologically but there are concerns about blue-green algae and spirulina not about chlorella but those former two for a variety of reasons—they can periodically produce toxins, both neurotoxins, muscle toxins, and because you don’t know if the batch that’s on the shelf has these toxins I would encourage people to stay away from blue-green algae and spirulina although those toxins are not found in chlorella which is another kind of unicellular kind of algae-species.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, that’s good to know. So it’s batch-related somehow.
Michael Greger: They don’t test every batch. That’s the problem. It’s prohibitively expensive. It’s not like you can say this type of algae is safe or not safe. It’s safe some of the time and not safe other times. For reasons we don’t know the algae turns on and off toxin-production so it’s not like species-related. You can’t just get the good algae. That same algae which was fine yesterday, may be producing toxins today. Unfortunately it’s too expensive to test every batch. It’s cheaper anyway to go out and buy kale. Go to your farmer’s market rather than the supplement aisle in your health food store.
Caryn Hartglass: Yah. I love kale. I just had a big kale salad and a lovely green juice. One more on the green thing, can we talk just a little bit about oxalic acid?
Michael Greger: Sure. There’s basically only three greens that are high in oxalates—spinach, swiss chard and beet greens. They are wonderful foods and I encourage people to eat them but just not great sources of, for example, calcium because these oxalates inhibit mineral absorption. They kind of bind up their own calcium. Now you can take spinach and put it in a blender with kale and the oxalic acid in the spinach won’t touch the calcium that’s in the kale, it just binds up its own calcium, just relatively unavailable. However spinach still has all sorts of wonderful things in it like lutene, which is good, a critical eyesight saving nutrient, so do the other greens a well. So if you want to do greens and you really don’t care which one I encourage people to eat the lower oxalate greens because it’s a great way to get your calcium for the day but all dark green leafies are wonderful.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s wild that the spinach oxalate doesn’t touch the kale calcium.
Michael Greger: Nope, so you can make like spinach kale pesto or something and one needn’t worry that somehow it would interfere with the absorption of the calcium that’s already there in the kale.
Caryn Hartglass: Very glad to hear that. The thing is for me spinach, swiss chard and beet greens they all have a kind of metallic taste to them to me.
Michael Greger: Hmmm. There are other conditions, for people who have kidney stones may want to decrease their oxalate consumption and do a whole bunch of other things.
Caryn Hartglass: … With spinach…people when they are getting into the green leafy world that’s usually the one they go to first. And having it every day isn’t a good idea unless they are getting the other ones.
Michael Greger: I wouldn’t eat it in huge amounts particularly if you’re susceptible to kidney stones, gout a few other things.
Caryn Hartglass: So you have a blog and I was looking over it and you have this one blog where you were inviting people to pick the best of in all these different categories. I was just wondering, hmm, I wonder what the best of is. I don’t know if you’ve announced any of those results or if it’s an ongoing thing people have to write in.
Michael Greger: No, if you click on the links you can watch the video. Each questions is a link to the video where you can actually watch to get the answer. We’ve got about 30 winners who got all the right answers.
Caryn Hartglass: Really.
Michael Greger: And I’ve sent them out free DVDs. Actually Volume 7 the next DVD coming out next month, all proceeds of which of course go to charity. And all the videos from all the DVDs are up online free for viewing for everyone—nutritionfacts.org.
Caryn Hartglass: I guess I’m going to have to watch all of them. Where am I going to find the time? Can I just ask you one of them?
Michael Greger: Sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Is there really one apple that’s better than all the rest?
Michael Greger: Well, certainly in terms of antioxidant content there was a study that actually looked at twenty-one different varieties of apples which includes most of the ones that people find in stores. Yes, certainly, crab apples is number one.
Caryn Hartglass: Can we eat crab apples?
Michael Greger: You can and they’re actually very very healthy for you. And particularly because they have such a high skin to volume ratio because they’re so much smaller and skin is really the healthiest part. For a variety of reasons crab apples are the best but of course that’s not something you can buy in a store. The healthiest kind of apple-apple that you can buy in a store is Ida Red actually. It has a high antioxident content. If you compare that, for example, of one of the lowest something like a Fuji…it’s at most kind of two to one. So eating one Ida Red is equivalent to eating two Fujis. But if you like Fuji apples or that’s what’s available, fine, eat two.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. I’ve never seen an Ida Red.
Michael Greger: The healthiest apple is the one you’re going to eat the most of.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. Does the Ida Red have a thicker skin?
Michael Greger: No, it’s just, the skin is just packed with quercitin and antioxidents.
Caryn Hartglass: So let’s make a commercial now for organic food because if you want to eat the skin of the apple to get all that goodness in it you’re going to want your apple to be organic.
Michael Greger: Rinsing apples under running water, conventional apples, only gets off about 15% of the pesticides. I would encourage people to, indeed, rinse their apples…whereas if you peel the apple then you can get rid of about 85% of the pesticides but then you’re getting rid of almost all the nutrition. I encourage people, indeed, buy organic so you can eat the skin. But even if you only, for whatever reason are restricted to conventional apples, the benefits still outweigh the risks. Why get any risks, choose organic.
Caryn Hartglass: Choose organic. And apples are one of the foods now that’s pretty easy to find organic that’s reasonably priced. In fact here in New York City I’ve seen conventional apples just as expensive as organic apples. It’s the same.
Michael Greger: ‘Tis the season. You can go to a pick your own if you‘re not too urban.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. We have lots of great farms here in New York and this is the season. Then another one in your Which Is The Best Of that I was kind of curious about, the one about mushrooms. You had two questions about mushrooms but you didn’t include some mushrooms that I knew were good for cancer. Now they may not be the kind you want to sauté up but they’re mushrooms. Is there a reason why you left out maitake and reishi and coriolus?
Michael Greger: There are medicinal mushrooms. There are certainly plant foods that I place in the medicinal category as opposed to the culinary category because they do have these very powerful effects. It’s not something that you would necessarily do unless you need them for a specific purpose. I would put something like a maitake in a separate class as opposed to something that you would stir fry up although certainly you can.
Caryn Hartglass: I would put maitake in the magic category.
Michael Greger: The Journal of Magical Fungus, I haven’t quite seen that one. The reason it wasn’t included in that study was it just wasn’t in the study, it was not something that they looked at. What they were looking at was the ability to interfere with aromatase which is an enzyme that breast cancer cells use to produce their own estrogen. So even if you’re not taking any extra estrogen like Premarin and all these other bad things or eating meat, dairy, the breast cancer cells develop this kind of nefarious strategy to produce their own estrogen using this enzyme and there’s all sorts of chemotherapy drugs used but of course by the time you need chemotherapy it’s a little late. But there are these vegetables found to block this enzyme and the most important one were mushrooms, indeed.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve got mushrooms on my mind because last week I talked to a guy who has a book out about mushrooms, health and longevity so I was reminded about all the magical, wonderful properties of many of the mushrooms and a few weeks before that I talked to Dr. Fuhrman who is talking about greens and onions and mushrooms and how important they are so I’ve got mushrooms on my mind.
Michael Greger: That’s one of the few exceptions to the white isn’t good rule. We don’t want to eat white rice and white pasta and white bread and even white potatoes. Ideally we would choose whole foods but white mushrooms are incredibly powerful so it’s not actually the pigments within mushrooms that have all the wonderful properties. Just plain white, cheap, button, white, stuffing mushrooms beat out many of the other more exotic expensive varieties. Cauliflower is another exception to the no white rule because it’s one of those cabbage family vegetables and that have those glucosinolates. In general we want to eat bright colorful foods.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s stay on the white food theme. I was reading an article, I think it’s USDA related, trying to decide what to have in the schools for kids. There’s this fight to keep French fries and pizza …. Anyway, I hope for a beautiful, better future. I think we’re definitely moving there but it’s slow, it’s frustrating. You want to think the government is on our side and doing the right thing but so often they are not.
Michael Greger: Well the USDA has this inherent conflict of interest. If you look at their mission statement to promote agricultural products at the same time they’re the ones we put in charge of offering nutrition advice for Americans. And so when it comes to eat more messaging, that’s easy, eat more fruits and vegetables, they’re on board with that. But when it comes to eat less messaging, how can they do that? Because the whole point of their existence is to promote these products like the salt industry and the sugar industry, meat, dairy, junk food.
Caryn Hartglass: All the food that’s good for us.
Michael Greger: So then, we run into problems. We see that with the dietary guidelines. I have a two week series on how the guidelines were created and some of the inherent conflicts of interest and who are on these panels. And so in that case one really has to look elsewhere for nutrition advice.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, I want to jump around here. Can we talk about bone density a little bit?
Michael Greger: Sure.
Caryn Hartglass: So there are things that work at making our bones not so healthy, there are things that work at our bones to make them healthy and then there are things that measure our bone health or maybe they’re measuring our bone health. Can you give me some clarity on bones?
Michael Greger: Sure. The most important thing we can do for our bones is to exercise them, weight bearing exercise. It’s basically use it or lose it just like our muscles. I think people think of a skeleton as just like building material, concrete, but it’s a living, breathing organ. We see the skeleton because we see it all dried up but it is living tissue. It bleeds. It grows. It’s constantly moving and molding and reshaping itself. It’s the reason why broken bones can heal because it’s vibrantly live tissue. And every time one is out walking or jogging or jumping or aerobics or anything and you put pressure on your skeleton it sends these little jolts of electricity which keep it healthy just like we need to keep our muscles healthy by doing some weight-bearing exercise, same thing happens with our bones. The most important thing we can do is to exercise them. So the current recommendation of the Institute of Medicine is an hour of exercise every single day, seven days a week. And for those who think, oh my God an hour of exercise every day? Think about how we evolved over millions of years, all we did was exercise all day long. And now we’re saying get one measly hour and people are like, that’s crazy. We were meant to move and we really need to. So that’s the number one recommendation so before I would let doctors put me on these Fosomax-type drugs, these anti-osteoporosis drugs, the most important thing to do in terms of bone health is to get out there and exercise although there are certainly dietary things one can do too to augment that.
Caryn Hartglass: The thing that is confusing to me is I know people that exercise quite a bit and eat well and yet they score miserably on the bone density tests and then the reverse is true where people who are a little overweight, don’t exercise and score very well on the bone density test.
Michael Greger: One of the advantages surprisingly of obesity is that even just sitting around, people who are fat, exercise their bones. Their bones have to hold up all that weight and so actually being skinny, being slim, is a risk factor for osteoporosis because you’re just not putting much pressure on your bones. It’s like when you’re in space and astronauts lose bone density, bone mass, because they’re so light, they don’t have the gravity. Similarly, skinny people walking around they don’t have the gravity pulling them down. If someone is fat just getting up to get the remote control, all of a sudden they exercise their bones. That’s why people with high body mass indexes can actually have healthier bones. It’s the slimmest women who may be at most risk for osteoporosis. It’s very important for them to make up for the fact that they’re lighter by getting out there and moving.
Caryn Hartglass: Little, slim women like me.
Michael Greger: Exactly, you gotta move it!
Caryn Hartglass: One of the things I like to do, living in New York City without a car, is try to simulate what life was like back in the jungle. I schlep everything. I carry big bags of groceries and walk long distances, every day.
Michael Greger: Absolutely…and using stairs, these are little things that can significantly improve our health and not just our bone health but our cardiovascular health as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, Dr. Greger, we need to take a quick break but I have so many more things to ask you, will you stay with us?
Michael Greger: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. We will be right back.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartlgass and you are listening to It’s All About Food. I am here with Dr. Michael Greger who is just a walking encyclopedia when it comes to nutrition facts. Just ask him anything, he knows it. Isn’t that true?
Michael Greger: I wish it were. If it were, I wouldn’t have to keep doing all this research!
Caryn Hartglass: Where do you find all that information?
Michael Greger: I am privileged to be biking distance from the National Library of Medicine here in the nation’s capital. So I’m able to have access to perhaps one of the best medical libraries in the world. So I just read through every issue of every English language nutrition journal in the world so you don’t have to.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you use the internet or are you physically touching some of these?
Michael Greger: Well I physically have to go there just because not all journals yet are open access, meaning free and available publicly online. There are a number of wonderful new nutrition journals that are going online for free. Although some of the older ones like the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, probably the most prestigious nutrition journal, still requires hundreds of dollars a subscription but thankfully our taxpayer money is going to some good use and I’m able to have access to all of these.
Caryn Hartglass: That is very good news indeed. OK, what’s going on at the humane society these days?
Michael Greger: We just had a case before the Supreme Court last week. After our investigation of this dairy cow slaughter plant in California led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history—this hundred and forty three million pounds of beef recalled because they were taking downer cows and dragging them into the federal school lunch program.
Caryn Hartglass: Isn’t that what we always do with food that we don’t like—give it to our children?
Michael Greger: That’s what we did because they buy the cheapest meat. So California, thanks to our investigation, passed a law saying no downer animals can enter the food supply and the National Meat Association was none too pleased by that law wanting to squeeze every last cent of profit from these downed, disabled, sick animals. They challenged the law and it actually went all the way to the Supreme Court. They were demanding that they be able to slaughter any animal, even animals that can’t necessarily walk to slaughter. They have to be tormented to their feet or dragged with chains. The opening oral arguments were made by California’s Attorney General trying to defend the California law versus the National Meat Association along with the National Pork Producers Association—not just downed cows but downed pigs is a big problem for industry. Of course it’s a big problem for the pigs, too. A problem for public health if these animals make it into the food supply. The Supreme Court has until June basically to offer an opinion, although it’s not looking good.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh no.
Michael Greger: Because there’s an exemption clause with the National Meat Inspection Act which came out after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle about a hundred years ago, hasn’t changed since, basically saying that the federal law should pre-empt any state law. So different states couldn’t have different food safety regulations.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Michael Greger: So there should be one over all of them and the federal law doesn’t exclude downed pigs from the food supply so how can California go beyond the federal law, they shouldn’t be able to do that according to the National Meat Association and it’s true the law does have this pre-emption clause saying that states don’t have the right to pass their own stronger regulations. So as much as the justices may not want to be feeding their kids downed animal meat I’m afraid it may take legislative action. We may have to actually pass a law through Congress saying that downed animals too sick or crippled to walk should be excluded from the food supply.
Caryn Hartglass: Is this just a humane issue or is there a health issue eating animals like this?
Michael Greger: It was brought primarily as a humane issue but it does have public health and food safety implications. These animals, for example downed cows, three times more e coli, O157:H7 the kind of Jack in the Box e coli, potentially deadly e coli, three times more in the downed cows. Of course it could be a sign of mad cow disease though that’s exceedingly rare. Downed pigs–thirteen times more likely to be contaminated with salmonella. Even if the pig is downed because of a broken leg, well then they’re just injured the reason they can’t walk is because they have a broken leg, it’s obvious they’re still fine. The fact that they have the broken leg, are on the ground, need to dragged with chains, means they have more fecal contamination of their hide, of their skin, more manure on their skin that can cause contamination in the processing plant from the skin into the meat. So regardless of why the animal is down, wallowing in the manure, these animals should not be processed for human consumption.
Caryn Hartglass: I read Upton Sinclair’s book maybe last year. I had wanted…it had been on my list for decades and I finally got around to it. I can’t say that I’m glad that I read it because it’s extremely depressing. But what’s even more depressing is it’s almost a hundred years later and I can’t say that things have improved, certainly not for the animals.
Michael Greger: There’s certainly still lots of problems but that’s why there are organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and others that are working hard for everything…
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Michael Greger: …for the animals, for public health, for environmental implications of our diet and ….
Caryn Hartglass: We’d certainly like to see something like this pass so that downer animals aren’t included in the food supply but even if it was passed, how are they enforced? Because there are a number of regulations already that aren’t even enforced on a regular basis.
Michael Greger: No, that’s very true. In fact the General Accounting Office recently basically lambasted the USDA’s inspection service for allowing these drug residues in the meat. We have laws on the books saying that you have to withdraw certain antibiotics, certain drugs that can cause adverse reactions in people who are allergic, for other reasons, toxic levels of metals, all sorts of things. There are very specific withdrawal times for these drugs but when you actually test the meat you find these drug residues widely dispersed. The USDA is not recalling this meat even when they find the residues and so you’re right. But look until we even have laws on the books, that’s the starting point and then when our investigators or other investigators find a problem then they can actually take action over it. Right now if we go into a slaughter plant and see them dragging downed pigs to slaughter, there’s no law that says you can’t do that. But if there was a law at least they could be prosecuted. At least we could put an end to it on a case by case basis, but you’re right, there really do need to be a kind of wide ranging changes and unfortunately we’re not seeing that with the current administration.
Caryn Hartglass: So just don’t eat it…don’t eat meat…don’t eat meat.
Michael Greger: Regardless of what people choose to eat, these kind of factory farm practices can have implications regardless of what you eat. For example, half of downed pigs in this country have active viremia with swine flu.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m glad you brought that up. I was just going to talk about that.
Michael Greger: So these are actively infected—half of pigs that are downed, these so called fatigued pigs. The 2009 swine flu pandemic killed ten thousand Americans and arose three quarters of that virus, primary ancestor of that virus, came from this triple hybrid mutant virus that emerged about twenty years ago in Samson County, North Carolina, from these intensive confinement situations and went on and now thousands of people are dead…it doesn’t matter what you were eating.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Michael Greger: These factory farming practices can infect people regardless—the manure can get on the broccoli.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. All those innocent vegetables get …
Michael Greger: Regardless of what we eat, we all need to advocate for a healthier food system.
Caryn Hartglass: So the winter’s coming what do we do about the flu and do we have anything to worry about?
Michael Greger: So far, no. There hasn’t been any concerning new viruses of course that can change. That’s the problem of influenza. Over the last thirty years now there’s been kind of a snowflake to an avalanche in terms of new pig and chicken viruses emerging because of the intensification of production around the world. When you confine tens of thousands of animals, beak to beak, snout to snout, on top of their own waste in these filthy unhygienic conditions, it’s a breeding ground, a kind of perfect storm environment for the emergence of these new highly-pathogenic, highly-disease causing viruses some of which can attain the ability of jumping to humans and then transmitting human to human and thereby triggering a new pandemic. That’s what we’re most concerned about. So we really need to give these animals a little breathing space and really change the way we’re raising animals the world over, not just here in the United States.
Caryn Hartglass: Unfortunately it’s growing at alarming rates in China and India and other third world countries.
Michael Greger: That’s true and in part is a reflection of us role modeling this Western diet. So we say well what can we do here to change what they’re now eating in India. Well look, we can change our eating habits and maybe that will have this kind of cultural role modeling affect as well. India, I think, is one of the saddest stories where traditionally at least 40% of the population has been vegetarian including–eggs were considered not vegetarian—now egg consumption is going up, we’re seeing diabetes rates sky rocket and we’re really seeing them Westernize their diet. That’s just going to be devastating to the country. Imagine our healthcare costs translated to China or translated to India. It’s a tough situation. But we have the cure.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right we have it.
Michael Greger: The cure. We can prevent these diseases. We can stop these diseases in their tracks and we can reverse these diseases. But there isn’t strong financial interest that are going to get this information out to the public. That’s why it really has to be grassroots with great books like the China Study or Dr. Esselstyn’s work. We really have to teach each other to get this information out there. We don’t have the ten million dollar a day advertising budget that McDonald’s has.
Caryn Hartglass: Do I need to get a flu shot?
Michael Greger: The recommendation as to whether or not to get a flu shot depends on..
Caryn Hartglass: I’m not getting one….
Michael Greger: …on pre-existing medical condition. But I would encourage people with respiratory ailments, like COPD, emphysema and so on, for which a bout of the flu could be potentially fatal that even though the current seasonal flu vaccine is not great. It probably only reduces your chances about 50%, you still get the flu, but for people who getting the flu could be potentially devastating, potentially serious, I would encourage them to get the flu shot as well as healthcare practitioners because we don’t want to kill our patients any more than I already do.
Caryn Hartglass: Are we getting any more savvy nutritionally especially when it comes to vegetarian diets? A lot of us know, the favorite questions are, where do you get your protein, where do you get your calcium? Are there more questions in the picture or are those two still like the top two most popular questions?
Michael Greger: Well, what do I get? I get more of some of the more specialized questions just because of what I do. Most people off the street don’t get the “what’s the best type of mushroom again?” question.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Michael Greger: I think there’s certainly more wide-spread acceptance, for example the flexitarianism, these Meatless Mondays campaigns. The American Meat Institute did a survey and they claim that 20% of those that know about Meatless Mondays, which is about half the population, so 10% of the U.S. population is “practicing” Meatless Mondays, for whatever that means. Whether or not they’re just reducing their meat consumption on Mondays or completely eliminating it. That’s one-seventh fewer, if one cares about animals, that’s billions of animals saved if people are not eating meat one day a week. That’s 15% less saturated fat intake in terms of public health implications for heart disease and some of these other conditions. So something like that, these things are really catching on in a real wide, country-wide, level that you really hadn’t seen before so I think there’s more general acceptance. So I think there’s hope for the future.
Caryn Hartglass: There is hope. Say hallelujah. There are certainly…veganism is becoming more mainstream, more people are familiar with the term. We hear about it on television, on Dr. Oz and the Doctors and more talk shows mention it. It may not be in the most positive light but it’s getting out there and that’s good but there are many different shades of vegan diets today and some doctors and nutritionists are really passionate about their own and others are passionate about theirs. And they’re not all the same. Some are promoting no oil, some oil, some fats, no fats, some salt, no salt. Where do we go?
Michael Greger: As always we go to the science. We stick to the science. …It’s not perfect. You have to find out who’s funding various studies but that’s the best we have in terms of determining these kind of questions about what we should be eating. The science is pretty clear that one should try to eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet with as many of dark green leafy vegetables as they possibly can eat, berries every day, green tea would be a good idea every day for most people, B12-fortified whole foods, plant-based diet including nuts and seeds—high fat whole plant foods are remarkably healthy…
Caryn Hartglass: …and yummy.
Michael Greger: …and yummy. So the longest running study on vegetarians in human history, for example, the California Seventh Day Adventist Study found that those eating just an ounce of nuts three times a week or more could cut their risk of heart disease in half. Some of these people were already healthy, alright, they’re vegetarians. But those vegetarians who were eating nuts were even healthier, had lower heart disease rates and significantly lower. So it’s data like that that suggest that those people who tell people to stay away from whole foods sources of fat haven’t been biking to the National Library of Medicine as often as they should.
Michael Greger: Thanksgiving is coming up, one of my favorite holidays. Do you know what you’re going to be having for Thanksgiving this year?
Michael Greger: Oh absolutely. We’re blessed to have the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary here in D.C. Animal friendly folks go and have Thanksgiving with the turkeys. So feed pumpkins to the pigs who go crazy. So there’s always a big potluck every year. So we’re looking forward to it. But on my own I’m a big smoothie fan so I do my Thanksgiving pumpkin smoothies with frozen cranberries and lots of cloves and cinnamon and nutmeg and we have these wonderful farmer’s markets where we get these little sugar pumpkins….and yum.
Caryn Hartglass: Yum, really. That sounds very good. I’ve got to try it…pumpkin smoothie.
Michael Greger: Pumpkin smoothie…they’re fantastic. They are just so thick and luxurious.
Caryn Hartglass: Are you using fresh pumpkin or are you using canned?
Michael Greger: OK, you can be a slacker and get the canned pumpkin but then you don’t get to enjoy the post-smoothie roasted seed snack.
Caryn Hartglass: Love the seeds!
Michael Greger: Right, great source of zinc and other wonderful minerals, probably one of the healthiest seeds.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve been having a great time with pumpkin seeds. Any new recipes that have come your way? I know for awhile you were always doing something new.
Michael Greger: I’m always trying to tweak things, you know. I come back from the library and my whole family is all, “what do we have to eat now?” So it’s like wait a second why is there parsley all over everything all of a sudden? Because I try to live what I see at least when I’m not traveling and stuck in Arkansas or somewhere and living off Taco Bell burritos or something.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh no!
Michael Greger: I know, it’s very sad. But I haven’t been doing much traveling. This website has taken over my life so much that I’ve had to pull back from my speaking so I am able to eat healthy. Probably my latest favorite snack and again, ‘tis the season, the date harvest is in in California. So I’m a big fan of…so people who either don’t like dates or haven’t tried dates, they don’t realize these old dried desiccated…that there are literally thousands of varieties of dates. Some just taste like caramel candy. So I encourage people to…this can be as easy as going to a local Middle Eastern or Indian spice store and taking a sampling of some of the dates there. People would be amazed. There’s something called a peanut butter date, actually tastes like peanut butter.
Caryn Hartglass: No!
Michael Greger: There’s khudry dates that taste like butterscotch. So I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting. So basically I get some good local organic apples, cut them up and eat them with the dates for kind of a caramel apple sensation from my youth. And that’s been my latest craze. You know, ‘tis the season and mango season is over so I have to eat something.
Caryn Hartglass: Mango season where? Certainly not where you are.
Michael Greger: Mango season anywhere essentially now. So the Mexican mango season is over so that’s where most mangos come from here in North America so we have to wait until next March or April before good mangos come rolling back.
Caryn Hartglass: You know you just mentioned when you were traveling and not finding much food to eat, I keep hearing about different areas and neighborhoods and places where people just don’t have access to healthy food. What do we do about that?
Michael Greger: So they get frozen fruits and vegetables. You look in my freezer it’s half frozen greens and half frozen berries. In many cases frozen fruits and vegetables can even be healthier than what you find on store shelves because they’ve been sitting on shelves, sitting on a ship for a week, it’s been sitting there exposed to air, exposed to light, whereas fruits and vegetables frozen maybe frozen the day they’re picked to retain more nutrition. These are the kinds of things they last well. So it’s no excuse not to eat healthy even in areas where you may not be able to find the best fresh produce.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s really good to know because all the supermarkets have frozen vegetables.
Michael Greger: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Pretty basic ones. Very, very good.
Michael Greger: Cans of beans, you can get low-sodium beans. Basically they’ll last forever. You can get canned processed tomato products. With just those few things you can make all sorts of variety of kind of ethnic dishes whether Italian or Mexican, Indian, just by kind of switching up the spices but based around the same kind of things. Quick cooking grains, whole grain pastas or buckwheat or anything and you can make these simple meals, don’t have to go shopping all the time with non-perishable and healthy items.
Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned the spices and you can flavor up foods very differently but herbs and spices don’t just offer up good flavor and variety. They’ve got some good magic in them too.
Michael Greger: Oh they do. In fact, in terms of by weight probably the most anti-oxidant packed foods on the planet are the herbs and spices. In fact many of the phytonutrients of the flavor components are actually the same phytonutrients, the disease-prevention treatment benefits so we should not just colorful foods but we should eat flavorful foods as well for optimum health.
Caryn Hartglass: How lovely is that? The foods that taste the best are the best for us.
Michael Greger: That is true.
Caryn Hartglass: If you have a clean tongue that you can taste.
Michael Greger: The industry found a way to say oh you want brilliantly colored here’s some Fruit Loops, right? As a way of fooling our eye or biological brain that looks for those brightly colored, because the only things that are naturally brightly colored are all these really lovely things, the berries and the fruits but now they can kind of subvert those tastes, right.
Caryn Hartglass: Has there been anything in the news lately that’s been just totally off-base in terms of health? We’re always hearing sound bites.
Michael Greger: Oh, every day. There’s just so much bad stuff out there. Some of it is just poorly reported, doesn’t adequately reflect what the science says, the science is poorly done, either on purpose or not, depending on the funders. It just comes out with counter-intuitive or just plain wrong findings. Kind of the biggest thing to come out this week was the recommendation from our federal government as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics for our children to start getting their cholesterol tested at age 9 to 11. Used to be we wouldn’t start testing people routinely until their 30s. There’s been kind of a big backlash. The National Food Committee saying how dare you test kids that early. You can imagine the drug companies just salivating at the thought of getting people hooked on statins decades earlier.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh gosh. Why don’t we hear from our government that ok testing is a good thing but why can’t they have our children stop eating cholesterol.
Michael Greger: That’s the thing. It’s not the testing that’s bad. Indeed the diets of our children are so bad we’re seeing these epidemics of childhood obesity. Now, we used to call it adult-onset diabetes. Now we call it Type 2 diabetes because it no longer just happens in adults any more. So yes, this is a problem and we shouldn’t just cover up the problem but the problem is if they test and they find it even though your cardiologist said fruits and vegetables was first on their list. It’s easier for the doctor to just write a prescription.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Michael Greger: Many of these statin drugs aren’t even approved for children that young.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s scary.
Michael Greger: It’s not the testing. I actually agree with the testing because we have such an epidemic we want to start as early as possible. You know these fatty streaks start very early, atherosclerosis and heart disease is a many decades disease process building up so yes we have to start early but with a healthy diet, not with drugs.
Caryn Hartglass: Amen. Thank you Dr. Michael Greger you are the best. Thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. Please check out nutritionfacts.org. You could spend a lifetime there.