Part I – Neal Barnard, Power Foods For The Brain
Neal Barnard, M.D., is the president and founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. His research has been published in Scientific American, the American Journal of Cardiology and other major journals. Dr. Barnard is the author of six previous books, including Foods that Fight Pain and Food for Life. A frequent lecturer appearing across the country and an adjunct professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine, he lives in Washington, D.C.
Part II – David Katz, Disease Proof
DAVID L. KATZ MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, is the founding (1998) director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. He received his BA from Dartmouth College in three years (1984; Magna Cum Laude); his MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (1988); and his MPH from the Yale University School of Public Health (1993). He is a two-time diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, a board-certified specialist in Preventive Medicine/Public Health, and a clinical instructor in medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.
Dr. Katz is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Childhood Obesity, President-Elect of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, founder and President of the non-profit Turn the Tide Foundation, and medical director for the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, CT. He is the principal inventor of the NuVal nutritional guidance system, currently in roughly 1700 US supermarkets in more than 30 states, coast to coast. He holds 5 U.S. patents on other inventions, with several patents currently pending.
Dr. Katz has published nearly 200 scientific articles and textbook chapters; innumerable blogs and columns; nearly 1,000 newspaper articles; and authored or co-authored 15 books to date, including multiple editions of textbooks in both Nutrition and Preventive Medicine.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass. Thank you for joining me today on It’s All About Food. Here we are. It’s October 22nd, 2013. It’s kind of a nice “Autumn in New York” kind of day. I just like breathing all that crisp, fresh air and thinking about all the wonderful fall foods that there are for us to enjoy, all those fall plant foods, right? OK. Today is a power-packed show. We’re going to be talking to some wonderful doctors. I want to get started because the information that we are going to hear about is so very important. My first guest is Dr. Neal Barnard. He is the president and founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. His research has been published in Scientific American, the American Journal of Cardiology, and other major journals. He is the author of six previous books, including Foods That Fight Pain, and Food for Life. A frequent lecturer appearing across the country, an adjunct professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine, he lives in Washington, DC. He has a wonderful new book out called Power Foods for the Brain and we’re going to be talking about that right now. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Dr. Barnard.
Neal Barnard: Hi, it’s great to be with you today.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. Thank you so much. Thank you for all the work you’ve been doing for decades now. You’ve really made a major contribution in making this world a better place. I can’t thank you enough for that.
Neal Barnard: That’s nice of you to say. We’re not done yet. There’s a lot more to do.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s so much work to do. And that’s why we need to keep our brains sharp.
Neal Barnard: That’s right, we do. And a lot of people, when they’re stacking up their breakfast, they don’t realize that it could affect not only how they feel during the day, you know that kind of brain fog that some people have, that could be affected by your food but also by the long-term risks like the poor memory that some folks get when they’re older or even something as serious as Alzheimer’s disease. Research has shown very strong links with what we eat and so I wrote Power Foods for the Brain to try to help people understand how that works and what the science is behind it.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, all diseases are unpleasant and scary. I think Alzheimer’s and dementia are probably the scariest, in my opinion, just because losing our minds, what else is there when we lose our minds? It’s so hard for our family and friends to cope with. It seems like, after reading your book, there’s a great deal of hope. Can we really avoid dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Neal Barnard: Yeah, I think we can to a very substantial degree. Just so that people are clear what the terms mean. Dementia means the loss of mental function; your memory’s not good, but it’s a generic term. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. There are other types. Like you could have a stroke, where part of the brain is destroyed and so your memory is poor for that reason, or Parkinson’s disease, or other conditions can cause poor memory. But the most common cause is Alzheimer’s. And, yes, there’s a lot that we can do about it. Researchers looked at what people eat and there are certain diet patterns that are linked with a higher risk and other dietary patterns that are linked with a dramatically lower risk. So that’s all we need to do is kind of plug that in, plus other parts of lifestyle like exercise plays a role as well.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m interested the more I read about Alzheimer’s is this thing with the plaque in the brain. We’re learning more about heart disease and diabetes and how plaque in the arteries can have such a detrimental effect but I’m not surprised that plaque in the brain as well can be caused by certain foods.
Neal Barnard: Yes. Now plaque is just a generic word. Your dentist might say that you have plaque on your teeth. It just means a collection of something and in your arteries there are what are called arteriosclerotic plaques. If you were to open a person’s coronary arteries and look inside, you would see them. They look a bit like chewing gum except they’re hard as a rock and that’s arteriosclerotic plaque. Inside the brain it’s different. These plaques, or collections, are microscopic little round blobs that look sort of like meatballs or balls of yarn and they are collections of protein that have developed in the brain but they are not normal and they shouldn’t be there. We now know a bit about how foods might cause them to collect.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, so let’s talk about a few of them: my favorite foods, meat and dairy. Not!
Neal Barnard: Right. Well, in Chicago a research study got started in 1993, 20 years ago. They tracked what people ate over time. Ten years later, in 2003, they published some astounding findings that people tended to tuck into bacon, cheese, the foods that are high in saturated fat, that seemed to be an issue. Saturated fat is solid fat. It’s mostly in…well, dairy products are the number one source: cheese, whole milk, and so forth. Meat is the second source, also eggs. The people who ate the most saturated fat had two to three times the risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to people who ate the least. Secondly, trans fats, which are the hardened oils that are used in donuts and sometimes fryer grease—shortening you could call it—the people who tended to eat that had probably three to five times the risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to people who ate the least. You put those two things together: the bad fats really increase risk. But then they looked further and found that there were certain things that reduce risk as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, I’m a vegan. I’ve been a vegan for 25 years. I encourage everyone to fall in love with plants but I’m continually hearing all different kinds of things. Many nutritionists and doctors recommend low-fat dairy. So would that be OK?
Neal Barnard: Well, it doesn’t have the saturated fat in it but if you skim the fat off of milk, the number one nutrient left in it is sugar. It’s lactose sugar. It’s the main ingredient that’s in skim milk, which is why the calorie of cow’s milk is very similar to a typical soda. It’s a different kind of sugar but it’s still there and it’s there to make the calf fat and to give energy to the growing calf but it’s not there for us adult humans. It’s not the point of it. We’re better off avoiding it.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, now some of the scary things that I read about. There are things that we thought were important nutrients, like iron, that are being added into our foods, like breakfast cereals, that aren’t good for us.
Neal Barnard: You do need a little bit of iron in your diet. There’s no question about that. You need it for healthy hemoglobin in your red blood cells that lets them carry oxygen. However, iron is a double-edged sword. If you don’t have enough, you’ll be anemic. If you have too much, you’re iron overloaded. In the brain, the iron appears to oxidize. It rusts, in essence. That causes the creation of free radicals that can damage the brain. Copper is very similar. You need copper for enzymes in the body but if you have too much, it oxidizes too. Think of a penny that as it gets older, it corrodes and turns dark. That oxidation process happens in your body too.
Caryn Hartglass: So we need a little but not too much.
Neal Barnard: Not too much. And it’s easy to get too much. If you grew up the way I did with a meaty kind of diet, that sort of environment is going to lead you to overdose unfortunately, and many people do. Let’s say…what are the sources of copper? Not just the copper pipes that you might have. Shellfish, like lobster, crab, shrimp are loaded with copper. And something like liver is high in both copper and iron and it really has levels that I would say are toxic.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember when I was a kid we always used to say that liver makes you live but I don’t think so.
Neal Barnard: No. Keep in mind what the job is of the liver. Your liver’s got a rough job. It’s there to clean toxins out of your blood. So if you’re eating a pig’s liver, a chicken’s liver, a cow’s liver…it’s basically like tearing open your air conditioner and eating its filter. That’s where all the junk is. So, no. Frankly, people shouldn’t be eating animal products in any way, shape, or form. We are not natural carnivores but those who do seem to relish these particularly unhealthy parts of the animal.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. There was something that I read about that I loved reading about that I didn’t know about and that is that I’ve read many times over the years about the different kinds of iron: plant iron, non-heme iron, and the animal iron—the iron we get from animal foods—and how they were different and how the plant-based one was some would say less absorbable but in your book I learned how that’s a good thing sometimes, that the plant-based iron sometimes really works with us.
Neal Barnard: Right. We’re designed for a plant-based diet. If you consume green, leafy vegetables, for example. Spinach or broccoli or any of the others, they have non-heme iron. That’s a special form that is more absorbable if you need it but less absorbable if you already have a lot of iron on board already. That’s your body’s homeostatic mechanism for maintaining iron balance. The iron that’s in meat is to a large degree heme iron and that defies your body’s ability to control it. People are not meat eaters by nature and if you eat meat, your risk of becoming iron overloaded is very high.
Caryn Hartglass: I mean, how lovely is that, about iron?
Neal Barnard: Well, the human body adapted to the plants that were around it and that’s why we can absorb iron from plant-based foods and we can keep it from being too much. That’s also why when you go in to the produce counter the red color of a tomato, the green color of greens, the orange color of carrots—that’s beta-carotene—what your retina can see is the nutrients in these foods at a great distance. You see the lycopene in the tomato and it registers in the retina as bright red. The anthocyanides, which are the antioxidants in blueberries and grapes, have registered in your brain as deep, purple-colored. Our bodies are designed to seek out and take advantage of the nutrients in plant foods. We just take that for granted. Aren’t tomatoes pretty? They’re not just pretty; that’s the lycopene—it’s an antioxidant—screaming out at you to eat it so we have adapted these abilities to detect delicious, healthful foods and also to be repelled by other things. Fish doesn’t smell so hot. If you visit the meat counter, no one’s going to say, “What a lovely aroma.” It stinks and that is nature trying to tell you to get away from those foods.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, I just got a question from a listener and I’m going to ask you. She writes, “My dad was a slim, healthy eater all his life. He got plenty of omega-3s, ate mostly fruits and vegetables, especially blueberries, drank red wine, ran marathons well into his late 70s, was a scholar, New York Times crossword puzzler, an active lawyer until Alzheimer’s robbed him of his skills around the same time he died at 84, five years after his diagnosis. His mother and father had it. A younger sister also had it. She’s asking, so if they all had it, why should she think that she could avoid it?
Neal Barnard: OK. Well, first of all, that’s a terrific question but I’m very, very sorry for your loss. It’s a horrible thing to see a family member start to get this condition where everything that ever mattered to them is ripped away bit by bit. When you see this happen to a family member, you would trade it for just any other disease than Alzheimer’s. However, there is a gene called the atho e epsilon 4 allele. If you’ve got it from one parent, your risk of Alzheimer’s is tripled. If you’ve got it from both parents, the risk is multiplied by a factor of ten to fifteen. Some people have considered that a death sentence. It is not. We have learned what that gene does. What the gene does is it does not cause Alzheimer’s. What it does is it causes a protein to be formed in the body, a carrying protein. It escorts cholesterol from place to place. If people avoid animal products and if they’re not making much cholesterol and they’re not eating cholesterol, they’re not eating the saturated fats or the trans fats at all, their risk of memory problems later in life plummets dramatically. There are genes for lung cancer but if you don’t smoke, you may never get it. We should all assume that we’re at risk, whatever your genes may be. What we need to do is get the animal products out of our diet completely. You already knew you wanted to do that for your heart, and for your waistline, and frankly for the animal’s benefit and for the earth. There’s every single reason to build your diet from grains and beans and vegetables and fruits. But Alzheimer’s is the latest reason for that. Researchers in Finland looked at people who at age 50 were all reasonably healthy. Those who avoided saturated fat had an 80% reduction of memory problems later in life even when they had a gene. It’s really…it is a reason not to fool around with and to make a big change in your diet in the same ways a smoker does not fool around. You don’t sort of cut down. You throw the cigarettes away. If you’re a meat eater and you eat animal products, get away from them. A healthy diet is four groups: vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruits. And take vitamin B12, which your brain needs. If you do those things, those four food groups and add B12 supplements, you’ve got 98% of it licked.
Caryn Hartglass: I love the way MyPlate looks a lot like PCRM’s plate. Did you have some secret representative in the government pushing that?
Neal Barnard: In 2009, PCRM, my group, the Physician’s Committee, went to the USDA and we said the pyramid is a nice shape but nobody eats from a pyramid. We need to be more literal and make a plate. So we sent them what we called the PowerPlate. There’s a plate divided into four quadrants. We sent an official petition to the Department of Agriculture saying, “Please adopt this.” Two years later, after not having heard back from them, they issued this thing they called MyPlate, which is four quadrants. I’m not taking credit for it but it looks remarkably similar to what we sent.
Caryn Hartglass: It sure does, only yours is better.
Neal Barnard: Well, thank you. I agree.
Caryn Hartglass: We don’t need that little extra circle on the outside, the milk products.
Neal Barnard: We did not include dairy and they put in a little extra circle to say, “Here’s your glass of milk.” But you really can make a case that milk really isn’t in any way necessary. It’s the number one source of saturated fat. People who avoid milk have every bit as strong of bones as people who consume milk.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, one more food question and that is about fish because a lot of people when they are diagnosed with some sort of dementia, their doctors say they need to eat fish.
Neal Barnard: Right. Well, fish do have omega-3 fatty acids. Those are the good fats. That’s true. Having said that, 70-85% of the fat in fish is not omega-3. It’s a mixture of saturated fat and various forms of unsaturated fat. Fish also have a lot of contaminants in them. Tuna have a lot of mercury in them. There are others of course. I already mentioned the problems with shellfish. But if you’re eating fish muscle, which is what you’re eating, it’s a lot more like cow muscle that it is like broccoli. It’s just not health food. We recommend if somebody wants to have good fat, there are traces of good fats in green, leafy vegetables, beans. If you want to have a little bit more, you’ll find them in walnuts, some soy products. If you wanted to go crazy, you could get exactly fish oil but from plant-based sources. At any health food store they’ll sell you DHA capsules. I don’t think anyone really needs it but if you wanted them, it’s there and in a much cleaner form than in fish.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, very good. So that’s the food portion but there’s a lot more that we can do to take care of our brains. You talk about sleep and what happens when we’re sleeping.
Neal Barnard: It’s fascinating. You know, all day long you have experiences. You learn things. You have interactions. And sleep…why do we sleep? Well, the brain’s got to file things at some point. You had all these experiences. They’re piling up on your desk like so many file folders. When you go to sleep, your brain can make sense of things and sort of reset itself and file away your memories of the day so you can find them later, speaking metaphorically. The first half of the night, the brain emits what are called slow-wave sleep brain waves, which we can measure with an EEG. That’s when we’re remembering and integrating memories. The second half of the night is REM sleep—rapid eye movement—when you’re dreaming. That’s when the brain is integrating emotion. So if you’re up all night, your memory will be poor but your emotional control will be poor too. You’ll be grumpy or giddy or switch back and forth between the two. So sleep is important. I encourage everyone to knock off at 10:00 and you’ll feel a whole lot better the next day.
Caryn Hartglass: I became a vegan a long time ago because I didn’t want to kill animals. I think we can learn so much from animals. I really enjoyed the story where you talked about different mental exercises we can do and how I think it was a chimp or something that was better at doing this one particular thing than humans.
Neal Barnard: Yeah. This is in a lab in Kyoto, Japan, where a chimpanzee…chimpanzees have an extremely remarkable memory capacity, particularly for immediate memory. The way this test works is they have a TV screen. The chimp sits on a stool in front of a screen. The numbers are from 1 to 10 that appear but they just flash there for a second and then they disappear and they’re replaced by blank squares and your job is to touch the squares in numerical order but the numbers are gone and so it’s just blank squares. Humans are OK. You flash the numbers from 1 to 10 and the numbers disappear and the squares are there. When the numbers disappear, you might remember the order they were in. Well, chimps can do that like crazy and a juvenile chimp can beat not only all the graduate students in the lab but the world’s memory expert, a man from England who could memorize a pack of cards in 30 seconds, came to compete with a juvenile chimp and the chimp just wiped the floor with him.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s crazy and we can learn so much from these animals that many we’re not treating very nicely.
Neal Barnard: Well, I have to say that the more we realize that animals deserve our respect but we’re also very different from them in many ways. We need to leave them alone. Leave them off our plate, leave them out of the laboratories. We can study what human beings need. In my research work here at the Physician’s Committee, we do a lot of work. We study human beings in ethical ways. We obviously are not going to be using animals in what we do. I think the more we focus on human beings the better off we’re going to be.
Caryn Hartglass: We have a lot to learn about ourselves. And what about exercise? That’s important too?
Neal Barnard: Yeah. Interesting study at the University of Illinois. They brought in a group of people up in years and everyone had some memory issues. What they asked them to do was just to lace up their sneakers and go for a brisk walk 3 times a week, starting out with a 10-minute walk 3 times a week and the next week a 15-minute walk, then the next week 20 and then 25. They got them up to a 40-minute walk three times a week and what they showed was that it actually reversed age-related brain shrinkage, particularly for the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is the seat of memory. It also increased the size of the hippocampus but it also increased memory in organized structured tests of memory. Why would it work? The reason it works, we believe, is because you’re oxygenating the brain. You’re getting nutrients to the brain in a way that you weren’t doing before. Most people are sedentary and are not oxygenating their brain very well and we pay a price for it.
Caryn Hartglass: Basically we just have to eat some simple plant foods, get some exercise, and life’s pretty good.
Neal Barnard: Yeah. It really is. I really encourage to people to not fool around, to have fun with it. Go in a big way. At PCRM we have a Kickstart program where for 21 days, you’re going to do it all vegan all the time and we give you online support for free to do it. Every day you get an e-mail from Alicia Silverstone or another celebrity and they say, “Hey, here’s another menu for the day. Here’s some recipes. Here’s a cooking video you might like to watch.” People really enjoy it. We have it in English, in Spanish, in Mandarin, Japanese also. We have one for people from India. Hundreds of thousands of people have done it. It’s good for your heart and it’s good for your waistline but it’s good for your brain too.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, thank you Dr. Barnard for writing this book. Is there anything else you want to tell us about it or what PCRM is up to these days?
Neal Barnard: Well, I hope people go to our site, pcrm.org. It’s the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, pcrm.org. I hope you’ll join us. I hope people will try this, but I have to also just say on a personal level if I could turn back time and get my own father and my own mother and my grandparents on a healthy plant-based diet instead of the meaty diets that they grew up on, I think we could have reversed the aging that robbed them of so many years. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to live forever. But why age the brain prematurely? Why develop Alzheimer’s if you don’t have to? A generation ago we thought that heart attacks were just a part of getting older. Well, we now know that’s it’s a disease that we can prevent and reverse. Alzheimer’s should be thought of as a target for prevention. Now’s the time to put it to work.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. We should all live long, healthy, quality lives. After about 120 or 130 or 150, who knows? We just fall asleep and move on.
Neal Barnard: Well, I’m going to die in a flaming inferno in the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at 100 or 150 years old. I’m going to overcook the corner and that’ll be it.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well, see you then. Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food, Dr. Barnard. Thanks for writing Power Foods for the Brain. I really enjoyed reading it.
Neal Barnard: Thank you. It’s been great to talk with you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well, that was Dr. Barnard. I wanted to mention before we take a break some things that are going on in my town in New York City. So you may be familiar with Victoria Moran. I’ve had her on the program. She’s a wonderful author. She’s recently written Main Street Vegan and Charmed Life and a whole bunch of other books. She’ll be speaking at the 92nd Street Y on October 29th, next week. You can find out more at 92ndY.org. It’s $22 and up and you’ll learn all you need to know to get from here to green, glowing, and glorious in no time. So if you need some help or want to bring someone you love to get that quick kickstart in person that might be a good event to go to. And then, another one of my wonderful friends, Fran Costigan, she’s been on the show and she’ll be on November 5th. On Monday, November 4th, she’ll be at Candle Café West, another fabulous restaurant in New York City, actually very close to the Progressive Radio Network studio. She willl be book signing for 4 to 6:30 PM on Monday, November 4th, the day before she’s on my program. So there you have it. Alright, why don’t we take a quick little break? And you can always send me an e-mail with a question now or later at email@example.com. Let’s take a break. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed 1/11/2014 by Jennie Steinhagen
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody we’re back, I’m Caryn Hartglass, your listening to Its All About Food and we have another half hour about talking about my favorite subject “food” I love food and I just don’t love it because I enjoy eating food, I love what good it can do for it. If we chose the right foods now food can be good or it can be bad and we’re learning more and more about which foods are health promoting and which foods can do a little damage. So the goal as we were talking about in the last half hour is to live a long quality life, we’re all going to move on at some point, my father likes to say, nobody gets out this world alive and that’s true but we should be living joyfully, we should be feeling good, we should be able to do as much as we want until maybe 150 years later when we get a little tired and we can move on. Okay so let’s talk about doing that some more with powerful foods and I’m going to bring on my second guest Dr. David Katz. He’s the founding Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, His MD from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his MPH from Yale University School of Public Health. He’s a two-time diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine, Board Certified Specialist of Preventive Medicine of Public Health and a Clinical Instructor in Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and so much more. You can go to Responsibility and Living.com and read more of all the wonderful things that Dr. David Katz has been up to, but right now we’re going to be talking about his new book Disease Proof, Welcome to It’s All About Food, Dr. Katz.
Dr. Katz: Thank you Caryn, Good to be with you.
Caryn: I’m sure you don’t remember this but a few years back I was on the Doctor Oz show, it was one of these anti-cancer prevention shows and I told my story and then you came on and were pointing out all the colorful and wonderful plant food and what to eat and that’s when I first learned about you.
Dr. Katz: Very nice.
Caryn: Live and in person. Let’s talk about your book, Disease proof, now my first question for you is how did you get so smart and make the connection between health and food because most doctors who were trained about the time you were really haven’t gotten that message.
Dr. Katz: They sort have dropped that ball. That’s really too bad. The title Disease Proof really tells the story we can, to a remarkable degree, use food as medicine, use lifestyle as medicine and the evidence is incontrovertible that we could cut our life time risk of all major chronic disease, heart stroke, cancer, stroke, diabetes, dementia by a staggering 80%. There’s nothing in all of biomedical advance to reveal that. There’s never been a noble prize for anything that could rival that potential. That’s why I’m on that space; actually I naturally gravitate toward the big picture when I was training in medicine taking care of really sick people in the hospital. I couldn’t help but notice how often hospital beds were filled with desperately sick and very unhappy people who never needed to get that sick in the first place. I did a subsequent residency in preventive medicine and focusing on disease prevention. If you’re paying attention it isn’t long before you fall in love with the transformative power of lifestyle as medicine and then the issue becomes, as you really work in that space, year after year after year. The problem isn’t that we don’t know what, we sure know what the medicine is; the trouble is we don’t seem to know how. We don’t seem how to get the medicine to go down. That’s what disease proof is about. It’s really a book about how.
Caryn: Well that’s what I love about it and I read a lot of books, a lot of diet books, and a lot of books about health. I think my favorite piece is what you call skill power.
Dr. Katz: I think it’s a critical missing piece of the puzzle, Caryn, so than you for noting that. We talk a lot about will power and clearly to get any job done, you have to care and we can call that will power. Think of something as commonplace and mundane as riding a bicycle. You can’t ride a bicycle just with will power. You have to learn how to ride a bicycle and generally somebody who knows how to ride a bicycle teaches you and once you know how, you know how forever. There’s just all sorts of things, in life, that we get started because we care and then we learn how and that’s really what skill power is. In the modern world eating well is not the path of least resistance, and if you want to get there from here you need the skill set to be able to identify more nutritious foods. Identify more nutritious food that doesn’t cost more. Identify opportunities to prepare nutritious food that are convenient and efficient and family friendly. The opportunity to love food that loves you back not trade off good taste for good health. All of this is skill dependent. Those skills can be taught. They can be learned and they can be applied but you know what Caryn, and the same is true of the physical activities types. This is why I need you and I appreciate you recognizing the importance of that because essentially I’m bringing my reader a whole different scenario. The easy way to get on the bestseller list is to promise the moon and stars, there’s a magical formula just do this.
Caryn: There’s one on the best sellers list right now that does that.
Dr. Katz: Exactly right, and there’s always is, I’m saying haven’t we had enough? I mean, if any fad diet was ever going to work wouldn’t we had already been there? The issue is this, false promises prove false. They just don’t stand up overtime. I want to enter into a contract with you. I have the skill set for healthy living. I’m a beneficiary of it every day. My wife is, my five children are. It’s real. It’s sustainable. It’s not just about losing weight it’s about finding help. It’s not a flash in the pan, but there is no magic. I can teach it. You’ve got to learn it. You’ve got to apply it. I don’t have any pixie dust. My hope is readers are ready for that. It’s truly empowering. It’s transformational but I’m telling my readers. I can’t sprout wings and fly you there. You actually have to sign up and do the job of learning the skill set. It’s worth it.
Caryn: I’m looking at the cover of your book, Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well, the skills you need to slash your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more by 80%. It doesn’t mention weight loss and I was curious about that because a lot of publishers want you to put weight loss on the cover because that’s what people want to grab.
Dr. Katz: It is about weight loss.
Caryn: It is about weight loss.
Dr. Katz: Frankly, obesity is the canary in the coalmine of chronic disease. When you consider the burden of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, dementia in our society, you’re not going to fix that unless you fix obesity. So the book is absolutely about weight loss but that’s an easy sale, lose 30 pounds in 27 minutes. Enough of that nonsense. I’m really interested in finding health. Now it turns out many people need to lose weight to find health but it’s part of the bigger story. The prize isn’t a number on the scale. The prize is vitality. The prize is a better life. More years in life, yes. More life than years and the other problem with weight loss the way we do it in our culture is it’s a go at it alone thing. Parents go on diets and leave their kids behind. Disease proofing, finding health is something you absolutely want to pay forward to everybody you love. It’s one of those beautiful things were the more you share it the better you get at it because you support one another. In fact, yes Disease Proof is about losing weight if that’s what you need to do. It’s about more than that. It’s about the prize. A life well lived. A life vital, energy to do all the things you love to do. There’s no gimmickry even on the cover, you say, there’s no attempt to say you can lose a whole bunch of weight. Enough! It really is time for us to recognize the basic functional unit of our lives as a family, the people that we care about. If we need to lose weight, let’s do it with them. Let’s not leave everybody behind. Let’s find health together and share it and share the joy of it. Life is better when you’re healthy. Healthy people have more fun. I believe everybody can get there, but I believe most people lack the skills in the modern world. That’s the reader part of the contract. To read the book, learn the skills, apply the skills and accept going in that there will be no magic wand or pixie dust involved.
Caryn: I like to say you don’t know how good you can feel. You just don’t know how good you can feel until you’re on a healthier diet. Sometimes that’s a hard sell, people don’t know how good they can feel and they think you’re blowing air.
Dr. Katz: Yes. It’s amazing how good you can feel. There’s some fairly obvious sort of rock back on your heels opportunities. One of the things I point out. I always as a doctor obviously, I seen, over the years, patients with every imaginable condition and many confined to wheelchairs for various reasons. I think there is a basic human response to see somebody whose dynamism, whose vitality is limited. If we see somebody in a wheelchair and we feel sorry for them. We hope it’s temporary, but whether temporary, what happened? What’s wrong? And that’s too bad. Yet most of us, with a perfectly serviceable pair of legs don’t do very much with them. We’re constantly looking for an opportunity to avoid indulging our native animal vitality. I agree with you completely. Optimal food is not just food that’s good for you. It’s food that’s good. This is about loving food that loves you back. That’s really the emphasis … there should not be a choice between the joy of good food and the joy of good health, it should come together. Physical activity is the same. If you don’t like spandex or pumping iron… Move any way that floats your boat. You’re actually right, Caryn, you can’t imagine how good you’ll feel when you cultivate vitality and set it free. Life is better. There’s no question about it. Living is the privilege of that. You want to share it. You look around… I’m a fifty-year-old guy with five kids and a desk job but I weigh what I weighed when I graduated high school. Hike, bike, ski.
Caryn: You look pretty good.
Dr. Katz. Thanks. Most people half my age, and it’s not because I’m a better guy. It’s because I got a skill set. I’ve seen so many of my patients over the years squander their vitality and it’s so sad and it can stop. We can pay it forward to the next generation because this is just as relevant for our kids and our grandchildren. We can give them a better life and a better future if we disease proof ourselves.
Caryn: This skill power thing, I’m really liking it a lot. I like how you put that when you have a goal, something you want to do, you have to learn the skills to get there. It’s very empowering because a lot of people knock themselves when they have to lose weight or when they’re hit with a debilitating disease or something physically bothers them and it’s easy to blame themselves or easy to say, I can’t do this but web you realize everything we’ve done in life we’ve learned how to do. You have to learn. I like to say find your kitchen. I say this all the time and listeners probably hear me say it too many times. But, we don’t know how to make food. We don’t know what we’re eating. We have to learn.
Dr. Katz: Exactly, that’s a skill too. Just a quick example. Several hundred pages of the book are filled with the skills for this that and the other thing, but just a quick example of the advantage of skill power because when you rely on will power what you are trying to do is hard. You’re trying to do what you don’t want to do or trying not to do it. What you do want to do… an example would be, I got a sweet tooth, I eat too much sweets, I should stop. It’s making me fat and sick. The will power to that approach to that problem is do I have to give up dessert? But you want dessert. It’s calling out to you. So there’s a desperate struggle there and usually in time you lose when you make the decision your willpower’s at its peak, you take the leap based on inspiration – like a New Years resolution. The New Years Resolution never lives to the see the crocuses come up because it wears off. That’s the will power process approach I have to give up dessert. The skill power approach and we lay this out in detail in the book is there is actually stealth sugar hiding in all sorts of food you never realized were sweet in the first place. Every supermarket in the country sells marinara sauce side by side on the shelf. One has more added sugar than ice cream topping and the other has none. You wouldn’t even notice the difference because you’re not looking for it. Well once you learn to look for it. You look for it. You chose the one that doesn’t have the sugar and you do the same when you buy salad dressing and crackers and chips and bread and so forth. The net effect of this is your taking gram after gram after gram of sugar out of your daily diet and your already much better off because you don’t have all that sugar and you don’t have all those calories. If you did nothing else you’d be better off than when you started but because you’re no longer bathing your taste buds in all of that sugar that was hiding foods. They wake up. They come out of their coma. They go through rehab and they become more sensitive to the sugar that you are still eating. All of a sudden that dessert you thought you’d love starts to taste a little too sweet and not giving it up and trading it for something better is no longer dependent on will power, it’s something now you want to do. You can rehabilitate your taste preferences by trading up choices that are easy to do and the rising tide lifts all boats, and you actually start to improve all of the choices you make and again because you become more sensitive to sugar you’re not sacrificing sugar you actually prefer food less sweet and that sets you well on your way toward loving food that loves you back. You do the same thing with salt. You do the same thing with other aspects of nutrition. There’s an enormous opportunity to apply skills and relieve the burden we place on will and what we wind up doing is we ask too much of will power. It lasts awhile, it wears out. We fall off the wagon and then not only did we fail to get the health results we wanted but we blame ourselves for our failure and we beat up on ourselves and we self incriminate and it’s a very toxic thing. Again if you are trying to ride a bike you’ll keep falling off until you give up. If you know somebody who knows how to ride a bike and is willing to teach you and you’re willing to learn a few easy lessons you will know how to ride that bike for the rest of your life. The skills for being healthy are much the same.
Caryn: Now most Americans are on a very bad diet over the last 100 years especially, the last 50 years due to Industrialization and marketing and changes in our food system and government subsidies and tax structures. We have been encouraged to make bad choices and here we are in a really bad situation. Our disease care is thriving and our economy is not. So many people are unfortunately are suffering. I say this book has something really basic that can help most Americans move to a better place.
Dr. Katz: Thank you Caryn and in fact, I do the same. I tie it in with the Affordable Care Act, so called ObamaCare and healthcare reform because really what’s being reformed is disease care and I’m a supporter of the reform but it’s the tip of the iceberg. The CDC is projecting that unless we disease proof ourselves to a substantial agree, 1 and 53 Americans will be diabetic by the middle of the century. Well that’s one hundred million people with diabetes. We only have 27 million now and we can’t pay the bills already. Yes, The power to transform our personal faith, faith of our family and probably the fate of our nation resides more with each of us than anywhere else. We can make our nation more vital, more solvent by making ourselves healthier and this is true healthcare reform, but nobody is going to do this for you, the power resides with you. It’s an extraordinary opportunity. It’s totally evidence based. We make the case right on the cover of the book 80% reduction chronic disease. That’s not plucked out of the air. We cite study after study after study confirming that we can do exactly that. We site the study showing that DNA is not destiny. There’s study to show you can alter gene expression in the way it changes your risk for developing cancer or redeveloping cancer or for cancer progressing. This is also good for people that have chronic disease and want to modify the course of chronic disease. We have incredible latent power. We like to say that knowledge is power, but that’s only true if you use it. Knowing what but not knowing how is failing to put the promise of an 80% reduction in chronic disease to us that’s incredible lack of power. This book is designed to fix that. It’s an empowering dose of really transformative truth. I’ll do my part. I’ll share the relevant skills as long as the reader does their part and says ok, I’m not going to look for magic here. I want the practical magic of skill power. I’m willing to sign that contract and do my part of the bargain and learn how to do this.
Caryn: You mentioned a number of different diets that people are following these days and there’s a bunch of them where there are a lot of similarities and then some clear differences. I’m a Vegan. I’ve been a Vegan for 25 years and I’m quite passionate about it because I never wanted to kill animals and I realized the powerful impact on the environment as well as health but there are unhealthy vegans and there are all kinds of Vegan diets. There’s all kinds of diets period but then when you try to fine tuned there’s all kinds of whatever it is your following and there’s all kinds of Paleo diets now. They’re all over the place and you mentioned them and found your approach all encompassing.
Dr. Katz: Thank you. Well. I don’t have a dog in the race for one thing. I don’t care what diet is best for health. I’m not an ideologue. I care about the truth and so I review the evidence subjectively. I’ve done this in a number of contexts. Right now I’m finishing up the third edition of my nutrition textbook for physicians of the healthcare professionals nutritional clinical practice. That has over 5000 scientific references in it. So it’s a birdseed view of the relevant literature. I’m a best diet reviewer for US News and World Report and I recently finished an invited peer review paper for Annual Reviews in Public Health entitled “Can We Say What Diet Is Best For Health?” and my job in all these situations is to objectively review all of the evidence. The answer is, Caryn, first of all, I fully support your Veganism and I think Veganism done well is kinder, gentler, better for the planet and clearly one of the contenders for best diet laurels but not everyone wants to be a Vegan and it’s a mistake to assert that being a Vegan is the only way to have a healthy diet. What about that Mediterranean diet? There are many variations on the Mediterranean diet in the blue zones as there are low fat, plant-based diets and there are more than there are Vegan diets. Essentially what’s very well established in this time sensitive literature, we’re talking about health. It’s the basic theme of healthy eating for human beings. We are not clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens. We know that theme, frankly, Michael Pollan, pretty much nailed it, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” and then there’s room for variation on that theme. It could be only plants, it could be vegan. It could be Vegetarian where you include dairy and eggs. It could pesca-vegetarian. It could be a Mediterranean style diet. There are variations on that theme and the beauty of that is just the truth about what we know. It’s the truth about what we don’t know and it’s the latitude for you to be in charge of your life. I tell every one of my patients and I tell my readers, I’m not the boss of you. My job is to do my job. To be an expert, provide expert guidance and knowledge imparted to you and then let you chose how to use it to suit your life. The fact that there are variations on the theme of optimal eating puts you in the driver’s seat where you belong and you’ve chosen to drive for Veganism. It’s an excellent choice. It’s not a choice everybody’s going to make and I think that’s okay. You could choose an omnivorous Mediterranean diet as long as it’s mostly plants. The evidence we have suggested that in terms of human health outcomes it’s just as good. You know if you combine that with whatever animal products you eat choosing, being sensitive to issues of how the animals are being treated and how they are raised. I think potentially, that to can soften the effect we’re having on the earth. I think that’s an important issue. There are 7 billion of us. That’s the game changer. You know we have to think differently about food when there’s 7 billion of us even if it’s good for human health to be omnivorous, we have to change the way we’re omnivorous just because there’s so many of us and the high environmental cost of that. Again, I don’t advance a particular diet because of ideology. I wrote a column for the Huffington Post awhile back entitled Separation of Church and Plate and I find people just argue for their favorite diet with a great deal of religious zealotry and they leave the science behind. The clearest indication of that, Caryn, is the equally smart, equally credential people make mutually exclusive claims. The problem is all fructose or lately we’re hearing the problem is wheat and gluten but we got other people with just as many adherence, arguing that the problem all along is animal food or the problem is just dairy. If anyone of them is right, all the others are wrong, more logically they’re just latching onto one piece of the available evidence and sort of falling in love with their particular hypothesis. I don’t indulge myself in that. I’m very careful not to do it.
Caryn: Here is what I like to see. I like to see everybody get healthy. I like to see everybody reducing their animal products and their junk food products and eating more plant foods. When everybody is fit and trim and healthy, then we can really start talking about the ideal diet and we’ll have a lot, a bigger pool of people that fuel it.
Dr. Katz: I totally agree with you. The one thing that’s perfectly clear is that we’re a hell of along way from there now and we are reaping the world wind. It’s just incredible what’s going on all around us that we accept as normal. Again, 50-year-old guy. People my age routinely drop dead of a heart attack. I can’t imagine the possibility of that. There’s just so much energy and vitality at this stage in my life and our kids are succumbing to what used to be adult onset diseases. Type 2 diabetes in childhood should not exist. It shouldn’t exist a generation ago. It just didn’t exist and it keeps getting worst. We’re allowing this to happen. We talk about junk food as if it’s a legitimate food group. We wouldn’t build anything we care about out of junk. You wouldn’t build a house out of junk. You wouldn’t build a car out of junk.
Caryn: Some people do.
Dr. Katz: Well maybe, maybe but the idea that we, sort of, look on and complacently watch the growing bodies of children and grandchildren we love get constructed out of junk. Some are shocking. This sort of thing when you take the blinders off, you say wow what were we doing? That only takes you so far. Ok, now I know there is a problem I want to do something about it but I don’t know how to fix it. Well that’s what we have to change and if everybody is empowered to be the solution in their life, I’m with you. I think we can get there. Absolutely, once we come along…
Caryn: You know how we have to get there, David? We have to have our doctors especially telling us this because many doctors don’t. They quickly brush over “Oh you can change your diet… well here’s a pill” A lot of people think their doctor is God.
Dr. Katz: Well, I don’t know, they used to Caryn, As a Doctor myself, I see less and less. In fact, people routinely surf the Internet. They come in with information and what I encounter often is that somebody who spent two hours surfing the net think they know as much as somebody who has 9 years of post graduate education. I think we can err in both directions. Anybody listening who thinks their doctor is God, they’re not God they’re fallible. I totally agree with you that doctors should be part of the solution and I’m working very hard to make that so, along with three additions of nutrition textbooks, teaching nutrition to medical students and residents. My colleagues and I have also developed a free online course for doctors that offer continuing medical education credit called Online Weight Management Counseling for Healthcare Professionals. We talk about that in the book but where we may differ Caryn, I’m not sure we do, as a doctor myself; I think doctors are a small part of the solution here because fundamentally, at its origins, this is not a clinical problem. It’s a cultural problem. Doctors and clinics, hospitals and the bio medical establishments, we’re about treating disease. We do very little to build health at its origin. Health is built with lifestyle and it’s built in the places we live and, love and learn and work and pray and play and doctors have very little influence on all of that. The advice they give should be good. The guidance they offer should be relevant. The counseling we do should be constructive and compassionate. I always argue if you just wag your finger at a patient and say don’t you realize you should lose weight you make them feel about an inch tall and if their height goes down and their weight doesn’t, they actually raise their body mass index. That’s counterproductive all of that has to stop. Clearly we can do better than that but this is a cultural problem. We need cultural medicine to solve this and frankly culture begins under our roof. We talk about family values. Well, health can be a family values, and the culture of your household starts to take you towards health and again, I think that this proof offers the exact skill set to set that in motion. That’s what it’s for.
Caryn: Well thank you very much. Thank you for joining us on It’s All about Food. Thank you for all the work that you’re doing and you’re somebody that walks the walk and we need more like you.
Dr. Katz: Thank you so much Caryn. It’s a pleasure to join you.
Caryn: Okay be well.
Dr. Katz: You too.
Caryn: Okay, that’s it. It’s All about Food, thank you.
Dr. Katz: Very good.
Caryn: Bye Bye. We’ve come to the end of It’s All About Food, I’m Caryn Hartglass. Send me an email. I love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit my website http://ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com because that’s what is all about, I think anyway. All right, have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Marci Skinner, October 29, 2013