A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, MD, is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. He has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the International Bird Flu Summit, the National Institutes of Health, testified before Congress, and was invited as an expert witness in the defense of Oprah Winfrey in the infamous “meat defamation” trial. He is a graduate of Cornell University School of Agriculture and Tufts University School of Medicine. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass and this is It’s All About Food. Thanks for joining me today. We will be talking with one of my favorite doctors, Dr. Michael Greger. Before we get to that, I just wanted to talk a little bit about the week I had. I had an opportunity, yesterday evening, to talk to a group at a retirement community in California. It was really inspiring to be with these people and to see that some of them, even at an older age, are interested in what’s going on with the community and want to make changes, not only in their own lives, but in the lives of their families. And, a lot of times when I meet vegetarians, usually, in my experience, I don’t want to say it is all the time, but a lot of children influence their parents to become vegetarians. In one instance, I met this one woman, I believe she was in her eighties, and she looked fabulous. And she was working on her children to become vegetarian. It was really very inspiring. Well, I’ve got Dr. Michael Greger on the line, I believe. Are you there? Michael? Are you with me?
Dr. Michael Greger: I believe so.
Caryn Hartglass: You are there! Okay! I wanted to introduce you and I’m looking for my little information, here we go. The wonderful Dr. Michael Greger is a founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, he is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. He has lectured at the conference on World Affairs, the International Bird Flu Summit, the National Institutes of Health, testified before Congress, and was invited as an expert witness in the defense of Oprah Winfrey in the infamous, “meat defamation trial.” He is a graduate of Cornell University, School of Agriculture, and Tufts University School of Medicine, and he served as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States. That is a little bio, this man is amazing. Not only are you committed to this mission of eliminating cruelty and pain and suffering to all life on earth, and keeping people healthy, but you are constantly giving, giving, giving. I know you donate a lot what you make to organizations you believe in and you live a very simple, beautiful life. You walk the walk and my hat is off to you, Dr. Greger.
Dr. Michael Greger: I am happy to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Great! So, we’ll bounce around, we’ll talk about a lot of things today. So, I have seen a few clips of you with the recent swine flu epidemic. CNN had you on a few times. The first thing that amazes me is the other “expert” they always have on. When you talk and you rattle off all this brilliant information, and the other person always looks like, excuse my expression, a deer in headlights. (Dr. Greger and Caryn both laugh) And then they try and fumble and come up with some type of counter argument and I have not been impressed.
Dr. Michael Greger: My favorite example of that was I was debating the, I forget her title, she was like the Head of Science or the Scientific Advisor for the Pork Producers Council. I was debating her on a local television station [about 5 min in –not sure what kind of station he mentions] and she got so flustered, in fact, you could even see, her hands were trembling, I felt sorry for her. I mean, it’s a tough time to be a swine scientist, obviously. Not that there is any time where, necessarily that science is on your side. She got so flustered, you know, because I was talking about the factory farms are the origins of this and many other very serious human diseases. And she said, “We don’t know where this virus came from, it could have come from a hedgehog. It wasn’t necessarily a pig, it could have been a guinea pig.” She is a veterinarian, she has a veterinarian background. Realizing guinea pigs, I don’t even believe they get influenza…
Caryn Hartlgass: Right
Dr. Michael Greger: She back-peddled very quickly, poor thing.
(Caryn Hartglass laughs as Dr. Greger finishes his story)
Caryn Hartglass: There’s a lot I don’t understand about many of my fellow human beings and I don’t understand, especially those who are so educated, veterinarians of all people, how they don’t see the soul in all animals, and how they can continue to encourage the treatment that goes on and in factory farming. I just don’t understand it. But, we continue. So, what’s the state of swine flu at the moment?
Dr. Michael Greger: Well, flu activity has been going down over the last three weeks. The concern though is next month, or two months, in September when kids go back to school whether we’ll see a dramatic spike. I mean, already this is very unusual to have so much flu during the summer season when it is so hot and so humid. We were expected only in the southern hemisphere at this point, but swine flu has not gone away despite all kinds of predictions aside. But that’s what influenza viruses do, is they kind of break all the rules. So, we’re not sure what’s going to happen with swine flu. There’s estimated over a million people already infected in the United States, there’s been hundreds of deaths. The concern, the greatest concern, is really the parallels with the 1918 pandemic, which is the deadliest plague in human history, that also had this mild kind of spring, summer wave, almost unnoticed, but then it came back in the fall of 1918, in October, here in North America, to wipe out 50 to 100 million people around the world. We know that they come in waves, we don’t know where we are in this pandemic cycle, but certainly with this new virus, to which there’s no pre-existing human immunity, we’re very concerned about this upcoming flu season and already we’re seeing some significant delays in vaccine production capacity, and so, we could be in for a rough ride.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, now, which one is this particular one, I know there’s all these H5s and N1s and different configurations.
Dr. Michael Greger: So this is an H1N1 virus, it’s actually a triple hybrid mutant, very kind of rare combination of a pig flu virus, human flu virus, and avian or bird flu virus. The first triple, hybrid mutant to be described was here in North America in 1998. The genetic fingerprint of this virus has been published and the CDC has confirmed that the main ancestor of the current pandemic virus was this triple, hybrid mutant virus that emerged on factory farms in the United States more than 10 years ago. Then, very rapidly, within months, by early 1999 had infected 100 percent of the herds tested in Iowa and Illinois, 90 percent of herds in Kansas and Oklahoma. This is not the first virus to emerge from factory farms and unless we start giving these animals a little breathing room it may not be the last.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you like saying “triple hybrid mutant?”
(Caryn Hartglass and Dr. Michael Greger laugh)
Dr. Michael Greger: Or triple re-assortment virus.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s such a sci-fi type of phrase that you’d hear in some of these action movies, “Triple Hybrid Mutant” but it’s here and it’s here today and it’s with us. It’s intimidating. So, how does this thing come about? Do you want to describe the awful conditions that go on that encourage this sort of thing to evolve?
Dr. Michael Greger: Factory farms are breeding grounds for diseases for a number of reasons; the sheer numbers of confined animals. With so many animals– stressed, deprived and suffering from poor welfare, overcrowded in today’s factory farms. A pathogen can run rampant and mutant among so many confined hosts. Also, the unnatural stocking density, not just the number of animals but how we pack them in. Swine flu is transmitted, just like human flu, being the infected nasal secretions, respiratory droplets. So, when pigs are intensely confined on factory farms, the large viral loads necessary for the emergence of these really rare flu mutants can rapidly transfer from one animal to another when they are kind of packed in snout to snout.
Caryn Hartglass: I always have that image of the movie that Dustin Hoffman was in, Outbreak, I think it was. Did you see that movie?
Dr. Michael Greger: Yes
Caryn Hartglass: They’re in a movie theater and someone sneezes and they show the spray and how it’s being breathed in from everyone else. And that’s in a movie theater, and in factory farms, animals don’t even have that amount of space. So you can imagine how quick they’re going to infect one another.
Dr. Michael Greger: And the stress, crippling their immune system is also a very important factor. These breeding sows are confined in what are called, “gestation crates.” These veal crate-like metal stalls, where they can’t even turn around and their health suffers immensely. In fact, the first hybrid virus picked up in 1998, was on one of these swine gestation crates, factory farms in North Carolina. Which is really no surprise, when we crowd more pigs like this there is more this direct nose to nose contact, greater aerosol spread. And then, of course, the lack of adequate fresh air, the dankness helps keep the virus alive. Decaying fecal waste, I mean there are millions of gallons of excrement, when a typical facility can have 5,000 animals, and so the excrement decomposes, releasing ammonia, burning the pigs’ respiratory tracts, which may predispose them to infection in the first place. The lack of adequate sunlight. In fact, in factory farms, there may be no sunlight at all. The UV rays in sunlight are actually quite effective in destroying the influenza virus, 30 minutes of direct sun completely inactivates the hardiest flu virus we know of, that H5N1—bird flu, yet it can last for days in the shade, or weeks in moist or liquid manure. That’s another key factor, of the way we now raise animals, leading them to become these kind of breeding grounds, kind of perfect storm environment for the emergence and spread of new, so called, super-strains of influenza.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, you wrote a book on the bird flu, influenza and where are we with that? That came out a few years ago and we were all quite panicked about where that might go, has that quieted down?
Dr. Michael Greger: The H5N1—avian influenza virus, the reason we continue to be so concerned about it is because of the human lethality. The concern about swine flu is the human transmissibility. So swine flu is very transmissible, in fact it has infected over a million Americans, we estimate at this point, yet it is relatively mild, it has only killed a few hundred people. Bird flu, the H5N1, is really the opposite. It’s only infected hundreds of people, but it has killed over half of the people it has infected. The case fatality rate is about 60 percent and in Indonesia, the hottest spot, more like 80 percent. So you don’t even get a coin toss as to whether or not you lived through this disease. So, that’s why we were always concerned about H5N1, and of course, right now the worst case scenario would be that the H1N1—swine flu re-assorts, recombines with the H5N1—bird flu
Caryn Hartglass: Whoa!
Dr. Michael Greger: and this could happen in Egypt, this could happen in Indonesia, in China, any of these places where we have infection of pigs reported with both the bird flu and the swine flu. In fact, that’s why Egypt wiped out its entire pig population. They went and culled the entire country’s population because they know they have the H5N1 and should one pig get sick with both viruses,
Caryn Hartglass: Game over…
Dr. Michael Greger: That’s where you get these kind of wild speculations about the Armageddon virus. But this is Dr. Robert Webster, the world’s leading flu scientist, has talked about this. In fact, what they are doing now, the CDC, is going to try it in a lab. They have about a safety level four lab, where they do Ebola and these other things down in Atlanta, and they are actually going to, in a lab, try combining the bird flu and swine flu to see what happens, just to see if it’s biologically possible. There has been a lot of controversy whether or not those experiments should even be done.
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly! That’s scary! That sounds like another movie, where a terrorist comes in and steals the deadly combined virus and starts to infect the world, right.
Dr. Michael Greger: So that’s why bird flu is still very much part of the story, it’s panzootic, meaning it’s around the world, it’s not in North America but it’s in 60 countries around the world. Still infecting millions, so far has infected hundreds of millions of birds, but again, very few people. So, thankfully this virus has not gained, adapted to humans so it can efficiently transfer from one person to another, whereas swine flu, almost immediately, as soon as it came out, instantly spread just like seasonal flu. Thankfully, it’s mild but we have no guarantee it will stay mild for the future.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Here the earth is doing everything it can to tell us that factory farming is a bad thing. So, we are getting all of these potentially deadly flu viruses, we’ve got global warming, we’ve got greenhouse gas emissions, methane gas from factory farms that’s destroying the entire environment, affecting all of our weather patterns. We’ve got hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, droughts, and floods, and the earth is really revolting. On top of that, we’ve got record amounts of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and all of those food related chronic diseases. When are people going to get it?
Dr. Michael Greger: It’s interesting, if one looks back at the major epidemiological transitions, the major periods of human disease, the first started about 10 thousand years ago with the domestication of farm animals. That’s when we got measles, that’s when we got many of the great plagues of human kind, started only about 10 thousand years ago when we brought these animals into the barnyard, they brought their diseases with them. The second major period of human disease was the Industrial Revolution, when we started slowly seeing this epidemic of cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, and now starting really since the mid-1970s, we’ve entered what medical anthropologists term, the third, or called The Age of Emerging Plagues. This third epidemiological transition, this unprecedented emergence, at least one new virus a year. Swine flu is not our only new disease, there’s bird flu, mad cow, Ebola, and all these new diseases, never before described in human medicine, over the last 30 years. If you think about it, every one of these three major periods, these major surges of human disease, has to do with our relationship with animals, particularly animals raised for food, whether it was domesticated them about 10 thousand years ago, whether it was eating so many of them just in the last few centuries or in the last few decades, what we’ve done in terms of intensification of animal agriculture and destruction of habitat. To feed this meat hungry diet, our meat obsessed world, has led to this third area. It’s not just swine flu, that’s just one of the many deadly human diseases traced to these factory farming practices. We all know the story very well of how the meat industry took natural herbivores, cows and sheep, turned them into carnivores and cannibals by feeding them slaughterhouse waste, blood and manure. Then they took downed animals, too sick to even stand or walk and fed them to people and now have people dying of mad cow disease. In 2005, China, the world’s largest pork producer, suffered this unprecedented deadly outbreak of an emerging pig pathogen called, Strep suis (abbreviated for Streptococcus suis), which causes meningitis and deafness. And people having infected pork products, the World Health Organization blamed the intensive confinement conditions, which now is not only here in the industrialized Western world but increasingly in the developing world, in particular, India, Brazil, and China. Pig factories in Malaysia, birthed one of the deadliest of human pathogens, called the Nipah virus, contagious respiratory disease, causing these relapsing brain infections killing 40 percent of the people infected, again, emergence blamed on factory farms. Here in the United States, the pork industry feeds pigs millions of pounds of human antibiotics every year just to promote growth and to prevent disease. It’s such a stressful, unhygienic, crowded environment, and now there are these multi-drug resistant bacteria and we as physicians are running out of good antibiotic options. And so, whether it was the study published this year found that half of the pigs tested in Iowa and Illinois were positive for MSRA (abbreviated for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), this so called ‘superbug’ which kills more people in the United States than AIDS does every year. Or in the Philippines, just last month, published in the most prestigious scientific publication in the world, Science Magazine, now realizing that pigs can be a host for Ebola. These pigs in the Philippines, infected with Ebola.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh my goodness…
Dr. Michael Greger: You see this trend here of how we treat animals can have truly global public health implications.
Caryn Hartglass: Well the thing is we’re not hearing about it enough and you just rolled off a whole bunch of nightmares and we’re still continuing with this. I don’t get it.
Dr. Michael Greger: In the public health community, has been warning about the risks posed by factory farms for years. It was over five years ago, 2003, The American Public Health Association, which is the largest association of public health professionals in the world and also the oldest, they called for a factory farm moratorium, no more factory farms. In 2005, the United Nations warned, factory farms, in their words, could provide ideal conditions for the flu virus to mutate into more dangerous forms. Just last April, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which was chaired by a Kansas governor and included a former US Secretary of Agriculture, concluded that factory farms posed, what they called, unacceptable public health risks.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you know any of these people? I’m asking because I wonder what are they eating. Are these people saying we should end factory farming or at least not do it the way it is today? Are they eating food from these factory farms?
Dr. Michael Greger: I know them but I haven’t eaten lunch with them.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I ask because one way these things are going to end is people stop purchasing food from these sources because that is the fastest way to get anything done. I don’t believe things get done by changing laws. Things get done when people don’t spend money on these things. So, I’m wondering these people that are saying these things, what are they eating? I just don’t think they’re vegan.
Dr. Michael Greger: By changing what one eats, it’s easier to change those laws.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s the fastest, easiest thing to do.
Dr. Michael Greger: It’s the economic power and we are all empowered to actually do something about it. For so many social and public health ills in the world, there’s very little we can do as individuals, as citizens, but for this issue we can do something about it three times a day.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. So here’s a personal questions. You’re buried in all this dung, no pun intended, or yes, pun intended, how do you stay inspired and positive?
Dr. Michael Greger: Well, I’m privileged to work here at the Humane Society of the United States, where we have built up, really this kind of dream team of professionals over the last few years and so I’m just so privileged to be inspired by the people I work with. I work with Paul Shapiro, founder of Compassion over Killing, my boss is Miyun Park, former president of Compassion over Killing, these are some of the greatest minds in the movement. I don’t just get to live in the same city but actually get to interact with these people, day in and day out. It’s kind of a feedback loop, we inspire each other. I know a lot of people don’t have, may not have that community of support, which they can reflect upon every day and I have that, thankfully. I don’t know how I would get by without it, we are each kind of pushing each other to do our best, remind each other why we are here, and what originally motivated us to get involved in the first place.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s really important because it’s really easy when you’re focusing on all that, I tend to stray away from the ugly part because I just find it very difficult. Occasionally, I read a book that’s sent to me to review for EarthSave. I was just reading one by Steven Wise about the pig production in North Carolina. Very, very difficult reading and depressing. It’s hard, when I start reading that information, somehow I go into another dimension, I feel like I am connecting with all of the desperate animal spirits and I start feeling their angst. It’s not a pretty place. But, we are really grateful for everything you are doing. So, I’m speaking with Dr. Michael Greger. Michael Greger has a website drgreger.org. Wonderful information up there.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so let’s move to maybe a little lighter topic, nutrition. I was flabbergasted when I got my new issue of Ode Magazine are you familiar with the magazine?
Dr. Michael Greger: Oh, briefly. I’ve heard of it.
Caryn Hartglass: I enjoy it. It’s a magazine for intelligent optimists (Laughs). They talk about a lot of wonderful things that are going on all over the world. I find it inspiring. I prefer to read about all the wonderful things going on in the world. The front of their cover, this last issue, was “Fat is Where It’s At.” They were talking about how fat is important and healthy in the diet, which I agree it is, but then they kind of misinterpreted what they called “new research,” I believe. They said go ahead and have your bacon, butter, and blue cheese. They have all these pictures of said foods in the article and I was horrified. So, you are on top of all the latest research, what have you heard recently about fat?
Dr. Michael Greger: Every year I review all these, essentially, every issue of every English language nutrition journal on the planet. There’s about 5,000 Peer reviewed scientific publications on human nutrition every year. That’s what I do as a hobby, on nights and weekends.
Caryn Hartglass: (Laughs) That’s a nice hobby.
Dr. Michael Greger: I used to do it for my own benefits because I enjoy it and wanted to stay on top of the research. Then, starting a few years ago, I started putting it all together and came out with a series of DVD’s, one every year reviewing the last twelve month science, and of course, all the proceeds from all my books and DVDs and everything goes to charity. There were a lot of interesting things about fat recently, so for my 2009 DVD series, which just came out, and it showed was that fat certainly has an important role to play. They measured the levels of anti-oxidants while testing the study subjects’ blood for a period of ten hours after they ate a big salad. They did that with a full fat dressing and a fat free dressing. You do that with a full fat dressing and see this big bell curve of your anti-oxidants spiking up and coming down over a period of ten hours. You do that with a reduced fat dressing and you have a blunted curve. You do that with a fat free dressing and there’s essentially no change; it’s like you didn’t eat the salad in the first place. None of those nutrients got into the blood streams. It’s not what you eat, it’s what you absorb. And many of these nutrients—these wonderful nutrients found in plant foods, like salads, are fat soluble. So when needs fats actually in the stomach kind of at the same time for these nutrients to get absorbed. Of course, oils are not good for you, it’s just a lot of empty calories but whole plant foods like avocadoes, nuts, pumpkins seeds, sunflower seeds, are wonderful additions to one’s salad. One really doesn’t need a lot of fat. For example, six walnut halves for big salads. All the fat one needs to maximize absorption. Similarly, a quarter of an avocado, enough fat you need to get all of those wonderful nutrients. Fond use of fat free dressing. But, just make sure that there’s some kind of fat, and certainly, those that use soy—that’s another healthy resource of fat that can balance out or you can eat the salad in conjunction—with something that has fat in it. So yes, it’s important to get fats into our diet, but it should come from whole plant foods.
Caryn Hartglass: Isn’t that amazing though? How science is continually misconstrued, people jump on a sound bite and then use it to promote whatever it is they’re about, and everybody gets confused.
Dr. Michael Greger: One of my favorites from this year. I mean exactly speaking to, you know, was this study last summer on tofu linked dementia. Do you remember this?
Caryn Hartglass: The study in Hawaii? Or another one?
Dr. Michael Greger: This was a study they did in Indonesia.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, Okay.
Dr. Michael Greger: They linked to—and Fox News had this big headline—and had the journalists actually read the study…
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, no. They actually had to read? (Laughs)
Dr. Michael Greger: …If they actually look at the science itself, you’ll see that indeed, in the study tofu was related to dementia but not tempeh. So it’s not the soy, and the question is really: what do they put their tofu in Indonesia? And if you read this study, it says in the Indonesian department of health says that for new formaldehyde…
Caryn Hartglass: Oh goodness.
Dr. Michael Greger: …is added as a preservative in tofu, and when I give presentations I actually show pictures of it. It’s like day-glow yellow.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh gosh.
Dr. Michael Greger: These street vendors just sell it for days in this tropical sun. And so, they add this Nero toxic carcinogen, formaldehyde, to tofu but not tempe. And so, surprise surprise, people that ate lots of formaldehyde—the headline should have been: “People Eating Formaldehyde Suffer Cognitive Decline, Suffer Dementia.” But, of course, that’s not the headline; but it just shows the end fact if one looks at science from around the rest of the world, and soy is shown to improve cognition so, again, it’s important to look beyond the headlines and actually do a little background detective work yourself.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. But there we are in a sound bite society. People aren’t about reading or following truth and they’re just about hearing the clips that they hear, and going with it. It’s really unfortunate.
Dr. Michael Greger: The work that we both do is so important.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right (Laughs). But anyway, what I find is that the things that are best for us are really the things that taste the best. At least when you get to a point where your tongue is not coated by too many fats and salts, and your tongue can actually taste foods. An ideal salad, for me, is a salad that had raw nuts and seeds, made with a dressing with avocado. I love to cut up avocado with some tomato, some cilantro, and lime juice; it’s fabulous.
Dr. Michael Greger: You’re making me hungry (Laughs).
Caryn Hartglass: And I’m at a point where if I eat a dressing that has oil, the oil really coats your tongue. It’s too intense and people are surprised—you probably get this too—when I told them to avoid all oils, even olive oils, and that the Mediterranean diet is not a healthy diet. It’s just maybe a little better than the SAD, standard American diet.
Dr. Michael Greger: Well, the traditional Mediterranean diet was significantly better than the fat diet, and that’s because it was based on fruits and vegetables, and plant foods, and minimizing the intake of animal foods. And so, whether people think of the Mediterranean diet as an olive oil based, but no, it’s really much more of a plant-based diet. No wonder when people go on that kind of diet they can significantly drop their cardio vascular risk, but if you really want to get it down you need to continue to move in that direction of an exclusively plant based diet which is…
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s another thing where sound bites are misconstrued because people are pouring gallons of olive oil thinking, “Oh my God, Mediterranean … healthy, healthy, healthy” and that’s so not true.
Dr. Michael Greger: I mean, if you’re going to use oils, certainly, extra virgin olive oil, you can actually smell and it still has some plants in there.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, you still smell the fruitiness, and it’s really good.
Dr. Michael Greger: And it’s actually something in there besides just all the kind of empty calories. And so, if you’re going to use oils, there’s no reason to use oil, by using whole foods you’re getting much more bang for your buck. You’re getting more nutrients per calorie in terms of nutrient density, in forms of food. In our society, most people are really struggling with the weight issue. So you want to make sure that you get as many nutrients per calories as possible. Oils and fats, in general, are not the way to go.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve heard this thing about needing to eat some sort of fat to get the nutrients in the greens. And so, I’m a big fan of green juicing. Do I need to eat some fat after or before I have a green juice in order to absorb all those precious nutrients?
Dr. Michael Greger: You really do. And so, people do it in different ways. For example, if you made your green smoothie with…
Caryn Hartglass: It’s not a smoothie. What I do is juice and without the fiber. I get plenty of fiber from everything I eat. But I’m really into nutrient cramming.
Dr. Michael Greger: …It’s all about having it in your digestive tract. The same time, if you had a handful of nuts and you’re chugging down that juice…
Caryn Hartglass: That would be better.
Dr. Michael Greger: …That’s all you need. And it would defiantly be better. In fact, there’s so much nutrition in juice greens. There’s probably more nutrition than anything else on the planet.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes.
Dr. Michael Greger: You’d hate to lose any of that. You want it in your blood stream, not in the sewer stream…
Caryn Hartglass: (Laughs).
Dr. Michael Greger: So it’s important to make sure you have fat in your stomach at the same time. Again, the best way to do that is nut seeds…
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t have a problem with that. I love eating raw nuts, there are plenty of them.
Dr. Michael Greger: You are healthier for it.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, okay. Well that’s really good to know. Now, this is a very popular topic. Talk about it all the time, but the things that vegans and vegetarians need to be concerned with. There are a lot of studies that show we benefit in a longer life, and heart disease and all that stuff; but there’s a few items that we struggle with that cause us to have some problems. Like B12 and Omega 3.
Dr. Michael Greger: B12 is the big one. In fact, we continue to see, year after year in fact, that every time these reviews keep popping up. In fact, there’s a disease named after us, this year, called vegetarianmonolopothy; which is actually a B12 deficiency disease, where one can run through serious neurological problems. It’s all because of not getting enough B12, which is a vitamin not made by plants but it’s not made by animals either; it’s made by tiny microbes that blanket the earth. We probably used to get all we needed out of a mountain stream or well water. But now we’ve chlorinated our water supply to kill off the bacteria so we don’t get a lot of B12 in our water anymore. We don’t get a lot of cholera either, so that’s a good thing…
Caryn Hartglass: (Laughs).
Dr. Michael Greger: And so, in this kind of hygienic world, in a sanitized world, again is a very good thing unless one is eating bad bacteria, laden animals and products from the animals, one needs to get their B12 somewhere. The safest way to get it is to get B12 supplements or B12 fortified foods. In most of the breakfast cereals, there is B12 fortified nutritional yeast, or one can take a tiny little 2000 micrograms of B12 once a week and never have to worry about it ever again. It is important for people eating plant-based diets to make sure regular reliable sources of B12, because think how far one of these headlines puts us back when we see a particular child who starts out with very low B12 stores. If you have a meat eater who then goes vegetarian or vegan, they have a little buffer within their liver; they have some stores built up. Particularly for pregnant breastfeeding women and small children, who may not have the buildup of B12 stores; they can run into problems very quickly unless they get B12. It’s just so easy, and you can’t have too much of B12; you just pee it right out; it’s cheap, about $5 a year; you get all the B12 you need. That’s kind of your ticket to get all the amazing benefits in terms of astoundingly low disease rates, low diabetes rates and heart disease, some types of strokes, some types of cancers. That’s the one Achilles heel, it’s because we aren’t eating bugs, dirt, and feces anymore; but that’s a good thing.
Caryn Hartglass: (Laughs) It’s so frustrating because, here’s the one thing that might be considered a downside, and it’s not really because it’s so easy to manage, but that’s what the media always jumps on whereas you’ve got so many children that are obese, and have adult onset diabetes at an early age. All because of their horrendous animal food laden diets. It’s just not far.
Dr. Michael Greger: This is the first generation estimated by the CDC to actually live shorter lives than their parents. We are now entering this age. They don’t call it adult onset diabetes anymore, now we call it type II diabetes, with a recognition that we are now seeing it in children and there has been a 90% increase in the last 10 years in diabetes rates. Unless you have someone with diabetes in your family, you don’t understand what diabetes means. Diabetes means limb amputations, dialysis, blindness, gangrene; it’s a truly horrible disease. People think it’s too hard to get exercise now, try it with one foot.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. What’s so sad is that it is preventable and reversible.
Dr. Michael Greger: Exactly. Preventable, treatable…
Caryn Hartglass: But it’s not reversible to grow back a limb…
Dr. Michael Greger: Exactly. So you have to catch it early. Ideally, you can prevent it in the first place. It is a disease of a bad diet. It’s particulosis, any of these other diseases; it’s a disease of fiber deficiency. When we think of deficiencies—when the media says “What are vegans deficient in?” No one asks the meat eaters what their deficient in. They’re deficient in five or seven nutrients in many studies in terms of the average American compared to the very few nutrients vegans, vegetarians run into problems with. You have to ask “wait a second, where are the meat eaters getting their fiber? Where are they getting their vitamin C, only found in plant foods? Where are they getting their folate, their phytonutrients and many of the minerals found in greens, beans, and nuts?” We have a very nutrient poor calorie rich diet in the United States. We’re seeing the disease that we’re suffering with.
Caryn Hartglass: Some meat eaters have a problem with B12 too, is that true?
Dr. Michael Greger: Absolutely. In fact, a vast majority of people with a B12 deficiency are meat eaters over the age of 50. The American Academy of Neurology says that everyone after the age of 50 needs to take B12 fortified foods or B12 supplements. We just gradually lose our ability to absorb B12. So, it’s actually like an epidemic of B12 deficiency among our elderly. We take the same recommendations for getting B12 in our diet. We just move them earlier. At any age, we should be getting our vitamin B12. The real problem can cause depression, and all sorts of problems: increase our stroke risk, our heart disease risk. It can cut down on some of the vegetarian advantages, our kind of natural advantages in eating a plant based diet. If we want to maximize the potential we really do need to make sure that we get vitamin B12 in our diets. The Frameinham offspring diet showed that many meat eaters, even in their 30s and 40s, are B12 deficient. In that study, people with the best B12 status weren’t the people eating meat, diary, and eggs, it was the people eating breakfast cereal, just because all the breakfast cereals—raisin bran, cornflakes—they all have B12 added to them. These are the ones that have good B12 status. We’re finding out that animal products are not such good sources after all. A very small percentage of B12 is bio-available. It’s a really good idea for everyone to get their B12 from a safe, reliable source, and that’s B12 fortified foods or supplements.
Caryn Hartglass: Are you coming out with a new book in the future? Are you working on anything interesting?
Dr. Michael Greger: I should have a swine flu DVD out in the next month or so. That’s really been my focus for the last few months, because fearing resurgence in the fall I want to have resources available. So, the DVD I’m working on, a peer-reviewed manuscript for scientific publication, and then maybe I’ll do another book. Although I’ve been tending to kind of move away from my outreach to the general public, to move towards the specialized scientific and policy world. So publishing instead of lay audience books, publishing out of peer reviewed scientific literature, I’m able to speak at these medical conferences, scientific conferences. I’m really able to move this message within the public health fields, the ones that get to make these decisions.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good. Talking to the mainstream rather than the choir.
Dr. Michael Greger: I’ve been thinking about doing a Flu Factories book, talking about the swine flu. I think I’m going to put it into DVD form, since I have a presentation that I am wrapping up this week. It’s easy to just burn onto DVD; keep an eye out for it on the way.
Caryn Hartglass: I will, that’s great. Now, you mentioned it briefly about the vaccines that there might be or might not be in production, are there any for the current swine flu? Or the other more dangerous bird flu?
Dr. Michael Greger: Every vaccine manager on the planet has been working full steam on coming up with a swine flu vaccine. We’re just finding out the yields for these vaccines are not what we were hoping for. The reason is because we are growing this vaccine in chicken eggs. There’s a pig virus that doesn’t grow very well in bird eggs, and so, there has been pressure to move more advanced cell based techniques, which don’t involve chicken eggs. We don’t have to deal with that kind of problem. It’s not that we won’t have a vaccine; we are just not going to have enough of it, unfortunately. The first batches may be commercially available as early as mid-October, but if we see a peak in September, we are going to be caught hanging. Ideally, we’d have an effective vaccine in place such that should there be a spike in cases, particularly, if there was an increase in virulence—if we started seeing more people dying of the disease—we’d be able to roll out quickly and efficiently tens of millions of doses, and that’s just not going to happen. So, mid-October is our most optimistic, at this point, we may not have enough until the beginning of next year. The virus may hold off until then. In fact, it may not really get serious until next year. But, we’d really like to have it in place, of course, for most of humanity, particularly, the global south: they have no vaccine, period. They will have no vaccine because we and Europe have all the vaccine production capacity. The World Health Organization has been begging these companies to just donate ten percent of vaccines they’re making for the developed world to the bulk of humanity. To the billions of people who will never see a vaccine. But, they haven’t even done that.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Dr. Michael Greger: We can just hope that this virus is not going to get more serious than it already is. If it’s not this virus, it’s some virus in the future. What we really need is not vaccines and antiviral drugs, and all these secondary prevention measures, we need to say: “Wait a second…” take a step back and say, “Where did this virus come from in the first place? And what can we do to prevent the immergence, the primary immergence of these viruses in the first place?” That’s where some of my work comes in with talking about the role industrial animals and agriculture in not only the evolution of this virus but many of the diseases.
Caryn Hartglass: So is Tamiflu not any good anymore?
Dr. Michael Greger: We now have Tamiflu resistance for swine flu on three continents, and the seasonal flu, essentially, is completely resistant to Tamiflu. There are real concerns that resistance will build up so quickly that it won’t be useful for the next pandemic. However, there are two drugs in that class, the so-called Neuraminidase Inhibitors and Relenza, which is kind of a breathable Tamiflu. There has yet to be a single case of resistance. At this point this may be our choices. The federal government is now buying up large stocks and hopes in perhaps years’ time to have significant doses of that other drug. At this point whether or not there’s a vaccine, the best thing we can do is not get infected in the first place. That’s really just…everything you need to know to survive a pandemic: cup your nose and mouth—when you sneeze, not with your hands but with a sleeve. Cough with your elbow or into your shoulder and into fabric, so that you don’t contaminate your hands; which would then go onto contaminate your doorknob or light switch handle, gas pump handle. That kind of thing, which can allow this virus to go from one person to another, who then touches that doorknob then touches their face, their eyes, nose, and mouth that are muscle mucus membranes, and they can infect themselves that way. It’s not only being in a room with someone and coughing or sneezing, but touching something that someone who’s coughed hand has touched, who then inadvertently picked their teeth or rubbed their eyes or something.
Caryn Hartglass: What about a strong immune system? Does that help?
Dr. Michael Greger: In terms of getting infected in the first place, that’s exactly what we need, a strong immune system. For example, if someone, even with active tuberculosis coughs in your face, there’s really about a 1 in 200 chance that you will come down with tuberculosis, and that’s because we have an immune system. Assuming that you have a good immune system. I talk about this study in my 2001 DVD. In this interesting sleep study, they took people and dripped a cold virus into their noses. You think, “They drip a virus into someone’s nose? Of course they are going to get sick.” But no, only a small percentage of people get sick; it all depends on how good their immune system is. They dripped the virus and had people sleep for seven, eight, nine hours. They can do these studies and show the best things to do to eat, to optimal duration, and to optimally build one’s immune system. Unfortunately, once one gets this virus, a healthy immune system many actually, in some cases, do more harm than good as we saw, for example, in the 1918 pandemic. There seemed to be what is called stacomstamsnomna, where essentially, the virus triggers over active immune response, so your own immune system attacks your lungs, such that when people die, either from the 1918 flu or this new H1N1 Bird Flu, it’s actually not the virus that kills you, it’s your own immune system. That’s why the younger healthy people were dying of those particular diseases. Currently, H1N1, the swine flu, the average age of infection is 18, and the average age is actually 22. People 22 years old should not be dying of the flu. These should be people with really robust immune systems. After about age 41, our immune systems start to decline, that’s why typically seasonal flu tends to hurt the elderly, or infants, or people who are immune suppressed. This new flu, the swine flu, really does seem to be able to cause, in rare case, serious illness in people even with very robust immune systems. The answer is to just not get infected in the first place. That’s where these common sense hygiene measures in terms of hand washing and repertory hygiene.
Caryn Hartglass: That sounds pretty good. We are coming towards the end and I want to about—what I love to talk about—and that is food. At one point you told me you were trying to make a different dish a day and not repeat the same dish. Are you still doing something like that?
Dr. Michael Greger: That’s the love of my life, which has this carpe diem attitude towards food and life in general, by thinking that life is way too short to ever eat the same thing twice. Of course, that makes it difficult if you’re the one making food in the house. You’re kind of running out of cookbooks, but thankfully, the internet has come to my rescue and I will never run out of recipes. I do enjoy a varied, exciting, and adventurous diet. At the same time, if I make something really good, it’s kind of sad because you realize, “aw, I’m never going to make it again” (Both laugh). I used to have my old favorites that I just eat all the time because I love them. So, I’m finding now in this more adventurous way of eating, I’m actually eating food that doesn’t taste as good as my favorites. Then again, you never know. You’ll come across something you never would have even tried that may be better than anything I’ve ever tasted. Yes, I am still trying all sorts of new fancy stuff. I’ve been doing some more raw foods. I’ve got a dehydrator. Making sweet potato chips, which is my current favorite with date sugar and cinnamon…
Caryn Hartglass: That is fabulous.
Dr. Michael Greger: …and this fruit dip. That’s what I just made yesterday, with just raw almond butter, Dutch processed cocoa, and some date sugar; which is pulverized whole dates and a little vanilla extract. Then to make it a little more liquid-y, I’ve added some yurt grada tea, which adds some citrus notes. You whip it up, and you just have this dark, decadent, deep chocolaty spread, which I’m sure you can do a lot of thing with, but I just dip apples in them. That’s kind of my favorite things. It’s whole foods, its plant foods, and it’s delicious. It’s helping me eat more apples which is a thing that all of us should do.
Caryn Hartglass: Don’t the Doctors say “an apple a day…”
Dr. Michael Greger: Keeps people like me away. Absolutely (Laughs). And we’re fonding. In fact, in my 2009, I have a whole chapter on apples, because we’re finding some amazing things. We talk about superfoods, but it doesn’t have to be some exotic berry from the Himalayas, or the Amazonian jungle. Literally, apples can hold their own…
Caryn Hartglass: Organic apples.
Dr. Michael Greger: Organic apples—cheap, simple, local in many places—can hold their own against any super foods you put it up against.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I love them, because it doesn’t take much to curb your sweet tooth with apples, and they make you feel full very quickly.
Dr. Michael Greger: In fact, there’s a study done where they used both pears and apples. They found that if you take overweight standard Americans, and before each meal, they had them eat an apple or pear, and they lost a significant amount of weight because that wonderful pectin, that soluble fruit fiber in the apple or pear just fills you up like a sponge, like mass in your stomach. Then when you sit down to eat a meal you end up eating significantly less. And as a bonus, you’re increasing the number of food servings every day. That one simple measure causes significant weight loss. Of course, we’d like to see them eat more plant foods in general, but, I think that’s an excellent way to improve one’s diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Dr. Greger, It’s been great talking to you. The hour has just flown. We’ve learned so much. The bottom line is: you can have a healthy vegan plant based diet, every day, and never repeat the same meal (Laughs). Lots of variety, lots of delicious, diverse, and different things you can eat, and keep eating your apples. Check our Dr. Greger’s website, www.DrGreger.org. And thank you again. This has been It’s All About Food. We’ll be back next week with Jo Stepaniak and we’ll be talking about compassionate living and vegan cuisine. Well, thank you so much.
Transcribed by Kim Gutierrez 7/17/2014 and Joe Wilson 9/15/2014