Plant-based Diets and Disease

The quotes, articles and studies below advocate a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet. Neal Barnard, Kevin Hall, Dean Ornish, Christina Warinner, and Maria Bustillos offer evidence that plant-based diets prevent and reverse disease.

Also included is a section on sugar. At turns, sugar, carbs, and fat are blamed for contemporary public health ills. The heuristic I’ve arrived at is to indict sugar, fat, and processed foods and exonerate unprocessed carbs. Exonerating carbs is still controversial. Some of the articles in the sugar section have a different opinion on carbs than Barnard, Hall, and Ornish. I’m trying to follow the back and forth over the insulin carbohydrate theory. My personal experience biases me toward Barnard, Hall, and Ornish. My heuristic: A whole food plant-based disease prevention diet should restrict fat more than quality carbs. I have pancreatic insufficiency that makes digesting fat difficult, so low-fat is the better fit for my life.

I supplement with B12. Barnard recommends supplementation, for both vegans and omnivores. He notes how many meat eaters are low on B12. Many lack the digestive ability. Part of my journey to becoming vegan was a health crash that involved lack of intrinsic factor and very low B12 levels. I received B12 shots for awhile and currently supplement with sublingual pills daily. I also supplement with a vegan D3. Testing showed my D levels were low, otherwise I wouldn’t supplement. B12 is the only thing I supplement without testing. Get your nutrition from eating a variety of whole plants and supplement B12.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

My diet has been vegan, no alcohol, no caffeine, no added sugar for almost four years, so the information below certainly fits my biases. I arrived at this diet by logging food, paying attention to my body, and going with what made me feel better. With this diet, I transformed my health, got off the prescription drug treadmill, and managed my neurological disease. I seem to have arrived at something that works not just for me, but for many others. Plants > pills.

Neal Barnard and The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

The show notes for this podcast with Neal Barnard are rich with links. The show is a good listen, and the linked resources provide background for Dr. Barnard’s point of view.

This TEDx talk provides the gist of Barnard’s advocacy for low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet in 18 minutes.

Meat consumption is just as dangerous to public health as tobacco use. It’s time we looked into holding the meat producers and fast-food outlets legally accountable.

People who don’t eat meat and don’t eat dairy are healthier than people who do.

People who include meat in their diet are not as healthy as people who avoid it.

Source: Neal Barnard, M.D. on the power of nutrition to prevent & reverse heart disease, diabetes & alzheimer’s

Research studies have demonstrated that a plant-based nutrition approach reduces the risk of diabetes and can greatly benefit those who have been diagnosed with the disease.

Source: Food for Life Cooking Classes | The Physicians Committee

Another recent study of more than 200,000 participants found that consuming large amounts of animal protein increased diabetes risk by 13 percent. But by simply replacing 5 percent of animal protein with vegetable protein—including carbohydrates like potatoes and grains—participants decreased diabetes risk by 23 percent.

Source: Conquering Diabetes with Carbohydrates | The Physicians Committee

Insulin’s job in our bodies is to move glucose, or sugar, from our blood into our cells. But when there’s too much fat in our diets, fat builds up in our cells. Evidence shows that this cellular fat can actually interfere with insulin’s ability to move glucose into our cells, leading to type 2 diabetes.

Source: Conquering Diabetes with Carbohydrates | The Physicians Committee

In 2006, we partnered with the George Washington University and the University of Toronto to put these ideas to the test in a clinical setting by pitting a low-fat, plant-based diet against the standard diabetes diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association. The results were remarkable: Participants in the vegan group lowered hemoglobin A1C by 1.2 points, which was three times greater than the ADA group.

Source: Conquering Diabetes with Carbohydrates | The Physicians Committee

A vegan diet supplemented with vitamin B12 provides excellent nutrition for all stages of childhood, from birth through adolescence. Children who consume nutritious vegan diets not only grow up to be strong and healthy, but they also lower the risk of developing obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Source: Four Ways Vegan Diets Can Benefit Kids | The Physicians Committee

Abundant evidence suggests that the most healthful diets set aside animal products and also reduce fats in general, while including large amounts of vegetables and fruits. Eliminating meat and dairy products from your diet is a powerful step in disease prevention.

Source: Vegetarian Starter Kit | The Physicians Committee

While animal products contain potentially carcinogenic compounds that may contribute to increased cancer risk, research shows that, by contrast, fruits and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that protect the body.

Several studies published this spring clearly demonstrate the link meat and dairy products have to cancer. According to new data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, participants who ate the most red meat and processed meat increased their risk of dying by 14 and 44 percent, respectively, compared with those who ate the least. Other recent research found that men drinking more than a glass of whole milk per day had double the risk for fatal prostate cancer, compared with men drinking less. And the National Cancer Institute found that women who consumed one or more servings of high-fat dairy products per day, compared with none to less than half a serving, were at a 49 percent increased risk for dying from breast cancer.

Fortunately, the foods we eat can also help protect our bodies. The American Association for Cancer Research found that beyond the reduced risk for overall cancer, vegetarian and vegan diets significantly reduced the risk of gastrointestinal cancers (stomach, colon, pancreas, etc.) and female-specific cancers (breast, uterine, ovarian, etc.), respectively.

Source: Preventing Cancer with a Plant-Based Diet by Dr. Neal Barnard | The Kind Life

Science supports our belief that low-fat, plant-based diets are the healthiest way to eat. We focus on four groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. The good news is that there is no need to count calories or limit portion sizes.

Aside from cheese ­ which approximately equates to Vaseline in its nutritional value ­ I’d point a finger of blame at processed meats. That means bacon, sausage, ham, deli slices and hot dogs. They are quite convincingly associated with colorectal cancer. And yet people keep feeding them to their children.

But probably the greatest atrocity is chicken. Americans now eat more than 1 million chickens per hour. The problem is that people think this is healthful. Chicken is loaded with fat and high in calories. Not to mention, one serving of skinless chicken contains about the same amount of cholesterol as a typical serving of beef.

Observational studies show that a vegan diet is better than other diet patterns for weight control and for diabetes. In a study of 60,903 participants published by the American Diabetes Association in 2009, the more people excluded animal products from their diets, the healthier their body weights and the lower their risk of diabetes. A vegan diet was clearly superior to other diet patterns.

Clinical trials ­ ours and others ­ show that a plant-based diet (vegan or near-vegan) is very effective for lowering cholesterol, promoting weight control, improving diabetes and other positive outcomes.

Source: Diet Detective Interview with Dr. Neal Barnard, Founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine – Diet DetectiveDiet Detective

Dean Ornish

Eat Mostly Plants in Their Natural Form

Eat Mostly Plant-Based Proteins


Ornish’s spectrum consists of nutrition (extremely low in fat, vegetarian), exercise (aerobic, resistance training and flexibility), stress management (yoga, meditation) and nurturing relationships, and he describes how they influence specific conditions.

Source: The Spectrum: How to Customize a Way of Eating and Living Just Right for You and Your Family

Quotes from his book:

For more than thirty years, I’ve directed a series of scientific research studies showing, for the first time, that the progression of even severe coronary heart disease can often be reversed by making comprehensive lifestyle changes. These include a very-low-fat diet including predominantly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and soy products in their natural, unrefined forms; moderate exercise such as walking; various stress management techniques, including yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation, and imagery; and enhanced love and social support, which may include support groups.

Source: Dean M.d., Ornish (2007-12-26). The Spectrum: How to Customize a Way of Eating and Living Just Right for You and Your Family (Kindle Locations 240-244). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In our research, we initially focused on proving that the progression of coronary heart disease can often be reversed by making the changes in diet and lifestyle on the most healthful end of the Spectrum. Along the way, we also found that similar changes in nutrition and lifestyle can often cause significant improvements in high blood pressure, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, obesity, arthritis, depression, prostate cancer (and, by extension, breast cancer), and other chronic diseases. This approach is consistent not only with our own research but also with many other studies showing, for example, that fruits, vegetables, good carbs, and some good fats may help prevent a wide variety of health

Source: Dean M.d., Ornish (2007-12-26). The Spectrum: How to Customize a Way of Eating and Living Just Right for You and Your Family (Kindle Locations 1652-1657). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

A very low-fat vegan diet increases intake of protective dietary factors and decreases intake of pathogenic dietary factors.

Source: Dean M.d., Ornish (2007-12-26). The Spectrum: How to Customize a Way of Eating and Living Just Right for You and Your Family (Kindle Locations 6174-6175). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

While dietary salt tends to raise your blood pressure, dietary potassium tends to lower it. This may be one of the reasons that vegetarians have lower blood pressure than those who eat a carnivorous or omnivorous diet, since fruits and vegetables are naturally high in potassium. Studies have shown that the intake of fiber, fruits, and vegetables is inversely associated with systolic and diastolic pressures— in other words, the more fiber, fruits, and vegetables people consumed, the lower was their blood pressure.

Source: Dean M.d., Ornish (2007-12-26). The Spectrum: How to Customize a Way of Eating and Living Just Right for You and Your Family (Kindle Locations 3284-3288). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Foods in Group 1 are, in general, the most healthful. As Michael Pollan writes in the opening of one of his essays, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is a good example of what I mentioned in chapter 1— someone who is able to distill a complex subject to its most important essence. Group 1 foods are predominantly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nonfat dairy products, and egg whites in their natural forms, as well as some good fats that contain omega-3 fatty acids.

Source: Dean M.d., Ornish (2007-12-26). The Spectrum: How to Customize a Way of Eating and Living Just Right for You and Your Family (Kindle Locations 1905-1909). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Christina Warinner on the Paleo Diet

So how much of the diet fad the “Paleo Diet” is based on an actual Paleolithic diet? The answer is not really any of it.

Dr. Christina Warinner has excavated around the world, from the Maya jungles of Belize to the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, and she is pioneering the biomolecular investigation of archaeological dental calculus (tartar) to study long-term trends in human health and diet. She is a 2012 TED Fellow, and her work has been featured in Wired UK, the Observer,, Der Freitag, and Sveriges TV. She obtained her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2010, specializing in ancient DNA analysis and paleodietary reconstruction.

Source: Watch “Debunking the paleo diet: Christina Warinner at TEDxOU” Video at TEDxTalks

Warriner points out that “humans have no known physiological, anatomical, or genetic adaptations to meat consumption.”

Warriner’s main take away is that if we want to eat like our ancestors, we should be eating fresh, whole, mostly plant-based  foods, and avoid preservatives and processed foods.

Source: Debunking the Paleo Diet | PlantPure Nation

Maria Bustillos on Multiple Sclerosis and Dietary Fat

What books do you recommend, I asked the Iron Doctor, as crisply and collectedly as I could, given that my kid was in a hospital bed and the floor was lurching uncontrollably around. What websites should I read? What must I do? The National MS Society has a website, he said. He recommended not one single book. (His unsolicited visit, which was billed separately from the hospital bill of around $30,000, cost $693.) Okay… what else? Are there lifestyle changes indicated, exercise or dietary recommendations?

He said no, no there aren’t.

It comes down to this: The medical establishment now considers new treatments effective only if “proven” through double-blind randomized controlled trials (RCTs). In a blinded RCT, neither the researchers nor the subjects know who’s receiving an active treatment or a placebo, thereby removing many potential sources of bias. A researcher may not realize how his own preconceptions or hopes are influencing his observations; a patient’s symptoms might clear up if he believes his placebo is a real medication. But because people necessarily know what they are eating or whether they’re exercising, it’s impossible to conduct double-blind studies on dietary therapy or exercise. Even if a given illness could be wholly cured with diet or exercise, this would not be provable according to today’s standards of proof. The means of obtaining clinical proof is thus lopsidedly weighted toward testing drugs, because placebos can be tested against drugs in double-blind studies.

We’re in the middle of a generalized epistemological failure brought on by an a too-narrow understanding of “proof.” We’re in thrall to the tyranny of data. This deeper problem both weakens our clinical research institutions, and makes them vulnerable to charlatans and profiteers.

Most people in this country expect to be cured by a pill, and have a cure that is almost instantaneous. With the low-fat diet, the people actually have to work to get better, and have to cure themselves. And as far as the MS Society, John, they don’t mention it because they didn’t discover it. It wasn’t their research dollars that found this treatment. So they’re not going to tell anybody. I discovered it in my small office here, in the basement of the University of Oregon Medical School

I was more or less considered a quack. I wondered why doctors felt this way. I think one of the reasons was economics. It doesn’t cost much to eat well and take care of yourself with a highly vegetarian diet.

We are in no position to wait for absolute anything. We need help now. And incontrovertibly, there is evidence—not proof, but real evidence, published in a score of leading academic journals—that animal fat makes MS patients worse. It is very clearly something to avoid. In my view, which is the view of a highly motivated layperson whose livelihood is, coincidentally, based in doing careful research, there is not the remotest question that impaired lipid metabolism plays a significant role in the progression of MS.

We’ve known for a long time that science cannot produce absolute proof, and it was never meant to try; in the course of chasing absolute, unassailable proof from science, we have grown increasingly unable to identify right answers, or good ideas—the provisional truths that are all that science can ever supply.

A conclusion that nobody can draw, however—whatever Dr F. may like to think—is that a working theory can only be valuable if it can be tested within the narrow and somewhat flawed parameters of modern scientific publishing.

Waiting to publish until absolute certainty is achieved would undermine the whole point of scientific research, the editors argued. “Progress depends on dissemination of results, and journal articles are the most effective tool we currently have to share them. The answer, therefore, cannot be that we wait until conclusions are proven beyond a doubt before we publish them. Publication of preliminary findings, negative studies, confirmations, and refutations is an essential part of the process of getting closer to the truth.”

Source: STAT : Longreads Blog

Kevin Hall

The effect of macronutrient composition on energy expenditure, fat balance, metabolic adaptation, and disease is still a contentious topic. Kevin Hall is a metabolism researcher with the NIH who advocates low-fat over low-carb.

Many of my critics in the low-carb camp have ignored the caveats that this basic human physiology study does not imply that low-carb diets don’t work. They may even be preferable for many people. I have repeatedly acknowledged that prescribing low-carb diets appears to be more effective in outpatient randomized controlled trials, at least for several months when diet adherence is likely to be highest. The question is why? Our small contribution is that Mr. Taubes’ version of the carbohydrate-insulin theory likely isn’t the explanation.

Despite no significant change in insulin secretion, the RF diet resulted in body fat loss by all measures. This finding alone was enough to disprove the claim that body fat loss requires decreased carbohydrates and insulin secretion. Furthermore, the RF diet led to a significantly greater rate of fat loss than the RC diet using the most sensitive method for measuring body fat loss: metabolic balance. The other measurement of fat mass change (DXA) showed no statistically significant difference between the RF and RC diets, but this method is known to lack the precision required to detect such a small difference in body fat.

Source: Weighty Matters: Guest Post: Dr. Kevin Hall Asks Is The Carbohydrate-Insulin Theory Dead?

Metabolic adaptation persists over time and is likely a proportional, but incomplete, response to contemporaneous efforts to reduce body weight.

Source: Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition – Fothergill – 2016 – Obesity – Wiley Online Library

Current research and public health policy on obesity is largely based on the hypothesis that the fundamental cause of the condition is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and expended. By this hypothesis, the interaction between diet and body fat is determined by the caloric content of the foods consumed, while the macronutrient content of the diet (the proportion and type of carbohydrates, fats, and protein) has no meaningful effect. This is often summed up by the assertion that “a calorie-is-a-calorie,” shorthand for the hypothesis that a calorie’s worth of protein has an equivalent effect on the accumulation and storage of fat in the human body (on “adiposity”) as does a calorie of carbohydrate or a calorie of fat. An alternative hypothesis is that the macronutrient composition of the diet influences adiposity through its effect on the hormones that regulate uptake of fat (technically “fatty acids”) by fat cells and their subsequent mobilization and use for fuel (that is, oxidation).

Source: NuSI | Energy Balance Consortium


The purpose of cow’s milk is to turn a 65-pound calf into a 700-pound cow as rapidly as possible. Cow’s milk IS baby calf growth fluid. No matter what you do to it, that is what the stuff is.

Everything in that white liquid – the hormones, the lipids, the proteins, the sodium, the growth factors like IGF-I – are all there to start that calf growing into a great big cow, or else they would not be there.

Whether you pour it on your cereal as a liquid, churn it into butter, curdle it into yogurt, ferment it into cheese, or add sugar and freeze it to make ice cream… It’s baby calf growth fluid!

What a metabolic risk to take for a substance absolutely un-needed by humans! We have no more need for the milk of a cow than we do the milk of a dog or a giraffe! There is abundant protein, fat, vitamins and minerals in many food products in a whole-food, plant-based diet for human beings. The bovine protein, fats, and hormones in baby calf growth fluid are simply not required by us two-leggers.

Source: Dairy – Michael Klaper, M.D., Nutrition-Based Medicine


These tend to play down the harms of fat, falling into a carb vs. fat binary. Though the insulin-carbohydrate model is still a debate, what both law-fat and low-carb sides have in common is indictment of processed foods and the public health compromising greed and cronyism behind them.


The largest study to examine the effects of different sources of dietary protein found that a high intake of proteins from animal sources — particularly processed and unprocessed red meats — was associated with a higher mortality rate, while a high intake of protein from plant sources was associated with a lower risk of death.

Source: High animal protein intake associated with higher, plant protein with lower mortality rate: Increased death risk primarily associated with red meats, eggs and dairy — not found among those with healthy lifestyle — ScienceDaily

Low-fat vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with weight loss, increased insulin sensitivity, and improved cardiovascular health.

Source: A low-fat vegan diet and a conventional diabetes diet in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled, 74-wk clinical trial

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