Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC, is a physician, clinical researcher, author, adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts in veganism and natural medicine and is a strong supporter of a vegan, dairy-free lifestyle.
Dr. Barnard, who founded the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in 1985, has spent his professional career speaking, educating and spreading awareness about the benefits of veganism, as well as the life-threatening dangers that come with consuming dairy, meat and cheese. In this episode of the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, Neal joined Bottom Line President Sarah Hiner to discuss the following…
- How Dr. Barnard’s career shifted from psychiatry to nutritional science (1:55 – 5:07)
- Dr. Barnard’s dairy warning (6:54 – 12:25)
- Why dairy, meat and cheese are still recommended by major medical associations (15:18 – 17:52)
- Do European countries deal with the same dairy problem we do? (17:53 – 19:08)
- America’s very real cheese addiction (21:55 – 28:08)
- Why major multimillion-dollar athletes are going vegan and how that change has impacted their performance (28:09 – 30:07)
- Are all dairy foods created equal (milk, yogurt, whey protein, milk substitutes)? (30:20 – 37:48)
- If we can’t consume dairy, how do we maintain strong teeth and bones? (39:22 – 40:30)
- What does Dr. Barnard eat for breakfast? (40:30 – 41:05)
- BONUS SEGMENT: What does Dr. Barnard think of the “Impossible Burger”?
The Bottom Line:
In Dr. Barnard’s experience, no matter what the food pyramid and other health associations say, there is no question that there is a significant connection between dairy and disease. It’s tough to hear but important to understand.
Click here to purchase Dr. Barnard’s most recent book, The Vegan Starter Kit.
Full podcast transcript:
Sarah Hiner: You know those commercials that say, “Milk does a body good”? Well, guess what? Milk, cheese, dairy— it does a body bad. It does a body sick. So why is it that the American Heart Association, Susan B. Komen, American Diabetes Association and all these other health associations include dairy in their dietary recommendations? That’s the question of the day and how to understand what dairy is really doing to you. I’m Sarah Hiner, and this is The Bottom Line Advocator podcast.
Sarah Hiner: I’m Sarah Hiner, president of Bottom Line Inc, the number-one provider of expert-sourced, expert-vetted, expert advice that empowers your life. I’m thrilled to be talking today to Dr. Neal Barnard, founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He has authored more than 70 scientific publications as well as 19 books, including the best sellers, Power Foods for the Brain, 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart, and his most recent books, Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes, The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs, and The Cheese Trap. Dr. Barnard is a frequent lecturer appearing throughout the world and is an adjunct professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. Barnard and his work at PCRM.org. So welcome Neal, I’m so glad that you made time for us today.
Dr. Barnard: Well thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.
Sarah Hiner: Well, with all that you do, with all of your speaking, with all of your writing, it’s not easy to get on your calendar so I really appreciate it.
Dr. Barnard: My pleasure.
Sarah Hiner: All right. So before we talk about dairy, because in our conversations you have now convinced this die-hard cheese lover, although I haven’t eaten it in years, but I miss it every day, that it really is a surprising devil. But before we talk about that, I want to just talk about you for a sec—because it’s so interesting, when I was reading your bio and prepping for all of this, you started out as a psychiatrist. You graduated from medical school as a psychiatrist. So what brought you from psychiatry all the way over to diabetes, advocator for veganism, food-focused, et cetera?
Dr. Barnard: Yeah. Great question. First of all I should say that it’s not such a leap as one might think because psychiatrists very often get into food issues because they deal with compulsive easting, anorexia, obesity and all the things that come of that. And also, I have to say when I’m meeting with patients who are suffering with diabetes and weight problems, it’s sort of 20% medicine and the other 80% is behavioral issues and how do we actually make the changes that will help us? But what actually happened in my life was, after I was in practice, I became concerned that doctors don’t do very much about preventing illness. We don’t do anything about a heart attack until it comes into the emergency room. And we don’t do anything about cancer until it shows up on a mammogram.
Dr. Barnard: And I started to think that we really need to get involved in prevention and improving diets way ahead of the game. And so I set up the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to do that. And in the course of our work, I was working with the Diabetes Foundation, and they wanted me to work with them to design some good clinical trials. And we ended up doing these research studies, and I have to say, I was quite blown away by what happens when people throw the animal products off their plate. I’m talking about a vegan diet. And I did not grow up on anything like that. But I am very impressed by its health power and it’s also appealing and it’s frankly good in every way.
Sarah Hiner: Yeah. That’s amazing. And we publish all this health information, and the challenge is always, people have a hard time with prevention. Because as you said, the first symptom of heart disease is they’re in the emergency room with a heart attack and they’re not paying attention to it. I’ve literally had conversations with people where they’re eating a big pastrami sandwich and they take Lipitor. And they say they’re perfectly happy with that. The Lipitor handles it, and they’re happy to go on eating their pastrami. And that to shift the mind-set…
Dr. Barnard: The sad thing is that the Lipitor won’t handle it. It will certainly bring cholesterol down a good bit, but that sandwich is also linked to colorectal cancer. The saturated fat that’s in it is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. And some of these things are pretty unforgiving. So we’re risk takers. When I was in medical school, I used to smoke cigarettes. And I figured, Well, what are the chances I’ll get lung cancer? As long as I quit before too long I’ll be OK. And that kind of bargaining is what we carry through to our food habits as well. Sure a bacon double cheeseburger is linked to obesity and diabetes and several forms of cancer, but maybe I’ll be all right or I’ll not eat it too often, or something like that. Of course, we typically lose that bet.
Sarah Hiner: So as a psychiatrist interestingly… So is part of it that humans—and we’re watching this now in the land of immediate gratification and social media and the immediate responses of everything—are humans just not able to conceptualize long-term? So prevention. One day maybe I’ll get cancer…maybe. But right now, I’m going to eat this cheeseburger and it’s going to taste good going down and no I’m not going to die tomorrow from it. Is there something in human brains that just don’t think about long-term consequences?
Dr. Barnard: Yes. We’re sort of the eternal optimists, in that we assume…
Sarah Hiner: It won’t be us.
Dr. Barnard: When I’m scratching off my lottery ticket, I’m sure I’m going to become a multimillionaire. And let me tell you, the odds of winning the lottery are the same whether you play it or not.
Sarah Hiner: Although they say you should go for the low pot prize. Everyone jumps on for those mega billions, the biggest prize ever. I say go for the million and two million.
Dr. Barnard: Yeah, you’re not going to win it. But the lottery we often win, unfortunately, is that one that’s really predictable, which is if you eat meat, you’re going to get either cardiovascular disease or some form of malignancy and very likely Alzheimer’s disease as well. And I have to say, I think people are changing. I think people are becoming much more health conscious, and part of that is that groups like ours do research studies to show what foods can do. And also, I’ve got to say, when you’ve seen your grandparents or your parents start to lose their memory and to develop dementia, you’ll just make a list of all the diseases you don’t want to get, and that happens to be number one. And so when people learn that foods are part of the reason that their parents got this problem, it makes that chicken salad sandwich not look so appealing anymore.
Sarah Hiner: Yeah. OK, good point. All right, so meanwhile we need to educate them. So let’s talk about dairy. Because again, vegan is a big commitment, but I wanted to focus on diary because obviously people love it. Cheese lovers, everything, double cheese burgers, the whole nine yards. And everything you say talks about diary being…I’ll call it the devil. And yet, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, Susan B. Komen, American Cancer Society—they are all continuing to recommend dairy and include that in their dietary programs. So what is so bad about dairy?
Dr. Barnard: Well, I guess it’s important to remember what dairy products really are. They’re made by a cow for only one purpose that Mother Nature ever thought about, which is to nourish a calf. And if you want a calf to grow to be as big as a sofa within a matter of months, you pack a lot of fat in there. And the fat that’s packed into dairy is mostly saturated fat. That’s the bad one. That’s the one that raises cholesterol levels, and the one that’s most linked to Alzheimer’s disease. There’s also a huge amount of sugar as the milk comes out of the cow’s utter into your glass or into your ice cream. And this is not table sugar added to the milk…it’s lactose that the cow makes in order to provide the energy for the calf. And if you’re avoiding whole milk and you’re having only skim milk, the main nutrient you’re getting in it is sugar. So the very same person who is afraid of a candy bar but is indulging in skim milk, they’re getting lots and lots and lots and lots of sugar. Keep in mind also that cows make hormones all day every day and because cows are typically pregnant—they’re impregnated annually on farms—hormones get into the milk and the amount grows and grows as the pregnancy proceeds.
Dr. Barnard: And the amount is measurable, and we’ve seen in men poorer sperm counts…and in women, higher breast cancer mortality in those people who eat the most cheese, in particular, but probably also other fatty dairy products. So I’m sure I’m cheering all the listeners up right now as we’re talking about all the bad things in cheese. But it’s got fat, it’s got sugar. A cheese is saltier than potato chips, ounce per ounce. And it’s got these icky hormones in it as well.
Sarah Hiner: OK, but babies—human babies—drink mother’s milk and get that same stuff. So there’s nutrients in your own species…in mammalian milk. So is the problem going awry that we’re now taking this other species’ formula and then we’re continuing to ingest that beyond when we need those nutrients? Because now…
Dr. Barnard: That’s exactly right…it’s both those things. It’s the wrong species, and it’s also the wrong time. Weaning is universal in nature. So a baby raccoon, a baby giraffe—they drink milk from their mom and they stop because it’s not appropriate after that age. And so for humans, it’s not appropriate to suckle when you’re five and six and seven years old. But we’ve figured out a way to not get weaned, and that’s to drink the milk of a cow. But what is of concern to me in particular is that cow proteins are not the same as human proteins and the human body often recognizes these proteins as foreign. Where this manifests, we believe, is particularly in autoimmune conditions like type one diabetes, where the baby is given a cow’s milk formula. The proteins trigger an antibody reaction so that antibodies form in the baby’s body. Antibodies are little protein torpedoes that are there to knock out viruses or bacteria. And they recognize a foreign protein as a target. And so if you’re drinking cow’s milk, in some cases, the body will make antibodies to it. And the problem is, once these little antibody torpedoes form, they destroy all kinds of things and they are a chief suspect in the destruction of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.
Dr. Barnard: In other words, the baby got type one diabetes because cow’s milk proteins triggered the formation of antibodies that destroyed the baby’s own insulin-producing cells. Now this is still a theory but there’s a lot of evidence for it and when babies are never exposed to cow’s milk, their risk for type one diabetes goes way down. But there are other autoimmune conditions, too—asthma, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis—all of these tend to be less common in people who avoid dairy.
Sarah Hiner: Now they’re kind of skyrocketing though in recent years. Autoimmune, in general.
Dr. Barnard: Cheese sales are going up, and so are all the problems that relate to it. Including obesity, by the way. For all those people who are saying obesity must come from sugar, sugar consumption has been falling for 20 years. Obesity continues to rise, as does diabetes. And I think that the cheese products probably get a huge amount of the blame for that.
Sarah Hiner: Well, there’s an amazing chart that you show in some of your presentations with a graph—as cheese consumption, so does obesity.
Dr. Barnard: The average American gets 64,000 calories or more every year from cheese alone. If you just left the cheese off your diet, you’re talking about an enormous boatload of calories that you would never consume. You know it’s easy to say, extra cheese on my pizza or throw some cheese on the burger or whatever—it’s a massive load of fat and calories.
Sarah Hiner: And again, so let’s go back to these diseases because we kind of brushed past them. But I want people to hear it and realize, because, yes, prevention matters and taking this out of your diet can make a huge difference with cancer. Because these hormones…there are so many cancers that are hormone fit, right.
Dr. Barnard: For women, we’re talking about breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer, which is cancer of the uterus. For men, we’re thinking especially about prostate cancer and testicular cancer. And maybe starting with men, there have been many, many studies that have shown that milk-drinking men have a higher risk for prostate cancer, and that’s true even if it’s nonfat milk. And could it be the hormones? Maybe. Could it be the fact that the milk triggers the production of something in a man’s blood called IGF-1, insulin-like growth factor. Whatever the reason, we see that men who throw out the milk carton and don’t consume milk, they are at much lower risk for this kind of cancer.
Sarah Hiner: And there’s another part with men, too. The more milk they drink, the lower their sperm count.
Dr. Barnard: Yes.
Sarah Hiner: All milk products or just cheese?
Dr. Barnard: Particularly cheese. You’re speaking of some studies that were run first, I believe it was in Rochester, New York, where surgeons did sperm counts on men and found that the more cheese men ate, the worse their sperm counts. You look at morphology, which is the shape of the sperm. And then motility, meaning does it move? And then you just look at the count, which is how many of them are there? And all of these things appear to be affected. And that raised this question—if milk comes out of a pregnant cow, could these little traces of hormones, these traces of estrogens, actually affect something like male fertility? Because it’s only traces. But the answer seems to be yes because your body already has the hormones that nature wanted you to have, if I can use that kind of term. And when you start adding extra hormones in the form of milk and especially cheese—because the hormones concentrate in the fatty part of the dairy product. Then we do think it is probably enough to affect fertility. But, frankly, fertility is not a life or death situation.
Dr. Barnard: What is, is breast cancer. And in women who have been previously diagnosed with breast cancer… This was a huge study in California. It was all women who had been diagnosed…they’d been treated…they got one thing on their mind, which is I don’t want my cancer ever to come back. Those women who consumed the most high-fat dairy, that’s cheese, butter, whole milk.
Sarah Hiner: Ice cream.
Dr. Barnard: They had a 49% higher risk of dying from their cancer. 49% higher compared to those women who tended to avoid these products.
Sarah Hiner: All right, so this is crazy because again, I referred earlier on…the American Diabetes association, Susan B. Komen, American Heart Association. They all include dairy in their guidelines. And I’m not even going to the food pyramid, which we know the politics of the dairy farmers and all of that. But why would these medical associations be including dairy in their recommendations when there’s so much research that shows a direct connection?
Dr. Barnard: I don’t want to speak for these organizations, but they are run by people who have dietary habits of their own and biases and prejudices of their own and their own read on the literature, and they’re entitled to obviously make their own opinion. But let me call out the American Heart Association for a moment. The AHA has done a number of good things over the years, but one of the things that has really raised eyebrows is—if you are McDonald’s or you are Kraft, and you sell a product and you want to make sure that the American Heart Association never says anything against you, you can pay $10,000 to the American Heart Association and join the Industry Nutrition Advisory Panel. The AHA has this panel for sale for manufacturers who pay 10 grand a year. What they buy for that is special access, specifically, to the American Heart Association’s policy makers. And so you get a chance to say why McDonald’s can fit into a healthy diet and why cheese and so forth fits into a healthy diet. And I have to say, with that kind of money, do you think the American Heart Association is ever going to say that maybe the saturated fat in cheese is not good for you?
Dr. Barnard: And it gets worse. They will sell their name to be on a cut of meat. This pork chop is heart-healthy because it meets a certain standard or something like that. Is this corruption?
Sarah Hiner: Follow the money trail.
Dr. Barnard: To its credit, the American Medical Association years ago threw these people out. They were taking money from various industry sources. They got caught, and they cleaned house. And I’ve got to say, I think the American Medical Association has been a standard for others to follow. We’ve got to understand, are we for heart disease or do we want to stop it? And if we want to stop it, we’ve got to call out who’s causing it. It’s the same thing as the tobacco industry giving money, which it used to do, to various health organizations and members of congress and everybody else. And now we’ve got the meat industry doing much of the same thing and dairy as well.
Sarah Hiner: OK. So let me flip sides and just play devil’s advocate for one brief moment. How come European countries that eat dairy—I know there was that big book about how come French women aren’t fat. You know the Swiss who obviously eat a lot of cheese, a lot of those countries. I’m going to presume, or let me just ask. Do they have the same problems with dairy that Americans do? And if not, why not?
Dr. Barnard: Yes, they do. As a matter of fact, there has long been viewed a north-south gradient in France and in Italy. Things are changing dramatically in recent years. But it used to be, 1960s you would talk to a chef in Marcé. I’m talking about places in the south of France. And they would never cook with butter and cream and all these things. Those were northern foods. There was meat in the diet, but it wasn’t a big thing and the idea of having meat every day—that was a northern habit. Things have changed in these European countries, and now meat is coming in everywhere and cheese is big all over the place. And obesity and diabetes are rising there just like here. I don’t mean to say they’re as bad as we are. I’m sorry to say that they are not.
Sarah Hiner: Well, I wasn’t sure if there was something different in the cow’s milk, in the hormones, in the source of the dairy itself that was different in Europe versus here.
Dr. Barnard: Really not. No. A cow in Brussels is not dramatically different from a cow in New Jersey.
Sarah Hiner: And the milk that comes out of that cow is from a high-hormone cow, no matter what.
Dr. Barnard: Every single one of them in Europe and in the United States has the hand of a farmer up her rectum once a year. Whereas that hand grasps the uterus and the other hand inserts the semen to artificially inseminate them. They go through that process, they are impregnated. They’re pregnant nine months out of every year in Europe, just like in the United States. The hormones get into the glass of milk, and we’re swallowing them down along with the saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt.
Sarah Hiner: OK.
Dr. Barnard: I hope I’m not cheering you up.
Sarah Hiner: Well, I got a little distracted with that image. Fortunately, I’d seen it before so I knew as you were saying it. But I’m not sure what any listeners are doing in their heads right now—imagining the poor cow and the arm and all of that.
Dr. Barnard: Let me say why I mention this. There are a lot of people who are concerned about how animals are treated. And for me, as a doctor, I have found it very helpful for people… Let’s say you’ve got a 16-year-old kid who says, “I just don’t like the idea of slaughtering chickens and so forth for what I’m eating. I want to go vegan.” That kid just made a lifesaving decision. Not for the animals. Well, I guess for the animals. But for himself or herself. So my point is, that if people are motivated by animal welfare, their coronary arteries are going to be glad. And so many people imagine that a cow just makes milk. The cows have to be impregnated. They are impregnated by artificial insemination, and then the calf that results from the pregnancy is taken away because the farmer wants to sell the milk. And if she’s a female calf, she will be raised in a hutch in isolation, and she’ll then be artificially inseminated when she’s ready. If the calf is a male, he will be killed quite promptly for veal. And then when the cows are about four…a cow normally lives about 20 years in the cow’s actual lifespan. But by about age four, they’re all just slaughtered for low-grade hamburger because the farmer isn’t getting as much milk as he did when the cow was two or three.
Dr. Barnard: And so you then artificially inseminate her daughters and granddaughters, and take their milk and take their kids away. It’s frankly, I have to say as a person who has animal agriculture folks in my own family, it’s a creepy, creepy business, and it’s something that I think has no part in a civilized society.
Sarah Hiner: Well, and I think something that most people have no clue about whatsoever—what the reality is. Let’s jump subjects a little bit. Let’s talk about cheese addiction. And that cheese actually has these mild opioids in it. That pizza being the number-one most addictive food on a list.
Dr. Barnard: You know, it’s a funny thing. When we were doing research studies, NIH… We do these all the time. I remember an NIH-funded trial that I was doing back in 2003 through 2005. And we were using vegan diets for people with type two diabetes, and they got dramatically better. They would lose weight, their diabetes would improve…everything else. But I kept hearing from one person after another, “The food I really miss is cheese.” It wasn’t ice cream, and it wasn’t a chicken wing. They wanted cheese. And I thought, What is that? They kind of would describe it the way an alcoholic would describe his last drink—it was this great fun. They’re describing it like a drug. So we started looking into it. And what we found is quite surprising. There actually are opiate traces in cheese itself. They’re in milk, but they are concentrated in the cheese.
Sarah Hiner: And this isn’t infused in it. It is actually part of the chemical structure of the cheese.
Dr. Barnard: Yes. They’re in the dairy protein, which is called casein, C-A-S-E-I-N. And the casein protein, like all proteins, is a string of beads. And each bead is an amino acid, and in your digestive tract, those beads break apart into individual beads that you can absorb. Except in milk, the casein protein breaks apart to release some individual amino acids, but it also releases strings of four or five or six or seven amino acids and they go to the brain and they can attach to the very same receptors in the brain that morphine will attach to. So they’re called casomorphins. And they’re not that strong. The strongest of the casomorphins is called morphiceptin. And it has about one-tenth of the brain-binding power compared with pure morphine. Pharmacy-grade morphine. So call it maybe 10%, something like that. So it’s not enough to get you arrested, but it’s more than enough for a person to really like cheese. And they think, Oh I just like that funky smell or It’s got the nice mouth feel. And they’re completely unaware of what’s happening in their brain as they’re ingesting it. It has this druglike effect. It has the same effect, by the way, on the intestinal tract. If a person ever ate too much cheese and got really constipated, that’s the other narcotic effect of the cheese.
Sarah Hiner: That it makes you constipated? Oh because morphine creates constipation.
Dr. Barnard: Yeah. If you ever had surgery—you had an appendectomy or something—and you got a Demerol injection and then you found you were all blocked up afterward. Narcotics stop your intestinal movements, and people who overdo it on cheese very often report this massive constipation. And I believe it is partly because there’s no fiber in cheese, of course. But it’s also because of the narcotic effect of the cheese. But the one we’re worried about is that the narcotic morphiceptin and its cousins, the other casomorphins, there’s a whole group of them, when they attach to the brain and they stimulate the brain receptors, they cause a narcotic effect that causes a person to want to eat that food.
Dr. Barnard: And so, why are people getting this massive amount of saturated fat in their diet and cholesterol and sodium? And why are they then gaining weight? And why are they then having a high cholesterol level? And why do they then need Lipitor and antihypertensives and all these things? It’s a drug habit. In the same way as why there’s a person who smokes cigarettes. Why are they at risk for things, and why do they need medical care? And why does an alcoholic have the problems that they do? If you are hooked on cheese products and you’re rationalizing it because you just like the taste, there’s something much more fundamental going on.
Sarah Hiner: Well, it’s so funny. I, for the most part, have not eaten wheat, sugar or dairy for the last 20+ years. But I like cheese, too. And every so often you’re out at somebody’s house, and they have cheese and crackers for an appetizer, and I’ll have a little bit of it because every so often you’re entitled. And it really is amazing. There is this—you can’t just have one. It’s like the Lays potato chips commercials. And I can definitely feel that and feel that addictive quality of it even in that little piece of time. So it’s almost like you can’t limit it. You can’t say, just have a little bit of it. That it has to be all or none in order to overcome it.
Dr. Barnard: I think what you said is an extremely common experience and a really important one. And yet there’s a flip side to it as well, and that’s disgust. Like a smoker. When you’re a smoker you want a cigarette and a cigarette makes everything better. You got a headache, well at least you can have a cigarette. You might still have a headache, but you feel better. If the world is treating you wrong, then a little cheese on a cracker and a glass of wine is going to make everything a whole lot better. But in the same way as a smoker can say, “Enough is enough, I don’t want my clothes to stink, I don’t want to cough, I don’t want to be at high risk for cancer and heart disease.” And then you find that your desire for a cigarette turns into disgust, and you don’t want to be around people who smoke. When people really see cheese for what it is, for being the product of an abused animal that’s filled with hormones and saturated fat and it’s bad for you, they look at this stuff and they’re no longer attracted to it. They find it gross, and if it ends up on their pizza, they scrape it off.
Dr. Barnard: I know that’s funny to think of if you are kind of in the midst of active cheese aficionadom, but it’s a common experience. The same way as a person who wakes up really hung over throws out the bottle and they’re kind of disgusted by it. That’s what happens with cheese, too.
Sarah Hiner: Interesting. Well the other thing that I found when I cut those foods out of my diet—because I was a big child of the ’60s, big sugar intake, et cetera. And I thought, Oh my God, I’ll never be able to just cut that out of my diet. And I didn’t realize until I stopped eating that food, how bad it made me feel. So to the point of disgust, right? So now I can easily not eat it because I know that I’m going to feel horrible afterward.
Dr. Barnard: Yes. And you know who’s really taking it to a fine point are athletes. This started… I’m going to say it probably started with the ultra-long-distance runners who felt that if they were eating cheese and meat, they just couldn’t compete very well. It’s probably because the saturated fat makes their blood more viscous and thick. And so their tissues don’t oxygenate very well and their brain doesn’t oxygenate, which is why you fall asleep after that fatty meal. So Scott Jurek and Brendan Brazier and Rich Roll and these really just top-level athletes, are all vegan and nobody can touch them. And then it got into tennis. And we were talking about autoimmune conditions. Venus Williams had an autoimmune condition called Sjogren’s syndrome. She tanked. And so she got the dairy out of her diet and went vegan. And then Serena said, “Well if you’re doing it, then I’m doing it, too.” And then on the male side of the tennis court, Novak Djokovic who won Wimbledon and the US Open and wins everything else, he actually has a vegan restaurant that he’s opened in Monaco. And then it got in Formula One, the pinnacle of racing. Lewis Hamilton’s been the five-time world champion. He openly talks about his vegan diet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his reactions would be slowed if he had a cheese sandwich for lunch.
Dr. Barnard: But now, it’s the basketball players and then the football players. They want to be big and muscular, but they don’t want flab. So the Tennessee Titans, maybe 12 or 15 of their players have been doing this. And they had their best season last year than they had in a long time. Anyways, it’s been a funny thing. If you want to be alert and feel good and so forth, getting that junk out of your diet really, really helps. If your goal is just to do well in your weekend or afternoon running or whatever, the people on a plant-based diet, they just perform better and they feel better.
Sarah Hiner: That’s great to know. All right, so let’s go through some of the dairy foods. So let me rephrase it. Are all dairy foods equally evil to cheese? So yogurt, organic milk? Are there different grades of cheese? If it’s goat’s milk or sheep’s milk or is it all simply classified evil and it’s all got the hormones and the salts and the fats?
Dr. Barnard: Well, keep in mind that people buying goat’s milk, they don’t buy it because it’s healthier. They buy it because it has an image of being on a small farm on the hillsides outside of town. And if anything, it’s a little bit worse. The fat content is a little bit worse. And the ethical issues are the same. Keep in mind they have to impregnate the goats and the kid is not going to suckle from mom. Your point is to make goat cheese. So the kids, the baby goats, become part of goat yoga until they’re not cute anymore, and then you hang them up by the leg and slit their throat. So no, it’s not any better. The way to make milk better…if you have whole milk and you take away the fat and make skim milk, that’s a step in the right direction. But now you’ve got sugar in it. So if you take the sugar out, it’s even better. And if you take the hormones out and all the other junk out, I guess you’d be left with Perrier, but that would be better, too. I’m kidding. But the point being, if you can just take all the milk out of the milk it would be better.
Sarah Hiner: So milk’s all the same. Yogurt, same thing? Are yogurts any better?
Dr. Barnard: Yogurt is romantic milk. It comes from Greece. Didn’t I have a nice vacation in Greece? Yogurt is milk that you threw a bacterial culture in. It then ferments the lactose and gives it that funky smell. And then people talk about folks in Russia eating it and miraculously living to old age. And these are mythological things that gullible people believe. It still comes from a pregnant animal…it’s still got hormones in it. If it’s low-fat yogurt its number-one nutrient is sugar. So it’s not health food.
Sarah Hiner: So all of it’s the same. OK. How about whey protein powder? So whey is dairy-based.
Dr. Barnard: Yeah, whey is an amazing phenomenon. To make cheese, you add brevibacteria—B-R-E-V-I, brevibacteria—to make a nice muenster. By the way, between your toes, the brevibacteria are what makes your feet extra funky if you haven’t taken a shower in about two weeks.
Sarah Hiner: So the same bacteria in cheese is on my feet.
Dr. Barnard: Isn’t that cute to think?
Sarah Hiner: That’s delicious.
Dr. Barnard: Brevibacteria, that’s what makes the cheese have that strong smell. So once that’s in there and then you add rennet, which is an enzyme that came out of a calf’s stomach or else is genetically engineered, the enzyme then makes the solids all clump together. And then you have that liquid left that you’ve got to get rid of—that liquid is whey. And you drain it off, and that leaves you with a solid cheese. So you’ve got now a big tank full of whey, which is this liquid full of lactose and some other parts of the milk. And so the cheese factory would throw it in a landfill or put it in a barrel and ship it away, and they couldn’t figure out what to do with this whey. And they got a brilliant idea, which is that bodybuilders will buy anything. So they would dehydrate the whey and sell the whey protein as a powder. You can charge more for it pound per pound than for cheese. And so guys who are trying to build their muscles are told, “Here’s this dairy protein and if you eat it, it will help you.” Now needless to say, it’s effects are slim to none, but people will buy it. And that’s the whole idea with whey protein. And do you need it or does it have any benefit? I would say no.
Sarah Hiner: And it still has the same, I’ll call it, core dairy issues. All right so how about…
Dr. Barnard: Yes, but it’s different. It’s not casein, so it doesn’t have the casomorphins in it to my knowledge. It’s just a dehydrated protein that some people will react badly to.
Sarah Hiner: Well, let’s talk about milk replacements then. So what do you think of all the nut milks, the soy milk, the rice milk, the oat milk—all these substitutes? So the good news is that people are moving away from a lot of the milks and to these substitutes. Are they good, or do they have their own devilish issues?
Dr. Barnard: Well, the most important thing about them is they’re not cow’s milk so you don’t have to impregnate a soybean. So it doesn’t have estrogens in it. And that’s true for cashew milk and almond milk and so forth. However, let me say something special about soymilk. Because it does have what are called isoflavones, which are sort of hormonelike compounds. And they may actually adhere to the estrogen receptor, and so some people have wondered if soymilk or tofu or other soy products might increase the risk for breast cancer. And the science on this has been fascinating. In the same way as if you put your foot down in your car. you might put your foot down on the gas or you might put your foot down on the break. They have opposite effects. You have more than one estrogen receptor in your body, and if something adheres to, say, the estrogen receptors on breast cells, are they encouraging the growth of cancer cells, or are they stopping the growth of cancer cells? And back in 2004, I believe it was, there was a big meta-analysis published. And what they found is that women who consumed the most soy products, particularly soy milk and tofu, had about 30% less risk of developing breast cancer compared with other women.
Dr. Barnard: And now we have maybe 35 or 40 studies, and they show the same thing. That soy products seem to reduce cancer risk. And then what was really important was, women who have had cancer in the past. Because some of them have been told by their doctors, “I think you shouldn’t have soy because it might affect your estrogen balance.” There have been at least five studies on this now. And they show that of women who previously were diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, those women who consumed the most soy product have about a 30% reduction in their likelihood of having their cancer come back and killing them. In other words, if you followed this well-meaning but ill-informed advice to avoid soy, and you’re not having soy products, you are at higher risk of dying of your cancer than if you’re eating the soy products. Substantially so. So it’s the opposite of what the kind of common myth is. That the myth was well, you better avoid soy. It turns out that the soy avoiders are the most likely to get cancer and the most likely to die of cancer.
Dr. Barnard: Now let me be clear. Soy is not necessary. You don’t have to have it. It’s always better than what it replaces. So if you’re having soy sausage or soy milk, that is way better than pork sausage or cow’s milk. But you don’t have to have it. It’s totally optional. And that’s true for the other milks as well.
Sarah Hiner: So do you have any preference among all of them, or it all depends on your own personal taste, and as long as they’re not dairy, it’s fine?
Dr. Barnard: I think it depends on taste. Now soymilk is much higher in protein. And there are new pea protein milks that are high in protein as well. Almond milk and rice milk are much lower in protein. Now that doesn’t matter too much because you’re going to get plenty of protein in the other foods that you eat. A vegan diet is not low in protein. But if you are looking for extra protein, soymilk is going to be a good choice for you.
Sarah Hiner: OK. I think the other aspect of this, I’ll call it, unpeeled learning about soy or the evolved learning about soy, is so true throughout all of medical discoveries. That it evolves. So something is good today, it’s bad tomorrow. Something is the savior today, and it’s not tomorrow or it’s terrible today and it’s good tomorrow. To constantly be open to and understand that what we know, what is fact, is not necessarily fact.
Dr. Barnard: Yes. Now if that’s because we just didn’t know and we were guessing, and then research proves what’s true, that’s helpful. What’s unfortunately also true is that you have industries out there trying to promote their products with bad science. This happened a number of years ago. There was a researcher working for the dairy industry who made the claim that if you have a low-calorie diet that includes milk, you’ll lose more weight than if you have a low-calorie diet that doesn’t have the milk in it. And I have to tell you, nobody could replicate that research.
Sarah Hiner: There’s a whole bunch of bad research design.
Dr. Barnard: And the egg industry is guilty of the same thing. If there is one thing that is very clear in science, it’s if you eat eggs, your cholesterol level is likely to rise. And yet the egg industry has been working very hard to help people to not be aware of that. And the dairy industry has been trying to make dairy fat look innocuous. In my view, these are dangerous industries that care about money…they do not care about your health or your children’s health.
Sarah Hiner: All right…so everybody has been so indoctrinated that we need milk and dairy products for strong teeth and bones. So what do you do? What’s the recommendation to be able to have those strong teeth and bones?
Dr. Barnard: Well, what people are thinking about is calcium. And a little bit of biology 101 here—cows do not make calcium. Calcium is an element. It’s in the earth. And it goes through the roots of grass. And so if a cow eats grass, some of that calcium gets in the cow’s milk. But if you eat green leafy vegetables… hopefully not grass…but if you eat broccoli, kale, collards, Brussels’s sprouts, whatever it is, that calcium goes into your body. And the absorption of the calcium from broccoli or these other foods I mentioned is higher, on the order of 50%…60% compared to 32% for cow’s milk. There are some exceptions. Spinach is a very selfish vegetable. It has a lot of calcium, but the absorption is not very good. So the point is, you do need calcium, but green leafy vegetables are the source nature figured you were going to have.
Sarah Hiner: All right. That’s excellent. So what do you eat for breakfast?
Dr. Barnard: What did I eat for breakfast? I have different things different days. Today I actually made some blueberry pancakes, and I did have a soy sausage thing that I bought. But other days it might be something else. Big bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins is a typical one. And I haven’t had cow’s milk in a really long time. But for me, I grew up in North Dakota and all that stuff was normal. But I’m happy to say as a doctor, I’m on a healthier path.
Sarah Hiner: And you look great. You look at you and you look like a 35-year-old. There’s a picture…
Dr. Barnard: Keep saying that.
Sarah Hiner: Unless I’m watching really old videos of you. But no. All right, well, Dr. Neal Barnard, thank you so very much. You have so much rich information. PCRM.org is your website and for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and your books. You’re of course in our Bottom Line database of articles. So thank you very much.
Dr. Barnard: Oh thank you. It’s been great talking with you today.
Sarah Hiner: I’m talking to Dr. Neal Barnard about the surprising dangers of dairy. Including a little-known fact that cheese actually contains mild opiates that make it addictive and it triggers the same brain receptors as heroine and morphine. Dr. Barnard has been educating the public about the dangers of animal proteins and helping them to overcome diabetes, obesity and related diseases for nearly 35 years. His message is just one from the thousands of experts featured in our twice-monthly newsletter Bottom Line Personal, who provide their expert advice to guide readers into action in their own lives. In addition to Dr. Barnard’s insight into health, diet and nutrition, Bottom Line Personal is filled with actionable advice on all aspects of your life, including traveling safer and cheaper, living a healthier life, finding the best insurance, retirement planning, smart tax strategies, secrets for getting and staying fit, and even travel to little-known destinations. Bottom Line Personal has been helping people lead more informed and vibrant lives for over 40 years with our actionable and double-fact-checked advice. Subscribe today, and get a free bonus book, Bottom Line’s Best Bets, full of some of the greatest tips from our experts of all times. Just go to BottomLineInc.com/blp. That’s BottomLineInc.com/blp.
Sarah Hiner: Neal, one of the big buzzes around my office and around people I know, is this thing called the Impossible Burger. And a bunch of us went out the other day to taste the Impossible Burger because the lovers of it say it looks and smells and tastes just like a burger. To me it sounds disgusting. I wouldn’t order it. I had a bite of their’s. But what’s the story with it? Everyone says, Oh, no, no, no, it’s perfect…it’s great…it’s impossible that it can be so good.” Do you think it’s impossibly good?
Dr. Barnard: What it is—it’s a patty that’s made with water and wheat protein and coconut oil and potato protein and a bunch of other things. And it is better for the environment, which is the main reason it’s on the market. You don’t have to feed a whole bunch of feed grains to cows and harm the environment through all the things that animal agriculture does. And it’s better than meat in certain ways. When you heat it up, the carcinogens that meat might have are not in the Impossible Burger. That said, there are far better veggie burgers than the Impossible Burger. If you have an Impossible Burger, it’s got about 53% of its calories from fat…41% of its calories specifically come from saturated fat. That’s the coconut fat in it. I am hoping that as this burger evolves, they will take the coconut fat out and use a healthier one. You could almost feel your arteries snapping closed when you take a bite. And I have to say, I don’t think personally it tastes any better than any other veggie burger. What happens now, is people have been lured in by the name and the marketing and this ridiculous claim that it tastes just like meat and the heme iron is the magical ingredient and all this nonsense.
Sarah Hiner: Well and I think that they’re appealing to all of us who really want to eat cheeseburgers and they’re trying to be good so that… You said that the reason they’re doing it is for the environment. I would say they’re doing it because of gluttony. Because people really want to be eating their cheeseburgers and they’re pretending that they’re better.
Dr. Barnard: They are better for the environment and they do have some health advantages but other health risks. If you are looking for a vegan burger, what you’re tasting in a burger—whether you buy it at McDonald’s or whether it’s a veggie burger—you’re tasting the ketchup and the pickle and it’s kind of that grilling flavor with it. And to my taste, the Impossible Burger doesn’t taste any better than any other veggie burger, but it has way better marketing. So if you go to the store, there are many brands of vegan burgers. I would read the labels and I would have the ones that are lower in fat than the Impossible Burger. Now having said that, if the product really does get people to eat it instead of a beef burger or a chicken patty, that’s a step in the right direction and that’s a good thing. But the idea that a person’s going to stay there, it’s not good. Because to tell you the truth, this product wipes out the health benefits of a vegan diet.
Sarah Hiner: So, you and I were talking before. You mentioned that you had some vegan sausage for breakfast. In general, I avoid what I’ll call fake foods. If it’s not the way that God grew it, I don’t have reformulated versions of sausage. Either I eat the whole disgusting, what they do to make a sausage, which I don’t, or I skip it. But you seem to be, I’ll call it OK with recompiled versions of food.
Dr. Barnard: Sure. First of all, these transitions would have an enormous benefit for people who are making that transition, and that’s a really good thing. But if you’re having ground-up soybeans mixed with water that you put on a nonstick pan and you put it on your plate, there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Now is it ground up and does that mean it’s processed? Sure. In the same way that spaghetti comes from wheat that’s been processed. So that’s not bad. My gripe with the Impossible Burger is that they mix it up with coconut oil. My own view is that coconut oil is great for shining your shoes, but you should not swallow it. Let me emphasize again—if a person is eating a beef burger or a chicken burger or a turkey burger, and they make a switch to a veggie burger including the Impossible Burger, that’s a good move. So good on them for doing that. But once you’re in this side of things, don’t stay there. There are much healthier ones that taste just as good.
Sarah Hiner: And are there any ingredients besides coconut oil that they should flag when they’re reading the ingredients on these boxes that means it’s filled with junk fillers versus quality fillers?
Dr. Barnard: Yeah. Well you can look on the label. Look at the saturated fat content. You want that to be zero or as close to zero as possible. On the Impossible, 41% of the calories come from saturated fat. That’s the one that snaps your arteries closed. To be fair, cheese is 70% fat and most of that is saturated fat, so don’t get me wrong—cheese is terrible and beef and, frankly, chicken. 30% of the fat in chicken is saturated fat. So I don’t want the people to think that if you’re having turkey sausage or something, that this is somehow healthy. It is not. So getting to plant-based foods is a really good choice. But that’s not the end of your dietary search…that’s the beginning of it. Once you have gotten the animal products off your plate and you’re taking your health seriously, now you want to choose the healthier foods. And to be clear, those are vegetables and fruits and whole grains and beans. Don’t forget your vitamin B-12 because you’re going to need that too for good health. But you don’t need these really high-fat products.
Sarah Hiner: All right. Neal Barnard on the Impossible Burger. Thank you so much.
Dr. Barnard: My pleasure. Thank you.