Stanford Medical Professor Recommends We Eat Less Meat… Here’s Why!

5 Questions: Randall Stafford advocates a plant-based diet

In a letter to JAMA, the preventive-medicine expert addresses the failure of the newest USDA Dietary Guidelines to articulate the health and climate benefits of a low-meat diet.

JUL 122016

Nuts and lentils

Plant-based sources of protein, like lentils and nuts, are alternatives to meat.

Eating meat is bad for our health and bad for our planet, according to Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

Studies show that vegetarians and vegans have lower rates of heart disease and cancer, and that nearly 15 percent of all planet-warming greenhouse gases comes from raising cattle, pigs, poultry and other animals. The upshot is that the estimated greenhouse gas emissions of a vegetarian diet are half those of a meat-based diet. To improve public health and combat climate change, China recently released national dietary guidelines whose goal is to cut national meat consumption in half by 2030.

Yet, here in the United States, where we eat 80 percent more meat than do people in China, guidelines recently released by the federal Department of Agriculture don’t recommend that we eat less meat. For good sources of protein, the new guidelines list meat, eggs and dairy first, with no suggestion that nuts, seeds and legumes could be a better choice.

Disappointed by this aspect of the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, Stafford wrote a letter to the editor of JAMA that was published July 12. “The health benefits of specific components of plants have been documented, as have the harms associated with constituents largely unique to meat,” he wrote. “Vegetarian diets have been associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality by as much as 29 percent and cancer incidence by 18 percent.”

In a recent interview, writer Jennie Dusheck discussed the letter with Stafford, director of the SPRC’s Program on Prevention Outcomes and Practices.

Randall Stafford

Randall Stafford

Q: What initially prompted you to write your letter?

Stafford: These guidelines have been long-awaited and there are many aspects that are improvements, but I was very disappointed by the way the guidelines dealt with recommendations about the consumption of meat.

People who consume meat generally have worse health outcomes, particularly in terms of heart disease, stroke and cancer. On the flip side, clinical trials show that people who eat mostly plants have better health outcomes. And the evidence goes further than just suggesting an association — it shows that plant-based diets directly cause better health.

The USDA guidelines clearly state that saturated fats should be reduced. We know most of the saturated fat in our diets comes from animal sources, and yet the guidelines don’t take that next logical step and tell consumers to eat less meat. I am bothered by the lack of an explicit message around meat.

Q: What would you say to people who think that eating meat is essential to health and a more natural part of a “paleo” diet?

Stafford: The first way to answer that is to think about protein requirements. The average amount of protein people consume in the United States is far more than we need. A plant-based diet can provide all the protein anyone needs — 40 or 50 grams. Two cups of lentils, two cups of yogurt or a single 4-ounce steak would cover a whole day’s protein requirement. People are generally misinformed about the amount of protein they need, some believing they need four or five times as much protein as they actually do.

Second, the only real deficit in a vegetarian or a vegan diet is a lack of vitamin B12. That’s something that all people who are eating a predominantly plant-based diet should be aware of. The recommended daily requirement for B12 is 2.4 micrograms and even that tiny amount is higher than most people need because it accounts for those people who absorb B12 poorly. On a vegan diet, you could get that much B12 from a vitamin supplement or a tablespoon of nutritional yeast or a serving of fortified tofu. Even if you eat meat, you would need only about 1.5 ounces of beef per day or two forkfuls of fish.

The idea of eating unprocessed or minimally processed foods has value — which the paleo diet emphasizes — particularly when it comes to plants. But some anthropologists think the actual meat consumption of our ancestors was quite low, which would undermine the story that justifies lots of meat in the paleo diet. But regardless of what our ancestors ate, we now live in a very different food environment and we need to be very careful about how we interact with that environment.

Q: From a global environmental perspective, would it be better if people ate mostly plants?

Stafford: Yes, for a couple of reasons. One is that the process of producing meat generates more greenhouse gases per calorie than does growing plants of the same nutritional value. In essence, we can eat the corn and soy we grow or we can feed these plants to livestock and then eat the livestock. For a lot of reasons, it’s energetically much more efficient to eat the plants ourselves.

Food production also relies on other scarce environmental resources. Water is the big one, as is arable land. Both the water and land required for a calorie from meat is far greater than the amount required for plant-based foods.

Q: Do you think there’s support for your point of view generally?

Stafford: I think there is general agreement among scientists interested in nutrition that a plant-based diet provides better outcomes and that this evidence should be more explicitly reflected in the guidelines. What’s so striking about the new guidelines is that they are based on that same information, the same data. Clearly, the recommendation that we reduce our intake of saturated fat comes from that same pool of evidence. But the guidelines don’t say which foods contribute to our consumption of saturated fats. Instead, they leave it up to the consumer to figure out that saturated fats mostly come from animals. Essentially, they’re only telling part of the story, and leaving out the most practical advice.

Q: What do you think it would take for the USDA to change their guidelines?

Stafford: I think it requires a reframing of how we think about dietary guidelines. Dietary guidelines are often focused on the idea that we break foods down into particular components — micronutrients and macronutrients — and that we can define a healthy diet in terms of the proportions of these different categories of nutrients.

But the fact is people eat food; they don’t eat protein or saturated fats or carbohydrates alone. So in some sense the very process of creating guidelines that are based on these categories of nutrients misses the fact that people eat foods, not these categories.

It’s not enough to just tell people what nutrients they should be consuming. I think it really has to come down to telling people what types of foods they should eat less of and what types of food they should be eating more of.

I think the guidelines have moved in the right direction. For instance, the guidelines have moved away from a recommendation to reduce total fat intake and are now focused solely on saturated fat, for which there’s more evidence of harm. And the guidelines’ emphasis on fibrous vegetables and whole grains are more forthright.

But the whole regulatory and guideline process really needs to become more practical and actionable by consumers. It would be much more direct to simply tell consumers to eat less meat. And that would be the most effective way to reduce the consumption of saturated fats.

Despite the tendency of consumers to be attracted to fad diets, I think Americans are more ready than ever to hear a simple recommendation to eat less meat. The dietary evidence is stronger today than it’s ever been. And I think consumers are also uncomfortable with both the environmental impact of their diets and the issues surrounding the ethical treatment of animals. The time is right for the USDA to be more direct in their recommendations, even if it means making a recommendation that is contrary to the interests of some entrenched food manufacturers.

I certainly think more pressure from scientists to have the USDA state the obvious consequences of the data would help. I also think it’s important that consumers complain to the USDA that the guidance is not nearly as clear as it could have been.

Where Do Food Cravings Come From?


How Your Gut Bacteria Can Help Stop Your Food Cravings

July 6, 2016

Previous research showed that a fiber called inulin can stimulate the gut bacteria to produce a short-chain fatty acid called propionate, which can in turn signal to the brain to reduce one’s appetite. In 2013, another study also showed that inulin-propionate ester, which induces the gut bacteria to produce even more propionate, can help volunteers prevent weight gain even more than inulin. To determine where propionate is acting in the brain  to curb food cravings in humans, researchers from the Imperial College London, the University of Glasgow, and University of West Scotland administered a milkshake to 20 volunteers containing either inulin or inulin-propionate ester. Then they monitored the volunteers by MRI imaging while they were being shown pictures of food. They found that, compared to people to drank inulin, people who drank the inulin-propionate ester have less activity in the reward center of the brain called the caudate and the nucleus accumbens when they were shown high-calorie but not low-calorie foods. This latter group also rated the high-calorie foods less appealing and ate less food per meal. This study clearly illustrates how feeding high-fiber foods (e.g., beans, fruits, and vegetables) to gut bacteria can influence eating habits and health.

Areas of the brain associated with food cravings. The areas marked in blue and yellow – called the caudate and the nucleus accumbens – showed reduced activation to high-calorie foods when the volunteers took the propionate food supplement.

Credit: Image courtesy of Imperial College London

Byrne CS, Chambers ES, Alhabeeb H, et al. Increased colonic propionate reduces anticipatory reward responses in the human striatum to high-energy foods. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;104:5-14. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.115

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Can GMO Foods also be Organic?


The Shocking Difference Between Organic & Non-GMO Labels – It’s Huge!



One of the things I love to do every year is visit The Natural Products Expo, I go to both shows every year (west coast and east coast) to see the types of natural products food companies are creating and meet the founders behind them. Every year I see more and more Non-GMO products being created which is a great sign of the times, but there’s something really tricky and important you need to know about these products.

Shocking Difference

There’s a lot of confusion and debate about what non-GMO and organic labels really mean.

The labels are very different! It’s crucial to understand the difference if you want to pick out the healthiest and safest food for you and your family. Every time we decide to buy a product, we are supporting so much more than our bodies. We are shaping the landscape of the entire food system – everything from the environment, land, air, water to the farmers themselves. And this is why I want you to know the truth about the “Non-GMO” label and what it really means.

What exactly does the “Non-GMO Project” label mean?

The “Non-GMO Project” label only verifies that a product doesn’t contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients (or technically less than 0.9% GMOs). While that is good, it’s not the whole story about what the product contains, how it was produced, and where it came from.

But when I have a choice, I always choose organic food because of these reasons…

10 reasons why “Organic” beats “Non-GMO” every time:


1.  Certified organic foods are also non-GMO. USDA organic regulations prohibit any genetically modified (GMO) ingredients in a certified organic product. I avoid GMOs at all costs, and going organic is one of the easiest ways to do it. NOTE: The USDA Organic label certifies that 95%-100% of the ingredients are organic, so there is a slight chance that (up to 5%) of non-organic ingredients are in the product – however they are not supposed to be GMO. There are still some tricky loopholes, so that’s why you need to look for “100% certified organic” or a “Non-GMO Project” verified label to ensure it’s GMO-free.

2.  Organic crops cannot be grown with synthetic pesticides, and contain much lower pesticide residues overall. Organic regulations prohibit certain toxic pesticides from being used on crops, but there are no special restrictions for non-GMO crops. So, non-GMO crops can be grown the same as other conventional crops and can still be laden with toxic pesticide residues, including organophosphates that are linked to lymphoma and leukemia. A bag of non-GMO potato chips can contain residues from up to 35 different pesticides used on conventional potatoes, several of which are known carcinogens, suspected hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, or reproductive toxins. Also non-GMO produce (like strawberries and celery) are on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide as the most contaminated with pesticides. While natural pesticides are allowed on organic crops, it’s been shown that organic produce has very low levels of pesticide residue compared with conventional crops, and by eating organic you can significantly decrease your exposure to pesticide residues (source).

3.  The most widely-used herbicide on the planet – Glyphosate (Roundup) – is prohibited on organic crops. Non-GMO crops such as wheat can be pre-harvested with glyphosate. This herbicide is a toxin that can accumulate in your body the more you are exposed to it. It has been linked to kidney disease, breast cancer, and some birth defects. According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT, glyphosate is largely responsible for the escalating incidence of autoimmune and other neurological disorders that we are experiencing. There are many non-GMO products on the market that contain wheat and seem healthy – but they could be laced with glyphosate. For instance, whole-wheat breads and non-GMO cereals that aren’t organic (like Grape Nuts) may contain glyphosate residues.

4.  Organic ingredients aren’t processed with toxic hexane. Most conventional oils (canola, soybean, corn) are extracted with the neurotoxin hexane, and some residue has been shown to remain in these oils. Hexane is also used in the processing of many soy ingredients like soy protein and textured vegetable protein, and testing done by The Cornucopia Institute has found residues in some of these ingredients. Almost all research focuses on the industrial use and inhalation of hexane: “No epidemiology or case report studies examining health effects in humans or chronic laboratory studies evaluating potential health effects in animals following oral exposure to n-hexane are available”.  Why isn’t anyone studying how “safe” it is to have this neurotoxin in our food? Industrial exposure has been linked to brain tumors and nerve damage. The FDA does not set a maximum residue level for hexane, and no one knows for sure how much residue is being consumed by the American public. There’s nothing prohibiting these ingredients in non-GMO products, but hexane-processed ingredients are banned from products with the USDA Organic seal.

5.  Organic crops are prohibited from being fertilized with sewage sludge. Conventional non-GMO crops can be treated with “biosolids”, which is literally the treated waste that’s flushed down the toilet, and waste from hospitals and industry. This waste can be contaminated with such things as heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, pathogens, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and dioxins – it’s basically a toxic chemical soup! It’s been shown that some of these contaminants are absorbed into (or remain as residue on) the crops that we eat. These residues have proven deadly to cattle that have grazed on crops fertilized with biosolids, and it certainly isn’t something we should be eating.

6.  Organic meat isn’t produced with growth-promoting drugs, like ractopamine. Packaged non-GMO foods may contain meat that has been raised on growth-promoting steroids and drugs. Residues of some of these drugs have been found in meat and it’s been shown that eating products with traces of ractopamine can lead to an unacceptable level of risk of diseases of the cardiovascular system.

7.  Organic animals aren’t fattened up with growth-promoting antibiotics. The overuse of growth-promoting antibiotics is creating superbugs that could threaten the entire human population. Antibiotics have been used for years, not just to fight infection, but to fatten up farm animals. This use is polluting our environment, water and food supply. Studies show that antibiotics have the same consequences for us, and can fatten us up too. This is because antibiotics kill off healthy bacteria in the gut – beneficial bugs called probiotics that influence how we absorb nutrients, burn off calories, and stay lean. Scientists have found that lean people have more of the good, anti-obesity bacteria in their guts, compared to people who are overweight. Growth-promoting antibiotics are only being used to increase industry profits and the best way to stop these practices is to refuse to buy products made with them.

8.  The non-GMO label claim is unregulated. Essentially anyone can say that their product is non-GMO, because the FDA has not set any standards to regulate the use of this claim on a label. This is not to be confused with the Non-GMO Project label, as they have a process for verifying whether products are non-GMO, and I feel that their label can be trusted (just as Whole Foods will only label products as non-GMO if they carry the Non-GMO Project verification label or are certified organic). However, some food manufacturers have been caught red-handed with unverified claims on their packages that say they are “non-GMO” when they really aren’t. As no independent 3rd party testing is required to verify their claims, there is some corruption going on. For instance, when Consumer Reports tested Xochitl tortilla chips with a non-GMO claim on the bag, they found GMO corn in them. Since most of these non-verified products have not been 3rd party tested and there are no government regulations, it’s not a reliable label claim.

There’s another big reason to eat organic… It can help you stay thin!

9.  Organic foods prohibit many of the chemicals known as “obesogens” that trigger our bodies to store fat. Antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, and synthetic preservatives are just a few of the chemicals that researchers have defined as obesogens. The theory that obesogens in our food and environment could be making us fat has been gathering steam ever since researcher Paula Baillie-Hamilton published an article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2002, presenting strong evidence that chemical exposure caused weight gain in experimental animals. As reported in the New York Times piece, “Warnings From A Flabby Mouse”, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals can cause weight gain. This is important because many of the synthetic pesticides that can be found on non-GMO conventional crops are endocrine disruptors. Also – the sewage sludge fertilizing some of these crops has been shown to contain endocrine disruptors. Minimizing your exposure to obesogens by choosing an organic diet may be the boost you need to lose weight and keep it off.


Source: NY Times

The only difference between these mice: The one at the top was exposed at birth to a tiny amount of an endocrine-disrupting chemical – these chemicals can be found in synthetic pesticides sprayed on non-GMO and conventional crops.

10.  By choosing organic food you’ll automatically avoid most of the “Sickening 15” ingredients that I talk about in my new book, The Food Babe Way.  Chemicals like synthetic preservatives, synthetic pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics are not used in organic food. These are the chemicals that can make you tired, wreck havoc on your skin, make you feel fat and miserable, even though you’ve been dieting and exercising like crazy. Even worse – they may put you at risk for scary, life-shortening diseases like cancer.

I’m not saying that all organic products are perfect. Some of them contain suspect chemicals too.

While it’s best to choose organic unprocessed food whenever you have the opportunity, it’s still very important to read ingredient lists on organic packaged products. Some organic and non-GMO products contain unnecessary additives and non-organic additives that can be detrimental to your health and waistline. Look for (and avoid) these ingredients in organic and non-GMO foods:

  • Hidden MSG – Although monosodium glutamate is prohibited in organic food, they can use other forms of free glutamic acid  – such as Yeast Extract, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Textured Protein. These chemicals are excitotoxins and can greatly influence how much you eat. For a full list of these hidden MSG additives, check out my new book – The Food Babe Way.
  • Carrageenan – It’s alarming that this is permitted in organic food. According to research conducted by The Cornucopia Institute, animal studies show that “food-grade carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumors”. Food grade “undegraded” carrageenan is contaminated with “degraded” carrageenan (the kind that’s not considered “food grade”). The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Research Council of the United States have both determined that degraded carrageenan is a carcinogen.
  • Unhealthy Oils – Non-GMO canola oil is used in some products, but canola oil consumption is linked to vitamin E deficiency and a shortened life span in animal studies.  Likewise, I often see sunflower and safflower oils on the label, which are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, and not the healthiest oil to use.
  • Natural Flavors – These are not so “natural”, as they are created in a lab, may contain addicting chemicals and up to 100 secret ingredients.

If you know someone who needs to know this truth – please share this post with them! It’s so important that we keep spreading the word about what these labels really mean. The more we know, the better we all are!



The China Study’s Top 10 Takeaways!


Lisa Elaine Held



reading the china study
Photo: Pexels

The China Study is one of those weighty, important books that is perhaps more talked about than actually read. It’s easy to see why: At 417 pages packed with nutrition facts and research stats, it’s a lot to digest—not exactly a beach read.

the china study book
Photo: The China Study

But it is worth knowing about, since the book is based on one of the largest comprehensive studies of human nutrition ever conducted, launched via a partnership between Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine, with data collected over a span of 20 years. In The China Study, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and his son, Thomas M. Campbell II, MD, discuss and analyze the results from the study (and other influential nutrition research) and recommend their protocol for the best diet for long-term health.

In the 10 years since it was published, it inspired influential figures like Bill Clinton to go vegan, a plant-based nutrition certificate program at Cornell that’s popular among chefs, nutritionists, and health coaches, and the documentary Forks Over Knives.

Of course, like all nutrition advice, there are many criticisms of the research and conclusions, especially among Paleo Diet advocates. We read it cover-to-cover for you, taking notes along the way, so you’d be in-the-know about the authors’ claims, whether you choose to forgo beef for broccoli or not.

Here is your 10-step cheat sheet to The China Study’s conclusions.

Originally posted September 23, 2011, updated June 7, 2016.


Photo: Martins Zemlickis via Unsplash

1. American health statistics are scary.

You may feel pretty fit, but the country as a whole is, well, not so great. The researchers spend a lot of time citing frightening stats on obesity, diabetes, and heart disease that point to the need for an American diet shake-up. Americans also pay more for health care than any other country—and don’t have better health to show for it. It’s probably the one section of the book no nutrition expert would argue with.




research testing
Photo: Pixabay

2. The conclusions are based on a lot of data.

They’re not talking about one small study on mice. After years of controversial lab results on animals, the researchers had to see how they played out in humans. The study they created included 367 variables, 65 counties in China, and 6,500 adults (who completed questionnaires, blood tests, etc.). “When we were done, we had more than 8,000 statistically significant associations between lifestyle, diet, and disease variables.” They also incorporate a wealth of additional research data from other sources.




Photo: Pixabay

3. Animal protein promotes the growth of cancer.

The book’s author T. Colin Campbell, PhD., grew up on a dairy farm, so he regularly enjoyed a wholesome glass of milk. Not anymore. Dr. Campbell says that in multiple, peer-reviewed animal studies, researchers discovered that they could actually turn the growth of cancer cells on and off by raising and lowering doses of casein, the main protein found in cow’s milk.




produce strawberries
Photo: Pixabay

4. You should be worried about poor nutrition more than pesticides.

The food you eat affects the way your cells interact with carcinogens, making them more or less dangerous, the authors explain. “The results of these, and many other studies, showed nutrition to be far more important in controlling cancer promotion than the dose of the initiating carcinogen,” they state.




healthy food
Photo: Pexels/Kaboompics

5. Heart disease can be reversed through nutrition.

The authors share the work of other respected physicians that they say supports their own data’s conclusions, and some of the most interesting is on heart disease. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., a physician and researcher at the best cardiac center in the country, The Cleveland Clinic, treated 18 patients with established coronary disease with a whole foods, plant-based diet. Not only did the intervention stop the progression of the disease, but 70 percent of the patients saw an opening of their clogged arteries. Dr. Dean Ornish, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, completed a similar study with consistent results. But hey, this is actually encouraging—heart disease can legit be reversed.




bread carbs
Photo: Pexels/Jan Vašek

6. Carbs are not (always) the enemy.

Highly-processed, refined carbohydrates are bad for you, but plant foods are full of healthy carbs, the authors say. Research shows that diets like Atkins or South Beach can have dangerous side effects. While they may result in short-term weight loss, you’ll be sacrificing long-term health.




plant foods
Photo: Unsplash/Webvilla

7. Cancer isn’t the only disease plants can ward off.

It’s not just cancer and heart disease that respond to a whole foods, plant-based diet, the authors say. Their research showed it may also help protect you from diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, bone, kidney, eye, and brain diseases. Are you getting that plants are pretty miraculous by now?




food restaurant
Photo: Unsplash/Jay Wennington

8. You don’t have to tailor your diet for specific health benefits.

Eating healthy can seem segmented—broccoli will prevent breast cancer, carrots are good for eyes, and by the way, did you get enough vitamin C today? “Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board,” the authors explain.




Photo: Unsplash/Monstruo Estudio

9. Animal-based foods are not necessary.

“There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants,” the authors say. Protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals—you name it, they’ve got it, along with major health benefits.



Plant based food
Photo: Unsplash

10. The takeaway is simple: Eat plants for health.

“People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest,” the authors state. Whether you’re going vegan or not, they suggest putting as many plants on your plate as possible at every meal.

Ready to start cooking more vegetables? This is the best way to do it. Or how about sipping more plant-based goodness? Check out these smoothies (that will give you a healthy glow).