Almost everybody loves cheese. It's not surprising because a lot of delicious dishes contain this tasty ingredient. But what may seem harmless is, unfortunately, the opposite. To shed light on this reality, my guest Dr. Neal Barnard explains why cheese is harmful to our health.
Studying Dead Bodies
Dr. Neal Barnard shares that what led him to medicine was initially different to what led him to food. It was only when he was already in college, that he decided to go to medical school.
Dr. Neal Barnard admits he didn't appreciate how important food is during those early years. But before he went to medical school, Dr. Neal Barnard had an eye-opening experience handling autopsies at a hospital in Minneapolis.
From a dead body, the pathologist would show Dr. Neal Barnard what heart looks like after a heart attack or what a brain looked like after a stroke. The pathologist would take a section of the corpse's ribs off and set it on a table to show Dr. Neal Barnard the coronary arteries.
Dr. Neal Barnard remembered cleaning up a corpse one day and proceeded to have lunch at the hospital cafe. The cafeteria happened to serve ribs that day which immediately turned him off.
“Time went on, and I started to connect to foods we eat as well as health issues. I started to understand the bigger issues like how animals are abused and how the environment is affected,” said Dr. Neal Barnard.
He adds, “I was selectively inattentive to what animals go through. So I have been making up for lost time. I changed my diet and now endeavoring people to change theirs.”
Dr. Neal Barnard explains that there are different kinds of fats. The grease extracted from bacon is called saturated fat. This kind of fat causes our body to make more cholesterol particles. And that's what does damage to the arteries.
“Fat works in a bad way, but it's more indirect. It stimulates your body to make more cholesterol, then it starts clogging arteries,” said Dr. Neal Barnard. “And I have to say meat is not the number one source. The number one source is dairy. Cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream top the list.”
The Truth About Dairy
According to Dr. Neal Barnard, dairy is high in fat and saturated fat. It's surprisingly high in sodium, and a lot of salt is made in the cheese-making process. There's more sodium in cheese than potato chips. That makes cheese very high in cholesterol content.
The Cheese Trap
Dr. Neal Barnard shares that he wrote The Cheese Trap after doing so many research studies. He cites the research conducted in Rochester, New York which revealed that the more cheese men ate, the lower their sperm counts were. Another research showed that people who had the most saturated fats had three times more risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to people who avoided cheese.
Most of Dr. Neal Barnard's research proved that there is no oil at all in vegan diets. Because of that, people with diabetes got better. They lost weight dramatically, blood pressure, as well as cholesterol levels, went down.
But then Dr. Neal Barnard also noticed that a fair number of people who were part of the study admitted they miss eating cheese. Through The Cheese Trap book, Dr. Neal Barnard enumerates the reasons why.
Why We Love Cheese
First of all, cheese which contains casein is fatty and salty. It also has casomorphins or the dairy protein. Opiate molecules comprise the dairy protein. And when dairy protein is consumed, the fragments attach to the same brain receptors that narcotics and heroin attach to.
“Milk has casein, too. But when you turn the milk into cheese, you get rid of the whey. You are concentrating the protein and fat. As the protein concentrates, the casomorphin content goes up,” said Dr. Neal Barnard.
He adds, “Cheese is dairy crack. It's not surprising to get hooked on this stuff. That's ok if it wasn't harmful. But it's loaded with cholesterol and fat. It has hormones in it, too.”
Dr. Neal Barnard says meat is a now big issue, and so is cheese. The life expectancy in Japan is falling compared to the years past. Obesity is increasing, and diabetes has increased dramatically. Although cheese is not entirely to blame, it's a big part why many are suffering from illnesses.
In the United States, meat consumption has dropped by 10% in the last decade. But the rate of cheese consumption is rapidly increasing. That's why Dr. Neal Barnard says more Americans are not getting skinnier or healthier.
Dr. Neal Barnard declares that it's really up to us to make the changes in our life. Getting away from animal products should top the list.
He also says that every few years, a new low carb book comes out. But this is only a short-term fad. People lose weight because they cut down on carbs or starch and sugars.
“It's healthy for you to eat starch because it breaks down the glucose that your cells run on. About 50% of what we eat is carbs. When we stop eating carbs, we will lose weight. Essentially, if you take out half of what you eat, you'll lose weight,” Dr. Neal Barnard said.
He adds, “But this was never the issue with diabetes. If you look at Japan before the westernization of the diet, they were eating rice-based dishes. But people had minimal cases of diabetes.”
Dr. Neal Barnard's research team put this to the test using low-fat vegan diets. Using no animal products at all, people who have diabetes indeed improved dramatically. In some cases, diabetes goes away.
How To Transition
Ready for a change? Good for you! Dr. Neal Barnard suggests taking baby steps with a 7-day challenge. Don't take anything out of your diet, but instead, explore plant-based foods for seven days.
“Figure out which ones you like. Write down breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack. In each category, figure out which foods you like. Try healthy plant-based foods. After a week, you'll have a list full of foods that you discovered you like and works for you,” said Dr. Neal Barnard.
The next step is to try going completely vegan all the time for three weeks. At the end of 3 weeks you'll see that you're losing weight, cholesterol is improving, blood sugar, energy, and digestion are all getting better. Your taste in food will eventually start to change, too.
Among the nutrient-rich foods, Dr. Neal Barnard recommends tofu, nuts, seeds, mangoes, and spinach. He explains all the benefits in detail in his Power Foods For The Brain book.
“Change your diet now and prevent disease. Leave the cows in peace. The healthy food groups are whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and beans. A plant-based diet gives you the nutrition you need. Keep the oils low. Do take a vitamin B-12 supplement and get enough sunlight.”
Dr. Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, and President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Dr. Neal Barnard has led numerous research studies investigating the effects of diet on diabetes, body weight, and chronic pain, including a groundbreaking study of dietary interventions in type 2 diabetes, funded by the National Institutes of Health. He has authored more than 80 scientific publications and 20 books for medical and lay readers.
As president of the Physicians Committee, Dr. Neal Barnard leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, proper nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research. He has hosted four PBS television programs on nutrition and health and is the editor in chief of the Nutrition Guide for Clinicians, a textbook made available to all U.S. medical students.
Dr. Neal Barnard's research contributed to the acceptance of plant-based diets in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In 2015, he was named a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. In 2016, he founded the Barnard Medical Center in Washington, DC, as a model for making nutrition a routine part of all medical care.
Originally from Fargo, North Dakota, Dr. Neal Barnard received his M.D. degree at the George Washington University School of Medicine and completed his residency at the same institution. He practiced at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York before returning to Washington to establish the Physicians Committee.
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