The Standard American Diet is SAD


dennisDennis Low is a recently-retired physician who spent his career at Valley Medical Center. He’s a beloved caregiver, educator, and new VMC Foundation Board Member. We play together in the VMC “house band” Idol Hands (hence, the picture) and have become good friends.

Which explains why he invited me this morning to hear him give a talk to our docs – and blew a lot of minds.

Now, none of what Dennis told us about Americans’ diets was his own research…but he compiled it like a man whose spent his life teaching others and ensuring they remember what they hear.  For example, everyone knows that America has an obesity problem, but did you know that the Centers for Disease Control now warns that immigrating to the United States can make you sick?

And how about this: In 1976, Americans were eating an average of eight pounds of cheese per person, per year. By 2013, according to the USDA, we’re eating 33.5 pounds!

…and by “we”, I mean “not me.” I’m vegan, and know a lot of vegans. That means that for each of us who consume zero pounds of cheese per year, there’s some dude who is putting away 67 pounds.

That sounds ridiculous. But then, so is this: 16% of American men between the ages of 18 and 35 eat pizza EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. There is no other country that even comes close to our 35% obese adult population.

How about that pizza company that’s now stuffing cheese into the crusts of ever-increasing sizes of XXXL pizzas? Have we gone mad? And because I like pointing out the enemy as much as I like rhetorical questions: Who convinced us that cheese was good n’ healthy in the first place? Why, the American Dairy Association and Milk Advisory Board of course, who spend increasing millions every year. They lobby to reduce their costs. They lobby to ban soy milk (you can’t make this up; google it while you’re looking at how much they spend influencing congress).

And they advertise. To kids. When I was little, I must have seen that “educational” cartoon “I Hanker for a Hunk of Cheese” 500 times. Ring a bell? If you’re near my age, I bet you remember it.

Obviously cheese is not the only contributor to our country’s high calorie/low nutrition diet. Even many vegans (and I’m WAY guilty here) eat too much vegetable oil, bagels, salt, sugar and delicious, delicious French fries. It’s led to doctors like Dennis Low to consider the adipose tissue (fat) around our bellies a quasi-organ.

Yes! Your visceral fat is driving your appetite, causing the production and release of hormones…acting like a pancreas or something. How scary is that? No wonder it’s hard to lose weight; your fat has a mind of its own.

Another system in your body influenced by your diet is your intestinal microbiota, or “gut flora”. All those little bugs in your digestive system that aren’t “you”, per se, but are living things that effect not just digestion, but cell division, metabolism, and much more. You have around three pounds of them in you right now, and if you eat a plant-based diet, they are good bugs. A meat-heavy diet? Bad bugs.

This is evidenced by rates of cancer, stroke and longevity across cultures. I know you know all that in general, but I learned today from Dennis that, for example, Seventh-Day Adventists have remarkably long lives and low incidences of chronic disease. They eat, as a matter of religious practice, plant-based diets. This is coincidentally of interest to me because each summer, for a week, thousands of 7DA believers congregate very near my house in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Soquel, CA. They happen to be there this week as I write this! Until Dennis’s talk, I knew little about them…and now I know, at least, that among whatever else they’re doing at their massive conference center they are preparing and enjoying a lot of plant-based meals!

Sorry – the point really is that the body of evidence is growing that our nation’s diet is killing us, and that a plant-based diet is better for us. Dennis suggested to all our doctors to avoid “naming” diets, and suggesting to patients easy ways to slowly change their habits; “Stop going to Burger King and go vegan” is advice rarely taken. “Try eating more colorful, fresh veggies and fruit more often” is more manageable.

I could copy a dozen links here on healthy eating, but you know where to find all that. I just really appreciated watching a skilled educator keep a big room full of busy doctors enthralled for an hour this morning. I am going to have a carrot later in Dennis’s honor. And if you really want to know more, send Dr. Dennis Low an email at – or take him out to lunch!

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