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Episode 582
The Doctor's Farmacy

Why Vegan Diets May Not Be Good For Your Health

Open the Podcasts app and search for The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’re viewing this site on your phone, you can just tap on the

Tap the subscribe button and new shows will be added to your library.

If you’re using a different device, our show is available on the following platforms.

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The topic of veganism is hotly debated in terms of health and environmental stewardship. But how did the idea that being vegan is the best way to eat for our bodies and the planet develop in the first place?

The answer is more complex than you might think. On this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy, Jayne Buxton challenges the notion that veganism is the cure for disease and climate change and explains how we got here. 

I was so excited to sit down with Jayne and learn how the general public came to view veganism the way that they do. She explains the history of the Seventh Day Adventists and how their influence has spread all the way through our dietary guidelines and even into other countries. 

Despite the altruistic halo most people view around the vegan diet, it’s important to recognize some major players benefit from pushing the vegan agenda. Jayne and I discuss what that looks like and who’s making money off of supporting this way of eating, contrary to what the science might say. 

Jayne breaks down the evidence on why eating only plants is not the healthiest for our bodies or for the planet, as well as why saturated fats and animal protein are not the villains they’ve been made out to be. While I’m not against veganism, I have to agree that there are a wide variety of nutrients lacking in the vegan diet that can make it hard to create optimal health. Jayne and I talk about the key nutritional components to think about. 

My diet is mostly plants but I do include some really high-quality animal foods. Since I’ve eaten this way and moved away from starchy foods like beans and grains, which I used to eat often when I was vegetarian, my cognitive health is better, my energy is better, my muscle mass is better—I truly feel the best I’ve ever felt. 

This episode is brought to you by Mitopure, InsideTracker, and Rupa Health.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Here are more details from our interview (audio version / Apple Subscriber version):

  1. The origins of the overarching mythology that veganism is best for human, animal, and planetary health
    (5:04)
  2. How big food, big agriculture, and big pharma benefit from widespread veganism
    (7:17)
  3. Why the movie Gamechangers was a tipping point for Jayne to write her book
    (10:58)
  4. Countries who have banned vegan diets for children
    (14:55)
  5. My experience treating vegan patients
    (19:01)
  6. Frequent health issues that occur from vegan diets
    (22:50)
  7. Navigating the science, and subsequent dietary recommendations, around vegan diets and eating meat
    (29:54)
  8. Building soil health through regenerative agriculture
    (51:05)
  9. Pervasive myths around cows and methane production
    (55:05)
  10. Jayne’s recommendations for how to eat for optimal human, animal, and planetary health
    (1:03:53)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Jayne Buxton

A British-Canadian, Jayne Buxton is an author of both fiction and non-fiction. She spent fifteen years doing research-intensive work as a management consultant for a major firm before writing her 1998 book, Ending the Mother War: Starting the Workplace Revolution, which explored the entrenched positions and false choices faced by women wanting to combine motherhood with careers. 

Jayne subsequently spent years working in the field of work-life balance, advising both parents and corporations, before turning to writing full time. Her new book, The Great Plant-Based Con, challenges the dominant narrative about the vegan diet and proposes a compelling new perspective.

Learn more about Jayne Buxton and her work at thegreatplantbasedcon.com/ and get her book, The Great Plant-Based Con: Why eating a plants-only diet won’t improve your health or save the planet, here.

Transcript Note: Please forgive any typos or errors in the following transcript. It was generated by a third party and has not been subsequently reviewed by our team.

Introduction:

Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s Farmacy.

Jayne Buxton:

If you eat meat in the context of an overall healthy diet, you will see no risk to health. In fact you’ll see benefits because of nutritional element.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s Farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter. If you ever wondered if being vegan will save your life and fix the planet, then this podcast might be an important one for you to listen to, because it’s going to challenge some of our notions that being vegan will save us and the planet. And it’s with journalist and an author, a British Canadian woman, Jayne Buxton, who’s written a number of books, but has been doing intensive research on this topic of whether or not we should all be eating only plants and whether being vegan is the solution for everything. This book she wrote just came out. We’re going to talk about it today, called, The Great Plant-Based Con, challenges the dominant narrative and gets us thinking about what’s really true and what the science says versus what our beliefs are. Welcome, Jayne.

Jayne Buxton:

Hi, thank you for having me.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Of course. Well, you wrote this book, which is very provocative, the title itself is called The Great Plant-Based Con, which I think will upset a lot of people. I think we’ve come to really understand as a culture that eating more plants and less meat is better for us and the planet and climate. But you challenge that notion and you talk about really these basic premises that have informed a lot of policy, that have informed a lot of people’s beliefs, behavior. And you question, whether it is actually good for us or not to follow this narrative, that veganism is going to save us. And you answer a number of really important questions in your book. Is it plant based diabetic for your health? Yes or no? Will it save the planet? Yes or no? Who’s actually advocating for it and why? And how should we actually eat?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Thank you for writing this book. I know lot of the people who are in the book, there’s a cast of characters who’ve been working on these issues for years. Many of who’ve been in my podcast, like Fred Provenza and David Ludwig and many others. Let’s just start out with the question of, how did this idea that being vegan or eating only plants was the best way to eat for our health and the best way to eat to avert climate disaster and save the planet? How did that happen? It seems like it’s just overnight. And we have 2% of the population is vegan in America, and I don’t know what it is in the rest of the world, but it’s not a lot of people, but how did this become the dominant narrative?

Jayne Buxton:

When it became dominant was when the argument became what I like to think of as a three-legged stool. When the argument was about exclusively animal welfare, which it used to be for animal rights, activists and vegans, it traditionally is because they just don’t want harm to animals. But that argument didn’t get a huge amount of traction in and of itself. Once the arguments in favor of the diet for planetary health reasons got added in, and that was the second leg of the stool. And then a lot of the research was corralled around health and that was the third leg of the stool, you had this almost impenetrable, really steady sturdy argument. Because if you challenge it on one leg, the other ones would always hold it up.

Jayne Buxton:

There was always somewhere where people could go to say, but did you know about the saturated fat in meat, for example, would be a health argument thrown out. They could challenge it on any level. That’s why it’s had this dominance. But I think the other reason is what you alluded to in your introduction, which is, there are a whole bunch of forces or organizations and groups of people who benefit from this, the uptake of plant based diet. And because there’s so much for them to gain, they’ll jump up and support that three-legged argument as it were with all their might and all their money, because there’s a lot to gain.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And so who are those people who are gaining from this? Because the average person who wants to be vegan thinks it’s good for their health, they want to maybe not harm animals. I think maybe help to reduce carbon emissions from methane cows and factory farming, which is reasonable. But who’s behind this? Is there a number of organizations or people? Why did this happen? Because I think we think that big food and big ag, are going to be hurt by this. But in your perspective, in the book, you seem to challenge that notion that actually they benefit from the world becoming vegan. How does that work?

Jayne Buxton:

I think certain parts of big food and big ag and big pharma will definitely benefit. I think if you added up the industry might and the size of big pharma, big food, big ag altogether, in its entirety, all the biggest companies in the world, in those industries, they far outweigh the meat industry. In terms of sheer dollar power, they far outweigh. But the point is, so big food, for instance, this is just a gift. This whole vegan revolution is a gift to them, because it gives them the opportunity-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

What do you mean?

Jayne Buxton:

Because it gives them another excuse to formulate products, highly processed food products that they can now sell to the public under the banner of green and vegan. Green for the planet, vegan healthy for you. I’ve worked with large corporations before, for 15 years I was a management consultant. I was advising companies on growth and profit strategies. They’re pretty simple beings, corporations. They’re chasing growth and profit at all times. And this is a great way to generate growth and profit. Add new marketing lines, they’re highly profitable because you charge more. It’s well known that these vegan processed foods are more expensive than their counterparts in meat and dairy and vegetables, fresh food.

Jayne Buxton:

To me, that’s a no brainer. That is the driving force. Now, are there some within those big food corporations that truly believe that this is better for the planet? Maybe, maybe they do. And they’re certainly going to latch onto that idea. That is also a gift to them. That argument gives them a green light.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

There’s also some big companies that are pushing this, like Impossible Foods, which I’ve had some relationship with, through various interactions with the CEO, Pat brown, who’s a Stanford physician, very smart guy, who developed this product. I think you see it everywhere. I see it on menus at Burger King and restaurants. It’s really quite pervasive now as this health food. His view is we should eliminate all animal products from the planet and we should not have any animal agriculture, which I think could have disastrous consequences. I’d love you to explain that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And there’s other large efforts to stake a claim that being vegan is the healthiest way to live through movies like Game Changers, which is very powerful movie, very well done, very convincing, especially if you don’t have any experience on the science end of it. Can you talk about what the problems with those two big movements are around pushing the plant-based narrative?

Jayne Buxton:

It’s interesting that you mentioned Game Changers, I’ll go to that first, because that movie was the tipping point for me in deciding to write the book. Because previous to that, around about 2019, I had noticed that the messaging in favor of plant-based was getting ever stronger. I also noticed that a lot of the facts which were being used to support it were wrong. I thought, well, if those are wrong, there might be others that are wrong. So that’s when I started to do my research. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the research. It was maybe initially for me, my family, maybe some articles.

Jayne Buxton:

And then Game Changers came out and I thought, this is really dangerous now, because so many young people on the back of that movie decided to try veganism. They decided it was the best way. They were persuaded by the evidence, but it was really non-evidence if you go through it piece by piece, it’s really not evidence. And I thought, okay, we need a book on this. We need somebody to speak out loud and clear in definitive terms about this not being the answer. Game Changers was a big tipping point for sure.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

What were problems with that movie? Because it seems so convincing, right?

Jayne Buxton:

It does seem so convincing. Well, there’s a fellow. I don’t know who-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I wanted to be vegan after watching that movie.

Jayne Buxton:

Well, there’s a fellow who’s done a comprehensive analysis of every single study in the film. His name is Tim Rees. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him or had him on your podcast.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yes.

Jayne Buxton:

He’s a very, very bright nutritionist. He wrote a three parter, which dissected every piece of evidence and proved that none of that evidence actually argued in favor of a plant’s only diet being better for our health. There were certainly some studies which showed that there were some benefits from some plants, and who doesn’t believe that? We all know that. We all know that plants have nutrients and antioxidants and polyphenols and all of those things. But it was this notion that it’s only plants, only plants will save you, that he proved was absolutely wrong. He’s very astute and anyone who read that dissection, which I include part of in my book, I wanted to include the whole thing because I thought it was so brilliant.

Jayne Buxton:

Anyone who’s read that will be questioning the value of Game Changers, but there are other organizations who have adopted it wholesale. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine has given it a big thumbs up and provides it as a course for credits, for medical professionals in North America, which is pretty frightening actually that a film of that quality or that low quality should be considered educational material for medical professionals.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It is concerning. I think James Cameron is an extraordinary filmmaker, who’s behind the movie. He did Titanic and made powerful movies. The film was beautifully done and it was based on a lot of distorted information, and I don’t think people realize, but I think James Cameron is a huge investor in Pea Protein and other-

Jayne Buxton:

Exactly

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… conflict of interest issues. There’s a lot of conflict there. Him and Pat Brown and Impossible Foods, who’s trying to build this company, which I understand, but it turns out that this is a highly processed food that actually does far better in terms of emission reductions compared to factory farming, but not better than regenerative agriculture. I think this is just where all the nuances get lost. I think it’s just meat bad, vegetables good, meat bad, vegetables good. It’s just an overarching narrative, but it’s not being taken up everywhere. It’s interesting that certain countries that are maybe a little bit different in their approach have banned or outlawed or made illegal feeding children a vegan diet, and actually threatened to put parents in jail when they do it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I think that’s important to unpack because that’s a pretty strong set of laws or regulations around kids and protecting kids. Why have these countries done that? And what can we learn from that?

Jayne Buxton:

I have a couple of hypothesis about why it’s different in Europe, continental Europe, than it would be in America, Australia for instance. One of those would be that, how do I put this? The influence of the Seventh-day Adventist dominated narrative is less strong in those countries than it is in America and Australia, Asia. We all know that the Seventh-day Adventist have forever, since they founded the church in 1863, have favored a meat free diet. They’ve built corporations and a whole empire based on producing products that are meat free analogs and whatnot.

Jayne Buxton:

They’re very big believers in a high carbohydrate diet. And they have used their influence through dietetic organizations in North America, and that has fed all the way through to the dietary guidelines and what dietary guidelines exist in America spill over into the UK. And so hence we have this very strong narrative running through American policy, British policy to a certain extent. Now, the Europeans are more independent of that. The other thing about the Europeans is if you look at processed food consumption in those countries, it ranges around 10 to 20% of their diet versus 50 to 60 in places like the UK, the US and Canada.

Jayne Buxton:

By definition, processed food companies have less power in those countries, less power to influence dietary policy, less power to look out for their own interests, in selling these kinds of foods and selling grain based foods, which is what most processed foods is. I think those two things may have something to do with it. And then there’ll be something about the European mentality, the independent spirit which somebody in Italy might feel in control of their ancestral diets and the strong eating cultures, food cultures that exist in those countries.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Jayne, isn’t it because the vegan diet is dangerous for kids, in that they’re seeing harm and there’s evidence that eating of vegan diet as a child is actually bad for you?

Jayne Buxton:

Sure.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It’s not just because they have a belief about it. They wouldn’t make it illegal or put parents in jail for [inaudible 00:15:10].

Jayne Buxton:

Sorry, I wasn’t clear about that. The evidence is there, but it’s also there for Americans and Australians and the Brits, right? What the Europeans are doing is looking at that evidence and saying, yes, we take that seriously and we’re going to legislate against it, we’re going to recommend against the consumption of that diet. Whereas the same evidence, the same number of kids have died. The newspapers rather in these other countries like America and the UK have reported on these deaths of children from vegan diets and the dangers, but there are other forces stopping us from taking, onboard that information. Excuses are given for that, the parents weren’t doing it properly, et cetera.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

How does, on the one hand, excluding animal products harm our health? And let’s get into why vegan diets actually maybe really nutritionally problematic? As a doctor I don’t see this as a purely academic perspective. I’ve actually treated hundreds and thousands of people, thousands of thousands of people, many, many, many vegans, and have done extensive blood work and testing on them. In fact, I just had an interesting father, son comparison, where the father was about 50 and the son was in his early 20s, and the son was vegan, the father wasn’t. They did massive nutritional testing with me.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And the son was significantly A and iron and zinc, and really was so deficient in some of these key nutrients. And when we did their biological age testing based on DNA methylation, I’m telling you, analysis, the son was older than the father. The father was biologically 35 and the son was biologically like 45, even though he was 20. I was like, holy macro. When I saw this-

Jayne Buxton:

You need to write this case study up. You need to definitely write this.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I see this all the time. I just see this all the time. I know people want to be vegan and they try to be vegan and try to do it healthy, and they’re not necessarily junk food vegans, and they’re still struggling. Initially they get a burst of energy, they feel better, health problems improve. But of course, it depends on what you’re swapping out. If you’re eating a processed diet full of sugar and junk food, and you switch to eating only healthy plant foods, then of course you’re going to feel better. But over time things start to change. Can you talk about this, one, why animal foods and getting rid of them are problematic and what the benefits are? And two, why just being strictly vegan can be really harmful?

Jayne Buxton:

Well, your story and your experience says, you know a lot more about this than I do. I don’t need to tell you any of this, but for your listeners and for our conversation. One of the primary ways I think that vegan diets are suboptimal. And I do mean vegan, as opposed to just plant rich diets. I’m talking about plants only diets definitely. They are lacking in a range of key nutrients. B12 is the most obvious. Vitamin D is hard to get. Vitamin A is very hard to get. DHA, EPA, which are essential brain nutrients. Zinc is hard to get. Iron. You could list, as long as my arm, the list would be, of nutrients that are impossible or difficult to get. Now, a vegan answer to that is, well, we can supplement, and indeed you can supplement.

Jayne Buxton:

But we all know that supplements do not deliver the same nutrients in the same manner and the uptake in the body is not the same as it is when a nutrient is part of a food matrix. That is to me not the solution. And the B12 supplementation thing is also very interesting. We have a doctor, scientist over here, called professor Tim specter, who I’m sure you know and you’ve probably met him at numerous conferences. He had a B12 deficiency, which he tried to cure in every way he possibly could. And he took supplements and then he injected the supplements, and he couldn’t get his B12 levels up. And the only way he could get them up was to eat a small amount of meat. I think he said, even just once a month, he wanted to eat them. He ate the meat and he suddenly raised his B12 levels.

Jayne Buxton:

This conveys the difficulty of relying on a supplementary strategy. I think unfortunately, a lot of people who are persuaded to go vegan are relying on that supplementary strategy and it’s going to fail them. I think the other thing which people really rarely think about, is that there’s a deficiency element in the vegan diet, but there’s also an excess of some things. There are plant toxins, which consumed in small amounts are not going to do anyone any harm, oxalates, phytic acid, lectins, for instance, vegetable oils. If you eat these in small amounts, you’ll probably be fine. If you’re relying on those foods, such as spinach smoothies, which are really oxalate rich, for instance, you’ve got a high likelihood of getting kidney stones and also having a calcium deficiency, right? You know this.

Jayne Buxton:

I think we’re so used to seeing plants as completely benign that we forget that there are very unbenign elements to them, which if you’re only eating plants, you’re going to obviously get more of those. I think that’s another way in which the vegan diet surprises people and maybe is a less healthy diet than they expected. I think also the protein question is important, and I know you did an Instagram post on that yesterday. I saw that, or maybe it was the day before, about the difficulty of getting leucine from plant foods. Leucine is one of those amino acids which is difficult to get. In fact, the whole essential amino acid profile is difficult to get from plant foods. And so those foods have to be combined incredibly carefully. You have to eat exactly the right amount within the right time period and the right combination in order to get your amino acid profile.

Jayne Buxton:

And in case listeners wonder, well, why is that important? Why is it important to have that full spectrum of amino acids? It’s because the protein and the amino acids can’t be synthesized in the body unless they’re all there in the right amounts. And therefore you’re not getting the benefit of the protein. Therefore you get a protein deficiency. Protein is something maybe we take for granted because we’re used to thinking that we have it in abundance and we’ve got it all sussed, and because people talk so casually about plant proteins being just as good and they really are not just as good, they’re not complete and they’re not as bio available. And that’s a fact, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I think it’s not an accepted fact by much of the nutritional world unfortunately. I think when you look at the theories, and I was a vegetarian for over 10 years, based on the Diet For a New Planet, a really important book by-

Jayne Buxton:

Frances Lappé Moore. Was that it?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah. Frances Lappé Moore. That was in the 70s and it was very convincing. And if you combined beans and grains, you would get complete protein and it was plenty. I think that belief is pretty hardcore in most of the nutritional world. I think the movies like Game Changers and What the Health and others, have really convinced a lot of people that they can can do great. Now, I think I want to say upfront, I have no objection to anybody being vegan. I don’t think I have a moral judgment about it, but I think as a doctor and someone who really deeply understands the science and has looked at it for decades and has treated thousands of patients and all sorts of very diets, testing them for everything you can possibly imagine, I do see that there are challenges with people who stay on long-term vegan diets in terms of muscle mass, in terms of nutritional adequacies and overall health.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Initially people will feel better, but I think there’s a downside in the long term vegan diets for people if they’re not really careful. And they need to, for example, supplement with Jack Dip amino acids with the right nutrients. It’s doable, but it’s not easy, especially in our culture where it’s not easy to get high quality nutrient dense plant foods. That’s a problem. Because people often [inaudible 00:24:44] vegan. I was with a guy recently who was a vegetarian, he’s like, I don’t want to kill animals. I’m like, okay, that’s fair. By the way though, seven billion animals are killed every year just through vegetables, growing vegetables through animal agriculture, destroying your habitats, 50% of birds are dead. We kill rabbits and mice and all kinds of animals when we are farming, it’s just part of the fact of life of actually growing food.

Jayne Buxton:

Part of eating.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

So you can’t get away from it. Is the life of a rabbit any less than the life of a cow? I don’t think so. Maybe you can debate that. But actual challenge I see for people, is that they’re not able to navigate through this massive information, misinformation. What’s true? What’s not true? What does the science actually say? Take us a little bit through the science around this. I think you’ve written a lot about it in your book and why we have come to believe that animal foods are bad and how they’re actually not, and how they actually may be really critically important for our health.

Jayne Buxton:

Well, the nutrients angle is one that we’ve just covered. That’s why a good mix of animal foods and plant foods together will provide you the best insurance policy against a nutrient deficiency, is where I think of it. And you have to think about your diet a lot less when you’ve got all those foods in it, you don’t have to do the combining and the adding up and the counting and the supplementing. That’s one side of it. The other argument, which is often used, I think to a damn a meat inclusive diet, an animal and dairy inclusive diet, is the saturated fat argument. This goes back a very long way to the 1950s when it was first mooted that saturated fat would cause cholesterol to rise, which would lead to coronary heart disease.

Jayne Buxton:

And there was a whole, because of the urgency to solve the heart attack problem, which was then quite big in the United States at the time with President Eisenhower and men of a certain age having heart attacks, they rushed into the guidelines committees at the time, the governing committee rushed into endorsing that view that saturated fat is a problem, and they rushed endorsing the low fat root to help. Now, even at the time that Keys was doing his research, there were other researchers as you know, Hillobow and Yushulami, whose name I can never pronounce, but I hope I did that justice, who provided evidence that actually there wasn’t a very strong correlation or association between saturated fat intake and heart attacks and coronary a heart disease.

Jayne Buxton:

And subsequently, years and years worth of studies, whether you’re talking about the Sydney heart study or the Minnesota coronary study, or the more recent pure studies, the Cochrane reviews, of which there have been four, none of them have found a very strong causal relationship between saturated fat intake and heart disease. We have all this data and yet it doesn’t get traction. It gets traction in the scientific papers. It gets traction amongst the certain part of the scientific community, but you will still read in the newspapers every single day, this food is better for you because it has less saturated fat, as if that’s a benefit and a bonus and everything else.

Jayne Buxton:

This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to make headway on the omnivore diet is healthy idea, because people will always come back to the, what about the saturated fat? What about the cholesterol? I think that that’s one very big driver. But there’s also I think, there’s something which I’ll call the epidemiology industry, which seems to have risen up.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah, let’s talk about that.

Jayne Buxton:

And it is always, I would say it’s mostly slanted towards producing outcomes which favor plant foods. It’s quite rare to see something that is slanted the other way. Now that could be, and I suspect it is partly to do with funding coming from plant-based food companies and processed food companies towards the universities and then into the researchers. It’s also partly about a zeitgeist, and a group think, which is, everybody knows that plant-based is best, so let’s keep doing research that’s going to prove that it’s best. It seems that group thing can take over the research community, can’t it? But I go through many studies in the book where the top line might indeed indicate some advantage to say longevity or cancer reduction from eating a vegan diet or a more vegan diet.

Jayne Buxton:

But when you dig below the surface, you invariably find some very, very weak data. I have yet to see any papers where the data, where the hazard ratios, so the associations are anything more than 1.2, 1.3 at most across the board. We need to remember [inaudible 00:30:31]. Hazard ratio. So that would be, let’s say very simply put, if you eat carrots for the rest of your life, and then if you eat meat, the hazard ratio would be if we found that eating meat versus carrots gives you a 1.1 Times greater chance of dying young say. So that 1.1 is the hazard ratio, but it’s a relatively-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Meaning you have a 10% increased risk of dying from eating carrots basically.

Jayne Buxton:

That’s right. That’s right. And when that’s played out again and again, and again, those tiny hazard ratios are taken for granted as being definitive and they’re really not. There’s a very interesting, and I think very skilled scientist, Dr. David Caulfield, who has explained that anything below two, really any hazard ratio below two, 100% increase risk, is something where you really cannot make any causal links, and he would not advise that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

This is an important thing to think about because when you look at a population, there are a lot of factors that can interfere with the results and the studies around meat that I looked at. I’ve written a lot about this and I really did not want to do something for my own health, for my patients, it was going to harm them. I felt that incumbent about myself to actually sit and read the research on meat. I literally locked myself in a room for a week, pulled every top paper or every paper written that was substantial on meat in health and plant based diets.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I looked at it carefully and I was like, wow, there’s really a lot of epidemiological evidence that it could be bad, but then when you look at the characteristics of the people who were eating meat in those studies, they were also eating soda and fries and junk food and not exercising and they were more overweight. They didn’t eat fruits and vegetables, they didn’t take vitamins. So was it the meat or was it not? I think I talked about this in the podcast before, but there was one really interesting study where they looked at meat eaters and vegetarians who shopped at health food stores, meaning that they likely were eating an overall healthier diet, including meat.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And there was both no increase in obviously mortality, but both had the same reduction in death and disease, because they were both eating real food. I thought that was really fascinating to me. I think, in your book, you quoted really a number of key scientists, Fred Provenza, Steven van Vliet, who’ve done some really interesting work about the benefits of eating meat in your diet and the mythology around the epidemiology of this. Can you talk more about why we have such a powerful negative view based on these meat studies and what other studies have shown that disprove the idea that meat is bad?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Because there’s a lot of people who can point to so many studies rather, guy like Dr. Greger, Michael Greger, who’s super vocal about this, has written, How Not to Die book, which I think everybody’s has got and looking. These such powerful narratives and they quote all the science and they seem so convincing. It seems so pro right if you read it, of course, in watching Game Changers, you want to be a vegan. What does the science actually share with us about, share with us what it says and why it’s so flawed and why we need to reconsider this narrative?

Jayne Buxton:

Well, I think that the best summary of that science was contained in the paper that came out in 2019 by the Annals of Internal Medicine, five papers actually, which looked at all of the science together over many, many decades. And that paper was written and sponsored by, and participated in by Gordon Guyatt, who’s the guru of evidence based medicine. It had some good people involved in that. And they came to the conclusion that looking at all of the evidence, it was insufficient and not of high enough quality to draw any conclusions about the impact of meat eating on health and that there was therefore no reason to recommend against it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Now, this is a Cochrane database analysis you’re talking about?

Jayne Buxton:

No, this was by using the grade system, and it came out of McMaster University. It was Guyatt and it was the Annals of Internal Medicine and it caused a big uproar, and you’ll probably remember that, 2019.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Yeah, there was a lot of criticism of that analysis.

Jayne Buxton:

Yeah, there was. There was indeed. But because of the people doing it, sometimes you have to look at where you’re going to put your trust. I think that they used a good methodology, a very strong methodology, and they could not find anything against meat intake. Now the other study, which people often use as evidence that meat eating is bad for you, is the WHO study from 2015, which purported to have studied 800 individual studies and come up with the conclusion that processed meat in particular was a risk for cancer and that red meat was probably a risk for cancer. But when you actually analyze what they did, and a number of people have done this, including Dr. Caulfield who served on that committee, they didn’t study 800 studies at all. They whittled it down to 18 studies, most of which were epidemiological and had very low hazard ratios.

Jayne Buxton:

And even with that, WHO study, the ratios are 1.1, 1.18. This is tiny. And they’re all associational, not causational. You cannot infer a causal link from that. I think contrary to that, the study use site, which I read about in your book, Food Fix about the health food stores, is very powerful. That if you eat meat in the context of an overall healthy diet, you will see no risk to health. In fact, you’ll see benefits because of the nutritional element.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I think that’s right. I think it’s what you eat it with. I think that’s the problem. We think we’re talking about a diet, it’s really the whole spectrum of the diet. My diet is mostly plants, but I do eat animal foods and they are a key part of my diet in order. I’ve noticed as I’ve shifted towards a less starchy foods, actually less grains in beans which I used to eat only, I’ve gotten much healthier, my strength has increased, my muscle mass has increased, my cognitive function has improved, my digestion has improved. There’s so many aspects of my health that have changed. And it’s not just obviously my own experience, but this is as a doctor treating thousands of patients, seeing what happens when you start to improve people’s quality of their diet and get them off a lot of the foods that they’re eating that could be problematic for them.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

There’s a lot of research looking at what you eat meat with and when you include other foods that are harmful, it actually makes it far worse. There’s also evidence that if you actually eat meat that’s cooked with, for example, spices and cooked in certain ways, for example, and I think in the Morocco, they eat a lot of meat, but they have tons of spices, which these phytochemicals can actually deal with maybe some of the potential effects of it that maybe purported to be a problem. Also the quality of the meat, Fred Provenza talks about eating a feed lot meat, the same as eating grass fed or redundantly raised animal food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Maybe we can speak to that a little bit. Not all meat is the same. I think you and I both agree that we should eliminate factory farming from the planet. It’s bad for the animals. It’s better for us. It’s better for the planet, but that doesn’t mean that in the eating meat, the right type of meat is necessarily bad for you.

Jayne Buxton:

No, that’s exactly right. And you’re right, Fred Provenza and Stephan van Vliet who you also mentioned, have done research showing that the phytochemicals in meat that has been raised on a diverse pasture and managed in the correct way, those phytochemicals can be very significant, even sometimes matching the phytochemicals in the plants themselves that we eat. There are those benefits from well raised meat aside from the very important benefit of, well, there are two other benefits to eating that kind of meat. One is, it’s better for the animals, so if you care about animal welfare, it’s better for them. But it’s also better for the environment, because if you’re raising cattle on that kind of pasture, and if you’re managing them in a very specific way, managed grazing, you can also be drawing carbon out of the sky. You can be contributing to environmental health instead of environmental degradation.

Jayne Buxton:

So loads of good reasons to eat meat that’s been well raised. I think that Stephan did a study also, comparing a plant based meat versus well raised grass fed meat. And he found that 90% difference in what he called metabolites, which are the minute nutrients that we don’t even think about or talk about most of the time, a 90% difference between those two products. There’s a lot of benefit from eating well raised meat, and plant-based meats are not going to give you that same level of nutrients.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Your book is quite impressive, Jayne, I think the amount of research you’ve done, the dissecting of all the controversy that talking about the way in which this dominant narrative about veganism has taking over our culture, or the average person will think, of course I may not want to be vegan, but it’s definitely the healthier way to go. It’s based on a very shaky foundation, but you’re right, you’ve got those street legs of the stool, whether it’s planetary health, human health, animal welfare, you take anyone away, it’s hard to argue with it. Right? But to me it’s just striking how powerful this narrative has become in the culture, in medicine, with nutritionists.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

I was speaking to a Harvard scientist, one of the smartest guys in the world. He’s an expert in genetics, longevity. I said, what do you recommend for longevity? He said, well, a vegan diet. And I was like, wow, I think that was just striking to me that even smartest people are so captured with this narrative.

Jayne Buxton:

On that, I was going to bring that up because we’ve had something come out in our paper just this week. I think it’s called food for longevity calculator. It’s a new calculator which has been generated to allow people to plug their numbers in and decide how much longer they can live by eating certain foods. Now, the recommendations as part of that calculator recommend zero red meat. Okay? Then it turns out that that calculator, the whole system, all of the science on which it’s based, came from the global burden of disease, which is the GBD report, which comes out every few years. Now, you dig a little deeper and you realize that the global burden of disease recently, and you’ll be very aware of this I’m sure, reported that eating any red meat was, I think they upped the risk factor for death by 36 times over their previous report, with no explanation.

Jayne Buxton:

A bunch of scientists challenged this. One of them is Frederick luwer, you probably are familiar with him. There were about six or seven others who challenged the authors of this GBD report. Finally got the admission that the red meat numbers were not reliable and not entirely evidence based. So you think, okay, well, who cares? Who’s listening to the GBD? Who’s using it? Well, it’s used everywhere. It’s used everywhere to develop policy. It’s used everywhere to develop these calculators, that then go into our times newspaper and everybody reads them and says, okay, I won’t eat any red meat. This is how it happens. You get bad studies, which people do not reveal, it’s not revealed widely enough just how bad they are. And they get folded in and used. And before you know it, you have unstoppable train, which is what we have right now. Feels like it’s an unstoppable train.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It really does. How do we counter this? Your book is an attempt to do this, but we’ve got these big reports in Lancet, for example, EAT-Lancet which I think was good in many ways, because it brought up the connection between the environment and our food system, but it was flawed and also in many ways. I analyzed it, I was like, wow, the recommendations are we should all be eating plants and eliminating meat. And then if you read the fine print in the study, it says, except if, and it lists a whole bunch of people who just should not be doing this, including the elderly, the young, people who are sick-

Jayne Buxton:

Pregnant women.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

… chronic illness, and so forth. Pregnant women. And so you’re talking about probably 75% of the population who it’s not good for. It’s such an internal contradiction. And then the thing I was so struck by was how much the food industry was behind this EAT-Lancet commission report. A good friend of mine was really involved with this, who I highly respect and who is a really brilliant physician. We’ve talked about some of the challenges of this. One of the recommendations was we use much more nitrogen fertilizer to grow more plants in the developing world. Tell us, why is this a problem and why did this study get it not quite right?

Jayne Buxton:

Well, you said it, it got some things right, but it got so much wrong. The nitrogen and the fertilizer recommendation is just one tiny bit of it. But even that you have to trace that back to who is supporting EAT-Lancet, right? There’s this group of companies called Fresh, and there’s about 30, 40 companies. They’re all the big names in big ag and pharma and big food. And they are supporting the EAT recommendations. Now, why might they be? Well, big ag is definitely going to love that nitrogen recommendation, and the fact that we need to rely on fertilizer. And Bill Gates has said the same thing. His book has a chapter on how we need to expand the use of chemical fertilizers around the world. It’s no surprise why these companies are supporting this, but what is happening, is that there’s a revolution going on, I would say in parallel to that.

Jayne Buxton:

You have all these great big recommendations coming out of these well funded policy advisory groups, whether it be EAT-Lancet, whether it be the WHO, whether it be the World Economic Forum, they all partner together and worked together and they’re singing from the same song sheet. They might be saying, we need to increase food production by using more nitrogen. Okay. Below that, running alongside it in parallel is the regenerative agriculture movement, which with very little help is proving that nitrogen when it’s used in excess has ruined our soils, has ruined 40% of our soils in the world already. So they’re completely degraded, and we can’t even grow anything on them.

Jayne Buxton:

There comes a point where nitrogen cannot be taken up, only 10 to 30% of nitrogen is taken up at any one point any way by plants. Regenerative farmers know this, so they’re using a different method, which is regenerative farming, and we can go into what that means, to build soil health, which then stores more carbon, stores more water, so it acts as a drought mitigation mechanism and increases the nutrients in the food. Now, regenerative agriculture does not use external inputs. The whole point of it, is it’s using the soil micro organisms themselves, and the interaction, the plant microorganism bridge, which is what Christine Jones calls it. We are using that to build soil health and to store carbon.

Jayne Buxton:

But that’s really bad news to your average agribusiness. It’s really bad news. Because if too many farmers get wind of that, if that becomes the revolution, then their business is on the way out and on the way down. It’s clear to me that’s why they’re never going to support it. Why would they? Why would they? When you said, how are we going to move change forward? I don’t think it will be by working with those organizations. I think it will be by working in parallel at a grassroots level. And I think that is true of both human health and planetary health. I was having a conversation with some farmers and some nutritionists the other day about this, and all of us were in agreement, the fact that trying to change these outputs of these big organizations is not going to work.

Jayne Buxton:

You just have to keep working and proving that there’s a better way, and farmers are doing that. So are low carb enthusiasts working to reverse diabetes and things like that. They’re working despite the recommendations from governing bodies, policy bodies, right? They’re working a lot below them and in parallel to them. Which in any way that’s a bit depressing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

We’ve covered a lot of the health issues and your book is really a treasure trove of the science and it’s quite detailed and I think you’ve done a lot of the hard work of taking an honest look at what the science says, but it doesn’t say, why the overarching mythology around plant-based diets being the answer to everything is flawed. The real question then becomes, what about the effects on climate? And what about the argument that animals are driving so much of climate change and an animal agriculture is so destructive and why we need to eliminate it. For example, Pat Brown’s narrative. And then talk about why it’s so important to actually include animals as part of our agricultural system for planetary health.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It’s kind of the opposite is true, and you quote Russ Conser, who said, “It’s not the cow, it’s the how.” How do we raise animals and what impact does that have on their health, on the quality of the meat and the quality of the soil on the health of the planet and climate? Can you weave us through that story a little bit? I think it’s an important thing. Because we basically go cow farts and methane is bad and we need to eliminate [inaudible 00:51:33].

Jayne Buxton:

Exactly. I think it’s important to recognize that the story around the emissions and the detrimental effect of cows on the environment has been marked by some very big flaws. One of those flaws is that emissions from livestock are exaggerated, routinely. I think you mentioned earlier is a documentary cowspiracy, which first put forward the idea that cows are responsible for 51% of all emissions. Now, that has been proven to be false, and it’s been proven that actually the real accepted number, the FAA number is 14.5% for livestock. And there’s even a problem with that, which I’m going to go into in a second. But the cowspiracy number persists in the public’s imagination. Last year, some students were protesting on campus here about the serving of meat in university cafeterias. And they had this 51% all over their placards.

Jayne Buxton:

It clearly has stuck. And this is why people will throw that argument out and say, of course we have to get rid of the cows. Well, yeah, if cows were really responsible for 51%, we’d better get rid of them, but they’re not. The other thing you have to recognize about that 14.5% number, which is the accepted FAO number, is that it penalizes livestock in a way, because it’s a complete life cycle number. That means it takes into account everything that goes into raising that cow and getting that meat to the plate. The food that’s fed to the cow, the way it’s raised, then slaughter practices and distribution, et cetera. Now, you compare that to the transport number, the transport number is not a life cycle number, the transport number which at the moment is 14% globally, is just a tailpipe emissions number.

Jayne Buxton:

The same is true of the number for air travel, right? And actually most of the sectors do not have a life cycle calculation. So suddenly we’ve penalized livestock farming, because we’re calculating everything, whereas everybody else gets a little bit, let off the hook. Do you see what I mean? These are the ways that these numbers are exaggerated. There’s another way that the exaggeration comes into play, and that is with the use of the metrics to measure the impact of methane. The current metric is something called GWP 100, which estimates the climate changing effect of different gases according to an equivalent in CO2. Now, what that has done, is that it’s overestimated the effect of methane from livestock, people feel.

Jayne Buxton:

And so professor Myles Allen, University of Oxford has argued repeatedly and others have as well for the use of a different metric called GWP Star, which would more accurately measure the impact of the methane. All of these ways lead to an overestimation of the benefit of getting rid of livestock. And because they’re all used repeatedly and because nobody digs into these numbers, that story persists, and really all you have to do is look at the basic emissions numbers for a country like the US or the UK, industrialized countries, right? Here in the UK, dairy cows and beef cattle and sheep, so all ruminants of any kind, are responsible for about 7% of our emissions. Seven. Very similar number in the US, it’s even less in the US I believe.

Jayne Buxton:

Now, you compare that to the total emissions that are generated by energy use, transportation, commercial organizations, and domestic use, which is over 80%. And you think, well, why are we going for the seven instead of the 80%? Right? \.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Right. Why are we focused on just cows and not fossil fuels? Right?

Jayne Buxton:

Yeah. Myles Allen, again, highly respected scientists has said, getting rid of the methane from livestock will have very, very little effect on global warming. Very, very little. What we have to do is address the warming from fossil fuels. And if we don’t do that, he said pretty much nothing else matters. That’s quite definitive. I think that’s very powerful statement from a scientist who’s serving on the IPCC. That’s the kind of, why do we think cow so bad? And incidentally the methane argument is dragged up again and again. Yes, cows emit methane, but so does everything, everything emits methane, including wetlands which emit 20% of all methane. And yet somehow-

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Rice cultivation is a huge source. Right?

Jayne Buxton:

Rice cultivation is about 6%. We never hear, or I’ve never heard anyone say, we need to drain all the wetlands, get rid of the beavers and then we’ll get our methane count down. We don’t hear that. Do we?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Or stop eating rice, which produces [inaudible 00:57:25].

Jayne Buxton:

Because rice is [inaudible 00:57:25]. Right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It’s interesting when you look at regenerative agriculture, you actually can help reduce methane by having methane tropes in the soil, by actually changing the diet of the animals, by having a more varied diet, by feeding cow seaweed, for example, is the solution to methane production. And also the other thing that doesn’t get recognized is the role of nitrogen fertilizers in the production of methane. It might be not obvious to people, but if we look at the production of fertilizers, which is a huge industry, counting for about 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions in global-

Jayne Buxton:

Actually it was even higher. But yeah, you’re right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Most of it comes from fracking. Fracking actually is a very challenging form of extracting energy from the ground because it produces a lot of methane leaks and methane. And so when you look at the methane produced by fracking, it’s three times that produced by animal agriculture. Just the methane for producing the nitrogen fertilizer. And then the fertilizer used to grow more plants. You’ve got this web of complicated relationships between the soil and nitrogen and greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen oxide when it’s applied to the soil creates 300 times as much greenhouse gas emissions as carbon dioxide. It’s really problematic. And I think we don’t look at the whole story. Your book really takes us through the whole story.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

And it’s easy to get soundbites or have fun movies or little headlines here and there. But I think the challenges and nuances get lost and the subtleties get lost in the argument of what we should be doing. I think clearly we want to come to a more balance, which is why I wrote the book, The Pegan Diet, which is to make it a joke about this polarization of meat or not meat or plants or not plants. I think in your book you do come up with a summary of what you think would be a healthier diet. Let’s close with your thinking about what actually your conclusions are from having looked at all the data and come up with a way of thinking about eating this good for us, good for the planet.

Jayne Buxton:

I think it would start with just basing a diet on real food. Let’s start there. Real food, food that’s recognized, that you can recognize as food, that doesn’t have a ton of ingredients, that doesn’t come in a packet. That would be number one. Eat real food, reduce your consumption of ultraprocessed food for nutritional reasons, as well as reasons to do with the environment. I think people may not realize that when you look at the food footprint for the average person in the UK for instance, if you added up the footprint of all the junk food, the sweets, the rice, the empty carbs, the stuff that really doesn’t provide you with very much and the food waste, that’s almost as much as the footprint of meat and dairy. And yet meat and dairy is nutritious food which can benefit our health.

Jayne Buxton:

I would advise people to do that. I would advise them to really wage a war on food waste, which I think if you’re buying high quality produce and meat, you would. If you value that food, you’re going to eat it, you’re going to not let it go bad in your fridge and throw it away. And as far as the meat and dairy element of it, I think people really need to choose the highest welfare, highest standard that they can possibly afford, because what we should be doing as consumers is moving our production system towards a high quality, less factory farmed, better, more regenerative system. And we have the power as consumers to help that along.

Jayne Buxton:

Now, admittedly, we can’t do it all, and I think governments and legislation have to play some role in helping to shape that environment. And I think they could do a lot more to get rid of the mass produced factory farm chicken, for instance. There are rules that could be made to stop that. But we can play our part as consumers. I think it’s about being a really conscious consumer, always conscious. Why am I buying that food? What is it going to give me nutritionally? Is it real? How far did it come to me? Is it raised in a way that will benefit the soil rather than harm the soil? And try and ask yourself those questions.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Such an important conversation. I don’t think we’re going to get to the bottom of all of it in one podcast, but I do think reading your book is a really important thing for people to do, to look at a different perspective than the dominant narrative. I’ve written a number of books about this as well just to challenge some of our thinking. I think also it’s important to say that it’s very individual, some people thrive eating mostly vegan diet, other people don’t. Some people do well with more meat, some people don’t. I think it’s really individual and that’s really what functional medicine is about as a personalized approach to thinking about how we eat. There isn’t a one size fits all approach, but I think your principles of eating real food, of getting rid of the junk and eating less starch and sugar and eating higher quality food, nutrient dense food is so important. I think this debate’s obviously going to continue.

Jayne Buxton:

It is.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

It’s unfortunate. It’s such a dominant belief. It’s been promulgated in society around the benefits of a purely vegan diet, because I think there’s so many flaws in that argument. And again, I’m not opposed to people who want to be vegan. I’ve had many patients who want to be vegan, but it’s often challenging. I saw this really one patient who was very overweight, in his 60s, really struggling with his health, and he was a committed vegan and really had deep belief that no harm should come to animals at all in the production of food and that it was murder to kill animals. I think there’s a moral argument you could make there. But I said, well, is it okay to kill yourself? And he goes, well, that’s something I hadn’t thought of.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

You are a human, an animal, is it okay to kill yourself by doing this? I think that it got him thinking and I think people should really look at what works for them and what doesn’t work for them and see how they’re feeling.

Jayne Buxton:

That’s such a good point that human welfare is as important as animal welfare and we need to keep that in mind for sure.

Dr. Mark Hyman:

Well Jayne, thank you for your work. Thank you for being on the podcast. Obviously conversation will continue. If anybody listening wants to learn more, they should check out Jayne’s book, The Great Plant-Based Con: Why Eating a Plants-only Diet Won’t Improve Your Health Or Save the Planet, which is a very provocative title. So [inaudible 01:04:39] you get books. If you like this podcast, please share with your friends and family. Leave a comment on how you learned about what works for you. Have you gone vegan? What has it done? Have you been a carnivore? Maybe that’s helped you. I think we’d love to hear from you. Subscribe wherever you get your podcast and we’ll see you next week on the Doctor’s Farmacy.

Closing:

Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org, and search there find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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