Low Fat Diet Questions: An Interview with Dr. Barnard’s Dietician, Joseph Gonzales

One of the most well-known of all the Low Fat experts is Dr. Neal Barnard. I recently contacted his organization and asked them some of the questions that I get asked on The Peak Testosterone Forum from time to time. Dr. Barnard’s dietician, Joseph Gonzales, was nice enough to answer us and his very interesting and timely responses are included below. One of the huge assumptions of the Cholesterol-Doesn’t-Matter Movement is that cholesterol is good for the brain. Below you’ll read a study that should make any such person pause and reflect. You don’t need to consume a bunch of saturated fat – wild game generally has relatively little by the way! – to artificially ramp up your cholesterol production and Mr. Gonzales explain just why below.

Q1. I want to start by asking about PCRM, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Can you give everyone a brief introduction as to what you and your organization are all about and hope to achieve?

A. Our nonprofit organization, founded by clinical researcher Neal Barnard, M.D., in 1982, advocates for preventive medicine, advanced research methods, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research. Endless research shows that low-fat, plant-based diets can prevent and reverse chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Throughout our clinical research at the Physicians Committee, we ve helped hundreds of people transform their lives by making simple dietary changes.

To this effect, the Physicians Committee created the Power Plate, a visual tool to show consumers how to follow a healthful plant-based diet. A year later, the USDA launched My Plate, which bears a striking resemblance to the four food groups on PCRM s Power Plate: vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes. We re happy to provide resources that influence federal legislation, shape dietary guidelines, and provide people with information that can save their lives.

Q2. Power Foods for the Brain is very timely, because a common claim that I receive on the forum and in emails is that a Low Fat Diet is hard on the brain because the brain is “the largest repository of cholesterol”. Can you give us a quick synopsis as to why a Low Fat is actually incredibly GOOD for the brain?

A. Studies show that diets high in saturated fats can more than double your risk for Alzheimer s disease. In the American diet, the biggest source of saturated fat is from dairy products cheese, ice cream, butter, and milk. Meats chicken, sausage, burgers, and roast beef are a close second.

Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project find that over a four-year period, people who got around 25 grams of saturated fat each day had at least twice the risk of developing Alzheimer s disease compared with those who got only about half that much.

Saturated and trans fats cause your body to make more cholesterol, which, in turn, clogs your arteries and limits blood flow to your brain, putting you at risk for stroke.

Cholesterol also increases the production of beta-amyloid and plays a role in the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in your brain, which can lead to Alzheimer s disease. People who carry the APOE4 gene absorb cholesterol more easily from their digestive tracks compared with people who do not have this allele. As a result, APOE4 carriers tend to have a higher risk of both heart disease and stroke. The good news? Genes do not determine our destiny; they merely act as committees and suggest orders.

Q3.  Of course, a low glycemic Low Fat Diet can largely or completely reverse both (adult onset type II) diabetes and heart disease as your book describes in great detail. What other chronic disease conditions does a Low Fat Diet target extremely well?

A. A low-fat, plant-based diet is shown to alleviate chronic pain, including arthritis and migraines; prevent certain forms of cancer, especially colorectal and breast cancers; and can stave of Alzheimer s disease and dementia.

NOTE: My wife battled with migraines and got rid of them when she went to lowish fat, raw foods type diet.

We continue to hear about people who improve all other aspects of their life ranging from curing allergies to reversing Crohn s disease by making simple dietary changes. One of my favorite stories is from Randy Hale, an Oklahoma man, who thought a low-fat vegan diet was a bacon diet. He overhead a PBS interview about Dr. Barnard s 21-Day Kickstart program and decided to give it a try. He soon found no meat was allowed but went all out for 21 days. For three weeks he ate a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, spices, and legumes. It s been a year and Randy hasn t looked back since. The result? He lost more than 40 pounds in six months, reversed type 2 diabetes, went off all medications, and has influenced several residents in Oklahoma City to test-drive a healthful plant-based diet. Randy no longer worries about living long enough to enjoy the company of his children; he now hikes 100 miles each month and can easily keep up with his energetic granddaughter.

Q4. One of the big objections to whole grains that I hear is that some of the most accessible and familiar grains (wheat, corn and soy) are heavily GMO’d. I avoid the issue by eating a lot of quinoa, beans and fruit/vegetable smoothies. Do you feel these GMO concerns are overblown? And, if not, how do you recommend men interested in Low Fat living circumvent this issue?

A. There remains a lot of controversy about GMO s but research consistently shows the health benefits of simple plant-based foods, including whole grains. I advise complex carbohydrates and prefer ancient grains, including brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, spelt, and whole-wheat linguine. I start my day with a big bowl of oatmeal and top it with berries, a handful of nuts, and serve it with a green smoothie. Complex carbohydrates provide nourishment and certain grains, including oats and barley, provide soluble fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels.

About one in ten people do have a gluten sensitivity. If you suspect you fall into this category, eliminate wheat from your diet for three weeks and see if you notice a difference.

Q5. Would you like to fill us in on any new recent studies, projects or books? And do you have a home site where men can keep track of your latest advice and recommendations?

A. You can follow the advice of some of the best athletes in the world NBA champion John Salley, ultra marathoner Scott Jurek, and Ironman Brendan Brazier at 21 Day Kick Start, a free online program that goes live the first day of each month. We have a community forum where you can get direct feedback from our team of registered dietitians. You can also download healthful meal plans, find restaurants in your area, and liaise with fellow Kickstart participants. Better yet? You can create your own success story, whether you re aiming to build muscle or shed a few pounds.

You can follow the latest research at Dr. Bernard’s Web Site and access additional nutrition information at Nutrition MD.

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