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A Former President Gives a Nutrition Lesson
August 19, 2011

Today is Bill Clinton’s 65th birthday. I would like to wish him many, many more, and to commend the Vegan-in-Chief for advocating a healthful plant-based diet. In a new interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, Clinton shows off his sleek, healthy frame. The diet makeover, done with the advice of Dr. Dean Ornish, was designed to save his heart, and the weight loss and renewed energy were bonuses.

“Do you call yourself a vegan now?” Dr. Gupta asked. “Well, I suppose I am,” Clinton said, “if I don’t eat dairy or meat or fish.” His last bite of meat was “at Thanksgiving, I had one bite of turkey.” But he does not miss any of it. “I like the vegetables, the fruits, the beans I eat now.”

The former president’s diet choices get some support from a study in the latest Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which showed that avoiding animal protein might be the best thing you can do for your waistline.

Researchers at Northwestern University took a new look at data from the classic Western Electric Study, a seven-year study of 1,730 men that helped identify risk factors for heart disease. The study used a more comprehensive dietary analysis than were used in most other studies, allowing researchers to separate the effects of animal protein from those of plant protein. So the question now was, over the long term, what does animal protein do to your waistline?

The research team looked at the men’s protein intake, and adjusted the statistics to compensate for differences in fat and calories. 

It turned out that those men who ate the most animal protein were between four and five times more likely to be obese on long-term follow-up, compared with men who ate the least animal protein.

For plant protein, it was the reverse. Men who ate the most plant protein were much less likely to be obese.

Many dieters naively blame carbohydrate for weight problems, forgetting that the thinnest people on earth are Asians and vegans—population groups that eat plenty of carbohydrate in the form of rice and other grains, noodles, starchy vegetables, legumes, and fruit. And they get their protein from beans, vegetables, and grains. 

In PCRM’s research studies, we have found what many others have observed: when people change from a meat-based diet to a plant-based (i.e., vegan) diet, they lose weight, often impressively. Following research participants for more than two years, we find that they keep the weight off long-term.

The harmful effects of animal protein show up on more than just the bathroom scale. It is linked to osteoporosis, and, in Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study, animal protein was shown to aggravate kidney problems, a major concern for people with diabetes, hypertension, or a history of urinary infections, or anyone over age 40.

Federal guidelines, including the new MyPlate diagram, do not yet differentiate between animal and plant protein. If anything, Washington has been pushing animal protein. On Aug. 12, 2011, the Department of Agriculture announced it would buy up $40 million worth of chicken as a perk to the poultry industry, which has overproduced chicken in recent months causing chicken prices to sag. USDA plans to dump the birds into school lunches and other food assistance programs. As if they need another bite of animal protein.

Bujnowski D, Xun P, Daviglus ML, Van Horn L, He K, Stamler J. Longitudinal association between animal and vegetable protein intake and obesity among men in the United states: the Chicago Western Electric Study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111:1150-1155.


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