Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ornish: Low-Carb Blog 'Powerful Force' For Educating Public On Diet And Health

(This is fourth and final part of my interview with Dr. Dean Ornish with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 in a four-part series already published this week. Part 4 has Dr. Ornish sharing what he thinks about sugar substitutes, his unique role working with companies like McDonald's, the worldwide obesity epidemic, and coming together on a consensus about good nutrition.)

JIMMY MOORE: You were talking about chocolate a moment ago, what do you think about the sugar substitutes?

DEAN ORNISH: I think they can be a transition for some people. I think that sucralose, aka Splenda, is probably better than aspartame just based on what the studies are showing. I think clearly sugar substitutes can be a better choice than eating a lot of sugar. But it's also to me a transition because they tend to perpetuate a preference for sweets. What we find is your palate is remarkably adaptive.

For example, if you switched from whole milk to skim milk, then at first it will taste watery and doesn't taste good. If you stay with it, after a while it tastes fine. But then you go out to dinner and someone gives you whole milk it tastes too rich. The cow is the same, but your palate has adapted.

If you begin to stop eating sweets, then you begin to prefer foods that aren't so sweet. However, if you use a lot of sugar substitutes your palate never really gets a chance to adapt. But in the transition I think it can be very helpful. I think it's even better if you train your palate to prefer foods that are lower in salt and sugar.

JIMMY MOORE: Let's talk about McDonald's for a second. I noticed that you're now working with them and they recently donated $2 million to childhood obesity research. Everybody seems to be pointing the fingers at fast food and soft drink companies for causing obesity in America. Talk about why you decided to join forces with them and what kind of changes you think you are going to help bring about there.

DEAN ORNISH: I've been working with McDonald's for several years. I also sit on the health & wellness advisory boards of some other major food companies like PepsiCo, I consult with Del Monte, and Safeway as well. To me, it's a great opportunity to make the difference in the lives of a lot of people.

You know, 50 million people go to McDonald's every day. And so, when I began working with them, they didn't have the premium salads, the fruit and walnut salads, the Asian salads and so on. They are now giving people the choice of apple dippers with caramel sauce made with low-fat milk as opposed to a burger, fries and a shake.

I've been working with them to make healthier food choices available so that they could truly offering their customers a full spectrum of choices. But also as a way to educate people about energy balance, the importance of exercise, and about making healthier food choices as well.

Are they moving as quickly as I would like? No, of course not. Are they moving faster than I ever dreamed possible? Yeah. So there a divergence of forces that have raised the awareness of the American public and food companies.

For example, I was able to introduce the President Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association to the heads of PepsiCo which ultimately led to the agreement that they brokered to block the sale of soft drinks to elementary schools and to reduce the sweetened beverage consumption in middle and upper schools as well.

It's a tremendous platform to make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of people every day. I'm also hoping to change the whole mystery of how we choose foods. The old joke says, "Am I gonna live longer or it just gonna seem longer if I eat healthier?" The reality is that you can eat foods that taste good that are good for you, make you feel good and look good.

These big food companies with their celebrities and advertising and marketing have the opportunity to make it fun and sexy and hip and convenient to eat more healthfully not only in this country, but worldwide. And there's a growing epidemic of the globalization of illness which I wrote about in Newsweek earlier this year. Other countries are starting to live like us, eat like us and die like us and it's completely preventable for most people.

JIMMY MOORE: Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic. Why?

DEAN ORNISH: With all the attention on AIDS and tuberculosis and malaria, in most countries around the world more people are dying from chronic diseases such a heart disease and obesity and diabetes that are essentially completely preventable for the vast majority of people simply by changing diet and lifestyle.

What's ironic is people in Asia are forging their own lifestyle and copying ours and unfortunately they're copying our ways of living and copying our ways of dying. We are trying to change that through my work with McDonald's. We helped them develop an Asian salad. It's almost like the people in Asia need to see their own diet come back to them when they eat at McDonald's so they can appreciate the value of what they already have.

JIMMY MOORE: One final question for you, Dr. Ornish, and again I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with me. Two out of every three Americans right now are either overweight or obese. What can we do to turn the tide of obesity that is headed towards 100 percent by the year 2056 according to a recent study? We've got various people ascribing to a low-fat diet, cutting your calories, cutting your portions, cutting your carbs--how are we going to put all of this together to make it palatable to the public so that we can try to turn this tide before it's too late?

DEAN ORNISH: Well, I think it's a very important question you've asked and I think that education is ultimately the key. I think the web site that you have can be a powerful force for that. If you can help people get out of this adversarial mindset of low-fat versus low-carb and say, "Wait a minute, what's really going on here?" You can help people understand it's a little more complicated than that and ultimately that makes it more sustainable.

So in my own way, I'm trying to educate people in any way that I can by doing the best science that we can and PCRM and collaborating with investigators around the world on studies. Also by levering with other food companies to provide healthier products and educate the people about the benefits of eating healthier. I also educate people through my monthly columns with Newsweek and Reader's Digest as well as writing books for the general public. By educating physicians and scientists through getting more insurance coverage for the kinds of interventions we talked about. And finally by giving public lectures and media appearances, whatever I can do to try and educate people the importance of all of this.

Because ultimately awareness if the very first step in any kind of healing. And science can help us understand what the effects of our choices are in our lives for better or for worse. Then to try to implement them in ways that can not only help us to live longer, but also to help us live better as well.

So I applaud your efforts trying to educate people. I think to the degree we can look for common ground at this point is going to be everyone's advantage. Otherwise, people will just throw up their hands and say, "The damn doctors, they can't even make up their minds. To Hell with them, I'll just eat whatever I want." This is bad for me, this is good for me--people get so frustrated by this.

The irony is there's more evidence than ever what a powerful difference a change in diet and lifestyle can make. So, to the degree that we can find ways of working together rather than be adversarial towards each other--which is why I agreed to do this interview with you--I think that's gonna be very helpful.

JIMMY MOORE: Well, I certainly appreciate that you've taken time because your voice is an important one and you have been for a long time. And I wanted people to know that despite our differences that we could come together and certainly try to make sense of this whole diet and nutrition thing to help people because that if my bottom line goal as well is to help people.

DEAN ORNISH: I know that and I think that's why we're here. As insipid as that may sound, I think that's why we're here is to help each other. And so the more we can do that, I think everyone will benefit from that. I am grateful for the chance to be interviewed by you today.

JIMMY MOORE: Thank you very much for agreeing to the interview, Dr. Ornish.

Did you miss one of the previous three part of my interview with Dr. Dean Ornish? If so, then go back and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this enlightening interview with arguably the most influential diet and health icon of our lifetime. Like him or not, he gets attention for what he believes.

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Blogger Newbirth said...

His face is plastered all over Safeway on "healthy" items. A few weeks ago I noticed him when I was buying eggs. This week I noticed him on the tomatoes. Not sure where else he is in the store.

10/06/2006 1:41 AM  
Blogger LCforevah said...

Aaaaak ! Apple slices with caramel dipping sauce ?? Wanna bet that the sauce has a hefty HFCS content ?

I realize that it was finding low carb then zero carb that has made such a huge difference in my health, plus it has lifted the burden of constantly looking for the next big health "breakthrough".
Once you realize how simple the original human diet is, there is no need to keep looking, just do it.

10/06/2006 11:46 AM  
Blogger Invisible Blogger said...

The reality is that you can eat foods that taste good that are good for you, make you feel good and look good.

you know, deano, I agree with ya here! you can eat loads of profoundly satisfying foods like ribeyes, filet mignon, sirloin, prime rib, pork chops, leg of lamb, and yes, butter and mayonaise and bacon and pork rinds! taste great and make me feel fantastic. Modesty aside, I must admit too that I look pretty damn good too! great skin and hair for a guy my age! and not a trace of plaque in my veins.

(Ok, I admit it, I havent actually eaten a pork rind in more than 20 years...)

10/06/2006 11:46 AM  
Blogger AnOldHouse said...

Aaaaak ! Apple slices with caramel dipping sauce ?? Wanna bet that the sauce has a hefty HFCS content ?

That's okay, the caramel dipping sauce is made with skim-milk! LOL

10/07/2006 12:43 PM  
Blogger renegadediabetic said...

lcforevah is right. The Dateline report "Food Fight" on Aug 18 pointed out that the McDonald's caramel sauce is full of HFCS. The Asian Salad comes with sweet dressing -- more HFCS or sugar. I have never ordered it to check the carb content. However, the other day I ordered a chicken bacon ranch salad from McDonald's and the ranch dressing packet had a whopping 9 grams of carbs with corn syrup in the top 3 ingredients. Fortunately I had taken it home and got a different dressing. First Ornish says not to eat sugar and then touts these "healthy" alternatives at McDonalds.

Still, it looks like he has done some good in getting McDonalds to include salads. At least now I have some low carb alternatives there --premium chicken salad or cheeseburger and side salad, lose the bun and cut up the burger on the salad.

Good interview Jimmy. It was interesting to hear what he has to day and see at least some areas I can agree with.

10/10/2006 9:33 AM  
Blogger AnOldHouse said...

Still, it looks like he has done some good in getting McDonalds to include salads. At least now I have some low carb alternatives there --premium chicken salad

Is it really a low-carb option when the chicken has been brined in a sugar solution, just like their french fries? When the Newman's Own Salad Dressings packets are labeled "Restaraunt Recipe" meaning that they too have now been spiked with considerably higher amounts of sugar than supposedly the same products of the same exact names on grocery store shelves?

No, the salads fit Ornish's view of an ultra-low-fat dogma and it's apparently entirely irrelevant to him that they are loaded with multiple sources of hidden sugars.

And McDonald's has had salads for many years, the "Premium Salads" are just the latest marketing iteration. Did you forget about the previous "Salad Shakers"?

Don't be fooled into thinking that anything at McDonald's is actually acceptable for a low-carb plan (unless you actually still think that aspartame-sweetened diet sodas are appropriate). Okay, unsweetened iced tea fits well, but not all McDonald's even carry that anymore!


10/10/2006 12:08 PM  
Blogger Audrey Taylor said...

Much of the info on low-calorie sweeteners on the Net is not based on sound research or real science. Let's accept that the low-cal sweeteners on the market have all undergone rigorous scientific studies, and have all been proven safe. Aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), Saccharin (Sweet’N Low), fructose, and the sugar alcohols (polyols) all serve a purpose for different segments of the population -- diabetics, dieters, individuals with insulin resistance, and people who just like the taste of the products. The research that proves the safety of these ingredients has been around for decades, and with each new Internet controversy they all undergo safety reviews. The bottom line is that National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the American Dietetic Association, American Diabetes Association, etc. all read the data and come back with the same conclusion—these are safe products that can play an important role in improving the quality of life and health for the individuals who use them. For example, I have used Splenda and Equal for years as a way to cut calories and maintain a healthy weight. I would recommend people check out these websites for additional facts on the safety of these sweeteners.,,,,,, and

10/10/2006 3:12 PM  

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