Thursday, March 27, 2008

Here's Your Chance, Dean Ornish: Admit A High-Fat, Low-Carb Diet Is Healthy

Is Dean Ornish prepared to admit a high-fat, low-carb diet is healthy?

I have had ample opportunities to meet and interview some of the best and brightest minds in the world of diet and health over the past couple of years and I consider it a real privilege and an honor anytime I am afforded the chance to glean from the many years of knowledge and experience that these people possess. As a simple layperson without any medical or nutritional background or education, I am merely a student trying to learn everything he can in order to make informed decisions about what is right for me and my body.

You can read my blog interviews or listen to my podcast interviews which now total well over 100 to see and hear from these amazing people and the fine work they are doing to promote good health. I honestly believe that everyone who is involved in this industry is doing it for the right reasons in their heart of hearts even if they are misguided in some areas. It's okay to have disagreements as long as you don't become disagreeable in the process.

That's sorta what I wanted to talk about today because I received a rather terse e-mail response from noted low-fat diet guru Dr. Dean Ornish (who I have interviewed TWICE in the past two years) earlier this week that accused me of making him out to be a "straw man" with the same old "stereotypes" about him that have existed for decades as the face of the low-fat diet. You'll recall I recently interviewed Dr. Ornish for a four-part podcast about his new book entitled The Spectrum where he supposedly has shifted his dietary philosophy away from a strict low-fat diet into one that allows people to make choices along a spectrum of choices. It's a nice concept on paper and I certainly applauded him for moving away from his dogmatic belief that a low-fat, high-carb diet is the ONLY way to good health.

However, during our interview and while reading through The Spectrum, I couldn't help but notice that despite the grand plans of branching out and broadening his nutritional horizons, not much has changed about what Dr. Dean Ornish actually believes. Once you get into the meat (which, by the way, you can't have according to Dr. Ornish since it is in the "least healthy" Group 5 end of the spectrum) of what he writes, everything he considers "healthy" is merely a bunch of the same old high-carb, low-fat propaganda we've always heard from Dr. Ornish. I explained my concerns about this in great detail in a post-interview blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

While I was critical of Dr. Ornish in the blog post (and rightfully so), I still appreciated the open dialog that he invited to discuss and debate the ideas he presented in his book. I have nothing against him personally and he's been nothing but respectful to me in all of our conversations. We just disagree about what a healthy diet looks like a lot more than he wants to admit it. And deep down inside, he knows that.

While he says we all agree and believe many of the same things, I have yet to hear Dr. Dean Ornish confirm that a low-carb nutritional approach may be needed for some people. He's just never done it despite being given several opportunities by me to state it rather explicitly. And even I am the first to admit that low-carb is not necessarily right for everyone. That's why studies have shown you need to find the diet that's right for YOU and then DO IT and I believe that with every fiber of who I am! It simply amazes me that a world-famous diet doctor like Dean Ornish can't even acknowledge this basic truth about health.

And yet after he read this blog post I wrote about Dr. Andrew Weil last weekend where he openly acknowledges the carbohydrate connection to obesity and disease and I made an analogy to how big this news was stating it was tantamount to him coming out and endorsing the Atkins diet, Dr. Ornish became very angry with me and shot off the following e-mail.

Dear Jimmy,

After having such an extended interview in which I thought I was clarifying my position about carbs--including acknowledging that Robert Atkins was right about the unhealthful properties of refined carbohydrates but disagreeing that all carbs are bad and acknowledging that fat also plays an important role in health and illness, especially in weight control--that you continue to use me as a straw man.

In your latest email
(referring to my blog post), you write, "This is the equivalent of low-fat diet guru Dr. Dean Ornish coming out and saying that the late great Dr. Robert C. Atkins was right and that there are some people who should be eating more fat and less carbohydrates if they need to manage their weight and health. Following my recent interview with Dr. Ornish, I sincerely doubt THAT will ever happen." But I say in my new book that there are many people who should be eating less refined carbohydrates--and more unrefined, high-fiber carbs, not necessarily more fat.

I had hoped that we could get past these stereotypes.

With best wishes,


As I sat there and read Dr. Ornish's e-mail, I pondered what he had to say. But I couldn't help but come back to the elementary questions that still linger in the back of my mind about what he thinks we all "agree" on when very clearly we have some major differences about livin' la vida low-carb that he continues to deny.

Here was my response:

Hello Dr. Ornish,

THANKS for your e-mail. With regard to your concerns about my latest blog column which discusses Dr. Andrew Weil agreeing that total carbohydrate restriction in conjunction with an increase in fat intake as outlined by Gary Taubes in GOOD CALORIES BAD CALORIES is indeed based on solid scientific evidence and experience, I don't see where we're in disagreement about this. We both agree that controlling at least some carbohydrate intake and consuming at least some fat is indeed a healthy way to keep your weight reduced and your health in order.

What we do disagree on is by how much.

I'm sorry if you feel my using you as an analogy of the magnitude of this change in perspective by Dr. Weil in favor of a more carbohydrate-restricted for weight and health management was inaccurate. But based on both what I read in your book THE SPECTRUM and heard directly from you during our 100-minute interview a few weeks back, I did not sense any agreement on your end that a moderate-to-high fat, controlled-carbohydrate ketogenic dietary approach as espoused by the late Dr. Robert C. Atkins and then brought back to the discussion by Gary Taubes is one you would even remotely consider recommending for anyone as part of your "spectrum" of choices since most of the foods that fall within this way of eating are in Group 5--what you consider the "least healthy" choices. Please tell me where I got it wrong, Dr. Ornish, because it looks like I've hit the nail on the head about what you believe based on what I've read and heard from you.

Based on that alone, it appears what I stated was not inaccurate at all. Please feel free to correct my misunderstanding if you would like because I'm sincerely interested in what you have to say about what you believe regarding a high-fat, low-carb diet. I'm happy to give you the opportunity to officially come out and state with great clarity that you believe a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet is indeed an acceptable way for certain people to manage their weight and health.

I'd be delighted to share this great news with my enthusiastic readers that we all agree this particular nutritional approach is one you endorse just like Dr. Weil does now. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to share that Dr. Dean Ornish agrees with so many of my readers that restricting carbohydrate intake and consuming fat can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. Keep in mind, this isn't a low-fat vs. low-carb issue either. It's simply about realizing and recognizing that there are certain ends of your "spectrum" which aren't as unhealthy as you claim. Despite that, though, we're absolutely all in agreement, right?

THANKS for sharing your concerns and I do hope to hear back from you soon with a crystal clear message of support for livin' la vida low-carb that I can share with my readers. Take care! :)

Jimmy Moore

It has been five days since I sent that e-mail to Dr. Ornish and he has yet to respond. I suppose we can deduct from his failure to provide an answer to my simple question about where he stands regarding a high-fat, low-carb diet for certain people that he still believes it is unhealthy. That's too bad since most of the health establishment is in major disagreement with him about his monopolistic low-fat, high-carb recommendations for everyone. Even Dr. Weil no longer believes that.

The floor is still open to you, Dr. Ornish. If you truly want to mend the fences you have destroyed by needlessly attacking the Atkins diet over the years, then here is the PERFECT chance for you to do it. Reach across the aisle to your low-carb counterparts and tell us where we have common ground with you since we all agree total carbohydrate restriction and increased fat intake is an essential to a healthy lifestyle. You wanted the opportunity and here it is.

How about it, Dr. Dean Ornish? Are you supporting livin' la vida low-carb as a viable nutritional approach for controlling weight and health? Admit a high-fat, low-carb diet is healthy. It's not a difficult question and we're patiently awaiting your answer.

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Blogger Tom Bunnell (TB)--TB said...


Before our modern diet ever existed the people of all races and all colors and all nationalities the world over, including the North American and South American continents as well as Africa and Europe and Asia and Australia and every other land mass and island on this earth, before our modern carbohydrate diet ever existed these people lived to be 100 years old and more and often they lived to 110 years old and more and they in lived in perfect health from the beginning to the end of all these years on this earth with the rare or occasional exceptions of catastrophic and natural weather disaster's.

If Dr. Ornish could comprehend this truth as a simple but astounding fact, he would then be able to see and grasp the reality of the destruction modern carbohydrate consumption causes the human race.

He does not believe this to be the truth so he has everything backwards. He thinks modern has improved everything.

3/28/2008 4:10 PM  
Blogger Didirina said...

Dr. Ornish makes my head spin. He pushes all of my logic buttons. One the one hand, he states that you are mistaken when you claim that he'll never acknowledge that high-fat/restricted carbohydrate is a healthy choice for some folks, then goes on to prove that you are indeed correct in your analysis by stating that people (and not SOME people) should be eating MORE unrefined carbohydrates and less fat! For me, it doesn't really matter whether the carbs come from unrefined products or from brown rice, whole-wheat bread, or old-fashioned oatmeal--my system can't handle them. And he still holds the misconception that Atkins is a no-carb plan. He, and a lot of others, look right past the part about the need to determine the right level of carbohydrate for each individual! And, to bring The Biggest Loser show into this again, did you hear Bob say to one of the contestants, who was trying to keep his carbs low, that low-carb wasn't right for him AT THIS POINT in his weight-loss journey. Bob stressed that it wouldn't work for someone at a nearly-normal weight who is working out for hours on end; while I find this claim to be a bit simplistic, at least it acknowledges the need for customization, to find the plan right for you at whatever fitness level/activity level you are at. Maybe some people's systems shut off the weight loss if they require more carbs for severe exertion. Fine! OR Maybe NOT!! And rather than just keep repeating that saturated fat and meat are unhealthy, Dr. Ornish needs to PROVE that they are, and not with a study that also include those "healthy" high levels of carbohydrates, unrefined or not.

3/28/2008 4:33 PM  
Blogger Didirina said...

Also, Dr. Ornish acknowledges "that Robert Atkins was right about the unhealthful properties of refined carbohydrates," while still putting them higher on his list of healthy foods than meat! What good is his agreement if it does not translate into action? But he "disagrees that all carbs are bad." Yeah, and who's claiming that all carbs ARE bad? Only the misinformed, narrow-minded folks who want to disparage the low-carb lifestyle. It certainly was not Dr. Atkins! So who's perpetuating stereotypes, HMMM?

3/28/2008 5:00 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of convoluted-speak from Dr. Ornish, didirina! GREAT comments!!!! :D

3/28/2008 5:03 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

WOW, Jimmy!
Your response to Ornish was great!
Clearly, Ornish doesn't care about logic - all he does is try to make himself look good while touting the low-fat diets that have hurt so many people.
Thanks for speaking up for us healthy high-fat eaters.

3/28/2008 9:53 PM  
Blogger quotidianlight said...

My head hurts from all that banging

3/28/2008 10:51 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

THANKS Tara, that's my job. ;)

3/28/2008 10:55 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Ornish's view is that chronic diseases are caused by refined carbohydrates and saturated fat. You and he are never going to agree on the saturated fat part, no point in beating it to death.

As both Taubes and Ornish say, we don't really have enough research to see for sure if that hypothesis is right or wrong, and both Taubes and Ornish say you can't get reliable enough evidence looking at cholesterol and other blood markers. We just don't have long term studies that show who gets sick on which diets, and I don't think each side quoting inadequate studies proves anything. We each have to take our guess, and someday we'll have the research and we'll know. But let's keep in mind that at this point it's a guess, whichever way you go.

3/29/2008 6:45 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

THANKS Peter for your comments. Since "it's a guess" about which diet can be right for someone, why not just come out in favor of BOTH to leave it up to the individual to decide? Even I tell people that if a low-fat diet will work for them, then they should do it. Ornish does not reciprocate.

As for stating that Ornish believes refined carbs bring on chronic disease, I would challenge you on that one. If they're so bad, then why did he put them in his middle-of-the-road Group 3 category of his "spectrum" of choices? Refined carbohydrates (and many unrefined ones, too) are the reason for disease according to all measures of health we have today. And he can't even state clearly in his own book that these are to be avoided as much as possible as the "least healthy?"

Something's wrong with this picture, Peter.

3/29/2008 9:55 AM  
Blogger mrfritznyc said...

if it's really down to a guess, (and I don't think it is, the science - when analyzed without bias, clearly tilts heavily in favor or a high fat diet), the default choice should be the diet of our ancestors over the past 2 million years. Lots of fat and protein, very little starch and zero sugar. And certainly not some nonsense made up in very recent decades, by the likes of Ornish, or Furhman, or Pritkin, or Keys, etc. etc....

3/29/2008 10:56 AM  
Blogger Wifezilla said...

I agree with MrFritz.

Jimmy, I used to believe "whatever works". After reading "Good Calories Bad Calories" I can't support that idea anymore. Unless you are in the tiny minority with a rare medical problem, LOW CARB IS THE HEALTHIEST WAY TO LIVE. Period.

3/29/2008 1:06 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Oh I agree with you wifezilla! For much of the population, low-carb is the way. Or at least lower-carb than we eat as a nation now.

3/29/2008 1:25 PM  
Blogger SusanJ said...

Even if there isn't 100% proof that low-carb is healthier, it is hard to argue against the preponderance of the evidence pointing in that direction. There doesn't seem to be much evidence that high insulin levels are good for you!

Here's a link to a new study that links low insulin levels to longer life:

3/29/2008 2:25 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

What a FABULOUS point, Susan! And you're right--there's no good reason for high insulin levels in the body, so that alone should get most people to reduce the insulin production in their body through cutting down on the carbs.

3/29/2008 2:58 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Jimmy, you said "I would challenge you on that one" regarding my statement that Ornish believes bad carbs contribute to chronic disease. That quote's on page 47of The Spectrum. Then on page 49 he shows the four step process by which he thinks bad carbs lead to diabetes and atherosclerosis.

As far as why he puts bad carbs in category 3 instead of 5, he says on page 93 it was because he thinks if you eat food with fiber at the same time as you eat bad carbs, you undo a lot (though not all)of the harm because you slow the absorption of glucose, which is why he doesn't say never eat them, just eat them in moderation. Category 5 is for stuff that can't be undone. And how much is moderation depends on your health and what you want to achieve, that's the idea of the spectrum, it's not one diet for everyone.

He used to think eating low fat was the road to health, now he thinks there are lots of factors
that prevent illness, with low fat being one of a dozen different factors, including exercise, berries, fish oil, not overdoing flour and sugar, etc. That's why he bristles when you label him the low fat doctor, he's not a one trick pony any more even though he still thinks saturated fat is bad for people. Some day we'll know if he's right or wrong on that one.
Meanwhile we makes our bets and takes our chances.

3/30/2008 8:05 AM  
Blogger Tom Bunnell (TB)--TB said...

The big mistake being made here is that carbohydrates are perfectly normal if consumed in smaller amounts and consumed with there fiber intact and preferably not being processed. This comes along with the assumption that all of our fruits and vegetables and legumes and grains are perfectly normal, natural, natures food. -- Nothing could be further from the truth.

3/30/2008 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having read "Good Calories, Bad Calories" twice now, along with a number of Dr. Atkins' books, I do not doubt for a moment that a low-carb diet is healthy. However, the animosity with which this topic is discussed on this site leaves me wondering why I visit it. Those who have read Taubes' book might recall that he notes that Atkins' big mistake, and one that may have caused the low-carb diet to go out of favor for a time, was that he attacked the establishment and made the extremely influential proponents of a low-fat diet angry.

As more and more members of "the establishment" begin to come around, the likelihood of this WOE becoming obsolete or falling out of complete favor diminishes. Regardless, beating dissenters over the head is unlikely to win them over to this way of life, and could backfire. The information on this site is good, but sometimes polarizing. Couldn't your message be conveyed with a little less self-righteousness and hostility?

3/30/2008 4:08 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Interesting comments considering you are hiding behind the veil of anonymity when delivering them. With that said, nobody is compelling you to come here and read my blog if you think it is "polarizing" and filled with "hostility." Obviously, I disagree.

What I try to do here at my blog is engage thought. People should think about what they believe and why they believe it whether they agree with my conclusions or not.

Yes, I purposely like to be a little on the edge sometimes to get your attention and cause you to figure out which side of the issue you fall on. It's an effective means for educating the masses and letting them figure out what is best for themselves.

As for "the establishment" coming around, that's gonna happen regardless of what Jimmy Moore or anyone else does with a meaningless blog. Works like GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES and the changed lives that come from real people who decided to implement a controlled-carbohydrate lifestyle is what will convince doctors and other medical professionals that livin' la vida low-carb is a viable option for weight and health.

I wouldn't describe what I do here as "beating dissenters over the head." Instead, I'd say I'm beating them with a wet noodle. Low-carb, of course. ;)

3/30/2008 4:45 PM  
Blogger Vesna Vuynovich Kovach said...

@anonymous: I don't think it's hostility so much as frustration.

Dr. Ornish says in his letter, posted above, that we need to get past the stereotype of his beliefs. But he also says that refined carbohydrates need to be replaced with better carbohydrate, and not with fat. Well, how on earth can we get past the "stereotype" when he won't utter a syllable that isn't right in line with the stereotype? Isn't that frustrating?

3/30/2008 8:41 PM  
Blogger mrfritznyc said...

how old is Dr. Ornish in that pic? 45? 50? He has the droopy facial skin and muscle tone of a 70 year old. And for that pic, I am sure he a had all the benefits of professional lighting and make-up, just to make it look even that good.

Dr. Atkins' face looked much, much, much better even into his 70s.

Some of that is due to genetics, but I think it also tells you something vital about their diets.

4/01/2008 10:25 AM  

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