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.
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! :)
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.