Sorry, Dr. Ornish, The Jig Is Up

      115 Comments on Sorry, Dr. Ornish, The Jig Is Up

It must be tough to be Dr. Dean Ornish these days. The man desperately wants to convince everyone to live on a low-fat vegetarian diet, and yet the Wisdom of Crowds effect is turning the tide in the opposite direction. People previously frightened into giving up eggs and red meat have gone paleo, improved their health, and announced as much to the crowd. Books like The Big Fat Surprise are shining a very bright light on the shoddy science that led to anti-animal-fat hysteria in the first place. Researchers are revisiting the science and declaring the low-fat diet a mistake.

This can’t sit well at all with Dr. Ornish, for whom the plant-based diet is clearly akin to a religion. In fact, I suspect that like many vegetarians and vegans, the thought process that formed his beliefs went something like this:

  • Eating animals is a sin.
  • Therefore, animal foods must harm your health – a punishment for committing sin.
  • Giving up animal foods must improve your health – a reward for no longer being a sinner.

Ornish has spent his career warning of the health hazards of animal foods. The emerging evidence – the reliable kind, anyway – keeps contradicting him, so now he’s like a walking, talking example of the people described in the terrific book Mistake Were Made (but not by me): having staked out a very public position, he can’t possibly change his mind without committing career suicide. He must cling to that position to the bitter end.

And so Ornish pops up now and then to bang the Animal Foods Kill! drum yet again … by pointing to a lousy observational study here and a mouse study there. You never hear him quoting clinical studies on humans (i.e., the studies that actually matter) because those don’t support his beliefs.

Ornish’s latest attempt to bang the drum came in the form of an essay in the New York Times, which several readers called to my attention. Let’s take a look.

Many people have been making the case that Americans have grown fat because they eat too much starch and sugar, and not enough meat, fat and eggs. Recently, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee lifted recommendations that consumption of dietary cholesterol should be restricted, citing research that dietary cholesterol does not have a major effect on blood cholesterol levels. The predictable headlines followed: “Back to Eggs and Bacon?”

But, alas, bacon and egg yolks are not health foods.

And we know they’re not health foods because Dr. Ornish says so.

Although people have been told for decades to eat less meat and fat, Americans actually consumed 67 percent more added fat, 39 percent more sugar, and 41 percent more meat in 2000 than they had in 1950 and 24.5 percent more calories than they had in 1970, according to the Agriculture Department. Not surprisingly, we are fatter and unhealthier.

Notice how Ornish lumps added fat, sugar and meat together, attempting to paint them as members of the same murderous gang. It’s a bit like stating that the trio of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Mother Teresa were responsible for more than 50 brutal murders. That’s technically true, but Mother Teresa’s share of the carnage was zero.

But what about that increase in added fat? Did we become fatter and unhealthier by consuming more butter and lard?

Dr. Mike Eades delved into Ornish’s creative uses of food-consumption statistics in a recent post. It’s worth reading the entire post, but here’s the bottom line:

The added fats are mostly vegetable oils – the exact type the vegetarian zealots insist are better for us than animal fats. Ornish reached way back to 1950 to grab figures on meat consumption so he could make a dramatic comparison with today and thus blame meat for obesity rates that began rising … wait for it … 30 years later. Let’s back up instead to 1970, when Americans were still lean on average and not suffering from record rates of diabetes.

Meat consumption rose by 13 percent from 1970 to 2005, but mainly because we eat a lot more chicken. During that same timespan, red meat consumption dropped by 22%, egg consumption dropped by 17%, and dairy consumption dropped a wee bit. Meanwhile, grain consumption increased by 45%.

Keep those figures in mind as we continue quoting Dr. Ornish.

The debate is not as simple as low-fat versus low-carb. Research shows that animal protein may significantly increase the risk of premature mortality from all causes, among them cardiovascular disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Ornish includes a link that goes to a study I already analyzed in this post. It’s another one of those number-crunching analyses of two lousy observational studies based on food questionnaires. Other analyses of the same parent studies (The Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study) have consistently shown that the participants who ate the most meat and eggs were also more likely to smoke, to drink, to be overweight, etc. In other words, we’re comparing adherers vs. non-adherers, not the effects of any one food.

But since Dr. Ornish apparently believes observational studies are rock-solid evidence, perhaps he can explain these results from a study of the Japanese elderly:

  • Nutrient intakes in 94 Japanese centenarians investigated between 1972 and 1973 showed a higher proportion of animal protein to total proteins than in contemporary average Japanese.
  • High intakes of milk and fats and oils had favorable effects on 10-year (1976-1986) survivorship in 422 urban residents aged 69-71.
  • The survivors revealed a longitudinal increase in intakes of animal foods such as eggs, milk, fish and meat over the 10 years.

I guess animal foods will kill you unless you’re Japanese, in which case they extend your life.

Back to Dr. Ornish:

Heavy consumption of saturated fat and trans fats may double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Once again, notice how he lumps trans fats and saturated fats together. The vegetarian and vegan zealots do that all the time – well, at least now that they’ve admitted trans fats are bad. Back in the 1980s, The Guy From CSPI was pushing trans fats as a safe alternative to animal fats.  Point is, trans fats and saturated fats have very different effects on your health – which Dr. Ornish chooses to ignore.

A study published last March found a 75 percent increase in premature deaths from all causes, and a 400 percent increase in deaths from cancer and Type 2 diabetes, among heavy consumers of animal protein under the age of 65 — those who got 20 percent or more of their calories from animal protein.

Dr. Ornish forgot to mention a couple a couple of facts about that study:

  • It’s yet another observational study based on food questionnaires and is therefore nearly worthless.
  • Data from the same study showed that heavy consumers of animal proteins over the age of 65 had lower mortality and lower rates of heart disease and cancer, not higher.

So if this observational study actually tells us something about the health effects of animal protein (which it doesn’t), we’d have to conclude that meat will kill you until you turn 65, but after age 65 it will save your life.

Back to the good doctor:

Low-carb, high-animal-protein diets promote heart disease via mechanisms other than just their effects on cholesterol levels. Arterial blockages may be caused by animal-protein-induced elevations in free fatty acids and insulin levels and decreased production of endothelial progenitor cells (which help keep arteries clean). Egg yolks and red meat appear to significantly increase the risk of coronary heart disease and cancer due to increased production of trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO, a metabolite of meat and egg yolks linked to the clogging of arteries. (Egg whites have neither cholesterol nor TMAO.)

Ornish linked to a study to support that paragraph, so I checked it out. Here’s the abstract:

Mice that were fed a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet were found to have atherosclerosis that was not associated with traditional cardiovascular risk factors.

So I’m going to suggest you avoid (especially if you’re a mouse) the “Atkins Diet” version of laboratory rodent chow, which is a mix of corn starch, sugar, casein, and various fats including soybean oil, corn oil and Crisco.

Animal protein increases IGF-1, an insulin-like growth hormone, and chronic inflammation, an underlying factor in many chronic diseases. Also, red meat is high in Neu5Gc, a tumor-forming sugar that is linked to chronic inflammation and an increased risk of cancer. A plant-based diet may prolong life by blocking the mTOR protein, which is linked to aging.

To support those claims, Ornish referred to another mouse study and the observational study that showed a statistical link between meat and higher mortality up to age 65, but lower mortality after age 65. Since most of us will live to be 65 anyway, I think we can stop worrying about the meat.  Eat it now, and after celebrating your 65th birthday, start eating even more of it.

Are you recognizing the Ornish method of persuasion by now? He’s like the Wizard of Oz, blowing a lot of smoke and bellowing loudly, but really hoping you don’t look behind that curtain. A quick reference to a mouse study (which he doesn’t identify as a mouse study), a quick reference to an observational study (citing one result but skipping the result he doesn’t want you to see), a quick conflation of trans fats and animal fats, and VOILA! – you’ve almost got an argument against eating animal foods.

Ornish continues:

An optimal diet for preventing disease is a whole-foods, plant-based diet that is naturally low in animal protein, harmful fats and refined carbohydrates. What that means in practice is little or no red meat; mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and soy products in their natural forms; very few simple and refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour; and sufficient “good fats” such as fish oil or flax oil, seeds and nuts. A healthful diet should be low in “bad fats,” meaning trans fats, saturated fats and hydrogenated fats. Finally, we need more quality and less quantity.

Hmmm … let’s rewrite that paragraph to reflect the actual evidence:

An optimal diet for preventing disease is a whole-foods diet that is naturally low in harmful fats and refined carbohydrates. What that means in practice is meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits and nuts, but little or no whole grains or soy products; very few simple and refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour; and sufficient “good fats” such as fish oil, natural animal fats, seeds and nuts. A healthful diet should be low in “bad fats,” meaning trans fats, processed vegetable oils, seed oils, and hydrogenated fats. Aim for quality, and you’ll probably find the quantity takes care of itself.

I didn’t bother to read all the comments on Ornish’s article, but I did come across this one:

So far, 331 comments posted. About 88% either disagree or have a different view than the author. I suppose if you agree with him, then you may not comment. But it is obvious the author is not connecting to his audience. I suspect he is not much different than other vegans I have met: for him, diet is a religion and he cherry picks the science.

Sorry, Dr. Ornish, but the jig is up. People aren’t buying these weak arguments of yours anymore. You can keep bellowing away about the hazards of animal foods, but it’s the information age now and the crowd knows better – and the crowd is loud.


115 thoughts on “Sorry, Dr. Ornish, The Jig Is Up

  1. Jim

    Tom, I certainly hope you’re right that the jig is up! But those “lousy observational studies based on food questionnaires” keep on coming. There was another observational study published this week suggesting that eating whole grains will add years onto your life. The researchers did admit to lots of confounding covariates, *some* of which they tried to adjust for. How successfully is anybody’s guess. My guess is not very. I wrote about it on my blog:

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Good grief, they basically keep running the same study over and over. We need to send a letter to Harvard: “Dear Researchers — Okay, we get it. People who report eating more whole grains have better health than people who report eating white flour.”

      1. Joe

        Here’s the thing with the whole grains: people that eat lots of whole grains probably also eat lots of whole foods, and don’t smoke as much as well as excercise. That’s the problem with these studies. People that go out of their way to eat less tasty whole grains are probably doing so because they care about health. This of course, also means that they probably engage in other clearly healthy behaviors such as eating fruits and vegetables and avoiding sweets and other junk foods. I would imagine that if everybody continued to eat whole grain bread and pasta but ditched all the other processed junk foods there would be very little metabolic syndrome and the accompanying diseases. That’s not to say whole grains are healthy foods but that scale does matter. People have been eating bread for millenia without major healthy problems. Somewhere around the 70’s we reached a critical mass in terms of consumption of processed foods and health went downhill as a result. The sad part for Dean Ornish is that he has most of the right recommendations for a healthy diet. However, the part he leaves out is what can make the diet last.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          That’s exactly the problem with these observational studies: they end up measuring the differences between adherers (conscientious people) and non-adherers (people who don’t give a @#$%) more than anything else.

          Somewhere around the ’70s, semi-dwarf mutant wheat was created and has since become the dominant wheat crop. That’s also a factor. It’s not your grandma’s wheat.

  2. Armando

    Dr.Ornish has lost the plot. India has a vast vegetarian population that gets heart disease. France has a vast population that consumes animal fat and their heart disease has dropped. Thank you Tom for recommending Dr.Kendrick’s book “doctoring data.” Turns out science has been compromised by big pharma and money. I have lost trust on medicine. Like Dr.Kendrick says, “once the patent on statins expire, they will more than likely trash the ‘cholesterol causes heart disease’ hypothesis.”

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I believe they’ll trash it as soon as they have another drug that (ahem) “works” via something other than lowering cholesterol.

      1. Armando

        What about the “solutions” these “sciencetist” have brought us? “Fat burning pills” that killed people. Lap bands, gastric bypass. Shakes(optifast in Australia) that induces “ketosis.” I am not sure how powdered shake can do that(zero carb I suppose?) but not it is not real food. Well all know we can achieve ketosis with real food. Telling type 2 diabetics to keep eating carbs and as their insulince resistances worsens, they keep increasing the dosage of your meds until you become insulin injection depedant. From what I have reading(Dr.Kendrick’s blog and that video lecture he recommends to watch on youtube about diabetes) insulin does not lower blood sugar. Insulin is only a fat storing hormone that is why type 1 diabetics are skinny. High blood pressure pills that lower your blood pressure but does not fix the actual cause of why your blood pressure increased.

      1. Grant

        All true about India, they have MAJOR heart disease and type 2 diabetes problems. if you have traveled to India or worked with Indian families (I have), you will also note that so called India “vegetarian” diets are appalling and definitely NOT healthy. They eat huge amounts of processed oil, butter, cream and cheese in their diets and their sugar intake is comparable to that of the US. All of this is “vegetarian” by definition, but Dr Ornish would agree that all this is awful for your health. My point is this, don’t try to use the vast India health issues to bash a vegetarian diet, all healthy Whole Food Plant Based Low fat pundits like Ornish, would actually totally agree with you.

  3. Mike J

    I read Dr. Ornish’s op-ed piece right after I read the article that Dr. Sears co-authored clearly establishing that the zone diet is just as good as a low carb diet.

    The first question to come to my mind was whether both the good doctors’ book sales have languished lately. The second question was, did the A TO Z study or the popularity of the Paleo crowd have the biggest effect.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Well, even if they do, I won’t let that concern me until I see mice taking down a cow and eating it.

  4. Firebird

    Why would anyone listen to a doctor who is scrawny and sickly in appearance? Does Ornish look like he is in optimum health?

    1. cndnrose

      As much as I disagree with his position, it’s proably best to avoid ad-hominem arguments of, “He doesn’t look healthy, so his diet must be false!” I’ve seen pictures, and he seems relatively healthy in appearance for someone who is 61. I don’t consider him handsome, but I wouldn’t go yelling, “He’s ugly, so he’s wrong!” We can’t know the health of people just by looking.

      1. Boundless

        re: it’s proably best to avoid ad-hominem arguments of, “He doesn’t look healthy, so his diet must be false!”

        I don’t have a problem with a posture of: beware of dietary advice from fat people or evidently unhealthy people, unless they proactively address the issue in a credible manner.

        I’m thinking, for example, of a Surgeon General Pro Tem of the recent past (not the current SG, nor the contentious nominee), who had more than a bit of a wheat belly®, but was at the time dogmatically pushing the USDA MyPlateOfMetabolicSyndrome diet for kids.

        Absent a prominent disclaimer, what are we supposed to make of such people?
        . The advice is incorrect?
        . The advice doesn’t work for everyone?
        . The advice is only for little people, and not for the anointed?

        There are in particular a lot of chubby dietitians out there, all advocating consensus diet. There are enough that it becomes a statistic with a strong correlation. They do not automatically get an ad hom free pass.

        1. DWS

          It is quite possible to be smart enough to be correct about the facts, yet still be too lazy or too addicted to junk food to do anything about it.

    2. Joe

      I see what you’re saying but that doesn’t really hold water. There are people that are chisled and lean that eat tons of processed crap. The question is do his arguments succeed in the light of the evidence? Nope.

      1. cndnrose

        I’m not defending him, I think his position is wrong and misleading people. I just would rather focus on the facts rather than attacking the personality who is presenting them.

        1. JillOz

          Yup, me too.

          People have all sorts of bodily issues – look at the people who attack Jimmy Moore because of the way he looks. Does it make the info he shares wrong? No.

          We need to evaluate the info people present, not the way they look. They might be working on their own body issues and progress might be difficult – that doesn’t invalidate the material.

  5. Robert

    Hmmmm…I eat a ketogenic diet (with red meat) and my inflammation levels have gone WAY down. My blood sugar levels have stabilized, my sleep has improved, I’ve lost weight and I’m not beat down with chronic fatigue any longer.

    I was a vegetarian for years. And I was a VEGAN for about a year. I never felt WORSE! I had blood sugar issues, I was trembling all the time, I had fear, anxiety, depression. Couldn’t concentrate. I was anemic.

    Then I switched to eating animal protein for breakfast and within a few days, all that emotional anxiety, fight or flight crap caused by low blood sugar patterns, WENT AWAY.

    Going from sugar fix to sugar fix as a vegetarian vs. burning fat as my primary source of fuel as a low carb lover? No contest. Ketogenic, low carb wins for me.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That’s another reason Ornish’s message isn’t finding the audience it once did. A whole lot of us tried that low-fat, meatless approach and saw our health decline, then saw our health improve after going paleo. Doesn’t matter how many mouse studies and observational studies he cites; he’s not going to convince us to dismiss our own experiences.

    2. Firebird

      I know a young guy (just turned 22) who posts some crazy things on his Facebook page about depression and suicide. I notice this has increased since he became a vegan.

  6. B35X

    Well, looks like Dr. Ornish is still clinging to his vegan ideology. These studies will probably be as successful as PETA’s minecraft server. Only those involved in the ideology will like it, and any others will consider it to be a joke.

  7. Namu

    “Mother Teresa’s share of the carnage was zero”

    You might want to substitute her name for that of someone who actually cared and helped people. Theresa was a sociopath who reveled in the suffering of other people, swindled millions and diverted charity money away from health resources.

      1. Jeanne

        He’s talking about Christopher Hittchen’s book The Missonary Position.
        Actually quite enlightening, and how you can’t take anyone at face value.

      2. JillOz

        There’s also a half hour video on youtube re Hitchens on Mother Teresa, with some info from a women who volunteered at MT’s “hospital”. They weren’t allowed to give ill poor people treatment.

        Extremely enlightening.
        It’s called Hell’s Angel:

  8. Bret

    “…having staked out a very public position, he can’t possibly change his mind without committing career suicide.”

    A fear that’s all in people’s heads. Most of the public appreciates a person that shows the courage and intelligence to admit he was wrong. Only the cult-dwelling vegans would be angry at Ornish for changing his mind, and they aren’t the most objective group in the world.

    Even so, fear of career suicide is not his problem. Ornish truly believes in this vegetarian dogma. He avoids contrary information to protect his paradigm and rationalizes away any that he is incidentally exposed to.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, a point made well in “Mistakes Were Made.” When people know at some deep level of consciousness that changing their minds would be career suicide, or extremely embarrassing, or tantamount to an admission they’ve harmed innocent people, they protect themselves by becoming all the more convinced their original position is correct.

      1. JillOz

        The authors themselves are actually a good example of this!
        The book is valuable but the authors themselves occupy a Lefty hole or two.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Yeah, I noticed when they were looking for examples of politicians adopt a mistaken position and refuse to budge, they only seemed to spot the Republicans.

    2. Firebird

      Dr. Robert Haas, who wrote 2 best sellers in the early 1980s, “Eat to Win” and “Eat to Succeed” has managed to save his career by admitting he was wrong, then offering to endorse anything you want him to for a price.

        1. tw

          Tim Noakes has done the same, and has been paying a hefty price for it. I think the vitriolic criticism he receives from some is unfounded.

  9. Justin

    Those 3 points at the top really helped to drive it home for me. After my first few times being confused that what I thought would be a civil discussion about science became a heated hate-filled yelling debate about “what’s 100% true, because I know it is, just because”, I’ve often stayed away from talking about nutrition to most people. I joke that you don’t realize that its like a religion until you talk to somebody who can’t or doesn’t want to prove why they disagree with you. I tried to rationalize it as “it’s all they’ve ever known, and they don’t want their reality to crumble”, or that “they need to believe that their relatives didn’t die because of bad information”, but bringing in the “sin” aspect really helps me to understand why these people are so ultra passionate.

      1. Daci

        It is indeed. And like the religious,they never,never,EVER let you forget it, plus:

        They eat no meat and must, at least once a month, remind you of this.

        They LOVE their all veg food and never let you forget how wonderful it is.

        They have the moral high ground.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Q: How can you tell which guest at a party is a vegan?
          A: Don’t bother, she’ll tell you.

  10. Mirva

    In one article this Ornish essee was refferred and the outcome was, that we finns should eat more whole grains and not eat red meat because our genes are different. Red meat causes (to us) cancer, diabetes2, cardiovasculardiseases.
    In an other article professor in nutrition Mikael Fogelholm told that he is annoyed, because people arent listening experts in what they eat, but some internet-gurus instead. He says that science is strong behind nutritionrecommendations.
    Well, people even here in Finland (thank to G) have notised that doing right the opposite they become healthy.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      So Dr. Fogelholm is annoyed that you’re listening to the Wisdom of Crowds instead of The Anointed.

  11. Boundless

    re: … he can’t possibly change his mind without committing career suicide.

    Well, at this point, he at least wouldn’t have to apologize to Steve Jobs (who, to be honest, probably took the Ornish Diet and made t even more lethal).

    As I recall, Dr. William “Wheat Belly” Davis is a former Ornish Diet victim. He apparently decided to follow real results and unconfounded science, instead of dogma.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yeah, Jobs ended up eating nothing but fruit, which is way beyond the Ornish restrictions.

  12. Josh

    The zealots forget that while we are all entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts.

    A few real bozos even think they can make up their own ‘facts’, while those who disagree just have opinions.

    Remember, when you wrestle with a pig, the pig has fun and you get dirty.

    1. Walter Bushell

      A friend of a friend of mine, missed the sailing of the Titanic. He was steerage class, so that was very fortunate. The man tore up the ticket — which would have been worth a fortune.

  13. Josh

    JERF – just eat real food.

    Really. I know a few very healthy vegetarians (not fanatics). They eat real food.
    Just like the healthy paleo people do, and the healthy low-carb people do and the healthy Mediterranean diet people do.

    Find a way of eating that works for you. Don’t worry about what works for me or the guy behind the tree. In almost all cases it involves eating mostly real food.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That’s the key. Unfortunately, people like Ornish can’t help putting meat in the “do no eat” category. They’re confusing eating for health with their beliefs about morality.

  14. T33CH


    In addition to Ornish, I have been seeing a lot of ‘sustainability’ junk going around about plant based diets. What is interesting is the actual numbers involved in agriculture when it comes to water consumption. In Australia, pastured animals are on the bottom end of water consumption. Here in California, almonds (2100 gal per pound) use more water than CAFO beef. Vanilla requires 15000 gal per pound! Chocolate is up there too. So when ever I talk with a vegan I tell them that they have to give up chocolate, almonds, and any foods that are not locally grow to do ‘less harm.’ Safe to say they don’t like to hear these things.


    water used (megalitres) / average use per hectare (megalitres)
    pasture for grazing: 2,887,837 / 3.5
    cotton: 1,734,951 / 6.4
    rice: 1,253,227 / 12.3
    sugar cane: 1,056,598 / 5
    pasture for hay/silage: 799,397 / 3.7
    cereal crops for grain/seed: 695,365 / 2.4
    grapevines: 633,183 / 3.5
    fruit and nut trees, berries: 629,639 / 4.5
    vegetables 416,875/3.8
    other broadacre crops: 166,673 / 3
    STAT SOURCE: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

    1. Jim Kling

      In Defending Beef, Nicolette Hahn Niman does a good job of dissecting water usage issues. James McWilliams, the history professor and veganista who deems himself something of an expert on sustainable agriculture, was once responding to blog comments from far more knowledgeable people on the issue and admitted not knowing the difference between blue water and green water. FFS! Moreover, he stated something to the effect of not seeing why it should matter.

      Pastured farms, many of which are biodiverse and raise both produce as well as animal crops, are probably the best option in terms of environmental impact, especially if they employ holistic grazing techniques. These sorts of farms sequester carbon, increase soil depth, promote soil microbe life, help stabilize water cycles (e.g., absorbing water to decrease flooding), etc.

      Monoculture crops, whatever their ultimate end use (basis of junk food, ethanol, CAFO animal food) are terrible, not only because they have a direct effect on diet of jacking it full of refined sugars and grains, but also because they are pretty much the opposite of the farm outlined above: they contribute to millions of CF of lost topsoil, they kill soil microbes and any sort of native plant and animal diversity, they rely on NPK fertilizers and herbicides and pesticides, the runoff of which disrupts aquatic life.

      The problem with the sustainability argument is that, when wielded by people with a veg*n agenda, it tends to be a very narrow discussion of GHG without much discussion of overall impact on land and soil, and how that interacts with GHG. (Intensive tilling agriculture also relies far more on fossil fuels than pastured livestock ag.) This argument also fails to explain why increased worldwide herds of ruminants have not measurably impacted CH4 levels, or why climate change has been independent of worldwide ruminant herd sizes dating back to the very large herds of wild bison, deer, reindeer, etc. (over the past several centuries, if anything, total ruminant numbers have fallen due to habitat displacement and over-hunting).

      Anyone can find data to support their preconceived argument. But that’s not how science works.

      1. Nate

        Good comment. I would suggest the following small addition to the third paragraph, as follows:
        “Monoculture crops, whatever their ultimate end use (basis of junk food, ethanol, CAFO animal food, vegan feed) are terrible…”

  15. Skepticklish

    Bad Example, since Mother Theresa may have been responsible for many deaths indirectly. Through not directing people to the proper medical care they could have received and just housing them in big dorms to suffer and die, and of course there is her support of Haiti’s murderous Duvalier’s family and the money she received from them. Read Christopher Hitchen’s ‘Missionary Position’ for all the details. No, nothing to do with diet, but next time please choose a better example than that reprehensible woman.

      1. Onlooker

        Well Tom, as usual, anybody lauded by the masses and mainstream in our world should be held up to a skeptical lens before accepting it all at face value. Something I’ve (painfully) learned too late in my life, for sure.

        And I won’t even go into the religious aspect of it.

    1. Wenchypoo

      Not only that, but she refused to give analgesics to a woman dying of cancer, and in horrible pain. When asked “What can we do for all these sick, suffering people?”, her answer was “Just love them.” Love them–by slapping them in dormitories to die with excruciating pain.

      Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.

    2. Bret

      Penn & Teller did an episode debunking Mother Teresa on that fantastic program “B.S.” I don’t remember the details, because I saw it years ago, but it painted quite a picture. I remember coming away pretty convinced she was a beeyatch.

  16. Wenchypoo

    Re: Dr. Ornish–ever notice he’s starting to resemble what his dietary recommendations do to the inside of our bodies?

  17. Laura

    I had a chance to do my own little mouse study. When I first got my pet mice, they were very fit and eating food they brought with them from the breeder. When they ran out of that I got them a mix from the pet store. It was noticeably junkier than what the breeder had been feeding them; it included little baked thingies made of flour and sugar, and was 100% vegetarian. They got sluggish and fat. So I wrote the breeder and she suggested a mix of unrefined grains, seeds, and KITTEN CHOW. The kitten chow is 40% protein and makes up about a quarter of their food mix. After eating this way they lost the weight and started zipping around happily again. The end.

    1. Onlooker

      Yep, that kitten chow, which makes cats so sick is probably not too bad for mice (grain-heavy as it no doubt is). So feed it to the mice and then feed the mice to the cats (I’m serious about the latter). 🙂

  18. Craig Rich

    I agree with you Tom that it’s more of a religion for Ornish, not science. However, I wonder if he really believes the science, or does he know he’s fibbing. And I’m not sure which scenario I find scarier.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I think he believes what he says. That was part of what made the book “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)” so enlightening, the explanation of the psychology. People are capable of truly believing they’re right despite overwhelming evidence that they’re wrong.

  19. Joe

    I just feel really bad for those that actually believe what he puts up about meat and fat. It’s sad to know people could die.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      If a person went from the SAD diet to the Ornish diet (which exludes sugar, white flour and most forms of junk), it would likely produce an improvement — but a paleo diet would be far better.

  20. Nate

    Tom, after reading Jim Kling’s comment above, it made think of the talk given by Elaine Ingham at Savory’s ‘Putting Grasslands to Work’ seminar. I assume you have seen her talk. If so, have you tried working with the soil food web in your soils? Any thoughts? Also, Jeff Lowenfels’ ‘Teaming with Microbes’ is a good book on the soil food web.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I posted that video awhile back. Our soil is benefiting from compost, wood chips and lots of (ahem) natural animal fertilizer.

  21. Jim Butler

    Heckuva way to start the day…
    CNN this morning:
    Happy eating: Ingredient to a long life, in your cereal bowl

    They just don’t get it.

    Sidelines to the article?
    An observational study found people who ate at least 10.22 grams of cereal fiber had a 19% lower risk of death

    Dammit!…I’ve been eating 10.1 grams. How in the world can they calculate fiber intake down to the 100th of a gram, in an observational study???? LOL

    And the money line:
    Early studies have shown eating a diet rich in cereal fiber can help reduce risk for diabetes, cancer, inflammation and obesity.

    Great summary. Covered all the bases with that one. If they only could have added “…and get rich!” it would have been complete.

    I’d say it’s amazing…but at this point, it’s really not.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, same old garbage. Health-conscious people consume more whole grains and less white flour, and also have better health outcomes. That doesn’t make whole grains “protective.” It means they’re probably less damaging than white flour.

  22. Thomas E.

    Sustainability. That word brings up so much emotion in me. From windmills to high speed rail. But the topic here is food. And for reference just finished my scrambled eggs with onions and cream cheese for breakfast, followed by Tim Hortons coffee with heavy whipping cream 🙂

    But I digress.

    I saw a TED video about 4 or 6 months ago, I think it should be mandatory watching for a vegans

    More information can be found here:

    Now, I disagree with one or 2 points, Hans Rosling points out the human population is really close to topping out. I highly recommend a trip to YouTube and watch a few presentations from him, he is a great presenter. Here is a link to him at Ted

    And of course, climate change, I am actually starting to think we are acting in Gaia’s best interest by releasing all of the stored carbon under the ground. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the healthier plants are. All you have to do is go back a million years or so when the dinosaurs roamed the planet. CO2 was *MUCH* greater back then, and the forests of the world could support grazing dinosaurs.

    Further, it is plausible that the Albertian tar sands projects are actually very environmentally sound. If you think about it, all the Canadians are doing is cleaning up a massive *natural* oil spill. If you see before and after pictures of fully mined areas it is pretty amazing. Lifeless tar sands to thriving ecosystems.

    As with all things in live, there is more than “meats” the eye 🙂

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, I posted the video on cows and climate awhile back. As someone who’s had goats, pigs and chickens on our land, I can promise you they produce a lot of fertilizer.

    2. Firebird

      Plant life is returning to the Sahara Desert for the first time in 12,000 years. That suggests a cooling trend at least in that part of the world. The alarmist treat carbon like it is the worst thing out there but as you say, more carbon (And meteorologist John Coleman says this) is better for the environment, especially where food is concerned.

        1. Firebird

          But in that part of the world, where plant life does not grow, it is an indication that the temps are now cool enough for plant life to thrive. It also suggests that the region is getting more rain.

    3. Onlooker

      Yep, Savory’s work is great stuff that could really turn things around. Though it’s funny how a person who fought so bravely against the conventional wisdom and followed the empirical evidence to a “counter-intuitive” conclusion can still be swayed by his inherent (leftist) biases in regard to the population “problem” and the whole global warming alarmism fiasco.

      We see this a lot of course in our world (in other facets of our world/society), so he’s not unique at all.

    4. Brianna

      I’m an Albertan and it’s true what you mentioned about the oil sands. Most of my family works in oil and gas and it’s been said many times before that everything grows much better AFTER they’ve removed the oil from the soil. People also freaked out because a bunch of birds landed in a tailings pond and died, but no one ever mentions all the birds that are killed in the wind turbines in the southern part of the province.

  23. Don in Arkansas

    Proverbs 26:4 “When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are.” Nuff sed.

  24. Michael Steadman

    This is asking a lot but I wish the media would quit giving Ornish and others like him a pass with their “facts.” That Ornish gets a prominent place in a well-known media outlet with little to no fact-checking is part of the problem as either the media gushes over people like him, or has such bias that they figure they are accurately reflecting data. Speaking of facts I read where Bill Clinton is no longer a vegan which I don’t know if it’s true, but if it is, at one point wasn’t he one of Ornish’s stars?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Unfortunately, most media types don’t know about basic science to question the studies he cites.

      From what I read, Bill Clinton now eats fish.

    2. Ed

      Unfortunately the media is all about pushing an agenda, they haven’t cared much for facts in years.
      How much fact checking do they do when they report on our current government?

  25. Linda

    Well, this is maybe a little off subject, but I just had to share this. I don’t know how I started getting this farming mag- I probably did it unknowingly- but this article blew me away! Could it be true? The government wants to pay farmers to raise real food??

    1. The Older Brother

      That’s how they roll. It makes perfect sense. By putting 1 tenth of one percent of the Farm Program/Food Stamp’s annual $100 billion into the real foods movement, they can buy off most of those folks, who will think the USDA is really out to help the little guy. I’d give even money that Mother Earth News will be hailing it a a huge leap forward.

      Meanwhile, 99.9% of the real money is going to the Bigs who will continue killing the small folks (and us). But who can complain when everyone’s on welfare, right?

      Reminds me of the programs the USDA and extensions have for small ag. Nice people, and really pretty good programs, but in a sense, they’re really just Judas goats.

      If you just shut the entire thing down and ended the subsidies and protections the Bigs get from the marketplace (including liability protection), most folks would be back on real foods anyway.


  26. Alice

    I am wondering if Dr. Ornish was looking at things like TMAO and Neu5Gc in meat from animals fed grain or pasture raised? Seems like meat from high Omega six grain would have high levels of inflammatory factors.

  27. Jean Bush

    Ever notice only Americans are confused about diet? Europeans have known how to eat for thousands of years. I’m sure they laugh at us over their truffles and wine.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      The French, maybe. The Brits seem as confused as we are, and I believe Denmark passed an anti-fat tax awhile back.

      1. Walter Bushell

        But the Danes overturned the fat tax, by voting with their pocket books and tires. The went over the border to countries without a fat tax. Maybe the food merchants complained about the loss of business?!

  28. Boundless

    Incoming: Ornish content detected.

    The Blue Zones Solution (Dan Buettner), just released this week, has a foreword by Ornish.

    Expect lots of mindless media chatter. I don’t so far see any indication that the present book addresses issues raised about the former, such as:
    – were all long-lived groups studied, or just those convenient and/or consistent with agenda
    – influence of genotypes (some of these groups have been isolated for some time)
    – gut biome status
    – total caloric intake effect of “80% rule” (how’s HbA1c for these groups?)

    There is likely something to be learned from the BZ groups. The Ornish endorsement causes me to think that we won’t learn it from this book.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I don’t know anything about the book, but if Ornish is on board, I suspect I won’t like it much.

  29. DebbieC

    Late to this discussion, but this quote from Upton Sinclair seems to fit Ornish well:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salarydepends on his not understanding it.”

  30. John A Mooter

    I know many who have benefitted from plans like Ornish, Esselstyn, McDoughall, etc.I also notice that the low fat whole foods plant based docs are all lean, and many athletic and healthy. On the other hand, those advocating low carb high fat (Atkins, Sears, Fallon, Weill) are all fat to very fat. Heart disease has only been reversed (or improved to some level) on a diet like Ornish or Esselstyn.


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