New York Times columnist Jane Brody wrote a silly attack on the documentary What the Health. Germany’s Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck supposedly once quipped, “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.” Since the New York Times is regarded as the “Newspaper of Record” in the United States, we could amend this saying to “Never believe anything in American politics until it has been officially denied in the New York Times.”
Are Eggs as Dangerous as Cigarettes?
Jane Brody focused on one alarming statement about the harmful effects of eating eggs. She then concluded that the entire documentary was full of bad science. Somehow, she failed to mention the main message of the documentary. The documentary warns us that the major health-focused nonprofits are taking money from the food industry. Those organizations then fail to warn people of that their sponsors’ products pose a threat to human health.
The online version of Brody’s screed was entitled “Good Vegan, Bad Vegan.” The “bad vegans” are presumably “those who distort science.” Yet Brody herself is guilty of that offense. The research really does show that egg consumption, like cigarette smoking, is correlated with the buildup of plaque in the arteries. If the effect of eating two eggs a day is equivalent to half of the effect of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, that would work out to a five cigarettes per egg ratio, which is not unrealistic. The research also shows that eating processed meats really does increase your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. As a consumer of eggs and meat, Brody is presumably unhappy about those findings. However, her unhappiness does not make those findings untrue.
The Food Industry Is Sponsoring the Health Nonprofits
What the Health even showed that these nonprofit organizations have sometimes been urging people to eat the very foods that are known to contribute to the disease that the nonprofit is supposedly trying to fight. If the New York Times were really serving as the “watchdog press,” then it would have been sounding similar warnings for many years. (I sound that warning in my book Where Do Gorillas Get Their Protein? What We Really Know About Diet and Health.) Instead, the public had to wait for an independent documentary filmmaker to articulate this message, and for Netflix to broadcast it.
What the Health is reporting on a story that the Newspaper of Record presumably finds “not fit to print.” Word about What the Health is spreading via social media. Our Newspaper of Record can no longer ignore the documentary. Thus, it is time for one of its columnists to tell us to “move along, there’s nothing to see here.” Brody claimed that several of her “well-meaning, health conscious young friends” (a description that simply drips with condescension) urged her to watch the documentary. However, she claims that she had to quit watching it partway through. Supposedly, the science reporting was intolerably bad. Yet several of the people interviewed in the documentary are prominent scientists. Brody is just a newspaper columnist. And her article reveals that she does not know basic facts about nutrition.
Brody Spread Myths About Protein
Although Brody rails against bad science, she promoted some of the worst of it in her column. In particular, she put forth the long-discredited myth that plant proteins are incomplete. She spread the myth that vegans must therefore combine different plant proteins in the same meal to get a complete protein. In reality, nutrition scientists have known for more than 100 years that human beings don’t need to worry about their protein intake.
Any practical plant-based diet would automatically give you enough protein, as long as you eat enough food to get enough calories. In the 1950s, William Cumming Rose showed that ordinary staples, such as rice and potatoes, give you more than enough of all of the essential amino acids. There has never been any evidence that human beings need to combine different plant-based foods to “complement the proteins.” I explain all this in my book Where Do Gorillas Get Their Protein: What We Really Know About Diet and Health.
Brody concedes that “responsible, well-informed sources” already recommend a plant-based diet. Then she assures us that a plant-based diet can be “fleshed out” with low-fat protein sources from animals. But she provides no evidence to support that claim. In reality, the China-Cornell-Oxford Project found that adding even a small amount of animal-source food in the diet would increase the risk of death from degenerative disease. There is no safe level of intake. T. Colin Campbell, who is a nutritional biochemist and a professor emeritus of Brody’s alma mater, Cornell University, was the lead author of the article that reported that finding. Brody has no excuse for being ignorant of it.
If Brody is willing to run the increased risk of early death that results from eating foods from animal sources, that is her choice. But as a journalist, Brody has a professional and moral responsibility to tell people that the risk exists, so that they can make informed decisions.
Junk Food Veganism?
Brody warns, “A vegan diet laden with refined grains like white rice and bread; juices and sweetened drinks; cookies, chips and crackers; and dairy-free ice cream is hardly a healthful way to eat.” Yet that is a straw-man argument. Nobody interviewed in What the Health endorses junk-food veganism. On the other hand, a diet of nothing but white rice, fruit, and sugar could save your life. Dr. Walter Kempner of Duke University discovered in the 1930s that this “rice diet” can save the lives of many heart and kidney patients. It also reverses type 2 diabetes. It even reduces the amount of insulin that people with type 1 diabetes need to inject. Brody’s audience deserves to know things like that. (I explain Kempner’s diet in my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2.)
Good Calories, Bad Calories
Brody’s choice of title is telling. It alludes to Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories. On July 7, 2002, the New York Times Magazine ran Gary Taubes’ article “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?” That article launched Taubes’ career as a nutrition guru. It claimed the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets are the real cause of our obesity epidemic. Like Brody, Taubes has no formal training in nutrition or dietetics or epidemiology. Thus, like Brody, Taubes may not even recognize the mistakes that he makes. Note that Taubes has been roundly criticized by nutrition scientists for misrepresenting their views.
Listen to the Scientists, Not the Pundits
Some of the people interviewed in What the Health are famous scientists. They have done landmark research on how your food choices affect your health. Brody earned a master’s degree in science writing back in 1963. However, she is not a scientist. Thus, she cannot render a scientific opinion about their scientific work. All she can do is express her feelings about what those scientists say. Brody likes to eat animal-source foods, such as meat, fish, dairy foods, and eggs. Naturally, she wants to feel that it is safe to do what she wants. She also wants to feel that animal-source foods can be produced humanely. But wanting something to be true does not make it true.
Unfortunately, Brody has a major platform at the New York Times. Thus, she can reach millions of people. Brody tried to steer people away from hearing a potentially life-saving message from important scientists. We Americans may never read that message in our Newspaper of Record. Fortunately, we can hear about it through social media.