The Truth About Plant-Based Diets and Meat with Diana Rodgers

Dr. Hedberg provides world-wide, virtual health consultations. Become a patient today. >
In this episode of The Dr. Hedberg Show, I interview dietitian Diana Rodgers in a discussion about plant-based diets, meat, and her upcoming documentary and book project Sacred Cow.  Speaking to Diana was a breathe of fresh air among all the misinformation out there about plant-based diets and meat.  We discussed the potential pitfalls of plant-based diets including protein and micronutrient deficiencies.  Diana covered important information about the true environmental impact of meat and how important grazing cows are to the environment.  You should come away from this interview with a better understanding of plant-based diets, meat, and it’s environmental and socioeconomic impact.  I urge you to support Diana’s Sacred Cow project and to look out for the upcoming documentary.

The Truth About Plant-Based Diets and Meat with Diana Rodgers

Full Transcript of the Interview:

Dr. Hedberg: Well, welcome everyone to “The Dr. Hedberg Show.” This is Dr. Hedberg and I’m really looking forward to my conversation today with Diana Rodgers. She’s a registered dietitian. And she’s known as a real food nutritionist. And she actually lives and works on an organic farm near Boston, Massachusetts. She’s an author. And she runs her own clinical nutrition practice. Her work has been featured in the “Los Angeles Times,” “The Boston Globe,” and “Outside Magazine.” Diana writes and speaks internationally about the intersection of optimal human nutrition and environmental sustainability.

And she’s the producer of the Sustainable Dish Podcast, which I highly recommend. And Diana is an advisory board member of Animal Welfare Approved, the Savory Institute, and Whole30. And her new film and book project “Sacred Cow” examines the environmental, nutritional and ethical case for better meat. And her website is sustainabledish.com. So Diana, thanks for joining us.

Diana: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Hedberg: So I was really looking forward to this because there’s this kind of avalanche of plant-based propaganda out there. There’s been some Netflix documentaries, and some well-known movie stars, and medical doctors, putting a lot of information about this. And it’s become a little frustrating and a little extreme. And so I wanted to bring you on to put the brakes on this a little bit and educate people. In fact, I saw this commercial the other day for Raid bug spray. And their big thing is that the insecticides are plant-based. So you’re seeing this all over the place, plant-based this, plant-based that. So why don’t we begin by just talking about some of the main dietary deficiencies in a plant-based diet? So I’m mainly seeing iron and iodine, B12. So can you talk a little bit about the micronutrient deficiencies, and potential protein issues with plant-based diet?

Diana: Yeah. I mean, I’d love to start with protein actually. I’m a huge protein advocate. And I looked into the recommendations for protein. Where did they come from? Why does everyone think we only need about 50 grams of protein per day, a little less for women, a little more for men? Like, where did that all come from? And turns out that they’re really wrong, they’re really low. And the recommendations for protein are based on the minimum that we need for basic survival. And they’re also based on an ideal body weight of women at about 125 pounds, I think, and men at 154 pounds.

And so if we look at the average weight of our population, it’s way higher than that. And so the 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight is at, you know, where people think that we only need about 45 grams of protein for women, and about 54 for men are based on way thinner people than the average population. So in my clinical practice, I always start people at about 100 grams of protein, and nobody is eating that much protein. And it’s really hard to get your protein from a plant-based diet for a few reasons. One is it’s really hard to get it from plants, just because they’re lacking in certain amino acids. So we don’t really need protein, we need amino acids. And plants are pretty low in some of the more important ones for our health and for satiety. So it’s just really hard to get what we need from plants. And it’s also hard to get what we need from plants without over-consuming overall calories.

So for trying to get, let’s say, 30 grams of protein from a piece of steak, that’s about a 4-ounce piece of steak at about 180 calories. But you would need to eat about 700 worth calories of peanut butter to get the same amount of calories. So people, you know, think that they’re all set with a little scoop of peanut butter instead of, you know, maybe some eggs or some sausage for breakfast. And that’s absolutely not true. So, you know, if we are low in protein, we see all kinds of problems, number one, it’s just really hard to feel full and you’ll end up eating more calories. So protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients.

And we’ve got a problem today in America with overweight, obese, and type two diabetes. And upping protein can really correct a lot of those problems and especially for people who are stressed, have autoimmune diseases, are recovering from illness, growing, or are over 40. So that’s pretty much every single person likely listening to your podcast. They have an increased need for protein. So double the RDA is a really great place to start, this 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is, you know, at least 100 grams for women and likely much more. So upping your protein, getting it from animal sources will make you feel fuller, is a lower calorie way of getting your nutrients, so it’s more nutrient-dense. And it’s tastier than getting it from plants in my opinion. So that’s the first thing.

And then as far as nutrient density, animals are way more nutrient-dense than humans per serving. So when we look at nutrient density, that’s the amount of micronutrients you get per calorie of food. Things like lettuce actually, technically are quite nutrient-dense, you know, per calorie, but a serving of lettuce is really low in calories. And so you would need to eat, you know, 27 cups of lettuce to get the same nutrients you can get in a small piece of animal flesh. So when we look at nutrient density per serving, what we’re seeing is way more nutrition from animal-based foods and from plant-based foods.

And I’m not saying that, you know, people should never eat plants, there’s some benefits to eating plants for sure. And I personally am not animal-only eater. But definitely, things like B12, DHA, choline, iron, these are all things that are really hard to get from plants that are really easy to get from animals. And worldwide, B12 and iron are the most common nutrient deficiencies, especially in women. And so, you know, we’re not gonna fix that with more salad, we definitely need more animal protein.

Dr. Hedberg: Right, right. I’ve been using about 1.5 grams per kilogram. So I’ve got to bump that up to 1.6 for most people…

Diana: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s not a true science. Definitely, everyone has a different need, and we’re not computers. And so, you know, I did a nutrient density challenge in January where I was trying to maximize my protein and micronutrients. And I was feeling really great about 140 grams of protein per day. And that’s how much I weigh. So even as high as one gram of protein per pound of body weight can be really helpful. So it really all depends on the person.

Dr. Hedberg: Right, right. Yeah. When I was bodybuilding in the ’90s, we consumed one gram per pound of body weight, but sometimes more than that. Sometimes 1.2, 1.5, we would go pretty high and felt great. So one of the things I always explain to patients is the fountain of youth isn’t really all that much of a mystery at this point, at least based on the research that I’ve read. The increase in sarcopenia and maintaining muscle mass as we age can do more for you than almost anything that I’ve really ever read about. And as we age, we need actually more protein and we need to maintain muscle mass. And that’s from what I’ve read, can significantly decrease all-cause mortality. So that kind of buttresses what you were just saying.

Diana: Totally. Yeah. I mean, the diet that I mentioned was actually a nutrient-dense protein sparing modified fast, and it was fantastic. I felt so amazing when I was doing it. So I know that’s like a typical bodybuilder’s diet. I’m definitely not a bodybuilder, but I ended up losing in one month, seven pounds and gained two pounds of muscle. So, you know, if we eat more protein and then stimulate our bodies to build muscle at the same time, we will lose fat and not just weight. So a lot of people will say, “Oh, I, you know, went plant-based and I lost weight,” but likely they lost a ton of muscle. And we don’t want to be losing muscle, especially anyone over 40 wants to be gaining muscle and preserving muscle mass as much as possible.

Dr. Hedberg: Right, right. Exactly. So one of the other things that’s out there are a lot of these plant-based food replacements, like plant-based burgers, and plant-based drinks, and things like that. And the ingredients that I’ve seen, these are really low quality. Some of them have, you know, like canola oil, and a lot of other really bad ingredients. So can you talk a little bit about some of these plant-based types of products that are out there that are becoming more popular?

Diana: Yeah. And I have an issue with them on so many levels as an organic farmer. I mean, they’re just separating people from their food producers more. They’re not sustainable and cleaner although they’re marketed that way. And they’re certainly not healthier, and I would argue, not even more ethical. So, you know, things I actually looked up Beyond Burger on Walmart’s website and compared it to you can get organic grass-fed beef at Walmart is probably not the same as getting it from, you know, your farmer up the street, but it is an accessible option for people that really just have Walmart as their, you know, easiest way to get food.

And Beyond Burgers, we’re twice as expensive per ounce as organic grass-fed beef. So a lot of people will complain that our meat is too expensive, elitist, and not accessible. And I would actually argue that Beyond Burger is elitist, expensive, not accessible, and not more nutrient-dense and not more environmentally friendly than something like organic grass-fed beef. So these products are not only low-quality, I mean, like they’ll say they have, you know, the same sort of protein and, you know, similar of the macronutrients. But what we don’t have on them is the micronutrient breakdown. And I actually know somebody that is gonna be starting that research pretty soon, but there’s just no way that soy and canola can compare to organic grass-fed beef as far as micronutrients. And then environmentally, you know, monocrop agriculture, this commodity monocrop agriculture is devastating our ecosystems and soil health, and what we need is more ruminant animals on the land, not more soy farming.

Dr. Hedberg: Right, right. So why don’t we dispel some of the myths out there about red meat. Some of this traces back to Ancel Keys, the anti-cholesterol, anti-saturated fat movement that began in the, I think it was right around the middle of the last century. But red meat, you know, there’s obviously a difference. And I know you make this distinction between factory-farmed red meat that is fed corn, and grains, and things like that compared to grass-fed beef. But can you talk about this kind of false mythology out there about red meat, and cancer, and heart disease, and things like that?

Diana: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of anti-meat bias going into these studies. And certainly Ancel Keys, his basically fake research showing that saturated fat will kill you was one of the biggest reasons why people started vilifying red meat, but it even goes back deeper than that to a religious movement in the U.S., in the late Victorian era, where meat was started to be seen as something that was, you know, gave you impure thoughts, basically. And this was the Seventh Day Adventist Movement, and they actually are the ones who started the Dietetics Movement.

So the very first dietitian was the Seventh Day Adventist. And even up until very recently, the people putting out the…it was the 1988 position paper on vegetarian vegan diets. Every single one of those people on the Academy of Nutrition and dietetics board was either a vegetarian for religious purposes or like a Seventh Day Adventist, or had another agenda against meat. So there’s a lot of bias going on in there. And so the studies that are vilifying red meat are not great science. Basically, they’re epidemiology studies looking at populations, and, “Oh, these people ate red meat and these people didn’t,” and, “Oh, look what we found.”

But when you take out all these confounding factors, so when you think about a typical vegetarian shops at a health food store, they’re may be likely to go to the gym more or, you know, practice a healthier lifestyle, less likely to smoke and drink, compared to a typical meat eater out which is a typical American who maybe doesn’t have those healthy lifestyle factors. When you adjust for all those things, multiple studies have found that there is absolutely no benefit at all in being a vegetarian.

And one study they did, looking at people that do shop at health food stores. So adjusting a little bit there for lifestyle found no difference at all in the mortality between vegetarians and meat eaters. So people have tried to single out certain nutrients within meat saying, “Oh, it’s the heme iron,” or it’s, you know, all these other little aspects. But what we don’t have is an overall healthy diet, one with people eating meat, and one with people who don’t eat meat.

Interestingly, one of the Blue Zone populations were Seventh Day Adventist, and so they tend to be vegetarian. But Mormons have the same longevity rates, but they do eat meat, and they were excluded. They were not a population in the Blue Zones. So there’s just a lot of bias going on. Meat has something that has been in the human diet for eons. And I think our anti-meat fears really are scapegoating meat for what processed food is doing to us.

So if we’re looking at what’s new in the human diet, why are we so overweight, why do we have type two diabetes, everyone’s pinning it on me when it’s really ultra-processed food. That’s the big problem. And the people who benefit most from the anti-meat movement are processed food companies. So they’re really hopping on this. But Craft and Nestle have huge financial interests in fake meat products. Monsanto has huge financial interests in this. And what they’re doing is they’re using the folks out there who are claiming meat is not an ethical food to eat. They’re pushing their agenda through these people, and giving them, you know, fake statistics to back it up.

Dr. Hedberg: It’s very difficult for the average person to weigh through the headlines when some of these studies come out that you mentioned, and you made some very important distinctions there where these epidemiological studies and observational studies, and these are just…so listeners can understand, they’re just far too many factors in an individual’s life to be able to single out a single source of food as the cause.

So like you said, we don’t know how much they’re exercising if they smoke, if they drink, if it’s, you know, a woman who was being abused by her husband, or a guy who, you know, just lost his job. I mean, there’s so many factors in people’s lives that can affect their overall health. And so it’s very difficult to single one thing out like meat. And at this point, as of 2019, there isn’t a single high-quality study that does show that meat increases cancer, or heart disease, or diabetes when you take into account all those confounding factors.

Diana: Right. And actually, what we know when you were mentioning about, you know, stressors on people is that socioeconomic status is actually the highest predictor of health and longevity. And so people are blaming the burger. But what they’re not doing is, you know, looking at the fries, the 72-ounce Coke, all the other things that people who are, you know, consuming a lot of fast food or eating. There’s environmental toxins, stressful jobs, no time for leisure, unwinding, I mean, there’s all kinds of factors that, you know, people of privilege have, that people who are lower on that chain don’t have. So, yeah.

Dr. Hedberg: And loneliness is a big one, and becoming a bigger one as our society becomes more isolated. And then also lack of meaningful purpose in life can also have a significant effect on inflammation of the body and things like that. So too many factors to put it on me. So let’s talk a little bit about some of the environmental myths out there. So the first one I just wanna mention is water. And, you know, it’s really interesting, it takes 254 gallons of water to make a single avocado. And I quit buying avocados from Mexico and South America after I read about the Mexican drug cartels associated with the avocado farmers and the massive amount of water that is siphoned from surrounding towns and villages, in places like Chile. And these people are actually losing their water supply to these avocado farms.

And like you said, whenever something takes off in America, it really takes off, and we’re the biggest importer now of avocados, and it’s from these poor countries, and it’s sucking the water dry from the people there so that these, like you said, you know, wealthy people can have their avocado toast, you know, in New York City. And then I think I read it, it’s either one or two gallons to make a single almond. And now, 1 million Californians have no water because of those surrounding almond trees, those farms, and pistachios, and avocados, and things like that. So it’s not just, you know, meat that requires water, a lot of these plant-based foods, and you have to be careful where you order them, can have massive and significant effects on the environment. So can you talk a little bit about beef and water, and how that dynamic works?

Diana: Yeah. So there’s a lot of memes out there saying that, you know, “A quarter pound burger takes 10 bathtubs full of water.” And what they’re not looking at is what type of water that is. So was it green water, which is rainfall? Or is it blue water, which is from aquifers? And also, is that a sustainable aquifer that they’re pulling the water from, right? So in California, you gave a great example of the almonds, so most of the people that live in those towns don’t have drinking water. But yeah, private company, actually the wonderful company, there’s a great film on this. It’s called “Water & Power: A California Heist.” It dives all into that, how this private company actually owns the water rights to humans. And they’re flooding irrigating these almonds, and then we’re exporting the almonds. So we’re basically exporting our drinking water out of California.

And so most of the water, even in typical beef, is rainwater, not aquifer water. So they will calculate, you know, actually all cattle start on grass, I should back up a little bit. So in a typical life cycle of a cow, or a steer really, they start out on grass, and they’re either finished in a feedlot, or they’re finished on grass. And so the water calculation is looking at grass that fell on the pasture that those animals were on, whether or not, the cows actually ate that grass. And cattle do take up more land, which would increase their water footprint. But what’s not being explained in any of this is that 85% of the land that our beef cattle are on right now can’t be cropped.

And so that land is useless to us. And we actually need the cattle grazing on it in order to keep it healthy. So if there’s no animals, you know, we lost a lot of our wildlife. And so grazing animals like cattle are actually critical in order to keep our rangelands healthy. They stimulate grass growth, their manure actually is fertilizer, it’s not waste. And even when cattle are at a feedlot, much of their diet is actually crop residue like corn stocks from the ethanol industry, things like that, soybean cakes leftover from the soybean oil industry. But yet, the full water for ethanol is then, you know, contributing to that feed intake.

So in grass-fed beef, 97% of the water footprint is rain. And in feedlot finished cattle, it is 94% rain. So the water argument is, you know, cows also pee. They actually can increase the water holding capacity of the soil. So we actually need them in order to prevent flooding, to prevent runoff, and to help make the rainfall more efficient. And land that doesn’t have grazing animals, rain is not as effective as well-managed cattle that are actually increasing the sponginess of the soil and the ability for that soil to hold rainwater.

Dr. Hedberg: Excellent. And you mentioned land. You know, I think a lot of people in the plant-based movement, I don’t think they really understand that you have to have certain type of land to be able to grow all these plants. And a lot of land, you can’t grow things on it either because of rocks, or mountains, hills, and things like that. Can you speak briefly about that issue?

Diana: Yeah. I think that’s what I start with, actually, in the book that I’m writing, which is the companion to the film on working on. But that’s the number one takeaway, is that people are so divorced from food production. They don’t even realize that you can’t just grow an acre of soybeans or kale everywhere. Most agriculture land is really only usable as pasture for grazing animals and not for cropping. Cropping requires flatlands that it doesn’t have a ton of rocks, that has really good access to water, and not hilly. And, you know, if you picture most of Northern Europe, it just, you know, would not support cropping like that. Most of Africa can’t support that. And actually, a lot of the U.S. can’t either. So the American West is really best suited to grazing cattle and not much else. And so you can’t just, you know, remove the cattle and think that you’re gonna get that land back in soy, or kale, or lettuce, or whatever your crop of choice is.

Dr. Hedberg: Right, right. And, you know, a lot of people in this sort of movement, you know, they want wind farms, and solar farms, and more plants. And you’re gonna have to choose what you’re gonna put there because you can’t grow anything on a solar farm or a wind farm, and things like that. So I think that’s something that people don’t think about a lot of these things that you mentioned. So that’s an important point.

Diana: You can actually graze cattle on solar farms though, and sheep, too, it’s really great. It provides good shade for the animals. And there’s some producers doing that.

Dr. Hedberg: Oh, excellent.

Diana: Yeah. It’s a really cool model.

Dr. Hedberg: I like that. So methane is another thing that’s out there a lot that you’ll hear, you know, the cows producing methane gas, and that’s causing a lot of pollution. And a lot of people will say, “That’s a significant factor for emissions.” Can you dispel that myth about methane?

Diana: Definitely. So in the U.S. livestock only make up about… Hold on one second, I’m gonna look at my chart here. There’s a lot of statistics. I have to know on the tip of my tongue and sometimes. So according to the EPA, it’s only 3.9% of all greenhouse gases manmade are from livestock. So 4.7% of emissions are actually from crop agriculture. So green-based agriculture is actually much higher in greenhouse gas contributions than livestock. But by far, the biggest contributors are transportation, electricity, and industry.

So within the livestock category, about 2% is made by beef. And what’s important to know about methane emissions from cattle, is that they are part of the carbon cycle. So they’re not introducing new greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, they’re just sort of recycling them. And if we didn’t run hay, and corn stocks, and all the things that ruminants can magically upcycle into nutrient-dense protein, if we didn’t run them through a cattle, they would just decompose and emit greenhouse gases anyway. So I mean, a lot of the food waste that’s happening right now from the produce industry is emitting tons and tons of methane. So we could be feeding that to animals instead of just composting it.

And so the transportation and all the other uses of fossil fuels are actually introducing new greenhouse gases to the environment. So before we wiped out all the bison and other ruminants in North America, we actually had about the same amount of methane-emitting animals as we do today in America. But what we see in this sharp, you know, graph that’s so alarming looking in our rise in greenhouse gas emissions is almost identical in the graph that increases with our transportation and energy industry. So blaming it on cattle is just really unfair on many levels. One, because it’s, again, part of the existing carbon cycle. And secondly, because fossil fuels are way higher.

And the great thing about cattle, too, as opposed to other livestock is they’re actually really efficient at upcycling nutrients. So where industrially raised chicken and pigs eat 100% grain. So they’re actually competing with humans for food that we could be growing, you know, for ourselves. You know, grass-fed cattle can eat 100% food that we can eat. But even typical beef are only about 10% of their diet is grain-based. The rest is byproducts, and grasses, and things like that that we can’t consume. So as you can see, this is pretty much a PhD dissertation that I’ve been working on for the last four years. It’s super layered, and complex, and nuanced. And there’s million different rabbit holes that you can go down with all the different claims that are being made against red meat and cows for environmental and nutritional reasons.

Dr. Hedberg: You really have to dig to find this information and to break it all down. It’s just not as simple as cows increase methane and that’s it, you know, there’s so much to it. And like you said, in addition, the cattle improve the biodiversity of all that land that they’re on as well, which has other important impacts on the other wildlife around there, like, birds and things like that.

Diana: Yes. In fact, even the Audubon Society is working with ranchers on bird-friendly grazing, because they’re realizing that you can’t just have a fallow field with no life in it and expect there to be birds, too. The bird population goes down as we eliminate other life from it. And we can actually mimic what the bison did with cattle and grow protein while increasing the vitality of natural ecosystems. You know, if you picture a beautiful prairie, what you have is intact soil. So the microbial life underneath is vibrant. You’ve got all kinds of different life growing there in plants and animals.

So what we need is more biodiversity, not less. And what we’re seeing in, you know, large canola and soy fields is annihilation of entire ecosystems just to plant one crop. And, you know, not even to mention all the spraying that happens, all the chemical applications that, you know, get into our rivers, killing fish, killing the things that rely on the fish, and killing plants, I mean, there’s trees that actually, they have found salmon DNA in the trees, like, the fungus is breaking down salmon that the bear throw on the riverbanks, and actually feeding the nutrients from the salmon to trees. And so when we practice chemical, you know, modern agriculture, we are destroying everything in its path.

Dr. Hedberg: Right. Right. So what are your concerns about this movement away from meat? What do you foresee as some of the potential health issues? So the meat has to be replaced by something. So we’re probably gonna see a lot more carbs and more nutrient deficiencies. So what are you thinking about that?

Diana: Well, I think it’s particularly dangerous to people at risk. So for example, Meatless Mondays is a campaign that just got approval in New York City public schools. Ten percent of the students going to New York City public schools are homeless, and 75% are low income. And so to take away the most nutrient dense part of their meal, without blaming processed food, these kids are coming home to snap funded soda. And so, you know, for a lot of kids, school lunch is their only meal of the day. And to inundate them with messages that meat is bad, and to, you know, serve them Beyond Burgers, which will cost the school twice as much money as, you know, instead of maybe just having better meat, right, and having organic grass-fed beef at half the price of Beyond Burger.

And guess who the biggest sponsor of meatless Mondays is or one of the biggest sponsors is Beyond Burger. And so, you know, as part of this program, they are also allowed to put anti-meat propaganda all over the school saying that eating meat, you know, causes more greenhouse gas than all of the transportation industry, which is totally false. There’s other messages about health that are incorrect as well, eating beans will reduce your…there’s a picture of bean soup. If you go to the Meatless Mondays resources page, it’s insane.

You know, eating… I can’t remember what it was, but it was like, reduce your chance of type two diabetes by 15% if you just don’t eat meat, or something like that, or don’t eat meat once a day. And first of all, reducing your chance of a disease by 15% is really insignificant anyway. Like, if you look at relative risk, that’s no different than chance. But also it’s just sending the wrong message to kids that meat is bad and allowing basically processed food to have a free pass there. So one study that looked at what would happen if we eliminated all meat from our food system in America is that first of all, greenhouse gas emissions would only go down by 2.6%, which is pretty trivial. But overall calories would go up, because again, as I mentioned, that meat is a low-calorie way of getting really good protein. Nutrient deficiencies would go up and carbohydrate intake would go up. And so we would actually see more obesity, and more type two diabetes, and more nutrient deficiencies.

There’s only been one study in kids looking at meat versus less meat. And it was done in Kenya with kids that were nutritionally at risk. And what it found was the kids who were supplemented, so they took one group supplemented them with meat, one group was supplemented with extra milk, and one was overfed calories, just overall calories. And the meat group by far performed better physically and academically than even the overfed calories or the milk group. And interestingly, the overfed calorie group did better than the milk group, which shows us that milk is not a good replacement for meat. And so, you know, that’s one of the arguments is that, well, if someone wants to be a vegetarian, they can just use dairy instead of meat products in order to get their nutrients. And it’s actually not true. So we do need the nutrients in actual meat, and especially for children.

So there are genetic reasons why some people do a little bit better on a plant-based diet than others. There’s, for example, animal products have true vitamin A, but plant-based products, like sweet potatoes don’t. They have beta carotene, which our bodies need to convert to the usable form of vitamin A. And about half of the world has a gene that makes that conversion very inefficient. And so that’s why we see some people doing a little bit better on a plant-based diet than others.

But, you know, gut integrity, age, genetic reasons, and also privilege, right, you need to be able to afford all the supplementation, and the planning, and the knowledge to do this correctly. And so to just sort of have a worldwide, you know, recommendation that we need to eat less meat or eat no meat in the context of people who, you know, need those nutrients and can afford expensive supplements is, I think, a social justice issue as well.

Dr. Hedberg: I am concerned about the kids whose parents are vegans and are putting them on the vegan diet, you know, at a very young age. I think you would set out a recent paper on that where it was actually it could potentially be considered child abuse, because that can be pretty damaging, especially as a kid, I mean, to become severely deficient and something like B12 or DHA.

Diana: Yes, definitely. So B12 deficiency can cause permanent brain damage. And there have been cases of death and permanent brain damage from children that were fed vegan diets. And there was one case of exclusively breastfed baby to a mother who was supplementing with B12, who still the baby ended up with permanent brain damage from B12 deficiency. So we just need to be really, really careful about our recommendations. Germany and Switzerland both do not recommend a vegan diet for pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, or adolescence.

And it’s really concerning to me that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that a well-planned vegan diet is safe for all stages of life, because I just don’t see evidence of this. We don’t have proof of this, what we’re seeing actually. And I know these can be argued as isolated cases, but we don’t have proof that this is an optimal diet for humans. Humans are omnivores. And I think at the very least, if parents want to feed their kids a plant-based diet, they should be having very regular checkups with nutrition specialist and medical professionals to make sure that any potential dietary deficiency is caught early, so it can be corrected.

Dr. Hedberg: Right, right. So I don’t want any of the listeners to come away with this thinking that either of us are, you know, against the plants or anything like that, we love plants, fruits, vegetables, all those kinds of thing.

Diana: Yeah. I mean, I live on an organic vegetable farm. I mean, we do raise some animals here as part of our fertility program, mostly. I mean, because organic farms need some kind of animal input. So our kale isn’t chemically grown, it’s grown organically, which means we need animals as part of our nutrient cycle. So I eat tons of plants. I think that they’re really good. But I also think that animal products are absolutely critical, especially for my children. But also for me as a celiac, you know, I’ve had some damage to my body from being an undiagnosed celiac for so many years before I found out. And I really found that I do best on a lower carb diet that includes a lot of…I eat a lot of fish, I eat a lot of lamb, eat some steak, and I also eat, you know, lots of leafy vegetables.

Dr. Hedberg: Right, right. So, let’s just close with if you could give everyone some good ideas about where to get the best kind of meat, a lot of places will have a local, you know, grass-fed farm or something like that, but can you give everyone some tips and resources on how to find the best meat?

Diana: Yeah. So I think it’s always best to try to find someone local to you. And eatwild.com is a great website. Local Harvest is another one, but they tend to be more vegetable-focused. Eat Wild is a little bit more meat-focused. So those are great. There’s some online companies that are doing it. I have, you know, a few companies that I that I love a lot that are sponsors of my film that are grass-fed beef producers like Thousand Hills and some other companies like that that folks can check out sacredcow.info, and some of the companies that are backing the film project that I’m working on.

And I also have info there on podcasts that I’ve done, books I recommend reading. The statistic that I referenced is off a flyer that I made with all the major nutrition and environmental claims debunked. And it’s this beautiful, full-color flyer that a lot of teachers have been using in their classrooms. And that’s a free download that they can get from my website as well.

Dr. Hedberg: And so Sacred Cow is the name of the film. And do you know where people will be able to view that?

Diana: We are gonna be releasing it online and through traditional streaming services as well. But if folks want to, you know, get from film updates, they can sign up for my newsletter. We expect it to come out next summer, along with the companion book that I’m working on with my coauthor, Robb Wolf. And so he and I are actually, right now, finishing up the edits. It takes that long to publish a book. And so the book will be out with all the references. And then the film is more of a visual way for people to understand some of the big concepts that we’re tackling in the book. So it’s really hard to pack all that information into a feature film. It’s been really tricky for me to kinda figure out how to say all the things I need to say in an hour and 20 minutes because it’s so complicated. The story is so dense. So the film is gonna be focusing mostly on the environmental benefits of cattle, but the book details very deeply, the nutrition environment, and the ethical case for better meat.

Dr. Hedberg: So your website is sustainabledish.com. And then the film is sacredcow.info. Is that correct?

Diana: That’s correct. Yes.

Dr. Hedberg: Okay. Yeah, I recommend everyone go to sustainabledish.com, and they can get your…you have this really cool Sacred Cow brochure that gives a lot more detail information of all these things that we talked about today. Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you or places to find you online?

Diana: Oh, yeah. I’m really active on Instagram. So my handle is @sustainabledish. And they can see pictures of the baby goats on my farm, some of the film shoots that I’ve been doing, some of the food I eat, things like that. And then I’m also reluctantly on Twitter. I don’t love Twitter, but @SustainableDish and Facebook, too. But Instagram is definitely my preferred social media platform. Yeah. And I’m just gonna be nose down finishing filming by the end of the summer, finishing this book, hopefully, within the next week or so. And Robb and I will be doing a lot of public appearances next summer when everything comes out.

Dr. Hedberg: Oh, excellent. Well, I’m really excited about this project. I think it’s one of the most important projects, I think, I’ve ever seen in the nutrition and functional medicine world. So gotta tip my hat to you for doing this.

Diana: Thank you. Thanks a lot. It’s been hard. And I appreciate it.

Dr. Hedberg: Sure. So for all the listeners, go to drhedberg.com. And you’ll find a transcript of the conversation today with Diana, as well as links to everything that we talked about today. So take care, everyone. And I will talk to you next time.

"You have been the catalyst for change in my life and trying to find the words to express my gratitude will never be adequate enough.  What you do is change lives one person at a time.”

by - Tricia

become-a-patient-button