I came across Dr. Katz many years ago and did a Q&A with him in 2014 about “How To Reduce Cancer Risk By 80%”. If I have a question about nutrition, I want to find out what Dr. Katz has to say about it. There are many voices out there regarding nutrition, he’s one of the few voices I pay close attention to.
What You’ll Learn
- The best evidence-based diet for human health
- 4-steps to achieve lasting health & vitality
- Why “taste bud rehab” is so important
- Why diet and environment are integrally connected
- A simple solution to the U.S. obesity epidemic
Listen on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts.
- How to Eat by Dr. Katz (affiliate link)
- The Truth About Food by Dr. Katz (affiliate link)
- Food Revolution by John Robbins (affiliate link)
- Actual causes of death in the United States
- The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food by Michael Moss
- NOVA Classification System
About Dr. David Katz
Dr. Katz is one of the most influential nutrition experts in the world. He’s the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, he’s also the founder of True Health Initiative & Diet ID. He has published over 200 scientific articles and textbook chapters and authored or co-authored 18 books (affiliate link) to date. He is the recipient of several awards for his contributions to public health, and he has received three honorary doctorate degrees. If you want to learn more details, you can check out his full bio on his website and his CV, which is (fair warning) 66 pages long.
- David Katz, MD Personal Website
- Dr. David Katz Youtube
- Dr. David Katz Instagram
- Dr. David Katz Twitter
- Dr. David Katz LinkedIn
Hey guys, welcome to the BuiltLean Podcast. I’m Marc Perry, the creator of BuiltLean, which helps busy men with demanding careers get lean, strong and functionally fit with exceptional vitality. Today, I have a very special guest with me, Dr. David Katz. And so, Dr. Katz is literally one of the top nutrition experts in the world, I’m serious when I say that. He is the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. He’s also the founder of True Health Initiative and Diet ID. He has published over 200 scientific articles and textbook chapters, and authored or co-authored 18 books to date. He is the recipient of several awards for his contributions to public health, and he has received three honorary doctorate degrees.
If you wanna learn more details, you can check out his CV, which is 66 pages long, okay? [chuckle] So I came across Dr. Katz many years ago, and I did a Q&A with him on BuiltLean back in 2014. And if I personally, if I have a question about nutrition, I wanna find out what Dr. Katz thinks, it’s just that simple. And so there’s so many voices out there regarding nutrition, and he’s one of the few voices I really pay close attention to. So with all that said, thank you so much for joining today, Dr. Katz.
Dr. David Katz:
Well, it’s great to be with you, Marc, and I appreciate the very kind introduction. So thank you.
Cool, so I guess to start off, I mean, Dr. Katz you’ve been at this for quite a while, right? And so, what sparked your interest and career focus in preventive medicine nutrition, when I imagine many of your peers were going in different directions?
Dr. David Katz:
Well, I started out in a different direction too. My dad’s a cardiologist. My career choices were the fairly obvious ones, maybe I’ll be a lawyer, maybe I’ll be a doctor, I wasn’t entirely creative. My dad was a doctor, I was inspired by what he did and the devotion to saving lives and I thought, “Okay, I’ll do something like that.” So, chose medical school and then chose internal medicine, and I chose Internal Medicine because I was kind of interested in everything and hadn’t really narrowed down my career focus. So up until that time, my residency in internal medicine, everything was pretty conventional. And then the native predilections of my brain took over, and this may or may not be an aptitude, it may be a liability, but I’m very much drawn to the big picture. I always see patterns. Now, when you’re caring for an individual patient, really you need to be focused, laser focused, on the care of the individual patient, and I was, and I appreciated the privilege of doing that, but I observed the patterns in the hospital and the patterns of my residency, and I was pretty much overwhelmed by how much terrible stuff I was learning how to treat that never needed to happen in the first place.
And we were seeing people in horrible shape after heart attacks, and heart failure, and strokes, and cancer, and AIDS, and so much of this was preventable and we knew how. And I thought, “It’s really not going to be fully satisfying to spend my entire career rushing out to try and extinguish fires that never needed to ignite. I need to be in the prevention role, and I have to figure out how to do that.” So after, I guess, most of the way through my training in internal medicine, I started shopping around for what comes next and landed on preventive medicine, and so I did a second residency in preventive medicine, public health, focusing on the prevention of chronic cardio-metabolic diseases in particular. And then my fate was sealed by a publication in 1993, so that’s when I completed my training in preventive medicine, 1993. I imagine I graduated the Master’s program in Public Health at Yale in June, and I think it was September of that year that the paper came out in JAMA by Bill Foege and Mike McGinnis, entitled “Actual Causes of Death in the United States.” And it’s probably a rare story that a single scientific publication alters the trajectory of a career, but there’s no question, that’s what happened to me.
So for those who don’t know this paper, and I recommend everybody have a look at it, it’s incredibly important. Basically, what these two authors said was, “Everything we’re used to talking about as causes of death is wrong, because heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, these aren’t really causes at all, they’re effects, and what we wanna know is effects of what. What’s the modifiable stuff, the environmental stuff, or the behavioral stuff that we can do something about, that is truly the root cause of all the heart disease and cancer, and cerebrovascular disease, and much of the infectious disease that winds up on death certificates.” And when they were done with their analysis, they concluded that a list of 10 factors explained away all of the premature deaths that occur in the United States every year, but for rounding errors. And just three factors accounted for 80%, and those three were, what I have referred to ever since as bad use of feet, forks and fingers. So feet, physical activity, forks, dietary factors and fingers, tobacco.
Back in 1993 when this paper came out, the number one cause of premature death in the US and much of the modern world was tobacco. Flash forward to now, the number one cause is diet. And so the combination of diet and lack of physical activity now explains more premature deaths than any other variable, nothing even comes close. And that’s partly because we smoke a lot less than we used to, partly because our diets are so terrible, and our physical activity levels tend to be so bad. So really, right then and there, I said, “My career… How much I might love to try to win a Nobel Prize or something and ask some really erudite question and pursue the answer.” I can’t justify that. We already have the answer. We could eliminate 80% of premature death and 80% of the burden of chronic disease in the world around us right now. 80% less heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, dementia, if we simply took what we already know and convert that knowledge into the power of routine action. And I said, “That’s what I have to devote my career to.” Now, 30 years later, I still feel that was the right decision, but it is frustrating that we’re actually still losing the war, there’s actually more preventable chronic disease now than when I started. So miles to go before I sleep. That’s for sure.
So, on that topic, you said something really interesting, in one of your books, one of your 18 books I read, which is essentially… Actually, let me get the exact quote. Give me one second. So it’s along the lines of, there’s businesses that exist to sell us foods that make us ill, and that’s one part of the cycle, and then there’s another part, which is there are industries that profit from selling us drugs to fix the sickness, and so there’s this cycle. So is that kind of part of the whole…
Dr. David Katz:
Well, absolutely. So I refer to this in many ways over the years, I actually have a slide in some of the talks where I show the good guys, the Public Health guys all wearing our white hats and we’re bailing the sinking boat with little pipettes, meanwhile, the boat is being flooded with a fire hose with Coke and Pepsi and McDonald’s and Dunkin’ and all the usual suspects. So yeah, frankly, we’ve never tried as a culture, we never tried to fix obesity, we’ve never tried to fix chronic disease, we actually profit massively as a culture by propagating these. So I think you’re referring to The Truth about Food, which is the book where I most develop these arguments about who profits from the horrendous state of American Health, which by the way, Marc, as we’re having this conversation now in the middle of the pandemic, a huge contribution to the terrible toll of COVID in the United States is the horrible cardio-metabolic health our nation brought into the pandemic to begin with. Now, one of the best explanations for why mortality is so much higher in the US than many countries around the world is our bad health, it’s a huge contributor, there are other factors too, but that’s a big one.
And I’ve been arguing throughout the pandemic that there’s never been a better time for a national health promotion campaign, because it would be good for the long-term, good for the vitality of the nation and an immediate defense against the most adverse effects of the virus. So we’ve never tried to fix this at the level of our culture, and essentially what I develop in The Truth about Food is this notion that Big Food peddles glow in the dark Frankenfoods that make people fat and sick, and profits massively and Big Pharma sells people drugs to treat these diseases they never needed to get in the first place. And I have this morbid fantasy about the CEO of Big Food and the CEO of Big Pharma in a smoky boardroom with a locked door grinning at one another shaking hands and saying, “Hey, we can laugh about this all the way to the bank.”
But essentially, America does run on Dunkin’, and Coke and Pepsi are the national hydration beverages, and we pedal multi-colored marshmallows to children as part of their complete breakfast. We are being bamboozled and we’re complicit in it, because frankly, a nation of loving parents and grandparents should shake themselves out of their stupor and be outraged. Be outraged that a food supply that actually is willfully engineered to be addictive and make people fat and sick is hiding in plain sight. And when I say willfully engineered, I’m invoking the writing, among others, of Michael Moss, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, author of Salt, Sugar, Fat and Hooked, wrote a New York Times magazine cover story a few years back, entitled “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.” It’s another reading I encourage everybody to check out, The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food. And in brief, every major food company has teams of PhDs and functional MRI machines they give them along with marching orders to design foods people can’t stop eating until their arms get tired from lifting it to their mouths, and they’re really, really good at it.
So I think this is all really powerful. And so what is… You’ve been a crusader for decades, and I wanna dive into some of the more nitty-gritty in a second, but what’s the solution? What is, in your opinion, what do you think could make the difference and reverse this upward trajectory of obesity?
Dr. David Katz:
Enough people need to understand that the solution is simple, but it’s just not easy, and believe that it matters. So it really does rely on dissemination of trustworthy information, persuasion, and then a critical mass, and then we absolutely can fix all of this. The analogy I’ve always used for obesity, and it really does extend to chronic disease too, that I like best, is drowning. We don’t wait for people to drown and direct all our resources to resuscitating them. We have lifeguards at beaches, we post signs that say there’s a rip tide or the currents are dangerous or there are sharks in the water, stay out today. We teach people to swim, we put fences around pools, everybody is vigilant with young children near the water, in other words, massive effort is directed at prevention. And then because stuff happens and occasionally someone drowns in spite of all of that, we of course have the means to resuscitate them and treat the victims, but massively more of the effort is focused at prevention, and then just the remainder as required is directed at treatment. Obesity and chronic disease should be exactly the same.
So essentially, junk food is a rip tide, junk food is sharks in the water. We don’t say, “Stay away from this food, it’s bad for you, it’s going to make you fat and sick,” we say, “Four to five of 11 essential vitamins and minerals, part of a complete breakfast. Everybody should buy this stuff.” So that would be like, “Yes, there are rip tides, yes, there are dangerous currents, yes, there are sharks,” but we put up a sign at the beach that says, “Come on in, the water’s fine.” It’s a lie. It’s an over-deception. So the public needs to snap out of it. We do need to recognize that we’re being exploited and we need a critical mass of people in the health professions to come together to generate a signal that’s audible above all the noisy nonsense in our culture. I founded a non-profit organization, the True Health Initiative for that very purpose. So what we represent is the science sense and global expert consensus about diet and lifestyle as medicine.
So we’re looking to grow and reach enough people and be persuasive enough that everybody understands there’s fundamental good and fundamental bad about diet and food choice and lifestyle practices, and knowing the difference between the two, we should all actively oppose any entities that are trying to talk us into the bad to basically mortgage our health for the sake of their profits. And certainly we should all oppose any entity that’s trying to talk us into doing that to our children, “Please mortgage the future health of your children to fatten my corporate coffers.” I wish all be outraged any time we encounter that. So we need to awaken the sleeping giant, and the sleeping giant is us, in our righteous multitudes.
So what do the fundamental goods look like? Can you talk about that?
Dr. David Katz:
They look like stuff that actually grows in nature. They look like stuff that comes from a plant rather than a factory-type plant. They look like stuff that our great-grandparents would also have recognized as food. So they look like vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, water when you’re thirsty and sure, they can look like meat and dairy and eggs and fish and seafood too, albeit in smaller quantities, but real food. They don’t look like something that comes in a box with an ingredient list that runs off the package. They don’t look like food that if you turned out the light, you suspect might very well glow in the dark. They don’t look like something where the order of the ingredients is not even consistent with the kind of food it’s supposed to be. So for example, kid’s cereal, the very word cereal means it’s a grain, that’s what cereal means, it’s a cereal grain, and yet very often, the first ingredient, which means the single most abundant ingredient is some kind of sugar. Well, then that’s not cereal with sugar.
That’s sugar with cereal. [chuckle]
Dr. David Katz:
That’s sugar with essence of grain added to it, right? So call it sugar, with etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It’s a misnomer, it’s an utter deception. It’s outrageous. So it doesn’t look like that. So again, that’s part of the power of this is the fundamental simplicity of the right remedy. Michael Pollan expressed it in those famous seven words, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Many others have expressed it in related terms, I think I got it down to five with, “Wholesome foods in sensible combinations.” But basically, if you develop the argument it’s, make your diet up mostly of: Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, plain water for thirst. Focus on that. Do a lot of that and less of everything else. And then we actually have new ways of judging the quality of food. There’s the fairly recently developed NOVA classification system, essentially for junk food. It is in scientific jargon, it’s a scale for the degree of processing and essentially designed to identify ultra-processed foods. So it was developed by Carlos Monteiro and colleagues. Carlos is a professor at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and it’s now been used widely in research, including by Kevin Hall at the NIH, where he did a randomized trial and showed that just ultra-processing, keep the foods the same, but simply change the degree of processing, it alters the appetite signals and people overeat ultra-processed foods.
So people assigned to the ultra-processed food diet, ate 500 extra calories a day and gained weight. So we know that this drives overeating, over-buying, which is good for the companies doing the selling, but it also drives obesity, chronic disease, bad for those of us doing the eating. So the less processing, the better. The shorter the ingredient list, the better. And the more foods you can eat that have an ingredient list of just one word…
[laughter] Right, right.
Dr. David Katz:
Right? The ingredients in walnuts? Walnuts. The ingredients in avocado? Avocado. The ingredients in spinach? Spinach. So the more of that, the better.
Okay and so, what… I’m kind of curious, what does your own diet look like? Can you give an example of breakfast, lunch, dinner, maybe?
Dr. David Katz:
My breakfast is very standard. It’s mixed berries, expensive, but I indulge in them, and usually one or more whole grain cereals, hot or cold depending on the time of year, and sometimes nuts, almonds or walnuts. Usually, I don’t have any kind of milk, but sometimes a little bit of almond milk in there, and I typically add some cinnamon. And then I add fruits in season, so I love to add in summer fruits, peaches and such, in the winter, it’s more likely to be apples or oranges, bananas, stuff that’s readily available. But mixed fruit, whole grains, nuts and sometimes a non-dairy milk, but usually not even. The cinnamon, I add, both because I like the flavor, but also because cinnamon has specific glucose stabilizing properties, so it’s actually somewhat insulin sparing. I have no issues with insulin or glucose metabolism, but what the heck, again, it’s good for all of us, and I like how it tastes. I sometimes will… And I eat a very late breakfast, and that’s the other thing, by the way, you didn’t ask me this, Marc, but I would say the one thing that belongs on no one’s menu is dogma. There are fundamentals about eating well, just like there are fundamentals about the importance of physical activity. But imagine if I told you the only way for you to exercise, Marc, the only way is biking, it’s all about biking, biking is the best, don’t even think about hiking or swimming or anything else you might like to do, right?
It’s the one thing, the one thing.
Dr. David Katz:
It’s the one thing, yeah. And it’s just…
It’s the one thing, right?
Dr. David Katz:
Right. Silly. Maybe it’s the one thing I love best, but there’s no evidence, not a shred, that biking is better than hiking, is better than swimming… Whatever you like. Motion, we know is good, and then the best way to be in motion is the way that you like to be in motion. So with diet, we actually devolve into just that sort of nonsense and tell one another, “You’ve got to eat exactly this way.” So I would say, one thing everybody should oppose is dogma on the menu. There’s been a lot of dogma over the years about breakfast, “You have to eat first thing in the morning… ” And I was like, “I’m not hungry first thing… It’s really odd, I have plenty of energy, I’m absolutely not hungry. I don’t feel like eating. I can’t get to force myself to eat.” I’ve experimented over the years with that, where I’ve forced myself to eat breakfast early, and then I’m hungry at all sorts of times of day I’m not ordinarily hungry and… Frankly, it just doesn’t work well for me. So I wait till I get hungry. I usually work out in the morning before I have breakfast.
I have no deficit in my energy. I’m not recommending this either by way, I’m not being dogmatic about it, I’m being anti-dogmatic. In other words, within the basic parameters of feeding homo sapiens well, do what works for you. So I don’t get hungry usually till around noon. So that’s when I have my breakfast. I get plenty of work done in the morning, get a work out in in the morning, I have coffee and then come 11:30, noon-ish, I’m hungry, breakfast time. And then since I eat my breakfast so late, I guess basically it’s lunch time for many people, I don’t need lunch. And sometimes I get hungry between my late breakfast and dinner, but usually not if I do fresh fruit, dried fruit, fresh veggies, nuts, almonds, walnuts, something to snack on, but usually not more than that. Dinner is vegan more often than not. I love beans, I love lentils, I love… I’ve pretty much never met a vegetable I don’t like, whole grains, whether it’s cooking grains, bulgur wheat, quinoa, or whole grain breads. I will usually with other people, occasionally allow fish and seafood in my diet, and a little bit of dairy. I don’t eat meat, I eat poultry actually, I used to eat poultry, but because of environmental concerns, ethical concerns, I’ve pretty much given it up.
I eat it once a year now, on thanksgiving. My mom makes a turkey. She would disown me if I didn’t eat her turkey. So once a year, I thank the turkey for its great sacrifice, and… So I’m not religiously vegan in the sense that I must absolutely adhere every day, but there are three reasons why I’m vegan most of the time now. One is, the best diets for human health are plant-predominant, whole food plant, predominant, so all of us should be eating plenty of plant foods. And then the other two reasons will take you the rest of the way there. One is, I love our fellow critters on this planet, I think we should treat them well, and it just never sat well with me that, I have dogs who are my best friends in the world, and I have a horse who’s one of my best friends in the world and animals of comparable intelligence are dinner. You know a pig is as sensitive and intelligent as the family dog, and in factory farms, we don’t just raise them and kill them, we torture them and abuse them, so it’s quite horrible. So I renounced eating mammals many, many years ago, mostly because of the ethics. And then the third issue, and we all have to care about this, is the environmental impact of our diets.
The simple fact is, with eight billion hungry homo sapiens in the world, how we eat is one of the single greatest influences on the overall health of the planet. Implications for climate change, aquifers, the melting of glaciers, the rising of seas, the razing of rainforests, the squandering of this planet’s greatest treasure, biodiversity. It’s always amazed me, Marc, how fascinated human beings are with the prospect of life on other planets, while we’re destroying life on this one. What an extraordinary treasure biodiversity is, and we are literally trashing it. We are directly responsible for mass extinction. And as individuals, our ability to change that is limited, we all have to be part of bigger systems to change that, but one of the things we can do as individuals is eat in a way that is respectful of the rest of this beautiful world and the life in it. So I would argue that the reasons for eating the way I do or I’m not, it’s not that there’s any dogma here about the one best way to eat, but I look at diet through those three lenses, what’s good for me, what’s kinder and gentler to fellow creatures and what’s good for the planet.
So my breakfast berries, wholegrain cereals, sometimes nuts, and… Then I may snack between that and dinner. Dinner is usually vegan, so lots of diverse dishes made with beans and lentils, occasional fish and seafood, my wife is French so for cooking, does use a little bit of dairy, more often than not, sheep and goat rather than bovine, but a little bit of dairy there, and lots of salads, lots of cooked veggies. I do like good wine, I do like good coffee, I do like good dark chocolate. Nobody should think that I’m a monk, I really like good food. And by the way, I’ll finish my answer about how I typically eat, my wife has a beautiful free recipe site with all of the Katz family greatest hits, so people don’t need to hear me give this very… Description of my diet.
Dr. David Katz:
You wanna know all the different dishes… And what you’ll see… So the website is cuisinicity.com, like cuisine city, but with an I in the middle, cuisinicity.com. So a Katz family greatest hits, help yourselves. And what you’ll see is a big shift over the years toward more and more vegan, and that’s because, it’s not that there’s so much more evidence about a vegan diet being better for our health than say, a flexitarian diet or a Mediterranean diet, but the simple fact that I feel… And this has been hard for my wife, again, she’s French, she grew up in Southern France, and so she’s a brilliant cook, but really likes to preserve the traditions of the diet she grew up with, and not cooking poultry, for example, was hard for her. So I said, “Look, it’s not your fault and it’s not my fault that we live in the world now. If we had lived in the world 100 years ago or 200 years ago, the environmental impact of our diets would have been much less of an issue. But there are eight billion of us on the planet now. We have to think about that and we have to walk the walk, ’cause we just have to.” So our diets have absolutely shifted over the years because I’m concerned about issues outside the bounds of my own skin.
And so I was… I think I was reading also in one of your books that you changed your email signature, talking about the environmental impacts. And this just seems to be a theme thing that you’re talking about. What is it in particular? Are there certain like… Is there something you heard, or are there specific set of like, “Oh, these one, two or three things that completely changed or shifted my perspective.”?
Dr. David Katz:
Yeah, there are a few. First of all, I have a life-long friend who is now a professor of wildlife conservation at Cornell. So we were in high school together, and we’ve been like brothers forever, and he always teased me that I was busy advancing the health of the species that was busy destroying the planet. [laughter] And he is basically saying, “Are you sure you’re on the right team?” And I said, “Yeah I think I am.” But I started to wonder as the environmental crisis became more and more acute. But he was always sort of an external conscience saying, “You really need to be paying attention to what humans are doing to the planet too.” And I always respected that and I always cared about that, but he’s been an influence and… Again, he’s had a brilliant career, he was the chief wildlife veterinarian in Botswana for a number of years, he’s done all sorts of interesting field work, and now runs, basically conservation programming out of the Cornell Veterinary School.
Another big influence on me was John Robbins’ book, The Food Revolution. So there are many different books or documentaries that can expose you to the horrendous abuses of factory farming, but John’s was the book that exposed me to it. And it’s one of those things that you just can’t unsee it. And once you hear these stories and understand how horrible it is, you can’t say, “Well I’m gonna eat that anyway, and pretend like I never heard that.” You just can’t… A person of conscience just can’t do that. So John’s book sort of changed my life. And then over recent years, you’d have to be living under a rock left behind by a melting glacier, not to be aware of the massive impact, where we’re burning down the Amazon rainforest. We could blame the crazy president of Brazil for that, but we really ought to blame ourselves. It’s the global appetite for meat that makes beef so profitable. We’re willing to destroy one of this planet’s greatest natural treasures to raise more beef cattle to sell, to satisfy the world’s appetite. So let’s blame not just the supply, which is Brazil, let’s blame the demand, which is us. So we’re burning down the Amazon, that’s horrendous, we’re melting the Arctic, that horrendous.
I’ve actually used polar bears in my clinical counseling for many, many years as a metaphor, when I was trying to help patients understand why it’s so hard not to succumb to obesity. I used to say, going back almost 30 years, “Imagine a polar bear in the Sahara desert, how would it do?” “Well it would do badly.” “Is that the polar bears fault?” “Well no, it’s just that, it’s not designed to thrive in that environment.” “Well, aha, your problem too. You’re not designed to thrive in a world of glow in the dark Frankenfood and a limitless supply of labor-saving technology, you are designed to be an animal in a natural world that has to use your muscles to get real food. And if you were in that world, you’d be fine, and in this world, it’s really hard to be fine. And you are a polar bear in the Sahara.” Sadly, all polar bears are gonna be in the Sahara or something like it. They’re certainly not gonna be in their native home as we melt the Arctic ice. So we’ve got rainforests burning down, we’ve got the Arctic ice melting, we’ve got seas rising, climate change is not just a vague concept anymore, it’s affecting all of us directly, we’re all seeing different weather than we’re used to wherever we live.
So at this point, to not be a citizen engaged in every possible effort to safeguard this planet, I think is just missing the big picture of our time. I have children. I have grown children, and someday they may have children and they’re all gonna need a planet. So there have been a number of discrete influences on me, and many scientists have influenced me. I’ve watched everything that David Attenborough has ever produced, I’ve read everything that Richard Dawkins has ever written, and I could go on and on. But at this point, the volumes of influencing evidence that speak to the urgency of planetary protection are really quite overwhelming.
Okay, and let’s talk about… How do you translate your kind of recommendations? Like eat food, eat real food, mostly plants, right? It’s a Michael Pollan’s right? Like how do you translate that into a our modern world? For a modern guy… Listen, you’ve got your five kids.
Dr. David Katz:
You’ve got an unbelievable number of commitments. You’re super busy, you’ve got a lot of things going on, and so a lot of guys I speak to all the time, they’re like, “Hey listen, I have no time. Things are chaotic. Everything is going… ” What do you recommend for someone like that to implement your advice?
Dr. David Katz:
So to be clear, I don’t… When it comes to the… So the what is really very simple. It hides in plain sight, it’s not rocket science. We know the what, the evidence is clear. The True Health Initiative, and I do encourage people to check that out truehealthinitiative.org, you’ll see we’ve got 500 world leading experts from 45 countries, Paleo to vegan, all saying, “We agree about the fundamentals of the healthful sustainable diet. It’s… ” Again, this is quite obvious. So that’s the what. How, is a different question and how is highly personalized, right? So depending… What is your day like? Do you… And of course, during the pandemic, we’re all working from home. But before the pandemic and after the pandemic, some people work from home, some people travel a lot. How you work healthy living, healthy eating, healthy physical activity, sleep, stress management, all the crucial stuff, into your daily routine, derives from the specifics of your daily routine. And one thing I always told my patients over the 30 years of patient care that I did was, “You’re the boss. You tell me about you and it’s my job to empower you with information that fits within the context of what you tell me matters.”
So if you tell me, “I travel all the time. How do I eat well while traveling?” That’s a very different set of answers than, “I work from home. How do I eat well?” But there are generics too that fit everybody, one of which is decide that this matters, decide that eating well actually matters. It’s just one of those things that’s not negotiable, you have to figure out how to do it, ’cause if it’s negotiable, and there’s some effort involved in figuring out how to do it, maybe you’ll just never try. And you’re not gonna succeed if you don’t try. So one is, make it a priority. And that’s entirely up to you. We can talk about the reasons why it should be a priority, but it’s up to you to buy them or not buy them. And if you buy them, okay, that’s step one. Step two, everything worthwhile takes a little bit of effort. Accept there’s gonna be some effort in transitioning from doing things however you do them now, to a better way. ‘Cause you have to learn new stuff to do something in a new way.
Three, related to learning new stuff is, do not just rely on willpower, develop skill power. Ask yourself, “What are the skills I need and don’t have to master my own health and vitality? To master the quality of my diet?” Is it shopping? “I don’t know how to read labels, I don’t know what to buy.” Is it cooking? “I don’t have time to cook. I don’t have interest in cooking or I don’t know how to cook.” Is it, “I don’t know what to pick when I’m eating out and I eat out not all the time.” Is it, “I don’t know how to manage my appetite.” What skills are you missing?
Skill power is really important. I like to use the example of a pilot because we, I think, all respect that skill, it’s so obvious. Somebody gets in to the cockpit of a big plane and they can make the damn thing fly. I mean it’s kind of awesome. But pilots are not special people necessarily, some pilots are cranky and some are friendly, and some are articulate and some are not, they’re just like the rest of us, in terms of their human attributes, but they have a skill set, those of us who can’t fly planes, just don’t have. Now if you wanna be a pilot, you can’t just wish upon a star. You have to actually take lessons and learn how to fly. But you could. You could acquire those skills. So eating well is a lot easier than flying a plane, but it’s skill-dependent. Knowing how to read a label, knowing in every aisle of the supermarket, what’s the better choice to make? How do I consistently buy stuff I actually wanna eat and yet trade up the nutritional quality? More fiber, more potassium, more healthy fats, less sugar, less salt, less unhealthy fats. What do I look for? How do I do that? And then when I get it home, what do I do with it? And so again, there’s a skill set. And as you said, I’ve done 18 or 19 books to date, and this is what many of them are about. All the details of both, here’s the what, and here’s the how.
So, I’ve addressed this at great length in many of the works that I’ve done, and I’m constantly looking for new ways to do it. So at this stage in my career, I’m an entrepreneur, I founded a company I’m running called Diet ID. And we are working to help people accomplish all of this via a digital platform. People can learn more at dietid.com. And and of course, excuse me, there are many other apps and digitized offerings to help you. But decide what skills do you need to eat well? Is it knowledge? Do you lack good information… “I don’t know what a healthy diet is in the first place.” Well, then you need to learn. But maybe it’s not that, “No, I know exactly what a healthy diet it is, I just don’t like what it tastes like.” Okay, well then I would recommend taste bud rehab to you. Taste bud rehab is the fact that taste buds are adaptable little fellas. When they can’t be with the foods they’re used to loving, they learn to love the foods they’re with. So I would say if you think you like the taste of junk food and don’t like the taste of wholesome food, it’s because you’re used to junk food. So you wanna develop a plan to transition food by food away from highly processed junk and toward more wholesome food, and you will find you will incrementally start to prefer more and more wholesome food. Totally achievable.
So again, you need to decide either on your own or with the help of a health professional coach, a physician, a dietician, somebody that can guide you, “What is my skill deficit?” So make it a priority, commit to some effort, identify missing skills and acquire the relevant skill power. And then finally, preparation. Let’s say the main problem is, “I’m a busy guy and I wanna eat well but I don’t wanna carve out a big chunk of every day to do it.” Okay. Then is there a day maybe on the weekend, one dedicated chunk of time where if you shop very efficiently and have all the right stuff in your pantry, in your fridge, it’s gonna make a massive difference to the quality of your diet throughout the weekend. And let’s face it, there are more and more ways to conveniently stock up on really nutritious stuff, right? So you can find… And this is assuming that money is not a huge impediment. If you would tell me, “I don’t have time, I don’t have money, I don’t have… ” There are… “I live in a food desert.” There is a point, at which I say, “Okay, you know what, you need remedial help. You really do. And it’s not your fault, but maybe you… You don’t have…
You can’t afford healthy food, you don’t have access to healthy food, you don’t have time, you don’t have knowledge. This is all fixable. Some of it you can fix, with education, but some of it you can’t. Some of it requires societal fixes, right? We know we have to make nutritious food accessible to you, we have to make it affordable to you. Okay, so let’s be honest about public health, there are haves and have-nots, and fixing these issues for the have-nots, it’s a societal problem, it’s bigger than you and me. And it’s one of the things I’ve worked on throughout my career, but let’s acknowledge it. Let’s assume that the people listening in here, because to be quite honest, I think people who have the most barriers to eating well are not routinely listening to podcasts about nutrition, let’s…
Very… Fair enough.
Dr. David Katz:
Right? So the people who are listening to podcasts about nutrition are already a privileged group, and you probably can afford to get bean salads, as opposed to just beans in a can, that kind of thing. So there are all kinds of opportunities at any good supermarket or your friendly neighborhood health food store to actually get what are in essence either whole meals or components of meals that are really high quality and put together for you, and you just need to have them in your house. And then you get hungry and you eat them as they are, you pop them in the microwave and you’ve got a really wholesome, and by the way, relatively low-cost meal. And I say low-cost, because if you’re emphasizing plants, you’re saving a ton of money. Beans, lentils, cooking grains, incredibly nutritious and really, really inexpensive, compared to any kind of meat. So if you shift to more plants, less meat, you’re saving money. If you shift to more water, less soda, you’re saving money. Eating better is not always more expensive, at times, it really can be extremely economical. And so the money you’re saving can go partly toward the convenience of, “Let me get these pre-packaged meals so I have less prep work to do.
I’ll stop because that’s enough to simply paint the general picture, Marc, that if you have the will, you absolutely can devise a way. It is within reach. But you can’t just snap your fingers and say, “I wanna eat better. I don’t wanna do anything, I don’t wanna learn anything, I don’t wanna make any effort, I just expect it to happen to me passively.” Well, nothing in life works like that. Your education doesn’t work that way, your job doesn’t work that way, raising children doesn’t work that way, learning how to drive doesn’t work that way, learning how to ride a bike, learning how to do any sport, succeeding in any performance, doing well with athletic activity… Everything worthwhile requires time and effort. Why should something that really is the bedrock of lifelong vitality deserve any less? So it’s not a huge lift, but yeah, you gotta do some lifting, if you wanna go from typical American diet to a high quality diet that will run your better health for the rest of your life.
Dr. Katz, I really appreciate that. And so, I’m curious to hear where… Well, I personally know, but can you let everyone know where they can learn more about you or they can follow you?
Dr. David Katz:
Sure. Well, first of all, Marc, thanks so much for having me, it’s been a pleasure to have this discussion, and again, I appreciate the kind words. So my website, which is kind of a portal to everything I do and have done over the years, is davidkatzmd.com. So if you just want easy one-stop shopping, there are links there to The True Health Initiative, links there to my company Diet ID, links to my wife’s beautiful recipe site, cuisinicity.com, and links to my writing and videos and public speaking, and on and on it goes. So davidkatzmd.com. If you wanna cut out the middle man however, recipes, cuisinicity.com, the global expert consensus about lifestyle as medicine, truehealthinitiative.org, and more about my private sector efforts to make diet the vital sign, I believe it deserves to be, dietid.com. And then of course, you mentioned my books. So the most recent book co-authored with Mark Bittman is, How to Eat. [chuckle] It’s a pretty blunt title. The publisher came up with that. Mark and I had far more creative titles.
Dr. David Katz:
I guess there was… And it’s interesting ’cause Mark, a New York Times columnist for many years, and the iconic author of How to Cook Everything, so we were sort of joking, “Okay, it’s how to eat, and prevent disease, but not everything.” But it’s a really fun book. It’s comprehensive, but it’s easily accessible. It’s conversational, it’s quite unique in the way it’s put together, but it really does cover pretty much everything. So it’s not a bad place to start. Makes a nice holiday gift, so check out, How to Eat.
Awesome, and so by the way, I’m gonna have this full transcript on the BuiltLean site, and we’re gonna have links, like everything we’ve talked about, we’re gonna have links, so it’s really easy for everyone to find. And, yeah, I personally think How to Eat and especially Truth about Eating…
Dr. David Katz:
It’s Truth about Food.
Sorry, sorry. Sorry, sorry, Truth about Food, I’ve got a lot of…
Dr. David Katz:
Yeah, no it’s… And so that was the book before, How to Eat, and that really… That one’s my magnum opus, but just to warn people, that’s a 750-page tome. That’s a doorstop, and… But I will say quickly about The Truth about Food, everything I know about diet and health is in that book, and all proceeds from that book go to support The True Health Initiative. So it’s a worthy cause. Another great holiday gift, so, yeah. [chuckle]
And I was gonna say, so I personally have it on a Kindle version, so I can search it. And that’s what’s really, really powerful and cool, and that’s why I wanna bring it up, ’cause is like it can… It’s like the evidence-based Bible to healthy eating. That’s what it is.
Dr. David Katz:
Thank you. And actually… Yeah. Initially I really just wanted to do a Kindle version for a number of reasons. First, it’s a huge book and that way you could just look up whatever topic or question you wanted to address, second, we spare the trees and not generate the paper. A lot of people want an actual book in their hands, so it’s available both ways. But I totally agree with you. Yeah, the best way to get The Truth about Food would be electronically.
Cool, so again, How to Eat, Truth about Food… Obviously, he’s had… 18 books, but I think either of those two books especially are incredible. Again, I seriously do think The Truth about Food, it’s like the evidence-based healthy eating Bible. So I really, really appreciate you being here, Dr. Katz, and I wish you the best.
Dr. David Katz:
Same to you Marc. Very good to be with you. Stay well, happy holidays and I look forward to our next conversation.
Cool. Alright, bye-bye. [chuckle]
Dr. David Katz:
It was very sad listening to this Katz guy. He is so misinformed about nutrition and the environment. It would be interesting to hear him speak about the fact that 98.8% of plants on the planet are either poisonous or inedible to humans and what he thinks of the food chain of fish in the ocean … he is very much detached from reality. Sad …
I really enjoyed this interview. So much so that I bought Dr Katz’s book “How To Eat” and read it today in one sitting. Interestingly enough I found that some advice on that book differs from what I’ve read on this site (and advice I follow) and gleaned from the interview. From the book:
“Despite popular belief, more protein doesn’t make you bigger and stronger;”
“Protein intake above 35 percent stresses the liver and kidneys and is taxing on the skeleton.“
Since the book is not a big proponent of high protein diets, nor animal meats in general – I would love to hear Marc’s position on why the recommendation is 1 g of protein per LBM and lean meats are fine, both of which seem inappropriate for the book. Thanks for a great interview!
Great questions, David.
1. I’ve read on this site (and advice I follow) and gleaned from the interview. From the book: “Despite popular belief, more protein doesn’t make you bigger and stronger;” and “Protein intake above 35 percent stresses the liver and kidneys and is taxing on the skeleton.“
More protein does not make you bigger and stronger without strength training and getting stronger. But more protein – which is relative – is certainly helpful for building muscle as the research we’ve pointed to on this website shows. Someone who is sedentary has different protein needs as someone who does strength training or is an athlete. This is one tricky aspect of listening to nutrition research. I’m surprised by this statement and there’s certainly research on the other side => “Protein intake above 35 percent stresses the liver and kidneys and is taxing on the skeleton.“
2. Since the book is not a big proponent of high protein diets, nor animal meats in general – I would love to hear Marc’s position on why the recommendation is 1 g of protein per LBM and lean meats are fine, both of which seem inappropriate for the book
The recommendations on this website as they are now work. Relatively high protein diets work very well at curbing hunger. At the same time, 1 gram of protein per LBM will likely be revised downward. It’s personally not something I track anymore and many protein intake recommendations out there – like 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight – almost require protein supplementation. These same papers are often funded by protein supplement companies.
In terms of lean meats, it’s not only a nutrition question, but an environment and ethics question. As you know, you can find anything proving anything regarding nutrition out there. At the end of the day, test what works best for you. I’m evolving and the business is evolving as well. The Blue Zones eating template may have more of an influence on BuiltLean as time goes on. To be clear, what’s on this site works from being in the trenches so-to-speak helping guys improve their fitness, body composition, and overall health.
Thanks Marc! Really appreciate the response and all the content you put out.
Hi Marc,I watched your interview with Dr. Katz, and have been researching him for most of the morning, great stuff, awesome outlook. I work for the environment(weed eradication from islands), am a keen surfer and love that people are linking consumer choices to the state of the planet. This is the good fight. Healthy us = healthy planet.
Thanks for the comment and the work you do, John. I’m sure as a surfer you can really see the benefits of cleaner / healthier ocean.
I feel mixed about this podcast. While Dr. Katz tried to make an excellent point about our foods becoming more processed and encouraging people to reach for less processed foods he forgets to emphasize equally as important– Socioeconomic status. As a Dietitian, who also studied agriculture and sustainability I find that there is often a misunderstanding and spread of misinformation about processed foods and chemicals. When in fact all foods are made of chemicals example here are just some of the chemicals that make up a banana: dihydrogen monoxide, glutamic acid, aspartic acid, histidine, phenylalanine, palmitic acid, palmitoleic acid, 2-hydroxy-3-methoxyethyl butanoate (just to name a few).
So what chemicals are we looking to avoid? What is actually processed? Some processed foods may be higher in fat and carbs but I think people forget that processed foods were not created to destroy us but to feed our ever-growing population and decrease food insecurity. For an individual who is food insecure individual choosing between spending $1.00 on an apple or $1.00 on a bag of lays potato chips, I would encourage the potato chips. Why? Because the potato chips contain more potassium, carbs, calories, and fat than the apple. This is why foods should not be labeled good and bad or contain any moral value, they all of a purpose.
As the planet continues to warm much of our produce will be manufactured in light and temperature-controlled warehouses and buildings because as the soil warms, nutrients and microbes within the soil die and water may soon become sparse in the future. Will Dr. Katz be willing to eating produce grown in a controlled and what some would deem processed setting?
While it is admirable that individuals choose to take on a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for the planet is important to remember that how we eat is not actually the #1 contributor to climate change. It is transportation, electricity, and industry, link here: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#:~:text=Human%20activities%20are%20responsible%20for,over%20the%20last%20150%20years.&text=The%20largest%20source%20of%20greenhouse,electricity%2C%20heat%2C%20and%20transportation.
So, why is it that people are so quick to cut animal products out of their diets but not bike to work or take public transit? Or remove rice from their plate instead of beef which some research says may produce up to 12% of global emissions of methane?
Perhaps start with a meatless Monday. Not all plant foods are “healthy”, marketing has already taken to the vegan game adding more “chemicals” and additives to beyond meat than a piece of grass-fed beef.
Eat what feels best to your body. Not one thing is best for everyone. Animal proteins are rich in protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium and do not need to be forever forbidden from your plate.
Remember: the dose makes the poison! All things in moderation. Genetically we are all different and more susceptible to certain chronic conditions.
One could also say that it isn’t the processed foods but the increase in dieting we see in today’s society as yo-yo weight gain and weight loss is worse for your body than a burger every now and then.
Thanks for sharing your perspective, Katie. Dr. Katz did mention socioeconomic status at one point in regards to accessibility of convenient unprocessed foods.