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Ethical research, better diet for healthier living

Auckland City Council Auckland City Libraries Media release

1st December 2008

Ethical research, better diet for healthier living

Neal Barnard M.D., a leading advocate for a vegan diet and higher standards in medical research, is visiting New Zealand to promote the findings outlined in his new book The Reverse Diabetes Diet. A nutrition researcher and adjunct professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington DC, Dr Barnard is also president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

A rigorous opponent of unethical research practices, Barnard has written many books on diet and health. He will be discussing his latest, which prescribes a healthier diet for diabetics, at the Auckland Central City Library on Monday, 8 December at 6.00pm.

Barnard believes the diabetes disease is at epidemic levels around the world. He explains: “More than 20 million Americans have type 2 diabetes; worldwide about 200 million people suffer from it. And in recent years, because of obesity and terrible eating habits, a surprising number of our nation’s young children are being diagnosed with it—although up until now, it has always been seen as an adult disease. Many people trying to manage their diabetes ultimately develop one or more of many severe complications, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, amputations, and nervous system damage. The risk of premature death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people without the disease.”

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The Reverse Diabetes Diet is based on clinical research Barnard conducted with George Washington University and the University of Toronto. The study, funded by the United States National Institutes of Health, found that the low-fat vegan diet controlled blood sugar three times more effectively than the American Diabetes Association diet. The book describes the low-fat vegan diet that Barnard says can help many patients cut their blood sugars, improve their insulin sensitivity, and reduce—if not eliminate—their medications. It includes a three-week meal plan with more than 50 recipes.

Barnard says his book describes a completely new approach to treating diabetes—one that focuses on reversing the disease, rather than just managing it.

“Our research shows that the low-fat vegan diet is more effective at treating diabetes than the typical diet or oral medications,” says Barnard. “And although this may seem counter-intuitive, our study participants found the vegan diet easier to stick with than the standard—or American Diabetes Association—diet. That’s because no one has to cut calories, watch portion sizes, or limit carbohydrates. This approach could put a huge dent in the diabetes epidemic.” The vegan life-style did not come naturally to Barnard. “My grandfather and uncles and cousins are in cattle ranching. In North Dakota, when I was a kid, every day was roast beef, baked potato and corn. Every day.” In stark contrast, he established a nonprofit organization to promote preventive medicine, especially good nutrition. “We do clinical research with the aim of improving people's health,” he says.

A stint as a mortuary assistant during which an autopsy revealed concreted arteries and ribs that bore a close resemblance to those on offer at the staff cafeteria, sowed the seeds of Barnard’s dietary conversion. He became a vegetarian within a few years and now says: “I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner.” Dr Barnard’s talk will be presented in the Central City Library’s Whare Wânanga, level 2, 44-46 Lorne Street, on Monday, 8 December 2008 at 6.00pm. This is a free event. Bookings recommended, phone 377 0209.

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