Is Whole Foods being foolish enough to promote vegetarian-only diet?
An obvious uproar has ensued within the high-fat, low-carb diet community this week as a result of the seemingly sudden decision by the most well-known health food retailer in the world to actively market and promote a low-fat, vegetarian diet in their 289 stores. Whole Foods Market has strongly branded itself as the go-to place for people desiring to make healthier food choices for themselves and their family and they have long offered customers with a variety of dietary choices that ability to select what best meets their specific needs. But all of that has changed now that they are pushing what they are calling their “Health Starts Here” campaign.
Promotional banners and shelf talkers dominate local Whole Foods stores
According to their press release about this educational effort, they are hoping to “help shoppers and Team Members who want to improve their health easily and naturally” by implementing “healthy eating education.” They define this as a low-fat, plant-based diet full of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Although they do discourage the consumption of highly-processed and sugary foods, the focus is very clearly on limiting dietary fat and increasing carbohydrate intake. They even have a page on their web site for “Maximizing the Vegetarian Diet.”
To help “educate” their customers on the vegetarian way of eating, prominent displays of popular low-fat vegetarian diet books like The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell (who you’ll recall I had a recent encounter with on Amazon.com), The Food Revolution by John Robbins, The Engine 2 Diet by Rip Eppelstyn, cookbooks by Dr. John McDougall, and a full line of products from Dr. Joel Fuhrman whose “Eat Right America” logo and message is plastered all over Whole Foods since he was one of the primary consultants for formulating the new nutritional mission for the stores. Dr. Fuhrman is the author of a book I reviewed several years back entitled Eat To Live and is certainly no fan of animal-based, high-fat, low-carb diets. I’ve given him an opportunity to explain the basis for his beliefs in an interview on my podcast show but he has refused.
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey views animal fat as an “addiction”
Now when you walk into a Whole Foods store, you are bombarded with pamphlets urging you to begin a low-fat, plant-based diet and cut back or remove animal foods from your menus altogether. Worse than that, there are no alternative books by respected low-carb authors like Dr. Robert Atkins, Drs. Mike and Mary Dan Eades, Dr. Barry Sears, or anyone else who is not on board with the vegetarian dogma. So people who are livin’ la vida low-carb will find no reinforcement for their particular way of eating when they shop at Whole Foods stores which is why I think this makes them more accurately described as Whole Fools!
A new Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) rating system now appears on the foods located throughout the stores which gives plant-based foods a way to appear more nutrient dense than animal-based foods which are just as chock full of vitamins such as A, D and K, DHA, EPA arachidonic acid, taurine, iodine, biotin, pantothenic acid, and vital minerals like sodium, chloride, potassium, sulfur, phosphorus, copper, manganese, boron, molybdenum and chromium, according to Sally Fallon Morell from the Weston A. Price Foundation in a press release responding to this move by Whole Foods.
Many of the phytochemicals that Fuhrman includes in the index he developed for Whole Foods play no essential role in the body and may even be harmful, Fallon noted. Animal foods like meat, liver, butter, whole milk and eggs contain ten to one hundred times more vitamins and minerals than plant foods. Plant foods add variety and interest to the human diet but in most circumstances do not qualify as ‘nutrient-dense’ foods.
Fallon is not alone in her concern over this radical change in store policy by Whole Foods which sources from within the company management informed me includes a phasing out of some meat products in favor of more vegetables and grain-based products. I decided to ask a cross-section of the leading low-carb voices in the blogosphere to give their reaction to this decision and here’s what they told me:
Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories Bad Calories
I obviously think this is misguided from a health perspective and obviously if John Mackey was fully informed (as we define fully informed) he wouldn’t be doing this. That is, unless he thinks it’s good business practice.
Tom Naughton, documentary filmmaker/blogger for FAT HEAD
I think John Mackey is preaching to the choir. I think the proper response for low-carbers is to buy from local farmers if you can. If you can’t, then shop at Whole Foods but be sure to stop by the meat counter, loudly order a porterhouse, then begin chewing it raw as you push your cart around the rest of the store. This won’t change the policy, but the other shoppers may be shocked into horrified expressions that will injure their brittle vegetarian jaws.
Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth
I’m appalled at this new marketing scheme. A whole generation of us tried that low-fat, plant-based diet and it destroyed our health. I was a vegan for 20 years and I did permanent damage to my body. I am on disability with a decaying spine no thanks to a diet that is seriously deficient in the fat, protein, and minerals that the human template needs. I will be in pain for the rest of my life because of it. Whole Foods is seriously misguided in their efforts to promote health and I hope they reconsider what they are pushing on the public.
Dr. Michael Aziz, author of The Perfect 10 Diet
This is horrible and a very bad move for the public who is already confused. Vegetarians are more likely to get heart disease and strokes as their homocysteine levels are sky high. All centenarians eat animal products. It is a big myth that vegetarians live longer. Vegetarian diets are bad for thyroid health as they are too low in protein and iodine. They also favor soy which is horrible for us in excess. They are bad for growth hormone secretion, the hormone that keeps us young. We have to fight back against this kind of nonsense because our voices are lost in all the bad noise.
Dr. Kendra Pearsall, creator of Enlita
Speaking as a former fat vegetarian who could not lose weight on a low-fat vegetarian diet, Whole Paycheck (oops I mean Whole Foods) is out of its mind (not surprising since low-protein diets tend to lead to brain chemistry imbalances). I recommend skipping Whole Paycheck and getting your healthy food locally at farmer’s markets, local farmers, local health food stores.
Dana Carpender, popular blogger and bestselling author of a series of low-carb cookbooks
It seems to me that narrowing your market appeal is generally not a brilliant business model. Even among non-low-carbers, stuff like grass-fed meat, pastured eggs, and wild-caught salmon are making a strong showing, and are perceived as healthful. I cannot imagine that Mr. Mackey is fully informed about the health benefits of fat, and particularly of animal fat and other traditional saturated fats, or he wouldn’t be doing this. The low-carb response should be the same as it would be to any store that is not serving our needs: To spend less of our money there. Local farmer’s markets are also a great source of healthful food — not only fruits, vegetables, and herbs, but also grass fed meat, pastured small farm eggs, and local grass-fed dairy products.
Gracie, blogger at “Girl Meets Health”
I think that what Whole Foods is failing to realize is that not all of their customers follow a low-fat, high carb diet. As someone who follows a low-carb, high fat diet, I focus mainly on eating whole, clean, and mostly organic foods including meat, dairy, and ample amounts of produce. Naturally, Whole Foods was one of my favorite places to shop for this reason. So to see them promote one diet or lifestyle as being “better” or healthier than another makes me wonder why I should continue to shop there. Instead, I’ll probably start shopping more at my local health food stores and farmers’ market. When I buy food, I want it to be based on my own choices, not some grocery store executive.
Dr. Kurt Harris, blogger at “PaNu”
I rely on local farmers and hunting for grass-fed meat and local friends for pastured eggs. I get my pastured butter by mail order. Whole Foods belongs to John Mackey and his shareholders. If he wants to leverage it for a private propaganda campaign to promote an inferior diet based on bad science, then I will certainly advise my readers of that and encourage them avoid his store altogether.
Connie Bennet, blogger/author of SUGAR SHOCK!
Of course, all shoppers will decide for themselves, but what most people need to realize is that NO one diet fits all. Each person has to find and decide what foods and supplements work best for her or him. While, in an ideal world, everyone should quit sugar and refined carbs, not everyone should follow the same diets. For instance, for one person, a vegetarian diet may be ideal, but for someone else who isn’t opposed to it, a meat-filled diet (preferably grass fed, free-range) will allow him or her function optimally. And everyone needs ample amounts of healthy omega-3 fats.
Fred Hahn, blogger/author of The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution
The nutritional approach Whole Foods is now taking may have its heart in the right place, but its head deeply embedded in the sands of dogma. Low-fat/high carbohydrate diets are not healthful nor are high fat diets unhealthful. Science suggests that for humans, animal products are the most nutritionally dense food sources available with grains being dead last; comparatively devoid of nutrients. If our country adopts and follows the high carbohydrate, low-fat Whole Foods/Fuhrman nutritional model, we’ll see obesity and heart disease grow to even greater proportions. Be forewarned Whole Foods — the lawsuits will be comin’ ’round the mountain.
J.P. Fanton, blogger at “Healthy Fellow”
As a loyal customer of Whole Foods, I would prefer to see the company live up to its name and continue to provide the real, whole foods that have served countless generations very well, such as free-range eggs, grass fed dairy and meat, organic fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables. Refined foods typically found in a grain-based, low-fat, vegetarian diet are a relatively modern invention with little proven history. In essence, this type of eating plan is a nutritional experiment at best.”
Dr. Robert Su, author of Carbohydrates Can Kill
This may be a smart move for the time being by Whole Foods if the consumers continue to believe the misinformation on diet and health. However, this will be a big backfire on them if we can bring the truth about diet and health out to the public. John Mackey personally is a diligent thinker not a blind follower. He is currently misinformed about the health benefits of fat. He could become a real healthy food advocator if he discovers the truth. People who understand the health benefits of high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets should try to contact Mr. Mackey and educate him with the truth about diet and health. We must convince him to join in our crusade. In the meantime, we should find some well-recognized grocery chains, which are interested in partnership with our crusade. We do not have to and should not campaign against vegetarian diets but the heavy consumption of carbohydrates in the diets. As soon as we are able to start our crusade in partnership with one or more reputable nationwide grocery chains, Whole Foods will begin to lose their consumer base if they continue to endorse a low-fat, vegetarian diet.
Dr. William Davis, blogger at “The Heart Scan Blog”
It pains me to say this, since I’ve always favored a vegetarian lifestyle, mostly because of philosophical concerns as well as worries about the safety of our factory farm-raised livestock and rampant inhumane practices. But, stepping back and objectively examining what nutritional approach appears to stack the odds in favor of optimal health, I believe that only one conclusion is possible: Humans are meant to be omnivorous, meant to consume some quantity of animal products in addition to vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other non-animal products.
Nora Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body-Primal Mind
Whole Foods has clearly overlooked the overwhelming abundance of science to the contrary and the entire history of the human species in favor of these seriously flawed guidelines. As a clinical neurofeedback specialist of more than twelve years I can tell you that by far, the most dysregulated brains and nervous systems having the poorest overall health I have ever worked with have been that of vegetarians and especially vegans. One can only hope that Whole Foods shoppers will not be duped into adopting these unfortunate dietary superstitions.
Jon & Cathy Payne, hosts of the “Our Natural Life” podcast
I think that John Mackey is sadly misinformed and misguided on this one. They are sure to hear a backlash. Whole Foods is where I go to buy my local pastured pork, liver pate, heavy cream, and Amish butter. It seems like a poor move to encourage low fat and vegetarian eating since they will lose my customer base and others. While I applaud their support of nutrient dense food, they must not be aware that the most nutrient dense foods are animal based and high fat. The removal of books advocating the consumption of animal products is censorship of the worst kind. Of course, the monetary markup is highest in grains and low-fat processed products. This could be a ploy to make a bigger profit. I believe the best place to purchase the foods we need is directly from our local farmers whenever possible.
Kelly the Kitchen Kop, blogger at Kelly the Kitchen Kop
I was saddened to read this news about Whole Foods Market. I have to wonder why they wouldn’t take a stand in a more positive way. For example, imagine the splash they’d make if they announced that they would no longer sell any meat from factory farms. Instead, they basically slam all meats by implementing this new plan without acknowledging that there’s a major difference depending on where you buy.
Mark Sisson, blogger/author of Primal Blueprint
I heard about this from one of my readers who is an employee of Whole Foods and is appalled that they are going down this dead-end road. I think Whole Foods owes it to their consumers (and to their shareholders) to offer the best natural “whole” foods they can, including meat, fish, fowl, eggs, dairy and other forms of animal protein. So, are they now going to get rid of their meat and dairy sections? I mean if they are fully endorsing this ill-advised low-fat approach, wouldn’t it be hypocritical to be offering any saturated fat from any source. It would be like a convenience store embracing an anti-smoking campaign but still selling cigarettes. Okay, not quite, but you see the irony.
Can you sense the outrage, disgust, and disappointment from my fellow colleagues in the low-carb diet and health community over this move by Whole Foods? It’s disappointing to say the least and it begs the question: What should the call to action be for those of us who support a high-fat, low-carb, animal-based diet? Fallon believes we should make Whole Foods feel it in their bottom line by shopping elsewhere to obtain the real, whole foods that make up our low-carb diets.
Consumers can send a message about Whole Foods’ misinformed scheme by voting with their feet. Most major grocery store chains now carry basic organic staples and a larger array of organic fruits and vegetables than Whole Foods markets. And citizens should purchase seasonal produce and their meat, eggs and dairy products directly from farmers engaged in non-toxic and grass-based farming. It’s not appropriate for Whole Foods to promote a scheme that has no scientific basis and that bulldozes their customers towards the higher profit items in their stores.
While I’m all for people deciding not to purchase from Whole Foods in protest of this asinine decision to ostracize a segment of their customer base, I also think they need to hear from people like you and me whose lives have been radically changed for the better as a result of high-fat, low-carb living that includes delicious and nutritious cuts of meats with healthy saturated fats. You can e-mail your personal low-carb, high-fat success story to the Whole Foods corporate customer service department at firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know what you think about their change in corporate policy.
Incidentally, I called the media relations department for Whole Foods on Wednesday requesting a brief 10-minute interview with John Mackey about this decision to promote low-fat vegetarian diets in his stores since there would be concern among my readers and podcast show listeners. The very nice media relations representative informed me that he was not doing any interviews at this time, so I requested ANYONE from Whole Foods to come on to share more about why this decision was made. I sent my request to her via e-mail as she requested and here was the response back:
Thanks so much for your enthusiasm and kind words about Whole Foods Market and our new Health Starts Here initiative! I’ve checked with my colleague, and unfortunately, we don’t have anyone available for an interview. As I said on the phone, please feel free to use any and all of the information available on our web site.
In other words, thanks but we’re not interested in being put on the spot to try to explain an ill-advised decision made by our CEO. I’ve looked on their web site and it doesn’t give me any reason to spend one more red cent of my hard-earned dollars with a company that refuses to acknowledge the healthfulness of my particular way of eating. Now it’s so long Whole Foods and good luck with maintaining your market share and customers peddling an outdated and soon-to-be obsolete diet program!
Are there any other national health food chains willing to step up to the plate and promote the health benefits of fats in their stores to counter this move by Whole Foods? I can guarantee you there will be a HUGE following of people who are livin’ la vida low-carb flocking to your stores if that kind of an educational marketing campaign were to be implemented. Is there any company willing to make it happen?