Last February, I shared with you about a decision made by the executives of the world’s largest health food supermarket chain Whole Foods beginning to aggressively promote a low-fat, vegetarian diet with their “Health Starts Here” campaign. Interestingly, they’re not trying to hide what they are doing either as you can see on this page of their web site outlining their “Four Pillars Of Health Eating” with the call for customers to become “Plant-Strong” by making vegetables the centerpiece of their diet. Their list of 10 Easy Steps To Make A Fresh Start heavily promotes salads, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and “smaller portions” of lean meats while eschewing refined, processed foods. They even have an in-store “Healthy Eating Specialist” whose job is to work at an in-store kiosk/desk to be there to answer questions from customers about health and healthy eating as well as giving lectures on health and nutrition in the local community–all the while pushing the vegan lifestyle. All of this may sound pretty good to the average Whole Foods customer who tends to be more health-conscious than those people who shop at a traditional grocery store. But they are laying a trap for their customers who may not be as nutritionally savvy about what a healthy diet can actually look like. And it’s really a whole lot worse than we ever thought.
Last week when I blogged about the new vegan propaganda movie called Forks Over Knives coming in May, I received well over 100 comments mostly from vegans who wanted to defend their chosen nutritional plan although I didn’t really criticize it or the film in my post. But “Jill in Chicago” wanted to defend Whole Foods and their “Healthy Eating Specialist” position against being characterized as vegan-promoting. Here’s what she wrote:
The focus of Whole Foods’ Health Starts Here program is not to eat a vegan diet, but to eat whole, unprocessed foods. I am currently in the midst of a Health Starts Here 28-Day Health Challenge, and the Healthy Eating Specialist who is assisting the group does not discourage meat and dairy consumption. The idea is to eat less of them.
That’s all well and good and I certainly wish Jill the best as she pursues her own weight and health goals with whatever diet she is choosing to follow. To me it’s all about finding the plan that will work for you, following it exactly, and then continuing to do that for the rest of your life. But what about those people who don’t know which plan is right for them? Is there a way to get a customized nutrition plan that will help them determine what their diet should look like? Whole Foods seems to think so through their partnership with Eat Right America doing direct marketing with the customers of their stores encouraging them to take a survey to see how to eat optimally for your health. What Whole Foods customer wouldn’t be interested in something like that? One of my readers forwarded an e-mail she received from a friend of hers who wanted to pass along this “amazing offer” from Whole Foods giving away “FREE customized nutrition plans to get you started or keep you motivated on your health journey.”
Gee, how nice is that? All you gotta do is go to the “Eat Right America Challenge” web site, enter or obtain an access code, fill out a survey about your eating, exercise and lifestyle habits as well as you health and they’ll spit you out the perfect diet just for you, including a personalized 28-day nutrition and eating plan that they say “really is a great resource…to Whole Foods Market customers.” They encourage people who take this survey to come back in to visit Whole Foods after you receive your diet plan to consult with the “Health Starts Here” station to speak with the “Healthy Eating Specialist” about learning more about “your path to a healthier life.” Don’t you just love how syrupy sweet and innocent they make this all sound? It’s a lot more dastardly than these unsuspecting Whole Foods customers even know!
So what’s the real deal here? I wanted to find out and share this with you so your friends, family and co-workers don’t get suckered into thinking this is a legitimate way to know which diet is right for them (if you want to have a REAL test done to determine the correct nutritional makeup of your diet for you based on how your body metabolizes food and nutrients, then you might consider getting the FitTest done from GetYourHealthTested.com). Maybe what they conclude about the kind of diet you should be eating is right for you…maybe not. But this survey is not based on anything scientific methodology regarding your specific situation. It’s deliberately meant to mislead you into thinking what you are currently doing is causing harm to your health and that there is only one solution to preventing your health from getting worse than it is. As you can imagine, the basis for the questions asked in this survey heavily leans on conventional wisdom about the relationship of consuming animal-based fats and proteins to developing heart disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases and the supposed virtues of consuming plant-based foods as a way to obtain optimal health. Let’s take a look at what it was like for me to take this survey for myself plugging in information about my diet and lifestyle.
I began by visiting the Challenge web site where they welcomed and congratulated me for taking “the first step toward a healthier more nutritious lifestyle” through my own “Personal Nutrition Report”:
The survey started off by asking me some basic demographic information about who I am in a “detailed assessment designed to accurately predict your health future.” Eat Right America is described as “a cause, a passionate desire to enable America’s families to live a life of ‘true’ health.” They do this by promising the results of their survey will give you a “personally-designed, nutrition prescription, that can dramatically extend your life expectancy and lower your risk of life-threatening diseases.” Wow, sounds like they’ve found the Fountain Of Youth miracle cure-all for all of life’s health woes. We shall see. They then asked questions about the current state of my health and what my typical diet looks like:
Two things stood out to me about the diet portion of the survey–they put eggs in with white meat and there was no designation for “grass-fed” or “pastured” foods. So any red meat consumption listed on the survey could be grain-fed or grass-fed. It obviously didn’t matter to them whether you consumed higher-quality meats or not (an it’s only gonna get even worse in a moment, though). I made it through the 15-minute survey so I could receive my own “Nutrition Prescription customized for Jimmy Moore”–they made it just for me (yeah right!):
You get a form letter from Dr. Scott Stoll who is a member of the Whole Foods Medical Board who explains that the “solution we have created for you is easy to understand, simple and fun for you and your family to adopt, and represents a proven methodology that is guaranteed to deliver the results you desire.” WOW! What in the world could this miracle of all miracles be that will end my weight and health struggles forever? They then explain about what the “Nutrition Prescription” is all about discussing the implementation of the “Nutritarian Lifestyle” from vegan physician Dr. Joel Fuhrman juxtaposed with the typical Standard American Diet and why this new way to eat is allegedly better for you. They even show you a graph of what your current diet looks like compared with SAD:
I think it’s interesting they lump meat and dairy together in the same category and apparently list foods like bacon in the “Processed Foods” section. Do you think they put things like tofu and skim milk in with the “Processed Foods” when they are both OBVIOUSLY highly-processed? I wouldn’t bet the house on it. Continuing through my personal assessment, the news only got worse. I was chastised for consuming too much red meat, animal products, and full-fat dairy while eschewing whole grains and more vegetables. They point to my diet as the reason why my health is at great risk for disease:
For several pages, I receive a lecture on why my cholesterol is too high which puts me at risk for a heart attack (I’ve previously explained in this post that cholesterol testing is a lot more sophisticated these days than ever before and that measuring particle size is much more relevant than LDL or total cholesterol). They claim my LDL (explained as “the most accurate determinant of risk” of coronary artery disease) should be below 80 mg/dl to “maximize reversal” of heart disease, but there was nary a mention of HDL “good” cholesterol in the equation. Additionally, they use the body mass index (BMI) to determine the obesity of an individual stating that it “is a fairly reliable indicator of body fat for most people.” The say my BMI at 251 pounds on my 6’3″ body frame puts me at a “significantly increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.” Oh, now isn’t that nice? They’ve got a rude awakening coming when none of this actually happens to me as they’re trying scaremonger these poor Whole Foods customers into thinking they have to eat a vegan diet. Oh yes, that sticky little detail is coming up soon. But first they need to continue to put the fear of God in me about my current health before they swoop in to the rescue with their miracle plan to save me:
They say I’m at a “very high risk” of sudden cardiac death if I don’t “take action immediately” despite the fact that my heart scan score in 2009 showed zero calcium buildup in my arteries. My risk of stroke is also “very high” because they think blood clots will happen because of my diet. And with a fasting blood glucose score of 83, they still put me at “significant risk” for getting diabetes because I’m not eating and exercising the way they think I should be. They weren’t finished yet piling on more warnings about what my current diet is doing to my risks for developing cancer and osteoporosis (this is actually starting to get funny if they weren’t so serious about it):
So I’m at “high risk” for developing cancer because of my eating and fitness choices and they will help me “identify those choices” that will be better for me. HA! Then with my bone health, it’s the same song and dance. What I’m doing right now ain’t good enough–but there’s something better that we think (hope and pray to God) you’ll like…or something like that. What exactly are the culprits in my devastatingly, hanging-by-a-thread health right now? Let’s take a look:
My full-fat dairy loving, caffeinated tea guzzling, saturated fat-laden meat eating, and salted food consumption is what they think is killing me. Gee, if these are all of the problems with my diet right now, then why am I in the best health of my entire life? Why do I feel so good if I’m just one bunless bacon cheeseburger away from saying so long to this world? And how did eating so “unhealthy” bring my weight down by triple digits, get me off of three prescription medications for good, and have me doing things I would have never thought possible just a few years back? I, of course, know better and have all the confidence in the world about my healthy low-carb lifestyle. But what about those people who take this survey and believe it’s the gospel truth? They read this and think, “Oh my God, what can I do to stop this devastation from happening to me?” Enter the Eat Right America eating plan:
They try to convince you this is a good thing by stating at the top of the page that this is all about “Nutrition Excellence & Health” and then proceed to explain what they mean by that. To become a “Nutritarian,” all you have to do is eat lots of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, cut down on your animal-based food consumption opting for “healthier options in this food group” (hmmm, lemme guess–ones that are lower in saturated fat?) and eat much less of foods that are “empty of nutrients or toxic” like refined sugars, white flour, processed foods and fast food. On the final point, I think we can agree, but Dr. Fuhrman is hung up on meat being such an unhealthy part of any diet plan. He sees meat in the same vein as low-carbers look at high-fructose corn syrup. It must be avoided as much as possible except for maybe the once-in-a-while “treat.” That’s nothing more than utter nonsense and ignorance. What exactly does the Nutritarian Food Pyramid look like? Check it out for yourself:
What a bassackwards food pyramid this is! Equating eggs and meat with processed foods and sweets is being intellectually dishonest. Sure, those non-starchy vegetables are an excellent addition to any diet (including a low-carb one), but why the damnation of foods that are equal in their nutrient density to veggies such as red meat, fish, eggs, oils, and the like? There’s no explanation for this other than the insinuation that consuming these foods that contain saturated fat will lead to serious health consequences down the road. But there is no evidence supporting such a claim. Even still, here comes the kicker–“My Personalized Eating Plan” according to the great purveyors of nutritional truth and wisdom at Whole Foods:
And THERE IT IS! All of this nonsense about how horrible my health is, what the dietary “cause” of my health decline is, what a good diet should look like and all the rest was nothing more than a setup for this moment. The diet they are recommending that I begin eating immediately to overturn the issues associated with my “poor” diet is one that is 96% plants, 3% meat and dairy, and 2% processed foods/snacks. REALLY?!
While technically this isn’t a vegan diet because there are very small amounts of meat allowed on this plan, it might as well be. Meat isn’t a condiment to me–it’s the lifeblood of a healthy low-carb lifestyle change that has given me vibrant health like nothing else I’ve ever done before. I don’t need to consume 96% of my calories from plant sources which includes high-carb whole grains, beans, fruits and all the rest. I’m doing just fine livin’ la vida low-carb. Can I tell you how much this angers me that they would try to pull something so incredibly deceiving to people who will likely buy into it hook, line and sinker? This is disgusting because there is no education about the wonderful nutrients contained in meats or the health consequences for some people who consume carbohydrate-rich foods. That to me is ethically wrong to deliberately withhold information from the consumer that could help them make the most informed decision about their health.
They require a 28-day pledge to doing the following: eating at least one large salad, at least a half-cup of beans/legumes, at least three fresh fruits, at least one ounce of raw nuts/seeds, and at least one large double-sized serving of steamed green vegetables on a daily basis while avoiding the “most harmful food habits” that include eating barbequed, processed meats or commercial red meat, fried foods, full-fat dairy like cheese and butter, soft drinks of all kinds both diet and sugary, and white flour. It sure sounds a whole lot like a vegan diet to me with all of those restrictions on what can be consumed on this diet. They also say to chunk any foods that contain over 200mg sodium per serving and to use a blender to liquify your vegetables to drink. Oh, but they help you come off of your “meat habit” (as Dr. Neal Barnard described it in my podcast interview with him last year) beginning in Day 8 of this 28-Day plan:
Isn’t it interesting how they took great pains to explain that this meal plan isn’t vegan, but then pushed the need to “reduce your intake of animal foods” from your diet? If meat is part of being a “Nutritarian” as they claim, then what’s this concept of “your desire for animal foods (will) diminish over time?” Meat is most certainly NOT a condiment in a healthy diet no matter what Dr. Fuhrman and his lackeys at Whole Foods wants you to believe. Meat is where the REAL nutrition is found and you’re depriving your body of some incredible health benefits by trying to eliminate it from your diet completely. Just ask Lierre Keith or Denise Minger.
By Day 15, they encourage you to “change the focus of your meal from meat to vegetables” and they assure you will get plenty of protein by consuming greens, beans, nuts and seeds. The gradual move to eating “less meat” is in full force by week three of the plan and it reaches the climax by the time you enter the final week of the 28-Day Challenge when “you are eating much less animal foods,” oils, milk/dairy products, sugar, coffee/tea and caffeine, and a whole lot more veggies, fruit, beans, nuts and seeds. Lest you think none of this survey really has anything at all to do with Whole Foods, then you would be sorely mistaken:
Yes, you too can become a “Nutritarian” nerd by hopping in your car and driving to your nearest Whole Fools…Whole Paycheck…er, I mean Whole Foods Market to pick up these books, CDs and DVDs to provide you more vegan-based propaganda to fool you into thinking this is the best option for your health. This partnership Whole Foods has made with the vegan diet is intentional and should ostracize any customer who chooses to eat an animal-based diet. That includes virtually every Paleo and low-carb dieter on the planet. If you ask me, a company that is THIS invested in promoting a dietary agenda like this doesn’t deserve the support of people who disagree with it. They’ve drawn a line in the sand and dug in their heels on trying to make this “Nutritarian” diet the ONLY way for Whole Foods customers to get healthy. We should vote with our dollars about what we think about this and send Whole Foods executives a clear message: YOU’RE NOT PUSHING A VEGAN AGENDA DOWN OUR THROATS!