As if paleo weren’t ridiculous and harmful enough, the latest fad diet book takes the trend to an extreme that includes lacing one’s morning coffee with butter and coconut oil.
The Bulletproof Diet recommends 50-60% of calories from fat (or as the author Dave Asprey puts it, “healthy fats”), 20% from protein, and the rest (as in 20-30%) from vegetables.
The idea is that since our brains require fat to function, the more fat we give them, the better they will function.
Under that line of reasoning, I now have a new method of fueling my car: Once the gas tank is full, I continue pumping gas into the oil chamber, the wiper fluid container, and the cup holders. Then I’ll top off the glove compartment and the storage unit between the seats.
Undeterred by centuries of evidence that a high carb, plant-based diet is the human default and best suited to overall health, Asprey boldly includes the “scientific proof” behind his deadly diet.
You can read about the diet and see the 40 cherry-picked references here: https://www.bulletproofexec.com/the-complete-illustrated-one-page-bulletproof-diet/
Before I show you a few of the references, I want to put that number – 40 references – in context.
I just finished helping Dr. Garth Davis write Proteinaholic, a book that comes to the opposite conclusion as The Bulletproof Diet. We ended up with 699 references, all from peer-reviewed journals.
They range from short-term lab studies to randomized clinical trials to case studies to multi-decade, large-scale epidemiological studies to comprehensive meta-analyses. And the preponderance of evidence is undeniable, unless you are constitutionally unable to do anything but deny evidence (see “there’s no such thing as climate change, and if there is, it isn’t manmade” for another example of this mental disorder).
Now, back to Asprey’s comprehensive list of 40 references designed to overwhelm you with the truth of his position. Let's take a look at three of them – a representative sample of mischief and misrepresentation.
Wow, that’s shocking and alarming. Let’s read the actual study.
Before we even look at the results, we’re staring Asprey’s sloppy approach to fact in the face: the study didn’t look at vegan or vegetarian children, but those fed a macrobiotic diet up to the age of 6. Not vegan. Macrobiotic.
Isn't that the same thing, though? The above abstract does describe the macrobiotic diets as “vegan type.” Are they?
As you can see from a description of the diets of the three groups (macrobiotic kids with low cobalamin (B12), macrobiotic kids with normal cobalamin, and the control group of omnivores, the supposed “vegans” got 3% of their calories from animal protein. Back of the napkin calculation suggests that they were getting somewhere between 6-10% of total calories from animals; hardly the vegan diet Asprey is attempting to disparage.
Second, the number of study participants is tiny. At best, this study is suggestive, and you could make the argument that larger studies should be done to examine the issue. The problem of small numbers is made much worse by one of the oldest statistical tricks in the book: measuring so many outcome variables that something is bound to come up as significant.
Here's a list of the cognitive tests conducted on the children.
The only statistically significant result? The macrobiotic children with normal B12 levels underperformed compared to the omnivorious control group on a test of picture completion.
In essence, we're looking at entirely random data distribution. In Word fluency (K), for example, the low B12 group did much better than the omnivorous controls. In Word fluency (A), by contrast, the macrobiotic group with normal B12 did the worst. And in most of the tests, there was no significant difference.
Recently, a Harvard researcher demonstrated the misleading power of a small study with lots of variables when he “proved” that chocolate contributes to weight loss. Read his story of how he fooled millions with bad science here.
Third, there's no description in the article about how the researchers chose the control group. This is very important, because one way you can manipulate the results of a study is to bias the groups. For example, drug companies frequently put “perfect patients” in the groups receiving their drugs by setting inclusion criteria that exclude anyone whom they think would respond poorly.
Fourth, we have no idea what the different groups actually ate. Dietary recall is notoriously inaccurate even for last week, let alone for dietary patterns followed years in the past. Furthermore, it's not uncommon for participants to “improve” upon their diets in the telling to impress the researchers.
In summary, does this study support Asprey's claim that “kids who eat a vegan diet are deficient in B12 and have impaired brain function” which reverses when they start eating animal products?
In the immortal words of Wallace Shawn's Vizzini in The Princess Bride: “Not remotely.”
Another reference with a shocking statistic:
50%? The researchers must have conducted a large-scale representative sample, using randomization and other statistical best practices, for Asprey to so characterize the results of their inquiry. Right?
Well, sadly and predictably, no. Not exactly.
Check out the actual numbers of study participants:
Is it possible to generalize to millions of people from a study of 88 subjects?
No, not even if they are selected randomly from the population. A tiny case-control study such as this one can be used to suggest that vegans may have lower B12 levels, but certainly can't be enlisted to state the absolute percentage of B12 deficiency in all vegetarians.
And this study says not a word about how the participants were chosen, so we have no idea how representative they are, and of whom.
In the discussion section of the paper, the authors spend a great deal of time lamenting the dangerous and deficient vegetarian diet. Then, puzzled, they toss in this incidental comment:
Meaning, the vegetarian diet looks bad in our tiny little study, but people who adhere to it tend to live longer.
OK, one more study that Asprey claims nails the lid on the coffin of plant-based diets. Did you realize that brown rice is a silent killer?
Before we look at the study upon which that startling “fact” is based, stop and consider what type of study could provide this information. What are you expecting to see?
I’ll bet it wasn’t the following (unless you’re as cynical as I am):
Five young men. Eating pretty much nothing but rice. 14 days of white rice and 8 days of brown rice.
Using that logic, we should not drink water because drowning.
This is the dictionary definition of a straw man argument. In this case, it's rice straw.
I’m not writing this simply to pick on The Bulletproof Diet (which my son was disappointed did not include kevlar), but rather to highlight the blurred line between deceptive marketing and real scientific evidence.
To summarize the techniques employed to confuse us:
1. Straw man
2. Small sample size
3. Too many variables
4. Misrepresentation of data
5. Illogical conclusions
Also, most of Asprey's references are years or decades old, which means they are exempt from modern reporting requirements of funding and potential conflicts of interest. So I can't say if the studies were funded by industries with a horse in the race.
Speaking of money, I didn’t have to pay for any of the abstracts I found online. They were all freely available. I did need a university affiliation to read the full article for reference #11, but the rest weren't blocked by paywalls.
Which means that there don’t have to be barriers between you and the truth. Simple curiosity and a little bit of time can save you from many dangerous alleys disguised as highways to health.
Cognitively impaired vegan kids: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10966896
50% of vegetarians are B12 deficient: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12011576
Brown rice: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2822877
Looking for Transformational Change?
You know how when you discovered plant-based eating, you basically went, “Holy shit, how come the entire healthcare system isn't totally embracing this as one of the most powerful keys to disease prevention and reversal!”?
That's how I feel now about a psychological approach to transformational change called “Memory Reconsolidation.” Few psychologists have heard about it, and when they do hear the radical transformations it can bring about in a very short time, they're often skeptical to the point of disbelief.
But I've added Memory Reconsolidation work to my own coaching, and can attest to its amazing efficacy. So much so, that I'm devoting the next year to mastering it, studying with the best clinicians and teachers in the world, and then introducing it into health coaching through my trainings.
Right now, I want to triple my coaching practice to get more and more opportunities to do this work. And I'm lowering my fees – a lot – to make it easier for people to work with me.
If you're interested in working with me (and willing to commit to a minimum of 2 months), click the link below to open the form in a new browser tab and I'll get back to you within 3 business days.
You CAN Change Other People!
Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.
What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.
Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.
Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight
Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.
It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂
This podcast is not underwritten by advertising, so I can experience complete editorial autonomy without worrying about pissing off the person paying the bills. Instead, I pay the bills, with your help. It's free for those who can't afford to pay, and supported by those who can. You can contribute to the growth and improvement of the podcast by clicking the “Support on Patreon” or “Donate” buttons on the right to help out.
The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.
It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.
You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.
Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – Katharine Floyd – Meryl Fury – for your generous support of the podcast.
This post may contain amazon affiliate links. I may receive compensation from your actions on such links. It don't cost you a dime, tho.