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PYP 116: David Katz on Eliminating 80% of Disease, and Polar Bears in the Sahara

David-KatzDavid Katz, MD, is a crusader on the front lines of health sanity in an insane culture. Somehow, he's managed to command attention and respect from the mainstream media, as well as medical and governmental establishments, despite talking sense and not being on the take from industry.


Rather than rewrite, I'm just going to punt and give you some tiny excepts from the “short” bio on his website:

DAVID L. KATZ MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, earned his BA degree from Dartmouth College (1984; in 3 years); his MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (1988); and his MPH from the Yale University School of Public Health (1993)… He is a two-time diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and a board-certified specialist in Preventive Medicine/Public Health…

Dr. Katz is the founding director (1998) of Yale University's Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center; President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine; Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Childhood Obesity; Chief Science Officer for NuVal LLC; and founding director (2000) of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital. He is on numerous editorial and scientific advisory boards, chairing several. A clinician, researcher, author, novelist, inventor, poet, journalist, and media personality, Dr. Katz is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions. He has been a widely supported nominee for the position of U.S. Surgeon General, and has been recognized by as one of the 100 most influential people in health and fitness in the world for the past 3 years (2013-)…

Dr. Katz holds 5 U.S. patents. He has authored over 200 scientific papers and chapters, 15 books, and well over 1,000 columns and blogs.

I first became aware of Dr. Katz's work when his brilliant analyses of crazy nutritional policy started making their way onto my Facebook feed. His main argument is this: “Fully 80% of all chronic disease and associated premature death around the world is preventable with uncontroversial knowledge we already have.”

Trouble is, this uncontroversial knowledge – maintain a healthy weight, don't smoke, eat a whole food plant-based diet, and exercise regularly – is not exactly the stuff of 24-hour news cycles and blog headline clickbait.

And there's a lot of money pouring into the marketing of exciting and tantalization contradiction of this uncontroversial knowledge: the pushers, as Dr. Katz puts it, of “glow in the dark marshmellows for breakfast.”

When we got on the phone, I was fully expecting to chat about his recent book, Disease Proof. And we do cover some of the material in that book, subtitled “Slash Your Risk of Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes, and More – by 80 Percent.”

But our mutual backgrounds in public health won out, and we conversed about the Big Picture – the cultural assumptions and systems that must change for us to thrive as a species (and as part of a planetary community), and how each of us can individually and collectively help bring that change to life.

We covered:

  • his early introductions to the “heroic” aspects of medicine, and the evolution of his attraction to prevention
  • the crux of our situation: polars bears in the Sahara
  • the tension between medical and public health work
  • the meaning of his recent bout of anaplasmosis for how we should allocate our healthcare dollars
  • the overwhelming financial burden of preventable chronic disease
  • the false bargain of the all-you-can-eat buffet
  • why he thinks we can – and must – fix the entire culture completely
  • the necessity – and unsufficiency – of the “individual responsibility” model of health improvement
  • the allure and problems with complex models of public health
  • the importance of both evidence-based and non-controversial findings
  • what Atkins taught us about how to change the food supply – and how quickly this can be accomplished
  • why vegans, plant-based promoters, Mediterranean advocates, and paleo cheerleaders should focus on agreement rather than debate in public
  • The GLiMMER Initiative to change everything, and why T. Colin Campbell, Neal Barnard, and Caldwell Esselstyn belong to the same group as paleo author Loren Cordain
  • and much more…

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.


David Katz, MD website

Disease Proof – book

David's Huffington Post author page

The GLiMMER Initiative


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,

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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,


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14 comments on “PYP 116: David Katz on Eliminating 80% of Disease, and Polar Bears in the Sahara

  1. Stephen Turner says:

    Wasn’t Dr Katz a cartoon (cackle)? I agree that there is some substantial common ground between these various camps regarding ideal nutrition. I now eat all plants because of subjective factors, not because I think that 100% is superior to 90% or 95%. But I also think that grouping TCC and Cordain is kinda cherry picking. TCC started out wanting to confirm that the standard (North) American diet was the healthiest, and then went hmmm that doesn’t add up. I doubt that Cordain started out wanting to prove the superiority of, say, a 95% vegan diet and had the same reaction. Comparing their respective resumes, well, I don’t think there is much of a comparison.

    1. Howard says:

      Stephen, you won’t find any argument for me about the relative merits of the scientific contributions of Campbell and Cordain.

      But Cordain and the paleo movement have a huge following, and the diet they promote is unquestionably better than the Lucky Charms and Coke diet that so many Americans consume.

      So I find the “big tent” ideal to be worthwhile, even though I wouldn’t be a very good tentkeeper myself 😉

  2. Scott Wilkinson says:

    Hi Howard.

    I was getting more and more wound up by this interview. Dr. Katz seems to be very good at saying a lot and burying the lead. Anytime a doctor starts to bang endlessly on about sugary junk food, the low-hanging fruit (so to speak) of healthy eating, I become suspicious that they’ll be a carnivore apologist. Sure enough, I had to stop listening at the love-in for the “paleo” diet and the part where Dr. Katz said, “the evidence that we’re physiologically adapted to be omnivorous is irrefutable “. I’m afraid that’s too misguided to let pass.
    Looking forward to the NEXT podcast! Thanks for all you do.

    1. Howard says:

      Hi Scott,

      Thanks for you comments. I’m curious about your objection to the statement that humans are physiologically adapted to omnivory. As a committed plant eater myself, I do have to admit that most people I see eat a wide variety of plants, animals, animal secretions, and highly processed foods, and live for an average of 80 years. To me this speaks of a remarkable adaptive capacity.

      It’s important to me to be science-based in my outlook and public pronouncements, as opposed to having a vegan agenda that does not allow for compromise. I’m not sure if that’s where you and I see things differently. Please let me know…

      1. Scott Wilkinson says:


        Sorry for the delay in reply.

        Humans have zero adaptations for eating meat. Check out your own podcast with Milton Mills, M.D. or this talk from Dr. Christina Warinner:

        As Dr. Doug Lisle says, meat was only ever an emergency food to get us through the hard times (too dangerous and unreliable otherwise). We can take a little of it, sure, much like arsenic in almonds, but it’s still poisonous. Ask Dr. Mcdougall (who you should get on your show!).



  3. Scott Wilkinson says:


    After a brief search, from Dr. Mills: “We see that human beings have the gastrointestinal tract structure of a “committed” herbivore. Humankind does not show the mixed structural features one expects and ?nds in anatomical omnivores such as bears and raccoons. Thus, from comparing the gastrointestinal tract of humans to that of carnivores, herbivores and omnivores we must conclude that humankind’s GI tract is designed for a purely plant-food diet.”

    I find this information littered through the “vegan agenda” books (as you put it) and in archaeological books (off the top of my head, “Man: The Hunted” by professors Hart and Sussman).



    1. Howard says:

      Thanks for the clarification. I completely agree that we do better on a plant-based diet. However, the idea that meat is the same as poison – say, a bottle of bleach – just doesn’t pan out in the real world, where humans routinely get 40% of their calories from animal sources and can live – and sometimes thrive – well into their 80s.

      There’s a difference between optimal living and survival. Humans can survive on mostly meat diets, which says that we have adapted physiologically to eating meat. The reason was probably as Lisle and Mills suggest, opportunism: Eating meat was better than starving.

      We’re also adapted to cities, cell phones, and artificial light, but I don’t think any of those things are natural or optimal either.

      1. Scott Wilkinson says:


        I’m surprised you don’t seem to be aware of the difference between cultural and physiological adaptations. We’re CULTURALLY adapted to cities, cell phones, and artificial light, not physiologically (unless you’ve grown antennae to pick up cell phone signals). The same with meat consumption. We are NOT biological omnivores (no physiological adaptations). Yes, some of us are culturally adapted omnivores.
        Sure you can survive on a high meat diet, but you’ll get fat and sick pretty quickly. Doctor Esselstyn talks about a “toxic (definition: poison) food environment”. 10 year old children with fatty streaks in their arteries. Does that sound like we’re physiologically adapted to eat saturated fat and cholesterol? I’m sure you know, only herbivores can get CVD.

        I think you’re being rather fatuous with the bleach argument. All these things are dose dependent. We can take x-rays at the dentist every year but I wouldn’t say we’ve adapted to it.

        I think you just need to look around you to see how poisoned people are. 70% overweight or obese? Is there any other animal eating it’s naturally adapted diet that gets that way? Isn’t that a big clue?

        All the best,


        1. Howard says:

          Good points, but I’m not sold 🙂

          Lots of people don’t get fat and sick on high meat diets.

          And we don’t know what we can adapt to until we’re faced with it. Physiology isn’t a fixed system. Perhaps it’s better to say “Many humans appear to be adapted to survive for many years on a less than optimal diet.”

          1. Scott Wilkinson says:


            I’m not trying to convince you. I’m just pointing out where you can find the facts.

            You can have your own opinion, but not your own facts. Humans are not physiologically omnivores as stated by Dr. Katz.

            Also, if you feel this way, why didn’t bring up any of these objections with Dr. Mills on your podcast?


  4. Scott Wilkinson says:

    “We see, by the way, that we share almost all the characteristics of herbivores, and almost nothing in common with carnivores” – Whole. Page 82. T. Colin Campbell and Howard Jacobson.

    1. Howard says:

      Again, I think we’re quibbling over language.

      We can eat animal products and still survive, and in many cases, thrive. That speaks to adaptation to an imperfect environment, one in which all our caloric needs could not be reliably filled by plant foods all the time.

      Adaptation always comes with a cost. Meat eating, as we both know, comes with a cost in population terms. Not all individuals have to bear that cost, but most will at some point in their lives.

      For a thoughtful discussion of adaptation, its benefits and limits, check out “Mismatch.” Can’t recall the authors just this second.

      1. Howard says:

        Science marches on:

        Haven’t evaluated the research (not sure I’m qualified to, but I will take a peak), but it raises an interesting hypothesis about long-term exposure to any calorically or nutrient dense food source: given enough generations, some humans will tolerate it and some will be able to derive net benefit from it.

  5. Thank You says:

    Indeed, one can live on many different diets and possibly thrive on most of them. But given a choice, most knowledgeable people would chose a whole food plant based diet. With minimal to no animal foods.

    Thank You and keep the podcasts coming 🙂

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