Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Can extremely low fat diets lead to obscene conflicts of interest? (Dean Ornish edition)

That's certainly the question I'd love to ask Dr. Dean Ornish.

Who's he?

Well he's perhaps the most famous low-fat diet guru of all time and the founder and President of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California.

His career has been exceedingly illustrious. Ornish is a best-selling author, a world-class researcher, an award-winning physician and he was voted "one of the most interesting people of 1996" by People magazine, one of the "TIME 100" in integrative medicine, one of LIFE magazine's "fifty most influential members of their generation" and one of Forbes magazine's "seven most powerful teachers in the world."

Pretty lofty stuff.

So what does one of the most powerful teachers in the world and one of the most influential members of their generation want to teach you?

Usually it's how to eat an almost insanely low-fat diet but not when he's working for the Mars chocolate, confectionery and beverage conglomerate. When he's working for Mars he wants to help feed you Big Food's party line that,

Feeling good is all about balance. It’s important to balance work life with time spent with loved ones, it’s important to find a balance between what we eat and how much we exercise
He also wants to feed you the other Big Food party line that there's no such thing as a "bad food", something I blogged about a ways back.

Now I don't disagree entirely with Ornish in that a sustainable lifestyle does need to include such things as chocolate bars, but I'm not about to start selling them for Mars Inc.

Not so with Dr. Ornish. His message, that joy is a powerful medicine, when grabbed hold of by Mars' marketers gets spun into this message taken directly from their website,
"At Mars, our products provide opportunities for people across the world to practice pleasure in balance every day. Mars chocolate products should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle – and bring people small moments of joy in the process. In fact, our vision is to make more moments of joy in more places, bringing more smiles into the world. We’re in the business of making people feel good, and that means being a part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle that supports your physical and emotional well-being. .

We love being a part of many different kinds of chocolate moments.

  • A child sharing a treat with a friend.
  • Parents enjoying a quiet moment together at the end of a busy day.
  • A small celebration after a successful meeting.
  • Sweet memories from holidays, parties and gatherings.

More Moments. More Places. More Smiles."

Not less chocolate - more.

More chocolate in more places.

How many joyful chocolate moments is Ornish helping to sell? Again, according to the Mars website,
"At Mars, we're responsible for more than 500 million chocolate moments each day! And our vision is to make more moments of joy in more places - bringing more smiles into the world."
And now Dr. Dean Ornish, one of our generation and world's most influential teachers, lends (sells) his powerful voice to that vision, a vision that can be summarized as.
More, not less; there is no such thing as a "bad food"; and really all you need is a balanced active lifestyle.
Shameful is too soft a word to describe Dr. Ornish's cozy conflict of interest with Mars.

That said I probably shouldn't be surprised. After all, before Dean Ornish was using his world class influence and teaching abilities to sell chocolate bars, he was using it to sell Big Macs.

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  1. Interesting development in the Ornish department - thanks for sharing.

    I think the key message here is that Big Food, with the help of "credible" scientists like Ornish, have successfully moulded the public conscious into misunderstanding what a "balanced diet" is.

    A "balanced diet" does not mean "eat fruits and veggies, because that cancels out or 'balances' all the Mars bars you eat". No. It means that we should consume a balance of nutrients (macro and micro) from a variety of sources. Eat grains and beans and a little meat and some rice etc.

    A recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that people get the message about health slogans, but that "some [participants] willfully adapted their understanding of advice to suit their preferences and the reality of their lives and family circumstances."

    Ornish, reinforcing the message that Mars bars are part of a "balanced" diet, confuses consumers, when their health is 'hanging in the balance.'

    ps. some shameless self-promotion here, but I speak to this point on my blog:

  2. I'm glad I like Dr. Esselstyn's book more than Ornish's.

    Please don't tell me that Esselstyn has "sold out" too!

    As always, you have to be your own advocate.

    Thanks for the info.

    Ken Leebow

    PS. I'm not on either lifestyle plan. A bit too extreme for me.

  3. The Mars company would not be pleased to know that the healthy dose of DARK chocolate (not MILK chocolate), if there is one, is in the range of 20 grams three times a week.

    That's not much chocolate.

    Thanks for the interesting reporting.


  4. Instead of Mars chocolate with tons of sugar and other garbage additives, you could eat Cocoa Nibs instead of chocolate. They're great mixed with seeds/nuts,shredded unsweetened coconut if you can budget in the fat, and chili powder!

  5. I was shocked to come across a Mars company ad with Dr. Ornish under a T. Colin Campbell vid on Youtube... but ya know what? Doesn't Dr. Ornish sorta look like a Snickers bar?