On January 20th, 2010 the chain Whole Foods Market announced the launch of their “Health Starts Here” campaign. The food store which has millions of shoppers stepping through its doors weekly, is regarded as the world leader in natural foods.
According to their web site, “Health Starts Here is the first major program to be launched since Whole Foods Market added a new core value to its mission in October 2009: ‘Promoting the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education.’ The new program is based on the following simple principles for everyday healthy eating”:
- Plant-based – choose plant-based foods as your primary sources of nutrients, and minimizing consumption of meat/dairy/poultry/seafood
- Whole foods – choose foods that are real, fresh, natural, organic, local, seasonal, and unprocessed – with no mention or acknowledgment of how unnatural and processed foods like many grain/soy/corn products are
- Low-fat – obtain your fats from foods like avocados and nuts – with no mention of healthy fats from meat and meat products
- Nutrient-dense – choose foods that are rich in nutrients as compared to their caloric content, and build all meals around plants to ensure highest nutrient-dense content possible, and use the newly formulated ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) as a system for “scoring” foods – again, no mention of nutrient-dense foods like meat and meat products
The biggest problem is that these four recommendations are actually competing notions that become a contradiction to themselves. “Whole foods” and “nutrient-dense” are on the list – which most no one would bothering arguing about…but Whole Foods carries products in their stores that clearly fall into the category of “processed foods” such as grains, soy, legumes, and even vegetable – and what’s more, are promoting consumption of these products as healthful choices, so it’s plain to see those statements simply aren’t compatible with each other for obvious reasons.
The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) is Eat Right America’s designation as to which foods are the most nutrient-dense and healthier to eat. Whole Foods has chosen to use this measurement tool as their way to determine the nutrient density of foods. As a comparison, you will find foods like olive oil chicken breast lower on the score and foods like leafy greens such as bok choy and kale highest – the olive oil gets 9, chicken breast 27 while the bok choy received 824 points and the kale received a whopping 1000. As expected, nearly every fruit, vegetable, legume, and grain scored higher on this scale than any meat or meat product.
The information provided by ANDI is a gross misrepresentation of foods that are nutrient-dense. If we do a side-by-side comparison of nutrient-dense foods, you can plainly discern which have more nutrients. In December of 2009, Jenny from The Nourished Kitchen did such a comparison, and found that by and large – meats, poultry, organ meats, animal fats, seafood, and dairy products contained the highest level of nutrients found in all foods. The source for this information was Nutrition Data, an online source for nutrient content of all foods.
Still not convinced that fat and cholesterol are good for us? Read The Importance of Dietary Fats.
So I’m really puzzled as to where Eat Right America’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joel Furhman (the creator of this system), obtained this data? Apparently this data is further elaborated upon in Eat for Health, also authored by Dr. Furhman.
The American Dietetic Association has also put their name behind vegetarian and vegan diets. They have given it their full endorsement as a healthful choice, including recommendations that tell consumers to eat grains and soy (many of them processed, with no attention to the fact that much soy is processed, industrial waste and derived from genetically-modified organisms), in addition to vegetables.
According to MedScape, who supports the American Dietetic Association’s stance, the amount of individuals embarking on vegetarian diets are expected to increase in the next decade. This dietary philosophy should be accepted as healthful for children, pregnant mothers, and those experiencing health compromises who wish to improve their health. “Vegetarian diets are typically characterized by certain healthful features that may lower the risk for chronic disease — notably, reduced consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol and increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals with potent antioxidant, antiproliferative, and cancer-protective activity.”
I realize everyone should be free to choose their preferred diet, lifestyle, and anything else. And that should remain something each person should be able to choose for themselves. However, it becomes a blurred line when a large organization or corporation, such as Whole Foods or the American Dietetic Association begins promoting an agenda that is clearly in line with vegetarian notions of diet and eating. The situation gets worse when a medical doctor gives not only his or her blessing to such an endeavor, but is hired on to do consulting to create a measuring gauge with which to determine the efficacy of said program.
The Weston A. Price Foundation has made a statement about this campaign, and here it is:
WHOLE FOODS PROMOTES MILITANT VEGETARIAN AGENDA
Has the Upscale Market Outlived Its Usefulness?
WASHINGTON, DC. February 3, 2010: Whole Foods Markets has launched a nationwide “Health Starts Here” marketing scheme that endorses a lowfat, vegetarian diet, with promises that the diet will “improve health easily and naturally.” The plan promotes the books and private business ventures of Joel Fuhrman, MD, and Rip Esselstyn, both of whom worked with Whole Foods to formulate the new guidelines. Customers now receive a pamphlet urging them to adopt a lowfat, plant-based diet and to cut back or completely eliminate animal foods. Many Whole Foods stores no longer sell books advocating consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products.
The plan will feature new Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) labels for foods in the store; the index is designed to make plant foods to appear “nutrient dense” by favoring various phytonutrients in plants and ignoring many vitamins and minerals essential to health. “Whole Foods has stacked the deck against animal foods by choosing ANDI parameters that do not include a host of key nutrients, such as vitamins 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,” says Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation. “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.”
“Animal foods like meat, liver, butter, whole milk and eggs contain ten to one hundred times more vitamins and minerals than plant foods,” says Fallon Morell. “Plant foods add variety and interest to the human diet but in most circumstances do not qualify as ‘nutrient-dense’ foods.”
“For years before becoming deathly ill, I followed the dietary suggestions in the Whole Foods plan,” said Kathryne Pirtle, author of Performance without Pain. “I ate large amounts of organic salads, vegetables and fruits, lots of whole grains, only a little meat and no animal fat. I had chronic pain for twenty-five years on this diet, then acid reflux, then a serious inflammation in my spine followed by chronic diarrhea. Without switching to nutrient-dense animal foods, including eggs, butter and whole dairy products, not only would I have lost my national career as a performing artist, I would have died at forty-five years old! I am not alone in this story of ill health from a lowfat, plant-based diet, which does not supply a person with enough nutrients to be healthy and can be very damaging to the intestinal tract.”
“Consumers can send a message about Whole Foods’ misinformed scheme by voting with their feet,” says Fallon Morell. “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.” The local chapters of the Weston A. Price Foundation help consumers connect with farmers raising animal foods in humane, healthy and ecologically friendly fashion.
“The growing emphasis on plant-based diets deficient in animal protein also serves to promote soy foods as both meat and dairy substitutes,” says Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN, author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food. “Soy is not only one of the top eight allergens but has been linked in more than sixty years of studies to malnutrition, digestive distress, thyroid dysfunction, reproductive disorders including infertility, and even cancer, especially breast cancer.”
“Low fat patients are my most unhealthy patients,” says John P. Salerno, MD, a board certified family physician from New York City. “The reason we are spiraling into diabetes and obesity is because of the lowfat concept developed by the U.S government decades ago. Lowfat diets have a low nutrient base, and phytonutrients in vegetables cannot be properly absorbed without fat.”
Fallon Morell cites recent studies from Europe showing that lowfat diets promote weight gain in both children and adults, and also contribute to infertility. A meta-analysis published January, 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no significant evidence that saturated fat consumption is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has stated that eating animal fats amounts to an addiction. But in fact, animal fats are essential for good health,” says Fallon Morell. “The nutrients in animal fats, such as vitamins A, D and K, arachidonic acid, DHA, choline, cholesterol and saturated fat, are critical for brain function. In the misguided war against cholesterol and saturated fat, we have created an epidemic of learning disorders in the young and mental decline in the elderly.”
“Perhaps the vegetarian diet has affected the thinking powers of Whole Foods management,” says Fallon Morell. “It’s time for the stockholders to insist on leadership devoted to increasing customer base, not promoting a personal vegetarian agenda.”
The Weston A. Price Foundation is a 501C3 nutrition education foundation with the mission of disseminating accurate, science-based information on diet and health. Named after nutrition pioneer Weston A. Price, DDS, author of the book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the Washington, DC-based Foundation publishes a quarterly journal for over 12,000 members, supports 400 local chapters worldwide and hosts a yearly conference. The Foundation headquarters phone number is (202) 363-4394, westonaprice.org, firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments about the Whole Foods Health Starts Here scheme can be emailed to:
Kimberly Hartke, Publicist, the Weston A. Price Foundation
So why do I care about this, and why don’t I just avoid Whole Foods Markets and shop elsewhere? The answer is, I don’t shop at Whole Foods Markets except on rare occasions when I’m out-of-town and need some things I can’t get elsewhere. It’s true, their products are over-priced and I normally try to buy local and support farmers in my own area.
The reason I care about this is that it frustrates me to no end the far-reaching influence corporations like Whole Foods and organizations like The American Dietetic Association has on consumer spending and health habits. They have the ability to make recommendations that many people tend to hear and follow – especially those who are affluent, and to those who simply aren’t aware of just what their dollars are supporting and where their money goes – which is really describing the average person. And there must be plenty of people who fall into both of these categories because Whole Foods Markets are successful as evident by their presence in so many locations.
I don’t like the fact that Whole Foods is using their power over the natural market segments to send a message to consumers that meat and dairy products should be avoided unless lean and low-fat. I don’t like the fact that nowhere have I ever seen the message to support all sustainable farming, including meat and meat product farming. All we’re hearing is the message that the majority of our diets should be plant-based and low-fat – which clearly doesn’t include any meat.
It is my intent with this information to raise awareness about the fact that although the mainstream medical communities say otherwise, there is a lack of real, scientific evidence proving that low-fat and plant-based diets reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other fatal diseases such as cancer. And, just because a big corporation or organization with a lot of pull chimes in with the same conclusion, does not make it intelligent nor rational. In my book, Whole Foods and The American Dietetic Association fall short on nutritional awareness and education.
The important thing here is to get the message out about truly sustainable living, health, and farming for our health and the environment. Conversations about sustainable living and health that leave out humanely-raised meat and meat products from a healthy environment are simply incomplete. Any person, organization, or corporation or other entity claiming to be pro-environment and health through sustainable measures but who attempts to encourage a vegetarian or vegan agenda isn’t telling you the whole story, or truth.
Here are some related posts:
And, this very poignant article featured in the New York Times
I sent correspondence to Whole Foods Market on 2/8/2010 expressing my concern over the lack of emphasis on meat being a healthy choice and nutrient-dense source of calories and elements we need to be healthy:
I am very disappointed at WF’s announcement of the “Health Starts Here” campaign which supports a low-fat and plant-based agenda on the web site and in other forums to the public. As a customer, I am offended at the exclusion of information about truly sustainable solutions to our health problems including meat and meat products from healthy, pasture-raised animals and poultry as part of a complete diet. It is certainly someone’s choice to be a vegetarian, but it is also someone’s choice to be a meat eater, and the fact that WFs is not showing the difference between eating sustainable meats and factory farm meats, which are two worlds apart, is appalling and disappointing.
By stating that low-fat and plant-based diets are the way to go, WFs is effectively telling consumers that all meat is unhealthy and should be avoided. Real meats from healthy sources are the most nutrient-dense substances on the planet, far and above plants, and your store has completely ignored this fact by promoting an agenda that doesn’t promote health.
I am sorry to say I will no longer be shopping at WFs markets when I travel – there is no WFs in Boise where I live, so that part won’t change for me in the slightest. As a food activist, my belief in supporting truly sustainable living goes the distance – humanely raised meats and poultry on pasture, local, organic, and no GMOs. I feel WFs discussion of what is healthy sends a negative message to sustainable communities and efforts everywhere and is extremely damaging to health. I am sending this message to the Las Vegas store because that is where I have shopped in the past, but I want this message conveyed to all stores in general.
Here is the response I received today from Jessie Walker, Information Specialist from the corporate offices of Whole Foods Market:
Thank you for contacting Whole Foods Market with your concerns. The intention of our “Health Starts Here” program is not to promote a 100 percent plant based, or vegan, diet. We are emphasizing the increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans – no matter what type of diet one eats. The program is a completely voluntary program that encourages people to simply eat more fruits and vegetables, foods that the majority of Americans fail to consume in adequate amounts. In fact we just became the only retailer in the US to sell grass fed beef in all of our stores. We are very proud of our meat and poultry standards as well as our products.
We appreciate your feedback and acknowledge there are many paths to health. At the end of the day, Whole Foods Market will still be a grocery store that offers a wide variety of products for our customers to purchase. Thanks again for reaching out to us with your concerns.
We hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions please use our on-line response form.
Jessie Walker | Customer Information Specialist
Whole Foods Market | Global Headquarters
Phone 512-542-0670 | Fax 512-482-7670
Please note the fact that Ms. Walker did not acknowledge, whatsoever, the fact that the four criteria listed expressly convey to consumers to minimize meat and meat product consumption and place emphasis on low-fat, and obtaining our nutrients mostly from plants, plant products, and whole grains – which is what I pointed out in the first place. But she did not address these points at all.
The bottom line is, Whole Foods has positioned themselves as a leader in health, and millions of people rely on their actions and guidance about health and diet. They have a responsibility to present truthful information about real foods to encourage health. By promoting low-fat, processed, and packaged foods as health foods and misrepresenting to the public that these products are going to bring good results, they are not only acting irresponsibly, but unethically as well.
As brought to my attention from a commenter below, Whole Foods has changed the wording on their mission statement page about this campaign – instead of saying “minimize meat and meat products” it now reads: “If eating a diet that includes animal products, choose leaner meats and seafood as well as low-fat dairy products.” But the statement about low-fat is still strong in the campaign. When I originally wrote this post, Whole Foods made a definitive statement against consumption of meat and meat products.
I want to encourage everyone to post about this, Twitter, and Facebook. Also, please contact Whole Foods and express your concerns about this matter.