By Marika Sboros
They call themselves the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Critics say they should call themselves the Physicians Committee for Irresponsible Medicine (PCIM).
They say that the PCRM’s latest study with Czech scientists, published in the journal, Nutrients, is irresponsible. And misleading.
The authors conclude that plant-based, vegan meals may be a “more effective tool” to prevent type 2 diabetes (T2D) than meat-based meals. They say that they’ve used a “randomized crossover design”. And that they’ve compared effects of two different meals on gastrointestinal hormones, and satiety (feeling of fullness) on healthy, obese and diabetic men.
The meals: a processed-meat and cheese meal and a vegan meal with tofu.
US psychiatrist Dr Georgia Ede calls the study misleading. Whoever designed it “has some explaining to do”, she says. US physician Dr Tro Kalayjian is more forthright and calls it “biased bullshit”.
“Both meals contained approximately the same amount of calories, protein, fat and carbohydrate,” Ede says.
The authors have acknowledged differences between the two meals: in saturated fat and fibre content. They also acknowledged that these differences “may have influenced our results”.
However, Ede did what any good scientist does when critiquing a study: She read the fine print “buried at the bottom of a table” that the researchers published in the journal.
It shows that there were “numerous other differences between the two meals”, Ede says.
Not the least of those differences was that the plant-based meal consisted of a tofu burger and unsweetened green tea. And the meat-based meal consisted of a processed pork cheeseburger and a latte sweetened with 21 grams of added sugar.
“That’s a whopping five teaspoons of sugar spooned into that 10-oz coffee drink,” Ede notes.
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The authors, therefore, had not designed the study in a way that can tell us anything about the hormonal differences between animal and plant protein, she says.
Kalayjian put it even more succinctly in a tweet on the topic. “These researchers literally are trying to compare meat + sugar latte to a fake vegan meal.”
He went on to ask the researchers rhetorically and in capital letters to stress his annoyance: “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?”
Ede says that for the experiment to be valid, the researchers should have kept all ingredients in both meals the same, except for the protein source .
“They could have done so simply by comparing a meat burger to a soy burger,” Ede says.
Was that just innocent oversight?
“Unlikely,” Ede says.
As is so often the case with studies attempting to demonstrate that meat is unhealthy, sugar is a “glaring confounding variable” that the researchers have not openly acknowledged or accounted for.
A more responsible title for this study, she says, might read something like this:
“A tofu burger and green tea is a healthier meal for appetite hormones than a processed pork cheeseburger and latte sweetened with five teaspoons of sugar. We really, really want you to think it’s because of the tofu, but most reasonable people would blame the sugar.”
US science journalist Nina Teicholz is author of the seminal book, The Big Fat Surprise, Why Butter, Cheese and Meat Belong in a Healthy Diet. She is similarly critical of the PCRM study.
Teicholz took to Twitter to point out that the PRCM is an animal rights group and the study is “junk science”. She questioned not just how it got through the peer-review process but how it even got done.
“If you want to compare two burgers, (you) must isolate the burger as the only difference,” Teicholz tweeted. “There is no reason to match nutrient content. That difference is part of what (you are) testing.”
Ede has pointed out that the same group has since published a second study using the same dietary protocol: “A Plant-Based Meal Stimulates Incretin and Insulin Secretion More Than an Energy- and Macronutrient-Matched Standard Meal in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Study.”
They include in this report an exact comparison of grams of sugar in each meal (21g vs 4g). And they come to the same conclusion: that their study suggests “a therapeutic potential of plant-based meals for improving beta-cell function in T2D”.
On his Twitter feed, PCRM president and vegan MD Neal Barnard welcomed the study. He said that it adds to the evidence that plant-based diets are “beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes”.
The US-based Humane Watch, a project of the US Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), has a very jaundiced view of PCRM. On its website, Humane Watch carries the CCF’s document titled Seven Things You (probably) Didn’t Know About PCRM.
PRCM ‘not a real MD group’
Among these is that PCRM is an animal rights group, not a real “physicians committee”, says the CCF.
And contrary to what its name implies, less than 4% of PCRM’s members are actual physicians.
The CCF says that Barnard is among PCRM’s relatively few active physicians and also a former PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals)Foundation president. It describes Barnard as a “vegan psychiatrist” who claims that cheese is “dairy crack” and “morphine on a cracker”.
The CCF also says that the wealthiest animal rights activist in the US, Nanci Alexander, has bought and paid for PCRM’s anti-meat activism. Through her personal foundation, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Alexander provides more than two-thirds of PCRM’s $9-million budget, CCF says. PETA has steered another $1.3 million to PCRM.
“This explains why the (PCRM’s) platform has more to do with the ‘rights’ of animals than the health of people.”
The CCF itself has come under criticism as a front for industry. And in a Los Angeles Times report, CCF executive director Rick Berman has acknowledged funding in part by food and beverage companies. Berman also declined to name contributors.
The report quotes Berman as saying: “It doesn’t matter who pays as long as what I’m saying is truthful.”