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Join us as we discuss the health and economic impact of our food system with Mark Hyman.
Dr. Hyman highlights the startling economic burden of chronic disease driven by Big Food's ultraprocessed diet that kills 11 million people every year and makes 60 percent of Americans sick with a chronic disease. Food Fix maps out a new food system that can improve public health and save trillions of dollars every year. The other major aspects to this discussion are saving our environment & climate and challenging politics, social injustice, & information wars. There are small and manageable things we can all do in our daily lives to contribute to this change.
Dr. Mark Hyman is leading a health revolution—one revolved around using food as medicine to support longevity, energy, mental clarity, happiness, and so much more. Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. He is the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a fourteen-time New York Times bestselling author, and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor's Farmacy. Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. He is also an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show.
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Hello and welcome to The Better Biome Podcast where we explore the universe within. There is a complex and mysterious community of microorganisms that lives in, on and around us that has an impact on every part of our health.
These communities are called your biomes, and we're here to explore all the different biomes to help you and your family be the healthiest you can be. We're your hosts, Dr. Nicole Beurkens and Kiran Krishnan. And on today's show, we're talking with Dr. Mark Hyman about how we can improve the health of ourselves as individuals, our communities and our planet by changing the way we eat. Dr. Mark Hyman is leading a health revolution, one revolved around using food as medicine to support longevity, energy, mental clarity, happiness, and so much more. Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator and advocate in the field of functional medicine. He's the founder and director of the UltraWellness Centre, the head of strategy and innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Centre for functional medicine, a 12-time New York Times bestselling author and board president for Clinical Affairs for the Institute of functional medicine. He's the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor's Pharmacy, Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View and CNN. He's also an advisor and cast co-host on the Dr. Oz Show. His newest book is Food Fix: How To Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities and Our Planet, One Bite At A Time. It's a pleasure to have him with us today.
Dr. Hyman, it's really great to have you here on the program. Your latest book coming out is called Food Fix. We focus a lot on the microbiome, we focus a lot on how everything we put in and on our body impacts the ecology of our inner ecosystem, if you will. And of course that has a huge implication on our health, right. And so you've been doing a lot of work on how the food system impacts our overall health. Can you talk to us a little bit about what you found as being kind of the top issues that we see within the food system today?
Well, we have a destructive, extractive disease causing food system. I think it's a high level. My book, Food Fix: How To Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities and Our Planet, One Bite At A Time focuses on the problem and the solution. It's called Food Fix, not Food Apocalypse. There's a lot of positive news, but I just want to give you some of the bad news, which is that our food system is responsible for incredible amounts of chronic disease. It kills 11 million people a year, that's conservatively. I think it's far more, and in fact, 70% of deaths worldwide, which is over 50 million deaths, are from chronic disease. And most of those are caused by or worsened by food. It burns our economy. It also affects our social system through its effect on mental health. Bad food causes depression, violence, behavioral issues, learning difficulties in kids, ADD, even violence in prisons. We've learned from the research. It threatens our national security because of the military not being able to recruit young people, because they're all overweight and unfit, 70% get rejected. And then importantly, it is the number one cause of climate change and environmental destruction, particularly our soils. And I think digging into this as a doctor, I was like, "Well, I can't really cure my patient in my office, I have to go to where the root cause is, which is the food they're eating, and then it's going to be why do we have the food, and then I sort of went down the chain, the food policies, and it's the food industry influencing it. And it turns out that our food system is producing food in a way that is so destructive to the environment, and to the soil, to the microbiome of the soil, which has intimate connections to our own health, which we'll get into. And what struck me was that we've lost over a third of the organic matter in our soil since the Industrial Revolution
Essentially dead soil.
Yeah, it's dirt, as opposed to soil. Dirt is dead, soil is alive. Dirt has no living real organisms, or very few, and soil is rich in microbiology and fungi and nematodes and bacteria that help actually enrich our plants and interact with our own health. We see the soil loss at a staggering rate, we apparently will be losing all of our soil, according to the UN, within 60 harvests, which is, hopefully in my lifetime. I mean, I plan to live to be 120. Maybe I'll miss the end of it, but it's a really serious problem. And as I began to literally dig into the dirt of this, I sort of discovered how important our soil is and how neglected it is and how it's something people don't even think about. It's more of a carbon sink than all the rain forests on the planet. They're talking about cutting down the rainforests. We should be worried about the soil getting lost and flushing out into the rivers, lakes and streams and being degraded by the chemicals we put on it. I often think of how we're doing agriculture. It's like traditional medicine. We basically give a lot of drugs, chemicals to sort of help things along, instead of supporting and enhancing the natural function of the body system. The same way with agriculture, we're exploring extractive agriculture, using intensive chemicals, fertilizers, which all kill the soil, turn it into dirt. And we use methods like tilling which destroys the soil. And so who cares? Why not just put more soil fertilizers on and more herbicides and pesticides? Well, the reason is you need the microbiome of the soil to extract nutrients from the soil to get to the plants that then we eat. So if you're eating broccoli today in 2020, compared to let's say, 1970, it's got 50% less nutrients, even if you're eating the best broccoli. So it has enormous implications. And on top of that, we live in an intimate biological relationship with our environment, whether we like it or not. We live in buildings, we are in a hotel room here. It's sterile, there's no dirt anywhere, soil, there's no cow manure. But the truth is that we evolved in an intimate relationship with the earth and with dirt and with soil and with bacteria and microbes, and we isolate ourselves in such a way that that has led to all this rampant autoimmune disease and allergy diseases and inflammatory diseases. The immune system is kind of bored and doesn't know what to do. It's more like "Oh we're trying to deal with the microbes." The research is really clear on it. So if you look at kids who grew up on farms, they have less allergies, less asthma, less eczema, less autoimmune disease. Yeah.
Even something as simple as a household that has a dog, because dogs go out and bring in bugs into the home. You know, they have less incidence rate of allergies and asthma…
I don't have any allergies or any autoimmune stuff or any of that. And I wonder — as a kid every summer, I'd spend three months on a ranch shoveling horse manure and literally living in the dirt and camping out. And I mean, you didn't wash your hands. And yeah, I remember traveling in Tibet years ago. And these Tibetan Sherpas, they were from the high country, and they didn't use forks or knives. I don't think they've taken a shower in their life. And their hands were filthy, and they cooked and they ate with their hands. And this is how we were. So our inner microbiome is so related to the soil microbiome, and they're intimately connected in terms of our health. So we've got to take care of our outer gardens and our inner gardens and in ways that actually promote health, and I think our food system is so destructive to the earth and to ourselves, and the soil piece is such a key piece of it.
Absolutely. You know, one of the things that we always talk about is we're in this constant osmosis with the outside environment, right? We're exchanging microbes, our immune system, our ecology is learning from the outside ecology, and so on. So clearly, what you're describing is disruptive and destructive to the human system. But who benefits from the current system the way it is?
Well, here's the deal: There wasn't an evil cabal of big food and big agriculture that got together in the 40s and 50s, and said "Let's see how we can destroy population, how we can destroy the environment, how we can kill the soil and cause climate change?" They weren't doing that. They were like, "How do we feed the world? How do we use modern"…" — you know, everything was like the Jetsons, it was all good innovation Fleischmann's margarine and Tang, the food of astronauts, but the unintended consequences of good intentions, which were to feed the world, scale up agriculture, have better yields, deal with troubling pests and weeds. All that was good intention, but nobody realized how toxic pesticides were until Rachel Carson came along in the early 1960s. No one's realized until recently how big of a factor our agricultural system is for climate change. It's the number one cause of climate change from deforestation and soil degradation and factory farming and animals and food waste and everything. And nobody realized even that processed food was bad. It's like your modern food, it's cool. But it turned out, nobody realized that sugar was so harmful, or the trans fats kill you, or that these food additives make kids hyper and make you sick. I mean, we just didn't know, and now we do. And now there's these big companies, they are trying to change direction. But you know, they're the ones who benefit the most are the big ag companies, the big seed companies, the fertilizer companies, the big food companies, but they're listening to the consumer. And they're really listening because whether they like it or not, the tide is changing, and they see it changing. And there's some holdouts like Kraft whose stock has plummeted. And Nestle who was trying to have a sustainable regenerative and, I mean, I'm very skeptical of Nestle. They were the ones who gave all the baby formula in Africa and had the mothers water it down and killed millions of kids, so I'm not a super fan but they have a different leadership, and they are realizing where the future is going. And they are trying to focus on regenerative agriculture there. I've been to their main innovation lab and headquarters in Cleveland, they were consulting with me. I don't get paid. I don't take any money from them. They're like what can you tell us about what people want and what they need? And how do we use food as medicine? And it's very impressive to see how eager they are to learn. They're taking out the bad ingredients from their products. Burger King just announced it was getting rid of any artificial ingredients. Which I'm not sure that makes a big Whopper healthy, right? But at least it rots. Like I always say, you should only eat food that rots. A Twinkie won't rot. You know, probably McDonald's french fries won't rot.
So you know, there are a lot of people who are benefiting from the system. And politicians certainly are, because the food industry spends literally billions of dollars. The media is benefiting because the food industry spends billions and billions of dollars advertising junk food. There's a lot of people that are benefiting from the status quo. But I think I'm a believer that things can change. I mean, who would have thought that the Soviet Union would collapse? Nobody, right? Who would have thought that we'd have gay marriage?
Absolutely. And you know, people vote with their pocketbooks. So it's really the consumers that drive the change, ultimately,
Yeah. So I think people feel powerless about climate change. They feel powerless about the big food industry, they feel powerless even over their own health, because they don't know what to do. But as a functional medicine doctor, someone who has been doing this for so many decades and has understood that the bigger context in which we all live, the food environment, the ag environment, all the things related to it, I'm really hopeful because there's things we can't solve. We can't end war, we can't end hurricanes tomorrow, volcanoes and earthquakes. But this is a solvable problem. The UN said, in a recent report, that if we took 2 million hectares of the 5 million hectares of degraded land that is just being over grazed or over farmed, kind of going towards the desert — if we took 2 of the 5 million hectares, it would cost $300 billion, which is less than we spend in America on Medicare payments for diabetes. It's about the entire world's spend on the military for two months. If we just spent that, we could turn those 2 million hectares into regenerative agriculture and stop climate change for 20 years. I always joke that there's an incredible carbon capture technology that's available everywhere in the world. That's free. That works better than anything else, and it's been around for billions of years. It's called photosynthesis, which captures carbon dioxide through the grasslands, puts it into the soil, where it creates healthy soil, creates healthy plants, creates healthy food, creates healthy humans. It's sort of a win-win-win.
I want to touch on something that you said, because I think this is what's really powerful about the books that you've written: You said people tend to feel overwhelmed and powerless. Everywhere we turn in the media, the climate is changing, everything is a catastrophe, and human health is declining.
It shouldn't be called news, it's bad news.
People feel like, "What can I do?" And you were talking earlier about how even the food that we're eating now, even people who eat what we would classify as a good healthy diet are not really getting what they need. And so people throw their hands up and go "What can I do?" And what I think is wonderful about this book that you've written is you really do lay out some clear calls to action, things that each of us on an individual and family and community level can do to impact this. So let's dive into that because I want to give listeners — what can they do…
Why did Burger King take out the preservatives? Why did Kellogg's announce they were not going to have glyphosate anymore in their food? Why did General Mills commit a million acres to regenerative agriculture? It wasn't because they were mandated by the government, that there was a law or regulation that made them do it. They did it because consumers are like, "Hey, we don't want that crap in our food. And if you put it in your food, we're not going to buy it!" So we have enormous power because we vote with our fork, we vote with our wallet, we vote with our voices, we vote our vote. And all those matter, there's no democracy without us. But people are apathetic. People just don't feel it matters, they don't feel like it's going to be effective. But the truth is it is. How do you think we got a Democratic senator in Alabama? Because African American women say "We don't want a racist in the Senate." And they came out in droves, and they voted, and it was African American women that elected a Democratic senator in probably the most Republican state in the country.
And every voice matters, it is the key, right?
Every voice matters. And so I feel like people can do a lot. I think the good news is that if you change your diet, it's going to make a difference, it's going to drive the marketplace. It may not be an immediate difference. If you maybe try to source some of your food regeneratively, and build the market for that. There's a place online, you can buy cow with friends from Mariposa ranch, online, where you can get basically regeneratively raised, grass-finished beef for about $8 a pound, which is for a 4 ounce serving less than a McDonald's hamburger. Wow. So if you go to some fancy store and you want to get a $70 ribeye steak from some grass farm, fine, but there are ways to be smart about this, and that drives the market. The things you can do even in your own kitchen: You can have a compost bucket. You know, food waste is one of the biggest causes of climate change. If it were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after the US and China. We waste 40% of our food, about a pound per person a day. For a family of four, it's 1800 bucks in the garbage every year. It goes to landfills where it rots and releases methane, which is a 25 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and it's a huge contributor to climate change. And it's just a waste of $2 trillion of resources, waste of farmland that's equivalent to the size of China that we have to grow that food. We have enough food today to feed 10 and a half billion people. Today. You don't need to grow one more thing if we figured out how not to waste it. In the US, most food is thrown out from grocery stores or from food service restaurants and people's tables. In the developing world, it's often a food chain problem. They can't get it and keep it fresh because there's no refrigeration and other issues. Once it gets into the home, they will eat every scrap of it. So I think there's a different problem, but it still equals out to about 35-40%. So people can have a compost bucket, they can have a compost pile in the country. I had a little — basically, you could buy a bunch of two by fours and nail them together, you make a box in your backyard and throw the scraps in there and you got leaves thrown on there. And then after a while, it just turns to this incredibly rich humous, which is incredible food for the soil that then draws down carbon. So you can have your little climate activist compost pile in your backyard in your little garden or spread it on your lawn. If you spread it on your lawn, you will literally enrich the soil there and help it draw down more carbon.
Is there going to be a smell that's emitted from it?
No, not at all. I've had mine for 40 years. If you have an apartment, you can go on Amazon and buy something like an apartment compost unit. It's got a carbon filter, it's all enclosed. You can just then turn it in, you can give it to your local farmers or bring it to the farmers' market. If you want to get active, you can get active in your community where you can make a difference. For example, if you're working for an employer, get them to change the food system and what their food service is. What's in the cafeteria? Cleveland Clinic got rid of all the sodas, got rid of all the junk food. You can go to your local municipality and say, "Hey, how about…" Or your local city council? "Why don't we put an ordinance in for mandatory composting? Why don't we work with the school superintendents and get the schools to have better food? And there's ways to do it within the school budget and within the federal guidelines for nutrition standards. And it worked. And people have demonstrated this. It's just a matter of education and will. So whatever you're doing, whoever you are, there's something you can do, right?
And you can be more active politically. If you want to support organizations or groups that are trying to change things like Kiss The Ground or the Carbon Underground that are about regenerative agriculture, or Conscious Kitchens, it's about school lunches, or we're doing something called the Food Fix Campaign. You can go to foodfix.org, and you can actually help us launch this policy change effort and grassroots effort to change food policy to drive all this. Maybe you want to just do something yourself where you can have a little group in your town, where you can work together to solve some of these problems. Everybody has to work at a local level where they feel comfortable. But there's so much that everybody can do. And of course, we are going to need a top down change as well, we need changes in policy and regulation and legislation with litigation. All of these things can help. And I think we can't fool ourselves thinking that we're the only ones who have to do something, it's really up to these big companies to start to change. But the government isn't telling them to change.
They're changing because we're telling them to change. So I just think people should be more hopeful about the impact of what they can do.
Yeah. And I think whoever's listening to this, the very next thing they can do is like you said, voting with their fork, voting with their dollar, with their wallet, and choosing companies that are using regenerative agriculture to provide food based products. And it's out there.
And companies like Black Rock, which is one of the largest hedge funds — I'm not a financial guy, but it's one of those big money things, like one of the biggest in the world with trillions in assets. They recently announced that they were going to divest of any investments in companies that were contributing to climate change.
Wow. That's unbelievable.
Yeah, they said: We're not going to put our money — I met a woman today, who works for the Rockefeller family investment, whatever, whatever. She says they are focused on sustainability, climate change, health, and that's where they want to invest their money. That's what they're looking at. And these investments do well or they do better. If you invest in degraded land, and you buy a conventional farm, you convert it to a regenerative farm, your profits go up six, or seven or eight fold, and you add value to the environment. And instead of taking out soil and water and putting in all these chemicals, you actually build ecosystems, bring back pollinators, conserve water, build soil, right? It's a win for everybody. So there's a lot of stuff going on, you can put your money — My daughter was really not into the Dakota pipeline that went through the Native American reserve. She was like "I'm taking my money out of TD Bank, because they invested in the Dakota pipeline." We throw our money in a bank, but we don't even know what they're doing. You could be against the criminal justice system, but they can be funding prisons, right? Or they can be funding — it can be even worse things that are going on, like climate change efforts. So there's a company called Good Money, you go to goodmoney.com. A friend of mine created it, and I'm an investor in it, just to be totally transparent. I believe in it so much. And there you have full transparency where you put your money. It's basically an online bank, just a regular bank. And then you get to pick where the money goes, if you want to put in a reforestation program in the Amazon or you want to fund a regenerative agricultural initiative, you can do that, or whatever, whatever you care about. And then you earn interest in money from them, and you become a shareholder in the overall bank. That's an incredible model where people can go and start to grow with their money in that way. So there's a lot of things people can do, and foodfixbook.com is the website, and you can go see the Citizen Action Guide and the policy action guide. So if you're a business person, you might be an innovator who wants to change what they're doing, and there's really cool solutions out there. Food waste, we talked about. These farmers are Massachusetts dairy farmers, and nobody's drinking milk anymore, so they're really hurting. They're losing money. And there's a law passed in the state, that's like, if you're a grocery store, a food service company, or you have a ton of food waste a week, you can't throw it out. You've got to give it to a pig farm, you got to compost it, do something with it. So they're giving it to these farmers who get three tractor trailers, about 100 tons of this stuff every day. They throw it in his anaerobic digester, which is like a big thing that basically ferments the food, they throw in some cow manure, so that gets rid of the off gassing of methane from the cow manure. They get rid of the food waste, it turns into electricity, and that can fuel 1500 homes. The farmer, instead of losing money, makes 100 grand a year. And everybody wins. And it's always innovative business solutions like that. There's a company called Vanguard Renewables. It is part of that and sort of the funding mechanism of this. And we have a few in the United States. There's 17,000 of these in Europe. It's crazy. I mean, you can't, you can't — I went to New Zealand for the holidays. There's no plastic bags. You go to get some groceries, and you're like what am I going to take my groceries in. I had to buy all these canvas bags. And so like there's a lot of the things that we can do as a society, that individuals can do. I mean, San Francisco has mandatory composting. Yeah. So there's a lot that can be done.
So the easiest next step really is going to foodfixbook.com, is that the website?
foodfixbook.com. There's all kinds of great resources, five steps to a healthier you and healthier planet. There's the action guide. If you get the book, you'll actually get a hold of my longevity course. But I've learned about healthy longevity. I'm 60 and feel like I'm 30. I'm doing good. I'm 39. And my biological age is 39. bragging. I know. But I think I just want people to understand, there's so much they can do. We're launching this nonprofit called Food Fix Campaign, and an advocacy group, which is basically a lobby group for the good guys. We're going to make changes in Washington, we're going to create grassroots efforts to bring people together around these issues and make the change.
That's what it takes. A revolution.
And this is the good news. There's so much bad news out there. And what you're making us aware of is all of the good things that we can do. I think this is the most important book you've written to date, and really appreciate you taking the time to come and chat with us about it. And thanks to all of you for joining us for today's episode of The Better Biome Podcast. Tune in next week to continue with us as we journey through the universe within.