The Steve Jobs Diet, Dr. Dean Ornish, and Vegetarian Cancer
By: Dave Asprey
Update as of 1/6/2011: Dr. Ornish(creator of the Ornish Diet) contacted me to point out a NY Times piece (published 3 weeks after my original post) where Dr. Ornish indicates that he recommended to Steve Jobs that he have surgery immediately upon getting his first cancer diagnosis. See his comments below in the post discussion. He declined my offer of airtime to discuss his dietary recommendations.
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I hesitated to even write this post. I do not want to capitalize on the death of a visionary man like Steve Jobs, but I do want to let it help as many people as it can. Last week in New York, I met with an old friend and entrepreneur who just signed his company’s first billion-dollar deal. He explained why Steve Job’s death seems personal to so many of us.
He explained, “Steve Jobs was only 56. As a tech ‘superhero’ with all the money in the world, he couldn’t beat the cancer. It makes me feel more mortal. How much more time do I have? I need to do more to make a difference.” But is it really true that Steve “couldn’t” beat the cancer? Or did Steve make some well-intentioned lifestyle choices that made it really hard to cure his cancer?
Most media reports state that Jobs used a “special diet” for almost a year before going for Western medicine approaches, but it’s almost impossible to figure out what that diet was. After a couple hours of research, it appears that Steve Jobs was using the Dr. Dean Ornish Cancer Diet, which is almost the complete opposite of the Bulletproof Diet. In case you haven’t heard of him, Dean Ornish, MD, author of “Eat More, Weigh Less,” is one of the leaders of a small group of radical physicians who tout incredibly low fat diets with strict avoidance of (healthy) saturated fats as the path to health, despite years of research showing how misguided that is (see Gary Taubes epic work “Good Calories Bad Calories” or any competent body building coach for more info…)
As a biohacker and tech entrepreneur who studies techniques for manifesting creativity and performance, I took note of Jobs’ early trips to an ashram in India. He came back a Buddhist with his head shaved and he experimented with psychedelics , calling his LSD experiences “one of the two or three most important things [he had] done in [his] life.” I’m not kidding – that’s from Wikipedia. He also became a vegetarian from those experiences.
I did something similar, spending 3 months in Nepal and Tibet, complete with 10 days at Kopan Buddhist monastery in Nepal, a vegetarian diet, and a shaved head.
But I ditched the vegetarian diet. First of all, it’s hard to sit still to meditate when you keep having to tilt sideways because beans give you endless gas, not to mention that a 70% carb, low fat diet like Ornish’s makes your mind less focused.
But the main reason I eat meat, aside from doing it for health reasons, comes from a Tibetan monk at a monastery in Tibet. I saw a yak skin hanging from a prayer pole and asked the local Lama how that was in line with Buddhist principles of no killing. He smiled at me and said very simply, “One death feeds many. It is very high altitude here. We need to eat meat and fat to survive.” That monastery was at about 14,000 feet altitude. That monk’s simple wisdom may very well have saved me from sabotaging my health with more vegetarian diet experiments. I still don’t eat chicken, in part because the fat in it is not good quality, but more because one chicken death only feeds one person, or two anemic ones.
But back to the Ornish diet that Steve Jobs almost certainly pursued when he found he had cancer. Let’s look at this radical and dangerous diet and get a feel for what it can do to you, and why. Livestrong.org has an overview of the Ornish diet.
The Ornish Diet Starves You of Vital Fat Based Nutrients
On a low fat diet, your body is tricked into believing you are experiencing a famine, even if you use bizarre tricks (like eating sawdust or other fiber supplements) to make your stomach feel full. Your stress hormones will rise in response and even your genes will respond. For short periods of time, this can even be healthy, but after longer periods, your hormones will run out of raw materials (saturated fat and cholesterol) to function optimally, and your nerve sheath (70% fat) and brain will suffer. Basic nutritional research and examination of native diets shows that the human body performs best on quite a lot of fat, and even high-carb diets work better with significant saturated fat (see the Kitavans who eat 70% carbs but mostly saturated fat, smoke like chimneys, don’t exercise, and look like body builders.) On a low fat Ornish Diet you may not receive the nutrition you need. There is good research that eating fat with your vegetables lets you absorb the nutrients in them better.
My own experience on a low fat, low calorie diet was disastrous – it helped me reach 300 lbs. I can’t imagine what a powerful man like Steve Jobs would have accomplished if he’d given his brain and hormones what they need to function optimally. If he’d received better nutritional guidance in India, perhaps we’d be on the iPhone 12 by now.
The Ornish Diet Relies on Vegetarian Dogma
The Ornish diet basically encourages you to avoid even lean meat because there might be some (healthy) saturated fat in it, creating a recommendation for low-fat vegetarianism. Sadly, vegetarians have a higher mortality rate than people who eat only grass-fed (mycotoxin free) meat. No amount of statistical wiggling is going to disprove this basic fact of human existence. I don’t like it – I’d prefer to thrive on sunshine and smiles to be honest – but careful experiments and the preponderance of data says we do better on lower carb, higher saturated fat diets devoid of fat-soluble endocrine disrupting toxins. Vegetables taste good, but they are not proper food by themselves, even soaked in grass fed butter.
It is true that a vegetarian diet lower in toxins will cause less cancer than a processed food diet containing low quality meat. However, a meat-based diet with high quality meat and fat will outperform a vegetarian diet every time. And entrepreneurs who include grass-fed meat in their diets will find they have more energy and even more passion for what they do.
The Ornish Diet is Anti-Fish
A commenter named Musesum just provided a link showing that the Ornish diet is not anti-fish. Most web sites and reviews claim he is, but on page 42 of his book, Dr. Ornish recommends fish for some omega 3 oils. I stand corrected (next 2 paragraphs are unedited from original.)
Fish are pretty darn good for you and research into native peoples’ diets shows how important they are for trace nutrients and omega 3 fatty acids. While many have excess mercury, consuming low mercury fish (or krill oil) will go a long way towards improving your health and mental performance. Dr. Ornish’s fat phobia does not justify avoidance of fish. If mercury concerns you, see the articles on the site about how to bind it as you eat fish.
We do know that Steve Jobs ate fish – he was a pescatarian until his cancer – but cutting his only source of healthy protein right as he got cancer must have been a disastrous decision. Those missing calories would have been replaced with starch on an Ornish diet. Cancer cells have 28 times more insulin receptors than normal cells, which is why starch and sugar make cancer explode. Cancer patients have no business being on a high carb diet. Recommending one is dangerous and irresponsible.
The Ornish Diet Recomends Endocrine-Disruptive, Thyroid-killing Soy
The Ornish Diet recommends frankenfoods like tofurkey and frozen processed meals, which are full of Roundup-soaked, genetically modified soybeans and partially hydrogenated oils. Even Fox News knows the health risks of soy and partially hydrogenated oils, yet somehow they are allowed on the Ornish Diet. First off, that’s gross, especially compared to bacon. Secondly, I find it really hard to believe that a modern physician who reads any studies can in good conscience recommend a soy-based diet to anyone, especially a cancer patient. Soy is inflammatory and endocrine disrupting and inhibits your ability to absorb minerals. It is fertility destroying.
If Steve Jobs was able to perform at his level on a terribly unhealthy diet laced with estrogen (soy), I can’t imagine what he’d have done on a clean diet. I am in awe of what he was able to accomplish while sporting the nutritional equivalent of a ball and chain. It make me sad that he did that to himself because he was misinformed about basic nutritional science.
Dr. Ornish Believes That Grains Are Food for Healthy Humans
Simply put, we have genetic evidence that 70% of people are intolerant to gluten. Eating “whole grains” is simply not a way to pursue health no matter how many times we repeat the mantra, “whole grains are healthy.” They’re not. They’re cheap and easy to store, but they are responsible for a whole host of chronic diseases. Historical records show that when societies of hunter gatherers settle down and start to grow grain, their skeletons become deformed over multiple generations. I write about this extensively in my upcoming book on pregnancy health.
There is simply no good reason for a pregnant woman – or a man with cancer – to eat grains, whole or not. Throw them out and watch your waist shrink.
Ornish Dieters Eat Sick Amounts of Carbohydrates
The Ornish Diet recommends that about 70 percent of calories should come from carbohydrates. The body is capable of converting carbs into protein and only 1 type of fat (fully saturated palmitic acid) but the metabolic cost of doing so is extreme. High carb diets lower immune function. They lead to yeast overgrowth and they feed cancer cells by providing excess insulin. They also lead to mood swings and hormonal disorders, especially very bad PMS. Even worse, high carbs put stress on the pancreas, which cranks out all the insulin you need to absorb those carbs. Steve Jobs had pancreatic cancer.
The bottom line
We’ve lost a luminary before his time.
It is simply unacceptable that unfathomably poor nutritional advice concocted in the 1970’s contributed not only to Steve Jobs’ early demise, but to the fattening of an entire generation.