"Let me be clear about this. A low carbohydrate diet is quackery," Dr. Neal Barnard told me over the phone. "It is popular, bad science, it’s a mistake, it’s a fad. At some point we have to stand back and look at evidence."
Note to self: Don't ask Dr. Neal Barnard about limiting your carb intake.
"You look at the people across the world who are the thinnest, the healthiest, and live the longest; they are not following anything remotely like a low-carb diet," he said. "Look at Japan. Japan has the longest-lived people. What is the dietary staple in Japan? They’re eating huge amounts of rice."
Based on the fact that Barnard is the author of 15 books extolling the life-prolonging virtues of plant-based diets, I should have seen that coming. Apparently I'm one of few people in health media not familiar with his work, and his very clear perspective. I heard about Barnard because today he and his colleagues published a meta-analysis in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine that confirmed a very promising health benefit of being a vegetarian: an enviably lower blood pressure than your omnivorous friends.
The publicist for an organization called the Physician's Committee on Responsible Medicine emailed me to ask if I'd like to talk with Barnard about the research, and I always do want to talk about food research, so I did. High blood pressure shortens lives and contributes to heart disease, kidney failure, dementia, and all sorts of bad things, so any reasonable dietary way to treat or prevent it is worth considering. We've known for years that vegetarianism and low blood pressure are bedfellows, but the reason for it hasn't been clear.