What Not to Add to White Rice, Potatoes, or Pasta

What Not to Add to White Rice, Potatoes, or Pasta.jpeg

Rice currently feeds almost half the human population, making it the single most important staple food in the world, but a meta-analysis of seven cohort studies following 350,000 people for up to 20 years found that higher consumption of white rice was associated with a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, especially in Asian populations. They estimated each serving per day of white rice was associated with an 11% increase in risk of diabetes. This could explain why China has almost the same diabetes rates as we do.

Diabetes rates in China are at about 10%; we're at about 11%, despite seven times less obesity in China. Japan has eight times less obesity than we do, yet may have a higher incidence of newly diagnosed diabetes cases than we do--nine per a thousand compared to our eight. They're skinnier and still may have more diabetes. Maybe it's because of all the white rice they eat.

Eating whole fruit is associated with lower risk of diabetes, whereas eating fruit processed into juice may not just be neutral, but actually increases diabetes risk. In the same way, eating whole grains, like whole wheat bread or brown rice is associated with lower risk of diabetes, whereas eating white rice, a processed grain, may not just be neutral, but actually increase diabetes risk.

White rice consumption does not appear to be associated with increased risk of heart attack or stroke, though, which is a relief after an earlier study in China suggested a connection with stroke. But do we want to eat a food that's just neutral regarding some of our leading causes of death, when we can eat whole foods that are associated with lower risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and weight gain?

If the modern diabetes epidemic in China and Japan has been linked to white rice consumption, how can we reconcile that with low diabetes rates just a few decades ago when they ate even more rice? If you look at the Cornell-Oxford-China Project, rural plant-based diets centered around rice were associated with relatively low risk of the so-called diseases of affluence, which includes diabetes. Maybe Asians just genetically don't get the same blood sugar spike when they eat white rice? This is not the case; if anything people of Chinese ethnicity get higher blood sugar spikes.

The rise in these diseases of affluence in China over the last half century has been blamed in part on the tripling of the consumption of animal source foods. The upsurge in diabetes has been most dramatic, and it's mostly just happened over the last decade. That crazy 9.7% diabetes prevalence figure that rivals ours is new--they appeared to have one of the lowest diabetes rates in the world in the year 2000.

So what happened to their diets in the last 20 years or so? Oil consumption went up 20%, pork consumption went up 40%, and rice consumption dropped about 30%. As diabetes rates were skyrocketing, rice consumption was going down, so maybe it's the animal products and junk food that are the problem. Yes, brown rice is better than white rice, but to stop the mounting Asian epidemic, maybe we should focus on removing the cause--the toxic Western diet. That would be consistent with data showing animal protein and fat consumption associated with increased diabetes risk.

But that doesn't explain why the biggest recent studies in Japan and China associate white rice intake with diabetes. One possibility is that animal protein is making the rice worse. If you feed people mashed white potatoes, a high glycemic food like white rice, you can see in my video If White Rice is Linked to Diabetes, What About China? the level of insulin your pancreas has to pump out to keep your blood sugars in check. But what if you added some tuna fish? Tuna doesn't have any carbs, sugar, or starch so it shouldn't make a difference. Or maybe it would even lower the mashed potato spike by lowering the glycemic load of the whole meal? Instead you get twice the insulin spike. This also happens with white flour spaghetti versus white flour spaghetti with meat. The addition of animal protein makes the pancreas work twice as hard.

You can do it with straight sugar water too. If you do a glucose challenge test to test for diabetes, where you drink a certain amount of sugar and add some meat, you get a much bigger spike than without meat. And the more meat you add, the worse it gets. Just adding a little meat to carbs doesn't seem to do much, but once you get up to around a third of a chicken breast's worth, you can elicit a significantly increased surge of insulin. This may help explain why those eating plant-based have such low diabetes rates, because animal protein can markedly potentiate the insulin secretion triggered by carbohydrate ingestion.

The protein exacerbation of the effect of refined carbs could help explain the remarkable results achieved by Dr. Kempner with a don't-try-this-at-home diet composed of mostly white rice and sugar. See my video, Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape.

Refined grains may also not be good for our blood pressure (see Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs).

What should we be eating to best decrease our risk of diabetes? See:

And check out my summary video, How Not to Die from Diabetes.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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What Not to Add to White Rice, Potatoes, or Pasta

What Not to Add to White Rice, Potatoes, or Pasta.jpeg

Rice currently feeds almost half the human population, making it the single most important staple food in the world, but a meta-analysis of seven cohort studies following 350,000 people for up to 20 years found that higher consumption of white rice was associated with a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, especially in Asian populations. They estimated each serving per day of white rice was associated with an 11% increase in risk of diabetes. This could explain why China has almost the same diabetes rates as we do.

Diabetes rates in China are at about 10%; we're at about 11%, despite seven times less obesity in China. Japan has eight times less obesity than we do, yet may have a higher incidence of newly diagnosed diabetes cases than we do--nine per a thousand compared to our eight. They're skinnier and still may have more diabetes. Maybe it's because of all the white rice they eat.

Eating whole fruit is associated with lower risk of diabetes, whereas eating fruit processed into juice may not just be neutral, but actually increases diabetes risk. In the same way, eating whole grains, like whole wheat bread or brown rice is associated with lower risk of diabetes, whereas eating white rice, a processed grain, may not just be neutral, but actually increase diabetes risk.

White rice consumption does not appear to be associated with increased risk of heart attack or stroke, though, which is a relief after an earlier study in China suggested a connection with stroke. But do we want to eat a food that's just neutral regarding some of our leading causes of death, when we can eat whole foods that are associated with lower risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and weight gain?

If the modern diabetes epidemic in China and Japan has been linked to white rice consumption, how can we reconcile that with low diabetes rates just a few decades ago when they ate even more rice? If you look at the Cornell-Oxford-China Project, rural plant-based diets centered around rice were associated with relatively low risk of the so-called diseases of affluence, which includes diabetes. Maybe Asians just genetically don't get the same blood sugar spike when they eat white rice? This is not the case; if anything people of Chinese ethnicity get higher blood sugar spikes.

The rise in these diseases of affluence in China over the last half century has been blamed in part on the tripling of the consumption of animal source foods. The upsurge in diabetes has been most dramatic, and it's mostly just happened over the last decade. That crazy 9.7% diabetes prevalence figure that rivals ours is new--they appeared to have one of the lowest diabetes rates in the world in the year 2000.

So what happened to their diets in the last 20 years or so? Oil consumption went up 20%, pork consumption went up 40%, and rice consumption dropped about 30%. As diabetes rates were skyrocketing, rice consumption was going down, so maybe it's the animal products and junk food that are the problem. Yes, brown rice is better than white rice, but to stop the mounting Asian epidemic, maybe we should focus on removing the cause--the toxic Western diet. That would be consistent with data showing animal protein and fat consumption associated with increased diabetes risk.

But that doesn't explain why the biggest recent studies in Japan and China associate white rice intake with diabetes. One possibility is that animal protein is making the rice worse. If you feed people mashed white potatoes, a high glycemic food like white rice, you can see in my video If White Rice is Linked to Diabetes, What About China? the level of insulin your pancreas has to pump out to keep your blood sugars in check. But what if you added some tuna fish? Tuna doesn't have any carbs, sugar, or starch so it shouldn't make a difference. Or maybe it would even lower the mashed potato spike by lowering the glycemic load of the whole meal? Instead you get twice the insulin spike. This also happens with white flour spaghetti versus white flour spaghetti with meat. The addition of animal protein makes the pancreas work twice as hard.

You can do it with straight sugar water too. If you do a glucose challenge test to test for diabetes, where you drink a certain amount of sugar and add some meat, you get a much bigger spike than without meat. And the more meat you add, the worse it gets. Just adding a little meat to carbs doesn't seem to do much, but once you get up to around a third of a chicken breast's worth, you can elicit a significantly increased surge of insulin. This may help explain why those eating plant-based have such low diabetes rates, because animal protein can markedly potentiate the insulin secretion triggered by carbohydrate ingestion.

The protein exacerbation of the effect of refined carbs could help explain the remarkable results achieved by Dr. Kempner with a don't-try-this-at-home diet composed of mostly white rice and sugar. See my video, Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape.

Refined grains may also not be good for our blood pressure (see Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs).

What should we be eating to best decrease our risk of diabetes? See:

And check out my summary video, How Not to Die from Diabetes.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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Which Dietary Factors Affect Breast Cancer Most?

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One of my favorite cancer-specific charities, the American Institute for Cancer Research, lauds the China Study and the documentary Forks Over Knives, with which they share the same bottom-line message: The healthiest diets are those that revolve around whole plant foods.

They then translate that advice into their Ten Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, featured in my video Which Dietary Factors Affect Breast Cancer Most? We now have evidence that those who follow such advice are actually protected against cancer. Breast cancer risk was reduced by 60% in women who met at least five recommendations compared with those who met none. The most important dietary advice was to be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight, eat mostly foods of plant origin, and limit alcoholic drinks.

What about other cancers? Greater adherence to the AICR dietary guidelines was also associated with significantly less endometrial, colorectal, lung, kidney, stomach, oral, liver, and esophageal cancer. In other words, adherence to dietary recommendations for cancer prevention may lower the risk of developing most types of cancer. The drop in bladder cancer did not reach statistical significance, but a larger follow-up study following 469,000 people for 11 years (the largest to date) found that just a 3% increase in the consumption of animal protein calories was associated with a 15% higher risk of bladder cancer, whereas just a 2% increase in plant protein was associated with a 23% lower risk.

AICR recommendation number ten is that cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention. The same diet that can help prevent cancer in the first place can be used to help save our life after diagnosis. Adherence to the guidelines for cancer prevention was found to be associated with lower mortality among older female cancer survivors, or breast cancer and other cancers in general.

A cancer diagnosis is considered a teachable moment to get people eating and living healthier. Oncologists revel at the growth in the number of cancer survivors in this country, now ten million strong and growing. It's great that those with cancer are living longer, but even better to prevent it in the first place so we can all live longer. Not only does adherence to the guidelines lower cancer risk, but extends our lifespan because the guidelines are also significantly associated with a lower hazard of dying from heart disease and respiratory disease, suggesting that following the recommendations could "significantly increase longevity."

Just like eating to prevent cancer helps to prevent heart disease, eating to protect our heart helps prevent cancer. It sounds self-evident, but adherence to a healthy lifestyle is therefore associated with a lower risk of mortality overall. And the more healthy behaviors we have, the longer we get to live. Such factors included not smoking, walking every day, or eating green leafy vegetables almost daily.

To help differentiate the effects of diet from other lifestyle behaviors like smoking and drinking on cancer incidence, Adventists were recently compared to Baptists. Both discourage alcohol and tobacco, but the Adventists go further, encouraging a reduction of meat. In general, the Adventists had lower cancer hazard rates than the Baptists, and within Adventist populations, the vegetarians did even better, and those eating the most plants, did the best.

Why do plant-based diets appear to lower the risk of cancer? A number of fascinating mechanisms:

Specific to breast cancer:

Though plant-based beverages may be harmful: Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much Is Safe?

In terms of foods associated with breast cancer survival, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

Image Credit: MesserWoland

Image Credit: [Lev Kropotov] © 123RF.com

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Evidence-Based Nutrition

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Dr. Esselstyn's landmark study, demonstrating that even advanced triple vessel coronary artery disease could be reversed with a plant-based diet, has been criticized for being such a small study. But the reason we're used to seeing large studies is that they typically show such small effects. Drug manufacturers may need to study 7,000 people in order to show a barely statistically significant 15% drop in ischemic events in a subsample of patients. Esselstyn achieved a 100% drop in those who stuck to his diet, all the more compelling considering that those 18 participants experienced 49 coronary events (like heart attacks) in the eight years before they went on the diet. These patients were the sickest of the sick, most of whom having already failed surgical intervention. When the effects are so dramatic, how many people do you need?

Before 1885, a symptomatic rabies infection was a death sentence, until little Joseph Meister became the first to receive Pasteur's experimental rabies vaccine. The results of this and one other case were so dramatic compared with previous experience that the new treatment was accepted with a sample size of two. That is, the results were so compelling that no randomized controlled trial was necessary. Having been infected by a rabid dog, would you be willing to participate in a randomized controlled trial, when being in the control group had a certainty of a ''most awful death''? Sadly, such a question is not entirely rhetorical.

In the 1970's, a revolutionary treatment for babies with immature lungs called "extracorporeal membranous oxygenation" (ECMO), transformed immature lung mortality from 80% dead to 80% alive nearly overnight. The standard therapy caused damage to infants' lungs and was a major cause of morbidity and mortality in infants. ECMO is much gentler on babies' lungs, "providing life support while allowing the lungs to 'rest.'"

Despite their dramatic success, the researchers who developed ECMO felt forced to perform a randomized controlled trial. They didn't want to; they knew they'd be condemning babies to death. They felt compelled to perform such a trial because their claim that ECMO worked would, they judged, carry little weight amongst their medical colleagues unless supported by a randomized controlled trial. Therefore, at Harvard's Children's Hospital, 39 infants were randomized to either get ECMO or conventional medical therapy. The researchers decided ahead of time to stop the trial after the 4th death so as not to kill too many babies. And that's what they did. The study was halted after the fourth conventional medical therapy death, at which point nine out of nine ECMO babies had survived. Imagine being the parent to one of those four children.

Similarly, imagine being the child of a parent who died other conventional medical or surgical therapy for heart disease.

In her paper "How evidence-based medicine biases physicians against nutrition," Laurie Endicott Thomas reminds us that medical students in the United States are taught very little about nutrition (See Evidence-Based Medicine or Evidence-Biased?). Worse yet, according to Thomas, their training actually biases them against the studies that show the power of dietary approaches to managing disease by encouraging them to ignore any information that does not come from a double-blind, randomized controlled trial. Yet humans cannot be blinded to a dietary intervention--we tend to notice what we're eating--and, as a result, physicians are biased in favor of drug treatments and against dietary interventions for the management of chronic disease.

Evidence-based medicine is a good thing. However, Thomas points out that the medical profession may be focusing too much on one type of evidence to the exclusion of all others. Unfortunately, this approach can easily degenerate into "ignoring-most-of-the-truly-important-evidence" based medicine.

Heart disease is a perfect example. On healthy enough plant based diets, our number one cause of death may simply cease to exist. The Cornell-Oxford-China Study showed that even small amounts of animal-based food was associated with a small, but measurable increase in the risk of some chronic diseases. In other words, "the causal relationship between dietary patterns and coronary artery disease was already well established before Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn undertook their clinical studies." The value of their studies was not so much in providing evidence that such a dietary change would be effective, but in showing that "physicians can persuade their patients to make such changes," and in "providing interesting data on the speed and magnitude of the change in severe atherosclerotic lesions as a result of dietary therapy."

Therefore, any complaints that these studies were small or unblinded are simply irrelevant. Because the evidence of the role of diet in causing atherosclerosis is already so overwhelming, "assigning a patient to a control group eating the standard American diet could be considered a violation of research ethics."

Evidence of the value of plant-based diets for managing chronic disease has been available in the medical literature for decades. Walter Kempner at Duke University, John McDougall, the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, Nathan Pritikin, and Denis Burkitt all warned us that the standard Western diet is the standard cause of death and disability in the Western world. Yet physicians, especially in the US, are still busily manning the ambulances at the bottom of the cliff instead of building fences at the top.

If you're not familiar with Dr. Esselstyn's work, I touch on it in:

Sadly, medical students learn little about these powerful tools:

If you haven't heard of Pritikin, I introduce him here: Engineering a Cure

An intro to Dr. Ornish: Convergence of Evidence

Dr. Burkitt: Dr. Burkitt's F-Word Diet

The Cornell-Oxford-China Study: China Study on Sudden Cardiac Death

Dr. Walter Kempner: Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Living Longer by Reducing Leucine Intake

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Many studies have shown that calorie restriction, without malnutrition, can increase lifespan and lower the risk of age-related diseases, such as cancer.

However, for many people, calorie restriction clearly has its drawbacks. In the classic Minnesota Starvation Study, many of the volunteers suffered a preoccupation with food, constant hunger, binge eating, and lots of emotional and psychological issues. Even researchers who study caloric restriction rarely practice it. There's got to be a better way to suppress the aging engine enzyme, TOR (see Why Do We Age? for more on TOR).

That's why researchers were so excited about rapamycin, a drug that inhibits TOR, thinking it could be caloric restriction in a pill. But like any drug, it a long list of potentially serious side effects. There's got to be a better way.

The breakthrough came when scientists discovered that the benefits of dietary restriction may be coming not from restricting calories, but from restricting protein intake (See my video Caloric Restriction vs. Animal Protein Restriction). If we look at the first comprehensive, comparative meta-analysis of dietary restriction, "the proportion of protein intake was more important for life extension than the degree of caloric restriction." In fact, just "reducing protein without any changes in calorie level have been shown to have similar effects as caloric restriction."

That's good news. Protein restriction is much less difficult to maintain than dietary restriction, and it may even be more powerful because it suppresses both TOR and IGF-1, the two pathways thought responsible for the dramatic longevity and health benefits of caloric restriction.

Some proteins are worse than others. One amino acid in particular, leucine, appears to exert the greatest effect on TOR. In fact, just cutting down on leucine may be nearly as effective as cutting down on all protein. Where is leucine found? Predominantly animal foods: eggs, dairy, and meat (including chicken and fish). Plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, have much less.

"In general, lower leucine levels are only reached by restriction of animal proteins." To reach the leucine intake provided by dairy or meat, we'd have to eat nine pounds of cabbage--about four big heads--or 100 apples. These calculations exemplify the extreme differences in leucine amounts provided by a conventional diet in comparison to a plant-based diet. The functional role of leucine in regulating TOR activity may help explain the extraordinary results reported in the Cornell-Oxford-China Study, "since quasi-vegan diets of modest protein content tend to be relatively low in leucine."

This may also help explain the longevity of populations like the Okinawa Japanese, who have about half our mortality rate. The traditional Okinawan diet is only about 10% protein, and practically no cholesterol, because they ate almost exclusively plants. Less than one percent of their diet was fish, meat, eggs, and dairy - the equivalent of one serving of meat a month and one egg every two months. Their longevity is surpassed only by vegetarian Adventists in California, who have perhaps the highest life expectancy of any formally studied population in history.

This reminds of the study I profiled in The Benefits of Caloric Restriction Without the Actual Restricting.

Methionine is another amino acid that may be associated with aging. See Methionine Restriction as a Life Extension Strategy to find out which foods to avoid in that case. Both leucine and methionine content may be additional reasons why Plant Protein is Preferable.

Other reasons why those eating plant-based diets may live longer:

This all may help explain the results of Harvard's Meat and Mortality Studies.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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Why are Cancer Rates so Low in India?

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It is estimated that many tumors start around the age of 20. However, detection of cancer is normally around the age of 50 or later. Thus, it takes cancer decades to incubate. Why does it take so long? Recent studies indicate that in any given type of cancer, hundreds of different genes must be modified to change a normal cell into a cancer cell. Although cancers are characterized by the dysregulation of cell signaling pathways at multiple steps, most current anticancer therapies involve the modulation of a single target. Chemotherapy has gotten incredibly specific, but the ineffectiveness, lack of safety, and high cost of these monotargeted therapies has led to real disappointment, and drug companies are now trying to develop chemo drugs that take a multitargeted approach.

Many plant-based products, however, accomplish multitargeting naturally and are inexpensive and safe compared to drugs. However, because drug companies are not usually able to secure intellectual property rights to plants, the development of plant-based anticancer therapies has not been prioritized. They may work (and work better for all we know), and they may be safer, or even fully risk free.

If we were going to choose one plant-based product to start testing, we might choose curcumin, the pigment in the spice turmeric (the reason curry powder looks yellow). Before we start throwing money at research, we might want to ask some basic questions, like "Do populations that eat a lot of turmeric have lower cancer rates?" The incidence of cancer does appear to be significantly lower in regions where turmeric is heavily consumed. Population-based data indicate that some extremely common cancers in the Western world are much less prevalent in regions where turmeric is widely consumed in the diet.

For example, "overall cancer rates are much lower in India than in western countries." U.S. men get 23 times more prostate cancer than men in India. Americans get between 8 and 14 times the rate of melanoma, 10 to 11 times more colorectal cancer, 9 times more endometrial cancer, 7 to 17 times more lung cancer, 7 to 8 times more bladder cancer, 5 times more breast cancer, and 9 to 12 times more kidney cancer. This is not mere 5, 10, or 20 percent more, but 5, 10, or 20 times more. Hundreds of percent more breast cancer, thousands of percent more prostate cancer--differences even greater than some of those found in the China Study.

The researchers in this study, highlighted in my video Back to Our Roots: Curry and Cancer, conclude: "Because Indians account for one-sixth of the world's population, and have some of the highest spice consumption in the world, epidemiological studies in this country have great potential for improving our understanding of the relationship between diet and cancer. The lower rates of cancer may, of course, not be due to higher spice intake. Several dietary factors may contribute to the low overall rate of cancer in India. Among them are a "relatively low intake of meat and a mostly plant-based diet, in addition to the high intake of spices." Forty percent of Indians are vegetarians, and even the ones that do eat meat don't eat a lot. And it's not only what they don't eat, but what they do. India is one of the largest producers and consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables, and Indians eat a lot of pulses (legumes), such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils. They also eat a wide variety of spices in addition to turmeric that constitute, by weight, the most antioxidant-packed class of foods in the world.

Population studies can't prove a correlation between dietary turmeric and decreased cancer risk, but they can certainly inspire a bunch of research. So far, curcumin has been tested against a variety of human cancers, including colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast, prostate, multiple myeloma, lung cancer, and head and neck cancer, for both prevention and treatment. For more information on turmeric and curcumin, check out Carcinogen Blocking Effects of Turmeric Curcumin and Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death.

I'm working on another dozen or so videos on this amazing spice. This is what I have so far:

Amla, dried Indian gooseberry powder, is another promising dietary addition:

I add amla to my Pink Juice with Green Foam recipe. Not all natural products from India are safe, though. See, for example, my video Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse than Lead Paint Exposure.

More on the antioxidant concentration in spices in general in Antioxidants in a Pinch. Why do antioxidants matter? See Food Antioxidants and Cancer and Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease.

Which fruits and vegetables might be best? See #1 Anticancer Vegetable and Best Fruits for Cancer Prevention.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: peddhapati / Flickr

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