Skip to main content

Our Misplaced Obsession With Protein: Garth Davis, MD On High Fat, Low Carb Diets, Bad Science & How To Separate Nutritional Fact From Popular Fiction

By May 31, 2015January 19th, 202439 Comments
Episode #150



This week marks the return of Garth Davis, MD — a veteran weight loss surgeon who took it upon himself to determine exactly why so many people are plagued by obesity.

A quest that led him down a deep research hole to identify the ultimate human diet to maximize and maintain weight loss; optimize human health; and prevent (and even reverse) lifestyle disease — both for himself and his patients (tune in to RRP 50 for our first conversation).

About 7 years ago, the good doctor became his own patient. At the time, he was suffering from high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a fatty liver. In other words, he was downright sick; headed towards a future plagued by obesity and chronic illness. Ironic, yes. But not surprising given the demanding hours of the surgeon lifestyle, lack of exercise, a preference for salty, fatty foods, and the convenience of fast food options in the hospital cafeteria. In fact, there was a Wendy’s in the University of Michigan hospital where Garth did his internship and residency, resulting in a daily dose of  double cheeseburgers — a habit he maintained for years.

Let’s just say I can relate.

Current conventional wisdom in his field is that overweight patients should adopt a very low carb, low to no fruit, high protein diet — hop on board the ketosis bandwagon. Like many, and without inquiring further, Garth simply bought into this idea as truth. He even wrote a book in 2007 advocating this approach to food, called The Experts Guide To Weight Loss Surgery*.

The only problem? This approach to diet failed him and many other friends, colleagues and patients. He knew there had to be a better solution. And his patients needed help beyond knee-jerk surgery. Finally ready for a personal change, he took it upon himself to research — truly research — nutrition for the first time.

…that’s what medical school does – it teaches you to treat symptoms; it doesn’t teach you to treat a larger cause; it doesn’t teach food as medicine.


His study became an obsession. The more he delved into the peer reviewed work, the more convinced he became that there is absolutely no legitimate science to back the long-term health claims surrounding the strongly held belief that if we want to be thin and healthy we should eat a high protein low carbohydrate diet.

What did he find? If we want to prevent obesity and disease; attain and maintain ideal weight management; and achieve true optimal health and long-term wellness, we need to embrace our inner herbivore.

Sound far-fetched? Before you balk, understand that (much like me) adopting a plant-based lifestyle absolutely revolutionized Garth’s health beyond what he could have imagined. Not only did he drop the weight that plagued him for years, all of his blood markers suddenly and quite magically normalized. His allergies vanished. His sleep improved, his energy levels skyrocketed and he got off his statin medications. In short, he finally began to walk his talk. As his life began to turn around, he wanted to be an example to his patients. For the first time in his life, he began exercising.

Then he did the extraordinary. Despite never having been an athlete, in 2011 he completed Ironman Texas in 12 hours and 6 minutes.

His personal results nothing short of extraordinary, Garth has become a crusader intent on teaching people real nutrition. I encourage you to peruse his Facebook page for a litany of highly entertaining and informative rants on how the internet pseudo-experts are manipulating the science to push high protein diet and how to parse fact from fiction in the scientific literature. Come October, you can get the full unabridged Garth in his new book, Proteinaholic: How Our Obsession With Meat Is Killing Us and What We Can Do About It*.

We need to embrace our inner herbivore.


Let’s face it. Most doctors are kind of boring. What really distinguishes Garth from the fray is his acute talent for effectively communicating his knowledge with passion and charisma in a way that catalyzes positive long lasting change — and that my friends is rare.

This is an in depth exploration of all the questions that profoundly confuse the mainstream. Subjects I get asked about everyday, such as:

  • the scientific truth behind low carb, high fat diets;
  • the health implications of the ketosis lifestyle;
  • the pitfalls of reductionist food science;
  • the impact of politicized regulatory bodies and lobbyists on medicine;
  • the nutritional benefits of a plant-based lifestyle;
  • the relationship between meat intake and diabetes
  • what’s the deal with gluten? (his opinion on this might surprise you);
  • plant-based versus paleo;
  • the relationship between saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes; and of course
  • the differences between animal and plant protein and the impact on muscle protein synthesis

Dr. Davis is nothing if not outspoken. His position is unequivocal.

Bottom line? I wanted this show to be the one podcast that would cut through the morass of confusion and hype surrounding popular diet trends and set the record (and my perspective) straight. Let’s just say Dr. Garth delivers, and then some.

This is one for the ages. I sincerely hope you enjoy the conversation.

Peace + Plants,

Listen, Watch, & Subscribe

For 1000s of delicious, customized plant-based recipes & so much more, check out our Plantpower Meal Planner.

Find Garth: The Davis Clinic | Facebook | Twitter

Pre-order Garth’s new book: Proteinaholic: How Our Obsession with Meat Is Killing Us and What We Can Do About It* (Release date Oct 6, 2015)

Notable People Discussed in today’s podcast:

Patronize Our Sponsors: For a complete list of all RRP sponsors and their respective vanity URLs and discount codes, click “Sponsors” here.

*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.


  • Rasmus Arme says:

    This is brilliant! Grounding and illuminating.

  • Cindy says:

    I am so glad he is back !!!

  • Susan Caputo says:

    Loved this talk!! Question! I’ve been hearing a lot about the local, small, sustainable, etc.. farms. Is it healthy to get your eggs from there? Milk? Meat? I am primarily vegan-ish (I do my best and have leaned towards more of a vegan lifestyle since I was 12 years old); maybe once a month I’ll eat fish, once every other week a couple of eggs with yolks, never dairy. Do these farms provide us with truly good nutrition or is it unnecessary?

  • Probably the best interview I’ve heard. Dr. Garth covered just about every myth out there about plant-based nutrition. Definitely sharing.

  • Gene Villeneuve says:

    I always love the Rich Roll podcasts and enjoy the ideas and being challenged. While I am not a protein fan I do question the gluten comments in this podcast… but only speaking from my own experience. I’m not a doctor/scientist so can only speak about my journeys with gluten. Last year I moved to Europe and began eating a lot of the great bread one finds here in Paris… I went from 155lbs to 165lbs in 5 months despite running/walking more than I had before moving to Europe and then at Christmas 2014 I said I need to stop this. I got a blood test and saw that my cholesterol levels had also gone up, still way below the averages but higher than I had ever seen. So I cut out all gluten and dropped from 165lbs to 147lbs in about 8 weeks. If I accidentally eat gluten I get really sick now. I won’t go into details but I get sick, irritated, and inflamed. I got a blood test in May 2015 and my cholesterol levels are the lowest they’ve ever been and my C-Reactive protein is down to .40 so really low. All I did is cut out gluten. I still eat rice and potatoes and have always been avoided refined sugar. I eat about a 90% plant based diet and have for most of my life… and have always kept my weight somewhere between 145-155lbs… at 6ft in height pretty lean.

  • bj007 says:

    It’s good that all veggies suits the two of you – but is it too much to ask that you consider that there are some bodies that will do well with a balanced diet of veggies and animal protein vs all veggies? I’ve healed my body from severe allergies, skin rashes, poor circulation, fatty/sluggish liver, kidney disease, and heart disease by eating a balanced diet of veggies and meat and skipping the high processed foods. But I respect the food choices made by my friends who eat vegan and would never try to convince them or anyone else to follow my personal diet. Respect other perspectives and practices that are different from your own; otherwise you’re just as ignorant as those touting the super high protein diets that you say are not healthy.

  • Lawson says:

    I am currently an epidemiology graduate student, and Dr. Garth speaks my language and clearly knows what he is talking about. Thank you Rich for introducing me to this guy. I am making the move to a plant-based diet.

  • Nicholas Puente says:

    good stuff bro! one thing I would ask for is to talk about recipes. You often talk about decision fatigue. An average person says ‘for breakfast my go to is eggs, for lunch its chicken sandwich, for dinner its spaghetti and meatball’
    The response to them is ‘ ok you can eat any of that’
    Its like putting a person in the middle of the woods at night and telling them to get home without a flashlight or a map

    These aren’t just the foods they eat cause they are hungry they eat them because they taste good
    The converted know there are delicious plant based meals out there, the average person doesn’t know where to start.

    Long story short,I bought the cookbook and love it, but I also love when Timothy Sheif says ‘baked sweet potato and dates is my go to’
    It doesnt have to be a big long story just a little insight.

    Keep up the excellent work Rich!

  • Lance Mateas says:

    Great interview! Loved the first one, liked his response to Dave Asprey at MBG. Congrats on getting into Costco! Keep up the good work.

  • Angie says:

    The Best interview. Ever. My two heroes! I wish everyone had to listen to this, and that they would just simply smarten up. Its difficult for people to shift a paradigm, and I think that is the real reason it will take long for the world to wake up to the wisdom Dr. Davis shares here. I can’t wait for his book. Good work, Men!!!!

  • Steve says:

    Dr. Garth is awesome. One of my favourite guests. Can’t wait for the book!

  • Tommy F says:

    There’s nothing more refreshing than hearing an enlightened health advocate speak the truth regarding nutrition. Particularly one that sees so many sick patients and how changing their diets improves the symptoms. What a different world we’d live in, if nutrition was taught in medical schools. Doctor’s are really smart people.. Equipping them with nutrition knowledge, would only serve to make our world a better place for human bodies to thrive in.

  • claes jansson says:

    Great talk! Amazing how you could cover so many topics in one go.

  • Claudia Black says:

    Another amazing and wonderful interview. Truly enjoyed the insights of Dr. Davis. I cut out meat a year ago and have never felt and looked better. He is so dead on! The number one comment I always get “But what about your protein! You need to eat chicken to get your protein.” And despite the fact that they see how healthy I am and I’m a busy mom, largely involved in my kids schools, a runner, … they still question my plant-based nutrition. When I’m in the schools I’m so fed up to see the milk posters and constant repeat of chicken lunches. Great great podcast Rich! Keep up your amazing work!!!!

  • Doug Burghart says:

    Amazing interview of all topics. Real eye opener.

  • Troy Delaney says:

    I was really looking forward to this episode to get some non-biased clarification but was severally disappointed. I love the podcast and love rich’s work but there were a lot of discrepancies in what Dr. Garth said.

    Dr. Garth never discussed the QUALITY of the meat eaten in the studies mentioned
    and whether this would matter. From a Paleo perspective, this makes a huge
    difference in health and longevity.

    Dr. Garth mentioned that carbs won’t turn into fat until glycogen
    reserves are completely full but how often does the average person do enough
    intense exercise to deplete glycogen reserves? I have a feeling it’s not very

    For some reason Dr. Garth lumped a ketogenic diet with a high protein
    diet when it’s almost impossible to be ketogenic eating high protein due to gluconeogenesis (i’m surprised he never mentioned this).

    He mentions that cooking meat leads to the creation of carcinogens which is true if the
    meat is burnt but this same thing can happen to vegetables. If I over cook
    homemade sweet potato fries, they will contain the same/similar carcinogens.

    He goes on to say that fiber is more satiating than protein. If I eat a
    one pound salad one day and then the next day a one pound omelet (or
    equivalent calories), I am positive I will stay full longer after the

    The last thing I wish you guys would have covered is why people are feeling so good and getting such mental clarity after a high-fat breakfast if it’s bad for you. I know after I drink a high-fat coffee (not Bulletproof but similar), I feel great.

    The sad thing is that most of your audience is probably not familiar with these nuances and probably accept his comments as fact. Leaving out important details like this and not giving the full story just adds to the nutrition confusion. He seems like a very smart guy with a lot of experience but these nuances discredit a lot of what he said.

    Overall, I agree we need to eat more plants and stop sensationalizing high-protein diets (for longevity purposes). I hope the issues I mentioned are addressed in a future episode.

  • Lisa says:

    EVERYONE needs to decide for themselves what diet they need or want to follow. Search your heart and follow your conscious if your diet follows your beliefs and is working for you go ahead and keep at it. Maybe be open minded no science or study is perfect, only you know how you feel about your choices and can decide to make the ones you are ok with.
    I don’t think we will ever know empirically what diet is BEST and everyone reacts differently.
    Unfortunately many choices are gravely affecting our planet and psyche.
    The item in this talk that really gets me is that doctors do not get nutrition or whole body training. I hope Dr. Garth and others like him can affect this change.

  • SEO says:

    I felt the need to comment on this podcast, but Troy Delaney has said (almost) everything I wanted to say. Based on Rich’s description at the beginning of the episode, I really was hoping for a reasoned defense of veganism. Even though I expected it to be from a particular perspective (plants good, meat bad), Dr Davis went into attack mode from the beginning and I was immediately put off. His assertion that “THEY” know nothing about statistics, and “THEY” don’t know how to read science, etc came off as childish taunting and frankly can’t possible apply to everyone who disagrees with him that the only way to health is a purely plant based diet. I happen to have a doctorate in physiology; doesn’t make me an expert on nutrition, but does make me take offense to those kinds of comments.
    In addition to what Troy said, I would like to say:
    I agree that eating a diet primarily based around quality non starchy vegetables with lots of fiber works best for most people; so would most of the “Paleo” people I read/listen to agree. Nobody up to date on nutrition is advocating factory farmed meat; I listen to a variety of nutrition experts, some scientists some not (like Rich, for example) and haven’t heard anyone recently suggest we should get the majority of calories from protein.

    I could be a “vegan” and eat peanut butter and jelly on white bread every meal…are you going to tell me that would be a healthier choice than a diet of fresh eggs, grassfed bison, wild caught fish and a variety of vegetables? Of course not.

    The “plant-based” vs standard American diet is a nonsense argument in this context and for the kind of audience who would be listening to this podcast. If you can point me to a study that directly compares a diet of high-quality plant foods to that exact same diet with high quality animal proteins added…I will listen.
    There is some convincing evidence that grazing animals for food, in place of acres and acres of mono-culture crops, could be an environmental plus. See “Soil Carbon Cowboys”

    I’m not saying Dr. Davis is “wrong” necessarily, just that I was so turned off by the attitude and the false comparisons he was making, that I had a hard time taking it seriously.

  • purpleski says:

    Thanks for an inspirational discussion. Have preordered the Garth Davis book, just wish Plantpower way book was available on Kindle here in the UK.

  • Garth Davis says:

    You have brought up good points Troy. I think quality of meat does matter a bit but not as much as much as you would expect. Studies on Gauchos in Argentina, and Kirghiz tribes, show that they still suffer more cancer, obesity and heart dz despite eating exclusively grass fed meat. Game may be even better. Kangaroo meat seems to be less inflammatory but ALL still have HCA with cooking, even if not burned. You note that vegetables form HCA when burned but this is not true.

    As far as the satiety, this was based on several good studies by Holt and Rolls. The key is not just satiety but satiety per calorie. When tested, potatoes were the most satiating. Studies I have seen have NOT shown clarity with fats.

  • Garth Davis says:

    Our discussion was not meant to be an attack on you but I am in attack mode because I do see so many sick people suffering due to poor information. As a specialist who studies extensively I cannot believe the misinterpretation of the science . Yes, as I said above, there is some benefit to grad fed and wild meat, but it is not as much as you would expect. Besides, grass fed meat is only 2% of meat eaten. I am not saying you have to be vegan. I am saying that the obsession with protein that causes us to eat billions of cows and chickens and pigs is dangerous.

  • Troy Delaney says:

    I understand and respect your stance. You are looking at the big picture
    – we eat way too much (poor quality) protein as a human population. Very true.

    But I think rather than blaming meat/protein/fat as the problem (when in many cases, these foods make people look, feel and perform great), let’s attack the REAL root cause: PROCESSED FOOD and FACTORY FARMED MEAT.

    Re the burnt vegetables, I feel you are misdirecting my comment.
    I never claimed charred vegetables form HCA; I said they form something
    similar (like benzopyrenes). Are you saying that charring vegetables are
    not harmful?

    By leaving details like this out misguides many people and leads to more confusion.

    Ultimately, I believe supporting local farms (whether it’s a cattle farm or a vegetable farm) is the answer.

  • Lorra says:

    This is one of the best interviews I’ve ever heard.

  • Nige says:

    if you follow the trend its really about the moralistic aspects as well, I think that Rich takes a very relaxed approach to toleration compared to many Plant Based/Vegan people. I think the point here could be that you could of achieved the same results with no meat. A plant based diet is not really just about vegetables, i would probably eat no more vegetables than you, (in fact you would need to eat more than me just to get enough fibre to deal with the meat). If you subbed out the meat for legumes and quinoa etc you might find it works for you, I find that most people that say they cant cut out meat have never really seriously or properly done it, it took me about 18 months after going mainly plant based to completely remove it.

  • Nige says:

    coming from a country (NZ) that is all about the grass fed meat, I can tell you that it is destroying our environment. Our fresh water ways are polluted to the point that we are not even allowed to take fresh water fish from them anymore.

  • Nige says:

    When you started talking about Fiber I literally cheered while I was running down the road, i get so sick of this Carb Vs Fat thing all the time with little or no understanding about Fibre. On the starch solution you get so much fiber you feel satiated, happy and healthy all the time, the desire for fat and animal products is zero.

    This was a truly great interview and its so awesome to be able to get this sort of information so that I can lead people to the information rather than trying to convince them myself.

    Also it makes my long runs super enjoyable 2 hours blinks by!

  • Tom McGowan says:

    Rich, Love this interview and really like Dr. Davis’s straight talk on what is healthy and what is not. You have had a number of cardiologists on the podcasts and they have provided some incredibly helpful information on why a plant based diet is unquestionably the best diet for heart health. However, you also have had a number of “ultra endurance” athletes on your podcast and I think you should address the evidence/studies that indicate that there are some serious adverse cardiovascular effects from “ultra” endurance training. You can start by checking out Dr. James O’Keefe, M.D., Preventive Cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute. He has a Ted talk and an video interview that I suggest people listen to when they get a chance. There are many websites that address this issue and cite specific health studies. If the goal is to be healthy, I think people should learn about these dangers as well as the benefits to a healthy plant based diet.

  • Sandra Bertolero says:

    Great interview. We usually address the issue of improving our eating habits but how about increasing our consumption of water. Unfortunateyl, now a days most kids drink lots of sodas and ” healthy” drinks that are loaded with sugar…..

  • Mara More says:

    Awesome! Peace, love, joy, fruit! ☮♥☺☼Ⓥ

  • Brian Humphrey says:

    Better the 2nd time around!! I thought I knew a lot about nutritional science but Dr. Davis really touched on a lot of key topics: carbs, the kreb cycle, and ketoacidosis! Love it!! By far on the best interviews this year on exercise and nutrition! Thanks Rich!

  • This interview was nothing short of amazing! My wife and I have followed the recommendations Dr Davis outlines since ~2008 but mostly due to anecdotes and gut feeling. This interview really solidified the protein myth with science, making it far easier to share this information effectively.

    I have countless people in my circles that live and die by protein. I have always wanted to give advice but, without any convincing evidence, the argument is a difficult sell.

    Best part of all, I now have a much better answer for the “where do you get your protein?” question which gets fielded about 3 times a week.

    Can’t wait to share this and read the upcoming book. A+ guys!

  • Simon Kinsler says:

    Probably my favourite episode so far. I look forward to hearing and reading more from Dr Davis.

  • angelica says:

    This was a great one Rich! I’ve been vegan for nearly three years, I’m at an ideal weight but I like a strenuous workout as often as my kids allow and seems I crave dense, protein filled snacks and meals often. Although, I know not to worry about my protein intake too much, its always on the back of my mind (as it should be, along with many other nutrients) because I workout and want to gain muscle and be stronger, not loose weight. After reading a post by a weight-lifting, plant-strong female athlete I follow on FB, I caved and recently bought a container of a good quality protein powder but this episode has eased my mind and will be sure to use the powder sparingly, only when really needed…or not at all, maybe just hemp or chlorella/spirulina…eek. Thanks RR! Absolutely, love the show and your mission.

  • drphibes says:

    Great show. Regretfully, he had to get political at the end and call questioners of global warming “anti-intellectual”.

  • Dan Loghry says:

    Phenomenal Rich and Dr. Davis! Planning on taking this to all of my Friends and Family- This message should be broadcast on Network TV and Radios across the World.

  • Really says:

    Blue zoners eat meat.

  • Kayla C says:

    I loved this interview. Being a vegan, it was amazing to hear that a lot of great science backs up this lifestyle. But I still have trouble explaining to my organic, grass fed/ wild game eating friends WHY cutting meat out completely is superior to eating mostly plant based with these high quality meats. I was really hoping Garth would touch on this and refer me to a good study comparing the two.

  • Nate justice says:

    I love this guy and I love this episode. Great information! Thanks Rich and Dr. Garth!

Leave a Reply