Milton Mills on Optimizing Health with a Plant-Based Diet
by Julie Marshall
Milton Mills, M.D., practices internal medicine and critical care in underserved communities in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia. He advocates switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet and eliminating animal-derived dairy. As medical director of the nonprofit Center for a Humane Economy, he is currently leading a national campaign backed by 31 members of Congress to promote the free dissemination of plant-based alternatives to dairy (especially soy milk) in U.S. public schools. An impactful public speaker and preventative healthcare advocate, Mills has co-authored articles dealing with racial bias in federal nutrition policy. He graduated from the Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residency training at the University of California San Francisco, in Fresno, and Georgetown University Hospital, in Washington, D.C.
What prompted you to advise patients to go meat-and dairy-free?
I became a vegan in my late teens and that’s what led me to a career in medicine. Some friends in my [Seventh-day Adventist] church were making the switch, and I joined them. What happened was undeniable. I was sleeping better, I had high energy and I felt mentally clear. I wanted to study medicine to learn more about what else a vegan diet could improve.
What kinds of health issues can a vegan diet address?
A plant-based diet can address all of the major health issues. Cardiac disease is clearly shown to be directly related to eating animals because of saturated fats. There is a reason that patients recovering from heart events are medically advised to eat plants and eliminate meat, fish and poultry. One National Institutes of Health study shows that a vegan diet can even reverse heart disease.
Avoiding dairy addresses breast and prostate cancers, because dairy contains growth-stimulating proteins and hormones which signal growth, but not in a good way. When we are infants, we drink breast milk to stimulate growth, but as adults, dairy signals the growth of tumors, lipomas or cysts. And what is alarming to me is that Black men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than white men.
Type 2 diabetes likewise can also be avoided or reversed. I’ve had several patients who have been able to stop needing their medications. From my experience, a vegan diet also addresses autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and dementia. Animal protein carries hormones and saturated fats, which is arguably why we are seeing unnatural early puberty in our kids.
What are the common difficulties of switching to a meatless diet?
I thought that I would never be able to change, because my mom made the greatest pork chops. But as soon as I realized that the drive to eat meat is all about habit and is emotion-based, I asked God for help, and he answered. I advise my patients to find help for themselves on how to break their habit, too, rather than toy with it. If you are an alcoholic, do you allow yourself to only drink on some days? It’s also important to realize that we need calories for energy. Salads are great, but humans are not rabbits, and we need a variety of good protein sources, such as beans, grains, root vegetables and legumes. Being vegan is like sex, if you aren’t enjoying it, you aren’t doing it correctly.
How is a vegan lifestyle impacted by race, faith and animal welfare?
We know that more than three-quarters of Black people suffer medically from dairy, while our national school lunch program offers zero alternatives to dairy. That’s racial inequity. Growing up as a Black man in society and being constantly dismissed prepared me to not be afraid to be outspoken as an advocate for a plant-based diet. I have learned that as long as I form my opinions on science, ethics and morals, I can defend them without fear or shame.
On faith, if you read the Bible, it literally says humans are built to eat plants, which reaffirms that being vegan is spiritually healthy, too. And when it comes to animals, there is nothing more destructive and harmful to animals and humanity than factory farming. But most people don’t see it because we hide evils behind closed doors. When a creature feels pain and suffering because of humans, I think that comes back to us in different ways, and we all pay the price. But we can stop this type of evil and get ourselves incredibly healthy, too, by choosing to eat plants.
Julie Marshall is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine and works for the nonprofit Animal Wellness Action, based in Washington, D.C.