Eric Adams Promotes Vegan Diet Over Taking Prescribed Diabetes Meds in New Netflix Doc

In "You Are What You Eat," Adams says he didn't take medication for type 2 diabetes and instead reversed it with diet—a dangerous recommendation at odds with what he's said in the past.
Eric Adams
Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

In You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment, a new documentary airing on Netflix, New York City mayor Eric Adams promotes not taking medication for diabetes and instead adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet—a potentially deadly recommendation rejected by both the director of the documentary and the expert who designed the study on which it’s centered.

In the documentary, he says he didn’t take prescribed medication for diabetes and instead treated himself by changing his diet. This conflicts with a different version of the same story Adams told in a 2020 book he wrote, in which he describes the “upset stomach and general fatigue” medication gave him. Charles Lutvak, a spokesperson for the mayor, did not answer questions about which version was accurate, but did provide comment after this story was published, which is reproduced in full below.


Earlier this week, Adams claimed that a story he told in a 2009 book about shooting a gun in school as a young man wasn’t true, blamed an unnamed ghostwriter (the book has no co-author credited), and said that the book had never been published (a reporter presented him with a physical copy of it).

You Are What You Eat, which has ranked among the top five most-watched shows on Netflix in the U.S. since debuting last week, tracks a study, designed and conducted by Stanford nutrition scientist Christopher Gardner, of 21 pairs of identical twins. It compared the effects of a vegan diet to those of an omnivorous one over a period of eight weeks by randomly assigning one from each set of twins to a vegan diet and the other to an omnivorous one designed to be equally healthy. Along with depicting four sets of those twins as they adjust to their new diets, the documentary—which heavily advocates for veganism on health, environmental, and ethical grounds—also features interviews with experts involved with the study, activists, entrepreneurs, and prominent advocates for plant-based eating including New Jersey senator Cory Booker, chef Daniel Humm, and Adams.

In an interview, Adams tells a version of a story he has many times before, about how he was diagnosed with diabetes and told that within a year he could expect to go blind and have fingers and toes amputated. In his telling, Adams—who at the time ate a diet heavy on processed meats—searched the internet for “reversing diabetes,” which led him to Dr. Michael Greger, who’s also interviewed in the documentary. Greger’s advice, he says, changed his life.


“It was really amazing to me when you look at all of the scientific evidence that is hidden in plain sight,” says Adams. “You know the old Greek term, ‘Let food be thy medicine, let thy medicine be food.’ And I decided I wanted to use the power of food, ‘cause I was really reluctant to have to use insulin. But all the doctors I sat down with to get alternatives basically said, ‘Eric, this is your new norm.’ And one doctor, my endocrinologist, I remember sitting down with her, and she said it was impossible. And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to try.’ 

“When she saw my number reverse in my A1C, what is the, an indicator of your sugar level, she said, ‘Wow, the medicine must be working.’ And I remember placing all the medicine on the table, unused, and said, ‘No, I didn’t use the medicine. I went on a whole-food, plant-based diet.’”

This version of the story, which by implication presents veganism as a cure for diabetes and an alternative to prescribed medication available to anyone willing to do their own research, is significantly different from one he’s told in the past. In Healthy At Last: A Plant-Based Approach to Preventing and Reversing Diabetes and Other Chronic Illnesses, Adams’ 2020 book, he writes that he initially followed his doctor’s orders and took his medication, and only switched to a plant-based diet after visiting the Cleveland Clinic to consult with heart expert Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. After two months, in this telling, Adams lost 35 pounds, and subsequently visited his original doctor, whom he triumphantly told that he’d stopped taking his medication a month prior. (This version of the story accords with the one presented in a 2022 CNN op-ed, in which he wrote “it may not be possible for everyone to reverse a diabetes diagnosis with a lifestyle change or even with medication.”)


Lutvak, the spokesperson for Adams, said after this story was published that Adams “has always told his story consistently,” though he did not specify which of the conflicting versions VICE News provided to him was accurate. Adams has developed a reputation for telling conflicting or opaque stories about such subjects as whether or not he is actually a vegan; whether or not he lives in New York City; and the nature of his relationship to donors with ties to the Turkish government.

The idea that adopting a plant-based dietary pattern can, in concert with other lifestyle choices, prevent and aid in the management of type 2 diabetes and other illnesses—and can help a patient’s condition improve to the point where medicine proves unnecessary—is completely uncontroversial, and Adams’ book offers sound, useful advice.

In the Netflix documentary, though, Adams goes past advocating for a healthy diet, claiming he never took medication he was prescribed and that doing this is a good idea. It is, in fact, potentially lethal, putting Adams in a line with other politicians who have offered dubious public-health advice in recent years.


Lutvak denied that Adams said what he said, writing, “Please stop putting words in the mayor’s mouth.” In response to a follow-up question, he wrote, “In the quote that you sent, he describes his own experience. He does not say anything about what other people should do.”

Gardner, the Stanford scientist whose study was the subject of the documentary—but who did not have any role in the interviews done for it—was startled when presented with Adams’ quote. 

“The mayor does indicate that he didn’t take any of the medications that were prescribed,” Gardner wrote in an email to VICE News. “MOST people who are prescribed medicines should take them, and take all of them. In fact, even when prescribed, and prescriptions are filled, many people do NOT take all of their meds, and this can be problematic for their care.” He added that the real takeaway from what Adams had to say is that his doctor didn’t learn about nutrition in medical school—“a travesty.”

Kyle Vogt, the rich entrepreneur whose nonprofit Vogt Foundation helped fund the Stanford study and who is listed as the documentary’s executive producer, referred questions about whether Adams’ advice was dangerous and whether it was irresponsible to include it in the film to Adams and to the film’s director, Louie Psihoyos. (Vogt was most recently in the news when he resigned as CEO of Cruise, shortly after Motherboard reported that an executive with the company had omitted to mention that one of its purportedly autonomous cars dragged a pedestrian under its wheels for 20 feet when reporting the crash to the California DMV, which subsequently revoked Cruise’s license to operate self-driving vehicles. He did not reply to a question about his own investments in synthetic meat.)


“The film clearly states at the very beginning of the series to not use the film as medical advice,” Psihoyos, the director, wrote in an email. “Mayor Eric Adams not taking his prescribed diabetes medicine was his choice and nowhere was that recommended in the film by him or the filmmakers to not take their medication. I would recommend everyone to listen to their doctor and to upgrade their diet to increase their chances for a successful outcome.” He further disputed that the documentary or Adams advised anyone not to take medication for type 2 diabetes. 

Netflix did not respond to a message sent through its press portal.

Update, 10:04 a.m.: After this story was published, Lutvak, the Adams spokesperson, said that Adams wasn’t paid to appear in the documentary and provided the following statement:

Mayor Adams has advocated for healthy eating for nearly a decade and always been clear that people should be informed about what they eat and do what is best for their health. For him personally, that meant understanding that being a Black man put him at increased risk of diabetes, following the guidance of medical professionals, and switching to a plant-based diet — and that decision helped to save his life. He has always told his story consistently — in fact, many medical professionals recognize the importance of healthy eating to one’s overall health — and he has never advised the public to disregard the advice of their doctors. It is not only irresponsible but deeply harmful for this story to willfully misconstrue the mayor’s words and undermine what has become his life’s work of ensuring that the communities like his have the resources they need to stay healthy and live fulfilling lives.