I finally got to see the documentary Forks Over Knives that has been out for months. The film is about how diet can stop and even reverse some diseases, and about the dangers of animal products. I read The China Study, by Colin Campbell Ph.D. (who is featured in the film), almost 3 years ago. Since then, our family has eaten much less animal products–we only eat meat about once a month and we cut way back on dairy. But the film featured other doctors (Caldwell Esselstyn, John McDougall, and Pam Popper) as well as plenty of anecdotal evidence from individuals who changed their diet to treat cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It was highly motivating and I found it really enjoyable.
The film had a good balance of scientific research and anecdotal evidence. I will mention a bit of the most impressive research.
- Dr. Esselstyn, a heart surgeon, was struck early in his career about this study, and I have to say it floored me too–in the 1920′s and 1930′s in Norway, heart disease was on the rise. During WWII, Germany invaded and confiscated all the livestock to feed themselves, leaving Norweigans to eat plant-based foods. The number of deaths from heart disease plummeted, only to rise again when the occupation ended. Very interesting!
- Dr. Campbell duplicates Indian research showing that when rats are expossed to the carcinogen Aflotoxin, the growth of their tumors can be controlled by the minipulation of their diet. Rats fed 20% casein (dairy protein) had rapid tumor growth, while rats fed 5% had none. Rats on the 20% diet switched to the 5% diet saw their tumors shrink. Notable is that the group with no tumor growth did not have no casein at all, but 5%. Perhaps a strict avoidance of dairy is not necessary and considerable reduction is sufficient?
- Dr. Esselstyn takes a group of heart disease patients who have had multiple heart attacks and are basically knocking on death’s door. He puts them on a plant based diet. A few drop out over the years, but after two decades, 18 are still in the group and all are alive. Eleven of them have stopped their heart disease progression and four have reversed it.
- Dr. McDougall notes that in Hawaii, the immigrants from Asia are trim and healthy. Their children, born on the island, tend to eat more fast food and animal products, and are “fat and sick.”
- Joey Aucoin has hypertension and diabetes, as well as a list of 27 complaints including insomnia. He visits a doctor that puts him on a whole food, plant-based diet. In 22 weeks, he sees 26 of his complaints disappear. He loses weight. He no longer needs his medication he was previously taking (which cost him over $100/month after insurance).
- Ruth Heidrich, a serious runner, is diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s. She has the cancer surgically removed, then adopts the plant-based diet and passes on chemotherapy. Her physicians recommend rest, but she feels so energetic that she completes an iron man race. Now she is in her 70s and continues to run marathons and triathlons.
- Evelyn Oswick had two hearts attacks and was told she didn’t have much longer to live. She gave up her love of sweets to adopt the plant-based diet and twenty years later is alive and well.
- A fireman in Texas with a cholesterol level of 340 changes his diet and sees his cholesterol drop more than 100 points in a few weeks.
Most interesting is that all the medication that doctors promote for many of these conditions cannot produce the drastic effects that a diet change can. Also interesting is that the plant-based diet can repair the epithelial wall of our blood vessels, so it can actually reverse heart disease. And since the plant-based diet supports the health of the vascular system, one of the elderly patients noted that it was also like nature’s Viagra.
While very convincing, there were a few holes in the film. They talked about how refined sugars and oils need to be eliminated from the diet, but didn’t really dive into why (the focus was mostly on animal products). They showed many people who believed that we need lots of protein to be healthy (and where best to get protein than from animal products?) but then didn’t demonstrate that there is sufficient protein in plant-based foods or that perhaps we don’t need as much protein as previously thought. They also didn’t demonstrate that there is adequate calcium in plant based foods.
When the film was finished, I was left wondering how much diary would comprise 5% of total calories in a 2,000 calorie diet. I was left wondering if a significant reduction in animal products would produce the same results as complete avoidance (in fact, many studies suggest this). I was wondering why olive oil was evil. And what about nuts or fats? There was no mention of how to get healthy fat on a plant based diet, nor if supplements might be necessary. What about omega-3′s? And probiotics?
But the whole-foods, plant-based dishes they showed in the film did look delicious. It certainly was a very thought-provoking, motivating film. Definitely worth watching–especially with friends or family whom you can discuss the film with afterward.
Want to learn more? Check out this fantastic, thorough review that really examines the validity of the science behind the film. I don’t have the time to examine this in detail myself, but it really does raise some interesting questions.