Lately I have had a few patients tell me they are giving up dairy, saying “we are the only species that drinks another species’ milk.” They committed to this idea after seeing the documentary “Forks over Knives.” I finally had a chance to watch it, and here are my thoughts.
The movie recommends a plant-based diet and claims this diet will reverse disease, improve health and help the environment. Hard to argue with that! We should all be eating more plants, more fiber, less saturated fat, and less processed foods.
But, is all animal protein evil, including fish and 1% milk? It is true we are the only species that drinks another’s milk–we are also the only species to build jets, space shuttles, cars, iphones (thank goodness), and cook our food. If people can afford it, organic and especially grass-fed sources of animal protein are a worthwhile choice for the environment and your health (not due to the nutrient content but the lack of hormones and antibiotics). But not everyone can afford to shop at Whole Foods Market, which is prominently featured in “Forks over Knives.”
What’s the problem with eating fish? Especially wild-caught varieties, if you can happen to afford them? What’s the problem with a piece of string cheese, Greek yogurt, or an egg?
The movie seems to constantly muddle CORRELATION with CAUSATION. Any student who took any epidemiology class can tell you there is a HUGE difference. Just because heart disease happened to drop in Norway while meat intake dropped does not mean that animal protein (a very broad category) causes heart disease. It was wartime. There were so many other factors changing at the exact same time between 1940-1945, how can you pin something on just a decreased intake of animal protein?
And why oh why does the movie group fatty hot dogs and bacon EQUALLY with lean turkey breast or salmon? These are not the same! One group is high in saturated fat and sodium….fatty processed meats (which are indeed correlated with increased risk of many diseases). But wild-caught salmon increasing your risk? Boneless skinless chicken or turkey?
I was at a conference on diabetes last week, and the main nutrition speaker recommended switching patients to a diet with 50 grams of fiber a day, entirely plant -based, and the speaker herself was a vegan. I think that is a fine goal, but one that most people I meet with are not able to follow. Most people aren’t even able to get to 10 grams a day! (We should be eating at least 25-30 grams a day, by the way).
The points the movie makes about the corrupt politics that formed the “Dietary Guidelines of America” are accurate according to reputable authors like Marion Nestle, whose book “Food Politics” explains how these guidelines were also shaped by the money of big food corporations that hired powerful lobbyists. Hence, you will not see something like “Eat less butter” in the guidelines…rather they will talk about something obscure like “limit your saturated fat” which is useful to hardly anyone.
For me, the movie was great in pointing out rates between the Western diet and disease rates. But you know what they say about statistics, right. After all, “Forks over Knives” is a movie, not a 100% unbiased or balanced portrayal. The Western diet is associated with many lifestyle diseases. But for someone who isn’t ready to become vegan or give up dairy, I think that person can still find plenty of ways to improve their diet. Like, the Meditteranean diet!
It’s not so black and white…Western Diet vs Vegan Diet. There are thousands of variations in between the 2 extremes of eating complete processed crap and eschewing all animal products 100%.
I had the same criticism after seeing “Supersize Me.” One could also go to McDonald’s three times a day and get oatmeal, water, fruit smoothies and salads…but that wouldn’t have had the exciting results Morgan Spurlock experienced after eating huge amounts of fatty meats, salt and sugar thrice daily.
I loved seeing people get off their multiple meds. But, you can do this without becoming 100% vegan. People on the “Biggest Loser” do it in a very short time every season as they radically change their lifestyle.
I remember I was a vegan for 3 days about 12 years ago, but I just couldn’t keep it up. I really admire people who are able to maintain a vegan diet!
In all, I think the message of the movie was great–almost all of us should be trying to eat a more plant-based diet. But some of the “facts” reminded me of swiss cheese.
Let me know your thoughts if you saw “Forks over Knives!”