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Documentary: Forks Over Knives



I would say I live a pretty healthy lifestyle. I work out 4-5 times a week, try to limit my sugar intake, and whenever possible select fruits and veggies, lean protein, and whole grains over processed foods. I am sure there are plenty of ways I could improve my diet and lose that last 5 pounds, but overall I practice moderation, and I thought this was serving me well. Then I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and I feel betrayed by everything I've been taught about eating and health. 

Here is the quick and dirty:

The documentary is mostly based on the work of two researchers, Drs. Colin Campbell (PhD, Cornell) and Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. (MD, Cleveland Clinic). For the past six decades this cardiologist and nutritional scientist have researched the connection between what we eat and health, specifically cardiovascular health and cancer. Their findings are astonishing.

Both doctors were raised on dairy farms and believed in conventional nutritional teachings -- protein, especially animal protein, was crucial to the health and wellness of the body. But as their careers and researched progressed, both realized (independently) that the over-consumption of animal proteins was the main cause of both heart disease and cancer. Yes, that's right CANCER!

While both doctors' research was compelling, I found Dr. Campbell's on cancer life-changing

Basically the man argues that he has discovered how to turn off cancer! Now, he admits we can't cure all cancer, it is still genetic and we all have cancer in our bodies (abnormal cells), but our diets are igniting potential cancerous cells. While researching nutrition in the Philippines, Dr. Campbell discovered an Indian study that experimented with the rate of cancer in rats when fed varying percentages of an animal-based protein diet. The results were simple -- when fed a diet of more than 20% animal protein the rats had evidence of liver cancer, those that were fed a diet of 5% animal protein didn't. This sparked Dr. Campbell's interest and he spent the next four decades researching in conjunction with Chinese scientists in China to find out if this correlation between animal proteins and cancer was also true in humans (side-note "the China Study" is a fascinating historical endeavor of its own, you can read more here). Guess what? It was. Communities in China that ate more animal-based proteins had higher rates of cancer.

Dr. Esselstyn's findings were similar, diets of 5% or less animal protein could prevent and even reverse cardiovascular disease! So why didn't I know this and why are we told that lean animal protein is healthy? Not to mention, my go-to, lose-weight diet is high protein, low carb! I feel misinformed! 

Basically the reason this simple panacea isn't common knowledge is because of, what else, politics. Livestock and dairy are big business in the U.S. and have been for quite some time. And the interests of these groups have been driving policy and guidelines and funding research that supports their claims. As a historian, I also think there is an interesting cultural component to the consumption of meat. The ability to eat meat has long signaled wealth and prosperity in societies.

While I was angry about what I've been taught, I was also relieved at how easy the solution is. Both doctors say that if you want to drastically, I mean drastically, lower your cancer risk (along with a host of other health problems), all you need to do is eat a plant-based, whole food diet where 5% (or less) of your daily calories comes from animal-based proteins, meaning you should drastically limit or eliminate meat, dairy, eggs, and cheese. Basically this is what vegans have been doing all along. 

So am I going vegan? Honestly, I am thinking about it! But why did I have to see this documentary on the eve before I departed for Italy???? This diet lifestyle will be more difficult in Italy, but I will have better access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables and whole grain pasta is not off limits (#yaasss). I am going to experiment and take it slow, cutting animal protein wherever and whenever I can. I think the research here is too provocative to ignore and it's not like cutting animal proteins from my diet will harm me, it can only help!


Has anyone else watched this documentary or read about this research? What do you think?


PS - If you want to research this more, here is Dr. Campbell's book and here is Dr Esselstyn's.

QuickEdit
Ashley B
16 Comments
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16 comments:

  1. Ah! You and I are in the midst of similar journeys! I transitioned to vegetarian a few months ago and I am in the process of switching to plant based. Forks Over Knives is amazing. You should also check out Kris Carr's website. She's plant based and has halted/decreased her terminal cancer for the last 10 years by going plant based!

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    1. So happy to hear I am not alone, I get a lot of mixed reactions here in Italy lol. I will definitely take a look at Kris Carr's site, it sounds inspiring! Thank you!

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  2. It's amazing how much the food we consume can affect whether or not we're prone to certain diseases. I've been currently re-evaluating my food intake (don't we all after the first of the new year?) and trying to focus more on fruits/veggies. If you end up going vegan, I'd love to see some of the recipes you try.
    -Alex
    www.monstermisa.blogspot.com

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    1. Don't worry Alex, I started a Pinterest board!

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  3. Hi Ashley! Forks Over Knives has completely changed my life and eating habits. Here are some other Netflix documentaries you may find interesting:
    Vegucated: I don't like this movie's use of meat substitutes (vegan cheese, vegan "sausages", etc.), but there some interesting information nonetheless. There's an investigation of social factors of veganism (support of family/friends) which is definitely relatable, as many people in our lives may not understand our choices. Also, I never thought I'd become an ethical eater or consumer, but after this movie I give a great deal more consideration to purchasing leather goods. Beware, there is a small amount of footage of animal slaughter.
    Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead: I'm not an advocate of long-term juicing or juice fasting, but a nice portrait of how diet can change our lives and our futures.
    The Perfect Human Diet: This movie advocates meat consumption through an evolutionary perspective. Given how many resources are used to produce meat, there is no way we'd be able to feed the entire world enough meat to be this movie's definition of healthy. However, as a fellow academic, I think you'd appreciate this opposing view.

    I am sure you will soon see an onslaught of readers' recommendations for books, movies and articles!

    I wish you the best in Italy. You may see some dietary challenges, but take care to be gentle with yourself.

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    1. Thank you so much, these recommendations look great! It will definitely be a challenge here but I appreciate the support!

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  4. I haven't seen this documentary yet, but I've been slowly moving towards a more plant-based diet over the past few months. My motivation has actually been both financial and preferential. I just don't find large amounts of meat appealing, but I also don't have the desire to cut it out altogether. As for financially, meat ends up being a huge cost on your grocery bill, and substituting other forms of protein allows you to substantially cut down on grocery costs.

    Please share about your experience as you try to make these changes while in Italy! It's nice to have other people to look to when making changes in my own life and sharing in some struggles as well.

    Sarah
    Sweet Spontaneity

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    1. Thanks Sarah, I will definitely share how this goes in Italy. So far I have been successful, but then again it's been 2 days. I am not sure if I will go 100% vegan or limit my intake to 5% of my daily calories.

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  5. What about Dunkin? It's all about the cream!

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    1. I know it is and I love it. Hopefully I can break my bad habit while I am away and get in the habit of having one a couple a times a week and stay in that 5% ratio. So far in Florence I have not had one cappuccino! I think I am going to try to only have one once or twice a week. Wish me luck!

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  6. Great movie! that was one that started me on my journey towards eating the way I do. I'm not vegan, but I do eat mostly vegetarian. I can't remember the last time I cooked meat at home! I would also recommend Vegucated (Netflix!) and then the Ted Talks about food. I also recently read Meatonomics, and found that to be super interesting. I believe it's all about eating real, whole foods, mostly fruits and veggies. Sure, a steak every now and again is okay, but in the US we are taught that we need to eat SO MUCH MEAT- when in reality, we don't need it! It's all comes down to money and power...Anyhow, I would actually trust the meat products in Europe WAY more than in the US, but regardless, there's just no need to eat that much! I'm glad you watched the movie! Can't wait to follow your time in Italy!

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    1. Like you, I doubt I will go 100% vegan all the time and for the rest of my life. I think the 5% ratio seems do-able -- just enough to indulge every once in a while. Thanks for the words of encouragement, recommendations, and for following along!

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  7. Is this documentary looking at protein consumption in general (hormone additives and all) or all natural/ no hormone added animal products? My family has greatly benefited from switching to "unprocessed and hormone free" animal products such as eggs, milk, and meats. Its crazy how such small changes can have such a great impact on your health and overall well being. This post has definitely peaked my interest and I plan to look into this further!

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    1. Great question, they were only looking at the natural animal protein, which is called casein. They weren't even factoring in everything we do to our animal products, which is very scary if you think about it! You should definitely look into it, I was very shocked by the research.

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  8. There's no question that eating more vegetables is good for you, and I'm not an expert in this field, nor am I claiming to be. However, I would encourage you to do more research before you drastically alter your lifestyle on the advice of the limited sample set of scientists above. In my senior year of college, (I have a biology degree) one of the students did a presentation on the exact research that you referenced above, and my professor (who's been a research scientist for over 60 years) almost failed him because the studies he'd cited were so poorly designed,and the reasoning so shaky. Maybe I'm just overly skeptical, but I've seen too many 'scientific studies' that aim for shock value and disregard basic and important research principles along the way.

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    1. No, I think it is good to be skeptical. But hopefully the way I am approaching it (not extreme) can only improve my health even if the science turns out to be problematic. Although the simple reasoning - eat more natural foods - seems like excellent dietary advice that would, in any case, lower your risk of cancer and other health problems. Thanks!

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