The war over good food, bad food grew larger when Forks Over Knives hit the movie theaters in 2011. Forks Over Knives, which means “use a dinner fork instead of going under the knife (surgery for chronic diseases)” contained some good information, some misleading information and left a lot of gaps in the research. So here are my good and bad impressions of this documentary.
The entire film was devoted to the supposed evils of animal based proteins. That’s right, all animal protein is bad. They didn’t distinguish between fish, red meat, packaged meats, turkey breast, free-range eggs, low fat dairy or any other type of animal protein. Instead, they lumped them into one large category of food you should avoid at all costs while adopting a plant-based diet. Go Vegan or Go Home!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables but I’m first and foremost realistic and research-based. In the words of my friend and amazing colleague Sally Hara, I can work within almost anyone’s food religion unless it is absurd and harmful to them. But, I will move clients in the right direction based their lifestyle, goals, medical history and training program.
That being said here are the gaping holes I found in this documentary:
China study – this study and others like it cannot prove cause and effect. Being longitudinal studies, they cannot answer the question “ does eating meat cause disease.” The film also failed to talk about any confounding variables. Were any other factors tied to disease – such as, obesity?
All animal proteins are bad. There are so many things wrong with this statement that I’m not sure where to begin. But, first and foremost, since I’m a fan of people being functional into old age, preventing osteoporosis and sarcopenia (the gradual loss of muscle mass with age), I know the power of protein and high quality protein – the kind that is easy to digest and gives muscle tissue the amino acids it needs. Which proteins are on the top the list? Dairy, whey, casein (both are dairy proteins), eggs and soy. In fact, if you are an athlete, mix and match these and you may get even better results according to ground-breaking research presented last month (pick up the June 2012 copy of Physique 3D for my article on this study).
Protein also keeps you satiated so you eat less – add protein to every meal and you may find over time that weight management is easier. Sure, they talked about stretch receptors in your stomach, but there’s more to satiety than just how full your stomach is (ask anyone on a fruit and vegetable fast, because the people who have done this tell me they are hungry all the time!). You will stay full for a longer period if you add a good quantity of protein to that veggie rich meal. And I’m not talking a measly 12 grams. Aim for 30 grams at each main meal (unless you are on a protein restricted diet for some reason).
What about colon cancer and meat? Valid point. But, it’s red meat, and possibly just the way you cook it that is the issue.
You Can Build a Strong Body on a Vegetarian Diet
In an attempt to tell us you can build a healthy, strong body on a vegan diet, the filmmakers gave us two examples, one was the firefighter son of one of the featured physicians. The other, UFC fighter Mac Danzig. I’ve worked with vegetarian athletes, including one who is at the top of his sport but he includes BCAA supplements, whey and eggs in his diet and I’m willing to bet that Mac adds BCAAs at a minimum. Can you perform well and get all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet? Possibly but, it depends on your sport, your body and your training. Check out Tony Gonzalez’s trial of veganism here.
Last I’ll leave you with the reaction of one of my friends after seeing this movie “those two physicians look emaciated. Do you think if they actually consumed some animal protein they may look healthier and have more muscle on their bodies?” Yep, I sure do.
In summary, I’m all in favor of adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Most of us do not get enough of these every day. I also think a vegetarian diet can be healthy if done correctly. However, this movie left glossed over the science (but, pay attention to what Connie Diekman says in it) and left many some very important points.
If you’ve watched Forks Over Knives, I’d love to hear your impression of this documentary!