Last night we went to see Forks Over Knives, a documentary describing the life journeys of several ordinary people, scientific researchers, and medical doctors. The researchers discovered and demonstrated that eating a diet of whole, plant based foods and eliminating or greatly reducing animal foods (meat, dairy products, and eggs) can control or reverse a range of degenerative diseases. The medical doctors applied this finding in the treatment of their patients, getting them off medications and into vibrant, glowing health. The ordinary people were the patients who benefited, including people like Ruth Heidrich, a marathon running cancer survivor who switched from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to follow Dr. John McDougall‘s recommendations 25 years ago after her cancer diagnosis and then continued training and winning races. Or Joey Aucoin, who went from five medications and two injections every day to losing weight, beginning to exercise, and feeling great. Or Lee Fulkerson, the maker of the film, who dropped his cholesterol from over 200 to 154 without any medication at all.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn conducted research into the effects of animal- and plant-based nutrition. Dr. Campbell discovered that by controlling the animal protein as a percentage of calories fed to laboratory rats, he could turn on or turn off cancer growth. Low levels of animal protein (5% of calories consumed or less) turned off cancer growth. Higher levels (20% or more) turned it on. Through the China Study, Dr. Campbell showed that a similar relationship holds for human nutrition as well, based on examining diets and disease rates in 65 rural counties of China.
Dr. Esselstyn started out with 18 cardiac patients who had been told to go home and die by their cardiologists. By adjusting their nutrition, he was able to arrest their heart disease and in some cases reverse it. All of the participants outlived their original doctors’ predictions for their survival. Perhaps the most amazing outcome Dr. Esselstyn achieved was reversing the heart disease of Dr. Joe Crow, a colleage of Dr. Esselstyn’s at the Cleveland Clinic. At 47, Dr. Crowe had a heart attack and almost died. By following Dr. Esselstyn’s dietary recommendations, Dr. Crowe reversed his heart disease and cleared his arteries of blockage.
In the 1970s, Dr. John McDougall worked on the Hamakua sugar plantation in Hawaii. He observed that first generation immigrants from traditional Asian cultures were trim, healthy, and functional into their 80s and 90s. Second and third generation immigrants were fat and sick like the rest of Americans. What was the difference? The first generation had learned a plant-based eating style in the culture they grew up in. When they came to the U.S., they brought their approach to eating with them. The second and third generation adopted the eating style of their adopted culture — lots of meat, dairy, and eggs, fast food, and refined and processed products.
The movie touches on the other reasons for adopting a plant based diet besides one’s own health — reducing harm to animals and saving the planet from the environmental catastrophes we are creating — but the main emphasis is on the health effects of plant based nutrition.