I have no doubt in my mind that a healthy diet has the power to enhance health and reduce our risk of developing chronic disease. So the movie “Forks Over Knives” pretty much had me at hello. Mostly anyway. The movie essentially made three points:
- Our modern diet is killing us.
- Many of today’s chronic disease can be prevented or reversed with a plant-based diet.
- That plant-based diet should be vegan.
I am 100 percent on board with #1 and #2, but not entirely with #3.
I have nothing against vegan diets. I think a balanced vegan diet can be a totally healthy way to eat, provided that the eater take precautions to protect against deficiency of those few nutrients (including vitamin B-12) that are difficult to get from non-animal food sources. However, I don’t believe that a vegan diet is the best diet for everyone. I also believe that some people might do very well on a vegan diet for a period of time, but then find that their dietary needs shift and that that same diet no longer works as well for them.
The movie featured a handful of people who turned their health around with a vegan diet. And these were extremely unwell people: We’re talking two heart attacks or multiple medications a day. They used a plant-based, vegan diet as a therapeutic diet. But the diet that helps you get well isn’t necessarily the exact same diet you need to stay well.
A vegan diet can be the right long-term diet for some people, sure. The movie also featured a vegan mixed martial arts fighter and a fit, healthy vegan fire fighter. However, there are plenty of fit, healthy people free of chronic disease who do eat animal foods. This movie does hold on to some ideas about cholesterol and saturated fat that are becoming outmoded.
In a nice little bit of synergy, I started reading Nourishing Wisdom on Friday. The book is very nicely making the point that there is no such thing as the “perfect” diet. The perfect diet for you will depend on a multitude of factors, including your age, gender, current health, life phase, stress level, geography, heredity, climate, time of year…and so on.
Trouble is, when people find a diet that is perfect for them, they tend to think that diet will be perfect for everyone. They project themselves and their experience onto other people, failing to see how unique each of us is. This is why you get such fervent advocates for such widely different diets (think raw food, paleolithic, macrobiotic, etc.). Each of those diets can be healthy, and each is the right diet for someone…but not for everyone!
When you read books like The Blue Zones, The Jungle Effect or Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, you’ll notice that when examining those areas of the world where traditional diets are still practiced, the rate of chronic disease is very low, and the population is often long-lived, the diets may vary from place to place, but they always have at least one thing in common: a lack of ultra-processed foods!
I feel like the strongest, most universally applicable points “Forks Over Knives” makes is the detriment of a diet high in ultra-processed food, and the benefits of a plant-based diet. Plant foods, especially vegetables, are generally lower in calories and higher in fiber and nutrients, especially those nutrients that can help prevent cancer. I eat quality (grass-fed and/or organic) animal protein, but I eat mostly plants. I consider my diet to be plant-based.
I highly encourage anyone who is interested in nutrition and health to see this movie, but don’t feel like you need to become a vegan to be healthy, unless you have reason to believe that a vegan diet is truly the right diet for you.