I heard about Forks Over Knives when it came out. I wanted to see it, but it just never happened. So with our streaming Netflix account now set up, I finally sat down and watched it. It’s in a similar vein as Food, Inc., but is focused on the health ramifications of different diets. Specifically, it points out mountains of evidence, much of it compiled by doctors who both grew up on dairy farms, that a diet heavy with animal products generally leads to diminished health, whereas a diet rich in plant foods improves health. Some of the case studies and anecdotes provided in the movie are striking. People change their diets and improve their health enough to quit taking prescription drugs, lose weight, and feel better than they ever have.
I read and hear a lot about the many virtues of a vegan-or close to vegan-diet and the damage caused by meat and dairy. I’ve been on board with cutting down on meat for a while, but no one had ever convinced me that dairy isn’t a good idea. Forks Over Knives made me think again about my milk, yogurt and cheese intake. The movie points out that milk, long called “nature’s perfect food” is the perfect food if you’re a rapidly growing calf. They point to multiple studies that found a diet of 5% animal protein led to vastly decreased incidence of cancer growth in both rats and humans. By my own unscientific calculation, that’s approximately one serving of milk, butter, yogurt or cheese a day. A diet of 20% animal protein, on the other hand, corresponded with much more cancer growth. Calculating based on this amazing infographic, that’s totally within the American diet (the meat, eggs, nuts & dairy categories account for 27% of the calories on the most recent information).
Obviously, the counter to this is that dairy gives us protein and calcium. I mentioned protein last week, so I’ll refer to Grist’s series on the subject. The calcium piece is counterintuitive. Dairy, it seems, causes a kind of acidosis in the body, which the body fights by neutralizing the acid. To do this, it draws on its most readily available source of calcium—you guessed it, bones. Making matters worse, milk fat blunts the acid in the body, so when you remove the fat, the acid is that much more potent. Crazy, right? Oh, and you can get calcium from leafy greens. Bring on the kale!
Needless to say, I really, really recommend seeing this movie. The explanations are clear and accessible, and more scientific than mine. There are a lot of numbers and statistics, but they’re presented with compelling stories so the movie is entertaining and informative. I’d say what Food, Inc. did to shed light on industrial food production, Forks Over Knives does to show the effects of an industrialized diet and the relative simplicity of the solution. After all, “eat fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes” is so simple it seems too good to be true.