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Vegetarian Movie 'Forks Over Knives' Critically Reviewed


Story at-a-glance -

  • The new vegetarian movie, Forks Over Knives, claims that chronic disease can be controlled and reversed by rejecting animal-based foods, but this advice could put the health of many at risk
  • Valuable nutrients, including saturated fats, vitamin B12 and sulfur, are found in animal-based foods are common deficiencies in those choosing to eliminate animal foods from their diet
  • Most people need animal foods in their diet to stay healthy, but this doesn’t have to be meat, as organic cage-free eggs and raw dairy are other healthy animal foods

By Dr. Mercola

I'm a major fan of documentaries that attempt to set the record straight by busting prevalent dietary dogmas that are harming human health; Fast Food Nation and Sweet Misery are among my favorites. Forks Over Knives, however, will not be added to that list, as I believe it is sending a message that, although well-intentioned, has the potential to damage many people's health and even contribute to chronic disease.

If you have seen "Forks Over Knives" movie or your friends or relatives have, I highly recommend reading the carefully-researched critical review of the film posted by Denise Minger, as it explains in detail how the film "deftly blends fact and fiction."

The key problem with the film is this:

"Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods."

Rejecting processed foods is a health goal I can wholeheartedly agree with. But if you decided to eliminate all animal-based foods from your diet as well, I believe there is a strong likelihood you're risking long-term health complications.

Your Body Needs Animal-Based Foods

First let me point out that I said "animal-based foods" -- not "meat" -- intentionally. I do believe that naturally raised, organic meats can be quite healthy when they're cooked properly (which is lightly or not at all), but I do not believe that everyone needs to eat meat to stay healthy. There are plenty of other animal-based foods that you can include in your diet if you have a moral or philosophical objection to eating meat, such as free-range eggs, raw dairy products and omega-3 fats from krill.

I believe virtually everyone benefits from some animal protein, and I speak from experience, not only with previously vegan and vegetarian patients, many of whom I saw drastic health improvements in with the addition of dietary animal foods, but also with myself.

Like many, I tried a mostly vegetarian diet in the mid-80's (based on the theories presented in Fit for Life) because I thought it would improve my health. Unfortunately it didn't. After a few weeks of following the Fit for Life approach  I was stunned to discover my fasting triglycerides had skyrocketed from below 100 to nearly 3,000! Clearly this diet was NOT right for me and was rapidly causing damage to my body. 

So, I had to reevaluate …

Vegetarian? Vegan? You Need to Know This About The China Study

One of the major storylines in Forks Over Knives follows the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of the book The China Study. Many who hold strict vegetarian views still hold up The China Study as the authoritative "proof" that eating meat was harmful, but I and many other nutrition experts believe this work has some fundamental flaws.

For starters, the very title of the book is inaccurate and misleading. It is not a study but a comprehensive set of observations. While this approach can be valuable, it can never prove Campbell's assertion that animal protein should be avoided, as he never tested that theory on real live patients ... The data from Dr. Campbell's China study was first published in the tome Diet, Life-Style and Mortality in China. It contains several thousands of statistical correlations, which Campbell insists show that animal protein intake is convincingly associated with prevalence of cancer.

For a detailed review of the China Study you can review my previous article on it, however, it's important to realize two things:

  1. Since The China Study was an observational study, correlations deduced from it do not -- in fact, cannot -- prove causation. As Dr. Michael R. Eades, M.D. has pointed out, all you can really do with data from an observational study is to form a hypothesis, which must then be tested in randomized, controlled trials, to ferret out the truth about whether or not x actually causes y.
  2. In many cases, the data (presented in arduous detail in the book Diet, Life-Style and Mortality in China) do not show statistically significant correlations between animal protein consumption and disease such as cancer at all. On the contrary, it would seem that sugar and carbohydrates are correlated with cancer -- not animal protein. In addition, the data indicate that fat is negatively correlated with cancer mortality, which again contradicts the claim that meat is harmful.
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Observations on Tens of Thousands of Patients Contradict China Study Findings

Dr. Eades has been in full-time practice of nutritional and metabolic medicine since 1986, and like myself, has treated tens of thousands of patients. He and I have never met and do not personally know each other. However, we both started our medical practices about the same time and were both passionate about helping people with nutritional interventions and helping them with alternatives to drugs and surgery.

We had no predisposition to the outcome and were impartial observers to the results of our nutritional interventions. We were both busy clinicians and never had the luxury to take months out of our lives to publish our observations in the medical literature. Nevertheless the lack of publications does not make the observations any less valid.

Interestingly we both observed the same results, namely that large numbers of sick people failed to improve when they implemented vegetarian or vegan diets.

This shocked us, as we were initially compelled by many of the arguments that Campbell makes and believed that all our patients should have improved on this regimen. Initially I questioned their compliance and believed many of them were "cheating." But after this started happening to more and more people, it became clear this approach was flawed.

Interestingly, Campbell, on the other hand, is not a practicing physician and has no real-world experience to support the veracity of his nutritional recommendations for the population at large.

Plant-Based Diet? Great Choice, As Long as it Doesn't Exclude This …

Forks Over Knives smartly uses the term "plant-based diet" as opposed to vegetarian or vegan diet, which allows them to appeal to a much broader audience and avoid many of the stereotypes associated with the latter terms. But it is also somewhat misleading, because "adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet," as "Forks Over Knives" movie suggests, is obviously healthy!

Virtually anyone who replaces fast-food burgers and junk food with fresh vegetables is going to see an improvement in their health initially, as plant foods are an excellent choice if you value your health. I have long stated that vegetables, and particularly raw vegetables, should be a large part, if not the majority, of your diet and are preferable to sugars, grains and obviously to junk food and fast food. This is one of the reasons why I believe many can benefit from vegetable juicing, because it allows you to get more plant-based foods into your daily diet.

So by all means, base your diet on whole, fresh, organic vegetables! However, be sure you are also including the foods that will allow your body to receive valuable saturated fats, vitamin B12, animal-based omega-3, and sulfur -- namely animal foods!

Sulfur Deficiency, a Commonly Overlooked Pitfall of Avoiding Animal Foods

Sulfur is derived almost exclusively from animal protein such as fish and high-quality (organic and/or grass-fed/pastured) beef and poultry. Meat and fish are considered "complete" as they contain all the sulfur-containing amino acids you need to produce new protein. Needless to say, those who abstain from animal protein are placing themselves at far greater risk of sulfur deficiency.

Why is this important?

Because sulfur deficiency is pervasive, and may be a contributing factor in:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Chronic fatigue
  • And more

As recently explained in my interview with Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a professor at MIT, overall sulfur appears to be a highly underestimated molecule with vast health implications. It plays a vital role in the structure and biological activity of both proteins and enzymes, and if you don't have sufficient amounts of sulfur in your body, this deficiency can cascade into a number of health problems as it will affect bones, joints, connective tissues, metabolic processes, and more.

Other areas where sulfur plays an important role include:

  • Your body's electron transport system, as part of iron/sulfur proteins in mitochondria, the energy factories of your cells
  • Vitamin-B thiamine (B1) and biotin conversion, which in turn are essential for converting carbohydrates into energy
  • Synthesizing important metabolic intermediates, such as glutathione
  • Proper insulin function. The insulin molecule consists of two amino acid chains connected to each other by sulfur bridges, without which the insulin cannot perform its biological activity
  • Detoxification

Final Recommendation

This is obviously a very sensitive issue for many. It has been my experience that many make choices to eat certain foods based on philosophical or intellectual reasons. While I believe that should always be an important part of the process, I believe it is equally important to listen to the important feedback that your body provides you when you consume a certain diet.

If your current diet allows you to function at the highest level of energy and fitness and you rarely feel hungry or crave sweets that is a fairly good sign that you are eating food appropriate for your nutritional type.

However if you are struggling with health challenges and have rigidly adhered to a diet that severely limits or avoids animal protein, because you believe you should or you are choosing it for ethical reasons, then I would encourage you to consider changing your diet to include some animal proteins.

Just be honest with yourself and objectively evaluate your body's response. Your body is the most awesome instrument to make this assessment. Ultimately it is the best resource and far superior to anything you read on the Internet or in any published study.

Please feel free to use our free Nutritional Typing Test as tool to help you explore what foods you were designed to eat.

So my final words are to trust the body God gave you to tell you the truth.

+ Sources and References