Forks over Knives is an American documentary film, available on forksoverknives.com. It explores the effect of reducing the animal protein in a person’s diet. In particular, it shows the health benefits that such a change can give to a person. The documentary doesn’t push an ethical eating agenda. Instead, it explains that a diet that contains more than 10% animal protein carries a large increased risk in cancer. It gives a lot of clinical evidence to support that view. Here’s a useful link to another article making this case, at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Forks over Knives paints a picture of a food industry that wilfully ignores scientific evidence in pursuit of profit. In the case of milk, the programme shows that the American Dairy industry worked hard, over decades, to persuade people to drink milk because milk contains beneficial calcium. This is true; milk does contain a lot of calcium, but the documentary points out a sad biochemical fact. Our digestive system has a hard time absorbing calcium from milk because we don’t have the same digestive enzyme as a baby cow. When we consume milk, acidic milk proteins enter our bloodstream. Our bodies must then find a way to neutralise this acidification, since the Ph of our blood needs to be carefully managed by our bodies. Our bodies are forced to reduce the acidity by taking calcium from our bones. The net result is that drinking milk can actually increase the risk of osteoporosis. This was a big surprise to me when I read it. I therefore checked for references supporting this view. So far, I’ve found this dairy advice link run by the U.S. Mid Atlantic Dairy association. The wording of the article is fascinating. I had to read it several times to try and understand what it was saying. Here is what it says about acidity and calcium loss:

When protein intake is very high, this causes an excess of acid production in the body; an excess protein intake is considered “acid-forming.” Body chemistry is very sensitive to what is called pH, or the acid/base relationship. The body’s chemistry cannot work well unless the pH balance is maintained within very strict limits. What this means is that if what you eat is acidic or generates acidity, then your body has to neutralize the blood to keep the pH balance where it needs to be. Calcium is used to neutralize the extra acid that is formed in the body, and this calcium is coming out of your bones. When blood is too acidic, calcium inside the bones is released into circulation to neutralize the excess acidity and to maintain a healthy pH level. When calcium intake is not adequate, a high-acid diet can lead to bone loss over time.

The statement does agrees with what was stated in the documentary. The article then goes on to say, as far as I understood, that there’s no conclusive evidence that drinking milk causes osteoporosis and milk does contain calcium and vitamin D which help deal with calcium deficiency. The dairy association even admit (indirectly through a link) that greens and spinach can supply the calcium and magnesium needed by the body. Bizarrely, the dairy industry site seems to agrees that a high protein diet can leach out calcium from the bones. In addition, they admit that a high veg diet can fix that problem… and that was from the dairy industry!

After watching the documentary, I was spurred on to find more evidence that a diet lower in animal protein was a healthy choice. After some work, I found a New Scientist magazine article that reported on a study by the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California. The authors wanted to see if diet and lifestyle could reduce or revert cell-ageing in 10 men in their early sixties with prostate cancer. The subjects were, to quote:

‘asked to follow a strict healthy-living regime rather than take a course of drugs. They ate a meat-free diet, did exercise and yoga daily and went to weekly group therapies. After five years, the telomeres on a type of white blood cell were 10% longer on average in these men. In contrast, 25 men with the same condition who kept to their usual lifestyles saw the telomeres on these cells shrink by an average of 3% over the same period.’

Telomeres sit at the end of the chromosomes in our cells. They hold information on how our cells should function. They seem to act as a biological clock, shortening in length as the cell ages. There’s a lot of evidence to indicate that people with short telomeres are likely to contract several major diseases – heart disease, dementia and cancer – and live shorter lives. It’s therefore fascinating to see that a meat-free diet (along with exercise, yoga and therapy) can actually reverse telomere degradation. Ten people isn’t a big study group but the fact that their telomeres actually increased in length (i.e. their cells effectively got younger), is difficult to view as just coincidence.

There are lots more articles out there and they seem to come to the same conclusion. A healthy diet is one that only includes a small portion of animal protein.

Summing up

Returning to the documentary, Forks over Knives isn’t a dry, dieticians’ talking-heads documentary. It tells the stories of many people and how they were able to improve their health significantly by reducing their meat intake. It also adds excellent scientific information. It creates a good balance between solid facts and engaging personal accounts. I strongly recommend that everyone watch ‘Knives over Forks’. Its overall message is hugely important. If people generally limited the animal protein in their diet to 10% or less (remember that vegetables and nuts contain lots of protein), it will have widespread benefits. The incidence of heart disease, osteoporosis, a variety of cancers and other illnesses, would be greatly reduced. Please watch ‘Knives over Forks’. It could transform your life.