Forks over Knives documentary

Forks over Knives’ is an American documentary that explores the effect of reducing the animal protein in a person’s diet and the health benefits that can give. On the face of it, you might think it would be a polemic pushing an ethical eating agenda but, in fact, it has a very different message. Although the contributors to the documentary do discuss animal welfare, the message they impart is about human health. The documentary explains that there is extensive scientific research that shows that a diet that contains more than 10% animal protein carries a large increased risk in cancer. I checked for supporting scientific evidence for such a bold claim and found that there is a lot of evidence supporting that view. Here’s a useful link at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

‘Forks over Knives’ throws up some fascinating nuggets of information. It paints a picture of a food industry that is wilfully ignoring the scientific evidence in pursuit of profit. For example, it shows that the American Dairy industry that has worked hard over decades to persuade people to drink milk because it contains beneficial calcium. This is a commonly held view but the documentary points out a sad biochemical fact. Extensive milk consumption acidifies the body (note that this acidification is occurring at the protein level and so is unaffected by the food passing through a person’s acidic stomach). The body must therefore find a way to neutralise this acidification and does this by taking calcium from the bones. The net result, therefore, is that drinking milk can increase the risk of osteoporosis.

This was a big surprise to me. I thought it was a good idea to check 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.

So far, that agrees with the documentary. After that helpful statement, the remainder of the article then becomes very carefully worded. They 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. They even admit (indirectly through a link) that greens and spinach can supply the calcium and magnesium needed by the body. So, in one sentence, that dairy industry site agrees that a high protein diet can leach out calcium from the bones and a high veg diet can fix that problem, and that’s a dairy industry comment!

I strongly recommend that everyone watch ‘Knives over Forks’. I think the documentary makers have struck an excellent balance between solid science and accessible, human stories. The 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), the incidence of heart disease (influenced heavily by a high animal protein diet), osteoporosis, a variety of cancers and other illnesses would be greatly reduced.

One lingering thought has haunted me after seeing this documentary. If we could reduce our diets to 10% animal protein or less and phase out alcohol and refined-sugar consumption, the positive effect on our health and the cost of healthcare would be incredible. It would transform the quality of our lives. I can’t put a figure on the reduction it would bring in the big killer diseases in the Western World as a result but this link to the (so far proven) connections between alcohol and cancer, for example, gives an indication.

Please watch ‘Knives over Forks’. It could transform your life.