“Some people think a whole-food, plant-based diet is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme” – Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
I have previously mentioned that my choice to adopt dietary veganism was based primarily on the evidence presented in the documentary, Forks over Knives. I will discuss the research on meat consumption and the relationship with disease, particularly Cardiovascular Diseases, as well as the detriment of processed foods in this blog. The research surrounding dairy consumption and the relationship with disease, particularly Osteoporosis, as well as other health related risks associated with meat and dairy consumption will be the topic of my next blog.
To hear medical doctors and scientists alike explain the detriment to health associated with meat, dairy and processed food consumption is uncomfortable at best. I was astounded to learn that over several periods in history, where these products have been unavailable due to poverty, or eliminated due to wars, mortalities from chronic diseases, plummeted. When this trend was discovered and replicated in one of the largest studies of diet and disease in history, the China-Cornell-Oxford Project, the plant eating populations had significantly lower incidences of disease than their often affluent meat eating counterparts.
Similarly, I learnt whilst watching this documentary, that research was finding that proteins found in animal products promoted cancer growth, whilst proteins found in plants stunted and starved cancerous tumors. The World Heath Organisation recently published similar research about red and processed meats being carcinogenic to humans, that is, causing cancer, which was met with fierce opposition.
Finally, Cardiovascular Diseases, including Coronary Heart Disease, were being successfully treated in hundreds of patients in America, by a handful of doctors prescribing a whole-food, plant-based diet. A diet which is naturally low in fat, moderate in protein and high in carbohydrate.
I felt angry, how could I have been receiving nutritional recommendations through school and in various sources of media that were not based in science? I felt sick, how much damage had I already done to my health? I strictly counted calories, ate red meat for iron and protein, salmon for omega 3, drank milk for calcium and avoided carbs when I wanted to lose weight. At the time, I’d recently had a blood test that had revealed my iron was low and my cholesterol was high. Was I already developing some of the chronic diseases mentioned in the documentary? At the time, I felt I was being held hostage to my health. I knew that I had a family history of Heart Disease and Type II Diabetes. I didn’t want to change my lifestyle, but felt I had no choice. I’d always been extremely health conscious and couldn’t ignore the nutritional recommendations based on the foundation of such compelling evidence.
“What has happened to us? Despite the most advanced medical technology in the world, we are sicker than ever by nearly every measure” – Forks Over Knives
Admittedly, a lot of health information we receive is from the US of A, so it’s easy for us to sit over here, on the other side of the world, and think that this doesn’t apply to us. However, the most recent Australian Health Survey (AHS) published by The Australian Bureau of Statistics, which constitutes the largest and most comprehensive health survey conducted in Australia reported;
- ‘Meat, poultry and game products and dishes’ were consumed by around 7 out of 10 (69%) people on the day prior to interview, providing 14% of total energy intakes.
- Just over one-third (35%) of total energy consumed was from ‘discretionary foods’, that is, foods considered to be of little nutritional value and which tend to be high in saturated fats, sugars and salt such as alcohol, soft drinks, cereals and cakes.
- ‘Vegetable products and dishes’ were consumed by three-quarters (75%) of the population but based on people’s self-reported usual consumption of vegetables, just 6.8% of the population met the recommended usual intake of vegetables.
- ‘Fruit products and dishes’ were consumed by 6 out of 10 people (60%) overall on the day before interview. Based on self-reported usual serves of fruit eaten per day, just over half (54%) met the recommendations for usual serves of fruit.
- It is estimated that 62.8% of Australian adults are now overweight or obese, with this figure increasing over the past two decades (up from 56.3% in 1995). Additionally, biomedical results showed that being overweight or obese increased the risk of abnormal test results for nearly every chronic disease tested, even after age was taken into account.
- Cardiovascular disease remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide. In 2011, Cardiovascular Diseases were the leading cause of death for all Australians, representing 14.6% of all deaths registered in 2011.
I haven’t conducted an analysis of the relationships within this data, but I think it is fair to say that from those statistics, it would appear that our rate of overweightness and obesity (which is a primary risk factors for several chronic diseases) continue to climb, with our ever increasing demand for meats and processed foods, whilst our vegetable consumption is, let’s face it, appalling. It would be interesting to have statistics about dietary cholesterol and sugar consumption and how much nutritional fibre is within the average Australians diet. To make an inference from the above stats, our cholesterol and sugar is likely to be dangerously high, and our fiber, less than optimal. Our health as a nation really is as dire as it is in the US, which I blame on the lack of freedom of this information to the public. And if you’re not alarmed by this, you should be, least of all because its your tax that is subsidising these unhealthy foods that are making so many of us sick, and costing us millions in surgical interventions.
If you’re interested in the role of processed foods on health, I recently watched That Sugar Film, a highly informative and animated film produced by a Melbourne couple. The film explores the dangers of processed foods with hidden sugars, these are usually dressed up as healthy foods such as breakfast cereal, fruit juice and low fat dairy products.
I appreciate that the content of this blog, and the next for that matter, could be difficult to stomach. Therefore, I strongly encourage you not to just take my word for it, do your own research! To help you with this, please see the resources and references below. If you have any questions or feedback, please comment below.
To watch Forks Over Knives, on YouTube for a cost of $4 (AUD), go to; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtnlwqEii2I
To watch That Sugar Film, on YouTube for a cost of $4 (AUD), go to; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsnk8s6JNIQ
I paid for these securely using PayPal. Alternatively, you can read the Forks Over Knives synopsis at http://www.forksoverknives.com/synopsis/
And That Sugar Film synopsis at http://thatsugarfilm.com/film/synopsis/
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013), Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Chronic Diseases 2011-12. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/993C0CFE750D8B5FCA257BBB00121491?opendocument
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013), Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients 2011-12. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.007~2011-12~Main%20Features~Key%20Findings~1
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (2015), IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat. Retrieved from http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr240_E.pdf