Thursday Thoughts: Forks Over Knives

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Thursday Thoughts

If you are new to my blog, or haven't been reading on Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic.  Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses.  Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting.  In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something.

I don't usually pick a movie, but last night Ryan and I watched Forks Over Knives (I know, I am slow), and I wanted to share some of my thoughts.  A lot of this stems from a general dislike of documentaries because I feel they are too biased.  Even if I 100% agree with the information, I don't feel like the entire picture is ever shown, things are skewed to make it look like more evidence than there really may be for something, and I feel like this is a form of miseducation for the general public.  So, I tend to shy away from documentaries because I can get pretty heated just from watching them.  No need to bring my blood pressure up, right?  Well, I also know it is good to watch them because I will have clients and patients that have watched them and I really need to know what they are talking about.

So with that information to start, I want to also state that I do not eat meat (I eat fish, seafood, eggs and dairy though) and agree 100% with the underlying message of the documentary.

1) My first concern was the use of the husband/wife doctor team as a focus for helping the people in the file develop healthier diets.  I am sure they are qualified doctors and have an understanding of nutrition, and from what was shown, it does appear that way, but this may give people the false assumption that all doctors know what they are talking about when it comes to diet.  Too many people already take what doctors say as gospel and will not believe people that are trained in other areas because they assume the doctor knows better.  Most doctors receive little training in nutrition, and if they have an interest in nutrition, then they can go out and take more courses.  But, not all doctors do this, thereby not all doctors are experts in nutrition, and a dietitian (or other qualified nutrition professional) should be used in conjunction with the doctors advice.  It just seemed to me like this pushed doctors as experts in nutrition and diet changes.

2) I have a great respect for nutrition researchers.  A PhD in nutrition science is an awesome degree.  My biggest concern is that for those with just the PhD in nutrition, the person is only an expert in the lab side, or the research side.  Dietitians are great at bridging the gap between the science part and how it works in real life.  In the lab, studying nutritional biochemistry and other aspects of the nutrients leaves out the variables that come into play once you introduce humans into the mix.  That changes everything.  We know what is good for us, we know what we recommend, but I think sometimes, those with just the research background leave out how this can actually apply to people.  There needs to be some give and take.  Dietitians work on a daily basis with people and know what will and will not work.  There is always some give and take.  A little of this in one direction and a little of this the other direction.  This is how we find a balance, or what we call a happy medium.  I think researchers often overlook this.  Now, many RDs also have PhD's in nutrition, and I think this is a great asset to them because they can take the science and apply it to human behavior.  There are so many things I read and hear and wonder how anyone ever thought that could work in real life.  It seems like some of these researchers, while experts in nutrition science, could use the assistance of a dietitian to help them in applying it to real world (not lab controlled) situations.

3) Some of the stats and numbers really had me amused.  Why?  Because numbers can be twisted and things can be left out to make a point.  The one that I recall questioning the most was the data on Sweden and the decrease in deaths from heart disease during Nazi invasion in WWII.  Then these went up again after the war.  While it may be diet related, there would also be the increase in deaths from war related activities (combat and other), which would result in less people actually dying from heart disease.  I would also think that number of actual autopsies done by qualified MDs decreased during this time making the numbers at risk for some inaccuracies or just being skewed from other variables.  The other set of numbers I found interesting was the 1950's data on heart disease in Japan.  Although we may have had excellent methods for collecting death data in the US at the time, who is to say Japan had the same standards.  I would definitely say (and this is an observation from living here and studying their health) that their rates were lower than in the US, I do not think they were at all as low as the 16 (or was it 18) noted in the film.  I say this because I am thinking that in rural areas of Japan, during the late 50's, they were not checking all deaths for the cause of death.  I just don't think the numbers are as significant (or maybe I should say drastic) as they were made to be in the film.

4) I was concerned too with the all or nothing mentality.  Obviously that was the point.  No meat, lots of plant foods.  But real life can't always be that black or white.  Some people are able to go all or nothing, but many can't.  For me, I think the bigger message should be that even some reduction in meat and an increase in plant foods will have a benefit.  It is not that only plant foods and no meat will have a positive effect.  It may not be as big of an effect if cutting out some meat, but not all, as it would be if you went vegan, but there is still a health benefit.  I think (supported of course from my research over the years) that any reduction in saturated fat, coupled with an increase in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other antioxidants will improve your health.  Will it be as drastic as in the movie?  No!  But will it be worth it to just give up some if you are not willing to commit to giving it all up?  Yes!

5) I want to end on a positive rather than a negative.  I liked the message.  Beyond just the basic message of give up meat, eat more veggie, and you will be healthy, there was a greater message.  I think that in a positive way, this movie helps show that we need to take control of our health.  We should not sit around and wait for something magic to take place.  We have the power to make a difference.  Not only does this movie show how important diet and lifestyle are for health, but it shows people that they are in control.  They can make decisions that can positively impact their health.  It is not the doctors responsibility to improve your health.  It is yours, and yours alone.  Doctor's do play a very important role in our health (and for all things medical, you should seek medical advice), but in the end it is up to each of us to make healthy life style changes to impact our own health when it comes to weight related chronic diseases.  This movie truly shows we have the power!

Overall, despite some flaws, which I will find regardless of what the documentary is about (I just can't handle the one-sidedness and I think everyone deserves to be given a look at all of the evidence in the most unbiased way in order to form their own opinions), the film really sends a strong message that there is a problem in our society and that lifestyle changes will reduce those problems.  Less meat and more plant based foods is a good way to go, even if you don't go all the way to the extreme of cutting out all meat.  I understand that some people can't do that or are unwilling to do that, so I am happy if I can meet people half way.  Who knows, in time they may be able to cut back even more on the meat and then increase the veggies even more, right?

QUESTIONS:  Have you seen Forks Over Knives?  If so, what were your thoughts?  Do you like documentaries?


Gina; The Candid RD said...

So I've definitely talked to a lot of people about this movie, but have yet to see it. Really, movies like this tend to anger me. People watch it and for a month they radically change their diet, and think bad about certain foods. IT sends a message, but like you said, the message isn't always accurate and it's left for interpretation. Great review Melinda! I'm sure I would think many of the same things if I saw the movie.

Rochelle said...

I too am a R.D. and I saw the film (and I don't eat meat). While I agree with the overall message about taking control of your health and eating more whole, plant-based foods - the film did seem to be very one-sided (as does their Facebook page by the same name). I agree totally with the documentary issue of bias - there was certainly an agenda they had (wins for plant based eating, no wins for animal protein, etc). One of the issues I noticed was the segment with Connie Diekman (former ADA president) and how it seems, in my opinion, her comments were only partially covered. It made it seem like she was only supporting the idea that only meat had all the essential amino acids, etc. - which seemed to be a dig towards ADA. Perhaps this film is a way to get viewer attention and to wake some folks up to the idea of taking charge of their health and make some better changes - yet there's just not enough clear science for me to support some of the claims stated.

EA-The Spicy RD said...

Great review Melinda and so thorough and thoughtful. I have not seen the movie, but it's always good to know what clients may have seen. I'm not a vegetarian, but do eat a lot of meatless meals over the course of a week, but I think your point 4, about the "all or nothing" mentality would really bug me. I'll definitely put it on my viewing list though.

Special K said...

I REALLY think you should post some Thursday Thoughts in the Stars and Stripes..It would be a great public service! ..I love how you argue that NOT ALL DOCTORS KNOW ABOUT PROPER DIET AND METABOLISM. In fact, research shows a LOT of Doctors are VERY biased when it comes to diet.

I don't eat meat unless I go out, or I cook it when others are over and it is leftover. However, I do notice that when I eat fish or chicken or beans during the day, I have more clarity and stamina. I also eat less processed junk later (around 3-5pm)

I think you should post about your personal dietary philsophy. I would love to hear your thoguths about that!

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

I haven't seen the documentary, but it's been on my "list" for a while now. I agree with you that documentaries are usually very black and white. I have my students watch several documentaries (most of them about food) throughout the quarter, and we do a lot of work on identifying the biases in them. For many of them it's eye opening (on many different levels...).

I don't like nutrition advice that is "all or nothing." I agree that many people could improve their health a lot by eating more whole vegetables and fruits, and I think it makes a lot of sense to stress what they should add to their diet and not what they shouldn't eat (or not so much of). If people make the majority of their meals vegetables, they will eat less animal products. I also think that reducing animal products slowly works for many. It has certainly worked for us. We still eat some meat and chicken (and regularly eat eggs, cheese, yogurt, and fish), but we usually only eat meat or chicken once, sometimes twice, a week.

As always, great Thursday thoughts post!

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