Introduction: A Preventable Crisis
America is in the midst of a health crisis. With fifty percent of our population reliant upon prescription medications and skyrocketing rates of obesity, cancer, heart disease, and strokes, it is clear that a great deal must be done to safeguard the health of our nation and therefore its future. As shocking as it may initially appear, a scientifically supported method of improving one’s overall health and preventing and eradicating life-threatening disease exists. It is very simple.
Countless scientific studies and medical investigations have uncovered the truth behind the traditional American diet. Americans themselves are in a large part responsible for the diseases and ailments that afflict them due to what they choose to put into their bodies. In addition to aiding in weight loss, the consumption of a plant-based diet, which excludes animal products as well as processed, refined, and altered foodstuffs can dramatically improve an individual’s quality of life by lowering blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, eliminating dependence upon synthetic medications, as well as preventing and reversing life-threatening conditions. Veganism is a lifestyle choice that currently trends in and out of American culture, hindered by common dietary misconceptions and traditions. Because many scientific studies have clearly illustrated the benefits of eliminating animal products from diet, I believe that veganism is a lifestyle that should be embraced by the American people and used as a safeguard against the ills that currently plague our population.
Average Americans, Shocking Results
Forks Over Knives, a groundbreaking 2011 documentary, exposes the problems with the traditional Western diet including the consumption of meat and dairy products and the negative effects they have upon the human body. The documentary highlights the research of two well-known and influential medical doctors, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. who have both been practicing medicine for over forty years and have participated in a variety of different clinical trials and research projects. In this illuminating documentary, they utilize their medical experience and personal research to explain the benefits of following a plant-based diet to the general public. The doctors claim that the proteins found in meat and dairy products alike play a large part in the diseases afflicting the general public. Reinforcing similar claims from various studies, the researchers illustrate the pleasant effects of a plant-based diet through the care and remedying of patients new to such a lifestyle. Campbell and Esselstyn’s work clearly illustrates the main claim of my research; by following a plant-based diet, free of dairy, meat, and processed foods, individuals can prevent themselves from acquiring certain diseases and illnesses and can even cure current ailments. This work is specifically striking and powerful because it follows the lives of real people who follow and benefit from changes in their diet.
The film begins with the introduction of the narrator, Lee Fulkerson. A middle-aged man, Lee believes himself to be in reasonably good health. He visits Matt Lederman, MD and Alona Pulde, MD, doctors in internal medicine and family practice, who give him a routine checkup. Fulkerson is shocked and frightened to discover he is not nearly as healthy as he had believed himself to be. His cholesterol is measured to be two hundred and forty-one, which is dangerously high, and he receives a cardiovascular CRP score of 6.0, which means that his blood vessels are inflamed and he is at great risk for developing a heart attack. After receiving this news, Lee decides to abandon his diet of caffeine-based energy drinks, sugary soft drinks, and fast food and instead adopts a plant-based diet in an attempt to remedy his poor health. After twelve weeks he is delighted to discover that in addition to having lost twenty pounds, his blood pressure, pulse rate, cholesterol, and CRP score, now only 2.8, have dropped significantly, for the better. Fulkerson’s success is echoed throughout the film by other commonplace individuals including San’Dera Nation, a diabetic who effectively overcame her dependence upon medication, lost forty-five pounds, and reversed her diabetes after following the plant-based diet suggested by doctors like Campbell, Esselstyn, Lederman, and Pulde for twenty weeks. Joey Acoyne, another patient of Doctor Lederman, followed the diet for eight weeks in an attempt to remedy his lengthy list of health concerns including, low energy, ringing in the ears, sinus problems, postnasal drip, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, indigestion, reflux, loose stool, diarrhea, difficulty getting around, bloating, black/bloody/mucous stool with meat consumption, difficulty loosing weight, chronic, unpleasant hunger feelings, grogginess after meals, food cravings, and anxiety about food. After following the plant-based diet, free of animal products for only two months, Acoyne was successfully off of all of his medications, had lost forty pounds, and was delighted to find that twenty-six of his twenty-seven initial complaints and concerns had been remedied(1) .
The success of individuals who turn to a plant-based, vegan diet, free of processed foods and animal products, is striking, but completely understandable when considered from a scientific perspective. It is common knowledge that the overall health of Americans has declined over the decades since the emergence of processed convenience foods such as TV dinners and fast food in the 1950s. The increase of the availability of these products has lead to increased consumption of poor quality animal-based foods. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Americans each ate 120 of meat annually, a number which nearly doubled to 222 pounds by 2007. The same pattern was observed for the consumption of sweeteners and dairy products. In 1913 it is estimated that 40 pounds of sweeteners and 294 pounds of dairy were consumed by the average American. By the early 2000’s these numbers had skyrocketed to 147 and 605 pounds respectively. Increased consumption of meat, dairy, and processed sweeteners has resulted in increased rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol and many other diseases.
Further proof that and increase in meat and dairy consumption is directly proportional to instance of disease exists from World War II. When the Germans invaded Norway, they confiscated the civilian’s livestock to feed their army. Without their animals, the Norwegians were forced to abandon their diets of primarily meat and dairy for a plant-based diet. During this time, the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease declined sharply, until meat was reintroduced in 1945 and it rose once more (2) .
Animal Proteins: Cancer Enabling Agents
Countless scientific studies have clearly illustrated that the proteins found in animal products are responsible for the higher instances of disease amongst non-vegan humans. Through decades of clinical research and study in the medical field, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., has uncovered the true nature of animal derived proteins in diet and the increased incidence of disease as a result of their consumption. In his book, The China Study, Campbell appeals to the general public and encourages them to abandon traditional high animal protein diets in favor of veganism. He does so by recounting his personal research experiences as well as those from over 750 different sources.
One of Campbell’s highly publicized and influential studies involved administering meals consisting of twenty percent and five percent casein, a protein found in milk, to two separate groups of lab rats for twelve weeks. The rats given the high protein diet developed cancer while those given the low protein diet did not. Campbell even took the experiment further and found that when the same procedure was administered to rats with cancerous and precancerous conditions, the rats given the high protein diet continued to develop the cancer, while the rats on the low protein diet went into remission. When Campbell’s work was repeated with plant-derived proteins however, no cancer developed in any of the rats. This study has been repeated various times by different scientists and medical professionals, and each time the same conclusions have been reached.
The same idea is illustrated throughout another study of Doctor T. Colin Campbell. In the mid 1960’s, Campbell traveled to the Philippines with a group of other doctors to help malnourished children. It was his belief that an increased amount of protein would benefit the starving children and therefore they were given plant-based protein. Upon observation of the more affluent Philippinos, who ate a tremendous amount of meat, it was discovered that a high percentage of children developed liver cancer, which in and of itself is rare in children. The doctors assumed this was due to the high percentage of protein in the children’s diet, which was derived from meat(3) .
Like liver cancer, rates of breast cancer and prostate cancer are lower in areas where fewer animal products are consumed. In Kenya for example, the rate of breast cancer is 82 times lower than in the United States. Additionally, in 1958 there were eighteen deaths due to prostate cancer in Japan. However, in the United States, a nation with a population only twice as large as that of Japan, there were over 14,000 (4) . It is clear that the proteins consumed from animal sources play a role in the increase of the risk and instance of cancer, while plant-based proteins do not have the same effect.
Acidity: Helping Disease Thrive
Zoltan P. Rona, a Canadian medical doctor, biochemist, nutritionist, and author explains that a plant-based diet is beneficial to the body because it creates a more alkaline environment, which is necessary for disease prevention and proper absorption and digestion. Rona agrees with Esselstyn and Campbell’s conclusion that people who consume meat and dairy products have a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis. He expands upon this conclusion by explaining that diseases, especially those mentioned above, thrive in an acidic environment(5) . The proteins in animal products alter hormone composition and the function of enzymes within the body, which cause inflammation and cell proliferation as well as an acidic environment, all of which allow for the continual growth and spread of disease(6) . Plant-based diets on the other hand, create an alkaline environment within the body, which defers the spread of disease. Consuming plant products also helps to eliminate toxins from the body through detoxifying processes. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables neutralize free radicals, which can cause cancer, while fibers work to clean the intestines and various parts of the body and help to remove cancer-causing agents in the process(7) . This research, coupled with the claims of animal protein’s involvement in the development of cancer and disease, produces a solid foundation for advocating a vegan lifestyle. Such claims are backed even further by other dietitians, doctors, and nutritionists such as dietician Dulcie Ward, who also believes that following a vegan diet “offers a nutritious alternative to the greasy, artery-clogging cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets that have contributed to our country’s dramatic rise in obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related illnesses”(8) .
Veganism: A Convincing Choice
I firmly agree with the beliefs of doctors including Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., Matt Lederman, MD, Alona Pulde, MD, and Zoltan P. Rona, MD that “Many of our most crippling conditions could be greatly reduced if not completely eradicated simply by eating a whole foods plant-based diet”(9). The research done upon the effects of animal protein consumption upon individuals, as well as the harmful consequences of having an acidic body environment, are convincing reasons to adopt veganism. The testimony and personal stories of those who benefitted from such a lifestyle change are inspiring as well. For example, Ruth Heidrich, a 47-year-old marathon runner switched to a plant-based diet when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of subjecting her body to toxic chemotherapy and radiation, she detoxified by adopting veganism. By abandoning meat and dairy products as well as processed and heavily refined foods, Ruth not only put her cancer into remission but also experienced other physical changes as well, such as the elimination of dandruff, arthritis, and constipation. Ultimately, switching to a vegan diet saved Ruth’s life. She has been in remission for thirty years(10) .
The repeatable nature of the work completed by the doctors, especially that done by Campbell, is also convincing and believable because it has been repeated many times, yielding the same outcomes. The China Study utilizes over 750 sources, many of which are primary, to illustrate the detrimental effects meat consumption has upon human health. These studies correct many of the misconceptions commonly held in regards to human well-being. Campbell makes it clear to a reader that “vitamins and nutrient supplements do not give you long-term protection against disease, drugs and surgery don’t cure the diseases that kill most Americans, and your doctor probably does not know what you need to do to be the healthiest you can be”
The doctors referenced above are not alone in their support of a vegan plant-based diet. The idea is steadily becoming more popular as the epidemic of poor health continues to spread across America. I agree that “Mass-produced food neither benefits our bodies nor our environment, and the more we become aware of this, the more the world will begin to shift to a more beneficial food system and the skyrocketing number of obesity and diseases will start moving in the opposite direction”(11) .
As veganism continues to work its way into the media, despite its being overshadowed by the mass marketing campaigns that exist for over-processed, poor quality foods, people are becoming more in tune to the benefits of the vegan lifestyle. Popular sources and public figures such as Oprah Winfrey and President Bill Clinton’s endorsement of veganism are influential to many and hopefully will convert many more individuals to the vegan lifestyle. In 2009, Oprah publically worked to become healthier and to lose weight. She temporarily detoxified her body by following a plant-based diet and proved to many that such a lifestyle is not only possible but beneficial as well. Oprah also ensured that her followers became more in tune to the ills of eating animal products by presenting many articles that explained how “Animal protein seems to greatly contribute to diseases of nearly every type, including cancer, and a plant-based (vegan) diet is not only good insofar as prevention, but it could also be curative”(12) .
Essential Nutrients: Entirely Plant-Based
As a vegan, I am glad that the concept is gradually finding a foothold in the media and that misconceptions in regards to veganism are being addressed and explained. Since abandoning meat and other animal products as well as processed foods, I have noticed a great change in my body and therefore in my life. In addition to weight loss, veganism had made me feel stronger and healthier both physically and mentally. In the case studies addressed by Esselstyn and Lederman, patients reported feeling more at ease in regards to eating as well as having an overall sense of wellbeing. I too have experienced these “side effects” and because of this, I have a great deal of confidence in the vegan lifestyle.
How Far Is Too Far? How Unhealthy Is Acceptable?
Many critics of veganism argue that essential vitamins and minerals are not consumed in the proper amount by vegans and vegetarians. Generally speaking however, this is untrue. Protein, iron, and calcium, the substances which population in general believes to come primarily from meat and dairy products can be found in abundance in plant based-foods as can essential vitamins and minerals. Despite the actions of our meat-dominated society, our bodies only need small amounts of protein. This needed protein can be found in the fruits and vegetables that contain the least amounts of protein, such as potatoes. Other foods, such as nuts, are high in protein and are beneficial in a vegan diet as well. It is in fact impossible for a vegan to be protein deficient if they are consuming enough calories on a daily basis. “The best sources of iron are vegetarian.” Foods such as kelp, brewer’s yeast, and molasses are high in iron, even more so than red meats. In fact, the majority of the women who suffer from anemia consume red meats on a regular basis. Calcium too can be readily found in a plant-based diet. There is as much or more calcium in products like tofu and collard greens than there is in dairy products like milk and eggs. As in the case of protein, it would be very difficult for a vegan to develop a calcium deficiency if she was eating a balanced diet and consuming an adequate amount of calories. Other substances such as Vitamin B-12 and omega three fatty acids are also well represented within the vegan diet(13) (14) .
Conclusion: Safeguarding The Future
People argue that too much effort and time is spent upon the body and that doing so, especially in the media, creates false images that average human beings cannot live up to. Elizabeth Sutherland, a teacher from Australia promotes the concept of fat acceptance. Sutherland believes that too much pressure is placed upon the individual to follow diets and to be thin. She does not want her children to be ostracized for their looks as she was as a child and therefore begs for the acceptance of those who are overweight(15) . I do not believe a person should be ridiculed for their body image, but I find Sutherland’s argument entirely absurd. She is far too concerned with how her children are perceived socially and pays no attention to their health. She discusses eating junk food and how that is a part of the average lifestyle: “Fat activism can be as simple as walking down the street eating an ice cream. Maybe it’s walking with someone you care about, while they eat that ice cream”(16) . People like Sutherland are the reason why disease and obesity are rampant in the United States. People who consume without regard to what they are eating poison their bodies with toxins. Yes, many of them are overweight, but that is not the true problem. With unhealthy eating and especially the consumption of processed animal-based products, such as the fast-food Sutherland endorses, comes a series of deadly ailments. If Sutherland truly cares about her children, she will change their lifestyle to one that incorporates more plant products and less animal-based foods into their diet. Perhaps if this is done the children will no longer need to worry about facing criticism for their weight. They will need to worry much less about developing diabetes, cancer, or heart disease as well.
One in five American four-year-olds are obese and one in three of the babies born today will develop diabetes in their lifetime if serious action is not taken to reverse the trends of disastrous eating that plague our nation (17) . The generation being born today is the first generation that is unlikely to outlive its parents and this is all because of improper food consumption. I strongly advocate following a whole foods plant-based diet, free of animal products and processed foods. As shown through a variety of medical and scientific research experiments, including the work of doctors such as Colin Campbell, Ph.D., Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., Matt Lederman, MD, Alona Pulde, MD, and Zoltan P. Rona, MD, the proteins found in animal-derived foods increase an individual’s likelihood of disease. By reversing diet, an individual can also reverse disease and free himself from the ills that plague our modern Western society, anchored upon the consumption of convenience and pleasure foods, meat, and dairy.
|↑1, ↑2, ↑9, ↑17||Forks Over Knives. Prod. Brian Wendel, John Corry, and Allison Boon. Dir. Lee Fulkerson. Perf. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., Joey Aucoin, Neal Barnard M.D., and Gene Baur. Monica Beach Media, 2011. DVD.|
|↑3||Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M. Campbell. “Introduction.” Introduction. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. Dallas, TX: Benbella, 2006. 1-7. Print.|
|↑4||Theiss, Evelyn. “‘Forks Over Knives’ Documentary Explores Plant-Based Diet As Prescription For Diseases.” Cleveland.com. 24 May 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.cleveland.com/healthfit/index.ssf/2011/05/forks_over_knives_documentary.html>.|
|↑5, ↑14||Rona, Zoltan. “Live Healthier & Longer With a Plant Based Diet.” Vegetarian1.net. Web. 17 Apr. 2012.|
|↑6, ↑7, ↑12||Freston, Kathy. “Can a Plant-Based Diet Cure Cancer? – Oprah.com.” Oprah.com. 23 Oct. 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.|
|↑8||Ward, Dulcie “Veganism Is Healthy.” Commonweal 134.17 (2007): 37. Gale Opposing|
|↑10||Heidrich, Ruth. “Ruth Heidrich Defeats Cancer and Osteoporosis.” McDougall Program Success Story: Defeats Cancer and Osteoporosis, Breast Cancer. John A. McDougall, M.D., 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <http://www.drmcdougall.com/stars/star07_ruth-heidrich.html>.|
|↑11||Biggar, Allison. “The Benefits of Conscious Eating: Integrate Mind, Body and Spirit.” Natural Health News. 11 May 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.|
|↑13||Mangels, Reed. “Nutrition.” Simply Vegan. By Debra Wasserman. 4th ed. Vegetarian Resource Group, 2006. Print.|
|↑15, ↑16||Sutherland, Elizabeth. “Fat Acceptance Promotes Well-Being.” Can Diets Be Harmful? Ed. Christine Watkins. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2012. At Issue. Rpt. from “Fat Acceptance: When Kindness Is Activism.” Feministe.us/blog 12 Sept. 2010. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.|