No Fat Vegans

Those of you who’ve been reading my posts for awhile might remember my critique of The China Study a couple of years back. Keeping in mind that my criticism was directed mostly at the book, not at the concepts it presented, I try to keep an open mind. In fact, here at home, the majority of what I eat tends to be vegetarian, often even vegan – and here and there a bit of seafood and chicken. We virtually never eat red meat at home, well, I don’t, sometimes on request I’ll cook it up for Henry. It isn’t an ethical commitment, it’s simply I tend to feel better without eating it – I’ll still indulge on occasion if we’re out and about, but it’s rarer and rarer.

Anyway, that book and another, which I’m going to get to today, led to viewing the movie Forks Over Knives – it’s not a movie that presents any particularly new information, but given that a large percentage of the population wouldn’t pick up a book of the genre, it’s a film that they might. Well, probably not unless it airs on television because let’s face it, the likelihood is that the only people who saw it were people already interested and quite possibly committed or thinking about a change in diet. What’s particularly noteworthy is that the movie is pretty much based on these two books and the work of the two authors, both of whom, though they quote each other’s work, and know each other, like to claim that they’re the only person really out there making an effort to change things. Book publicity I suppose.


What I really should do is just tell you to go read the other critique. Why? Because I could almost copy it here. Okay, there’s some different focus, the studies are different, this book is actually better written and a more interesting read, and, the author’s wife packs the last section with recipes. But, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The revolutionary scientifically proven, nutrition-based cure in many ways might as well be the same book.

Again with the bludgeoning, though at least here the good doctor swaps back and forth between the phrases “plant-based nutrition” and “plant-based diet” almost as fast as Mitt Romney can switch positions on an issue. He does go a step further than the vegan diet recommended by T. Colin Campbell, PhD – he goes for full on vegan plus – eliminating chocolate, nuts, avocados, and plant-based oils (though, strangely, after deriding all types of nuts in several places, other than walnuts, which he considers acceptable, the recipes in the book often make use of nut milks…). In fact, if one gets to the end, while not officially limited to it, the recommendations are so overwhelmingly restrictive that only the most dedicated would follow them – “It is helpful to keep breakfast and lunch simple – and nearly the same every day.” The breakfast recommendations were pretty much all variations on oatmeal made with fruit juice instead of water or milk, and the lunches were pretty much undressed green salads. Example dishes touted for dinnertime include black beans and rice that we could eat just as is, every single night, and apparently be perfectly happy about, or maybe the much touted bowl of boiled, unseasoned kale.

But back to some of the science. Thankfully, the book isn’t as loaded with numbers and graphs as the other one, part of what makes it easier to read. Instead, it’s basically chapter after chapter of personal anecdotes and those of the doctor’s patients who participated in his scientific study. Here’s, however, where I get all uppity about the numbers. You see, that revolutionary (as if no vegan before had ever suggested that a switch to the diet could be beneficial healthwise) scientifically proven study consisted of 24 people. Well, really 18 people because 6 of the folk who agreed to be in the study gave it up as a bad thing after a brief fling at it. There was no control group to compare against, the doc’s clinic decided that wasn’t in the budget. There was no accounting for any other life changes – in fact the doc specifically poo-poos the idea that exercise is all that important because he’s not familiar with any studies proving that exercise is good for heart disease. His statement, not mine. Yet, he notes, anecdotally, that all of his patients became more active and got into exercise – he considers it an after-effect of the diet and it’s cure, rather than an adjunct cause.

And while he studied those 18 folk over a long period, a couple of decades, his studies are based on self-reporting. Oh yes, he drew blood and did laboratory analyses, but he relied on the patients in his study to account for how well they stuck to the diet. And he’s quite sure they all did because they told him they did, and why would they have any reason to lie about it? Certainly not his admonition that anyone who reported straying from the diet would be dismissed from the study…. Strangely, in a moment of candor, he admits that he strays from the diet himself – claiming just once a year on New Year’s Eve when he binges out on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Sure, I buy that. Just once a year. But of course, none of the patients would do such a thing. Right?

To be honest, at the end of the book I think I’d be less likely to even consider a vegan diet than at the beginning, unless I was in the dire circumstances of one of his patients. Oh, did I forget to mention that they 18 folk who participated were all basically at death’s door, their regular docs had told them to put their affairs in order and go home and die. These were folk who had had multiple heart attacks, bypasses, were on major medications, and nothing was working, so perhaps, just perhaps, they had some impetus for doing something truly radical. Interestingly, he does go back and mention that twenty years on he followed up on those six folk who walked out on the study and one had died and five of them still had heart problems. Ummm, wait, these were people who were supposed to be all dead within minutes if they didn’t participate in the study. Right?

So, another diet book written to spout a philosophy that no doubt has some validity behind it, but isn’t really doing much of anything but lining the author’s pockets. If he was as truly committed to what he claims to be committed to as he says he is, he’d be putting the information out there for free.

Maybe I should take on critiquing one of the diet books at the other end of the spectrum – a little Paleo or South Beach or something of that sort… hmmm.

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