Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: The Forks Over Knives Plan

Next up for review is The Forks Over Knives Plan. The authors, Dr. Alona Pulde and Dr. Matthew Lederman, are both medical doctors specializing in nutrition and lifestyle medicine.

Forks Over Knives essentially has one central theme; the path to optimal health and longevity is to eat a plant based diet with absolutely no animal products. The book is broken down into 3 sections: 1) The science part: this section covers the scientific rationale behind the recommendations.  2) The lifestyle part: this section covers the 4 week transition to going vegan.  3) The recipe section.  The book is 285 pages long and is well written. I truly enjoyed reading it.

5 Things I Really Liked About The Forks Over Knives Plan
1) The foundation of this diet is fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. In my opinion, this should be a primary recommendation for every healthy diet.

2) This style of eating strictly limits red meat, processed meats, and saturated fat.  I’m in full agreement here.

3) I am really in sync with their “food dictates health” philosophy.  As a nation, we all need to understand how our diet and exercise habits can impact our health. We need to stop relying on medicine to fix us after years of abusing our bodies.

4) The section on meal planning, meal prepping, and grocery shopping is really well done and provides great tips on how to incorporate these changes into your life. 

5) The recipe section is great.  The authors include over 100 recipes that range from quick and easy to gourmet.

5 Things I Didn’t Agree With In The Forks Over Knives Plan
1) This program is heavy on the carbs at 80% of calories and includes a lot of very rapidly absorbed carbohydrates.  The glycemic index/glycemic load of this style of eating is really high and in my opinion, not a good idea if you are trying to lose weight or reduce your risk of chronic disease.  I was also a bit surprised at how much sugar was in the recipes, some of which called for ¾ cup of maple syrup!

2) This program is quite low in protein, with 10% of calories as the goal.  Recent research suggests that a bit more protein is necessary to reduce the loss of muscle that naturally occurs with aging.  The recommendations are now closer to .5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, which is about 20% of calories for most people.

3) The author’s choice of research to back up the recommendations was a bit curious.  They cited a lot of less methodologically sound research, like ecological studies, cross sectional studies, and correlational studies to prove their points, while ignoring more carefully designed randomized trials and prospective cohort studies that showed the opposite of what they recommend.  Whole areas of research were completely ignored, such as glycemic load and health, the benefits of mono and polyunsaturated fats, the benefits of consuming fish, et al.

4) The authors are very deliberate in recommending a B-12 supplement when going vegan.  B-12 is only found in animal products and B12 deficiency is no joke.  It can cause the following symptoms: numbness in hands, legs, or feet, difficulty walking, balance problems, anemia, swollen tongue, jaundice, difficulty thinking or reasoning, memory loss, paranoia or hallucinations, depression and weakness.  Many of these symptoms are irreversible if the deficiency goes on for too long. In my opinion, any diet that can make you this sick without taking a supplement pill is not a natural way of eating for humans.  

5) There were some statements made by the authors that were real head scratchers.  These statements are not in any way supported by the current nutrition research literature.  Here is a small sample:

Oil based salad dressings are unhealthy (Page 77).
Dairy can promote premature aging (Page 88).

Salmon contains harmful levels of fat (Page 103).

Fish contains heart unhealthy cholesterol and leads to bone loss (Page 103).

All vegetable oils promote heart disease (Page 107).

Vegetable oils have a negative effect on lung function (Page 107).

There is nothing health promoting about alcohol (Page 126).

And, as a glycemic load researcher, my absolute favorite: “We prefer not to talk about the glycemic index because it is a measure of something that has nothing to do with good health” (Page 123).

Is The Forks Over Knives Plan Worth Reading?
Absolutely! I enjoyed this book. You’ll learn a lot about the benefits of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.  These foods form the foundation of any healthy diet.  You will also get some great tips on meal planning, meal prep and grocery shopping. However, the very low levels of protein and healthy vegetable fats are recommendations that simply are not consistent with the current nutrition research literature.

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