Plant-Based Diet

The Mystique of Protein and Its Implications

There are three macronutrients in food: carbohydrates, fat and protein, ‘macro’ in the sense that they comprise almost all of the weight and calories of food. Vitamins and minerals are the micronutrients.

Protein, ever since its discovery in 1839, has been considered by many people to be an exceptionally important nutrient, often assuming that the more we consume the better. Its name comes from the Greek word, proteios, meaning ‘of prime importance’—an auspicious and almost mystical beginning for the future of this nutrient! Add to this importance the long standing impression by most people that protein is exclusive to animal source foods.

We now know, however, that this importance is exaggerated, to mythical proportions. For a starter, protein is not exclusive to animal-based foods. In the late 1800s protein was also found to be present in plant foods. Yet the myth of its being tightly or even exclusively linked to animal-based foods still lingers. Simply ask a non-meat eating vegan how many times they are asked, “But where do I get my protein?”

This bias implying that meat is the sole source of protein was encouraged over these many decades by ‘science’. Research findings, for example, were showing that animal-based proteins are utilized by the body more efficiently. This efficiency of utilization referred to increased body growth rate among other effects, with greater efficiency being described as greater ‘biological value’ or higher quality. But it was only animal-based proteins that have high quality.

Because most people obviously like high quality, animal-based protein became the protein of choice. In effect, this history evolved through the prism of linguistics to [...]

Minger Critique

Ms. Denise Minger has published a critique of our book, The China Study, as follows.

The China Study: Fact or Fallacy? « Raw Food SOS: Troubleshooting on the Raw Food Diet

It is both interesting and gratifying that there has been such a huge response, both on her blog and on those of others. This is a welcome development because it gives this topic an airing that has long been hidden in the halls and annals of science. It is time that this discussion begin to reach a much larger audience, including both supporters and skeptics.

I hope at some point to be able to read all of the discussions and the questions that have been raised, but present deadlines and long-standing commitments have forced me, for now, to focus on the most common concerns and questions, in order to respond in a timely manner here.

Kudos to Ms. Minger for having the interest, and taking the time, to do considerable analysis, and for describing her findings in readily accessible language. And kudos to her for being clear and admitting, right up front, that she is neither a statistician nor an epidemiologist, but an English major with a love for writing and an interest in nutrition. We need more people with this kind of interest.

I am the first to admit that background and academic credentials are certainly not everything, and many interesting discoveries and contributions have been made by “outsiders” or newcomers in various fields. On the other hand, background, time in the field, and especially peer review, all do give one a kind of [...]

Fat and Plant-Based Diets

Answer to a Reader’s Question:

I don’t argue for a 10% fat diet as the main starting point. Rather, I begin with the view that a plant-based diet is optimal and it just so happens that this diet, when done right (good quality WHOLE vegetables, legumes, fruits and cereals), is low in fat as well as in protein. It is a diet that, for most people, is 10-15% fat, and 8-12% protein. For those who demonstrate vulnerability to health disorders, the fat intake should favor the lower side. Dr. Esselstyn (in his heart disease reversal study) and Dr. John McDougall (thousands of patients) have demonstrated this very clearly. The difficulty that we, as individuals, all face is really how vulnerable are we.

On the protein evidence, I have spent my entire career working in this field and am appalled that so few people know the evidence, some of which is very old and most of which is heavily influenced by our personal reverence for this nutrient. But much more to the point, in my own work, our results propelled me to ask broader questions, even though the singular effects of animal based protein were alarming and convincing. I chose for the time being not to go down that path and agree with Dr. Katz that we need to ask broader questions–precisely as I did in the China Study.

My arguments, however, for a plant based diet are far more comprehensive, including the empirical findings that have been published by other researchers (some of which is relatively old), the work that we did in our own laboratory (some of which by [...]

Continual Cleansing for Optimal Health and Vitality

Do you have difficulty waking up in the morning and find that you have low energy all day long? Are you unable to concentrate at work, feel sluggish and depressed? Do you suffer from poor digestion, bloating or constipation? If so, you could be a good candidate for a cleanse. Cleansing your body of accumulated toxins may help you gain energy and improve overall health. Many people report more clarity, greater alertness, over-whelming joy, and incredible insight after a cleanse.

A simple test you can do to determine whether you would benefit from a cleanse is to eat a few leaves of a dark leafy green vegetable such as kale or down a couple of shots of fresh wheat grass juice. If you can get it down without cringing, then chances are your system is already alkaline. If however, these foods taste horribly bitter and nearly cause a gag reflex, you will certainly benefit from a cleanse.

There are many excellent articles and books dedicated to cleansing so I won’t get too much into the details in this article. What is interesting to note, however, is that all of them prescribe complete abstinence from animal based foods and focus solely on plant-based nutrition during the cleansing process. My take on this is that if you feel so good after a cleanse, then why not adopt a continual cleansing type diet? That’s what I call The Thrive Diet, a common-sense, simple approach to eating that is based on plant-based whole foods.

Once you have completed the cleanse of your choice, you will likely feel much better and you [...]

From Theory to Practice

On the evidence favoring the consumption of a plant-based diet for good health, where do we go from here?

Many would argue that we still do not have enough evidence. I am not one of these. I believe that the evidence is overwhelming and that it is primarily a matter of articulation. Yet I have a question. Why do I and a few other researchers and clinicians working in this field have so much enthusiasm for this evidence while so many people in the public remain skeptical? My confidence in this evidence has mostly come from my research, my teaching, and my participation in policy development, while working with some very bright students and colleagues. I keep looking for effective ways to share this evidence that will shake this public skepticism and promote healthy plant-based eating.

My research experience has ranged from coordination of a nationwide nutrition program for malnourished and starving children in the Philippines, a 19-year series of NIH funded basic laboratory studies and direction of a nationwide study on diet, lifestyle and disease mortality in China. Through my policy development experience, there have been numerous opportunities to participate as an organizer, as an author and as a reviewer of several national and international reports on diet and health—and what an education that has been! These have been extremely rewarding experiences.

Although many specific lessons come to mind from these experiences, a few general observations seem much more important. First, the underlying biological events of health and disease are very complex, although this complexity can now be reduced to some very simple and practical messages. For example, [...]

How Important is Dietary Purity?

Answer to a Reader’s Question:

“In the China Project, itself, I speak of correlations because that is what we have. What I found to be quite remarkable at the time of our study was the fact that, in the range of about 0-20% animal food inclusion in the diet (as % of protein), we got all these statistically significant correlations that supported my conclusion that “the closer we get to a plant-based diet, the lower was the risk of the chronic degenerative diseases”. That still is a proper statement but it does not say that we found proof that all individuals within that population must be 100% plant-based, for two reasons. First, the study is not an observation of individuals (virtually no study is!); it is a study of populations. Second, we all know of plenty of people who appear to be quite healthy even into their advanced years who use animal-based foods (and even smoke! and do other ‘unhealthy’ things).

“Thus, I start with the ‘conclusion’ (or hypothesis) that “the closer we get to a plant-based diet, the lower was the risk of the chronic degenerative diseases”, then ask a different question. Namely, what information do we have that people are harmed by consuming an all plant-based diet? In other words, for those who seem to have good health into their advanced years by using a poor diet and lifestyle, is it possible for us to imagine (hypothesize) that even they would discover even more health were they to change to an all plant-based diet? Live even longer? Be more active? Have a clearer mind? We don’t [...]