Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez wrote a movie critique of Forks Over Knives and explains why he believes that vegetarianism can be dangerous to your health.
I am very familiar with Colin Campbell’s work, as well as that of Caldwell Esselstyn. While I might accept some of their basic ideas, such as the dangers in refined carbohydrates and processed foods, most of what they present is scientifically unjustifiable, and for many, dangerous.
First of all, neither Campbell nor his followers distinguish between grass fed, pasture raised beef for example, and industrialized feed-lot beef. They are not the same. Grass fed beef is high in the omega -3 fatty acids which protect against heart disease and cancer, and grass fed beef – but not feedlot – have high levels of the fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid which again, protects against both heart disease and cancer.
The thesis that there is something inherently poisonous in animal fat and protein is preposterous; lions and tigers in nature eat nothing but fatty red meat, and never get heart disease or cancer. Any zookeeper knows that such carnivores must be fed good quality, raw meat to survive – on a plant diet they are dead within six weeks.
Campbell’s concept that milk and milk products are somehow poisonous is also preposterous. We mammals are designed to survive and grow as infants on nothing but raw nutrient dense mother’s milk. Some traditional cultures nurse for four even five years, and scientists have found that such infants are far healthier than those raised on plant based substitutes or nursed for a shorter period of time. If milk or casein were poisonous, mammals wouldn’t exist. But as with red meat, there is a difference between raw un-Pasteurized milk from pasture raised happy cows, and feedlot, industrial milk cows that have no room to walk. Pasteurized milk is heated to 230 degrees, destroying all food enzymes and inactivating most nutrients. Campbell does not distinguish, an oversight that undermines his entire argument about milk.
Campbell’s epidemiological conclusions are foolish, doing what many scientists do, taking a particular laboratory exercise or epidemiological study from a genetically homogenous population, and generalizing to the whole human race. I have long argued against his idea that there is something inherently toxic about animal products using the traditional Eskimos as a perfect example.
The traditional Eskimo diet was an all animal product diet, high in fat, 80% with 20% protein. They were studied by the Arctic explorer Stefansson in the early years of the 20th century, by a team from McGill University in the 1930s and by Weston Price. All found that as long as Eskimos followed their traditional diet they remained free of all the epidemic disease in the Western world including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Only when they went into the Westernized towns and cities and began consuming more carbohydrate foods did their health rapidly deteriorate.
The traditional Masai in Africa consumed up to a gallon of raw milk daily, with blood and some milk, but never a vegetable, fruit, nut, seed, or grain. Dr. George Mann of Vanderbilt University studied these people, and found that despite a saturated fat intake of 70%, they had no heart disease, no diabetes, and no cancer, even in the eldest of the tribe. Their cholesterol levels were perfect and their arteries clear.
The high Swiss mountain herders studied by Price 80 years ago subsisted on a diet of nutrient dense whole grain bread and huge amounts of cheeses, raw milk, and other dairy products. They are known to be extraordinarily healthy, with no heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
In my own practice, I have taken care of scores of people who had been following various forms of vegetarianism for years, only to end up in terrible health, often with cancer. I can turn them around on a high fat, animal based diet. I use many different diets and do prescribe plant based diets, but I also prescribe meat based diets as frequently.
For those who are interested, I suggest the following books:
The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre. This details the journey of a woman whose health was destroyed on a vegetarian diet, and who achieved good health raising her own cows for meat and milk, her own chickens, and consumption of fat. Pure White and Deadly, and Sweet and Dangerous, both books by the scientist John Yudkin who proposed that our refined sugar intake, not animal fat, was responsible for the major killers. His arguments and data are indisputable. He also demolishes the link between animal fat and heart disease as proposed by scientists like Campbell.
Coronary Heart Disease – The Dietary Sense and Nonsense, by George Mann mentioned above. This scientist demolishes the dietary fat-heart disease hypothesis with facts and good epidemiological evidence.
The Great Cholesterol Con by the English physician and researcher Malcolm Kendrik, who again, like Mann and Yudkin, systematically demolishes the proposed link between animal products and heart disease.
For anyone with an interest in nutrition, a starting point is the classic test Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price. In this book, Dr. Price provides his epidemiological data accrued in his many year study of traditional cultures who enjoyed good health, many of whom followed a high fat, high animal product diet.
By Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D.
Roger Altman says
Thanks for this valuable information. Question: Despite your well documented and persuasive evidence, why do some people appear to do well on an exclusive vegan or vegetarian diet?
mary beth gonzalez says
Dr. Gonzalez often said that people may appear to do well on a vegetarian diet but for their most optimal health, all humans need some animal protein. For example, even Gonzalez’s (and Dr. Kelley’s) most vegetarian-type diets included some fish and eggs.
Peggy Morsch says
My grandmother lived to 99, my mother – 95. They both ate a German diet of meat, cheese & milk with appropriate fruits, vegetables and potatoes. I tried vegetarianism in my mid 20’s – 35ish and ate far too much sugar. Blood cancer found me. Now eating grass-fed beef, free range chickens & eggs and organic cheese. Exercise daily & strength train so let’s see where this healthy span takes me. 😊
Ronald Canfield says
I have type 2 diabetes. I manage it with plant based Whole Foods. No sugar salt oil. I understand Insulin resistance is caused by excess fat in cells not designed to have high levels of fat. Because of this I do not eat animal products. Your thought ?
mary beth gonzalez says
We know, from numerous studies, that type 2 diabetes (T2D) can be reversed by changes in diet and lifestyle. Lean fish and eggs do not have high levels of fat.
Thank you for the reply.
What is valuable about Fish and Eggs that cannot be had with plants ? Thank you.
mary beth gonzalez says
Fish is filled with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as D and B2 (riboflavin). Fish is rich in calcium and phosphorus and are a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. Eggs are a perfect protein source with all nine “essential” amino acids. Plus, they have selenium, phosphorus, choline, vitamin B12 and multiple antioxidants, which help keep your cells healthy. All of Dr. Gonzalez’s metabolic diets recommend some fish and eggs as well as plants.
Barbara Ezell says
I am trying Dr. Esselstyn’s vegetarian plan as mentioned in doc “Forks over Knives” because I found out I have high risk Calcium CT Heart scan score with blockages in my arteries. I had been using grass-fed butter and eating eggs and good meats, chicken, and fish, whole milks, etc., so this came as a shock. Now I hope to reverse this serious condition, and lower cholesterol, blood sugar, and improve artery flow. So much information out there seems to cancel out each other. Because of my genetics, I feel I contributed to this condition through what I ate. Now with supplementation to this plant based eating with no oil, eggs, etc. I hope to improve my health.