These are momentous times for sharing with the public the exceptional benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. By now, many people have seen President Clinton's comments on CNN and elsewhere about the dramatic turnaround in his personal health when he adopted this dietary lifestyle. Some of us have been doing research, clinical practice and writing about this dietary lifestyle for many years, sometimes having to overcome considerable skepticism (my own experience in experimental research and public policy making on food and health goes back a half-century). We all are indebted to President Clinton for his candor, indeed courage, in sharing his personal experience with the public.
Those of us in the professions have seen many times what this dietary lifestyle does--and I confess that sometimes we have been discouraged in not being able to penetrate the public mindset. But in the last two to three years the idea is definitely growing, mostly because people simply try it and see dramatic benefits for themselves. For myself, I have presented more than 300 lectures since the 2005 publication of our book, The China Study (co-authored with Thomas Campbell, MD) and the majority of my more recent lectures have been at medical venues and conferences. I personally have seen a very welcome adoption of this idea by an increasing number of medical practitioners, many wondering why they had not received nutrition training in medical school.
President Clinton has turned on a flashlight that will cast a very long ray of light.
One of the truly remarkable benefits of this dietary lifestyle is its ability not only to prevent future disease events, but even to treat already diagnosed diseases, an incredible opportunity to avoid expensive medical interventions, drugs and most dietary supplements. Reliable evidence exists to support this view both from the laboratory and from the clinic.
Even though the biology is complex, the message is simple. Choose a whole foods plant based diet--vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereal grains of your preference, but include lots of antioxidant-rich colored vegetables. Minimize added oil (no frying in oil), sugar and fat -- none is best. Animal based foods (including dairy) and processed foods are a no-no. Use some of your favorite herbs and spices to befriend your palate and you're on your way. Find great recipes on the internet and in many cookbooks. After a month or two, you will eliminate your addiction for fat and, presto! -- a whole new world of tastes!
The benefits of this dietary lifestyle are unusually broad, going beyond the prevention of most diseases like cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity, certain autoimmune diseases and nuisance diseases (colds, flu, acne, headaches, etc.). This dietary strategy has a remarkable ability to act fast to reverse already diagnosed diseases. This is food as medicine, at its best.
President Clinton specifically named our book, The China Study, and I applaud his forthright mention of his not using dairy. I came from a dairy farm and started my career strongly believing in the nutritional value of this food, especially for its protein content. But, in our experiments, we documented multiple times a remarkable ability of the main protein of cow's milk, casein, to promote cancer growth and to do so by a plethora of mechanisms. For many years, animal-based protein, like casein, has been known to increase blood cholesterol and encourage early stages of heart disease.
This is a very old story, with some of its most relevant parts beginning with the ancient Greek philosophers and medical caretakers. Important elements of this story also have been published in the scientific literature for at least the past century then, too often, left unnoticed.
But there is much yet to do, not the least of which is figuring out how best to inform the public in a way that offers a convenient, efficacious and affordable way to sustain behavior change, if they wish. This is one instance where government could help, simply informing its citizens of important information that comes into their possession, while letting them decide whether to take advantage of it. I get an equally enthusiastic response for this message from either side of the political spectrum. The last time I checked, I recall almost everyone wanting personal health. Could this be a bridge to span the political divide?
On March 11, 2011, a professionally produced documentary film, "Forks Over Knives", will be released in theaters that offers further insight into this story. These are exciting times because this message offers an opportunity for all to benefit, regardless of political persuasions. It's a great bridge to help resolve these contentious times.