My Grandma, who raised me, was diagnosed with cancer. I was frightened, and as a scared 19-year old I was desperate to help. I needed answers. I needed to know how cancer worked and the best ways to fight it.
I started doing research. At the time I worked at a bookstore, and I remember I spent my entire paycheck for a month on various books about the science behind cancer, health, and nutrition. I went to the library and checked out ones I couldn't find at the store. I searched the web for published articles and studies. I watched documentaries, movies, and personal YouTube vlogs. I needed answers, and what I found changed my entire life. It shifted my beliefs surrounding modern medicine, dietary guidelines, and the ethics of our doctors. The discoveries I've made are the reasons I'm passionate about nutrition and have dedicated my life to helping others be healthier.
The one commonality I found in all of the research was the relation of food to our health. Food is either saving you or killing you, and I think everyone can agree with that. If your diet is high in processed, fatty junk foods, you know your body isn't in a healthy state. The nutrients our bodies need are found in wholesome foods. The less processed, the better.
The most comprehensive documentary I studied was Forks Over Knives. It covers the China Study, the Poland Study, discussed cancer in rats, and followed diseased ridden people during their prescribed treatments over a period of a few years. I highly recommend this documentary, whether you're vegan or not. It can be found in book format or as a film on Netflix. Just in case you don't want to, let me give you the highlights:
About a minute in we hear, "The Western diet is taking a toll. This should serve as a wakeup call. We have a growing problem, and the ones who are growing are us." Think about this for a moment. We do have a chronic problem, yet we keep turning to modern-day medicine and nothing else. This only masks the underlying sicknesses, it doesn't get rid of them. No less the 40% of Americans are obese, and 1/2 of us are taking a prescription drug. I want to pause here and say I do believe medicine is essential and saves lives, BUT it isn't the only solution. A healthy diet should be prescribed along with medications, though I think we'd find less need for pills and chemicals. The problem? There is no money in healthy or dead people. The money lies in the chronically ill.
The documentary interviews several doctors, but most prominently Dr. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. You'll have to watch the film to discover more about these two, but in short, they have made breakthrough discoveries. Dr. Campbell discovered children who had access to animal-based foods were more likely to get chronic diseases than the poor children during a time he spent in the Phillipeans. This revelation led him to the China Study.
The China Study took place from 1983 to 1990 and covered over 10,000 individuals from 85 countries in China. To this day, it is the most comprehensive study on the relationship between diet and health. They compared diets, lifestyle, and disease characteristics. Blood, urine and food samples were collected from each individual as well as a tally of the deaths caused by various chronic diseases. They discovered a more significant percentage of disease in those who ate a diet high in meat and dairy than those who did not. The research showed that the closer people ate to a plant-based diet, the less likely they would have a chronic disease.
Another hard evidence case is the study of disease in Polish during WW2. During this time the German invaded Poland and confiscated their animals to feed soldiers. Mortality from Circulatory Diseases was high (30 for every 10K) up in till 1940 when the Germans took over. At this time the death rates dropped significantly. When the war was over in 1945, mortality shot back up to above the 30's. If that isn't shocking to you, then I'm not sure you read that right. The rates of death due to circulatory diseases was directly related to their loss of animal-based foods.
The doctors of this film took this information and put it to use in real life patients with chronic illnesses, and we have the pleasure of watching their lives transform. Alongside their already prescribed treatment, these people were taught to adopt a whole food, plant-based diet. Joey Aucoin and Sand'Dera Nation are two of the humans we get to meet.
Joey Aucoin has type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Each morning his routine includes nine pills and shots so that he can survive. At this point, Joey has nothing to lose, and he gives the plant-based diet a try with help from the doctors. After just eight weeks, he was off all his medicine, down in weight, and reports that he has never felt so good. Joey is full of energy, he feels better, and his family is proud of him. After 22 weeks, his blood sugar is back to normal, his cholesterol is low, his diabetes is completely gone, and he has lost a total of 30 pounds. This saved his life.
Sand'Dera Nation is working for a diabetic doctor when she discovers that she has gotten ill with diabetes and hypertension. After meeting with Dr. Esselstyn, she makes the switch. It wasn't easy for her after years of eating fatty, processed food, but she prevailed with the help of the doctors and her family. After two months, her blood pressure and blood sugar levels dropped, and her diabetes had reversed. Just like Joey, she's never felt better and plans to stick to this lifestyle.
Together, the evidence from case-studies, research, and lab tests, they have shown that food is directly related to chronic illness. The better your diet, the better you are. I want to make note that the filmmakers aren't persuading you to become vegan, but rather asking you to become predominately plant-based. The less meat you eat, the better. So if you can't get rid of your animal consumption, then don't. Just choose to eat fewer animal products and more plant-based foods. It's also not necessarily the same thing as veganism. Many vegans eat processed foods, but the plant-based diet is as close to nature as you can get. No oils, no vegan cheese, no vegan 'meat' substitutes you find in stores. The plant-based diet is legumes, whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs. It sounds disgusting and hard, but I'll tell you from my experience it's not. It's the most delicious diet I have ever had.
However, I'm not the perfect vegan. There are times when I slip up and eat dairy or eggs (I draw the line at flesh and bones). When I first made the switch, it was challenging to travel and stick to the diet, and I spent five years doing nothing but that. I found myself leaning more towards vegetarian than vegan, but still aimed to eat as close to whole foods as I could. Today, it's much easier. I love cooking and trying out vegan restaurants, but I still eat dairy every now and again. I'm not ashamed. My personal goal is to eat predominantly plant-based, not 100%. I do believe I will eventually become entirely plant-based, as the more I learn about it, the less I like dairy.
Unfortunately, none of this research did my family and me any good at that time. My Grandma passed just before my 21st birthday. I still cry. My aunt still hurts. My Grandpa puts together bouquets of beautiful flowers and visits her grave weekly. And for this, I never want to watch another person I love die from such a terrible disease. I believe in the power of food. I believe in this diet. I see the facts and the research, and it's what inspires me to work in this field. I don't want to watch another person I love die from a disease that can be prevented by eating better. I especially don't want to put my loved ones through the pain of watching me perish from heart disease or diabetes. Sure, it can still happen, but we significantly reduce our risks by merely having a better diet. It sucks seeing someone in so much pain and not being able to do something about it. Just remember that the next time you say, "but I only live once, so I might as well eat the junk."
With all of this said, do I think you should make the switch too? No. I think you should do your research and come to a conclusion on your own. What do you think is the best diet for you? Ask the dirty questions and look for evidence to support you. Make your conclusions and then choose a diet that you can stand behind.