Biggest study ever on the effects of diet on health. The multiple health benefits of plant-based foods, and dangers of animal-based foods, including all types of meat, dairy and eggs.
What is my prescription for good health? In short, it is about the multiple health benefits of consuming plant-based foods, and the largely unappreciated health dangers of consuming animal-based foods, including all types of meat, dairy and eggs.
Hippocrates said, “There are, in effect, two things: to know and to believe one knows. To know is science. To believe one knows is ignorance.”
In experimental animals cancer growth can be turned on and off by nutrition, despite very strong genetic predisposition.
The concept of quality really means the efficiency with which food proteins are used to promote growth. This would be well and good if the greatest efficiency equaled the greatest health, but it doesn’t, and that’s why the terms efficiency and quality are misleading. “Low-quality” plant protein, which allows for slow but steady synthesis of new proteins, is the healthiest type of protein. Slow but steady wins the race.
The human body can derive all the essential amino acids from the natural variety of plant proteins that we encounter every day. It doesn’t require eating higher quantities of plant protein or meticulously planning every meal.
The best peanuts, which filled “cocktail” jars, were hand selected from a moving conveyor belt, leaving the worst, moldiest nuts to be delivered to the end of the belt to make peanut butter.
Initiates cancer-prone cells: Chemicals that do this are called carcinogens. These chemicals are most often the byproducts of industrial processes, although small amounts may be formed in nature, as is the case with aflatoxin. These carcinogens genetically transform, or mutate, normal cells into cancer-prone cells. A mutation involves permanent alteration of the genes of the cell, with damage to its DNA.
Promotion is reversible, depending on whether the early cancer growth is given the right conditions in which to grow. This is where certain dietary factors become so important.
Low protein intake could markedly decrease enzyme activity and prevent dangerous carcinogen binding to DNA.
The body could “remember” early carcinogen insults even though they might then lie dormant with low protein intake. That is, exposure to aflatoxin left a genetic “imprint” that remained dormant with 5% dietary protein until nine weeks later when this imprint reawakened to form foci with 20% dietary protein. In simple terms, the body holds a grudge. It suggests that if we are exposed in the past to a carcinogen that initiates a bit of cancer that remains dormant, this cancer can still be “reawakened” by bad nutrition.
Foci developed only when the animals met or exceeded the amount of dietary protein (12%) needed to satisfy their body growth rate. When the animals met and surpassed their requirement for protein, disease onset began.
Ten percent dietary protein is equivalent to eating about 50-60 grams of protein per day, depending on body weight and total calorie intake.
The national average of 15-16% is about 70-100 grams of protein per day, with men at the upper part of the range and women at the lower end.
In food terms, there are about twelve grams of protein in 100 calories of spinach (fifteen ounces) and five grams of protein in 100 calories of raw chick peas (just over two tablespoons).
There are about thirteen grams of protein in 100 calories of porterhouse steak (just over one and a half ounces).
A low-protein diet could override the cancer-causing effect of a very powerful carcinogen.
Plant protein did not promote cancer growth, even at the higher levels of intake.
Cow’s milk protein is an exceptionally potent cancer promoter.
Nutrients from animal-based foods increased tumor development while nutrients from plant-based foods decreased tumor development.
One of the strongest predictors of Western diseases was blood cholesterol.
Blood cholesterol is made in the liver. Blood cholesterol and dietary cholesterol, although chemically identical, do not represent the same thing.
Animal-based foods were correlated with increasing blood cholesterol. With almost no exceptions, nutrients from plant-based foods were associated with decreasing levels of blood cholesterol.
People who migrated from one area to another and who started eating the typical diet of their new residency assumed the disease risk of the area to which they moved.
First menstrual period: the range of village averages was fifteen to nineteen years, with an average of seventeen years. The U.S. average is roughly eleven years old!
Even though fiber was not digested, it was vital for good health. Fiber was able to pull water from the body into the intestines to keep things moving along. These undigested fibers, like stick-um paper, also gather up nasty chemicals that find their way into our intestines and that might be carcinogenic. If we don’t consume enough fiber, we are susceptible to constipation-based diseases.
Dietary fiber is exclusively found in plant-based foods.
Fiber, having few or no calories itself, helps dilute the caloric density of our diets, creates a sense of fullness and helps to shut down appetite, among other things. In doing so, it satisfies our hunger and minimizes the overconsumption of calories.
There was no evidence showing that increasing fiber intake impaired iron absorption in the body. In fact, we found the opposite effect. A good indicator of how much iron is in the blood, hemoglobin, actually increased with greater intakes of dietary fiber.
High-fiber consumption reflected high plant-based food consumption; foods such as beans, leafy vegetables and whole grains are all high in fiber.
The colors of fruits and vegetables are derived from a variety of chemicals called antioxidants.
We do not naturally build shields to protect ourselves against free radicals. As we are not plants, we do not carry out photosynthesis and therefore do not produce any of our own antioxidants. Fortunately the antioxidants in plants work in our bodies the same way they work in plants. It is a wonderful harmony.
Vitamin C intake from fruits clearly showed a powerful protective effect against a variety of diseases.
Can we say that vitamin C, beta-carotene and dietary fiber are solely responsible for preventing these cancers?
In other words, can a pill containing vitamin C and beta-carotene or a fiber supplement create these health effects?
No. The triumph of health lies not in the individual nutrients, but in the whole foods that contain those nutrients: plant-based foods.
In a bowl of spinach salad, for example, we have fiber, antioxidants and countless other nutrients that are orchestrating a wondrous symphony of health as they work in concert within our bodies.
The message could not be simpler: eat as many whole fruits, vegetables and whole grains as you can, and you will probably derive all of the benefits noted above as well as many others.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are the healthiest foods you can consume, and they are primarily made of carbohydrates.
The healthiest diet you can possibly consume is a high-carbohydrate diet. It has been shown to reverse heart disease, reverse diabetes, prevent a plethora of chronic diseases, and yes, it has been shown many times to cause significant weight loss.
The health benefits of a high-carbohydrate diet come from eating the complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Eat an apple, a zucchini or a plate of brown rice topped with beans and other vegetables.
Only a small amount of calories needs to be retained by our body to cause significant change in body weight. For example, if we retain only an extra fifty calories per day, this can lead to an extra ten pounds per year. You may not think that this is a lot, but over a period of five years, that’s an extra fifty pounds.
When we treat our body well by eating the right foods, it knows how to partition the calories away from body fat and into the more desirable functions like keeping the body warm, running the body metabolism, supporting and encouraging physical activity or just disposing of any excess. The body is using multiple intricate mechanisms to decide how calories get used, stored or “burned off.” Consuming diets high in protein and fat transfers calories away from their conversion into body heat to their storage form—as body fat
Diets low in protein and fat cause calories to be “lost” as body heat.
Consuming more protein was associated with greater body size. However, this effect was primarily attributed to plant protein,
Individuals can achieve their genetic potential for growth and body size by consuming a plant-based diet.
The most important point of this book: Everything in food works together to create health or disease.
The attention paid to fat and cholesterol is misguided. Fat and cholesterol were merely indicators of animal food intake.
The more animal protein you eat, the more heart disease you have.
The diet Dr. Esselstyn and his wife Ann, followed was free of all added fat and almost all animal products. “Avoid oils, meat, fish, fowl and dairy products.”
Forty-nine coronary events prior to a whole foods, plant-based diet, and zero events for those patients who adhered to a whole foods, plant-based diet.
Dr. Esselstyn has done what “Big Science” has been trying to do, without success, for over fifty-five years: he defeated heart disease.
They could eat as much food as they wanted, as long as it was on the acceptable food list, which included fruits, vegetables and grains. “No animal products were allowed except egg white and one cup per day of non-fat milk or yogurt.”
Losing body weight on a plant-based diet is much less likely to occur if the diet includes too many refined carbohydrates. Sweets, pastries and pastas won’t do it. These foods are high in readily digested sugars and starches and, for the pastries, oftentimes very high in fat as well.
I usually refer to the optimal diet as a whole foods, plant-based diet. Notice that a strict vegetarian diet is not necessarily the same thing as a whole foods, plant-based diet. Some people become vegetarian only to replace meat with dairy foods, added oils and refined carbohydrates, including pasta made with refined grains, sweets and pastries. I refer to these people as “junk-food vegetarians” because they are not consuming a nutritious diet.
How can you apply it to your own life? First of all, throw away ideas about counting calories. Generally speaking, you can eat as much as you want and still lose weight—as long you eat the right type of food.
Feeling hungry is a sign that something is wrong, and prolonged hunger causes your body to slow the overall rate of metabolism in defense.
Short-term studies in which subjects consume fewer calories while eating a plant-based diet. Over the long term, these subjects will find it very difficult to continue consuming an abnormally low level of calories; weight loss due to calorie restriction rarely leads to long-term weight loss.
Exercising a mere fifteen to forty-five minutes per day, every day, will maintain a body weight that is eleven to eighteen pounds lighter than it would otherwise be.
We housed rats fed either 5% or 20% casein diets in cages equipped with exercise wheels outfitted with meters to record the number of turns of the wheel. Within the very first day, the 5% casein-fed animals voluntarily “exercised” in the wheel about twice as much as the 20% casein-fed animals.
The diet that helps to reduce weight in the short run needs to be the same diet that creates and maintains health in the long run.
The prostate is a male reproductive organ about the size of a walnut, located between the bladder and the colon. It is responsible for producing some of the fluid that helps sperm on its quest to fertilize the female’s egg.
One of the most consistent, specific links between diet and prostate cancer has been dairy consumption.
Dairy intake is “one of the most consistent dietary predictors for prostate cancer in the published literature,” and those who consume the most dairy have double to quadruple the risk.
Major contributors of animal protein, meats, dairy products and eggs have frequently been associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer
Vitamin D metabolism. This “vitamin” is not a nutrient that we need to consume. Our body can make all that we need simply by being in sunlight fifteen to thirty minutes every couple of days.
The main component of this process is an active form of vitamin D produced in the body from the vitamin D that we get from food or sunshine. This active or “supercharged” D produces many benefits throughout the body, including the prevention of cancer, autoimmune diseases and diseases like osteoporosis. This all-important supercharged D is not something that you get from food or from a drug.
As it turns out, our diet can determine how much of this supercharged D is produced and how it works once it is produced. Animal protein that we consume has the tendency to block the production of supercharged D, leaving the body with low levels of this vitamin D in the blood. If these low levels persist, prostate cancer can result.
Animal protein suppresses the production of “supercharged” D. Excessive calcium, as found in milk, also suppresses the production of “supercharged” D.
Memory loss, disorientation and confusion are not inevitable parts of aging, but problems linked to that all-important lifestyle factor: diet.
High vitamin E levels in the blood are related to less memory loss. Less memory loss also is associated with higher levels of vitamin C and selenium, both of which reduce free radical activity. Vitamins E and C are antioxidants found almost exclusively in plant foods, while selenium is found in both animal- and plant-based foods.
For every three additional servings of fruits and vegetables a day, the risk of stroke will be reduced by 22%.
Americans love to hear good things about their bad habits.
Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Our bodies have evolved with this infinitely complex network of reactions in order to derive maximal benefit from whole foods, as they appear in nature. The misguided may trumpet the virtues of one specific nutrient or chemical, but this thinking is too simplistic. Our bodies have learned how to benefit from the chemicals in food as they are packaged together, discarding some and using others as they see fit. I cannot stress this enough, as it is the foundation of understanding what good nutrition means.
Vitamin supplements are not a panacea for good health.
There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
It is recommended that we consume B12 in food. Research has convincingly shown that plants grown in healthy soil that has a good concentration of vitamin B12 will readily absorb this nutrient. 10 However, plants grown in “lifeless” soil (non-organic soil) may be deficient in vitamin B12.
It is estimated that we hold a three-year store of vitamin B12 in our bodies.
I call these supplements “separation from nature pills,” because a healthy diet of fresh, organic plant-based foods grown in rich soil and a lifestyle that regularly takes you outdoors is the best answer to these issues.
Genes do not determine disease on their own. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed.
The origin of every single disease is genetic. Our genes are the code to everything in our bodies, good and bad. Without genes, there would be no cancer. Without genes, there would be no obesity, diabetes or heart disease. And without genes, there would be no life.
Nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.
A chemical touted as being highly carcinogenic, could be entirely controlled by nutrition. Even with large doses of aflatoxin, rats could be healthy, active and cancer-free if they were fed low-protein diets.
You aren’t doing yourself much good by eating organic beef instead of conventional beef that’s been pumped full of chemicals.
The same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages (before diagnosis) can also halt or reverse disease in its later stages (after diagnosis).
Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.
Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.
Sometimes people try to play these different parts of their lives against each other. People wonder if they can erase bad eating habits by being a runner. The answer to this is no. The benefits and risks of diet are crucially important, and more sizable, than the benefits and risks of other activities. Besides, why would anyone want to try and balance benefits and risks when they could have all the benefits, working together?
Good food and good health is simple. The biology of the relationship of food and health is exceptionally complex, but the message is still simple. The recommendations coming from the published literature are so simple that I can state them in one sentence: eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, while minimizing the consumption of refined foods, added salt and added fats.
Daily supplements of vitamin B12, and perhaps vitamin D for people who spend most of their time indoors and/or live in the northern climates are encouraged. For vitamin D, you shouldn’t exceed RDA limit.
While I recommend that you not worry about small quantities of animal products in your food, I am not suggesting that you deliberately plan to incorporate small portions of meat into your daily diet. My recommendation is that you try to avoid all animal-based products.
This mistake of characterizing whole foods by the health effects of specific nutrients is what I call reductionism. For example, the health effect of a hamburger cannot be simply attributed to the effect of a few grams of saturated fat in the meat. Saturated fat is merely one ingredient. Hamburgers also include other types of fat, in addition to cholesterol, protein and very small amounts of vitamins and minerals.