Forks Over Knives: Can a Vegan Diet Cure What Ails You?

Forks Over Knives

Photo: Pond5

Whether you’ve got heartburn, arthritis, or high cholesterol and blood pressure, it’s possible to walk out of your doctor’s office with an Rx for pretty much anything that ails you. Yet, what if you could get the same results — simply by changing your diet? That’s the premise behind the cult-favorite Forks Over Knives diet, a plant-based eating plan developed by Dr. Alona Pulde and Dr. Matthew Lederman.

The Forks Over Knives concept was first introduced to the world in a 2011 documentary, exploring the science-backed and anecdotal evidence of plant-based eating. Since then, three books based on the plan have become New York Times Bestsellers. With the help of a variety of experts, including T. Colin Campbell, a Cornell University nutrition expert, Pulde, Lederman, and others, The Forks Over Knives Plan explores how to transition to a “life-saving” plant-based diet.

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But can changing your eating habits really reverse or prevent the progression of illness?

The Benefits of Eating Green

Nobody can deny that modern medicine has helped people in many ways. But Dr. Matthew Lederman believes plant-based eating offers an entirely new, side effect-free way for people to get healthy.

“I was very frustrated with medicine all together… the patients and I were both frustrated to the point where I was almost going to get out of medicine altogether,” Lederman says. But as he started experimenting with plant-based nutritional medicine, he realized, “This was a way to treat patients…that could really make a difference.”

Even more encouraging: As soon as his patients switched to 100 percent plant-based plans (no eggs, fish, meat-products of any kind), they saw immediate and impressive results, Lederman says. “People struggling with chronic disease, heart disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue, arthritis — if they jump in 100 percent — they’ll see changes within a week depending on the symptoms and situation,” Lederman says.

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Marisa Moore, RDN and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition says that she’s also seen fast results after helping people go plant-based. “After three months people see differences — it can be as soon as one month but usually we’d do blood testing after three months,” Moore says. “Some might find they notice an increase in energy way before that, within a week, after cutting out foods higher in saturated fat that may be weighing them down.”

Science backs up their anecdotal evidence, too. A 2014 study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, which provided a meta-analysis of 32 earlier studies and seven clinical trials, showed that following a vegetarian diet was linked to lower blood pressure, compared to an omnivorous diet. Another recent study from the University of South Carolina found that a vegan diet was the most effective for weight loss compared to vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian or omnivorous diets. And other studies found that going veg could reduce heart disease risk by up to one-third, and reduce overall risk of death.

Forks Over Knives

Photo: Pond5

Forks Over Knives: Can Going Plant-Based Really Cure You?

The health benefits of switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet may seem obvious, but reversing a medical condition or getting off medications for good can be trickier than it seems. “You have to find a doctor that knows plant-based medicine and how to [safely] take people off medications,” Lederman advises.

“Look at making your plants and vegetables the heart of your plate.”

In the Forks Over Knives documentary, one patient relates the story of how she was able to thrive for years, despite a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, thanks to a plant-based diet. Lederman acknowledges that it’s impossible to say vegetarianism was responsible for these results. “You don’t know if they lived longer than they would have, or better than they would have, but my guess is yes, they probably did live better.”

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And in some cases, diet may not make a difference at all. “There are cancers that, no matter what changes you make, you’re going to die,” Lederman acknowledges. Yet, for other types of cancer, like prostate, a vegan diet has been shown to help prevent the spread of disease for years. Plus, Moore acknowledges, “Vegetarians do tend to live longer and have lower risk of certain cancers.” 

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If you’re ready to give up bacon and burgers for a plant-based plan, Lederman recommends easing into vegetarianism slowly. “You want to minimize or eliminate animal products, added oils, sweeteners, processed and refined foods — those are not health promoting,” Lederman says. “Remove the ones that are easy to remove first; and the ones that are more challenging, I would just limit those.”

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In other words, you don’t have to go cold turkey (so to speak). If you can’t imagine a life without chicken, but can live without red meat, eliminate that from your diet first and allow yourself to enjoy chicken once in awhile. “Don’t throw the whole diet in the trash just because you’re unwilling to do a couple of things,” Lederman says.

Moore also points out that it’s important for vegetarians and vegans to make sure they’re getting adequate doses of nutrients found only in animal-based products. For example, it can be difficult to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron and vitamin B12 when foregoing meat products. Moore recommends turning to fortified foods, B12 supplements, or incorporating microalgae and kelp into salads and soups to ingest enough omega-3 fatty acids.

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“There are many options and my advice is to look at making your plants and vegetables the heart of your plate,” Moore says. “You just get used to it. You don’t have to get caught up in labels saying, ‘Oh I’m vegan.’ It’s just about adding more plant-based food to your diet.”