My Biggest Issues with "The Cholesterol Myths"
Here is the conclusion to the post I began last week, about exploring alternative opinions to the nutritional value of plant based diets. It is based on my complete reading of The Cholesterol Myths by Dr. Uffe Ravnskov and the review of various other books, websites and proponents of this alternate diet.
Illogical Premise of Theory
"One of the proponents once accused me of pointing only to studies that do not support the diet-heart idea and, thus, of using a technique similar to the one the proponents use. He was right. What he failed to remember is that, if a scientific hypothesis is sound, it must agree with all observations...if there is only oneproof against it...the hypothesis must be rejected." (pg. 12)
Dr. Ravnskov here identifies the entire weakness of the argument pushing a diet high in animal products. To his credit, he clearly presents the case against fat and cholesterol being the causes of heart disease. He presents convincing evidence that lowering saturated fat and even meat consumption show no correlation to reducing heart disease.
The connection which alludes Dr. R in all the studies is simple: the amount of animal products (milk, cheese, white meats..) was not reduced, and whole grain, whole fruit and vegetable consumption was notincreased.Where his argument crumbles is his attempt to unravel any connection between diet and heart disease. He clearly lacks the burden of proof. The underlying message of the book is clear. Eat as many animal products as you want. With this he makes an illogical and dangerous jump, even according to his own words (as sighted above).
Emotional and Unprofessional Statements:
"For many years, millions of people have endured a tasteless, tedious diet...because of the diet-heart idea." (p 11) In his only reference to a vegetarian lifestyle study (conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish) Dr. R says,
"It is laudable to try prevention without drugs, and we already know that it may be health-promoting to to avoid being overweight, to exercise a little and to avoid smoking and mental stress, but with such weak evidence, why inflict a diet that only rabbits may find tolerable on millions of people? Perhaps the results would have been better if the patients' inner sense of peace and well-being had been strengthened further by allowing them to eat more satisfying and nutritious foods." (emphasis mine, pg 224)
In a book touted to draw conclusions based on research alone, I feel the emotion-laden statements above are detracting, unprofessional and completely unfounded. If his premise were, "this book is about my opinion why we should all not care about what we eat" he could rightfully include value-judgements. On a side note, in reference to the latter quote, I think the use of the word "may" was a huge stretch. I also felt he dishonestly interpreted the study and made no mention of the ongoing results of the Lifestyle Project. (I am not a huge fan of Dr. Ornish, I think things get conflicted when a person tries to profit so much from their research. For example his line of food products.) Too bad Dr. R did not mention any of the work of Dr. Esselstyn or have access to the research of Dr. Campbell.
Lack of Evidence for Healthy High Animal Product Diet
With an underlying theme of diet doesn't matter for your health, I found he presented no positive correlations to this. His only examples were the primitive civilizations of the Masai and Samburu. But these people don't eat whatever they want, they don't have access. They also exercise far beyond any other people. I could only find neutral results mentioned. In other words, the "low-fat" diet proposed by the American Heart Association which includes high amounts of animal protein, compared to control groups.
People Can't and Won't Change
The reasoning goes, "why impose a diet no one will live by." I can't buy this argument. I believe people can and will change. However access to accurate nutritional information, and to the satisfying ways of living on a majority plant based diet are crucial. "One criticism that is constantly leveled at the dietary argument is that patients will not make such fundamental changes...This criticism is not only wrong and insulting to patients; it is also self-fulfilling. If doctors do not believe that patients will change their diets, they will neglect to talk about diet, or do it in an off-hand, disparaging way. There is no greater disrespect a doctor can show patients than that of withholding potentially lifesaving information based on the assumption that patients do not want to change their lifestyle." (pg 131, The China Study) This sums up how I feel.
The Weston Price Foundation
I also felt it was critical to address the Weston Price Foundation, the publishers of this book. The WPF promotes a high animal product based diet. Their reasoning is based on the work of a Dentist for whom the foundation was named. He studied the teeth of primitive societies with raw animal based diets, with superb dental health. Dr. Price then drew many conclusions about the benefits of this lifestyle based on his expertise in Dentistry.
The WPF launches the majority of attacks against plant based diets. They argue the mass farming of grains destroys the environment. Clearly I find this logic skewed. I disagree with their arguments living a plant based diet is not healthy or nutrient dense. I disagree with their interpretations and reviews of The China Study. My research and faith, find it very difficult to believe we can eat animal products as frequently as we wish and suffer no ill consequences. What I agree with are their views on sustainable farming, pasture raised animals, raw dairy, and only fermented soy products.
Their website is full of articles trying to convince vegans and vegetarians to see the light and start eating their way. However, I find solid rebuttals for each of their arguments. There is a great local store called Real Foods, where we buy our raw dairy. All of their produce is organic and sustainable. They also offer great classes. Their store is built around much of the philosophies of the Weston Price Foundation. In fact, just a couple days ago, a helpful employee tried to sell me on their "X factor" butter. It is $60 per pound. I always start to struggle with a company or philosophy who begins to sell a "must have" product for health. I think this becomes a slippery slope very quickly. It often leads to the murky world of MLM's, and I don't need to explain how much I DESPISE those! Sally Fallon's, founder of WPF, book Nourishing Traditions is full of product pushing for MLM companies. I also find it very telling, her book has a glowing endorsement from the late, and infamous "Dr. Atkins."
In summary, the WPF has bits and pieces of excellent nutritional information. However, in my opinion, they are confused on the main premise of unlimited animal products.
How I Changed our Diets
Interestingly enough, I decided to reduce our overall fat intake by this current research. It is clear that not just animal fats are the culprits. All added fats seem to have a detrimental effect on our health. What I am trying to decrease are the added fats like oils. In my baking I am learning to substitute for oil. These include apple and banana purees. The Cholesterol Myths book, made it clear I needed to reduce our fat intake. Dr. Campbell in his lecture was also very adamant about this. However, I didn't feel the message came out so strongly in his book. I will not limit whole food plant fats. But extracted oils like olive oil, and coconut oil, I am on a quest to reduce.
So there it is. A great journey. I love everyone's thoughts and opinions and questions. Questions always help me clarify my positions and beliefs.