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Forks Over Knives Comes Real Close to Getting it Right

Posted on September 13th, 2011 by Matt Schoeneberger

… and then they screw it all up.

If I had to sum-up the general message of the movie, it would go something like this with where I agree in blue and where I disagree in red:

Most Western diseases, namely CHD, diabetes and cancer, can be greatly reduced by a large-scale change to our dietary habits from the standard American diet to a whole food plant-only diet.

The movie is largely a commercial for the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. who both promote a whole food plant-based diet. I will not perform a thorough review of either of their bodies of work. Someone has done a way more awesomer job than I could have critiquing Campbell’s China Study. What I will do is say a few quick things specifically about how the movie was made that you should keep in mind if you decide to watch it.

***UPDATE*** 9/23: Denise Minger (the ‘someone’ I mentioned above) wrote a much longer, much more in-depth review here.

First, it’s a documentary and it follows the common new documentary process: Some sciencey talk, the filmmaker’s personal success or experience, some other testimonials and heart string tugging stuff, cool animations that make it easy for you to understand complex statistics or complicated physiological processes in a way that is inaccurate or misleading, and hefty dose of bias. Oh, and don’t forget about “the man” in whatever form – big government, big pharma,etc.

The most egregious (that one is for Jeff – he likes that word) offense is when presenting the outcomes of Dr. Campbell’s work regarding casein protein (found in dairy) and cancer. In short, expose rats to aflatoxin (a carcinogen). Then feed them either 20% or 5% casein protein. The 20% group develops cancer, the 5% group not as much. The conclusion is supposedly that casein causes cancer, or at least allows it to flourish in the presence of carcinogens. Instead of leaving it there, the filmmakers then switch the term from “casein protein” to “animal protein” and show piles of meat on a grill while still talking cancer…

Listen up. You can’t do that. Casein is only found in dairy and those studies’ conclusions cannot be extrapolated to all animal protein. Period. Using science improperly to mislead your audience should be punishable by 30 Gibbs-style smacks upside the head.

We’re given a false dichotomy: Western Diet or Plant-Based Diet. Such is not the case. What makes it worse is that the definition of the Western diet changes suddenly, one second referring to cake and donuts and the next about animal products. Like when Dr. Pam Popper is speaking about changing her health destiny:

“My diet was pretty abominable. I thought the two principle food groups were caffeine and sugar.”

What the hell does that have to do with animal foods? How about the story of Evelyn Oswick, who says

“(I) ate all the chocolate candy I could eat. Ate every donut I could get my hands on. Oh I just loved things like that. A lot of gravy.”

Mmmmm. Meat donuts? You can’t point to a few people, or an entire nation of people, who have the problems associated with a variety of poor nutritional habits and lump it under one name (Western diet) and then paint that name with animal blood. 30 more head smacks!

I promised myself I wouldn’t spend too much time on this because I could go step by step through the movie and give my two cents. It just kills me to see a film come so close to a good answer to a very serious problem, and then take a hard right turn into Propagandaville.

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18 Responses to “Forks Over Knives Comes Real Close to Getting it Right”

  1. [...] possibly eat, and an egg is exactly the same as a bag of Cheetos. A recent pingback led me to this review at (it’s not what you think), which nicely sums up the movie’s flip-flopping description [...]

  2. [...] possibly eat, and an egg is exactly the same as a bag of Cheetos. A recent pingback led me to this review at (it’s not what you think), which nicely sums up the movie’s flip-flopping description [...]

  3. Mark Demma says:

    Doesn’t this Matt guy know that Denise Minger doesn’t really exist? She was made up by those Westin A Price people. Satan made them do it, so we’d eat more meat.

  4. gallier2 says:

    The flaw in the casein study is even worse than what you exposed here. The 5% casein rats developed less cancers because they almost all died before they could look. So the choice was eat poison+few protein and die quickly or eat poison+adequate protein and die slowly. Chris Masterjohn’s rebuttal of Colin Campbell is imho better than Denise’ (they are not mutually exclusive as they do not handle the same subject).

  5. Charlie says:

    Your “much more in-depth review here” link seems to be messed up a little. Just thought you’d like to know.

  6. [...] possibly eat, and an egg is exactly the same as a bag of Cheetos. A recent pingback led me to this review, which nicely sums up the movie’s flip-flopping description of America’s cuisine: “the [...]

  7. Bernd says:

    not to sure if I am the only one missing that but nobody explains what is actually a 5% casein protein diet and what is a 20% casein protein diet. Meaning putting the amount in grams and ounces. How much meat , milk etc you have to eat to get 20% casein and how much you have to eat to get a 5% casein. also on what is the 5% and 20 % based is based on the entire consumption of food . So if that means maybe you can still have some milk etc but instead maybe 2 glasses only a half glass
    so basically my questions is where does the 5 % and 20% come from from what number etc

    • Matt Schoeneberger says:

      It’s been a while so I’m not sure I remember. It’s either 5/20% of calories or 5/20% by gram weight. It seems milk is about 80/20 casein/whey, so each serving of milk has 6.4 grams of casein, or about 26 calories. To make that 20% of your diet by calorie you’d have to consume a ton of milk and cheese.

      Doesn’t really matter, to be honest. The take-home message from those studies is don’t expose yourself to carcinogens. The 5% group died faster and the 20% group got cancer. Neither one sounds like fun.

  8. mhikl says:

    The lack of honest discussion is glaring. Todays typical SAD has evolved tremendously since the 50s. Honest discussion is not between two diets, Plant Based and Other with other being junk food to SAD to other possibly more healthy alternatives life choices. We need studies, real science based studies by honourable scientists without agenda. Of course a plant based diet is better than a take-out diet, but how does it compare to other alternative diets that exclude sugar and other refined foods. Also the statistics are questionable. That we eat more protein today than our relatives from 1900 is not true, especially when the ratio of animal to grains and other plant foods is taken into consideration. If one has to fudge the facts to prove a case, then the case these nuts are hawking is very weak indeed.

  9. Mabel says:

    So I’ve been reading a lot about the critiques of Forks Over Knives and what no one will say is what they think is best. I agree that more whole foods less processed foods and avoiding GM foods is a step in the right direction but what is your opinion on Animal foods? Should they be eaten less? Should it be only organic free range foods? Please help me answer this.

    • Matt Schoeneberger says:

      Hi Mabel,

      My opinion on animal foods is they’re fair game and the same rules apply; minimally processed, etc. Eaten less? Less than what? I think animal foods can make-up a small or large part of a person’s diet depending on their preferences. I don’t see enough evidence to think only organic or free range meats should be eaten.

      This is all good news. You have choices. There is no evidence of a perfect diet for health, no matter what anyone says. Get the basics down and move on to other, more fun things.

      If you have follow-up questions, ask away.


  10. [...] possibly eat, and an egg is exactly the same as a bag of Cheetos. A recent pingback led me to this review at (it’s not what you think), which nicely sums up the movie’s flip-flopping description of [...]

  11. […] possibly eat, and an egg is exactly the same as a bag of Cheetos. A recent pingback led me to this review at (it’s not what you think), which nicely sums up the movie’s flip-flopping description of […]

  12. Bob says:

    I’m coming to the conclusion that almost everyone from kindergarten to a thermonuclear biobotaonist nutritional paleoveggie scientist is lacking in both common sense and correct accurate knowledge in order to base their decisions and actions. I’m going to make this as easy an chimprat paleo vegan can do it. Find proper waist size charts for bone structure and height online and buy a tape measure. If the waist is too big stop eating. If it’s just right, you found a better diet than you had before. Most diseases are based on caloric loading beyond maintenance and the foods that get us in the slobbery condition matters only a little. They do matter but are a distant second to the waist size. If that isn’t corrected it doesn’t matter if you ate a tub of lard or a bowl of brown rice. If lard pushed you over the caloric edge, the rice is actually a little better. There is science to back that up also.

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