Forks Over Knives?


The Quick Answer:  Americans enjoy their meat—to excess.  To live longer and suffer less disease: 1) eat meat sparingly,  2) buy healthier meats,  3) cook meat at lower temperatures, and 4) combine it with more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.


The picture above is for a new food documentary you should see: Forks Over Knives.   If you study the image, you’ll see the knife isn’t for cutting your steak—it’s a surgeon’s scalpel designed to cut you!  There are 500,000 heart bypass operations annually in the U.S.  It’s a terribly invasive procedure that leaves one scarred.  The best way to reduce your risk of bypass surgery—and premature death—is to eat better, including less meat.

The fork and scalpel are symbols of an important message:  what you eat will protect your life better than surgery, or other medical interventions.  The movie is not anti-doctor, in fact it portrays doctors in their most noble role—teaching people how to live and be well.  Take Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a cardiologist in his late ‘70s with boyish good looks, and author of How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.  Esselstyn practiced at a prestigious hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, but challenged conventional treatment by starting an experiment of treating heart patients with nutrition and exercise rather than surgery.  This happened over twenty years ago and Esselstyn’s lifestyle intervention was so successful many of his patients, once at death’s door, are still alive.  Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, was also featured.  These men espouse a vegan lifestyle though they prefer ot call it a "whole food, plant-based" diet.

Yesterday was Memorial Day.  I spent the morning trying to write this post, making little progress.  After lunch I went down to the beach to visit with friends and soak up some rays.  There was a big crowd and everyone seemed healthy and happy.  Later the beautiful wife and I went to see Forks Over Knives.  The movie was a reminder of the terrible toll the standard American diet (SAD) takes on our health and it made me wonder if I’m being too calm and rational in writing these posts.  Is more passion needed?  The movie was shown at the theatre by the UC Irvine campus and afterwards we had dinner at a vegetarian café.  I had chili and the kale salad; my wife’s salad had a tropical fruit relish.  At the next table were two coeds who, it turned out, were on the board of directors of the Real Food club, a sustainable food movement on campus.  We visited; after the movie, the vegetarian cafe seemed a safe place.  One problem: I like meat.

Driving home I thought about my favorite meats: salmon, meat loaf with baked potato, the traditional Sunday roast, Thanksgiving turkey, pork chops with homemade applesauce, the occasional BLT sandwich.  It was wonderful.  This morning when I awoke, I knew what points to make in this post.

Point #1:  I admire the doctors who spoke in the movie, but I doubt the vegetarian lifestyle will ever become mainstream in America.  It’s just not happening.  Moreover, because it’s so hard to prove anything with certainty in nutrition, science will never have hard proof of just how much meat to eat.  So accepting that less meat is better than more, we should use our common sense to integrate our other two sources of guidance: food tradition and scripture.

Point #2:  History reveals a long tradition of meat eating, but more to flavor food than as the main dish.  The societies around the world with the longest-lived people were studied in a book called The Blue Zones.  One habit common to all the longest lived was very modest meat consumption, just a few servings weekly. 

Point #3:  The scriptures have cautioned about meat eating.  In Genesis we are counseled to make herbs and fruits our meat; in Moses’ time Israel was restricted in what meats they could eat, and how animals should be killed; Daniel with his three friends benefited from eating plant foods (pulses) instead of the king’s meat; and the Apostle Paul warns darkly of carnal living.  The canonized LDS scripture known as the Word of Wisdom counsels eating meat “sparingly”—perhaps the best and most succinct guidance found anywhere.

Point #4:  In the post Protein 101, we concluded that Americans get plenty of protein in their diet, but would benefit from getting more from plant sources and less from meat.  This is a matter of personal choice, we are all different, but a pound of meat a week seems plenty for us.  (Americans average four pounds weekly.)

Point #5:  The type of meat is important:  wild fish is better than farmed; pastured beef is better than meat from feedlots; poultry (white meat) is said to be better than red meat; and fresh meats are way better than processed meats (ham, bacon, jerky, hot dogs, etc.).  A good rule: eat less meat, but of better quality.

Point #6:  The form of cooking is critical as higher heats create carcinogens and mutagens.  Charred meat from the BBQ grill can be toxic.  Stewing is better than baking, and baking is better than frying.  Studies (AJCN, March 2010; discussed online here) show the tradition of stewing meat with herbs and spices reduces harmful oxidized fats.   

Point #7:  Want to reduce your exposure to pollutants?  Eat less meat, and favor pastured meat.  Government sources say meat is our #1 source of pollutant exposure. 

Budget Wisdom: Eating less meat is a big cost savings for families:  If the four pounds Americans eat each week cost $6/lb., and the price of eating just one pound (see point #4) of healthier meat was $10/lb., a family of four would eat better and save $56 a week through reduced meat intake.  Some of your savings could be spent on a lower-cost but healthier replacement, like vegetables including legumes, nuts, fruits, and whole grains.  The rest could be put in a jar for a family reunion in southern France, or wherever your dreams take you.

Comment:  Please share ideas on good sources for meat and meat products.

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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  • Response
    In this pollution world we must maintain diet and take precaution in eating junk and fast food. It is always better to have more vegetables and fruits in your meals rather than heavy meat and alcohol. If we can reduce eating of non-vegetarian food that will be better for our health. ...
  • Response
    Americans enjoy their meat—to excess.To live longer and suffer less disease:1) eat meat sparingly,2) buy healthier meats,3) cook meat at lower temperatures, and 4) combine it with more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.It’s a terribly invasive procedure that leaves one scarred. The best way to reduce your risk of bypass surgery—and ...
  • Response
    Response: slash

Reader Comments (26)

I too enjoy meat. We try to limit red meat to once a week.

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Louros

Without necessarily a conscious effort on our part to do so, we've significantly reduced our red meat consumption by substituting ground turkey for virtually every ground beef dish we eat. I've found that I can season the turkey to taste similar, if not identical, to the hamburger I would've normally used. We've also found that the occasional real hamburger or ground beef meatloaf leaves us all with achy stomachs, and a line for the bathroom. I'm surprised at my body's new response to what was once a staple in our home! That's not to say that I wouldn't devour a Prime Rib if given the opportunity, but I can see these little changes making a big difference for my family. Our next step will be to get my kids used to eating more fish, then cut back our meat to twice/week. It's about progress, not perfection, right?

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonesy

Unfortunately, I know very little about sources for high quality meat other than go to your local farmers market, find the booths selling meat cuts, and start talking to the people about their animal-raising practices. If you like what you hear, buy their meat.

I almost never pay $6/lb for meat in the store, but that may be a signal that I'm not eating high quality enough meat. I have a lot of meat in the freezer, and my goal lately has been to not buy any more. We eat a lot of vegetarian meals and then sometimes, I go to the freezer and see what meat needs to be used up.

Tonight's dinner was an Indian lentil dish that was simple and fabulous. Oh, and an artichoke each. We didn't wish for meat.

I wish I lived somewhere that had vegetarian cafes.

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterqueenann

What kind of chicken and turkey would be considered the best? We eat ground turkey breast occasionally because I read somewhere that it was the healthiest. I know that grass fed beef is best, but I try not to buy a lot of beef.

We have been leaning toward a more vegetarian diet as well. I would go 100% vegetarian, except that I don't know if that is the right choice. The scriptures say to eat meat sparingly, not to exclude meat altogether. But, then again, it says to reserve meat for times of famine and cold, which we don't really experience. Thanks to my heater, we are not left in the cold, and it's difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to go hungry in this country. So, I'm left with the question, if I don't really NEED the meat in the way the Word of Wisdom describes, do I really need the meat?

My childhood tells me I do. The way I was raised, you need a meat at every meal, or at least at lunch and dinner. The older I get, the more I realize that I only need meat for the protein, so if I can get the protein somewhere else, why am I using the meat? But, I have a hard time with the concept of removing an entire food group from my diet. All things in moderation, correct?

As you can see, I struggle with this one!

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

This website lets you search by area code for local farms - meat, fruit/veg, dairy.
I have cut my meat consumption down to one or two servings per week and feel great.

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersimply heidi

Really appreciate this post about meat. It's been on my mind lately ever since delving into the scriptures for counsel about health. I always heard "everything in moderation" in regards to meat but upon actual reading of the Word of Wisdom, the verse after says it all, "but it is pleasing unto me if it is not eaten, only in times of cold or famine." This was a newsflash to me. How come there aren't more vegetarians among us? Should we be having summer BBQ's? I had a lot of questions and wanted to discuss this with somebody so I'm glad to find a safe forum here to do so.
Reading, anew the W.O.W kept me from eating meat, for awhile....and although I haven't given up meat completely I have (as the mother and cook) greatly reduced it at our house. I try to make a meatless dinner most nights of the week. We have an occasional Sunday roast and burgers on the grill every couple of weeks.
One thing I've discovered is the less I eat meat, the less I want it. It just doesn't sound good to me as much anymore and so if I do eat it, I take a small portion. Tonight we had quinoa with black beans.
I was considering investing in a grass fed cow--around here you can buy a cow and have it pastured by someone, then just pay for it to be slaughtered and packaged. But, I'm not sure if we would be able to eat even half that much so I haven't yet. I did find farm fresh eggs but I don't know where to get good chicken.

I wish my town had a BEACH :)

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLC

I really appreciate this blog. About a year ago, my husband and I decided to try out a vegetarian (him)/vegan (me) diet, mostly for health reasons. We both love meat, but I really was not feeling well and after some initial research, I decided to make some changes to my diet. I already had cut out dairy products because of lactose intolerance. We thought we would try it for 3 months and a year later, we are still doing it. Because the Word of Wisdom using words like "sparingly" when it talks about meat consumption, we didn't want to cut it out entirely. Our solution is to eat vegetarian/vegan at home and when we go out to dinner (about once a month) we let ourselves get whatever we want and we also eat meat when we are invited over to someone's house for dinner. We have never felt better and are so glad that we made this change.

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCrystal

that is nice.. there is some words to change words.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdil

We have cut out most red meat, too. I rely on chicken, pork loin, and fish (caught be my husband), and meat is usually cut up and added to the entree, rather than being the focus. I have been increasing the amounts of veggies we eat at meals. If it's a vegetable my kids don't particularly like I disguise it in other foods. Shredded carrots, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and mashed avocado hide beautifully in muffins. Cauliflower is great cooked and mashed right along with the potatoes. Pureed cooked beets are delicious in chocolate cake.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTina

I'm so passionate about this topic! I look forward to the day when the LDS population begins talking about this more openly and really analyzing the habits that we've developed over the last 150 years or so. We need to make some major changes as a culture, and I look forward to the day when I'm in charge of organizing an activity or directing in an area of the church where I can make suggestions and implement changes.

We recently signed up for a meat CSA here in Chicago, and I really liked the experience. I liked that it forced me to try new cuts of meat, and that I knew where my meat was coming from. And we plan on not buying any other meat for the year, and using up what we have over time, which means that our total cost for grass-fed good-for-you meat will be $50/month. Next year I might even brave the cuts of liver, especially after watching some cooking shows where chefs seem to use them quite often. I've been thinking lately that it's important for us to use some of the less popular cuts of meat to eliminate waste. If we're going to slaughter an animal, I want to make sure we use up as much as possible and honor that animal's sacrifice of its life.

You can find a CSA near you (for veggies or fruits or flowers or meats or a variety of other things!) at sites like

I would love to see a post from you on seafood and sustainability. It's important that we respect livestock, wild game, AND the variety of creatures found in our oceans. When I started learning more about bycatch and what happens when we don't respect the marine culture I made some major changes. The aquarium here in Chicago has a little guide that I keep in my wallet that helps me know which seafood to buy. Seafood Watch Sustainable Seafood Guide is a great app for the iphone as well. I haven't eaten shrimp in a long time because of this.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Great post and good practical suggestions. I think the key to eating meat sparingly is to find dishes (particularly dinners) that are as satisfying to us as the meals we have with meat (I seem to do poorly in my diet choices when I am “going without something”). A good example was right after Becky and I got married. We got a cookbook for our wedding called Health Italian Cooking (Stucchi). We both served our missions in Italy so we gravitated to this cookbook and found the recipes authentic and delicious. It became one of our primary go-to sources for meals. About three years after we began using the cookbook I realized that none of the dishes had meat – a healthy surprise!

In thinking lately about eating meat sparingly, I have been particularly concerned about the impact that our heavy meat diet in America has had. I believe that the horrific treatment of our meat animals in this country (which I find in many instances as quite irreverent) would be ameliorated if we followed the prophetic counsel in the Word of Wisdom.

We eat meat, but sparingly. We have the opportunity to raise our own grass-fed beef and pastured chickens (which I realize most people cannot do given their circumstances) and we try to give them a dignified life. If we need to purchase meat we try to be thoughtful. This injunction regarding our consumption of meat could be the most challenging aspect of WoW living.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

After having read "Eating Animals" from Jonathan Safran Foer, and watched several documentaries about the meat industry in the US, I decided to stop eating meat. I and my partner are now 100% vegetarians.
It seems to be very difficult to find good quality meat in your country, and poultry meat may be more healthy in theory, but in reality 99% of the turkeys / chickens in the US come from factory farming (=cruel and toxic).
I live in Australia and I reckon the meat industry is about the same as in the US. Becoming vegetarian was not easy: I had to learn again how and what to cook. But now we really enjoy our meals / feel great / discovered new flavors.
A French woman living in Australia (=about same meat industry as in US)

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

I love this blog.

I have been feeling that we (my family) need to eat less meat, and since I'm the mom and the cook of the household - we have been.

One thing to mention - in the Word of wisdom, it doesn't say to eat meat sparingly. It says, " 12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;" (D&C 89:12 I don't know if I'm being picky, but I notice that it doesn't mention fishes or animals of the sea. In the creation account (both in Genesis and in Moses) the creation of the creatures in the sea, the fowls of the air, and the beasts of the earth are recorded. It is striking to me that the same distinction is not made in the word of wisdom... It makes me wonder if we should cut out a lot of our meat consumption, but not necessarily fish consumption.

When I think of this in a scriptural/historical sense, it kind of makes sense, too. As far as, if you have a chicken or a cow, you're not going to eat it. You're going to gather the chicken's eggs. You will drink the cow's milk, make cheese, etc. However, when famine comes, and you're desperate, there may be a point when you do, finally, kill the cow. Fish, on the other hand, don't seem to fit into this same category.

I don't suggest that we eat fish 3 times a day, to replace the other meat that we're eating. But, for my household, I'm trying to have us eat less meat by replacing some "meat meals" with vegetables and grains high in protein. Other "meat meals" are being replaced with a healthy fish. And then, we will still have a few "meat meals" here and there, but it will definitely be sparingly.

(I also love how this translates into more money for better quality meat!)

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchococatania

I don't think we are expected to eat no meat. If that were the case, I think the WofW and the LDS church would be clear on that like no alcohol/coffee/drugs...we need to be wise and not eat in excess as you say- and make it a personal matter. I appreciate your suggestion to agree as a family on a definition of sparingly.

On a totally unrelated note, I was hoping maybe you knew something about other flours- barley, rice, etc. Could these be used interchangeably in recipes that call for all purpose or whole wheat flours? I don't know if certain flours are good for certain foods or flavors.

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJodi

I'm with Jodi. I think it would be much more clear if we weren't supposed to eat meat at all. I'm also the sort of person who, if I go several days without meat (but getting protein from other sources), I'll get very moody, irritable, and just out of sorts. It's not like I eat a steak for every meal--I usually only have a little bit of meat at dinner.

This is very interesting. As an LDS woman, and seeking to stay away from sugar addictions (my tendency), I have adopted the "Paleo Diet" you referred to. Truthfully, I feel wonderful, and have subscribed to most of their teachings. But it's a weird lifestyle. But then again, anything done in this "toxic world" seems extreme.
However, I don't know if I can forever keep out grains and beans. But I feel a ton less bloated and such.
It gets tricky to always be seeking protein sources all the time. My diet is mainly veggies, healthy fats, meats, and eggs. Oh and dark chocolate.
What do you think of this Paleo Diet? I must say, I do believe cutting out breads is inconvenient, but makes a lot of sense.

June 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLIz

Liz, thanks for sharing your experience. If it works for you, stay with it. We're all a little different. Best.

June 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

i wondered if you had ever read or seen the book, The Maker's Diet? It paralells the word of wisdom. i enjoy your site. thanks for all you efforts and sharing them.

June 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlaura

Laura, I had not seen, "The Maker's Diet" but I have placed an order. Thanks for the suggestion. Best.

June 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I have periodically "gone vegetarian." I don't like to eat meat. I can get my protein from elsewhere. I do rice, grains, and vegetables and "green smoothies." My problem is, after about six months, I start feeling terrible and my anemia returns. The last time, the iron levels were so low, I was nearly sent to the hospital for a transfusion. I was tired and had just got over a cold and was experiencing shortness of breath, but thought it was due to the lingering cough, but honestly, I didn't think I was that bad. I attribute my ability to keep going to my diet, however, I am back on iron pills and red meat (as much as I can stand). If I could avoid it, I would. I just don't know how to get away from it. I have experienced the anemia, off an on, since I was 18. I am now in my 40s.

June 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTeague

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