There has never been more buzz or hype over the latest food documentary “What the Health”. It’s hard not to scroll through social media and find people debating what’s right or wrong with the film or offering their thoughts on nutritional best practices.
Either way, if you’re for or against the film, it has created one hell of a stir! In my view, this is always a GOOD thing! Making health a debated and talked-about topic. Forcing people to form an opinion and to think about what food choices they are making.
If it was a scientific review of all the literature, then chances are you wouldn’t have even watched five minutes of the film. Scientific literature by nature doesn’t produce that much buzz, it’s the headlines and stats that are cherry-picked, sensationalised and turned into marketable tag lines like, “eating one egg is equivalent to 5 cigarettes!”
Reading or hearing that very phrase will evoke a strong response, whether you believe it or not.
The Paleo, meat-eating camp will tear shreds off it and tout that all the research doesn’t factor in the types of meat (if it is processed, grass-fed, wild-caught etc.) and how our ancestors evolved from eating meat.
The vegan camp will rejoice and tell you how much better they are going without the 5 cigarettes/eggs in their diet.
No matter how much shouting or arguing persists, neither will EVER be convinced that their views or beliefs are wrong. Unfortunately, once you subscribe to one style then, it can be defining and limiting.
For example, if you’re a vegan, you’re more likely to read vegan blogs, listen to vegan podcasts etc. And that will limit you from delving into other areas of research or learning. The same can be said for the Paleo camp too. People come to their beliefs and views on their own terms, especially when the argument is polarising. So, forcing view points on others often isn’t the best approach to getting the message out there.
As for the documentary “What the health” there were some pretty bold claims that have gained a lot of attention. Probably the one that stood out and could actually cause people harm is, “diabetes is not and never was caused by eating a high carbohydrate diet.”. This is like giving a loaded gun to a child then telling them to play with it. It is blatantly not true and defies science.
There are countless studies that shows low carb, ketogenic style diets (with high fats and low carbs) reverse diabetes. (1, 2)
High carb, sugary diets are frequently linked with weight gain, cognitive disorders, inflammatory diseases and of course, diabetes. (3-5)
Two of the doctors featured in the film, Neil Barnard and Garth Davis, infer that sugar is harmless and that fat causes insulin resistance. At another point, they say sugar is stored as glycogen and not fat. There is only so much glycogen that can be stored in the body, and when you have hit that limit, unless you’re in an energy deficit you will store it as fat. Continually raising your blood sugar over a period of time increases the risks of insulin resistance, CHD” (coronary heart disease), and fatty liver disease. (6, 7)
I’m not sure how these doctors haven’t read the literature on how sugar effects hormones (testosterone, cortisol, oestrogen), is addictive (similar brain path ways to drugs) and causes inflammation. (8, 9)
Probably the biggest claim of the whole documentary was that eating one egg is equivalent to smoking five cigarettes. I looked up the referred studies from this claim and it’s hard to draw a direct link or statement that draws a parallel from this, without looking at other factors like exercise, total diet and waist circumference. (10) There are several other studies that have shown the opposite results in improving CHD risk factors and improving insulin sensitivity. (11, 12)
However, the biggest debate from the documentary and won’t ever stop being in contention is whether or not meat is harmful to consume (i.e. the same effect as cigarettes). This is what stirs up emotions and divides arguments.
A lot of the research and what this documentary misses, is the fact that not all meat is created equal. Yes, there is no augment from me that some meat sources are going to move you closer to disease at a rapid rate. Factory-farmed, caged and highly processed meats have no place in our diets.
Lumping all this under the same umbrella isn’t a fair comparison. It’s like getting a group of vegans together and feeding them genetically-modified soy burgers (added with hexane) with corn syrup sweetened ketchup and expecting to get good health outcomes. Believe it or not, there are unhealthy food choices in vegan food too.
In “What the health”, they took samples of chicken from fast-food restaurants to test for carcinogens. And low and behold they found carcinogens in every sample. No SHIT!
Eating fast-foods isn’t healthy and are mostly highly-processed. This is well known, that fast food restaurants will do anything to increase their bottom line profits, whilst preserving taste at the expense of the consumers’ health. Tests have been reported that Subway only has 50% chicken in their “chicken breast” – see report here.
When looking at documentaries like this, you need to look at the bigger picture and not get swept away with all the over-dramatised propaganda. It creates big headlines and gains attention. Look at the research on both sides. Remember Gibson’s law – “for every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD.”
Come to your own conclusions by looking at the information yourself!
Those who sit on the fence and might not have a strong opinion or knowledge on nutritional practices are usually the ones that are swayed by such documentaries like “What the health”. And that can actually be a good thing! Not having a system or principles when it comes to nutrition leaves the door open for all the really bad stuff and can be devoid of any key nutrients at all.
“The best diet, is the one that is followed”. If you follow a really strict vegan, vegetarian, paleo, ketogenic, whole foods, blood type, south beach or any diet… Chances are that it is going to be better for your health than not having a set of principles or structure to your diet, compared to turning to fast foods.
However, the argument is which diet is the best one for you… And in my opinion, the answer is and must always be, the one that works for you and fits in with your beliefs, religious views, culture, and something that your body responds well to and can be followed consistently.
Going off anecdotal evidence or how you feel isn’t enough when it comes to nutrition. A lot of one-eyed nutrition principles will tell you that eating this way will make you look and feel better by eating a certain way. See article on “Food that works for you” – here. It might be true or it might not be, which is dependent on a whole number of factors. So, people buy books on the topic and immerse themselves in it. Reading and re-reading will have a powerful effect on your conscious mind. You will think you’re full of more energy and better whatever, because that is what you have been told. Placebo is powerful!
So, don’t just be one of the sheep that follows a diet without testing if it’s good for you. Measure yourself on a vast number of tests. In-depth blood tests, food tolerance testing, sleep, strength, body fat %, weight, circumference measures etc.
What gets measured, gets managed – Peter Drucker
If you have made the decision that being a vegan is for you because of religion, ethics or you simply don’t like the idea of eating meat altogether, then do it from an educated and calculated stand point.
This diet requires a lot of planning and care to make sure you get all your essential amino acids and vitamins. Seek professional help and don’t do it alone.
Make your health a priority, seek unbiased information and look out for attention grabbing headlines.
- Yancy WS, Foy M, Chalecki AM, Vernon MC, Westman EC. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutrition & metabolism. 2005;2(1):34.
- Hussain TA, Mathew TC, Dashti AA, Asfar S, Al-Zaid N, Dashti HM. Effect of low-calorie versus low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet in type 2 diabetes. Nutrition. 2012;28(10):1016-21.
- Malik VS, Schulze MB, Hu FB. Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006;84(2):274-88.
- Ye X, Gao X, Scott T, Tucker KL. Habitual sugar intake and cognitive function among middle-aged and older Puerto Ricans without diabetes. British journal of nutrition. 2011;106(9):1423-32.
- Hu FB, Malik VS. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes: epidemiologic evidence. Physiology & behavior. 2010;100(1):47-54.
- Liu S, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Franz M, Sampson L, et al. A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in US women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2000;71(6):1455-61.
- Samuel VT. Fructose induced lipogenesis: from sugar to fat to insulin resistance. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2011;22(2):60-5.
- Caronia LM, Dwyer AA, Hayden D, Amati F, Pitteloud N, Hayes FJ. Abrupt decrease in serum testosterone levels after an oral glucose load in men: implications for screening for hypogonadism. Clinical endocrinology. 2013;78(2):291-6.
- Yudkin J. Metabolic changes induced by sugar in relation to coronary heart disease and diabetes. Nutrition and Health. 1987;5(1-2):5-8.
- Baer HJ, Glynn RJ, Hu FB, Hankinson SE, Willett WC, Colditz GA, et al. Risk factors for mortality in the nurses’ health study: a competing risks analysis. American journal of epidemiology. 2010;173(3):319-29.
- Blesso CN, Andersen CJ, Barona J, Volek JS, Fernandez ML. Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Metabolism. 2013;62(3):400-10.
- Rong Y, Chen L, Zhu T, Song Y, Yu M, Shan Z, et al. Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Bmj. 2013;346:e8539.