“Fear is the mind killer.”
The “What The Health” documentary is about one thing…Fear.
I almost lost my mind 11 minutes in.
I became physically ill at 32 minutes.
And became overtly depressed at 56 minutes, and asked my wife if she could make it stop.
At the end, the only emotion left was anger, but I know I have to mold this emotion into something helpful, as it is appalling to me that humans actually believe this to be a viable source of evidence or even quality information.
This documentary is not about presenting the whole truth. It spends not one second discussing individualization or context.
It is about ONE thing, and one thing only – scaring you into Vegan extremism with correlational data and clips of the atrocities of Big Agriculture to provoke an emotional response. All of this being driven home with opinions of biased MDs who obviously do not know how to truly look at the entire body of evidence.
“We are not taught about the power of food in medical school.”
-MD in the documentary
So then why the fuck am I listening to you?
Why is nearly every expert in this documentary an MD?
Why didn’t you choose to discuss this intricate and contextual topic with actual experts in the field of nutritional sciences?
To name a few you could have interviewed: Alan Aragon, Jose Antonio, Stu Phillips, Kevin Hall, Laurent Bannock, John Berardi, Brad Schoenfeld, Brad Dieter, Mike Israetel, Eric Trexler, Jaimie Davis, Molly Bray, Andy Galpin, Mike T Nelson, Chris Masterjohn, Bryan Walsh, Alex Vasquez, Eric Helms, Jason Cholewa, Lyle McDonald, Luke Leaman, Laura Schoenfeld, and so many others I missed who are out there individualizing dietary protocols and are really attempting to unravel this antiquated and emotionally riddled question…WHAT is healthy eating?
Why did they not interview the professionals above?
Because no matter how hard they tried to turn the facts, these professionals would have presented the other side of this argument so succinctly that they would have had to edit it out and question the very ground their beliefs stand on.
Hell, by the end, I would have paid money to see them interview Gary Taubes or Robert Lustig, the ultimate cherry pickers from the other side of the aisle. Maybe they could all get together and create a documentary on how to convince people of dietary extremism and how this ideology will help long-term.
Oh wait… this closed-minded ness is actually counterproductive to promoting “health”, which one could have misinterpreted as the utterly secondary goal of this documentary.
“These results suggest that dichotomous thinking, and particularly the dichotomous cognitions related to food and dieting, may have an adverse effect on restraint eating behavior with possible implications on weight loss maintenance in the long-term. Such simplified and dysfunctional thinking styles should be avoided, since they have the potential to induce a rigid response to dietary transitions, and therefore impede people’s ability to maintain a healthy body weight.”
-Palascha et al 2015
Now, to start on a positive, let’s begin with a few bullets on what this “film” got RIGHT, or at least partially so.
1. Big Ag (Agrilculture) is horrific. We should do everything we can to stop this conscious-less money hungry machine. We need to destroy CAFOs and move to smaller, more sustainable organic farming methods. Chris Kresser (bias in the other direction) has a great podcast on how devout veganism has to be a MORAL decision because it isn’t really about sustainability and definitely isn’t about health. Should we all eat more plant food? Hell Yes. But, that doesn’t automatically mean we must eat zero animal products.
2. Big Pharma and conventional medicine are arguably criminal entities. This is not new news. What are they going to do? How are they going to fix this? Nothing is presented. Just fear. We need to stop handing out pharmaceuticals like candy, but this stems from a deeply seeded American mindset that a pill can solve all of our problems. This documentary just traded that pill for Veganism.
3. If you are relying on any of these acronyms JAND, AMA, USDA, ADA, AHA, and ACS (all organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) that the film discredited) for what you eat and how you live, STOP IT. They are blatantly corrupt.
The problem is that What the Health uses the above reasons as evidence to promote the health benefits of a Vegan diet, which is devious and disingenuous, and to be quite honest a bit cowardly. But moving on…
4. Minorities should probably not consume lactose. Again, not new news. These groups of humans may be able to consume whey, which does not have lactose, without any problem and is one of only two sources of dietary glutathione (the other is egg whites). The casomorphin bit is also true (there are also compounds called gluteomorphins), but the idea that diary promotes heart disease, specifically cheese, is weak at best. The fact is, a little cheese isn’t going to kill you, but it also shouldn’t make up the bulk of your diet. Duh.
“Diets with cheese and meat as primary sources of SFAs (saturated fatty acids) cause higher HDL cholesterol and apo A-I and, therefore, appear to be less atherogenic than is a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. Also, our findings confirm that cheese increases fecal fat excretion.”
-Thorning et al. 2015
5. “Any diet works if people will follow it.” AMEN! They make this poor ADA smurf look like an absolute asshole. Shame on them. This was probably the only real researcher they interviewed. He was just a bad debater, who has chosen to work for a corrupt institution. Sit me in that chair, and I will make this dietary hipster, Kip Anderson, pull-out his man bun in Vegan fury because I have zero financial conflicts of interest, and I have thousands of studies at the tips of my fingers, all labeled and classified on EndNote.
6. Vegan diets CAN be effective. Yup! If you do it well, you can get sufficient protein and micronutrients. I wrote a post on this very topic with a meal plan and also options if you still want to continue to eat meat and do right by the environment. Find it HERE. The film shows three vegan athletes lifting, running, and jumping around. Cool story bro, does this automatically mean a vegan diet is is any better than a whole food diet containing animal protein for athletic performance? FUCK NO! What is important for that is appropriate food quantity, quality, and timing for the task in question.
One CANNOT, however, likely sustain themselves on a RAW vegan diet because you are a primate that has evolved to eat a portion of its diet from cooked processed food, which allowed our giant brain to grow, which created the ability to believe, identify, and unite behind philosophies like Veganism (or Paleo, Atheism, Christianity, or even the belief in #Merica). Ironic.
That’s enough of digging through the mess that was this “documentary” to find some semi positives. Without further ado, the top 7 most laughable moments of What the Health.
1. Why does this hipster narrator expect the poor operators of the AHA and American Cancer Society to be experts in nutritional science?
2. “Carbs can’t make you fat.” That is a direct fucking quote.
As soon as this sentence left this man’s pompous lips, everything he said should have been blacklisted. A bigger issue though is that an absolutely critical element is never mentioned in this documentary – the importance of food quantity.
If you go hypocaloric, pretty much any diet will lead to better diabetes markers. Why? Because you stopped overloading mitochondria, and now they can take in energy. Insulin resistance is a perfectly reasonable evolutionary adaptation to you sitting on the couch and eating too much. Yes, a component of that eating “too much” could be because you are eating crap, processed food, and yes, it is hard to eat too much when all you are eating is brown rice, spirulina, and broccoli, but that doesn’t mean it is the answer to all that ails us.
3. Meat causes diabetes.
What? I didn’t even know this was an actual thing. I have never heard of this before. Mechanistically it doesn’t even make sense. You could, however, expect there to be a correlation in the general population from observational data because guess what…processed meat clusters with – sedentary activity, fast food consumption, alcohol intake, and smoking. Correlational data can NEVER be causal. If it was causal, then how are there multiple, randomized, controlled trials showing the benefits of a paleo diet for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome?
Because there is no one diet to rule them all! What rules them all is ADHERENCE.
This documentary is on an invisible sinking ship with very little, if any real scientific support to bolster their position. Alan Aragon broke this argument down way back in 2011. Imagine how much better this documentary could have been if they looked at meta-analyses and talked to actual experts – oh wait, it wouldn’t exist because they would have gotten schooled.
“The important question is, what are the outcomes of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) regarding meat consumption and type 2 diabetes? Farnsworth et al. found that increasing the proportion of dietary protein by replacing carbohydrate with meat, poultry, and dairy foods improved glycemic response and reduced serum triacylglycerol levels. Similarly, a meta-analysis by Kirk et al examined the data from 13 intervention studies (9 of which were RCTs) and found that in subjects with T2D, hemoglobin A1c, fasting glucose, and triacylglycerol levels improved with lower of assessment in large epidemiological studies. However, their accuracy is questionable. This is not surprising, since T2D is primarily an impairment of carbohydrate metabolism, and reducing the amount of biologically available carbohydrate in the diet is a no brainer tactic for treatment and prevention of T2D in folks at risk.”
4. Anecdotal evidence from overweight/obese Americans switching from a standard American diet to whole food diet with lots of plants. WTF! You take any human who is eating the standard American diet, and you load them up with more vegetables and GOOD THINGS will happen. “I switched to a whole food plant based diet and I feel better!” This is not evidence. This is propaganda, and the Paleo and low carb are just as guilty. It’s why I hate before and after pictures. What someone can do for two weeks doesn’t fucking matter. What matters is what they can do the rest of their life.
Also, eating more plants is something that most quality researchers and practitioners in this industry will agree with. Produce should make up the majority of the diet and over 90% of calories should come from whole foods. Right now, over 50% of the calories Americans consume come from processed foods. Combine this with the average American only eating 1.3 to 2.1 serving of fruits and vegetables a day, and you have established that the average diet is extremely poor, but that does not mean that jumping on the vegan bus is the only viable option.
Something most all of us can get behind.
“Eat Real Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”
5. Processed Meats and Red Meats are carcinogenic. This MIGHT be true, but what got screwed up is that this is again a CORRELATION found in epidemiological data. Colorectal cancer, which is expected to kill around 50,000 people in 2017, is a big deal. BUT, from a 2015 open access meta-analysis of 27 studies, we can see that this should not have been presented as absolute fact, and the findings of the WHO analyses, which only took into account 10 studies, have been highly contested. This review by Alexandar et al. also goes into the holes of the potential mechanisms of heterocyclic amines and heme iron (the evidence for this is a house of cards of correlational data as this finding is based on correlational data between ferritin levels and cancer, which the own author does not believe is dietary related– ferritin will rise for an abundance of reasons outside of red meat consumption as it is an acute phase reactant).
“In this updated and expanded meta-analysis, we observed summary associations for red meat and CRC that were null or just above the null value in virtually all models…In conclusion, based on the quantitative findings and scientific rationale for interpretation documented in the current meta-analysis, red meat intake does not appear to be an independent predictor of CRC risk.”
-Alexandar et al. 2015
More on the whole cooking bit.
“Based on these data, if a vegan is concerned about potentially harmful compounds from cooking, an avoidance of fried potatoes and preserved vegetables would be reasonable. Yet, there is no basis to generalize these findings to all thermal processing methods (e.g., boiling), and to avoid cooked foods entirely.”
-Zinchenko and Crumbley 2015
6. Dietary cholesterol causes high serum cholesterol. Just. Stop. It. Cholesterol isn’t even restricted as of the 2015 dietary guidelines. Who are these people? If you really want to figure out if this is an issues, 1. Collect data on yourself and if it is, move to 2. Examine your fiber consumption, body composition, thyroid function, any potential underlying inflammatory responses, and also try reducing saturated fat consumption.
7. IGF-1, Protein, and Cancer. This argument is tenuous at best in humans. It was probably only a matter of time until one camp tried to drag dietary protein to the gallows. Yet, myself and many others have wrote extensively referenced articles about the massive holes in this literature. Click HERE for more on this. Even the proponents of this hypothesis admit that there is an utter lack of human trials. Also, in RCTs increased protein intake (more than 2x the RDA and sometimes as high as 4x the RDA) has been found to improve body composition and blood lipids. Also, when researchers increase protein intake they usually see a spontaneous decrease in caloric consumption as it is the most satiating of all macronutrients. Furthermore, protein intakes of more than 1.2 g/kg have been recommended to prevent the age-related loss of muscle which can be argued is the number one indicator of longevity. According to NHANES data the average American only gets around 1 g/kg. Whoops!
If you want to look over your shoulder your entire life scared of the dietary boogie man, watch garbage like this, and EHMYYYGAWDDDD tell your friends about it.
If you want to begin to cultivate a healthy, positive relationship with food, follow the thought leaders in the field of nutrition who question their own beliefs and will never succumb to the simplicity of thinking in black and white.