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My Thoughts on “What the Health”

By July 16, 2017 December 28th, 2018 No Comments

Over the past 2 weeks at least a dozen potential clients, many of them athletes, have contacted me looking for guidance on switching to a vegan diet.  Why the sudden upsurge to plant-based diets?  I am predicting the new documentary “What the Health” is responsible.  Some of these potential clients have even named the documentary during initial contact.  I thought I would share some of my thoughts about these types of documentaries, as well as some of my reactions to this film, in particular. 

First, this is one of many documentaries that focuses on blaming one food group or nutrient on diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  Other films include Fast Food Nation, Forks over Knives, Food Inc., Cowspiracy,and King Corn.  While these films can be informational, there are a few things I ask clients to keep in mind:

  1. Clearly, the filmmakers are not giving a balanced view of the topic, which easily sways watchers to reach the conclusion they want you to.
  2. Just like during political campaigns, the filmmakers use scare tactics to the extreme; terrifying people into immediate and severe action. 
  3. They are only giving you one side of the story.  The filmmakers use whatever inexcusable, shocking, and appalling information they can, but only from the side they want you to hear. 

To get the other side of the story, it may be in your best interest to talk with local farmers about their farming practices.  Better yet, visit some local farms.  There are also films, like Farmland, that paint a completely different picture of the beef and cattle industry than the vegan proponent films do; which will give you information on the other side of the debate.  As a dietitian, I do not take a hard stance either way.  I just want my clients to understand that these filmmakers are in the entertainment business and they are not giving a balanced view of these multifaceted topics.

So, what did I think of What the Health, specifically?  The film’s main argument is that meat and dairy products cause diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.  Sadly, it is simply not that easy.  These are complicated disease with many factors in play… what you are eating is just one piece of the puzzle.  Everyone has that friend who runs marathons, eats a vegan diet, and doesn’t touch alcohol; but still gets lung cancer.  And how is it that small children get cancer when they haven’t been exposed to the same foods and beverages we have as adults.  My point being, these diseases are way more complicated that just what we eat. 

I am a proponent of plant based diets, but I just do not believe that eating some dairy products and leaner cuts of meat will put you at risk for developing diabetes.  Of course, it’s all relative… if you are eating red meat and hot dogs at every meal, yes you could potentially be putting yourself in danger.  But if you are enjoying a burger at a 4th of July barbecue with friends once a year, you are more than likely not increasing your risk at all.

Another problem I had with the film is some of the opinions and false information portrayed.  For example, one expert in the film says that sugar plays no role in the development of diabetes… this makes me wonder which associations they are affiliated with.  We are all entitled to our own opinion, but please do not take these words as factual or reliable just because these people are on film, or have MD or PhD after their name. 

Absolutely, these films can give watchers some good information and warnings, like the fact that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages with every meal can contribute to obesity and diabetes.  However, I urge watchers to do the research on both sides of the argument and come up with their own conclusions and solutions that work with the lifestyle they want to live.  Maybe instead of going vegan cold turkey you could decide to cut back on red meat to once a month or switch to almond milk while still enjoying some cheese.  Please don’t take these films at face value and do your research to decide what is best for you and your family.  As always, if you have any questions or need help with your plant based diet, you can reach out at [email protected].  

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