First statement of the documentary: “This document is not intended to replace medical advice provided by your healthcare practitioner” … probably because your healthcare practitioner knows better than to use this unfounded documentary as a means to give actual research based advice. So pay attention.
Let’s start with the fact that neither the producers and directors of the film are health professionals.
The documentary follows James Wilks, an MMA fighter, through his discovery of what they consider a plant-based diet. But plant-based is never defined and is shown in the documentary as to not include any meat or it’s derivatives at all. When in reality, there are many forms of being plant-based, even including some meat in the mix. The documentary also of course plays into our emotions when James’ dad has a heart attack and has a high risk of encountering another and is told it is because of his nutrition.
James claims he conducted “extensive research” around nutrition. What kind of research and what were the conclusions of those studies? We’re assuming that he understands how to interpret research and that what he is concluding from them is actually true. Personally, I’m not sure I would take medical or nutrition advice from an MMA fighter.
Then we get insight into a fight between two fighters that have very different eating styles. Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz. Conor ate steaks 3 times a day he claims while Nate Diaz was a vegan. So… Conor McGregor consumed meat in an unhealthy fashion with huge amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat and we’re supposed to be surprised at this huge revelation? Uhh, ok. How about including leaner cuts of meat and throwing in lots of fruit and veg… it’s called common sense.
Let’s look at another athlete example in the documentary:
Scott Jurek – ultra runner (vegan)- ultra high carbs, and finished his race with a great time. NO KIDDING! Any sport dietitian knows that carbohydrates are the best source of fuel. I work with ultra-endurance runners and if carbohydrates leading up to a race and during the race are insufficient, you will BONK (a term in running basically meaning you’ve run out of gas, pun intended). We need to compare this to a balanced diet, not strictly being a carnivore or vegan. We also need to compare him to himself – not others of same caliber – what does this look like in health for the long term of an athlete?
Later, we get this really huge, fear-mongering, teeny-tiny study by Dr. James Loomis with three football players. One of the players eats plant-based while the other guys consume meat. We’re not told what foods these guys had before they came in or in between the blood collections. But we’re told the plant based eater has been eating plant based for 4 years. One of the other football player ADMITS that he eats fried chicken on away games …. ok this is a no brainer. It sounds like the plant-based eater just eats HEALTHIER and I’ll throw out the assumption that fried chicken for athletic performance probably isn’t the best choice. Anyways, blood collection is done 2 hours post consumption of burritos (one plant based and the others containing either beef or chicken). The doctor shows the players that both the beef burrito and chicken burrito samples of blood have “murky plasma”. Well, we need to transfer those fats to our system somehow, and since this meal likely contained much more fat than the plant based burrito, this isn’t a surprise. Why didn’t they test the blood 2,4,12,24 hours after? Probably because it wouldn’t support their bullshit fear-mongering techniques for the movie. The doctor claims that the football team relied on protein for energy. He is right about not enough carbohydrates with glycogen stores and depletion, so let’s give him that.
The next example we see is Olympians who eat plant based were on the horizon – The energy in a 400m runner increased when she became vegan she says, but did she have lack of carbohydrate fuelling before she switched over? We have no way of knowing because it is not shown in this documentary. Why don’t they compare their performance to themselves as athletes and not others –again, poor data collection – instead we should be taking data from SAME athletes before and after a vegan diet and doing, for example, time trials in a marathon (while still maintaining that philosophy of carbohydrate are the best source of energy-but recovery with non-plant sources still have a role). This documentary fails at appropriate research claims and their own little studies. .
No one said that we have to have animal protein to get big and strong James, but it’s pretty evident that we don’t need to switch to a vegan diet either. We all know that most of us don’t consume sufficient vegetables and fruits, which offer a significant amount of nutrition (not just calories). Yes you can be an athlete being a vegan, but it doesn’t mean that it will trump over having a diet that includes all foods.
What were these athletes eating before they ate plant based? How was their food cooked and did they have adequate vegetable and fruit intake –again, it’ never told.
They study that showed increased inflammation by 70% showed it by using…. hamburgers? What a joke. How about a healthy cooked meat and then lets go there.
The antioxidants that are contained in fruits and veg are amazing. But why can’t we include these by also including meats prepared in a healthy fashion? See, this is the issue with fad diets and poorly made food documentaries – it’s an all or nothing approach and doesn’t look at what should be improved on instead of making an overly dramatic shift into the complete opposite direction.
Then we get to hear from Arnold. This guy is a big name in the fitness world. Am I honestly supposed to be surprised that he stopped eating 10-15 eggs a day and high cholesterol meats then saw a decrease in cholesterol when he included plant based ones (low in highly saturated fats and cholesterol). This should be obvious to anyone. Come on. Why do they KEEP USING DRAMATIC UNREALISTIC EXAMPLES!?
They keep comparing meat to plant based eating. But who in their right mind would ONLY eat meat?? Again, we need to compare the middle ground, a balanced diet that includes a variety of all foods, plants included!
Then the documentary goes on to show that there is no difference in testosterone from meat inclusion diet vs a plant based one. Ok, but who cares? I do – because I still counsel clients that choose a plant based diet so recommending soy based beverages or tofu often alarms people into think that is affects a man’s reproductive system, the penis. So, at least they got that out of the way.
Claiming that a typical body building diet is a low carb diet is FALSE. I myself, have completed in body building competitions and I can personally tell you that there are phases of training. In the off season, our aim is to build muscle as much as possible so our carbohydrate intake is high – and we aim for valuable sources – plant sources and others! When we are getting close to go on stage, we need to shed excess body fat by maintaining the protein in our diet and SLOWLY (this is important because drastic decrease can lead to muscle loss) decreasing carbohydrates and fats. Before stepping on stage, carbs are really restricted because for every gram of carbohydrate consumed, we retain about 4 grams of water (this is why the ketogenic diet has gained popularity in “weight loss” – not to be confused with fat loss).
All of these examples in this documentary are with high performing athletes who train… a lot – so they need carbs to fuel energy! NO kidding!
Then the documentary plays on your emotional side… the terror of consuming animals because it is not moral. I am personally inline with the idea that we should treat all animals with respect, and that they should live a happy and healthy life. They should also not suffer when they are killed for human consumption. I lead by example in this personal decision but it doesn’t mean that it’s neither right or wrong, it’s a personal choice. But by saying that anyone is a bad person because they consume meat is wrong. If your choice to go plant-based is because of your feelings towards animals and it feels morally wrong, then that is completely respectful and no health professional or documentary should shun you for that decision. Just make sure to consult with someone in how to do this so that you don’t become nutritionally at risk.
Finally, I will say, I think including more fruits and vegetables more often is needed. When we think of protein and the benefits in weight management, or when we look at “macros” , we often forget those foods that might not contribute to either, but can lead to a lot of great health benefits.