So, if you have been at all tuned into the nutrition sphere on instagram, you might have heard about a documentary called “What The Health”. You can find it here. This documentary brought up a myriad of topics that for some, could be extremely fear mongering . Fear about what? Fear that ones diet is inadequate, fear that they don’t care for animals/humans if they choose to consume meat/animal products, and perhaps the biggest- fear that they will get cancer/diabetes/heart disease/etc. if they consume animal products.
(Local Seattle breakfast sandwich at the farmers market)
Fear is one of those emotions that drives us to change the behavior we fear, which from this documentary has meant that people have turned off the TV and turned vegan in 2 seconds. Now, veganism is totally great with me! I believe it is a choice that is wonderful for the planet and offers lots of benefits for the body. It is not my choice but I have plenty of vegan friends who thrive and are passionate about this lifestyle (check out my friends Emilie she has awesome recipes)! If done for the right reasons (not using it as a way to loose weight, to restrict things you like,have had previous fad diet experience and begin to use veganism as one) and you are truly passionate about it, then great, go for it. If however, choosing veganism is a way to pull away from doing further research on the topics brought up in “What The Health” and you really do enjoy including meat and dairy in your diet then we start to perpetuate the “all or nothing” phenomenon.
The all or nothing phenomenon was pushed HEAVILY in this doc when in reality it doesn’t have to be like that. One of my favorite quotes regarding nutrition is this.
See the word “mostly”? Despite this documentary saying there are “no” studies proving moderation is a good way of living, as a dietetics student and strong believer in science but also in enjoying life, I beg to disagree. Just last week in the Journal Of The American College Of Cardiology, research shows moderation makes a difference (they also used the Michael Pollan quote)! The thing is, I value taste, moments, and cravings more than I will ever value a documentary. For example, there are sweltering summer days where nothing seems right except enjoying an ice cream cone with friends. If you agreed to this feeling yet decided to forgo participating in this event because no vegan options were offered at the small ice cream shop or you were forced to order a raspberry sorbet when your heart really wanted rocky road, that’s denying yourself something you truly want and I will never advocate for that.
I could give countless other examples but I won’t. My point being that if you adopt the all of nothing principle that was pushed in this doc you might be missing out on some of life’s simple pleasures. If however this documentary did spur something in you to be more mindful of the amount of animal products you consume or where you get them from then that might be a different story.
(We work hard as dietetics students to learn all aspects of nutrition- ps how cute are my friends?!)
If “What The Health” brought up some scary images of how animals were treated and that struck you I urge you do to your research on local farms that treat their animals humanely and allow them to live a decent life. Not every animal is treated the way that was shown in the documentary and I choose when possible to support the farms that allow their cows for example to roam free, eat grass, and aren’t shot with antibiotics as well as choose eggs that were pasture raised. However, sometimes you can’t choose and you are busy and you are grateful for a meal mom or dad made you and you don’t know where the meat comes from or you are at a restaurant or a baseball game and the same thing happens.
Do I eat paleo and load up my plate with protein, protein, protein or follow a strict Whole30 diet? Nope, never. My body thrives on mostly food from the ground but also with animal products. Carbs, fruits, veggies, beans, etc. are my staples but I love me some yogurt and ice cream! I love grabbing burgers with my dad on the weekend too. Some days I’ll eat more animal heavy than others and some days more plant based but the only message I’m listening to is that of my body. I’ve tried the whole only plant based thing my junior year in college and did it as a way of controlling something in my life while the rest of my life seemed to be too stressful to handle. Not the best way to go about it. Once I began to eat intuitively my senior year by eating real meatballs an ice cream vs. meatless meatballs and halo top I realized just how unsatisfied I had been.
On the topic of animal products= death sentence part of that documentary, that’s one sided. The diet that the vegan diet was being largely compared to was the standard american diet which is basically fast food, meat, and sugar heavy + little to no fruit and veg. So OF COURSE a shift from the standard american diet to a vegan diet will produce dramatic results just from the sheer decrease in fat, processed chemicals, and sugar. I still think the 2 week claims at the end that they made were insane though. If we were comparing the insides of our bodies on the vegan diet to that of a nutrient rich diet that included animal products, I really don’t know how much difference you would find between the two bodies in terms of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, CRP, and A1C levels etc. Remember, the body is lump sum of how much sleep we get, how beneficial the movement we choose for our body is, what we eat, if we smoke, how much we drink, how stressed we are, how hydrated we are, how happy we are, and our genes. Basing a 2 week success story on a vegan diet on a few people in the documentary is not an accurate basis of that being the case for the rest of humanity.
Lastly, on the topic of government information regarding nutrition advice from the ADA, The Academy, ACS, AHA, etc. I look at that from a business standpoint. If you are given some info on why eggs rock, look at the sponsor of that pamphlet. Simple as that. The things they say about eggs are true but they also funded the research so of course they are going to tell you that. Take everything with a grain of salt. All organizations need money and if millions of dollars are being offered to a company to support research then that opportunity will probably be taken!
So in closing, this documentary is fear mongering and one sided. There are valuable points such as to know where your food comes from, eating a majority meat based diet might not be the healthiest thing but it also does not mean you will die tomorrow, becoming more aware of where you get your nutrition information from and who funded such information research, and to know that moderation is a thing and it makes a difference. Look up at that quote again. Take it as you want but I’m on the side of mostly, not all or nothing.