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 you ask? 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 and Haley for 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 solid, 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 some 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, you have begun the cycle of restriction, later to feel the need to binge to fill the craving you denied.
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 is 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. I choose this because I enjoy including animal products in my life.
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 plants plus a side of animal products. Carbs, fruits, veggies, beans, etc. are my staples and then come the add ins. 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 I again think it’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. 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. 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 there is also another side that you as a consumer have the responsibility to look for. 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!
At the end of the day if we as a nation actually listened to what our bodies and what those bodies wanted to eat we probably wouldn’t be as obese and chronic disease ridden as we are. Call me crazy, but I think what’s even worse that the standard american diet is the standard american expectation that food can be had fast, quick, and eaten while doing other things and usually comes from a fast food establishment. Yes, thats’s a generalization but if we took the time to balance our plate and focus on what we were consuming rather than shoving a double bacon cheeseburger down our face as we drive home or binge watch TV then I truly think we as a nation would look a little different. Now, believe me, I know not everyone has access to an education of what a healthy diet looks like and I hate that about America. I hate that we have food deserts and low income areas where the only thing to get is a double bacon cheese burger- not other options. That’s a different issue that we can touch on later. Side note, if you want a double bacon cheeseburger you get that cheeseburger and enjoy it without distractions- I have nothing against them it was just the first fast food item that came to mind! What I’m saying now is that if we were to step back and ask our bodies what they want we might be able to eat less like the standard American expectation- you feel?
So in closing, this documentary is fear mongering and one sided. There are valuable points such as to know where your food comes from, that animals are in fact in large treated poorly, 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.