Alright, so I promised it was coming, and here it is. But, before we get down to business, a few clarifications need to be made.
This review is not intended in ANY way shape or form to bash a plant-based or vegan diet. It is not meant as medical advice, and I am not a Doctor, I am a Dietitian. I am subject own personal biases and life experiences which are likely to be a HUGE part of this review. Lastly, if you’ve been an HH reader for a while, you already know that I’m not the grammar queen. Read at your own risk; if I don’t engage you with my opinions, I might boil your blood with my grammar. Again, read at your own risk.
I almost don’t even want to write this post. The more media attention this film gets, the more it takes away from documentaries that are worth your attention (both vegan and not vegan.) At the end of this review, I have included a plethora of reviews I found to be insightful, some are by Dietitians and some not I recommend you read them all.
If you are looking for detailed information assessing the validity of the claims made in this movie, check out those posts. They get far more scientific than I will. This blog has never been a nitty-gritty science blog.
It’s for those of you just trying to make sense of nutrition in the little time you have. For those of you scared out of your mind by this documentary, this is to calm your fears.
I said I was biased, and I am. I also feel that I’m more than qualified to dissect this movie for the fraud that is. Why? For starters, because I received my Master’s of Public Health in Nutrition from Loma Linda University.
If you are unfamiliar with this college, it is a private Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) institution. You should know that SDA’s recommend a vegetarian and vegan diet. The institution is one of the leading research institutions on plant-based diets particularly the health effects of nuts, soy, and vegetarian/vegan diets overall.
I had an entire class devoted to learning about vegetarian/vegan diets, and the entire program emphasized this type of dietary pattern. The entire campus is meat-free and caffeine free. (The second issue bothered me more than the first. )
You should also know that Loma Linda, California is one of five and the only Blue Zone in the United States. There are currently five areas in the entire world where people live to be centenarians (over 100) disproportionately to the general population. The SDA community in Loma Linda California is the ONLY United States, Blue Zone. If you are looking for a REAL professional documentary by a professional journalist with actionable steps to improve your life and health, I highly recommend you read this book as soon as you can!
So, if I spent two years immersed in learning about the benefits of following a vegetarian or vegan diet why I am not a vegetarian? Because in my training, my professors, many of whom were vegan and the rest were vegetarian, didn’t use scare tactics or attempt to misrepresent the research blatantly.
They taught us how to decipher research on our own, and they presented us with ALL the relevant research, not just the parts of it that backed up their viewpoint or chosen dietary pattern.
Can you see where I’m going with this? I sat down expecting to see a vegan documentary like I’d seen a million others that presented clear, well-rounded arguments for a vegan lifestyle. Something maybe I could learn from, that would encourage me to eat more plants. Instead, I just got a plethora of shady research interpretation if you could call it that, misinformation, and blatant lies.
The Things That Bothered Me Most
Discussing One Thing and Showing Another
- The first thing that enraged me is several times throughout the film they would be discussing one thing and showing something else. For example, the words were about the link between processed meats and cancer, but on the screen, they show steaks sizzling on a grill. Not all red meat is processed, but they make it seem like it is as they build their case against meat.
- Later on in the film when bashing chicken, they talk about chicken but show KFC. Are you saying chicken is not good for your health or that fast food is not good for your health? They are insinuating that chicken you cook at home is the same as that that has been dredged in a million chemicals, frozen, and then deep fried. Not the same. Sorry.
- I’m sorry but in all my years of schooling not once have I ever heard the term “dead meat bacterial toxins.” I’m sorry is that a scientific term? I think not. That’s a scare tactic. I’m going to print it on a sign and place it alongside all my hokey Halloween decorations. Moving along…
- Continuously emphasizing that the only way to get rid of dioxin contents is via breastfeeding and in utero. I mean who would be scared? I was terrified. So I dug into the research on that one, I’ll share more on it later on.
- Dark, scary music of confused people on a myriad of medications. Yep, I’m scared, and you now have my full attention.
Not Telling The Full Story
An omission is another form of blatant lying and another way of misrepresenting the research.
Examples of significant omissions in this film:
- The fact that nitrates are a carcinogenic property of processed meats. You can now buy uncured/nitrate free processed meat.
- They mention that animal protein causing inflammatory chemicals leading to the stiffening of the arteries. As I explain to my LEAP/MRT Food Sensitivity clients: eating food is inflammatory by nature, and the body produces inflammation everything we eat. Inflammation is the process of determining which foods are harmful and which are not. Some people, like Mr. Hungry, produce higher levels of inflammatory chemicals in certain foods. I’ll go into greater detail on this in my opinions section.
- They mention Heterocyclic Amines (HCA) increase cancer risk and that these come from meat. These are produced by any high cooking method can produce HCAs, even on vegetables. Charring is in and of itself is both delicious and carcinogenic. There are steps you can take to lower the production of these and other mentioned healthy chemicals on all foods. (See my grilling tips.) Also, a healthy gut microbiome will metabolize these chemicals into non-harmful substances. If your gut isn’t healthy, that’s a whole separate topic we need to discuss.
- Dioxin content of GRASS FED meats. This one freaked me out, so I dug around a bit, only to of course find out there is another side to the story. Rob Wolf cites this incredibly detailed review of dioxin risk in his review. I READ THE WHOLE DAMN THING ONLY TO GET TO THIS PART: “A review published in 1995 suggested that pastured animal products would probably contain higher dioxin concentrations because of a higher rate of soil ingestion;3 however, newer research has revealed the fact that the primary sources of above-average dioxin concentration in beef samples are feeding troughs constructed with pentachlorophenol-treated wood and the inclusion of incinerator waste as a feed additive.6 Grass-fed beef is not exposed to these sources of dioxins.” Omitting new research from your review is either intentionally deceptive or poor journalism. In either case, not a source I trust to help me make nutrition decisions, but that’s just me.
- He mentions that dairy increases the risk of death in those that have had estrogen-dependent cancer but fails to say that in the same study low-fat dairy was not related to an increased risk. I explain my mixed thoughts on dairy in the opinion section, but again, the omission is irresponsible.
- Okay, I don’t even want to get started on the “vegan diets cure all” approach at the end. You lost 29 pounds and got off all your medication in just a few short weeks, that’s great. First, you can’t prove that the vegan diet was the magic bullet, weight loss (if needed) in and of itself is one of the most efficient ways to improve health. My question? WHAT WAS HIS DIET LIKE BEFORE???? I guess WE WILL NEVER KNOW! If he were downing a super-sized fast food meal for every meal, then ANY change would have helped. You can’t say that a plant-based diet – mostly plants including high-quality meats and limited dairy wouldn’t have helped just as much as the vegan diet because we have no idea what his diet was like before.
Misrepresenting the Research
Several times in the film they blatantly misrepresent the research with shady “interpretation” tactics.
- Throughout the film, they use epidemiological observational research to make the case of causation, not association. In other words, they determine the risk of certain health conditions by looking at a subset of the population and dividing them between meat eaters and non-meat eaters. Keep in mind, those that consciously choose to be vegetarian are often doing so out of concern for their health. Those who regularly consume processed meats and red meat are more likely to be overweight, exercise less, smoke, and drink. They say they adjust for this in the calculations, but how can you be sure? You can’t, and you never were able to get rid of such confounders in the research.
- Processed meat increases the risk of cancer by 20%. Specifically colorectal cancer, but they blanket the word cancer. The risk is a difference between 5 and 6%, that’s a 1% increase which they interpret to be 1 out of 5 or 20%
- Insinuating that in vitro studies (those done in a Petri dish) always translate to in vivo studies (what happens in the body.) Sure if you want to assume that what happens with single cells is the same as what happens inside the human body made up of a billion different types of cells and moving parts, go for it.
- Casomorphins are causing you to have a cheese addiction like drugs. Give me a break. Hyper-palatable foods that contain high carbohydrate and calorie contents together are the most addictive foods. Several studies have attempted to rate addictiveness of food. I don’t know about the validity because these are “opinion oriented.” However, foods that show up on the list are always highly processed hyper-palatable combination foods such as pizza. Cheese never shows up on its own.
The one line that got me fired up the most: “carbs cannot make you fat, in human cells, when we eat carbs we either store it or burn it.”
Yes, this is true, we store it or burn it. They go to lengths to emphasize the point that we store sugar as glycogen. Yes, this is true. However, we have a finite number of available storage, about 1500-2000 calories that can be stored as glycogen, and athletes may have a little bit more.
However, we have an UNLIMITED amount of fat we can store. What happens if your glycogen stores are full and you don’t need it for fuel? A magic carb fairy comes and takes it away from you? Can I get me a magic carb fairy? Last I checked you store the extra sugar AS FAT. I could go into the mechanism but I won’t, not today at least.
Trying to Discredit Large Organizations
- I think Abbey said it the best in her YouTube video but I’ll re-emphasize it. If you call a 1-800 number and get someone on the other end, they aren’t qualified to talk to you about scientific information. Is that for real?
- Ambushing the American Cancer Society, he doesn’t want to talk to you, Kip? He makes the point that all diets work if someone can stick to them. Yes they do, the vegan diet can work, and it could also be a nightmare if done wrong. This man does not want to waste his time debating the issue with you when it is doubtful you’ve made any attempt to understand the incredibly complex science. If you had, you wouldn’t make the film the way you did.
Positive Points of the Movie
Let’s end on a somewhat positive note, ff you didn’t know these things, I hope you do now!
- Genes do not determine your fate.
- Diet and Lifestyle are the underlying cause of many diseases.
- Larger fish have higher levels of Mercury and PCPS, chose smaller when possible.
- The checkoff program exists – fast food companies produce a ton of shit, some of it’s vegan like fries. It’s gross, adjust your voting and stop eating at fast food restaurants. Wait that was supposed to be for below.
- Drug companies are motivated to make money. Yep.
My Personal Opinions
Here they are. My own opinions, take them, leave them, agree with them, burn them, that’s entirely up to you. I promised to share them plus many friends and readers have repeatedly asked for my thoughts so here they are!
- For every study out there in the entire world, I can find another one that directly conflicts with the finding of the first. The strength of the study depends on methodology and sample size. However, when it comes to food, ethical limitations will only let RCT (Randomized clinical trials) go so far. You can only control for so many variables when you take into account how vastly different genetics and life experiences are. In other words, research isn’t the end all be all and can easily be misrepresented and taken out of context as this film demonstrates incredibly well.
- All research is confounded by sponsor bias, not just those related to animal products. The soybean and canola industry funded the recent meta-review of coconut oil that had everyone excited. The meat and dairy industry supported saturated fat research. It goes on and on. Nutrient research is a bunch of crap anyway (yep I just said that). We should be looking at the food overall, specifically the processing of it. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please watch In Defense of Food, it’s the best Netflix Food Documentary I’ve seen.
- Highly processed and highly palatable foods should not often be consumed, definitely not daily, this includes but is not limited to vegan candy, Tofurky, bologna, veggie straws, and uncured nitrate free bacon.
- I don’t agree with everything the large organizations promote. For example, I think Diabetes recommendations are too high in carbohydrate. You don’t see me trying to discredit the whole damn organization for all the progress it’s made.
- Dairy is intended to nurture a 2-ton animal, that fact has always made me question dairy from cows milk in human health. That being said, the research is conflicting (surprised? at this point you shouldn’t be) so I’m equal opportunity dairy and nondairy. If you do well with it and want it, then fine. Ideally, you stick with high quality less processed forms of grass-fed organic dairy, and you don’t eat it for every meal every day. If it bothers your body, then don’t eat it it’s as simple as that.
- The film makes a solid case against the current process of centralized animal production, including pig farming while showing horrific images of free-range barns and draining puss from cysts on dead pigs. I’ve personally been to one of these farms, granted it was a show farm where they take especially attention to detail to let media in. I still left feeling uneasy, at best. When you mass produce meat, you run into environmental, nutritional, and animal rights concerns. This is why I now buy my meat almost exclusively from Butcher Box which sources meat from small family farms raising meat and poultry in the most sustainable ways possible. (If you haven’t heard of Butcher Box you can read my review and thoughts about red meat here.)
- Meat is cheap because it’s massed produced, the mass production lowers it’s quality and increases how much we eat. Spend more on higher quality meat and eat it less frequently.
- All food is inflammatory, and some foods are more inflammatory than others. I find this to be highly variable. I 100% believe that different people do better on specific diets in part because of this. I’ve seen time and time again that clients who do well on a vegan diet show up with animal product related to food sensitivities. Those that do well on a Paleo diet have tests results with dairy and grain-related sensitivities. For example, if you put Mr. Hungry on a vegan diet, he would most certainly feel TERRIBLE. Things that cause him inflammation are grains, beans, peanuts, soy, dairy, and eggs. Without beans, it would be hard to obtain optimal protein without going over calorie needs, maybe he wouldn’t be protein deficient, but I don’t think it would be optimal. These observations are just anecdotal observations in a small sample size, but that’s why I’m not making a movie about it. (Why I don’t recommend elimination diets.)
- I believe the vegan diet has a ton of benefits. No one is arguing that more plants in your diet are bad. I, personally, get annoyed with the term “plant-based.” This very discussion is how I became friends with Whitney English from To Live and Diet in LA. She mentioned she was plant-based and before I knew who she was or that she was an RD, I went off about how I hated that term. My point was I eat an enormous amount of vegetables, whole grains (usually gluten-free), no beans because I hate them, and a fair amount of nuts and seeds with a reasonable amount of high-quality animal protein and some high-quality dairy products (aka not Yoplait.) Then she mentioned she eats small amounts of chicken and fish too, so we started talking about it. We went on to talk about food sensitivities and the role that plays in someone’s diet choices, see above. If you are interested in following a plant-based diet, I think checking out her blog would be a great place to start!
Remember, this is not a bash on a vegan diet. I 100% believe both a vegan and vegetarian diet can be an extremely health promoting. Just like a diet including animal protein, dairy, and gluten can be healthy.
I also don’t think vegan diets are for everyone such as Mr. Hungry who does not do well with beans or soy. Just like I don’t believe a vegetarian or Paleo diet is right for everyone. Just like any diet, a Vegan diet can be done wrong, like when I did it in grad school and ended up iron as well as Vitamin D deficient (health problems that I fought for years and had other consequences on my hormones).
Oh and gained 10 pounds from all the peanut butter and bread I ate. I apparently could have used more guidance. Peanut butter and processed bread isn’t a good mainstay no matter what kind of diet you are on. It’s about planning your meals, eating mostly real food that tastes good (I don’t force myself to eat beans because I don’t like them) and a ton of non-starchy vegetables.
All the other stuff is highly related to your activity level, your genetics, your preferences, your gender, your current health status, your goals, your ethical concerns, your religion, your budget, and a million other components. Those are my thoughts; I hope it helps!
To follow this post I’m planning to do a quick post reviewing the benefits and shortcomings of the three most talked about diets right now: Vegan, Vegetarian, and Paleo.
If you followed this review this long, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Did you see the movie? Have you ever tried a vegan diet? Are you vegan now? (Warning: Be respectful as I will be to you. If you troll me I will save it for my troll file, and then I will block you, just warning you now.)
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