I have been asked by several clients recently about my views on the new Netflix documentary ‘Game Changers’. For those that are not familiar, it is a high production documentary produced by James Cameron about the benefits of a plant based diet – basically veganism.
I like to consider myself open minded so watched the film, I was impressed with how it was made and also how convincingly they made their arguments endorsing the benefits of plant based diets. It has cleverly focused on some elite level athletes who have done very well on a vegan diet.
However I finished feeling very deflated as it was entirely one sided and therefore extremely misleading to most people. It’s true that many people will benefit from eating more vegetables but to blanketly advise everybody to cut out our most bioavailable source of protein is also very dubious. Here is a short riposte to some of the main points:
The underlying motives of the film
The film is produced by the Hollywood director James Cameron who along with his wife own ‘Verdiant Foods’ one of the biggest a pea protein companies in America. Furthermore almost every athlete featured in the film in endorsed by a Vegan company or has a vegan product to promote, from books to supplements.
The Quality of the studies sited
- One of the central arguments of the film focused on a ‘Study on ancient Roman gladiators’ proclaiming they predominantly ate a plant based diet. It turns out this information was not from a study but simply just a comment made in an Archaelogy publication.
- The film also referenced a study that showed cows milk lowers testosterone in men. However on closer inspection this information was based on a study of 7 people, at first glance it showed that milk had a temporary lowering effect on free testosterone. However it wasn’t mentioned that the control group had higher Sex binding globulin therefore lowering the amount of usable testosterone.
- The study comparing what eating an avocado to eating a hamburger does to your blood vessels was in fact entirely financed by ‘Haas Avocado Board’.
Not all animal food is equal
The film argues that animal foods will:
- lower testosterone in men
- Increase your risk of heart disease
- Increase your risk of cancer
These points all have an element of truth in them IF you are eating low quality mass produced animal foods. It is very true that industrial farming is having a devastating effect on both our health and environment, however it is entirely unfair to compare mass produced cheap meat with sustainably reared organically farmed meat.
Take beef for example:
- Grass fed beef has 3 x more CLA than grain fed beef.
- Has abundant anti carcinogenic compounds such as Vitamin B12.
- Raises cancer fighting antioxidant activity via glutathione.
- Has far superior amino acid content, digestibility and bioavailability.
The bottom line is that quality matters, you can be sure that the meat used on game changers wasn’t free range organic!
Is plant based is better for performance?
The film does a great job of highlighting the achievements of some of the worlds best athletes who are plant based. However the reality is still that the vast majority of the worlds best athletes still eat and thrive on a varied diet that includes animal foods. Indeed all the vegan athletes mentioned in the film have to supplement heavily to get adequate Vitamin B12, zinc, Calcium, iodine, vitamin D and omega 3 fats.
So yes it is possible to achieve great athletic success on a plant based diet, it is just much harder.
Is going plant based is better for the environment?
This is generally true especially with regard to eating industrially farmed meat. However a crucial point not made in the film is that for plants to thrive they need healthy soil and to get healthy soil you need plenty of fertiliser – the best form of which comes from animal poo.
Organic farms that allow animals to graze on pasture without relying on hormones, antibiotics and pesticides actually capture more carbon than they produce. This way of farming can actually revive grassland and allow the eco system to thrive.
My overriding aim with all my clients is to get them healthy, if that stipulates going exclusively plant based I would certainly endorse that way of eating. As it currently stands:
- The people who live the longest
- The people who perform best in all sports
- The world’s most successful health experts
All include some animal protein in their diet.
It is irrefutable that as humans we evolved over millions of years eating meat, why else would our stomach produce Hydrochloric acid. If you research the diets of every native people on earth from the Amazonian tribesman to Alaskan Inuit they all included animal protein when available.
The uncomfortable truth is the vast majority of people who spend years on vegan and vegetarian diets eventually develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies that impede their health status. This then is never connected to their diet as they have been eating that way for years and always felt fine.
The best advice I can give is that if you choose to go exclusively plant based then run a regular functional blood chemistry test in to track your health status over time. This will allow you supplement when necessary. For everybody else, continue to eat a large variety of vegetables, ideally locally sourced and in season, combine this with quality meat that is sustainably farmed.