Nationally Certified Sports Nutrition Specialist and Personal Trainer, Ben Crane, goes in-depth into the blatantly biased, vegan-inspired health claims against animal protein sources made in “What The Health”, the latest diet documentary available on Netflix.
From a weight-loss surgeon spreading false information on the causes of weight-gain, to hypocritically claiming we can’t trust studies about meat if they are performed by the meat industry, “What The Health” is about as informative and reliable as your favorite late-night comedy show host. Passionately political, completely uninterested in conflicting information, and aiming to please a specific audience, the filmmakers of this documentary deliver a convincing case for vegan dieting, but at the expense of factual scientific understanding. It is unfortunate that information proved false more than 30 years ago is being recirculated once again, by “doctors” no less, because most people will believe anything they hear from a guy wearing a white coat.
Please know that you do NOT have to take my word for anything you read here. I strongly encourage you to do your own research. If you do not already know this, any honest professional in the scientific world will tell you that science actually does not prove or disprove anything. It merely establishes a best-acceptable understanding of a given phenomenon based on current research and understanding, allotting for a change to the understanding should there be adequate evidence to the contrary. This documentary ignores not only the scientific facet of drawing conclusions based on the totality of information about a given subject, but also that their information is not “proven”; far from it in fact as you will discover.
Since this article is extremely long and covers several dozen false claims from the film, I would like to list out first the claims that I agree with, followed by the much longer list of claims that viewers need to know are entirely dishonest and deceptive.
Here first are the few points I am happy to say I agree with:
- Medicine is in the business of treating people, not preventing sickness.
- Choices in diet can be worse than smoking.
- The movement to become comfortable with all types of bodies is the same as getting comfortable with sickness.
- Common lifestyle is a much better health indicator than common genetics.
- The pharmaceutical industry controls what doctors are told.
- A doctor’s advice often keeps you sick (treats the symptoms, not the source).
- Doctor’s only have 7 hours of nutrition training (and therefore should not be trusted sources for nutrition guidance).
Now that we have that out of the way, let me now go into each of the claims this documentary makes that audiences really need to be aware of so as to not further spread this misinformation, or worse, live by it:
- Let’s kick this list of lies off by pointing out how ironic it is that this documentary targets the “diabetes epidemic” (which, don’t get me wrong, is very real) by preaching the unending benefits of a vegan diet. If you are not aware, diabetes, contrary to what this documentary would have you believe, is caused by an abuse of carbohydrates to the human body, particularly sugar. Carbohydrate comes from plants, i.e. the only food allowed on a Vegan diet. Quite literally, this documentary is saying that the medically proven culprit of diabetes is the one and only food source you should be consuming to keep from getting diabetes. I’m not kidding you, look it up.
- Type-II Diabetes (the form focused on in “What The Health”) is caused by the body’s increasing resistance to the hormone Insulin. Insulin is released when the blood stream receives an elevated amount of sugar (glucose, the derivative of all carbohydrate consumed by the body). Insulin triggers a storage response by the body’s energy storage sites (the liver, muscles, and fat cells). Depending on how much the initial spike of blood sugar is, and how soon the next stream arrives, Insulin may not have enough time to return to normal levels. An additional dose of sugar to the bloodstream will further increase Insulin levels, often producing higher levels than before. Over time, the body is exposed to such high concentrations of Insulin that it becomes desensitized, otherwise known as resistant. Eventually, the body simply can’t produce enough Insulin to regulate its own blood sugar levels, and thus a medical diagnoses of “Diabetic” follows.
- Now before you think I’m anti-vegan or hate carbohydrates, I’m not, and I don’t. Far from it. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source and are crucial for getting an array of nutrients that keep the body healthy and happy. What this documentary does not explain is that the quality of the carbohydrate sources consumed make all the difference in the world. A variety of fruits and vegetables contains naturally occurring fiber, which regulates the rate at which carb-derivative glucose (sugar) enters the blood stream, keeping Insulin levels normal. The Western diet, however, is filled with sugar-saturated coffees, teas, sodas, cookies, creams and cakes. These high doses of sugar over and over throughout the day are what send Insulin into a frenzy, rarely giving it an opportunity to relax. Depending on individual health and habit, sometimes it can take a few decades, sometimes it can take less than a year, but anyone on a consistently high sugar diet is at a very high risk for Type-II Diabetes, not to mention other chronic health concerns, including cancer.
- Meat is not enemy #1 in the war on diabetes, it’s sugar, the energy that is stored in Vegan-friendly food. Poor choices in the quality of meat can certainly exacerbate the issue, but food groups are not to blame. “Meat” can’t be blamed any more than “Carbohydrates” can. As we’ll continue to discuss, it’s the quality of meat, just like the quality of carbohydrate that determine the health consequences of dietary choices.
Filmmaker is Hypochondriac
- The man behind this documentary from the beginning lets us know that by definition he is abnormally anxious about his health. In a world full of warning labels and risks at every twist and turn, viewers should be aware that people like this tend to make mountains out of molehills and are therefore liable to bias their beliefs which commonly come from misinformation.
Processed Meat is Group 1 Carcinogen
- Know what else is labeled as a Group 1 Carcinogen? Alcohol, as well as its by-product Acetaldehyde which just so happens to come from PLANT sources and is commonly found in coffee, bread, and ripe fruit. Does this make alcohol, coffee, bread and fruit foods we need to avoid? Our bodies are constantly being exposed to carcinogens, but they are well equipped to battle against them in moderate quantities. It’s toxic levels of these carcinogens that we need to worry about, not trace amounts.
Red Meat is Group 2 Carcinogen
- After learning above that coffee, fruit and bread can be considered Group 1 Carcinogens, you may not care about inferior Group 2 Carcinogens, but if you do the list also includes hot beverages (over 149˚F), using wood for fuel in a fire, and the emissions that come from frying food in oil. God forbid humans ever get near a fireplace, order coffee extra hot or make eggplant parmesan.
Diabetes Not Caused by High-Carb or High-Sugar Diets
- For the science behind this, see #1 on this list. You can always find someone qualified to be an “expert” in their field willing to go against the grain and make a case for something no other expert in their field accepts. From physicists willing to say the Earth is only 10,000 years old, historians trying to make a case that Jesus never existed, or scientists claiming the moon-landing was fake, it is because of people like this that we as the public need to be very careful what we accept as truth. One study that shows X does not completely discredit 100 studies that show Y. The documentary has an agenda to convince the audience that meat is bad for you, that the Vegan diet is the one and only way to eat, and it showcases every “expert” willing to say whatever is necessary to make it sound like the truth (most of which are Vegans themselves or stand to profit from the misinformation they spread).
Carbs Can’t Make You Fat
- Dr. Garth Davis, a weight-loss surgeon, 9 minutes into the film is on camera saying “This idea that carbs make you fat is utterly ridiculous…carbs cannot make you fat, in and of themselves” This line is probably the most dangerous and deceptive of the entire documentary. To his credit, he later admits that “your body can’t turn those carbs into fat, unless you’re really overdoing your calories”, but that is precisely what obese people are doing. In fact, that is exactly how people get fat in the first place, they “overdo” their calories. It does not matter if those extra calories come from alcohol, fat, carbohydrate or protein, excess calories consumed will get converted into fat!
- Dr. Davis tries to mislead the audience by referencing a single study that supposedly shows an inverse relationship between carbohydrate intake and diabetes. He does not, however, reference the numerous other studies that specifically research the quality of those carbohydrate and find that intake of refined carbohydrates that are low in fiber are directly related to the risk of diabetes. Nor does he discuss how easy it is for the body to reach its capacity for glycogen in the liver and muscles and begin converted additional glucose into fat. He makes it sound impossible, but hey, his livelihood relies on people getting fat so why wouldn’t we trust him? The documentary criticizes another weight-loss surgeon for refusing to discuss obesity because of conflict of interest, what makes them think this surgeon is more honest?
Fat Goes Straight to Fat
- This is only as true as the phrase “Carbs go straight to fat” is. Fat, just like carbohydrate, is broken down during digestion into smaller substrates, particularly fatty acids, which the body is constantly using for energy. If you consume more than your body needs at the time they are absorbed, the surplus will be stored as fat, just as surplus of carbohydrate can also be stored as fat.
Processed Meat Increases Diabetes Risk by 51%
- Ever seen a study that concluded something like “persons who consume 2-3 drinks a day are 90% more likely to develop alcoholism than those who avoid alcohol”? Duh, right? This claim ignores the fact that when processed meats are consumed they are almost always followed by simple carbohydrates, i.e. sugar, which is the primary contributor to insulin-resistance as described in #1 on this list. Hot dogs have buns, burger meat is no exception, sausage usually comes with biscuits, deli-meat comes on bread. You can’t just pick and choose which information you want to like to believe is true and ignore the rest. That’s what got our country into this obesity epidemic in the first place, the last thing we need is another dose.
Dead Meat Bacteria Instantly Harms Arteries
- There is some important research that has shown that even after cooking meat, the endotoxins found in the dead bacteria of that meat can still survive and cause inflammation in the human body. This, coupled with ingestion of additional deleterious foods, can lead to chronic inflammation that can of course be harmful to the body. The problem here is, there are TONS of things that cause inflammation in the body. Physical activity, heat, auto-immune disorders, injuries, stress, digestion, and infections to name a few. Our bodies deal with inflammation on a daily basis, which is why hydration and consuming foods with antioxidants and other natural anti-inflammatories is so important. Western dieters rarely get enough of these. They consume large quantities of inflammatory foods without adequate amounts of anti-inflammatories. It’s not the bacteria or the meat it came from that is to blame, its the wholesome natural food sources excluded from the average diet that would otherwise reduce the inflammation that are of more concern to one’s health.
Chicken is #1 Source of Carcinogens
- I can’t find anything stating that chicken is any more carcinogenic than alcohol, bread or fruit, but it is certainly true that some chicken processing plants have been caught improperly treating and packaging their chickens, allowing contaminates to slip through and contaminate the meat. In almost all cases, the carcinogens are not actually the fault of “chicken”, but of the people raising, processing and packaging the chickens. As the makers of this film will tell you, the same concern occurs in crops of fruits and vegetables on the Vegan diet. Pesticides, anti-bacterial agents, and disinfectant treatments used on farms of all types have been shown to make their way into the foods themselves and cause harmful side effects when consumed. Humans would not have evolved from their frugivore ancestors if they had not learned how to hunt, cook and eat meat (being married to a PhD of Anthropology will teach you things like that), so as is the case with many of the items on this list, we need to examine further up the food chain before blaming the food itself.
One Egg Equals 5 Cigarettes
- I laughed out loud when they said this in the documentary, and again when I read the study that reported this. Taking a bunch of 62 year old women and asking them how many cigarettes they smoked during their lifetime, and how many eggs they ate a week, they determined these results. Not how much alcohol they drank, how many fruits and vegetables were in their diet, not how much they exercised. Some studies are conducted with the intention of producing a desired outcome, and it’s researchers like these that make us have to question every study we see.
Dairy Industry Responsible for Studies Green-lighting Cholesterol
- Research this yourself and you will find independent cardiologists from hospitals across the country and research institutions like Harvard agreeing that old studies linking cholesterol intake to cholesterol levels were difficult to support as technology and continued research improved. It is now understood that cholesterol levels are much less directly linked to cholesterol intake, and much more strongly linked to the overall composition of one’s diet. Are you seeing the pattern here?
Restricting Animal Products Lowers Obesity
- In my line of work, clients almost always reference a time in their life or someone else’s where they excluded a food group and lost weight. Exclusionary diets work on the scale because they cut calories out of the diet, resulting in a lower caloric intake and therefore either slowed, stalled, or reversed weight gain. Unfortunately for our bodies, excluding entire food groups also excludes important nutrients. For Vegans, Vitamin B-12 (acquired via animal protein), heme iron, and protein are very common nutrient deficiencies that result from excluding the important food group of animal protein from the diet. Exclusionary diets work when it comes to weight, but the scale is not indicative of health. Once again it’s completely deceptive of this film to lead the audience into thinking that meat is the source of all the world’s problems, and that cutting it out is the world’s only answer.
Fish Filled with Mercury, Hormones and Biotics
- Like #10 on this list, it’s not the food itself that deserves blame, but the humans affecting it. Elevated mercury levels are a real threat to the ecosystem and our health, but its harmful airborne pollutants from power plants and carbon emissions that are sending mercury into rivers, lakes and oceans which trickles up the food chain as one predator consumes the other and absorbs increasing quantities of this toxic element. Hormones, which are not in and of themselves a danger to humans, but worth being aware of, are a problem in farm-raised fish. Fish are fed pellets that can contain harmful doses of unnatural hormones as well as antibiotics that are intended to keep the fish healthy, grow quickly, and reproduce efficiently. As is the case with many new practices, sometimes we learn that well-intentioned decisions sometimes have negative consequences. In most cases, any toxins our bodies absorb are also able to be detoxed via our natural immune processes. However, just like we have learned that in-organic treatments on fruits and vegetable farms can lead to harmful ingestion of toxic chemicals, the same has been shown in other in-organic food practices on meat products as well. Blame the food producers, no the foods themselves.
Animals Saturated with Dioxins that Can’t Be Destroyed
- Dioxins are a natural component of Earth’s ecosystem. They come from things like Volcanic eruptions and forest fires, but the toxic levels we are concerned about once again come from human industrial processes. These processes produce environmental pollutants that trickle into the food chain and absorb into the fatty tissue of animals. As those animals get consumed by other animals again and again, the dioxin concentrations increase, leaving organisms like humans as some of the most vulnerable for dangerous intake levels. While it’s not necessarily untrue that dioxins can’t be “destroyed”, they do have a half-life of 7-11 years, so they can disappear over time but they do make for a very long-term consequence of pollution. I know this is sounding redundant, but our bodies have naturally defended themselves against dioxins since we first became human, and while human innovation has exacerbated their harmful impact, it is not the fault of animals but the fault of ourselves that this is now a growing concern.
No Child Needs Cow’s Milk
- I’m going to play the ‘married to a PhD of Anthropology’ card again and pass along what I learned from her. Humans at a point in history learned how to domesticate, herd and farm various mammals. These people were called Pastoralists. At some point during the evolution of Pastoral technology, humans figured out that they could consume the milk of goats and cattle, be it for an additional source of energy and/or for important growth-contributing nutrients for children when breast milk may have been scarce or unavailable. Not to disregard any potential health concerns, but consumption of dairy milk is recognized as an important innovation in human survival in the Anthropological community. As far as a child “needing” to consume dairy milk in today’s times, you could probably make a convincing case. Back a few thousand years ago, however, when food was much more scarce and survival was far more important than dietary risk-factors, both children and adults likely would have died had it not been for cow’s milk.
All Milk Packed with Hormones
- Yes, milk by definition contains hormones. Know what else has hormones? Wine, Garlic, Soy, Sesame Seeds, Beans, Dates and Nuts. Hormones are a natural component of the food chain from both plant and animal sources. Hormones are not in-and-of themselves dangerous. The danger is when humans start injecting unnatural doses or foreign hormones into foods in an effort to enhance production.
Galactose is Bad
- This claim is completely unfounded, and the only evidence that Galactose should be avoided is from a study forcing high concentrations of strict Galactose into subjects. Galactose is a form of sugar that Lactose breaks down into during digestion, and rarely is ingested on its own, so it’s extremely improbable that toxic levels of Galactose will ever be consumed. It’s every bit as realistic and fair as saying “apples are bad”, “meat is bad”, “coffee is bad”. If Galactose is bad for you, then breast milk is even worse.
Milk Does Not Strengthen Bones
- I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but only because no one thing ever does something for you body without the help of something else. Almost everything in the body requires an array of assistance from multiple resources. In this case, adequate protein absorption, healthy calcium levels, and adequate Vitamin D are all vital chemical components required to maintain and improve bone-mineral density. But even if those measure at normal levels, if someone is very lazy and doesn’t give their bones regular physical stimulation though activity (manual labor, exercise, sport, etc.), their lack of activity will lead to an atrophy of bone collagen, also known as osteoporosis. So in one sense, yes, milk does not strengthen bones, but milk CAN absolutely contribute to more than one of the factors leading to stronger bones.
Dairy Increases Cancer Risk by 34%
- Like other studies used in “What The Health”, this study did not address any other lifestyle factors other than frequency of dairy consumption. Like the egg studies decades ago that appeared to link dietary cholesterol with HDL/LDL ratios, studies like these completely ignore the overwhelming majority of other dietary and lifestyle factors that relate to health risks like cancer.
Casein is Like Heroine
- As previously discussed, there are more similarities in mammalian milk production than this documentary would lead you to believe. Human breast milk has casein, just like cow’s milk. Do we need to start a movement to end breast-feeding because it’s equivalent to shooting babies up with heroine? If this naturally occurring protein can be blamed for a heroine-like addiction, then God-forbid anyone ever consume foods like soda, chocolate and french fries that have more addictive properties than Casein. Look up how salt’s addictive properties have been compared to Cocaine. Where was the case against salt in this documentary, you know, that thing we would literally die from if we didn’t get enough of?
Hogs are Fed Dead Hogs
- This was actually a practice approved by veterinarians as a way to build the immunity of adult pigs against a virus that literally killed 10% of our nation’s domestic hog population back in 2013. It does seem barbaric, but feeding a few remains from hogs affected by the virus to healthy adult pigs has actually been recommended by veterinary science to create a natural vaccine and prevent another massive extermination of baby pigs. Would it really be better to let another 8 million or more pigs die?
American Diabetes Association Funded by Corrupt Brands
- Several of the sponsors listed for the ADA are pharmaceutical companies, which do have a monetary interest in the health of (or lack thereof) people everywhere. But would it look any better if companies that claim to want us to healthier showed no interest or support of associations like the ADA that aim to educate us on how to do just that? If we were to assume that all information from one institution was false because it was funded by someone who might benefit from those studies…well “What The Health” would have to take their foot out of their mouth (especially since feet aren’t Vegan).
Chicken Served at Diabetes Dinner
- So? (By now I should be able to say just this and get my point across)
Eggs cannot be Labeled “Healthy”
- This is true, but it doesn’t mean eggs are unhealthy. It’s all about moderation, and eggs, just like other animal protein sources, also bring with them varying amounts of Saturated fats, which Americans get more than their fair share of from fried foods and sweet desserts. The USDA is working to improve what can and can’t be labeled “healthy” because they realize just because something is calorie-dense from fat doesn’t make it unhealthy, but creating a universal labeling system for all foods takes time. Olive oil can’t be labeled “healthy” either, and that’s approved by the Vegan diet, so I rest my case.
Cheeseburger Laws vs. Tobacco Laws
- As much as people love to draw parallels between foods and drugs, it is not nearly the same thing to create laws against calorie-dense food service providers like there are against actual drugs like tobacco. “What The Health” is against so-called “Cheeseburger Laws” because they protect fast-food restaurants from lawsuits where litigants sue restaurants for making them fat. Yes, lawsuits like this are a thing. Such cases bring us one step closer to necessitating a government meal plan so Big Brother can hold our hand to make sure we eat responsibly.
- If you think we need laws regulating what foods we can eat, that’s your right. I for one believe everyone has a right to enjoy ice cream on a hot day, cream and sugar in their coffee, wine with their steak, and fries with their burger. They just also need to know how to moderate those choices with consistently healthier options, you know, like an adult.
Animal protein vs. Plant Protein
- So just minutes before this documentary talks about how little medical doctors know about nutrition, they have one on camera and not only say that plants get Nitrogen from the air (that’s false, they get it from the ground), but also that all protein comes from plants. This is also false because the first proteins on Earth were microscopic, single-celled organisms that through billions of years of evolution lead to millions of more complex living organisms such as plants and animals, but all of which are made of protein. Protein has literally been around billions of years longer than plants have, and if protein had not come before plants, we would not only have no plants, we would not have life as we know it.
- What they discuss about “complete protein” is true, you do not need animal tissue to get a complete amino acid profile to form the proteins our bodies need to properly function, but again they hide other details from the audience. For sedentary individuals that also have the education of how to combine two or more types of carbohydrates to create a “complete protein” profile, you can get all the protein you need on a plant based diet. Absolutely. Active individuals, however, require more protein to sustain the greater demand for growth and repair on their muscles, bones, skin and the like. This can still be possible on a plant based diet, but unlike the herbivore/frugivore relatives “What The Health” compares us to, our stomachs are much smaller, and so are our teeth, which makes it a much less efficient process for us to get our nutritional needs from plants alone. What made us evolutionarily able to become human was our ability to get more calories into our diet by hunting, cooking and consuming animal meat. This extra burst of calories allowed our brains to grow larger and larger, making us more and more intelligent, yet despite that intelligence we still have people making dumb documentaries full of misinformation that scare viewers into diets that are probably just going to make them worse off than they were in the first place.
- Bottom line is that while getting all your protein from plants is possible, it’s far less efficient and requires significantly more educational knowledge to do correctly. It also quite literally defies what makes us human, i.e. our ability to cook and consume meat. I completely agree that people are eating too much of the unhealthy fatty meat, too little of the leaner healthier meat, and far too little fiber from fruits and vegetables to go along with it. But please, do your own research and discover this stuff for yourself. Don’t buy into the Vegan agenda these guys are biasing their information towards. It’s deceptive, disingenuous and down right fraudulent.
Paleo Diet Clogs Arteries
- “Paleo Dieting” gets a laugh from all the Anthropologists I’m around on a regular basis. No one doing a modern “Paleo” diet is eating anything like the homo-sapien ancestors they claim to be copying. For that reason I can agree that most “Paleo” dieters are probably clogging their arteries because they are consuming irresponsible quantities of fatty meats, which are full of saturated fats, and no eating nearly enough unsaturated fats that provide cleaner, anti-inflammatory fuel for our bodies. They are also probably under-eating on fruits and vegetables which provide the vital vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients we need to keep our arteries clear, our immune system strong, and our energy demands met. It’s just unfair to link meat as a broad category as the sole contributor to such health concerns like this film does so frequently.
Egg Benefits Come from Egg Industry
- Um, all your claims of the benefits of a Vegan diet are coming from a documentary funded and created by Vegans. “Hello, Kettle? This is Pot”.
Moderation with Meat is not OK
- If this is true, then moderation with plant-based foods is not OK either, because the sugar and chemical pollutants from plants can be just as harmful as anything found in meat.
Get B-12 from Pills, not Food
- Is it not a bit ironic that a documentary preaching the importance of organic, natural food sources resorts to advocating pills in a bottle to give the body an essential Vitamin it needs that only comes from meat sources? In this case it’s not just ironic, it’s hypocritical.
Vegan Diet Boosts Bench Press
- A healthy diet can certainly improve how the body functions, but to say that a change in food alone increased the force production of muscle tissue is quite absurd. Increasing strength in a movement like the bench press requires improvements to technique, motor control, and motor unit recruitment. None of these are improved by a change in diet alone.
Middle-aged Vegan Adds 15lbs of Muscle
- I’m very happy to hear that this person was inspired to be healthier, but any diet consisting of a healthy ratio of protein, fats and/or carbohydrates, along with proper stimulation of muscle tissue can produce increases in muscle tissue. Once again, this documentary would like you to believe that a Vegan diet is solely responsible for this person’s fitness success, but there are many diet and exercise techniques to achieving results like these at any age and the Vegan diet is not only one of many but it is far from the most effective.
Well I hope you got something valuable out of this lengthy article that took me quite a bit more time to write than my usual posts. Please comment below if you have anything valuable to add, or a question you would like me to address. Thank you for reading and share this with a friend if you found it helpful!
Absolutely! Im vegan and the first time I watched “What the Health” I just went “What the Heck”. I am no doctor or nutritionist but even I know more than the doctors shown. Well, I know my body and what it needs. Veganism isn’t for everyone and that’s what other vegans should understand.
Thanks Artemis! That’s what it’s all about, any does that completely excludes a food group that humans have relied on for survival for thousands of years, while it CAN be beneficial, should NOT be pressured into other people as being the best diet out there. If it’s what you and your body find the best for your health, beautiful! But others should not be demonized for choosing a diet that is better for them :)