I have a friend who lives in Switzerland and recently participated in the Geneva triathlon. After congratulating him, he said he was very happy, especially because he did it on a purely vegan diet. I was a bit shocked that he ate “no protein”? WRONG! Lots of protein, just not from the places you commonly expect!
Then…I congratulated a friend of mine on her legs (they looked great!) and how much weight she had lost. What she said was again a bit shocking.. “vegan legs”. Although I am a doctor, nutrition is not taught to us in medical school.. okay maybe 4 weeks out of 4 years of studying.. so yea, in essence, none. So this was unexpected. But I didn’t realize how beneficial a vegan diet would be until a third friend told me to watch a documentary called
“What the Health”.
It was almost midnight and I couldn’t sleep.. no YOGA for me that day. So naturally I opened Netflix, and looked for the documentary. I didn’t expect to stay alert through the whole thing.. I was tired, but for some reason everything that was said was entirely life changing. WHY? It was things I had never learned in school. Things I had never researched myself. Things I didn’t expect and wanted to know more about.
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, watch it and let me know what it makes you think!
In the following days I decided that I should write about this and vlog about it too.. so I started my research. Little did I know, another physician would do a video criticizing the documentary, calling it “fake science”. Mind you, when one doctor says its science, and another doctor says its fake science.. well it leads to a lot of confusion and doubt. After all, these are doctors, so which one do you believe?!?!
What I noticed was that the physician that was criticizing the documentary didn’t give any evidence or research. So I started my journey into this tough topic.
As I always say! I am not here to tell you what to do, or to urge you to change your life or your eating habits.. I am here to tell you the benefits and dangers of certain things so that you yourselves can make your own informed decisions! Knowing why something is good or bad also helps keep you in line after you decide to make a change.. hopefully, anyway!
Based on the documentary AND the critiques of the other physician, I have researched and written this post to address a few points made. Granted there were lots of points! So If you think I missed one, LET ME KNOW! So I can address that one too! I have chosen a few points that I believe were the most “shocking”, “fake sounding”, “alarming”, “controversial” both from the documentary, and the “debunking video”. So, if you need a break, take it! Stretch, have some water, even some coffee! And lets dive in!
Documentary Point: Sugary foods OR high carb diets don’t cause diabetes, animal fat causes muscle cells build up tiny particles of fat and this leads to insulin resistance, the sugar stays in your blood and causes diabetes
Debunker Criticism: Sugar and carbs get stored as fat, basic physiology. The idea that fat particles deposit on muscle cells and doesn’t let sugar into cells is FAKE SCIENCE!
High carbohydrates and high sugar diets predispose you to obesity and insulin resistance. Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes type 2, and insulin resistance causes it.
BUT/ purely vegan diet
What the documentary said was that high fat in the diet is the real issue. And this has been found to be true. The traditional way to help patients control their disease is by controlling their sugar and carb intake. The issue with this is that diets low in carbs, makes you eat more fats and protein so you feel properly energized. By minimizing fat, especially saturated fat in diet, improves insulin resistance. This means that even if you are eating sugars and lots of carbs, by lowering your amount of fat consumption, your body can deal with the sugar more adequately.
A study was conducted diets higher in grains veggies and fruits and lower dairy and meat consumption. Results showed that many diabetic patients were able to reduce their medications or go of them entirely.
Studies on muscle cell fat content show that athletes and diabetes have higher levels of muscle cell fat, BUT only athletes have higher sensitivity for insulin.
Personally I take this info as this:
Yes, eating too much sugar and carbohydrates may predispose you to obesity, but only if your body cannot adequately deal with the amount of sugar you are putting in it.
How can you help your body deal with the sugar and carbs?
Exercise! And lower saturated fats, like the ones found in animal proteins (dairy, steak, chicken, even fish)
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Documentary Point: Eating eggs is like feeding your kids cigarettes?
Egg yolk is full of cholesterol and fat, it is meant to maintain the development of a baby chick. When we eat it, it coats our blood cells, our blood gets thicker, changes our hormones, raises our cholesterol levels, there’s nothing healthy of eating the yolk of the egg. Eating 1 egg is like smoking 5 cigarettes?
Debunker Criticism: be careful of people finding studies to support what they already believe.
Appears to be on the side of the debunker. One study found that a diet high in eggs, but lower in saturated fats, or diet that is high in eggs but replaces saturated fats with healthier fats, actually had a positive or no effect on bad cholesterol levels. Another study found that short-term egg consumption did not badly affect arterial function in healthy people.
In the International Journal of Cardiology, the same one that was referred to in the documentary, concluded that eating 1-2 eggs a day did not adversely affect blood cholesterol or LDL (bad cholesterol). This same study supported the debunker physician’s view that dietary cholesterol “may be less detrimental to cardiovascular health than previously thought”. So, I’m not sure why they chose a section of the ‘methods’ to say eating a sausage and egg sandwich was equivalent to mcdonalds mcmuffin. It did say that, but as a comparison.
Another study showed that “dietary cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is small, as most subjects can effectively adapt to higher levels of cholesterol intake. Nevertheless, lowering dietary cholesterol content might reduce the risk of CHD considerably in a subgroup of individuals who are highly responsive to changes in cholesterol intake”.
A meta-analysis on eggs and risk of coronary heart disease showed a dose-response. Basically, more eggs (up to 1/day) was not found to be associated with coronary heart disease.
BUT compared to cigarettes?
A Canadian study did find that 1 egg was comparable to smoking 5 ciggarettes, BUT what they didn’t add in the documentary was that the study itself said more research was needed to find any other dietary confounders, as well as the role of waist circumference. The study concluded that people at risk should lower their egg ingestion. This is similar to other studies that also show eggs are not bad for your arteries.
I found evidence that they’re bad, evidence that they’re not bad. So I conclude that
anything in excess is bad! People at risk of certain problems should not eat certain things. This is the trend with every disease. An important topic to discuss obviously, but dramatizing it as feeding your child 5 cigarettes is a bit extreme in my opinion.
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Documentary Point: The World Health Organization (WHO) says plutonium, cigarettes, processed meat as level 1 carcinogens
Debunking criticism: plutonium is vegan
YES. All of the above mentioned, are labeled as group 1 carcinogens in the WHO website. By the way its W-H-O, not the who (like the group.. each letter is pronounced individually, its not a word if that makes sense).
Is plutonium vegan as the debunking physician said?
I didn’t find any evidence that plutonium is found in plant foods. I’m not sure what drove him to say something like that. Whether or not he has supporting evidence to this, or he just wanted to make a shocking statement, no clue. I was shocked, and it made me look it up. If you are anything like me you might do the same, and if you do find something that I missed, please share it with me!
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Documentary Point: If people knew how bad these foods are maybe they wouldn’t eat them anymore
Debunker Criticism: NO! People were told cigarettes are bad and they still smoke, so people will keep up with bad habits even if told how bad they are.
Actually its 50/50. Sure, we’re all told smoking is bad, not exercising is bad, sodas are bad, etc etc. How many of us actually make changes may not be as high as we’d like. But, ever since smoking awareness has gone up, the rates of smoking have gone down. This is evident from what happened after the Surgeon General reported that smoking caused cancer in 1964. Since then, smoking prevalence has decreased from almost 45% to 19% according to a CDC report. Adults lowered their smoking rates because of this announcement? Maybe. Seems like a likely correlation.
Oddly enough in 1998, a Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies led to the elimination of billboard, transit and written advertisement targeting underage youth. After this settlement, youth smoking dropped quite quickly from its peak of almost 40% down to almost 17%. Clearly awareness has an effect! Whether or not it’s a fast one is an entirely different story. The changes in adults were gradual too. The decline was a bit quicker among teens. This shows that interventions to inform are extremely efficient in effecting change! So is this documentary a fix to the high levels of chronic disease? NO, not quite. But it’s a step in the right direction to bring awareness to how a diet can impact your health in good and bad ways.