The Game Changers Movie—A Systematic Takedown.
Updated: Jan 10
I read all of the references used in The Game Changers movie to see whether they
supported the premise that eating nothing but plants is healthy, or improves performance. The evidence cited categorically does not.
COI Statement: The author of this work, Tim Rees, confesses not to have any meat industry ties at all but is open to them. haha
THE LATEST TREND OF PLANT-BASED MOVIES, The Game Changers, has not gone unnoticed. In just one week it was crowned iTunes’ best-selling documentary ever. At least seven years in the making, this much-awaited documentary aims to:
‘Expose outdated myths about food that not only affect human performance but the health of the entire global population.’
Something to be commended. Executively produced by some jaw-dropping names and directed by Oscar winner, Louie Psihoyos, it’s sure to impress.
Unless you know a little something about nutrition science.
A lot of research
I’ve read every single paper, news article and opinion piece cited within so you don’t have to. At the very minimum I have found:
A deliberately cloudy definition of ‘plant-based’.
Oft cited weak studies that by definition do not provide causative evidence.
Cherry-picking of the highest order.
Presentation of risks relative within studies as if they provide evidence of risk for the general public.
The Game Changers is presented by James Wilks, an old school friend of mine. I have no insider information and if I did I wouldn’t use it. I mention our connection purely for transparency.
What’s my role in this?
I’m a registered nutritionist who’s worried about the plant-based / vegan movement because people are already struggling to nourish themselves with the inclusion of animal produce—the best sources of bioavailable nutrients.
Removing these nutritious foods magnifies the modern, overfed yet undernourished phenomena that leave many including the young and impressionable malnourished and sick.
In our world of abundance and waste, we make the dire assumption that people get enough nourishment because they consume ample calories. This is why I’m willing to spend my time uncovering the nonsense we’re being sold by well-meaning ideologists and vested interests.
My mission is precisely the same as James’.
James, an ex-UFC fighter, plays the role of a guy who’s confused with conflicting advice on diet. Motivated by his own injuries, the man’s man goes off on an odyssey of discovery and kindly brings us along. Eight years later anyway.
It’s about as factual as The Odyssey too. Tiny fragments of truth found in poor-quality studies, anecdotes, opinions and nonsense are expanded beyond anything that is reasonable. The Game Changers truly is a myth.
What is plant-based anyway?
Spinning veganism and calling it ‘plant-based’ allows the producers freedom to present research and anecdote from sources that are not vegan but vegetarian or even omnivore with a predominance of plants. Our host tells us he’s a ‘meat eater’, but that would make him an ex-vegan.
He’s positioned himself nicely; making it easier for those people sitting on the fence to trust his view as impartial and his ‘discoveries’ objective. The whole movie distances itself from veganism but goes on to attempt to destroy any positives from animal produce at all. This leaves us in little doubt as to the objectives. So, I will use the word vegan, for the most part, because that’s what this is.
Messages targeting men
James is as close as it gets to being a modern-day Gladiator, retired now. He makes a living being macho and teaching special forces and other male-dominated tactical units the ins and outs of how to kick someone’s ass. Cool. Make no mistake, this documentary is aimed squarely at men as you will see from so much of this list:
Stereotyping manly meat-eating is not acceptable in this day and age.
Arguably the most macho men in history ate predominantly plants.
Look! We’ve managed to find some modern-day gladiators (MMA) and athletes eating mostly plants.
All proteins come from plants if you forget about the ‘middlemen’ aka the animals that convert them.
Plants have all the protein you need, so chill out!
Berries, cocoa beans, teas etc are healthy.
There are loads of horrible things in animal products that will kill you very quickly.
Researchers have shown positive, sweeping lifestyle changes and losing weight reverse the markers of cardiovascular disease. We’ve cherry-picked the vegetarian diet as the healthy mechanism.
Relative risk and absolute risk will not be discussed here because, erm, science. It’s complicated, trust me.
Humans never ate much meat anyway. Look! We’ve found some vegan scientists who say so based on their ideology.
Eating carbs gave us our big brains.
Our teeth are not fit for purpose.
Meat makes you infertile; everyone knows that.
Animal produce screws with your hormones.
Big Meat propaganda is the only reason you eat animal products. You’ve been brainwashed. Time to get real. Meat executives and cows conspire to destroy the world.
We’ve got some people with vested interests in plant-based products to add to the credibility of this documentary.
Here’s an ex-special forces sniper who has seen a gorilla and understands that they’re very strong and don’t eat much meat.
We’ve gone into a fire station and added nutritious foods to their normal junk food diets. Some of them have improved biomarkers of health and so that proves it was the animal produce after all.
Hey, chill brother. You don’t have to go 100% plant-based now. You can ease into it. But don’t forget animal products are pure f***ing poison.
The Odyssey begins with ancient gladiators
The ancient Roman Gladiators were a hardy bunch, weren’t they just? They were also the fatsos of the era. But don’t take my word for it, hear it from the very same scientists who conducted the research and article mentioned in the movie. The author of the article, that’s easier going than the research, writes:
‘Gladiators, it seems, were fat. Consuming a lot of simple [complex] carbohydrates, such as barley, and legumes, like beans, was designed for survival in the arena. Packing in the carbs also packed on the pounds.’
Don’t I know it! The author goes on to quote Dr Grossschmidt, the onsite archaeological expert:
‘Gladiators needed subcutaneous fat,” the professor explained. “A fat cushion protects you from cut wounds and shields nerves and blood vessels in a fight.'
It seems a lean Gladiator would have been a dead one well before he could have bathed in the glory that we’re all so familiar with from the movie Gladiator.
The expert continues:
'cuts extended only as far as the fatty layer would have looked more spectacular and allowed the gladiator to fight on’
All the while looking seriously tough and providing the bloodthirsty audience with a hell of a show. Carbohydrates, the fast track to stardom!
Comparing modern-day people with ancients that needed to be fatter than the average for professional reasons seems a little strange to me. Not least because they were not vegan. They weren’t even plant-based as far as we know because that definition is never given to us. Is it fifty-one per cent plants, seventy per cent, ninety per cent, or what? It’s one hundred per cent, isn’t it?
The gladiator paper concluded the bodies of young men discovered in the fighters graveyard had immensely strong bones compared to the average person. A large meta-analysis (study of studies) from more recent times (2007) compared omnivores, vegetarians and vegan bones. They discovered that vegans were missing out. The author’s tell us:
‘The higher fracture risk in the vegans appeared to be a consequence of their considerably lower mean calcium intake’
Somehow this was perfectly understood in the ancient world. We know this because gladiators were supplementing:
'To keep their bones strong, historical accounts say, they downed vile brews of charred wood or bone ash, both of which are rich in calcium. Whatever the exact formula, the stuff worked. Grossschmidt says that the calcium levels in the gladiator bones were “exorbitant” compared to the general population. “Many athletes today have to take calcium supplements,” he says. “They knew that then, too’.
The ancient wisdom of drinking bone ash. Not vegan.
We’re then introduced to two modern-day gladiators at the head of their sport.
Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz.
Two omnivores fighting it out. Conor Mcgregor eats meat and Nate Diaz has gone on the record saying:
‘[I] eats eggs and a little bit of seafood from time to time’
James tells us the story of when a 19th-century German chemist theorised that:
‘muscular energy came from animal protein and that vegetarians were incapable of prolonged exercise’.
He cites this reference from a typed 1988 paper: Am J Clin Nutr: 48 (3 Suppl):754–61.
The paper shows that a vegetarian—not vegan—cyclist team outperformed two other teams who included animal produce, referred to in the paper as ‘regular’.
‘In 1896, the aptly named James Parsley led the Vegetarian Cycling Club to easy victory over two regular clubs. A week later, he won the most prestigious hill-climbing race in England, breaking the hill record by nearly a minute. Other members of the club also turned in remarkable performances. Their competitors were having to eat crow with their beef.’
Horton JC. Crusaders for Fitness
The conclusions of the study can be seen in full in the photo below but I’ll summarise here:
There is little basis for advocating vegetarian over omnivore in sports as long as the carbs intake is high enough.
The authors were concerned about the interruption or complete halting of the menstrual cycle in the female athletes (oligomenorrhea & amenorrhea).
Iron (Fe) deficiency in vegetarians.
Impaired mineral status from higher than normal fibre [maybe that’s why the gladiators supplemented minerals but that’s a discussion all of its own].
Reduced protein was a concern.
Source: Am J Clin Nutr: 48 (3 Suppl):754–61
Ancient athletes versus ancient gladiators
I particularly enjoyed the following quote in the very same paper:
The ancient Greek athletes were heavy meat eaters. Mio of Crotona, the legendary wrestler who was never once brought to his knees over five Olympiads (532–516 BC), supposedly consumed gargantuan amounts of meat’.
So, at least in the ancient world, if you wanted to be a legendary, lean athlete then meat-eating was the way. If you needed a layer of fat to protect your muscles and nerves lying beneath, then a high carbohydrate diet was your friend. Which do you need?
It’s taken at least seven years to find a handful of vegan athletes that perform at a high level. I’m not going to discuss them here because they’re anecdotes. They prove nothing and should not be of interest without knowledge of exactly how their diets changed prior to their improved performance. This information is not forthcoming.
When someone improves their diet they strengthen their health and athletic prowess. There’s not a shred of evidence from this very small group that the removal of animal products ushered in success.
My understanding is that many of them are no longer vegan or no longer competing due to injury. Make of that what you will.
James discovers something amazing,
'I was surprised to learn that all protein originates in plants. Cows, pigs and chickens it turns out, are just the middlemen’.
Just the middlemen? Just the middlemen! That’s insane.
Animals literally convert plants we cannot eat, grasses and shrubs etc, and turn them into the most nourishing food available to us, in the most bioavailable forms. These ‘middlemen’ are facilitators, without them humans simply would not exist.
Is there anyone out there that thinks they can eat grass and sustain themselves? If so, please do drop me a line I’ve got a great reality TV show idea.
Meaters vs Planters
The study presented to us at this point (J Acad Nutr Diet. 113(12):1610–9) compares nutrient intake between vegetarians, including excellent protein sources of eggs and dairy, and omnivores. Not vegans who don’t eat either of these protein sources. Based on this study, James states:
'the average plant eater not only gets enough protein, but 70% more than they need. Even meat eaters like me get roughly half of their protein from plants. But athletes need more protein than most people do. So I crunched the numbers from the study and realised that based on the amount of calories I was eating, I’d still be getting more than enough protein to build and maintain muscle.’
The total amount of calories consumed tells you nothing about the amount of protein you eat, however much number crunching you do.
The total amount of protein is not the only thing to consider here. Amino acid profiles (broken down proteins) in foods is critical. Plants and animal source proteins are very different in this respect, as you will see a little later.
It’s not mentioned at any point in the movie but protein is heavily supplemented by vegan athletes in the form of rice, pea or hemp powders etc. These are highly refined non-foods. If you’re an expert on nutrition research skip down to ‘Back to crunching the numbers.’
Problems with the research
The protein study above is observational, population-based. Known as epidemiological. This type of research was never designed to prove anything other than associations between studied groups. The idea is that once strong correlations have been found more robust trials, often randomised control trials (RCT), can test the causative strength of said correlations.
The problem is, this rarely happens and we end up with dietary guidelines based on poor evidence and studies that are not fit for purpose, nor were they designed to be.
This movie is full of this kind of research.
Associations are not causations
It’s a little silly but you’ll get the point from the chart below. Actually, I can believe this correlation; 2007 was a particularly bad year for Nicholas Cage; Ghostrider, Grindhouse, Next, and National Treasure. Those poor people.
Food Frequency Questionnaires (FFQs)
The protein study above used data from a large number of people, a cohort. The researchers sent them food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) to fill in about their diet.
There are serious problems with this kind of data collection that extend way beyond this article but it is important to understand to a point. Forgetfulness, honesty, selective memory etc..
Dr John Ioannidis, (Professor of Medicine, of Health Research and Policy, of Biomedical Data Science, and of Statistics; co-Director, Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford; Director of the PhD program in Epidemiology and Clinical Research), is a particularly harsh critic of nutritional research like this.
He believes the area is in need of some radical reform. He proves this by showing us some silly ‘findings’ of dietary research of the same quality Game Changers uses in this section.
‘…eating 12 hazelnuts daily (1 oz) would prolong life by 12 years (ie, 1 year per hazelnut), drinking 3 cups of coffee daily would achieve a similar gain of 12 extra years, and eating a single mandarin orange daily (80 g) would add 5 years of life. Conversely, consuming 1 egg daily would reduce life expectancy by 6 years, and eating 2 slices of bacon (30 g) daily would shorten life by a decade, an effect worse than smoking’.
Relative risks vs absolute risks
The other problem I have with this production is the constant use of relative risks from studies rather than the more relevant—to you—absolute risks.
Later in the movie, Dean Ornish, vegan physician and best selling author of vegan diet books, epitomises this despicable spin by paraphrasing from a study:
‘people who eat a diet that’s high in animal protein have a 75% increased risk of premature death from all causes, and a four to five hundred percent increased risk of death from most forms of cancer, prostate, breast colon cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes.’
This is a low trick said to frighten you. Who knows, maybe you’ll buy one or two of his books. The information so matter-of-factly spurted tells you zero about your own risk, if there is any, of eating a diet high in animal protein.
Have a look at the infographic below if relative risk vs absolute risk is not clear. Skip forward if so.
Comparing one group in the study to another gives you a relative risk. Unless you happened to be in that group (unlikely) the % means nothing to you but is often used to mislead. Image credit EUFIC.ORG
Read all about it!
You may remember some ‘findings’ from sensationalist headlines that have us all frantically toing and froing. In fact, this kind of reporting undermines nutrition science because people are confused and fed up with conflicting advice. Rarely do they read the articles and many are losing faith in nutrition scientists. Articles are sent around based on the headlines and whether or not they support the sender's pre-existing beliefs.
Conflicting, sensational headlines are turning people against nutrition science out of sheer exasperation. Source Daily Mail.
Back to crunching the numbers
James based his protein consumption on total calories—which doesn’t work—and a study that doesn’t provide him with evidence. Our guide continues to dig when he says:
‘one cup of cooked lentils or a peanut butter sandwich has about as much protein as three ounces of beef or three large eggs.’
A peanut butter sandwich, that nutrition titan, hey? A three-ounce piece of beef is about eighty-five grams. Which is the kind of portion you might expect in a POW camp. It’s tiny. So that still doesn’t tell us much.
I’ll look at the measured amount of lentils and compare it to beef. One cup (US) of lentils is about 240 grams. That gives you about twenty-one grams of protein and nearly twice the amount of carbohydrates at forty-one grams. Therein lies the plant-based problem; trying to get enough protein without overeating carbohydrates. OK, assuming you assimilate everything this portion is 252 kcal of lentils.
I don’t know about you, but I can tell the next day after eating lentils. Those undigested should technically be discounted from the totals. Just think about how that complicates things for a second, let’s not go there.
Let’s see how beef vs lentils stack up in approximate portion sizes.
What about nutrients?
Check out the chart below, you should be able to zoom in on a phone. On a Mac try pressing ‘CMD” and + to zoom. PC, ‘CTRL’ and +.
This gives you an idea of how the nutrients compare in the two foods. I’m sticking with protein analysis.
Nutrition information is based on McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods integrated dataset (CoF IDS) (2015).
If you assume you’re assimilating everything from the lentils—which you’re not, but we will—then they’re not too bad. No wonder they’re the cornerstone of vegan diets and have kept the poorest alive for centuries.
Of course, other things would have to be added to the lentils before you had a decent nutritious meal; fat for example.
Amino acid (AA) profile
Beef on the left vs lentils on the right.
USDA nutrition data based on 250 grams cooked lentils vs 200 grams beef top sirloin steak, grilled.
James tells us:
‘But what about the quality of the protein, I’d always heard that plant-based protein was inferior?’
It is! Just look at the table above. The beef is higher in every single amino acid. Also this, from a 2018 protein analysis study:
‘..plant-based proteins generally exhibit lower digestibility, lower leucine content and deficiencies in certain essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine, which compromise the availability of a complete amino acid profile required for muscle protein synthesis. Based on currently available scientific evidence, animal-derived proteins may be considered more anabolic than plant-based protein sources.’
Obviously, James thinks that Gorissen & Witard, the authors of the study here, are wrong. But the ex-MMA uses a reference at this point in the movie which is not a study but a letter to the American Heart Association (AHA) from a pioneer of the vegan diet, Dr John McDougall.
I don’t wish to poke fun at Dr McDougall, but it’s clear to see from this video that all is not well. Try zooming to 49.00 minutes if you can handle it.
Dr McDougall wrote to the AHA because he didn’t like the following quote and wanted it retracted:
‘Although plant proteins form a large part of the human diet, most are deficient in one or more essential amino acids and are therefore regarded as incomplete proteins.’
Dr McDougall took umbrage because technically speaking eating vast piles of plants can conceivably—if we ignore the actions of oxalates* and other potential blocking agents within the foods—give you high enough levels of the amino acids lacking in plants, and withhold their right to be called ‘complete proteins’. The response from Barbara V. Howard, PhD at the AHA was as follows:
‘Although an indiscriminate mixture of plant proteins could meet protein amino acid requirements, it must be remembered that the amino acid content in most plant proteins is more limited in amount per serving than that from animal sources. Thus, it is difficult to maintain essential amino acids at optimum quantity and distribution.’
Let’s see how much spinach you would need to eat in order to get the appropriate levels of all the amino acids.
*Ignoring the amount of oxalates in this pile of spinach could be a grave mistake. Just ask this person who did a spinach-based green smoothie ‘cleanse’ and gave themselves kidney failure. Whilst the situation is more nuanced than the total amount of oxalates in one’s diet, it is still no joke and should not be ignored.
How much spinach?!
Nine hundred grams of spinach, shown below. Below the photo is the amino acid profile of this spinach vs 150g of sirloin steak.
900g/2 Lbs of raw spinach for 2.01g of leucine & 25.74g of protein. Bio-availability? Who knows? Actual London bus for scale. Also zippo lighter. Amino acid profiles: Beef on the left, lentils on the right.
Beef 150g/5.28 ounces on the left total protein 33g/1.16 ounces. Spinach 900g / 2Ibs on the right, total protein 25.74 g/0.91 ounces.
Out of eighteen amino acids listed, the beef has more in every single one except tryptophan. But, this is an unrealistic amount of spinach versus a realistic amount of beef.
Please do go on, James. You were saying something about plant proteins..
‘..when it comes to gaining strength and muscle mass research comparing plant and animal protein has shown that as long as the proper amounts of amino acids are consumed, the source is irrelevant.’
Ok, so you know that you have to have a very large portion of lentils in order to get up to similar quantities of AA seen in the beef. And the pile of spinach required to come close to beef would have to be about sixty per cent larger than the heap in the photo above. And, with the lentils and other so-called high protein plant choices, your carbohydrates are going up and up. This is why most vegans vehemently defend high carbohydrate consumption. To keep carbs down on a vegan diet you really have to start defaulting to highly processed powders. The kind of protein powders the producer of this movie, James Cameron, sells.
These modern, highly processed, highly travelled, micronutrient deficient ‘foods’ take us away from the whole, nourishing foods which are what I’m all about.
The research cited during this part of the movie
This will be very boring for some, just skip down to ‘summary of this bit’ for the gist. The study cited here is ‘Nutritional Considerations for Vegetarian Athletes: Susan Barr and Candice Rideout’ (2004). The authors made the following observations:
‘well-planned, appropriately supplemented vegetarian [not vegan] diets appear to effectively support athletic performance.
provided protein intakes are adequate to meet needs for total nitrogen and the essential amino acids, plant and animal protein sources appear to provide equivalent support to athletic training and performance.
vegetarians (particularly women) are at increased risk for non-anaemic iron deficiency, which may limit endurance performance.
as a group, vegetarians have lower mean muscle creatine concentrations than do omnivores, and this may affect supramaximal exercise performance.
Because their initial muscle creatine concentrations are lower, vegetarians are likely to experience greater performance increments after creatine loading [more supplements] in activities..’
This is where the flexibility I mentioned in the introduction comes into play. Naming this diet ‘plant-based’ rather than vegan allows the movie to present this study which included eggs and dairy. Yes, the very foods the movie goes on to bash. The same paper concludes with this:
‘However, whether these associations are primarily due to the consumption of a plant-based diet (and the avoidance of animal tissue proteins) or other lifestyle practices associated with vegetarianism can be difficult to ascertain.’
Muddy isn’t it? Health benefits attributed to a vegetarian diet may be due to other lifestyle factors. Mortality rates are similar among vegetarians and health-conscious omnivores. Continuing with the same study: Just so you know, these are lower quality studies, non-intervention trials:
'Three observational studies of vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes and elderly long-term vegetarian and non-vegetarian recreational exercisers have not found differences in performance or fitness associated with the amount of animal protein consumed.’
Now, let’s see what higher quality, intervention studies tell us:
‘Short-term interventional studies in which subjects consumed vegetarian or non-vegetarian diets for test periods (ranging from 2 to 6 wk) also detected no difference in performance parameters based on the presence or absence of foods derived from animal tissues.’
Two to six-week interventions won’t give away much because many nutrients are stored by the body. The authors finish with:
'Conclusions must thus be drawn cautiously, with the caveat that future research may provide more definitive data.’
It’s safe to assume there’s nothing more recent. I’ll remind you that this paper was authored in 2004 and was cited as evidence to support their flexible plant based diet.
Summary of this bit
A heavily supplemented vegetarian [not vegan] diet may be as good as omnivorous for athletic performance. But, they can’t definitively state that because there are so many variables. People’s lifestyles have an impact on their performance.
More of their own unsupportive research..
Something a little more recent this time, 2013.
‘The effects of 8 weeks of whey or rice protein supplementation on body composition and exercise performance.’
‘Both whey and rice protein isolate administration post resistance exercise improved indices of body composition and exercise performance; however, there were no differences between the two groups.’
It has been implied throughout the movie that plant-based proteins offer an advantage. This is not the case. The evidence does not support that. However, in fairness to James what he actually says is that the source is irrelevant as long as you’re getting the proper amounts of AA, which may be correct, if a little difficult.
Another reference: ‘Role of Ingested Amino Acids and Protein in the Promotion of Resistance Exercise–Induced Muscle Protein Anabolism.’ (2016)
This paper weakens the previous paper's claims by stating:
“A potential concern we discovered was that the majority of the exercise training studies were underpowered in their ability to discern effects of protein/AA supplementation.”
The study, which did not compare vegetarians with omnivores, points out in technical terms that everyone is different and responds more or less efficiently depending on a countless number of variables. They discovered as long as the leucine content was greater than two grams per dose, there was no difference in strength output.
Head back up to the amino acid table and have a look at the leucine content for 250 grams of lentils. You’ll need to add some tofu to the dish to get enough leucine, yummy. Or, more likely, vegans aren’t getting enough leucine from their supposed performance diet.
After that heavy science-based section in the movie, we get a few more anecdotes to make the adventure more watchable. I need some to make this more readable too!
Where are all the big guys?
James needs to find some big vegans to prove his point. He managed to find two within a five thousand mile radius. Bravo! Kendrick Harris was the only male, plant-based weightlifter to represent the US at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. But the show focuses on Patrik Baboumian.
Patrik Baboumian is one of the world’s strongest men. James asks what we’re all thinking,‘How could one of the world’s strongest men be so powerful, eating only plants?’
He’s not eating only plants. Repeat, he is not eating only plants. He supplements, big time. He’s like a walking Holland & Barrett (GNC). If you want to see what he eats in a day, have a look at this day here. I can just see the massive tubs lined up in his kitchen now. But, Patrik helps us clear up any doubts when he says,
‘Someone asked me how you can get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?” My answer was, have you ever seen an ox eating meat?’
That makes no sense at all.
Recap so far
This is a vegan movie with added flexibility due to problems with referencing i.e. using vegetarian papers designed to appeal to those people sitting on the fence.
People are becoming malnourished in our developed world. By default, this movie recommends removing the most nutrient dense foods (animal products).
Very tough men from the past ate lots of carbs because they needed to be fat.
Ancient athletes ate loads of meat, and presumably fewer carbs because they needed to be lean.
It may be true that the source of protein is not as important as the specific amino acids on body composition and performance. The caveat being at least two grams of leucine are obtained. It’s misleading to say you can do this from eating plants alone because in reality we’re talking about supplementation.
The papers presented are weak evidence supporting points that are not clear to us and detract from the main argument of eating only plants. For example, none of their evidence shows that removing animal produce improves performance however, this is implied throughout.
Part 2: Anecdotes, theatrics and and health resort posing as a research facility
Anecdotes = Good TV, Bad science
Lots of anecdotes are included because they’re eminently more watchable than a close look at the facts. And why not? We all love a story.
But as mentioned, anecdotes aren’t evidence. Just to be clear, I’ll go over some used in the movie.
Conor vs Nate. An almost infinite amount of variables might mean victory for one man over the other. Image credit: Esther Lin, MMA Fighting.com
Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz
There are lots of reasons why McGregor lost the fight. No one can say it’s because Diaz’s diet was better. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. The point is, no one will ever know.
After losing to Nate Diaz, Conor Mcgregor is quoted as saying,
‘nine days before the fight I started eating two steaks per day and it just came back to bite me on the ass you know.’
McGregor had to put on weight for the fight. Steaks are not a good food for this. What else was he eating to make weight and fight Diaz? It’s nice to blame something or someone because it allows us to make sense of it; even if it’s all wrong. That’s perfectly human. Diet-wise, this is proof of nought.
Bryant Jennings, vegan boxing machine, used to love “fried chicken and Popeye’s.” Image credit.
Jennings has been a vegan since 2015 and vegetarian before that. He decided to go vegan ‘for health reasons’ which begs the questions, what was it about the vegetarian diet that failed him? And, how was his diet improved by going vegan?
And that’s the point isn’t it? We need to understand what changes about someone’s diet before we can make a call about what the mechanisms are. Helpfully, the movie gives us a clue about Bryant’s diet prior to becoming vegetarian:
‘I grew up not even knowing about half of these other vegetables. Asparagus to me just came out like five years ago.. spinach in a can, Popeye’s, KFC, everybody frying chicken…’
He was eating junk food and now he’s not. No one recommends junk foods for athletic performance and health. Next!
Theatrics and Sample Size
Three young American football players are enrolled in an ‘experiment’ that shows us how our blood fats increase after a meal that contains fat. That’s it. A perfectly normal response. However, my interest was piqued when one of the players gave us insight into a young American man’s diet.
‘On away games we always eat fried chicken, we eat Popeye’s, I love fried chicken and I love Popeye’s and I’m going to eat Popeye’s every time.’
Junk food again. Next!
Dr James Vogel
During the following experiment Doctor Vogel tells us:
‘So if you have bacon and eggs for breakfast, a hamburger for lunch and a steak for dinner, this is going on all day long. Your blood is always cloudy and the ability to operate at your best is always impaired.’
Fats travelling to cells via the blood is normal. Hyperlipidaemia—a medical condition characterised by very high levels of fat in the blood—is not.
Hyperlipidaemia (Pathologically high blood fats)
‘Dr Vogel’s experiment was backed up by numerous studies measuring how a single animal-based meal can impair blood flow.’
To ‘back up’ this experiment we need to know a hell of a lot more about it. We know the fat was seen in their blood, but we don’t know if their endothelial function was impaired and/or their blood flow disturbed in any way due to their meal. So let’s look at the three studies he cites at this point.
1. Postprandial hypertriglyceridemia impairs endothelial function by enhanced oxidant stress. (2001)
This small study (n=20) showed a rise in triglycerides and an impaired endothelial function. “Hypertriglyceridemia” was not demonstrated by the little experiment in the show. Let’s see what the high fat meal was anyway (n=11), the remaining n=9 were a control group:
‘The high-fat meal consisted of 53.4 g fat, 30.7 g protein, and 50 g carbohydrate, composed of 110 g rice, 100 g Korean barbecue, 20 g egg, 200 ml milk, 8 g oil, 25 g mayonnaise, 50 g vegetable.’
What the hell is Korean barbecue? Also, which oil? And mayonnaise?!
I’m going to assume the oil and mayonnaise were made from something that has no business being an oil in the first place, and exists only via a complex extruding process invented after we discovered how to fly.
These fats are very likely oxidised (damaged in their processing). They’re literally reactive substances that increase oxidative stress that does things like oxidized LDL cholesterol. It’s junk, again. The response shown, as stated in the paper’s title, was due to ‘oxidant stress’. I bet.
2. Impaired flow-mediated vasoactivity during post-prandial phase in young healthy men. (2000) This is another whopper, n=10, this time. They found a close association to raised blood fats and a corresponding decrease in blood flow. Now, let’s see what the ‘high-fat meal’ was this time:
‘The standardized high-fat meal consisted of whipping cream, liquid chocolate and non-fat dry milk and contained 65 g of fat, 25 g of carbohydrates.’
Trust me ‘liquid chocolate’ isn’t 100% cacao beans. It’s the kind of crap you’re supposed to be happy about dipping a has-been strawberry in at a cheap buffet. In large part, it’s processed vegetable oil. A highly reactive oil that will rust your bicycle chain in a day, let alone create blood flow issues. Next!
3. Hass avocado modulates postprandial vascular reactivity and postprandial inflammatory responses to a hamburger meal in healthy volunteers. (2012)
Another big one, n=11. The teeny experiment looked at the inflammatory response to a ‘hamburger only meal ’ (100% beef) vs a ‘hamburger with avocado meal’.
Skip to the ‘summary’ below unless you want the details.
They were cooked, frozen and then reheated. They weren’t burnt. The only ingredients were ground beef and salt. Plus avocado for the crossover. I’ll admit I was expecting some junk to have been slipped into the mix and was surprised to see none. After 4 hours an increase of a single inflammatory marker (IL-6) for the beef-only group was seen. No increase of the interleukin (IL) was recorded in the beef and avocado group.
‘Postprandial plasma IL-6 levels increased by 70% at four hours with burger only.’
A good reason to add avocado to your burgers? Maybe.
'The stomach acts as a bioreactor and gastric fluid as a medium for further dietary lipid peroxidation and/or antioxidation.’
NB: This is more likely to occur with PUFAs vs animal fats because they’re less stable and therefore more likely to damage.
The researchers are proposing the stomach acid oxidises (damages) the fats from the beef. This oxidation makes them reactive and inflammatory. If it’s true. However, in the + avocado group, the response was mitigated at the time tested. Was IL-6 raised before or after the single test at four hours? More data required.
One measurement at four hours doesn’t really tell us anything. How about two hours, six hours etc? It’s almost like they didn’t want to know. The authors don’t know the mechanisms working for either group and it seems to me were not at lengths to find out.
The avocado scientists concluded:
‘In summary it appears more likely that avocado may act through other factors influencing the endothelial function other than NO [nitric oxide, a vasodilator] mediated relaxation….Larger intervention studies are needed to confirm these results.’
Not ironclad is it? You should know that IL-6 is both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory. It’s all about context and we do not know enough about what’s going on. The questions remaining are:
Is this a perfectly normal response naturally mitigated by our inbuilt antioxidant system a little further down the line?
Is it actually damaging or is this inflammation a short term necessity—like post exercise inflammation—that is really just the beginning of the digestive process?
Why did the avocado only group have raised IL-6 as well?
Does this happen for everyone all of the time?
Which other foods may evoke this response?
Why were the levels not tested earlier and for longer to see fluctuations in both groups?
Are you set to benefit in anyway from showing positives for avocados?
It’s such a small study it’s irresponsible to proclaim anything definitively which is exactly why the authors concluded that larger intervention trials are needed.
‘The popular practice of adding a slice of avocado to various meat sandwiches was able to reduce these symptoms and may have cardiovascular health benefits. Larger intervention studies are needed to confirm these results.’
Notice they use the word ‘symptom’ which is misleading. A rise in IL-6 is not a symptom it’s a response. The word ‘symptom’ implies something unwanted. Oh yea, there is one other point that’s worth mentioning.
When I was a kid I used to play Risk against myself. I tried to be as neutral as possible but somehow my favourite British Redcoats always defeated the blue of the French. See highlighted section below:
The Hass Avocado Board, sponsoring studies since…Excerpt.
The study had only eleven people in it.
It showed an increase in a single inflammatory marker in the beef only group at a particular time.
Who’s to say this wasn’t seen in the other group at a different time?
Both groups were above normal lab range of the marker.
The mechanisms are unknown.
Is this a perfectly normal reaction that is balanced later on in the digestive process?
The authors concluded that a larger intervention study is required.
This is not a reason to go vegan but may be a reason to add avocado to your beef burgers.
The authors say the response is a ‘symptom’ which it isn’t.
The study was sponsored by the Hass Avocado Board.
Eat avocados if you want! (What’s the carbon footprint of an avocado anyway?) This research does not support eating only plants. Next!
A large body
This next section is a little painful not least because I had to look at the studies listed, all twenty-one of them, knowing they don’t support the consumption of a plant only diet but may support the addition of them to an omnivore’s diet. Fancy that?
But of course, flashing up twenty-one studies woos people into thinking that all of them are somehow supportive of a vegan diet. “But look, look at all the research!” your subconscious whispers over and over. And don’t they know it. This movie is a non-stop exercise in subliminal messaging. Shameful.
21 studies that don’t support eating only plants
James proudly tells us of the fruits of his research:
‘I also found a large body of research showing that plants have the opposite effect improving endothelial function and increasing blood flow.’
It’s true. The cited studies showed an improvement in blood flow.
Purple Grape Juice (R)
Chokeberry juice (R)
Blueberry flavonoid (R)
Black tea (R)(R)(R)(R)
Blackcurrant juice (R)
Apples & Spinach (R)
Green tea (R)(R)
Wild blueberry (R)
Black raspberry (R)
Grape & Pomegranate Juice (R)
The takeaway? Include some of these in your diet if you like! Eighty-five per cent cocoa or higher, no cheating now.
None of these papers provide evidence for eating plants only or even predominantly. Nada.
Beetroots, better than steroids
‘Effects of Beetroot juice supplementation on intermittent high intensity exercise efforts.’
‘The beetroot juice intervention led to significantly improved performance in four of the studies [54, 56, 58, 60], while in another four no such effects were observed [38, 55, 57, 59].’
(NB: References above are the papers.)
Not so robust then.
In the movie they quote a 18.9% increase in total strength for bench press, but this is referenced in the study cited, not tested by this study. Let’s have a look at the actual study.
Ingestion of a Nitric Oxide Enhancing Supplement Improves Resistance Exercise Performance. (2016)
A cross over trial, twelve young men, lifting sixty per cent of their 1RM (single rep max—the most they can lift). Three sets until failure were performed and those reps were totalled. Those in the beetroot-based nitrate supplement group performed more reps. The weight equated to an 18.9% increase.
The authors write:
‘This study demonstrates that nitrate supplementation has the potential to improve resistance training performance and work output compared to a placebo.’
‘Supplementation’ you say? That’s not mentioned in the movie! We’re told over and over that you can get everything you need from eating plants yet they’re trotting out studies that use a nitric oxide supplement made from highly concentrated beetroot juice. That’s a long way from ‘just eating plants’.
This is also not a reason to eat only plants. Just one more thing. There are always two sides to a coin. Nitric oxide (NO) is generated from the nitrates in the beetroot and is a free radical (reactive molecule).
It’s a vasodilator meaning it opens up blood vessels and improves flow in the short term. Viagra doesn’t contain NO but uses the same cellular pathway, just in case you were wondering. Other foods that contain nitrates? Beef, Pork, Chicken & especially liver, salmon, trout, tilapia & tuna.
The hidden poisons in the food that helped us evolve
Dr Scott Stoll, vegan and chairman of the board for The Plantrician Project, FYI, tells us:
‘..in animal products you’re getting protein packaged with inflammatory molecules like Neu5Gc, endotoxins and heme iron. When we consume animal products, it also changes the microbiome, the bacteria that live in the gut. And the bacterial species that have been shown to promote inflammation overgrow and begin to produce inflammatory mediators like TMAO.’
Oh my God! Has anyone told the Eskimo’s, the Maasai or any traditional meat eating cultures? i.e. everyone on the planet at one time.
There is a conspicuous lack of references during Dr Stoll’s intro to this piece. For a show that stacks them up almost every frame that really surprised me. Could you not find a single one to spin, cherry pick, take out of context or is bias? Back to the avocado study, quick!
The first reference shown for this section skips back to the teeny weeny n=11, Hass-avocado-sponsored-Hass-avocados-are-good-for-you study. James moves the show on to talk about inflammation and he uses the avocado study to tell us:
‘...[that] a single hamburger meal can…increase measures of inflammation by seventy per cent.’
He’s used plural but should have used singular. Only IL-6 was raised, and as you know its actions are both anti and pro inflammatory:
‘Thus, IL-6 concomitantly regulates proinflammatory and antiinflammatory activities and contributes to both the development and the resolution of the acute inflammatory response.’
Taking a marker like this out of context is misleading and unhelpful for all of us in the long run. It’s used only to push The Game Changer’s agenda.
James goes on to tell us:
‘In the arteries, inflammation reduces blood flow, in muscles and joints it can increase pain and soreness and delay recovery.’
No argument from me there, except that technically it’s chronic inflammation because acute is a completely natural and vital part of existence that increases blood flow—that’s why injuries are red.
The Game Changers implies that animal products are responsible for the damaging inflammation seen in disease. Of course, they have not succeeded in showing this at any point.
Associations are not causations
Fruit and vegetables contain more antioxidants (AOs) than animal produce. However, you may be surprised to hear that antioxidants in food—both plants and animals—haven’t been shown to do much of anything at all.
When I was studying a nutrition degree, my class were asked to write an essay about AOs. It was designed as an exercise challenge our preconceived beliefs. Before researching, all of us were convinced that AOs in foods were awesome for, erm, well, loads of stuff. Here’s a part of the conclusion from an article by the Harvard School of Chan:
‘Free radicals contribute to chronic diseases from cancer to heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease to vision loss. This doesn’t automatically mean that substances with antioxidant properties will fix the problem, especially not when they are taken out of their natural context. The studies so far are inconclusive, but generally don’t provide strong evidence..’
The problem is that the idea is simple and that’s why it’s taken hold.
Antioxidant supplements are a $500M (US) industry that continues to grow, powered by hype, confusion and a simple idea. Oxidative stress is witnessed in injury and disease. Antioxidants balance the reactivity of those molecules thereby preventing them from causing harm. Simple.
If only. It just doesn’t work like that. That’s why the research is so flakey. Despite the fact that this process does occur all the time in the body, i.e oxidants are ‘quenched’ by antioxidants.
The prime movers are endogenous (in the body) antioxidants that are built by the raw materials (nutrients) you obtain from a nourishing diet. Here are the top five endogenous AOs:
Superoxide dismutase (SOD)
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
Coenzyme Q 10 (CoQ10)
Glutathione Peroxidase (GPX)
These endogenous AOs are many thousands of times more powerful that those founds in foods and supplementing them doesn’t provide you with the same benefits. There are some exceptions, vitamin C being the obvious one, which is easily obtained from fruits and vegetables. Incidentally, also found in liver.
Dr Scott Stoll again
‘In plant based proteins you’re getting protein that’s packaged with antioxidants*, phytochemicals**, minerals and vitamins*** that are going to reduce inflammation, optimize the microbiome****, optimize blood supply, and optimize your body’s performance’.
*Not exclusive to plants. Built in the body by micronutrients, and amino acids. Best sources of AA are animals.
**Not exclusive to plants, they're also found in good quality meats.
*** Vitamins and minerals are found in abundance in animal produce and typically in more bioavailable forms.
Optimize our microbiome****
Our microbiomes alter to our foods (and other things) to allow us to adapt within different environments—which used to mean a different diet, therein lies a problem.
This software change is no doubt an important ability allowing humans to flourish on many different diets on every continent of the world, minus antarctica. It’s genius really. We essentially outsource some of our digestive ability to microbes rather than being stuck with a system that isn’t flexible. Nature’s wonders.
A human existing on predominantly meat has a different microbiome to someone eating predominantly plants. One is not ‘optimized’ more than the other. They are appropriate to the individual’s diet and environment. You want to improve your microbiome? Stop eating junk food! No wonder they didn’t reference that intro.
“The antioxidants Dr Stoll was talking about are found almost entirely in plants, which have on average sixty-four times the AO content of animal foods.”
Given the research, so what? He continues with this:
‘Even iceberg lettuce has more antioxidants than salmon or eggs.’
It’s a silly comparison designed to berate nutritious salmon and eggs whilst over inflating lettuce based on something that is neither here, nor there. If you’re bothered, salmon contains 0.4–3.8 mg of astaxanthin per 3.5 ounces, an antioxidant.
Nutrient comparison of eggs, salmon and lettuce
Check out the chart above, you should be able to zoom in on a phone. On a Mac try pressing ‘CMD” and + to zoom. PC, ‘CTRL’ and +.
‘As a result, switching to a plant based diet can help reduce measures of inflammation by twenty-nine per cent in just three weeks..’
Let me at it!
‘As a result’? The next piece of research should be showing us how antioxidants reduce inflammation. But, the citation used for this statement is:
C-reactive protein response to a vegan lifestyle intervention (2015)
Now, if you look carefully at the title you’ll notice a word hidden amongst the others: ‘lifestyle’. This is not evidence that antioxidants reduce inflammation. Not even close. Let’s have a deep dive.
The participants of this study were…paying guests! This place is a health resort, literally.
‘The typical daily routine during each BHHEC session started with an early wake-up call at 5:30 a.m. followed by a morning inspirational thought for the day. Next was a medical check with a physician or nurse. A stretching session was next followed by an energizing walk and then on to breakfast. Daily lectures and treatments of massage and hydrotherapy filled out the mid-morning schedule. As the second, and final, meal of the day was approaching guests put on aprons and begin to prepare the lunch with supervision of the food service director . Participants then consumed the meal they had prepared. After some light walking and relaxation it was on to the weight room for a personal training session. After some more free time and a lecture participants took time to relax and then retired for the day.’
It sounds amazing! I can feel my blood pressure dropping just reading that. They weren’t eating junk food either. There’s more.
‘The parallel relationship between CRP [an inflammatory marker] and BMI [fatness] suggest that CRP change may be tightly linked to the amount of fat lost over the course of the intervention.’
You don’t say? This means the more weight the guests lost the lower their inflammation became. It was perfectly mirrored. The 604 people that attended this health resort over the period, 2005–2012, were there to lose weight.
They were obese. Obesity is an inflammatory state. This is partly why being overweight is so damaging. The study concludes:
‘This finding is consistent with those of Julia et al.12 and Centritto et al.,13 which found diets higher in micronutrient content were able to more effectively mediate CRP levels.’
Micronutrients, A.K.A, vitamins and minerals. Guess where you’ll find more bioavailable nutrients, pound for pound than anywhere else? Animal products.
And James has the audacity to tell us the guest’s inflammation was reduced due to the vegan aspect of their lifestyle. This is the most shameful cherry-picking I have ever seen and why I’m spending days picking this fantasy apart.
Recap of this part
Anecdotes are fun to watch but don’t provide us with any proof.
An improved diet is relative and will improve health and athletic ability.
We saw a theatrical experiment that showed us how fats in a meal are transported to cells via the blood. Presented to us like it was a pathological problem.
Three teeny-weeny experiments were used to support theirs. The first two were ridiculous due to the ‘high fat’ meals, which were pure junk. The third took a single marker of inflammation out of context and was sponsored by a vested interest. The marker is also anti-inflammatory in its spare time.
James shows us a ‘large body of evidence’ that may support adding some nutrient dense plants to your diet, but provide no evidence for eating nothing but plants.
It’s unlikely that beetroots out-perform steroids but you can try it yourself if you like. Remember though, it was actually highly concentrated nitrate supplement made from beetroots—more supplements. Again, this doesn’t support eating nothing but plants.
A conspicuous lack of references when we’re introduced to the so-called inflammatory molecules in meat. Has anyone told the traditional cultures to stop being so healthy (prior to adding junk foods)?
Chronic inflammation is without doubt a serious factor in disease.
Antioxidants (AO), predominantly found in plants, have not been shown to reduce inflammation or disease.
AO are big business, driven by an oversimplified idea.
The real powerhouses of the AO world are those built inside your body from nutrients. The most nutrient dense foods are animals.
Your microbiomes are appropriate to your diet and lifestyle. One is not ‘more optimised’ than another unless in the presence of dysfunction and disease.
Lifestyle changes and a reduction in BMI (weight loss) have been shown to reduce CRP (an inflammatory marker associated with disease). They have cherry-picked the vegan aspect from the sweeping changes in lifestyle by paying guests. That’s unforgivable.
Part 3: Unforgivable Spin, The Seventh Day Adventists, and Arnie Out of Place
Enough of the anecdotes! Dotsie Bausch & Derrick Morgen
The Game Changers loves an anecdote and inserts them frequently to sensationalise things and keep people interested. Which they do very well. However, the common denominator between them all, including these two is this, they removed junk foods from their diets.
Let’s stop pretending that removing the most nutrient dense, easily digested foods available to us—animal produce—is helpful, and start being realistic about the fact that the people in this movie removed junk and supplemented like their lives depended on it—which they did.
Dr. Caldwell B Esselstyn, JR & Dr. Kim Williams
Dr Caldwell is a renowned vegan cardiologist selling books about reversing heart disease with a vegan diet. He has a vested interest in more people going vegan. Dr Kim Williams is also a cardiologist and the first vegan president of the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Caldwell states,
‘In all Western Civilization there is nothing more common than coronary artery disease, and that is because of the foods that most people eat every day.’
I agree, junk foods have taken over! Nutrient deficient, highly refined grains and damaged vegetable oils (oxidised), cause destruction and chronic inflammation within us (R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R). Sadly, that’s not what he’s talking about. Dr Kim Williams adds:
‘When you eat animal products you start to form plaques in the coronary arteries.’
This is absolute nonsense. You should know, carnivores do not develop arterial plaques:
“Atherosclerosis affects only herbivores. Dogs, cats, tigers, and lions can be saturated with fat and cholesterol, and atherosclerotic plaques do not develop. The only way to produce atherosclerosis in a carnivore is to take out the thyroid gland; then, for some reason, saturated fat and cholesterol have the same effect as in herbivores."
That sounds like a good argument to be a carnivore vs herbivore (vegan) so blaming animal produce is an absurdity.
Animal fats prior to 1909
In the 20th century when good ol’ Proctor & Gamble discovered how to process oils cheaply from waste products like cotton seeds, the world saw a sharp increase in cardiovascular disease (association only). Prior to the 20th century heart disease was an insignificant area of medicine:
‘Heart disease was an uncommon cause of death in the US at the beginning of the 20th century. By mid-century it had become the commonest cause..’
Soybean oil came a little later:
‘The estimated per capita consumption of soybean oil increased >1000-fold from 1909 to 1999.’
Wrong for 50 years
James tells us:
‘For nearly 50 years we were told that the primary cause of heart disease was saturated fat and cholesterol, and that leaner meats, lower-fat dairy products and egg whites were the solution.’
He’s very careful not to tell us the evidence that convicted saturated fats and cholesterol was very poor and saturated fats have since been shown not causative or anything other than weakly associated to cardiovascular disease (R)(R)(R)(R)(R)(R). So we got it wrong for 50 years! But now we’ve got it right, right? He goes on:
‘But the research now shows that the other inflammatory compounds in animal foods like those that can impair athletic recovery also play a significant role in the development of heart disease.’
Jeez. So if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Of course. Let’s have a look then. His reference here is Perm J 20 (3) 93–101 which takes me to a table from the ‘Plant-Based Diets: The Physician’s Guide’.
This is not a study and is not proof of anything other than The Game Changers amazing ability to make people think everything they’re saying has proof behind it.
Their list of so-called poisons are as follows:
The only one they discuss in detail is heme iron. Firstly, you must know that iron is absolutely essential for life and it also happens to be one of the world’s leading nutrient deficiencies. The inadequacy is frequently overlooked by doctors in the developed world.
Heme iron is the type found in animals and is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron, found in plants. The Game Changers are implying heme iron is toxic full stop. This is absolutely false and quite frankly will add to the legions of vegetarians that are suffering from iron deficiency and not knowing it because they believe nonsense like this. If you’re vege/vegan and you’re reading this, get your iron tested!
Dr. Helen Moon
To support this essential nutrient being poisonous notion they trot out another vegan doctor, in the interests of objectivity of course. Dr Helen Moon helpfully tells us:
‘Heme iron is from animal source right. So, uh, most commonly you think red meat, poultry has it, fish has it. They did a meta-analysis looking over six prospective dietary studies over 130,000 patients and they came to the conclusion that one milligram a day of heme iron is associated with a twenty-seven per cent increase in risk of coronary heart disease. To put that in perspective, an average hamburger patty has about two to three milligrams.’
So, if you eat a decent sized hamburger patty you’re eighty-one per cent more likely to get cardiovascular disease. If you have two you’re 162% more likely… OMG, I’ve got some of these death bombs sitting in my freezer right now!
That’s clearly absurd and represents only association and relative risk. I urge you to look back at the section with silly associations, Dr John Ioannidis’ research in the first part of this article.
Yet again we see the vegan position being ‘supported’ by epidemiology and sound bites from relative risks. As discussed in Part 1 these studies do not provide evidence and sensationalise the statistics for their own ends.
By the way, you’re more likely to be deficient in iron if you’re a vegetarian:
‘Vegetarians also have a higher risk for developing low iron stores, iron depletion, and associated iron deficiency anemia, compared to nonvegetarians. These findings are consistent with a conclusion made by the authors of the Institute of Medicine’s report on iron, who stated, “Serum ferritin concentrations have been observed to be markedly lower in vegetarian men, women, and children than in those consuming a nonvegetarian diet.”(5)
“..in all studies except for one with female Adventist vegans, 15 vegetarian women had a considerable higher prevalence of anemia (Hb <120 g/L).”12,13,17,19.
[NOTE: The numbers indicated above are the studies references.]
What are they talking about?
So, if iron is essential for life, vegetarians are low in it and the best sources are animals, what are they talking about? The problem is an excessive amount of iron causes oxidative damage and inflammation in the body. However, this is regulated very well under normal circumstances, you know, like eating.
If the body needs more iron it will attempt to take it from your foods, if it can get at it. Bioavailability of non-heme iron (from plants) is lower than heme iron *(from animals) and may explain why a greater percentage of vegetarians are deficient.
If you’re just eating foods that contain iron it’s very hard to over do. Exceptions to this are a few genetic issues that can cause hemochromatosis -pathologically high levels.
Iron containing animal foods are unlikely to cause an excess of iron in your body because it’s well regulated unless you have a genetic issue, are supplementing (always have levels tested first) or are boiling all your food in iron pots. Next.
At this point in the movie, James goes on to have another pop at animal protein:
‘..and it isn’t just the iron in animal foods that can cause problems it’s actually the animal protein itself.’
As he says ‘animal protein’ the camera dramatically zooms into those two words on the study. But the very next words in the study are ‘may be associated’, which James conveniently leaves out because it undermines what he’s saying. Also, just have a look at the sentence before:
‘We observed no association between dietary protein and risk of total IHD [ischemic heart disease] in this group of men aged 40–75 y. However, higher intake of animal protein may be associated with an increased risk of IHD in “healthy” men.’
So, ‘no association’ and ‘may be associated’. That’s embarrassing. Next!
No discussion at all
The show presents zero evidence for those other so called toxins in foods listed above as ‘The Poisons’ because it’s sketchy to say the least; not that that’s stopped them so far. I’ll skip them here too.
Talk about cherry picking
Not mentioned, 73% higher risk for urinary tract cancer in vegans. Image by Foodism on Unsplash.
Let’s tackle this outlandish claim from the paper ‘Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts’ (2014).
‘people who get all of their protein from plants reduce their risk of heart disease by 55 percent.’
We’ll get to the bias that are the studies ordained by the 7th Day Adventists in a bit, but let’s just take it at face value for now. Here are a few problems summarised to reduce repetition from earlier parts:
Food frequency questionnaires were used (FFQ). I discussed this almost completely useless self-recording system in Part 1.
The authors admit their evidence is weak:
‘Relative small sample size within the vegan groups may limit our conclusions’.
‘large randomized dietary intervention trials on vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian patterns are warranted..’
Some interesting points conveniently not presented to us in the show are:
“No significant risks reduction in cause-specific mortality were found among vegetarians, particularly for cancers of the stomach, colorectal, lung, and prostate.”
“When stratified by gender, no significant differences were observed in the hazard ratio for all-cancer in vegans.”
“24% risks reduction for cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, but not significant for vegans.”
“Vegans experienced 73% higher risk for urinary tract cancer compared to non-vegetarians.”
“Neither vegans nor lacto-ovo-vegetarians had significant risks reduction for cancer of the respiratory tract.”
But James cherry picked this beauty:
“Vegan males also had a 55% risk reduction for ischemic heart disease.”
Again, relative risk not absolute risk and association only. Poor evidence is the theme of the day. As you may have already learned this is the science vegans consistently hide behind and quite frankly it’s shameful. Any scientist trying to remain objective would simply not accept it as it’s being presented.
But, of course, this show is far from objective, with zero critical analysis throughout. Even those collecting this data have interests of their own. Please welcome, the 7th Day Adventist Church.
The 7th Day Adventists Church (SDA)
When you really want the facts about science, the Church should provide the answers. This statement is dripping with sarcasm. What I mean is, what the hell have the Church got to with dietary research?
Ellen G White (1827–1915) was the co-founder of the SDA Church and believed it was:
“the duty of the church to actively engage in public-health education to control desires and baser passions”(R)(R)
She very strongly encouraged the abstinence of alcohol, tobacco, spices, tea, coffee and meat. She told us:
‘A religious life can be more successfully gained and maintained if meat is discarded, for this diet stimulates into intense activity lustful propensities, and enfeebles the moral and spiritual nature.’
Basically, she believed the more meat you ate, the hornier you become and the more likely to masturbate, have sex, and not pray. Fortunately for us, in 1864 she had a vision from God and was told meat causes cancer. So far this evidence is more compelling than those presented by The Game Changers. Ellen was not alone.
John Harvey Kellogg
Kellogg, from such breakfast cereals as corn flakes and granola, changed the world’s perception of breakfast forever. He was a key figure in the SDA Church for decades until they had a falling out. He too was anti-sex, choosing to adopt his children rather than having sex with his wife believing it bad for health. He blamed sex and masturbating for acne to urinary disease and everything in between.
He wrote in his book, ‘Plain facts for old and young..’
‘If illicit commerce of the sexes is a heinous sin,…self-pollution is a crime doubly abominable…such a victim literally dies by his [or her] own hand.’
Uh oh, everyone!
The SDA influence
To be fair, their holistic approach to health included frequent exercise, stress management, enough sunshine, the cessation of smoking and drinking and was well ahead of its time. Their dedication is admirable and they set in motion a force that is still very much alive and well today influencing nutrition science from behind the scenes via research, education, food production et al.
‘The Church also influenced the diet of non-members around the world through its ambitious organizational structure dedicated to education, health care, and the development and mass production of plant-based foods, such as meat analogues, breakfast cereals, and soy milk.’
And it’s reach extends across the globe.
As of 2017 the Church has:
20,343,814 members across the globe,
~26 food companies worldwide (p.11)
The Seventh Day Adventists also offer seventeen different types of nutrition and dietetic qualifications from BSC to PhD. Make no mistake, they are a major player in the nutrition world.
The SDA Church’s mission is unashamedly to promote a vegetarian diet. To this end they conduct data collection and nutrition research and have enormous global influence. Although this nearly wasn’t the case.
The SDA Church university, Loma Linda, tried to discourage the first vegetarian study because they were worried:
‘if you find the diets of vegetarians are deficient, it will embarrass us.’
Fortunately for them, the type of research they conduct allows things to remain sufficiently muddy for so many decades that we’re still none the wiser. In fact, we seem more confused about what to eat than when people were trundling west and keeping an eye out for disgruntled locals.
The Game Changers use the SDA epidemiological papers throughout the movie. I believe there is a serious issue with objectivity here and it’s worth knowing; kind of like the ‘hass–avocados-are-healthy-says-the-hass-avocado-board-study’ featured in Part 2.
Erm, you’re doing it again..
James now says something that is unforgivable in my opinion because it’s quite simply untrue:
‘..the only diet that has ever shown to reverse heart disease is a plant-based one.’
The study cited here was performed by Dr Dean Ornish, mentioned earlier, who has a vested interest in veganism via his books, programmes, health resort etc. His approach is very much lifestyle focussed. The paper is:
Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? (1990)
Have you spotted the giveaway word in the title? ‘Lifestyle’. This is the second time The Game Changers have implied the vegetarian diet was the mechanism behind improved biomarkers. In reality, it was the sweeping lifestyle changes. Again, this demonstrates the usefulness of distancing themselves from the constrictive ‘vegan’ title. Here’s what they included:
‘Experimental-group patients were prescribed a lifestyle programme that included a low-fat vegetarian [not vegan] diet, moderate aerobic exercise, stress management training, stopping smoking, and group support.’
Give up smoking, improve your health and blame animals. Image Credit Unsplash.
The cessation of smoking is strongly associated, over and above other factors, with the reduction in all cause mortality from CHD in this Cochrane meta-analysis of twenty studies. Not one for double standards, please note the word ‘associated’ here.
The problem is, it’s not ethical to make people smoke and then see how many die from CHD, so strong association is as good as it gets. Yet again The Game Changers hides behind lifestyle studies that do not support their narrative of eating nothing but plants. Not even close! Next.
I love Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s so famous when you mistype his name it’s auto-corrected. Amazing! His part in this show guts me. I’m also not so sure why he appears because he’s not vegan. According to his Instagram account he eats about twenty per cent animal products, but the show bashes animal produce so much his appearance isn’t a good fit. Is 20/80 plant based? Who knows because it’s never been clarified.
As if you need reminding, Arnie was a ‘world champion bodybuilder, Hollywood action hero, successful businessman, environmentalist, philanthropist, best-selling author, and California’s 38th Governor.’
What a legend! And he did it all eating vast amounts of animal produce. In his own words:
‘I ate a lot of meat, I ate 10, 15 eggs a day and you know I had my 250 grams of protein a day.’
Erm. This is just anecdotal but doesn’t this weaken their argument? But it’s Arnie so we love him whatever. Now, back to our favourite vegetarian lifestyle scientist.
Dr Dean Ornish
Dr Ornish says in the movie:
‘People who eat a diet that’s high in animal protein have a seventy-five per cent increased risk of premature death from all causes, and a four to five hundred percent increased risk of death from most forms of cancer, prostate, breast colon cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes.’
Stop the bus! What?! Let’s have a look at the study:
Low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1, cancer, and overall mortality in the 65 and younger but not older population. (2014)
This study used a 24hr dietary recall system for data collection. Now, let’s have some fun; try it yourself. Write down everything you ate and drank yesterday. You’ve got five minutes. I’ve set this time limit because it’s realistic. If something comes through your letterbox you’re not going to spend an hour making sure everything is accurate, now are you?
So, you’ve written yesterday’s food down. Now, think about it for another five minutes or so, forget anything? I bet you did. And I bet it was something on the naughty side, am I right? Believe it or not, this system of data collection is considered better than the FFQs discussed in Part 1. That’s because FFQs are terrible!
Can you guess what I’m going to say next about this study? It only shows associations and relative risks. Yawn.
If you’re still bothered about this, their results flipped once the subjects passed sixty-five years of age:
‘Conversely, in respondents over age sixty-five, high protein intake was associated with reduced cancer and overall mortality.’
He didn’t mention that in the show! The author’s conclusions include:
‘These results suggest that low protein intake during middle age followed by moderate protein consumption in old subjects may optimize healthspan and longevity.’
The show’s insistence to take out of context percentages and present them as if they’re a genuine risk to you is shameful. I found this deceitful repetition exhausting.
More vegan Doctors, cue Dr Walter Willett
Walter Willett is Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. For a full list with references of his conflicts of interest read this pdf. Here’s a snippet:
‘In the last few years of Willett’s directorship of the Harvard T.S. Chan School of Public Health, the school received between $455,000 and $1,500,000 from companies or groups interested in promoting vegetarian products or the vegetarian diet generally. The school also received between $350,000 and $950,000 from pharmaceutical companies, which presumably would not benefit from a nutritional solution to chronic disease…Willett is an Advisor or Scientific Advisor to at least 7 groups/commercial enterprises that promote high-grain, vegetarian diets.’
Dr. Willett is a very powerful man in the world of nutrition. That’s why companies throw money at him. What does he tell us in the show:
‘The amino acids that come from animal sources tend to make our cells rev up and multiply faster.’
He’s implying they give you cancer. But hold on a second. Didn’t our protagonist, James, tell us earlier:
‘..when it comes to gaining strength and muscle mass, research comparing plant and animal protein has shown that as long as the proper amounts of amino acids are consumed, the source is irrelevant.’
So, are the amino acids different? You can’t have it both ways. Either they’re the same or they’re different. One minute the ‘source is irrelevant’ making them equal, the next they’re different and making the cells ‘rev up and multiply faster’.
That sounds like they might be better for muscle growth to me, but because we know that’s not true let’s see what Willett continues with:
‘For example there is accumulating evidence that high consumption of proteins from dairy sources is related to a higher risk of prostate cancer. That chain of cancer causation actually seems pretty clear.’
So clear, in fact, that he’s referenced his own eighteen year old paper that, surprise surprise, shows association only. This is frustrating but let’s have a look at it:
A prospective study on intake of animal products and risk of prostate cancer. (2001)
Here’s a quote from their paper that would be criminal for me to leave out:
‘Intakes of total meat, red meat, and dairy products were not associated with risk of total or advanced prostate cancer.’
I literally copied and pasted that from the abstract. Yet again, he’s talking relative risks, his paper only shows associations between his groups within the study. Also, they collected the data with FFQs. Next.
The Big C
James grabs the baton from Willett and now tries to use it to hit animal foods again. He says:
‘Cancer has been linked to animal foods as well. Research funded by the national cancer institute found that vegetarians who added one or more servings per week of white meat like chicken or fish more than triple their risk of colon cancer.’
Dietary Risk Factors for Colon Cancer in a Low-risk Population (1998)
Bullet points to keep this simple:
Data from the 7th Day Adventists
Relative risks used for “triple their risk”
Check this out:
‘A complex relation was identified whereby subjects exhibiting a high red meat intake, a low legume intake, and a high body mass experienced a more than threefold elevation in risk relative to all other patterns based on these variables.’
When I read this I couldn’t stop picturing Indiana Jones tiptoeing from one stone letter to another in The Last Crusade’s final few scenes; ‘But in the Latin alphabet, ‘Jehovah’ begins with an I’, says Indy, seconds after narrowly avoiding a gruesome death plunge'. Phew!
That’s what the authors have done here; they’ve tiptoed between three selected data points creating a weak connection:
high red meat intake (probably 3+ per week)
low legume intake
high body mass
High body mass! These three abstract things had to be taken together in order to find the ridiculous relative risk claim. I wonder how long it took them to work that out? Using data like Mr. Potato Head parts until they got some they liked. Actually, computers can do it for you because those kinds of associations are too easy to miss by silly old humans. The author’s conclude with:
‘These associations raise the possibility that the risk due to meat intake is mediated by multiple mechanisms, one of which may involve red meat intake in a constellation of causal factors that produces higher plasma insulin levels.’
They go on to say that insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia (chronically high levels of insulin) could create “colon carcinogenesis” i.e. cancer in the colon.
ou definitely don’t want to be insulin resistant or obese, I think that’s the point.
Conclusions from part 3
There has been no objectivity throughout, just one vegan doctor after another with vested interests.
Blaming ancient animal foods on modern problems like CHD is absurd convincing evidence doesn’t exist.
They list what they consider as 5 poisons found in animal produce and then mislead us by implying iron toxicity can happen easily by eating meat. All the while vegetarians are more likely deficient in it.
They constantly present relative risk to us without ever giving us context, from studies that show nothing other than associations and where even the data is questionable.
The Seventh Day Adventists’ mission is to make the world vegetarian. They’re responsible for research, education and manufacturing of foods thus provide us with zero objectivity.
In part one they tell us the amino acids are no different, and now they tell us they are because it suits them.
It turns out we’ve never eaten that much meat in our evolution and are not well adapted to it.
It was carbs all along that gave us big brains — has anyone told fruit eating chimps that??
Our teeth are useless for eating meat, just look at this lion’s teeth, see?
We don’t need to eat meat for B12 because mud, and to prove it we referenced a study that used human faeces as a fertiliser.
Animal produce kills testosterone and you’ll never get a stiffy again if you’re not careful.
More awful quality, old papers which we’ll take out of context.
NOTE: I decided not to publish the fourth part because these are a lot of work and I think I’ve made the point sufficiently. Going through their awful references was one of the most painful experiences in my life. Thanks for reading.