The Netflix documentary Game Changers has made a LOT of waves and more than ever I’ve had requests from people now wanting to follow a vegan diet for nutrition reasons.
Let me be clear from the start – I am all for people eating more plants – the majority of our diets should be plant based for sure. Eating less meat, especially processed-mass-farmed-crap, is always going to be better for our health, animal welfare and planet. People making conscious choices about their diet is music to my ears – but when it is done with potentially misleading information, well that worries me immensely.
So what’s so bad about Game Changers? Those athletes are top performers, feel great AND help the planet right?! Ok… strap yourself in, here we go…
What does that even mean? The documentary cleverly uses the term ‘plant-based’ instead of vegan. This seems to be for a few reasons, but mainly because the research papers they have chosen can also be based on vegetarian or even ‘omnivore with a predominance of plants’ diets (I would say I am in fact plant-based as the majority of my food comes from plants… but I’m not vegan). An example of this comes directly from one of the papers they cite in the film;
“ well-planned, appropriately supplemented vegetarian [not vegan] diets appear to effectively support athletic performance.”
Speaking of vegetarians – Nate Diaz (the plant eating fighting champ), has gone on record and said he,
“eats eggs and a little bit of seafood from time to time”
My main concern here is many people are already struggling to nourish themselves with the inclusion of animal produce. Simply taking these out of your diet without understanding what nutrients to replace for what your body needs can result in people becoming malnourished, possibly leading to health issues. Unfortunately nutrient deficiencies are becoming common (not just in vegan communities specifically but nationwide), yet is often overlooked as a cause of symptoms and disease. Going vegan is certainly an option, but it needs to be done carefully and with some knowledge of nutrition.
The Middle Men
This comment made me literally face-palm. The part where the presenter says that..
“I was surprised to learn that all protein originates in plants. Cows, pigs and chickens it turns out, are just the middlemen“
Ahhh if only nutritional science was that simple. Sure you can get protein from plants (and plant protein powders – did you know producer James Cameron has a plant protein business…) – this isn’t brand new information. But those ‘middlemen‘ can convert things that humans can’t and make those things highly bioavailable and concentrated. You know… like grass.
The Peanut Butter Sandwich
I almost can’t be bothered to write about this bit. (deep breath)
“one cup of cooked lentils or a peanut butter sandwich has about as much protein as three ounces of beef or 3 large eggs.”
Ok so 3oz of steak is teeny TINY. A peanut butter sandwich (as delicious as it is) isn’t the nourishing go-to food of choice. The lentils I have less of an issue with – I think lentils are great, but a cup?! Have you eaten a whole cup of lentils recently? Although it’s a good source of protein, it also contains twice as many carbs. The protein quality IS different when you compare meat and plant. That doesn’t mean you can’t choose plants for your protein source, but it does mean you need to know how to choose which ones you need and understand amino acid profiles. (NB: if you’re looking to build muscle then specifically look at comparisons for leucine, lysine and methionine).
The Athletes & Big Guys
Here’s the good news – there are some athletes clearly who benefit from their ‘plant-based’ diet. Do more plants improve performance? OF COURSE. Does limiting fried chicken and meat burritos make for a leaner body? NO SHIT SHERLOCK. Are these athletes all supplementing protein? No doubt about it. There’s the misleading thing… they are not ‘just eating plants’ but highly supplementing protein and other nutrients – if you’re going vegan then I’d recommend working with a professional who can guide you with this safely too. This proves that WE ARE ALL UNIQUE HUMANS WHO NEED UNIQUE DIETS AND ALL BENEFIT FROM VEGETABLES. Breaking news I know.
One thing that IS clear within the documentary is how many of the participants turning ‘plant-based’ have quit eating meat-based junk food. Yep, that’s right folks – swapping out junk food for veggies is good for your health. NEXT!
What they got right
Increasing the amount of plants in our diet is one of the most beneficial things we can do. The studies Wilko uses where plant compounds improve endothelial function and increasing blood flow are well founded – the studies don’t state you need to eat ONLY plants, but hey, that’s not their message is it…
The documentary has made people think about their diets and the amount of meat they’re consuming. This is of course a great thing and I hope this encourages people to take an interest in the planet and nutrition. If the planet is a reason for choosing a vegan diet then it’s a great one – except if you’re not considering carbon footprints and farming of maize and soy – (check out this post for some some extra balance on sustainable farming) and the conversation about eco-friendly diets is an important one.
If you want to go plant based you should – but do it right, with the right reasons and information. There’s many vegan resources to use other than Netflix. Tailor your diet around what suits YOU – ethically, genetically, physically, mentally. Here’s a radical idea (yes I’m being sarcastic) but how about not labelling yourself (vegan, paleo, keto) but instead following diet ‘YOU‘. A healthy diet should be varied, enjoyable, accessible, support you physically and mentally, fit with your ethical and cultural beliefs and sustain you and the planet. If you need support to figure out those things then I’m here to help too.
Stay tuned for part two of this post to find out what to keep in mind if you’re looking to go vegan
What did you think of Game Changers? Let me know your thoughts!
Get in touch if you need support figuring out your diet YOU.