I watched “What The Health” the other night on Netflix.
Short answer is… I’m not a fan. The movie has a very obvious vegan agenda, which is fine… whatever. I have nothing against vegans. But it turns a very complex subject (the question “what should we eat?”) into black and white, misses the entire concept of bioindividuality and leaves out a significant portion of nutritional research – particularly on the potential negative effects of a vegan diet on the brain.
I wavered on whether to even write a response, but given that most of my audience struggles with mental health, learning and development issues I felt compelled.
My concern is that parents are going to get very confused by this film and either throw up their hands feeling guilty about everything or worse, adopt a diet that might not suit their family’s needs because of the “oh my god, really?” response this film evokes.
If you’re going to change your family’s diet, do it based on a full spectrum of information.
Here’s a part of the film I agree with: factory farming and processing of animals is not good for our health, for our planet, for our fellow humans, or for animals. It produces poor quality food and is inhumane and unhealthy on so many levels.
But I’d add that large scale agriculture and processing of plants might not be a heck of a lot better. Nutritional and bacterial diversity of the soil and the food grown on it is being depleted by farming practices, and chemicals like glyphosate and other pesticides are proving detrimental to health.
The film does not address this. The message is just “if you want to live, run from animal foods”.
Here’s another part I agree with: corporate interests have overtaken food policy, health care, the government agencies that are supposed to protect us and even nutritional research. We’ve reached a new level of insanity and it’s incredibly hard to know who and what to trust.
But while the film points a finger at the dairy and meat industries, no mention is made of the wheat, sugar, corn or soy lobbies which are just as fierce.
But here’s the biggest problem I have with the film: the science it explores is far from complete. And this is what is going to cause the confusion.
We’re busy parents who just want to do right by our kids and I worry this movie will scare parents into making food choices while keeping them unaware of some really important info.
I’m not going to spend time dissecting the science from the movie or point fingers. Truth is, the doctors in this film are doing great work with vegan diets and are seeing great results and helping a lot of people. I’ve nothing against that or against them.
But this film does not explore the entire story of how food influences the body and a vegan diet is not right for everyone.
There’s no mention of how a mediterranean-style diet that includes moderate amounts of meat, dairy and fish might improve depression, or how a grain free diet can improve blood pressure, insulin resistance, autism, Crohn’s or anxiety or the amazing work of doctors who are using a Paleo approach to reverse autoimmune disease (see references below). Not even a whiff or a nod. Again… it’s, “if you want to live, run from animal foods”. And, quite frankly, that’s not always the case.
For those of you interested, here is a link to a decent overview of some of the cherry picking that went on in this film, the backstory on some of the people interviewed and some of the counter arguments.
But here’s really what I want to say to parents about this film….
By all means try a vegan diet if you want to. Eat more fresh plants for sure. They’re full of fibre, micronutrients, enzymes and phytochemicals that are part of a healthy diet. For most of us plants will keep the bowels moving, the gut bacteria healthy and the immune system strong.
But if you’re going to ditch animal foods, here are my cautions:
Bottom line is please don’t get confused by this film. A vegan diet might be great for some people. it can reverse health conditions in some people (like those in the film), it can cause health conditions in others. You could argue that it’s better for the environment, but then again, you could also argue (as Joel Salatin does here) that animal farming is imperative for plant agriculture, it’s just that “Big Ag” is doing it wrong.
Factory farming and corporate influence isn’t good for anyone. But Veganism isn’t right for everyone. There are many paths to health.
If you want to get beyond diet dogma and really focus in on what makes a diet healthy read this post.
For more about nutritional contributors to mood and behaviour issues see the references below
A few selected references:
On zinc and eating disorders: http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/11930982
On cholesterol and aggression: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1359178998000093?via%3Dihub
On nutrients and ADHD: http://www.feingold.org/Research/PDFstudies/Kidd00.pdf
On Fatty acids and ADHD: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/1/327S.short
On nutrients and ADHD: https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/66/10/558/1825726
On nutrients and ADHD: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1586/ern.09.7
On red meat and depression: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9158235/Red-meat-halves-risk-of-depression.html
On mediterranean diet and nutrients and depression https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y
On Paleo diet and pre diabetes https://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v63/n8/abs/ejcn20094a.html.
On glyphosate http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/
On pesticides and the brain https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/health-benefits-organic-food-farming-report/
On corruption in scientific journals https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2964337/
On Paleo and autoimmune disease: http://terrywahls.com/about-the-wahls-protocol/ | https://www.thepaleomom.com/start-here/the-autoimmune-protocol/
On grain free and autism: http://www.crohnsboy.com/linked/scdsumm.pdf | http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0024585
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Jess is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ and Family Health Expert, specializing in brain health & resilience for kids. She is the author of Raising Resilience: Take the stress out of feeding your family & love your life, a mother and an advocate for children’s health. Her book and online resources have helped families all over the world improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, autism and mood disorders by fitting the food and feeding piece into their health puzzles. She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work helping families get healthier, and she continues to work at bringing an understanding of the power of good nutrition to the mainstream conversation about children’s mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses and as a contributor to print and online magazines. You can reach Jess at www.jesssherman.com
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