We cannot argue that eating more plants have tremendous benefits on our lives and the environment but I will have an issue with the way messages are translated to the general public where cherry picking is obvious to those who are aware of the science and not so obvious to those with no nutritional background.
I can safely say, that this may be a small upgrade from the crapola of a doco "what the health". It also had a clear target demographic – Men. So not a bad thing in my eyes! There were other positives such as highlighting that animal based products are not the only high quality sources of protein and that plants can be part of a professional athlete's nutrition. However, here are where the issues start to roll…
The doco totally failed at clearing what the true definition of a plant-based diet is from the get-go. It is not vegan and if you notice, they do not distinguish much between vegan and vegetarian diets. This also relates to the fact that whenever they smacked a study headline, most studies they've referred to did not use vegan diets – they used vegetarian diets for comparison.
And here's more on how this film takes wild liberties with a lot of its claims. For example, it claims that gladiators were vegan. Which is wild – studies show that based on the amount of nitrogen found in the samples, it was likely that they ate some animal products. Samples from Thebes, Greece show sulphur concentrations that indicate their diet was rich in seafood. The film also claims that "one of the biggest misconceptions in sports nutrition is that [we] have to have animal protein to get big and strong and perform at a high level. That's just clearly not true. Now the above quote is correct…to a point. Humans can live, and have lived perfectly healthy lives without animal protein. Animal protein isn't essential to thrive. The issue I take with this is that it does not address protein quality. I am unsure if it is ignorance or blatant disregard to the differences in protein quality depending on the source, but I want to make sure that you have all the details before making a decision about your diet in relation to your performance.
Protein quality is characterised by amino acid composition and digestibility. Plant proteins are much less digestible – this is because of the anti-nutritional factors (think trypsin inhibitors, phytates, etc.), however a lot of these factors can be improved (not eliminated!) through cooking techniques such as boiling, steaming, and fermentation. Protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) is widely used as a scoring method for protein quality evaluation. So when someone claims that 1 cup of cooked lentils equals 3oz of beef, they'd be mistaken. Lentils have a PDCAAS score of .63-.67 while beef has a score of .92 – the protein quality is completely different. So why are we taking issue with less digestible protein? First of all, you will have to consume more calories which isn't ideal for individuals focused on their body composition. These types of proteins also contain less essential amino acids than animal based products. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body, so it is essential that we get them through our diet. Plants are especially low in the essential amino acid leucine, which is known to be a trigger for muscle growth.
Another issue with this film is that it uses fear-inducing tactics to drive their point home. At one point in the film a doctor feeds three athletes a plant-based burrito and a meat-based burrito and took blood samples 2 hours after each meal. The blood samples taken after consuming the plant-based meal is clear and transparent while the blood sample after the meat-based meal is cloudy. It looks scary, it sounds scary…but it's completely normal. The cloudy effect in the blood is called postprandial lipemia and it is normal to see a rise in triglyceride rich lipoproteins in the blood post-consumption of dietary fat. Completely. Normal. If these athletes would have been sampled fasted, their serum would all look identical and that narrative did not fit into the vision this film had in mind.
The last issue I have with this film is that it claims that the sole reason so many people have lowered their cholesterol, blood pressure, BMI, etc is because they went vegan. Here's the truth. A vegan diet produces all of these benefits because it is a diet full of fibre – fibre-rich diets can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, increase satiety, lower the risk of heart disease, etc. A vegan diet also eliminates processed junk food, which helps to lower the amount of calories ingested, therefore these individuals will see a drop in weight.
However – you don't need to be vegan to increase your fibre intake. You don't need to be vegan to create a calorie deficit. You don't need to be vegan to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in your diet. And don't even get me started on the cherry picking and hidden agendas or…conflict of interest? The producers, actors, and "experts" all sell vegan products or books profiting hugely, with James Cameron launching vegan protein powder to sell coinciding with the release of the documentary…Beyond that, they make wild claims about the athletes featured. One of my favorites was their discussion of the Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz fight. McGregor eats steak daily, while Diaz is vegan. Diaz won his fight against McGregor and the film basically says it's because McGregor ate too many steaks and it was Diaz's "superior" diet that won him the fight – they did not look at or discuss any other factors that influenced the fight's outcome.
Now, by no means am I against veganism. I am against using fear and pseudoscience to bring a point across. I repeat my message again: There's absolutely no doubt that we need to cut down on animal based products for the environment and our health but that doesn't mean one diet is above all and that total restriction of animal based products is the only way. Actually, NONE of the studies mentioned actually state that removing animal products improves performance.
So, why don't we come from an angle of inclusivity first rather than fear based on cherry-picked research and exclusion? I am sick of such documentaries picking what suits their storyline and leaving some very essential factors out! As always, I urge you to seek professional support if you are looking to make changes in your diet – especially if you are an athlete and are looking to enhance your performance. Do not watch these types of films and think that you'll have all the answers. You won't.