Game changers is all the hype at the moment, every day I get asked my opinion on my thoughts around the documentary so I thought best to outline my thoughts with a blog post, to provide a resource for all the confusion that is being produced.
Firstly, I am a big proponent of plant-based nutrition and I believe it should be the foundation of our diet. In the film, they presented a wide argument for why this is the case. Debunking many social beliefs around plant-based diet and performance.
I truly believe if done right, this could have been a really good documentary. However, this film can not be referred to as a documentary. A documentary presents a balanced argument which this was not! I found it extremely dogmatic and reductive, twisting science to tell a story, that plant-based is the only way to eat….
An important caveat before getting into it, I found it interesting how they used the term plant-based which I believe is just in an effort to rebrand the dogma around veganism. I can’t blame them because it has taken a bad wrap but maybe that is for a reason…. In this article, you will see I have used both variations synonymously.
As for a balanced argument, the first thing we must do is look at the funding and the expert’s background. Firstly it was funded by the founders of ‘Verdiant Foods’, an organic pea protein company. Who obviously benefit from people going vegan. What about the experts? All plant-based themselves which alone creates a basis
- Dr. Dean Ornish: Author of several books including, “Undo It!” Which is a guide to reverse chronic disease with a plant-based diet. In addition, he hosts retreats and offers online programs for plant-based lifestyle approaches.
- Dr. Aaron Spitz: Author of “The Penis Book,” which highlights the importance of a plant-based diet for optimal penile function.
- Dr. Robert Vogel: A cardiologist and author of “The Pritikin Edge,” which focuses heavily on plant-based eating.
- Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn: Sells books DVDs, ad programs for reversing heart disease through a plant-based diet. (Maeve Hanan (2019), An Evidence-based Review of ‘The Game Changers’)
Naturally, these “experts” are all for veganism which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, I would have loved to have seen both sides of the argument to create a balanced discussion vs the pushing the vegan agenda. Great news Chris Kresser M.S., L.Ac the Co-director of the California Center for Functional Medicine, founder of Kresser Institute will be on Joe Rogan Podcast to debunk this film on the 19th of November. He will no doubt discuss many of the points I am touching on here but will also have the platform to go a lot deeper so I highly recommend tuning into the podcast if you are interested.
Telling a Story through Science
Twisting science to tell a story is nothing new with so much potential financial gain to be had. It was poor science which led us into the obesity epidemic we now face. Ancel Keys an American physiologist in 1950s dubbed obesity on fat in particularly saturated fat. He did this through his famous 7 countries study that became the basis from the food pyramid and way of eating for 55yrs …. (we are still battling this today…) When it was really a 22 countries study (see image below) which he cherry-picked two markers and removed countries that didn’t fit his linear correlation…. I have written a blog around this if you want to learn more. Sadly game-changers took a leaf out of this book and created stories firstly they referenced Ancel Keys poor research, demonising saturated fat which as mentioned has been highly scrutinised on top of this they compared the average western (processed food, hamburgers etc) against a plant-based diet. Sorry but any diet is better than the standard western diet! I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the same effect going full carnivore (meat only) for the same period of time to these studies (Not saying this is a good thing either, just making a point). The negative impact of the standard western diet has been well documented and evidence is clear all you need to do is look at the obesity epidemic, obviously, nutrition is not the only factor but definitely one of the leading contributors.
Another unbelievable moment for me was when a scientist states that plants are higher in Vitamin C and since our bodies can’t make Vitamin C we should only eat plants. I am not arguing that vitamin C comes from plants and I don’t think any other dietary approach would either (besides maybe carnivore…). But why is it we have to function in extreme measures of all or nothing (Plant vs. Meat)? Why can we not eat a balanced diet of plants and meat, we are omnivores after all…
One Diet Fits All
They state in the film that the plant-based diet is the one diet for everything …Sadly, there is no such thing as a one diet fits all we each possess so much diversity that what works for one person will not work for the next. Nutrition like most things needs to be individualised. There are some guiding principles that will apply to the majority but there are always exceptions to the rule and to ignore this is just foolish.
The film does a great job at highlighting a handful of vegan athletes. Their anecdotal stories are fascinating but again like mentioned earlier there are always outliers… I am not saying that these athletes are but with very little to work off besides anecdotal evidence, it is difficult to determine. We must always approach anecdotal evidence with a grain of salt before we take it as the gospel. For example, when someone goes through a dietary change it often acts as what we call a keystone habit which promotes cascading of other positive habits to follow such as mindset shift, lifestyle changes (Prioritise sleep, implement stress management strategies etc), a greater focus on training and integration of new training methods etc. Besides the habit change and controllable factors are they genetic outliers? Plus just because they are seeing performance gains short term what is it doing to their overall life and healthspan? Once again I am not saying that plant-based couldn’t have achieved these results but a pinch of scepticism is always good when digesting anecdotal evidence, it is important to look at all the evidence such as what the science tells us. Let’s touch on a bit more science then 😉
Amino Acids: Meat Vs Plants
I would be remiss if I did discuss the amino acids argument. Firstly, as defined by the FDA, a complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Incomplete proteins do not have sufficient amounts of one or more of the essential amino acids[*]. Or, they’re missing amino acids altogether.
Animal protein sources consist of all the essential amino acids and quantities our body requires. Whereas plant proteins do not contain some essential amino acids with the exception of soy. Plants are especially low in the essential amino acid leucine compared to animal-based proteins. Leucine is well known for being a trigger for muscle protein synthesis (eg. muscle growth). To attain adequate protein then you’ll have to combine plants to get a complete protein. This is fine in theory however how much beans and rice do you need to eat to make the amount of complete protein that is present in a piece of chicken? A great example of this in the film was when they stated a peanut butter sandwich has the equivalent protein as 3oz beef or three egg. I love my nut butters as much as the next person, probably more but to achieve the same protein level you would need 5 tablespoons of peanut butter, for a total of 500 calories! (Not including the bread). Regardless, of the massive calorie intake of ¼ cup of Peanut Butter, it is a bit overkill for one sandwich.
Just like everything, it is not just about quantity but quality, this is no difference for protein. Quality of amino acid is characterized by the composition and digestibility. On average, animal-based protein is digested at a 90% or higher rate, while plant protein ranges anywhere from 55% to 80%.
Why? Plant proteins less digestible because of the “anti-nutritional” factors (trypsin inhibitors, hemagglutinins, phytates, etc). The good news for vegans is that cooking techniques like soaking, boiling, steaming, and fermentation have been shown to reduce the content of these anti-nutrients. It doesn’t solve the problem but does help with protein uptake. Another great option especially if an athlete as you need more protein, you should also consider plant-based protein powders (Hemp & Pea) as these are stripped of the anti-nutrients and allow for the uptake of the protein.
Summary; With Plant proteins offering less digestibility vegans will often have to consume more calories to attain the same quantity of protein, like the peanut butter sandwich mentioned above.
The blood tests following meal really spiked my interest so naturally, I looked into what it all meant, was the “cloudy serum” a bad thing?
The cloudy effect seen in the blood is called postprandial lipemia. It is physiologically normal to see a rise in triglyceride-rich lipoproteins in the blood post-consumption of dietary fat and if a concern which it shouldn’t be for most, it is simply mitigated by movement and fasted windows. If we tested all these athletes fasted, their serum would all look identical.
So really just a quick and easy way to fear-monger and scare you to confine to their story.
Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, BMI
How about the firefighters who lowered their cholesterol, blood pressure, BMI, etc from going vegan. Do you truly believe they had to go full plant-based, for these effects? No, because at the end of the day you will be healthier with a well-balanced diet with some meat consumption as long as it of high-quality source and not processed.
This is not related to the movie as such but I think an important consideration to include because no doubt some people will try the plant-based diet. In fact, many I know have already begun as a result.
When on a new diet especially a restricting diet you will often see profound benefits early on, it is what I like to call the vegan paradigm. You change your diet and full of motivation you kick all the ‘bad foods’ and receive a massive influx of new nutrients which your body thanks you for as it is not used to getting them so you feel amazing as a result. Plus due to the limited nature of the diet, you naturally stay clear of all the junk food you used to eat so, of course, you see great results. This is the foundation of most diets but especially important for the vegan diet because if not a well thought out and structured, you will begin to lose key micronutrients B12, Omega 3, Iron etc that just can’t be attained in adequate quantities through the vegan diet. Yup, I said it, to do a vegan diet successfully you most likely need to supplement to get adequate nutrients that can’t be attained through you diet which to me begs the question, is this the way we are designed to eat? However, back to vegan paradigm, early on in the diet our bodies are great and compensating for this but over time this takes its toll and roughly 1-3yrs down the track of being vegan they begin to see a significant decline in their health and because they felt so great early on they don’t correlate it with the vegan diet, it must be something else? So often get more strict on the diet and really begin to spiral down.
Game Changers Take Home Message
Finally, thankfully they took a step back with their take-home message which was not to go full vegan but aim to reduce meat intake which I can absolutely get behind. Not that meat is bad but if you have a few meat-free meals of meat-free day (meat-free Mondays is a common approach) you will be forced into increasing the diversity of your diet which is a great thing for attaining more nutrients in your diet and improving your overall health.
My Summary of the Film
Although extremely dogmatic and reductive, it championed vegetables which is not a bad thing! We should all eat more vegetables and great diversity of vegetables. What really frustrated me is the way they approach it, saying it is the only way to eat and then backing their story with poor science and anecdotal evidence, not a balanced argument at all. One thing that really infuriates me around films like this, is they push the extremist narrative we must be all or nothing (Meat vs Vegetables) when instead we should eat both we are omnivores after all. I am all about championing the vegetables a reducing overall meat intake but there is no need to be so extreme. There are exceptions to this of course as discussed but let’s bring some common sense back into the nutrition game!