The 2017 documentary ‘What the Health’ made a lot of bold and controversial statements about the impact of diet on human health. Released on Netflix, it quickly gained popularity and sparked intense debates among health professionals, nutritionists, and the public in general. Some consider it a life-changing masterpiece that revealed the truth about the food industry, while others are skeptical and claim it contains misleading and exaggerated information. In this article, we will take a closer look at the documentary’s main claims and analyze their accuracy.
The Movie That Challenged the Way We See Food
As a society, we have grown up with a set of beliefs about what constitutes a healthy diet. We are told to eat fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, and limit our intake of sugar, salt, and saturated fats. However, according to ‘What the Health,’ the picture is not that simple. The documentary makes the argument that the food industry, particularly the meat and dairy industries, have been feeding us lies about the health benefits of their products. It highlights the link between the consumption of animal products and the prevalence of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Additionally, the documentary draws parallels between the food industry and the tobacco industry, alleging that powerful lobbyists and financial interests influence nutrition policies and guidelines.
Examining the Evidence Behind the Claims
So, is there any truth behind these claims? Let’s examine some of the key arguments made in ‘What the Health’ and see what the science has to say.
Claim: Meat Consumption Causes Cancer
One of the most compelling claims made in the documentary is that red meat and processed meat consumption are linked to an increased risk of cancer. While this statement is not entirely false, it is also not entirely true. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified red meat as a Group 2A carcinogen, which means it is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Similarly, processed meat is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning it is “carcinogenic to humans.” However, it’s important to note that these classifications are not a cause-and-effect relationship. They indicate that there is an association between meat consumption and cancer but do not prove that one causes the other. The risk of developing cancer varies depending on the type of meat, the quantity consumed, and individual factors such as age and genetic predisposition. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting the consumption of red and processed meats but does not suggest avoiding them altogether.
Claim: Dairy Products Are Detrimental to Health
Another claim made in the documentary is that dairy products are harmful to human health. The film argues that milk consumption is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and osteoporosis. While there is some evidence to support these statements, the link between dairy consumption and disease is not clear-cut. Some studies suggest that high consumption of dairy products is associated with a higher risk of certain cancers, while other studies indicate that consuming milk and other dairy products may be protective against some forms of cancer. Similarly, while milk is an excellent source of calcium, which is essential for bone health, some research has suggested that too much milk consumption may actually increase the risk of fractures in older adults. It’s worth noting that many health organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommend including low-fat dairy products as part of a healthy diet.
Claim: A Plant-Based Diet Is Optimal for Health
One of the main messages of the documentary is that a plant-based diet is the optimal way to promote health and prevent disease. While there is strong evidence to support this claim, it is essential to note that not all plant-based diets are created equal. Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds has been shown to offer numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. However, it’s important to ensure that a plant-based diet includes a balanced intake of essential nutrients, such as protein, iron, and vitamin B12, that are typically found in animal products. Careful planning is necessary to ensure that a plant-based diet is nutritionally adequate.
The Controversy Surrounding the Documentary
Despite the documentary’s popularity, it has also received criticism from health professionals and experts. Some have accused the filmmakers of cherry-picking studies and data, misrepresenting the findings of scientific research, and spreading fear-mongering messages about the food industry. Others have pointed out the filmmakers’ financial interests in promoting a plant-based diet, as well as the lack of published peer-reviewed research to back up many of the documentary’s claims.
The Role of Money and Politics in Nutrition Research
One of the documentary’s main arguments is that money and politics play a significant role in shaping our perceptions of nutrition and health. It highlights the influence of corporations and lobbyists in funding nutrition research and setting dietary guidelines. While there is some truth to this claim, it’s essential to note that there are also many rigorous and independent studies conducted in the field of nutrition science. It’s important to evaluate studies on their scientific merit rather than dismissing them based on the funding source.
The Importance of Critical Thinking in Digesting Nutrition Information
Ultimately, the controversy surrounding ‘What the Health’ highlights the importance of being critical and discerning in evaluating nutrition information. While there is some truth to the documentary’s claims, it’s essential to evaluate the evidence carefully and avoid getting caught up in fear-mongering messages. It’s also crucial to recognize that nutrition is a complex and ever-evolving field, and our understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet is continually evolving.
‘What the Health’ has undoubtedly raised some thought-provoking questions about the links between diet and health. However, it’s crucial to approach the documentary with a critical and discerning eye and evaluate the evidence carefully. While there is some truth to many of the claims made in the film, it’s also essential to recognize that nutrition is a nuanced and evolving field. The key to promoting optimal health is to consume a varied and balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, regardless of whether you choose to include animal products or not.
- Q: Is ‘What the Health’ worth watching?
- Q: Is a vegan or plant-based diet the only way to achieve optimal health?
- Q: Are dairy products bad for you?
- Q: Is red meat bad for you?
- Q: Can adopting a plant-based diet reverse chronic disease?
A: Whether ‘What the Health’ is worth watching depends on your personal interests and beliefs. If you are interested in learning about the links between diet and health and are open to a plant-based diet, you may find the documentary thought-provoking. However, it’s essential to approach the film with a critical and discerning eye and evaluate the evidence carefully.
A: No, a vegan or plant-based diet is not the only way to achieve optimal health. Consuming a varied and balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, whether from plant or animal sources, can promote health and prevent disease.
A: The link between dairy products and health is not clear-cut. While some studies suggest that high consumption of dairy products is associated with a higher risk of certain cancers, other research indicates that consuming milk and other dairy products may be protective against some forms of cancer. Similarly, while milk is an excellent source of calcium, some research has suggested that too much milk consumption may actually increase the risk of fractures in older adults. It’s worth noting that many health organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommend including low-fat dairy products as part of a healthy diet.
A: The link between red meat consumption and health is complicated. While some studies suggest that high consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal cancer, other research has suggested that moderate red meat consumption may not increase the risk of disease. It’s important to limit the consumption of red meat and prioritize lean protein sources such as chicken, fish, and plant protein sources.
A: Some studies suggest that adopting a plant-based diet can help reverse or manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. However, it’s essential to note that diet alone may not be sufficient and that other lifestyle factors, such as exercise and stress management, are also important.
- “Classification of red meat as a probable human carcinogen.” International Agency for Research on Cancer. Accessed on 29 August 2021. https://www.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Monographs-Q&A_Vol114.pdf
- “American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.” American Cancer Society. Accessed on 29 August 2021. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/acs-guidelines-nutrition-physical-activity-cancer-prevention.html
- “Nutrition and Cardiovascular Disease.” American Heart Association. Accessed on 29 August 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/nutrition-and-cardiovascular-disease
- “Milk and dairy consumption and risk of cancer: a meta-analysis of cohort studies.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Accessed on 29 August 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn2010117
- “Dairy foods, calcium, and risk of fracture: a cohort study.” American Journal of Epidemiology. Accessed on 29 August 2021. https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/178/3/375/104281