A popular, new documentary on Netflix What the Health is getting a lot of attention in the press. It touts a vegetarian diet and blames meat for the country’s skyrocketing disease and obesity rates.
There’s no need for you to watch the film, as it’s a masterpiece of propaganda and woefully short on the science. And I have concerns about giving it any attention myself. But I figured I’d at least set the record straight about the real science and point out the five myths it promotes.
Myth No. 1: Meat is equally as dangerous as cigarettes
This myth stems from the reporting of a large, long-term study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study followed more than 500,000 adults between the ages 51 and 71 for more than 16 years.
The media reports emphasized a “finding” that eating more red meat increased risk of death from nine common diseases by up to 26 percent.
But buried below the headlines was the finding that eating more white meat decreased risk of death from disease by 25 percent — almost exactly the same amount, making the meat risk a wash statistically. In the end, the study shows that eating processed meats — such as hot dogs — raises disease risk. Not eating natural, unprocessed meats.
Plus, the danger of cigarettes relates entirely to how many cigarettes a person smokes each day, which brings me to the next myth…
Myth No. 2: Eating one egg is equal to smoking five cigarettes
On this point, they are right. But for all the wrong reasons.
Eggs are Nature’s perfect food. And I recommend you eat several a week to support good health. It is a total fantasy that eating eggs is harmful. But it’s also a total fantasy that smoking only five cigarettes per day has a negative impact.
At the same time, science shows that people who smoke five cigarettes per day (not more) have the same health profile as non-smokers. Plus, they have a healthier body weight!
The government has even finally admitted that dietary cholesterol and saturated fats — as found in dairy, eggs, meat, and shellfish — aren’t bad for your health. But they’ll never admit the facts about light smoking — although their own studies, including one I did in 1989, continue to show it (as I most recently reported about a new CDC study last year).
Myth No. 3: Fat, not sugar, causes diabetes
“The only way to reverse disease is to stop eating animals and their byproducts,” so says stuntman and comic actor Steve-O in the new documentary. Of course, you have to question the merits of any documentary that uses the star of the show Jackass to back up its claims. His lunacy and cracked science defy logic as well as medical facts, clinical studies and observations.
The real science shows you reverse chronic diseases — including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity — by cutting out sugars, cutting back on carbs, and eating more essential fats.
But big food and big sugar donors to the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and the American Diabetes Society have a disinformation campaign to shift blame away from sugar and carbs…and toward fats. This influence adds to the confusion.
Myth No. 4: Meat production is bad for animals and the environment
The techniques used in industrial meat production are indeed bad for the animals, bad for your health, and bad for the environment.
However, raising sustainable, grass-fed cattle actually helps the ecology of grasslands when managed properly, as I have reported from studies over the years. And animals have naturally grazed on grasslands around the world — unsuitable for growing crops — for 10,000 years.
Myth No. 5: Humans aren’t built to eat meat
The entire GI tract starting with the mouth and the teeth are suited to an omnivorous diet that includes meat. Plus, you can’t get several key vitamins and minerals without eating meat. Or at least fish.
The vegetarian expert interviewed in the film said some people aren’t suited to eat meat. And the laughable “proof” she used was that “fish smoothies are unappetizing.” Smoothies are a great option for consuming large, otherwise indigestible quantities of crude vegetables. But why would you ever try to make a fish smoothie?!
Plus, if humans aren’t built to eat meat, why do vegetarians get so depressed (and loony, as on prominent display in this “documentary”)?
In fact, a study conducted in the U.K. found vegetarians are twice as likely to suffer from depression and mood disorders compared to people who have a balanced diet that includes meat.
The researchers said vegetarians also suffer from deficiencies of B vitamins and other key minerals. They also have high blood levels of dangerous, cancer-causing phytoestrogens found in soy. (Nearly all soy is now genetically modified.)
Other studies show vegetarians suffer from rampant vitamin D deficiencies. (Which could also help explain the depression risk.) Research links vitamin D deficiencies with cognitive deficits and other mental health issues.
Understanding the ethical concerns for animals
There’s so much faulty “science” in this “documentary,” but I certainly understand the viewpoint of those who believe eating meat and dairy violates animal rights and welfare. This issue poses a real dilemma.
There are certainly abhorrent examples of useless experiments on animals. And I volunteered my time and expertise with an animal rights group over a few summers a decade ago to help fight against these kinds of useless experiments.
If you have these ethical concerns, you can (and should) take high-quality dietary supplements to provide the missing B, D and E vitamins. Only remember — you won’t find optimal levels (or correct forms) of these nutrients in popular, useless, “once-a-day” multivitamins.
With all things considered, you’ve got a better chance of achieving optimal health when you follow a balanced diet, with eggs, fish, meat, and supplements. And by all means, now that you know the facts, skip this ridiculous documentary that falls short on the science.