A Naturopathic Doctor's Review Of The Game Changers Documentary (Read This Before You Switch Your Game)
A Naturopathic Doctor's Review Of The
Game Changers Documentary
(Read Before You Switch Your Game)
The brand new documentary, The Game Changers was released worldwide in September 2019. The documentary follows former UFC fighter, James Wilks who while recovering from an injury travels worldwide interviewing elite athletes and medical doctors that follow a “plant-based diet”. This documentary received a lot of attention in the media due to some big name producers like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan and James Cameron. The film advocates a plant-based lifestyle for superior benefits to athletic performance and overall health.
In this post, I will provide you with my insight into this highly talked about documentary. However, before doing so I want to make it clear that I am not taking a stance of being an anti-carnivore or anti-vegan. I simply want to discuss the points raised in this documentary to shed some light on true and false accusations that were made before everyone decides to jump on the bandwagon of being a vegan or vegetarian. Documentaries should be presenting opinions from both sides and letting the view make their own option by the end. I am completely against information that is skewed and strongly believe that instilling fear when it comes to eating creates a negative aura around food, which should not be the case. Healthy eating is all about balance and eating nutritiously vs. removing whole food groups if not warranted.
Let's first talk definitions so we are all on the same page…
A plant-based diet is defined as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and LIMITS meat, dairy products, eggs, and all refined and processed foods. A vegan or total vegetarian diet EXCLUDES all animal products, like meat, seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy products. It also does not require consumption of whole foods or restrict fat or refined sugar. Often times, ‘plant-based diets’ and vegan diets are used interchangeably, which was the case in this documentary. If you noticed I started this post talking about how James Wilks encourages people to follow a “plant-based diet”. However, in the film all animal products are completely excluded vs. being limited, which by definition is referred to a vegan or total vegetarian diet.
Now let's talk about some of the bias shown in this film...
Point # 1:
Who funded this documentary? It is important to stop and think about what voices you are listening when watching a documentary. When it comes to research papers that are published in reputable journals, protocols are in place in which the authors must disclose what organizations they are involved with so as to minimize bias. When it comes to documentaries, there is no such process and so people do not realize the hidden incentives behind these films.
One of the producers for this documentary is James Cameron. He is famous for movies like Titanic and Avatar. However, what most people don’t know about him is that he is a co-founder of an organic pea protein company, called Verdient Foods Inc. An article in 2017 stated that, once fully operational, the 160,000 metric-ton facility will become the largest organic pea protein fractionation facility in North America.
Furthermore, some of the other doctors and athletes all have their own sources of bias towards the film. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger is known as a “passionate vegan famous person”; Dr. Robert Vogel wrote a plant-based book; Dr. Kim Williams is a vegan cardiologist and this list can go on. All doctors in this film were plant-based. In order to keep it objective a better idea would have been to interview non-plant based doctors to get a complete picture that is not biased. Understanding this concept is important when watching any documentary, especially because in this film no conflict of interest was presented.
Point # 2
Many of the studies referenced in the film pop up throughout the video. The important thing to note is that many of these studies were all observational studies. These types of studies in nutrition involve researchers OBSERVING what people eat and then looking at health outcomes as a result. The problem here is that accuracy of reporting is not always accurate and is subjective. A lot of times people either forget what they ate a week ago or tend to under report.
Observational studies can be great in some circumstances. However, they are not useful in determining causal relationships between treatment and outcome. Observational studies can determine if there is an association between two things, in this case being plant-based diet is associated with better overall athletic performance, BUT doesn’t necessarily mean that one thing can cause the other. As well, because of all the other exposures that are happening simultaneously in ones life, observational studies cannot provide evidence of cause and effect. When it comes to research randomized control trials are the gold standard.
Some of the other studies that are used are pilot studies which use a very small sample size and often end with “further investigation is necessary”. The filmmakers chose to leave this part out.
Point # 3
A big notion that was expressed in this film is that diet is the only way to achieve optimal fitness. It is important to highlight that yes, diet plays a massive role in overall health and fitness but that doesn’t mean other factors don’t play a role. For example, looking at sleep quality, stress levels and training frequency all play a big role in one’s athletic capabilities. The film only picked a handful of athletes that were vegan and showed their accomplishments, without shedding any light on the 1000’s of other athletes that do not live a plant-based lifestyle and are still successful. Diet is one piece of overall health, wellness and fitness.
Point # 4
It is stated in the film that plant-based sources of protein are higher quality and more complete sources vs. animal based sources.
Here is what the science actually says….
PDCAAS (protein digestibility corrected amino acid score) is a measure of the quality of protein and takes into account the amino acid composition and digestibility of them. PDCAAS of 1 is a perfect score. Milk and eggs have a score of 1 (100%) and beef has a score of .92 (92%). When looking at vegetarian sources of protein, ex. kidney beans are at a .54 (54%) and lentils are at a .53 (53%).
Quality of protein matters! There are 20 amino acids that the human body uses to build proteins. These can be either essential or non-essential amino acids. The body can produce non-essential amino acids (11) but it cannot produce essential amino acids and thus be obtained from your diet. A complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids, such as animal proteins, whereas an incomplete protein does not contain sufficient amounts of the essential amino acids, such as most plant based protein.
Complete proteins include meat, dairy products and eggs and some plant-based foods like quinoa. In order for plant proteins to be considered complete, they must be combined. An example is mixing brown rice with beans or hummus with whole wheat pita. These combos make sure that you are getting all of the essential amino acids in the right amounts.
Furthermore, in the film, it was stated that the average plant eater gets 70% more protein than is needed. But, what are they comparing this to? The RDA recommends .8g of protein per kilogram of body weight. RDA is the bare minimum amount needed for survival, not necessarily optimal levels, nor for muscle maintenance or muscle building.
In the film they reference that a peanut butter sandwich contains an equivalent amount of protein to 3 ounces of beef, which is about 20 grams of protein. This would mean that in one peanut butter sandwich, you would need to add 5 TABLESPOONS of peanut butter to get 20 grams of protein. Not a fair comparison in my opinion!
Point # 5
Endothelial Function Test - In this segment of the film, they tested the blood of three Miami Dolphins football players to assess endothelial function. They fed them 3 burrito breakfasts. Two of them had animal-based protein: beef and chicken and the other player had a plant-based burrito. They showed that the blood of the animal eaters were more cloudy compared to the plant-based eater. However, they do not assess any other variables like hydration, history of smoking, alcohol consumption, past medical history, any other underlying medical conditions or any genetic predispositions. Endothelial function is affected by hydration, oxygen concentration, blood volume and diet.
During this part of the film, they say that plants have a positive effect on endothelial function and meat has the complete opposite effect. When looking at these studies, they show that eating high antioxidant foods like, purple grape juice, cocoa, green tea, apples, black raspberries, blueberries, pomegranate juice and dark chocolate can all improve endothelial function and some can even improve platlets and lower blood pressure. However, there was no mention of the fact that meat needs to be completely removed from one’s diet in order to attain these benefits. Eating higher amounts of fruits and vegetables have positive effects on our body and improve several health markers, I’m sure this is not a shock to anyone! Does eating meat make the effects of eating foods that are high in antioxidants negligible?
Point # 6
The film states that Vitamin B12 is not only obtained from animal sources. In nature bacteria synthesize vitamin B12. Unlike animals we rarely eat anything unwashed and therefore we are not getting any vitamin B12 from plant-based foods. The film did say it is best to supplement with a good quality Vitamin B12, which is completely true especially if you are leading a plant-based lifestyle.
Point # 7
Most of the studies shown in the film in regards to animal protein consumption and heart health show that a high plant intake is surely beneficial for those with obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and/or cardiovascular disease. These studies however, did not recommend stopping animal products all together. These studies also acknowledged lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, stress management and moderate exercise to also lower the risk of developing heart disease.
Point # 8
In the film, they equate eating meat to cigarette smoking. Causation between cigarette smoking and cancer has been established, whereas there is only a possible correlation between eating meat and cancer.
The study they use to back this up was done over a 6 year period in a low risk population. High risk of colon cancer was seen in those with high meat intake but also had a low legume intake and a high body mass index. The study ended with the conclusion that “Both red and white meat intake is an important dietary risk factor for colon cancer and raise the possibility that the risk is due to a more complex etiology”. The more complex etiology refers to other foods that are being consumed with the meat, like higher refined carbohydrates and possibly lower physical activity levels.
Negatives around meat include that red meat has been linked to several types of cancer: prostate, stomach, and colon cancer. However, cooking and preparation methods can contribute to this negative impact. Since meat comes from animal muscles, fat does exist. When meats are smoked at high temperatures, they release PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) which can get into the meat. These compounds are what are cancer-causing. Thus, reducing meat’s smoke exposure can help to reduce PAH formation.
Obviously if one ate processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, bacon, cold cuts, big macs and KFC all day long, it can make a difference. These products are salted, cured, smoked and processed. Processed meats are higher in nitrates and have been linked to cancer.
Switching from a SAD (Standard American Diet - high intake of red meat, processed meat, pre-packaged foods, fried foods or high sugar foods) to any other diet, be it, vegan, vegetarian, keto etc. is going to result in improved performance, either way. Pizza, muffins, donuts, soda, energy drinks, beef, chicken and pasta. If all of these are stopped and one adopts a general healthier way of life, is it the meat that's the problem? When you eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, you will generally eat less refined carbohydrates, sugar and saturated fats.
Diet changes should be about including healthier options into your diet, not omitting major food groups completely. Eating more plants is a great thing, but scaring people into it is not the answer! The plate should always be half veggies and fruits. Learning how to add more wholesome plant foods into the diet or how to add higher quality meat options is a better option. This can be done by just simply eating vegetables at every meal. We need to focus on eating healthy, whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables and occasional amounts of meat, eggs and dairy products. This type of lifestyle is also known as the Mediterranean Diet!
The Mediterranean Diet is similar to a whole-foods, plant-based diet where the foundation is PLANT-BASED but also includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese a few times a week with meat and sweets less often. Fish and olive oil are encouraged and fat is not restricted. It is more a lifestyle than a diet. It is about increasing healthy foods and limiting the ones that are less healthy to decrease inflammation in the body. It is low in red, white meats, but doesn’t eliminate them completely. There is lots of research on the Mediterranean diet and its beneficial effects on heart health, diabetes, obesity, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. It is not a restrictive diet, but rather discusses how often to eat certain foods. It only says to eliminate sugar and highly processed foods, which obviously has not nutritional value. Vegetarian diets have also been shown to lower coronary artery disease, diabetes and overall heart health. But again, these impacts could be due to the fact that more veggies is good for you. Most people can benefit from having plants as their base while still having some animal products. And generally people that choose vegetarian diets are more health conscious anyway.
Overall, I felt that this film made it seem like one has only two options: to eat or not to eat meat. They kept referring to plant based diets, as vegans and vegetarians, when in fact plant-based diets are not so black and white. A healthy, plant based diet requires planning, and discipline. It involves eating a variety of fruits, vegetables like beans, legumes, seeds, nuts and whole grains while limiting animals products, not taking them out completely! It is not an all or nothing type of lifestyle.
** Disclaimer: The advice is in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.