Game Changers is a documentary about athletes following a vegan diet. It was produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jackie Chan. I have no issues at all with anyone that wants to be vegan. I think there are ways to get all the nutrients you need from plants if that is your choice. I want to make it very clear that I agree that everyone should always eat a LOT of plants, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, sprouts, beans, peas, lentils, tubers, seaweed, and herbs are all extremely healthy and have multiple beneficial and essential functions in our body and should compose a large proportion of our daily calories.
There is information presented in this documentary that is very misleading or wrong:
- Comparing vegan health to people that eat fast food, processed foods, deep fried foods filled with inflammatory trans fats and very little vegetables. They conclude that meat was the reason those people were not healthy. What the studies actually show is that eating fast food and processed food is not healthy and when you remove those foods and eat vegetables then people get healthier. One of the athletes in the show that switched to a vegan diet did not previously know what asparagus was, another one frequently ate Popeye’s fast food chicken. The dad that had the heart attack and the fire-fighters with high blood pressure had very poor diets before switching to a vegan diet. They felt better switching to a vegan diet because adding vegetables and removing inflammatory trans fat will make you healthier.
- They stated that people that eat meat have more cancer. This is not true. People that eat a lot of PROCESSED meat and NO vegetables or fiber have more cancer. Fish consumption is correlated with decreased cancer and overall mortality.
- Athletes don’t get energy from meat. No kidding! We can use amino acids to make ATP (energy) but our cells preferentially use carbohydrates for energy and protein for building tissues, hormones, enzymes etc. Plant foods increase energy. I don’t think any intelligent athlete believes they are eating meat for energy. And yes, any endurance athlete will greatly benefit from eating a higher carb diet; it does not mean that meat has a negative impact on endurance.
- Gladiators ate plants. They talked about how strontium was found in gladiator bones so therefore, they were vegetarians. Having strontium in their bones means they did indeed eat plants, but it does not mean they did NOT eat meat. Gladiators ate both; humans are omnivores. Bone strontium is a reflection of high mineral dietary components, even carnivores that only eat meat will have some strontium in their bones. Omnivores and herbivores have similar amounts of strontium.
- Meat protein and plant protein is the same. They state at the beginning of the show that plant and meat protein is the same and then at the end they say people were unhealthy because they ate meat protein instead of plant protein. So which is true? Proteins are composed of amino acids. Let’s look at leucine as an example amino acid. It looks like this whether it is from a plant or an animal. Leucine is one of the branched chain amino acids and it is “essential”, which means we have to get it from our diet; our cells cannot make it. Foods that contain it include meat, dairy, eggs, beans, whole grains and legumes.
- Leucine is one of the 20 amino acids that is incorporated in to proteins in our tissues including muscle and it is also important for stimulating protein synthesis, so it is an important amino acid for athletes that want to build muscle. Amino acid structures are the same in plants and animals but the amount and ratios are very different. Animal proteins are “complete” because they contain all of the essential amino acids. Plant proteins lack one or more essential amino acids, so to get all of them, a vegetarian must make sure to consume at least 2 sources per meal (grain/ nut/ legume).
Here is a chart that shows how proteins compare.
- “You can get the same amount of protein in a peanut butter sandwich as you can in 3 oz of beef”. That would be one thick and disgusting sandwich. You would need 4 tablespoons of peanut butter and it would contain 34g of fat and 400 calories, (600 if you count the bread). Another example: a 4 ounce (113g) piece of chicken contains 31g of protein and is about 165 calories. To get an equivalent amount of protein from black beans you need to eat 2 cups of beans, that would be 28g of protein, and 436 calories.
- Humans are herbivores because we can’t make our own vitamin C. Some vertebrates have lost the ability to produce their own vitamin C (ascorbic acid), due to a mutation in the L-gulono-gamma-lactone oxidase gene. This gene mutation has persisted in many species because those species eat plants that provide vitamin C. This means that we need to eat plants to get vitamin C; it does not mean that we should ONLY eat plants. For interest, other animals that can’t make their own vitamin C include guinea pigs, some bats, Passeriformes bird species, teleost fish, gorillas, chimps, apes, old world monkeys, new world monkeys, and tarsiers. Chimps, gorillas, and humans are omnivores.
- Iceberg lettuce has more antioxidants than meat. That is like saying plants have photosynthesis and meat doesn’t, of course! ALL plants have more antioxidants than meat, meat doesn’t contain any antioxidants. This proves that we should eat plants, it does not prove that we should not eat meat. Antioxidants decrease inflammation, so it is important to eat plants. They said that switching to a plant-based diet reduced inflammation by 29% in 3 weeks….what happened was that adding fruit and veggies to the diet reduced an inflammatory molecule called c-reactive protein. Adding fruit and veggies to a diet would do this even if unprocessed meat was also part of the diet.
- Human intestines are longer than carnivore intestines, therefore we are herbivores. Yes, humans have longer intestines than carnivores, BUT we actually have way shorter intestines than herbivores. Here is a chart comparing the human digestive tract to a herbivore and a carnivore.
- Blood appears more clear after eating bean burritos. Many factors affect the viscosity of blood including sleep, exercise, hydration, stress, and other foods they ate that day. The studies they mentioned in the documentary all talk about how plants increase endothelial cell function, so yes, very cool that consuming berries, grapes, green tea, spinach, leafy greens, etc are all beneficial for endothelial cell function (the cells that line our blood vessels and digestive tract and other organs). And the men were able to have larger and more frequent erections while they slept if they ate a bean burrito rather than a meat burrito. An n-value of 1 is hardly scientific evidence.
- Meat contains heterocyclic amines, Neu5CG, endotoxin and heme iron, and increases markers of inflammation making meat as dangerous as smoking. This systematic review shows that PROCESSED meats, polyunsaturated fats (highly processed oils), fried foods (trans fat), salty snacks, and dessert was positively correlated with increase markers of inflammation. Whole grains, fruit, nuts, and leafy greens, fish, poultry, and legumes were associated with a decrease in markers of inflammation.
- We shouldn’t eat meat because we have trichromatic vision and carnivores have dichromatic vision, therefore we are herbivores. Humans and many primates that have trichromatic vision are omnivores.
- Eating meat is associated with high cortisol. I could not find any research papers that confirmed this but I did find papers that said “low quality food and poor glucose control is associated with increased cortisol (stress hormone, see previous post for more details about cortisol). And another paper that found there is no difference in cortisol secretion in high protein or high carb meals but males secrete more cortisol after eating than women.
- This paper is one sited in the movie about how the source of protein doesn’t matter if the correct amount of amino acids are consumed, and that is true, but they neglect to mention that the paper also stated this interesting detail “vegetarians have lower mean muscle creatine concentrations than do omnivores, and this may affect supramaximal exercise performance”, and “vegetarians (particularly women) are at increased risk for non-anemic iron deficiency, which may limit endurance performance”.
- Cows milk increases estrogen and lowers testosterone in men. Yes, when they drink milk from pregnant cows that have increased estrogen….and the testosterone decrease was temporary.
- Fun fact. The guy that ran the Appalachian Trail, 2189 miles (3522.8km) in 45 days, well, a Belgian dentist who is an omnivore beat his record by 4 days.