Why You Should Take "What The Health" With A Grain of Salt
A lot of viewers are rushing to become vegan after watching the documentary – but you should consider the use of scare tactics and selective reasoning before making any changes to your lifestyle.
At Cooking Light, we’re all about leading a healthy lifestyle that works for you, and we’ve certainly shared our thoughts on cutting back animal proteins, so we were certainly intrigued by Netflix’s latest must-watch, “What The Health”. And so were the millions of you who have seen this documentary since it launched on Vimeo in March. Like many health-focused bloggers and activists, “What The Health” is trying to persuade you that there’s only one way to ever really be 100% healthy – and that’s by going strictly vegan.
But before you start to reorganize your lifestyle based on a movie, we’re here to discuss a couple of the less than scientific claims made in the film. The key aspect of “What The Health” that our friends at Vox have extensively reported on is the film’s tendency to selectively decide how to interpret broader scientific studies in the food industry in the process of cheerleading for a vegan lifestyle. That’s only made even worse when you realize that the professionals being interviewed in the film are only vegan-friendly and a lot of their claims are supported by studies picked to support their beliefs.
Some claims in the film are too big to be ignored, and upon second look, might lead you to think otherwise:
Processed Meats Can Affect You As Much As Smoking
The World Health Organization had released research in 2015 which found that those who consumed processed meat products – things like hot dogs, bacon, and deli-style lunch meats – have increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Does that mean that eating bacon is exactly on par with smoking cigarettes on a daily basis, and the subsequent health risks that follow? Not at all, and the research being referenced here never points to that comparison whatsoever.
One Egg A Day Is As Bad As Five Cigarettes
A lot of people are talking about this sensational claim, pointing to cholesterol as something as deadly as tobacco, which has been proven (time and time again) to have a direct link to premature death.
There's been years and years of studies of how cholesterol affects the body, with professionals debating both risks and benefits of cholesterol in a daily diet. The film is using a single study that suggests those in risk of cardiovascular disease should avoid egg yolks, there's simply no one direct source from the scientific community to back up this bold claim. At Cooking Light, we don't agree with this claim – in fact, we've reported on how the egg is a nutritional superstar.
Milk Causes Cancer
There's definitely some single study research that suggests that milk could be a link to cancer, but a team of researchers said it best in 2015 when they concluded that "results from epidemiological studies of milk consumption and mortality are inconsistent." And that's a finding that has been consistently replicated by other published studies as well.
Plus, there are tons of benefits that dairy foods can provide for people seeking to change their lifestyle – and our team of nutritionists have previously reported on it.
Fish Is Toxic
We've all heard the classic horror story of a friend of a friend who picks up mercury poisoning after consuming copious amounts of fish, but the possibility of mercury poisoning isn't ubiquitous for all cuts of fish. There's endless research that points to a slew of health benefits in regularly consuming fish, and highly beneficial nutrients like omega-3 fats are found in many kinds of fish.
While mercury poisoning isn't impossible, you shouldn't ever write off this entire source of nutrition based on such a complex issue that isn't universal to all fish. Fish, in the right diet, can actually boost your brain's health and be the key to avoiding such diseases such as Alzheimer's.
90 Percent of Cancer Is Caused By Food
"What The Health" tries to illustrate how food itself can play a huge role in developing disease, and likens food choice alone to a majority of reasons why people develop a disease like cancer.
To place blame solely on food choice is irresponsible given the massive amounts of research that points to the fact that collective lifestyle behavior can be the primary factor in developing modern diseases – smoking, overeating, sedentary lifestyle, as well as genetics are all factors to be considered.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study that says if a person stayed more active, quit smoking, stopped drinking, consumed a healthy diet and avoided overexposure to harmful UV rays, 20 to 40 percent of deaths from the five leading causes of death today (which include cancer) could be reduced.
A clean diet and careful food choice is so very important, but it's not the smoking gun when it comes to preventing disease all on it's own.
A plant-based diet has many health benefits, there's no arguing that. But the hallmark scare-tactics that "What The Health" has employed to garner so much buzz isn't going to magically help the millions of viewers watching the documentary solve their health problems.
The realities of nutrition science are complicated and are being shut out in this documentary in order to promote veganism at any cost. At the end of the day, a balanced approached to food is always proven healthiest, and that's the message to take away here before any of those above.