Getting your nutrition advice from a documentary is like getting your news from the National Enquirer. I can’t help but be annoyed by people spewing out nutrition pseudo-science stating that it has to be factual because it came from a documentary. If you’ve been a follower of lettucetalk for a long time (thanks!) you already know about my disdain for misinformation disguised as facts. But the most recent thing that has crawled under my skin BIG TIME is documentaries. Yep, I said it; especially nutrition documentaries.
I will reluctantly admit that I have been mesmerized and swayed by nutrition documentaries at certain points in the past. The most gripping season of my life relating to documentaries revolved around a certain vegan-touting documentary called Forks Over Knives, which was based on a large cohort study called The China Study. I bet I’ve seen that particular documentary at least 5 times, no joke; and, for a minute, I was SOLD.
They had effectively used slanted opinions and research cherry-picking to convince me of how DEADLY animal products and fat of any kind were. I felt so incredibly guilty every time I poured my baby a cup of milk or ate a piece of chicken. But later, when I had time to sit and truly pour over all the research surrounding what Forks Over Knives was telling me, I was gravely disappointed in them.
Forks Over Knives does offer some compelling testimonials on life transformation for individuals who went “off animal foods” and subsequently losing 600 pounds and stopping all medications. However, on a very basic level, consider this: what if someone who was a complete couch potato living solely on fast food combo meals with soda suddenly went plant-based and his life was completely turned around? Can we specifically say it was “because he stopped eating meat/dairy”? No, we can’t; there are so many positive things this theoretical man changed including eating vegetables (when he hadn’t ever before) and exercising (when he hadn’t ever before). Do you see how confounding factors make it impossible to completely determine cause and effect here?
You see, even a professional in the field of nutrition can be hypnotized by convincing sales pitches if effective methods are used by the salesperson; we’re all human. All documentaries on nutrition I’ve ever watched employ a specific feature that they all have in common – twisting both sound research and crappy research around their motives until it fits JUST. PERFECTLY.
I’ve heard throughout several carnivore-hating documentaries statements like “casein [a protein found in milk] causes cancer.” I bet you’re thinking what I was thinking – “wow, what a staunch direct accusation that milk is killing us all!” Firstly, we don’t eat nutrients; we eat food. This is a small but super important perspective to keep with you! Forks Over Knives and other documentaries have stated that when rats are fed casein, they develop tumors. The more casein, the bigger the tumors. When casein is reduced, the tumors shrink.
Guess what? When we look at all the existing literature (not just rats fed isolated casein), we find that milk doesn’t exert the same effects [on causing cancer]. Why? Because milk contains other protein (namely whey) and other nutrients that seem to prevent the “cancer causing” effects seen from isolating only the casein. Furthermore, when we look across the last few decades of literature on any single nutrient, we find some that are absolutely awful for us when isolated turn out to be amazing when allowed to work synergistically with other nutrients in regular foods. Even beta carotene, the provitamin A compound found in orange fruits and vegetables, can increase cancer cell growth in high, isolated (supplemental) doses. However, foods high in beta carotene are also high in numerous other nutrients that make these foods actually cancer-protective. Why? The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, people! It’s synergy.
I continuously hear that “saturated fat is the leading cause of heart disease.” No it isn’t. A few months ago, I personally performed my own detailed review of the last 8 years of literature surrounding saturated fat and heart disease for my Master’s Degree capstone; and (not surprisingly) used 61 lovely pages to put that accusation to bed as far as I’m concerned. Just as noted above regarding casein, we don’t eat nutrients; we eat FOOD. What the research shows is that when we eat saturated fats from good-quality, wholesome foods along with copious amounts of fiber-rich whole foods and omega-3-rich foods, we THRIVE and actually prevent heart disease I will not drone on and on about this because I already have here and here.
“We should be disgusted with our milk. It contains blood and pus, among other gross things.” Stop it. Just stop it. Fear mongering at its finest. A Canadian dairy farmer has debunked this annoying rumor about “pus in our milk” quite nicely so I don’t have to. Click here to read more.
Look, here’s the real deal. I am happy to support and guide individuals who choose a completely plant-based diet. I am also happy to support those who choose a animal-food-containing diet. I would say I’m not for or against you drinking milk; roughly 70% of us are lactose intolerant anyway. The major point is – don’t miss this – that whichever pathway you choose, you have to do it for the RIGHT REASONS. Slanted, fear-mongering documentaries are not sound education. Consult a registered dietitian nutritionist for further explanation on both sides of any nutritional controversy, and you may just be enlightened. Nutrition is not (nor can it be) one-size-fits-all.
Any researcher who makes staunch assumptions on specific cause and effect based on the so-called “facts” delineated from cohort studies or isolated nutrient studies that are not representative of the masses is making spurious correlations most likely to fit a personal or professional bias. This is most evident in these dazzling, sensationalized documentaries that are just sitting there in your Netflix queue. Go ahead and watch them if you want, but I discourage it because they are infomercials designed to manipulate you into thinking like they do. Do they all make good points? Yeah, some. Do they completely distort the real facts? Yeah, all.
xoxo – Casey