I recently watched the new Vegan documentary “The Game Changers” on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it yet I recommend you check it out on Netflix or iTunes.
The documentary follows the story of James Wilks a British national living in the US who is a former UFC (Mixed Martial Arts) champion. Wilks suffers an injury and investigates nutrition changes that will help speed his recovery. He reads some research hinting that Roman Gladiators were in fact vegan and decides to pursue a vegan lifestyle. The film features many successful sports personalities (Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic and others less well known) who have made the switch to a Vegan diet and attribute their successes and longevity to the dietary changes.
The documentary has understandably been very controversial as it puts a stake in the ground and makes some very interesting claims against eating meat.
With anything you read and hear (especially nowadays) I strongly urge you to seek out opposing opinions, do some research on your own, and weigh up all evidence before making up your mind. Below are my thoughts on “The Game Changers” documentary after reviewing both sides of the argument.
Firstly, whatever the criticism regarding cherry picking facts – the documentary is short and entertaining. I wasn’t bored in any way and it really made me think and challenge my own diet (which includes meat, dairy and eggs).
Switching to a plant-based diet is better for the environment. It requires less resources and land area to grow plants than it does to raise cattle and most other meat-based proteins. Additionally, cows and sheep belch out methane which is around 21 times more damaging (in terms of the green house effect) than CO2. Also, animals (even our beloved pets) produce monumental amounts of waste (faeces etc). We are destroying our planet to feed ourselves animal protein.
Plant based diets are better for heart disease and heart disease reversal as the iron you get from animal sources (heme iron) seems to increase your risk of coronary heart disease (see this meta-analysis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23708150).
Overall a plant-based diet is better for your Endothelium (inner lining of your arteries), which is important for preventing cardiovascular disease). Animal fats impair the functioning of your Endothelium and (most) plant-based fats do not. Just beware that studies have shown that some refined plant-based oils like Omega 6 oils (corn/canola/sunflower etc.) have the same effect as animal fats – so it’s best to choose olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil etc over refined omega 6 oils.
Soy does not seem to effect oestrogen or testosterone as was once thought to be the case. If you are avoiding soy because of this fact, then you don’t need to worry and can start eating it again. Just don’t overdo it (max 1-2 servings a day) and choose whole food soy products (tofu, tempeh and soy milk made from whole soy beans).
Red Meat should not be intrinsically linked with masculinity. The documentary has shown that you can still be an elite athlete and perform at your peak as a vegan or vegetarian. There is also a link established between going plant based and preventing erectile disfunction. There is a link between high cholesterol and ED and plant-based diets do reduce cholesterol – especially if you up your leafy greens in the process.
It’s most probably a good thing to avoid or limit intake of processed meats like bacon, ham, salami etc. Most health professionals recognise this.
The documentary does jump to conclusions at times and does cherry pick some studies without giving the other side of the argument. For example, it is not entirely clear whether the Roman Gladiators were in fact vegan, yet this is taken as a cold and hard fact. In some ways this can be excused as the documentary doesn’t want to be seen as boring, but it does set the producers up for ridicule. James Wilks does address most of these criticisms.
The Athletes shown in the documentary only present anecdotal evidence and cannot be seen as clear-cut scientific evidence that going Vegan is better. As the Men’s Health article rightly mentions – a lot of people who switch to Vegan up the vegetable intake almost from ground zero. It is not clear whether reducing meat consumption and upping vegetables in your diet would have a similar effect.
I’m always wary of “all or nothing” advice. It doesn’t have to be a choice between going Vegan for the rest of your life or choosing to cut back on meat by replacing some of your meals with Vegan dishes. The Mediterranean Diet is an extensively studied diet that shows real lasting health benefits and is science backed – it contains a small amount of protein.
Putting aside the controversy whether meat protein is more inflammatory than animal protein – if you marinate your meat or coat it in spices like cumin, cinnamon, rosemary, turmeric etc, this will virtually eliminate these possibly inflammatory chemicals. So the best thing to do is to eat meat with spices or marinade it in acidic marinades.
There is no doubt in my mind that following a “good vegan diet” full of whole foods, vegetables, leafy greens, low sugar fruits, whole grains etc. is good for you provided you top up on any vitamins like B12 you may be missing out on. The problem is that there are also “junk food vegan foods” like fake meat products etc, white pasta, white bread, high sugar vegan desserts etc. Most people don’t have the time to prepare a wholesome vegan meal every night which may involve pre soaking beans etc. Also, because it can be a new concept to most people it can take them longer to prepare meals (rather than falling back on previously cooked recipes). The risk is that new vegans will opt for ready meals full of salt, or jink food options. The documentary shows in the final credits (and peppered throughout), vegan foods like fake chicken nuggets, vegan pizzas etc. My fear is that some people will always eat these foods and think they are healthier for doing so, when they may have been better off just cutting back on the meat and upping the vegetables, grains, beans and pulses.
The documentary does primarily focus on men which could make females feel excluded. To James’ credit he did say there were more women in the original cut but the editors decided to focus on men as they are the biggest meat eaters.
My Final Thoughts
I take my hat off to those that can go Vegan and follow the healthy version of the diet. Anything that can help the planet is a win in my book.
That said I love fish and the occasional steak. So, what I do now is reduce my meat consumption, replace some meals with vegan and vegetarian options and I also marinate or spice my meat before cooking to limit the inflammatory chemicals. I am in the process of cutting out butter (replacing it with a blend of coconut oil and a little olive oil), and I have drastically reduced my cheese consumption.
The base of my diet is (and always will be) intermittent fasting, due to its wide-ranging health benefits. I skip breakfast every day (eating it only on special occasions). I drink clean black coffee (I love our Lean Caffeine Nicaraguan Coffee), and I have the occasional bulletproof coffee now and then (I’ll have to find a replacement for the butter – some say cocoa butter is nice?).
I would always recommend supplementing a few key vitamins that we are all deficient in too. The ones I take are a liposomal B Complex (contains high levels of B12), a Vitamin D3 with K2, and magnesium.