The Game Changers

This is the Netflix documentary that everyone seems to be talking about. I have a lot of opinions on a lot of the documentary but I’ve narrowed them down to three key points:

 

  1. I’ve had several people tell me they’ve ‘gone vegan’ on account of the documentary – but this is where my first issue with it lies. The Game Changers consistently refers to a ‘plant-based’ diet without defining what that actually is. Newsflash – it’s not a vegan diet! A plant-based diet is one based predominantly on plants, but can also include all other food sources. We don’t actually know whether the athletes in the programme are strictly vegan, or if, for example, they’re also taking whey protein supplements which are based on dairy.

 

  1. The studies are ‘cherry-picked’ to display the desired results. Nothing in the documentary said anything positive about meat or fish consumption – yet there are a mountain of studies demonstrating the potential benefits, when consumed as part of a balanced diet.1, 2, 3, 4, 5   Let’s take the ‘cloudy blood’ study… it lasted 2 hours, was based on 3 people, didn’t account for what they’d eaten before the study, nor how long the effects lasted. Physiologically, fat in the blood is a normal effect of digestion.6Let’s also look at the wrestlers – I don’t think anyone would try to argue that eating steak twice a day is at all healthy or conducive to optimum performance! It’s an extreme example and not representative of the differences between a diet that includes meat versus a diet that does not. Another poor example is the athlete who eats KFC before a game – fried, poor quality chicken cannot be compared to high quality sources of animal products.

 

  1. The subjects are athletes who often have diets carefully constructed for them, like in the experiments shown on the documentary – those veggie burritos were a careful combination of plant protein, fat, carbohydrates and micronutrients. Many of the people now ‘going vegan’ do not have access to the same resources that professional athletes do and whilst a vegan diet can be healthy when carefully planned, it is likely to cause nutrient deficiencies if not done properly.7Despite what the documentary might lead you to believe, the scientific literature shows that vegans are at risk of deficiency of nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, as well as protein – see my article on veganism for more details.7

 

The conclusion? In my opinion, the documentary is not based on accurate scientific evidence and I worry that it will inspire a lot of people to change their diets due to misleading information. I’m a great advocate for a plant-based diet, but if you are thinking of becoming a strict vegan I would encourage you to seek professional advice to ensure that you are getting adequate nutrition.

 

  1. Jacob, J., Peter, S. and Chopra, S. (2013). A fish a day, keeps the cardiologist away! - A review of the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the cardiovascular system. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 17(3), p.422.
  2. Tørris, C., Molin, M. and Småstuen, M. (2017). Lean Fish Consumption Is Associated with Beneficial Changes in the Metabolic Syndrome Components: A 13-Year Follow-Up Study from the Norwegian Tromsø Study. Nutrients, 9(3), p.247.
  3. Bowen, K., Harris, W. and Kris-Etherton, P. (2016). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: Are There Benefits?. Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine, 18(11).
  4. Li, D., Siriamornpun, S., Wahlqvist, M., Mann, N. and Sinclair, A. (2005). Lean meat and heart health. [ebook] Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, pp.113-119. Available at: http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/APJCN/14/2/113.pdf [Accessed 11 Nov. 2019].
  5. Wyness, L. (2015). The role of red meat in the diet: nutrition and health benefits. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 75(3), pp.227-232.
  6. Iqbal, J. and Hussain, M. (2009). Intestinal lipid absorption. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 296(6), pp.E1183-E1194.
  7. Rogerson, D. (2017). Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1).