73: "What the Health" Review
The newest documentary stirring up all kinds of controversy in the nutrition and health world is "What the Health". After getting multiple questions about my opinion on this film, I decided to get a panel of dietitians together to talk about our reactions to the documentary.
In this episode, I speak with Vincci Tsui, RD and Kathleen Hernder, RD, CDE who are two registered dietitians passionate about helping people live happy, healthy lives. Kathleen is a certified diabetes educator in addition to her training as a registered dietitian.
In this episode, we break down some of the scientific claims that Kip, the documentary narrator, invokes as proof that we should all be eating a vegan diet. We discuss the film with a critical eye, and try to show another side to the inflammatory and fear-based wording of the film.
Share this episode with friends and family to show a different side to the conversation.
Links mentioned and further resources:
Kathleen Hernder's website
Vincci Tsui's website
Mayo Clinic review of cancer risk
Another study about processed meat
WHO 2015 statement about processed meat at colorectal cancer risk
Positive Nutrition online course coming soon!
Join the Nutrition Matters Podcast Community on Facebook
Leave a review for the podcast here
Donate to the podcast
Thanks to my great guests: Kathleen and Vincci!
Hey guys, It’s Paige. Thanks so much for joining me for another episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. You are really in for a treat today. For anyone who hasn’t heard already, there is a new documentary out called “What the Health”. It’s available on Netflix. It’s caused quite the stir. There are a lot of people talking about it. A lot of people with very strong opinions on one end of the spectrum of another. I really wanted to sit down with some dietitian friends to discuss this for you, so that you can have, hopefully, a fair and balanced perspective on some of the claims in the film. Some of the problems. Also, highlighting some of the good things about it as well. So before we get into that, I always like to make sure my listeners are aware of some resources available to them. The first is an online group for the podcast called, Nutrition Matters Podcast Study Group. You are more than welcome to request to join, if you would like to be part of the discussion there. It’s a lot of fun and we would love to have you. Another resource to be aware of is my online course, which is available at www.paigesmathersrd.com/course. This is completely online course that is 10 weeks long. You can take it at your own pace. It’s all about really helping you healing your relationship with food and body happen in your real life. So often we read books or podcast or blogs and things sounds good. We kind of struggle to figure out how to apply this in real life. So, that is what this course is all about. It’s Helping you bridge the gap from dieting into an intuitive approach to food and your relationship with your body as well. It’s helping you take those stepping stones towards that instead of it feeling like one giant leap of faith. The best thing about the course is you have lifetime access to it. You also get lifetime access to an online support group that I am in on a daily basis helping to answer asking questions, recording videos and really being there to support you along the way. So, if you are interested in checking out the course, head over to www.paigesmathersrd.com/course to get more information about it, read what people are saying about it and to see if it might be a good fit for you. As always, I would love if you would take some time to leave a review for me on iTunes. You can do that from you iPhone or your computer as well. What you do is search for Nutrition Matters Podcast, click on the logo, click on ratings and reviews, then leave a review. I would love to hear from you. I read every single one of those. It is so fun to hear how the show is affecting people and helping people. It also helps people find the show when I get more reviews.
Let me quickly introduce my two guest today. My first guest is Kathleen Herdner, RD, Certified Diabetes Educator and also a certified Intuitive eating counseling in Yellowknife, Canada. I also have Vincci Tsui, RD who is joining me from Canada as well, in Alberta. She is a dietitian who is in private practice, a very active blogger and has a great perspective in intuitive eating and reclaiming your own power around food. I invited these two to come onto the podcast with me to talk about this new film called “What the Health”. We really dive into the science and talk about what is true about what they say and what isn’t true. For anyone listening who is on high alert, maybe you are a vegan and wondering what we are going to say about veganism. Or maybe you are on the end of the spectrum and wondering what is going to happen in this conversation. I want you to stay tuned and listen from start to finish. I think we make some really great points here. I also want to set the stage and make sure you understand we are not here to bash veganism. We are not here to make you feel like your life choices with your food are wrong. But, what we are trying to do is have a fair and balanced approach to some of these claims made in the film. What is important to understand is that science really doesn’t show that you have to be 100% plant based in order to be a healthy person. Yes, incorporating more plant based foods can be a really good idea to do, no matter who you are. But, whether or not you have to go 100% into veganism is a whole different question. At the risk of sounding super corny, this is an extremely meaty topic. We go through as many of the facets of the documentary that we can. We don't’ have time to talk about every single facet of every single claim in the film. So, keep that in mind that we are doing our best and the is so much to say. I hope what we have done here has helped you scratch the surface and dive into what you need to do to take care of yourself in the best possible. Both, on a mental and physical level. So, with that let’s listen to Kathleen, Vincci and I talk about the film “What the Health”.
Paige: Kathleen and Vincci welcome to Nutrition Matters Podcast. I am so glad both of your are here to discuss this with me today.
Kathleen and Vincci: Thanks for having us. We are excited to be here.
Paige: Kathleen do you want to start off and take a minute to introduce yourself. Talk about who you are and what you do so the listeners can follow along with who’s talking.
Kathleen: Yes. I am a Registered Dietitian, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and a Certified Diabetes Educator. I run a private practice way up North in Yellowknife called Pulse Nutrition YK [http://www.pulsenutritionyk.com]. I have a focus on helping people improve their relationship with food and their bodies. That is a little bit about me.
Paige: I have two Canadian dietitian with me here today. Vincci, also from Canada. Talk about you and what you do.
Vincci: My name is Vincci Tsui I am a dietitian based out of Calgary, Canada. Similar to Kathleen, I take a very compassionate and collaborative approach to working with my clients. I use health at every size and intuitive eating philosophy in my work with my clients to help them reclaim their relationship with food and with their bodies.
Paige: Awesome. So we are all coming from a similar perspective and lens. You know, I have a bias, I think that if you spend enough time working with people who come to you with nutrition issues, I almost think, you can’t help but land in that space where you are like,wait a minute, maybe our relationships with food are really important. And maybe the way that we think about food and talk about food and our bodies is just as important as taking good care of them through proper nutrition. I think it is just a natural place to land when you hear how much people struggle and how much suffering goes on in our relationships with food and our bodies. It’s easy to kind of say, “you know what, what’s really important here? What really matters?” That’s exactly why I do this podcast and why we three wanted to have this conversation about this documentary.
With that, let’s introduce what we are talking about today. Again, I am so glad both of you are willing to be here and help discuss this in a very fair and rounded-out way. I’ll introduce how I came across this. The other day I had this day where maybe 3 people approached me wondering my opinion on this new documentary, ‘What the Health” and I’ll admit, I internally rolled my eyes and said, “I don’t want to watch that.” The last thing I want to do when I’m home, in my pajamas, with my feet up, is watch a documentary about food. I don’t even care if it’s one I completely love and agree with. I like to take a break from food in my real life. But, I did it because I started seeing all this buzz. Then I reached out in a group all three of us belong to and asked does anyone want to talk with me about this. So, I watched it and it was really tough to get through. Especially those first 15 minutes, are just like, Whoa! It’s rough. That’s why I wanted to have this conversation. I feel like people are talking about it a bunch. Documentaries, I use that term loosely, are popular with the current way we watch tv through Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. We don’t necessarily turn on the tv and watch whatever is on. We have more autonomy about what we pick. A lot of people are drawn to this information because we want good things, we want to be healthy, we want to be happy. But, as we are going to talk about today, there are some concerns that we have about the film. How did both of you come across the film? What made you interested and willing to talk about it here?
Vincci: I actually came about the film kind of different from most people. I am a blogger and also use to be a food blogger. I am on a lot of food and nutrition media list. So, the film was sent to me before it was released as a review copy. It was interesting because in the email it said “the film “What The Health” brings in medical doctors, researches and consumer advocates to expose outrageous corruption and the impact of big business on our health and why the non-profits we trust are staying silent about it.” So, I was going into the film expecting a behind the scenes look at American health care, in general. I actually even invited some dietitians over to watch it together. I told them I got this review copy of this movie. I think I had a very visceral, negative reaction when it turned out to be a vegan film. Not that I have anything against veganism. I think I almost felt duped because it wasn’t what I thought it would be about in the way that it was advertised to me as a review copy.
Paige: So in other words it sounds like you weren’t expecting some very planned out, ridgid, this is the answer for every person. This is the way you eat type of idea. You were expecting more exposure of what it is really like in the healthcare field and maybe learning some things we don’t normally talk about. And then when you realized there is this intense agenda, that as a dietitian who works with people with disordered eating and eating disorders it’s kind of like “Ahhh, why are we recommending that for every person.” I can see why that can be concerning. And again, not that veganism is necessarily, a one size fits all, a terrible idea. I think we want to be clear, at least me, I am not against veganism. I have some concerns since I have seen people use it in way that aren’t healthy for them. But veganism as a whole isn’t an issue. I think that is an important thing, I want to say, up front too. Kathleen, talk about how you came across the film.
Kathleen: I was actually given a workshop the first time I heard about it and I was asked about this documentary. I got asked five more times that week. I actually started watching it. Fifteen minutes in I paused it to ask if anyone else had watched it and written a review so I didn’t have to finish watching it. Like Vincci, I had a visceral reaction to it. I’ve spoken to a lot of people, since watching it, have become vegan as well. Which has been very interesting and we can talk about that a bit more later. Not necessary the most balanced way of doing it or for what I would consider the best reasons. Again, everyone is different in terms as to why they choose it. I am not against veganism, it just needs to have the right reasons behind it and make sure they are not getting deficiencies. The way I have been talking to people they have just been cutting out animal products and have not been replacing it with anything, which can be problematic as well. Like you Paige, I was asked about it a lot.
Paige: Do either of you guys watch the Bachelor or Bachelorette?
Kathleen: I will admit that I have watched it.
Paige: I will admit I kind of love it. It’s my one show that is so dumb that I watch. They always talk about, “are you here for the right reason.” When you said about, “you can be vegan, but it has to be for the right reasons.” It made me laugh a little.
Anyway, let’s quickly talk about one thing that really stood out to me in the film was they bashed dietitians. They were like..all of them are just in bed with McDonalds, with the meat industry, with whatever. They implied...you can’t trust a work they say because they are all sponsored, blah, blah, blah. So let’s take a minute to ease any concerns listeners might have about any sponsorships any of us have. I am proud to say, maybe not proud, but nobody pays me to podcast. I am not talking about this because I am “in bed” with the dairy industry or meat industry. I am talking about this because I really care about the people I work with every single day. I just want them to have happy, healthy lives. That’s why I’m here. So, why are you here Kathleen and any disclosures you need to make.
Kathleen: First of all, I don’t have any disclosures I need to make. I don’t have any sponsorships or connection with the meat or dairy industry. I am here as well because I wanted to have the conversation about the documentary since there is such a buzz around it. I think it is important for people to see the other side of the documentary. I think it is important to have a balanced approach instead of taking it at face value and thinking that documentary is the be-all-to-end-all and that is how they need to eat.
Paige: Perfect. Vincci, what about you.
Vincci: I currently don’t have any sponsorship from the meat or dairy industry but a few years ago I did some work with Alberta Pork. I also had approached a local yogurt company, that I had really liked about doing some promo work with them because I really liked their product and loved they were a local company, but that never came to anything. Right now, I don’t have any disclosures.
Paige: I think that is an important thing to mention since the documentary makes it sound like people like us are totally wrapped up with those industries. Okay, good to know and get out of the way. I have been debating and wondering how to have this conversation. I reached out to my facebook audience on my podcast page and my professional page asking them what they would like to hear about this documentary. We can talk about what is interesting to use but, I think, what we are trying to do is make sure that we are helping to clarify and show another side for the people that we care about and those who are our clients. The thing that came up most was let’s show another side to the science that he puts out there. So I was wondering, is that okay with you two if we hit on some of the main scientific themes, show another side and talk about epidemiological studies. Talk about the problem with the phrase, “This food causes this condition”. That causal relationship is problematic. His discussion of diabetes for me was shocking. Kathleen you are a certified diabetes educator. I was trained as a diabetes educator in the hospital but was never certified since I went to outpatient. But, I feel confidant talking about diabetes as well. Let’s see if we have time to talk about some of the other things, but I think that seems like one of the most useful things for use to spend our time on today. Does that sound okay?
Kathleen and Vincci: Yes
Paige: I’m going to pull up my outline. You guys got a little inside into my brain because I was typing frantically as I was watching it and taking notes. We’ve all talked about how those first 15 minutes is full of so many red flags. The first one that stood out to me is the WHO (World Health Organization) came out one or two years ago with a report about carcinogens and processed meat. I actually have a podcast discussing this. The way they word it in the documentary is that processed meat is a group 1 carcinogen and this is a direct quote, “difinitively linking cancer to processed meat.” Okay, what are the problems here? I have so many thoughts. Vincci do you want to talk first about your viserval reaction to linking cancer to processed meat comment in the film?
Vincci: Kind of like you said, Paige, this was report that came out a year or two ago so it’ still fresh in my memory what happened when that report first came out. I think in the news there was controversy. Even the WHO came out and said, yes, what a group 1 carcinogen means is there is a connection there, but there is a difference in the dose. Smoking is also a type 1 carcinogen but definitely takes a lot less smoking compared to processed meat in order for that link for cancer to happen. I think even the WHO says, the dose is different within the type 1 carcinogens. They type 1 carcinogen only defines the level of evidence but it doesn’t necessarily define the dosage that would cause cancer.
Paige: You know what else is defined as a Type I carcinogen, sunshine. This is something that just boils my blood. When we forget that dose matters. Dose matters in life. Too much of a good thing is not good. Not enough of something isn’t good either. We know that a little bit of sunshine is good for our bodies and important for us. I know in the Winter months here [Utah], when it is so dark and so gray I struggle with life. It’s harder. I know that sunshine is important for me, personally, and I’ve experienced the difference I feel when sunshine is around. But, does that mean I cut out all sunshine? If I cut out all sunshine for my life or my children's lives we would be developing some severe physical symptoms and issues. So, that’s this problematic, his approach to this journalist documentary. It’s pretty bad journalism to not say, “this is a type 1 carcinogen. I know that is scary and creating a reaction in you, but let's talk about the other type 1 carcinogens and what does that really mean.” So, that was my reaction to that comment in the film. What about you, Kathleen?
Kathleen: My reaction was really similar. If you actually look at the reports, since we are talking about dosages, it was 50 grams per day, every day of processed meats. We could say, if you are eating processed meats every single day, maybe it might be a good idea to look at backing off a little bit. But, I don't’ think it means people need to cut it out. Does it mean if you have a hotdog at a campfire you are going to get cancer? No, absolutely not. I think it’s important to think about the enjoyment of food. Just like you talked about the enjoyment of sunshine and other factors. If that is something you enjoy, does it mean you need to cut it out. No, absolutely not.
Paige: Perfect comment. Thank you for that. Another issue with this word “definitively linking cancer to process meat consumption”, that is problematic. This is a meta analysis so what the World Health Organization did was acquired around 800 studies, picked about seven to make this claim. Now, if you really dive in and look there really wasn’t any type of looking into the other aspects of the processed meat. I’m not here to be an apologist for processed meat. I think it has a time and a place. I don’t think it should be all the time in large quantities. But, I don’t think any food should be all the time in large quantities. Please don’t misunderstand me for being all for processed meat or saying we should all eat this at every meal, every day. But what they didn’t control for or necessarily look at are all the other things that are added to processed meat and the processing of them. So, we don’t know if it’s due to the processing of the meat, due to certain additives or ingredients. So that is difficult in and of itself to know what about the processed meat is problematic.
Second concern is, this is a epidemiological study. Meaning, they are relying on people to remember in retrospect what they typically eat. So they are filling out food frequency questionnaires, which, us as dietitians know, unless someones has a very severe eating disorder most people can’t remember what they ate yesterday. So to ask someone, “what did you eat on average over the last year. Fill out weekly, daily about processed meat, broccoli, squash or rice.” It’s problematic in and of itself to inquire this information. It’s not necessarily super accurate because it is very difficult for people to remember. Honestly, if you wanted me to tell you what I ate yesterday I would have to sit and think about it for a little while. Our brains naturally filter our what is important and what you ate yesterday is not very important for today. So, the nature of these observational epidemiological studies is problematic to prove cause and effect. The only way you can prove something causes something else is day a more rigorous type of study. Which would then be deemed unethical to conduct in a nutrition setting because you would have to have a control group that doesn’t have the intervention and a group that does have the intervention. The group that does have the intervention you are testing for whether or not it causes cancer. How ethical is it to expose a group of people that you think this intervention might cause cancer. That is not very ethical. So we can not do the gold standard of the double-blind placebo randomized controlled trial in these types of studies. So any time you hear “this food causes this chronic disease” you have to know that what they are referring to is an epidemiological study which does not prove cause and effect. That’s problematic in and of itself and I wanted to say a word about that. What comments do you guys have to say about that? Did I get that right?
Vincci: yes, definitely. It’s interesting though that like I think even the WHO is like, you know, the type 1 carcinogens, I don’t know if they use the word definitive, I think they use the words very strong evidence. I think people would interpret that as definitive. It is a good reminder that even though they do have epidemiological studies with thousands and thousands of people, it’s still not a 100% for sure this is what it’s causing cancer link. It’s a really good reminder.
Paige: Another important thing is it’s only one specific type of cancer, it’s colorectal cancer. It’s not cancer as a category. That also frustrated me that they didn’t differentiate and say, this one particular type. All cancer is devastating, tragic and so hard. I don’t blame people for wanting to villainize foods, people and environment. I get that. We all want a reason to make sense of really tragic things that happen in our lives or to people that we love. In this case, it’s not fair to villainize an entire food group. Sometimes they just say meat, they don’t say processed meat, which they kind of get that wrong too. Go ahead Kathleen. Did you want to say anything about my rant there?
Kathleen: I thought that was interesting the meat versus the processed meats. I don't know if you guys noticed this but they were talking about processed meat they also mentioned canned fish. In my mind, I was thinking I wouldn’t classify that as a highly processed meat. I thought that was very bizarre and odd. I would think it wouldn’t get classified in that same category.
Paige: Yes, I had the same reaction. Some of it I was even questioning myself through the film. Thinking, “I’ve never heard diabetes explained that way. I’ve never heard canned salmon being called processed”. So, I had some similar reaction and thought, wait a minute am I crazy? That’s why I wanted to talk to other people about this. And then if I feel crazy I can’t imagine how someone watching without training would feel. One other thing I wanted to break down about the science around the film, they do the beginning montage of children eating a hotdog with a cigar inside it. As a parent, that was eye-roll central. So ridiculous. I’m sorry. I know I’m using strong words here but that was just so far beyond unfair to the consumer and the viewer. I wanted to talk about that quickly, if you guys don’t mind.
In the film, he compares the meat and dairy industry with the tobacco industry. He sites this number, 18% risk of developing cancer, I could have that wrong. He uses this figure of 18% and when you really look at the data and what he is talking about it, it is clear he has a misunderstanding of basic statistics. Where there is a difference between relative risk and absolute risk. The 18% risk he recites is relative risk, not absolute risk. To get an idea of how absurd it is to compare meat to smoking, or in our case, we’ve seem memes going around of eggs to smoking. What I am seeing online is a meme of one egg a day is equal to a pack of cigarettes. The relative risk for smoking is 2300% and the relative risk for processed meat is 18%. It’s not apples to apples he is comparing there. The 2300% relative risk, in other words, people who smoke have a 23 times great chance of getting cancer than those that don’t smoke. So, relative risk is a ratio that is derived from comparing a group with a control group. This is just a point I really wanted to make. The relative risk, in the case of processed meat, if you had 100 people who ate meat and 100 that didn’t, 2.95 people out of that 100 that ate meal would get colorectal cancer. Whereas only 2.5 people in the control group, that did not eat meat, would get colorectal cancer. Out of 100 people who eat meat 2.95 will get colorectal cancer. 100 people who do not eat meal, 2. 5 people will get colorectal cancer. So, that is that relative risk of 18%. That is not absolute risk. The absolute risk would be less than ½ a percent, it’s 0.045%. Some of my frustrations watching the film, I am not a statistician but I am trained in reading studies, interpreting them and using them in a practical way to help my clients. That’s where I feel I have skills in this area. To say, here is what this particular research study is showing and how you can use that for your life. I get very frustrated when that is used in unethical ways. To me, that was a very unethical misinterpretation and misuse of science. I struggle with the medical professionals who back that up. Any thoughts about what I just said? I hate to talk too much. I would love to hear from you both too.
Vincci: I totally agree with you. There are other examples in the film too that I feel are ridiculous. I think there is one point where he give a statistics about meat increasing the risk of something else, like maybe diabetes by about 50 something percent. In the graphic it’s a single red bar that shoots up on the screen, which is suppose to represent 53%. If it’s supposed to be a chart there is no axis, nothing it is comparing it too. It is literally just a red rectangle shooting up on the screen to represent the 53%. There were also other graphics too that were not to scale and made things look big and scary.
Paige: I saw that too and had the same thought. If we are going to be scientific here let's put some numbers on the x and y axis, let’s talk about what we are looking at, let’s be accurate. It is frustrating when you throw out science as a way to backup your claim but then you kind of take it away when it’s convenient too. You just use fear mongering tactics when science can’t back it up. Does that make sense. Kathleen what were your reactions to anything we have said in this last little bit.
Kathleen: I agree with both of you. It seemed like pseudo-science to me. When you say it is science but you manipulate it in a way to suit your purposes. That’s what a majority of the statistics and facts that were thrown out in this movie were. I also wanted to say a little word about the experts. At the beginning when he was interviewing experts, there was a Dr. [Alan] Goldhamer that was interviewed. I was curious who he was and what his credentials were. He is actually a chiropractor at a clinic that promotes water cleansing.
Paige: What is water cleansing? I don’t even know what that is.
Kathleen: Where all that you consume is water for a long period of time and there is a huge amount of nutritional risk. So, if you are interviewing someone, who part of their practice is to just give people water and consider it a cleanse. Which you liver and kidneys are perfectly capable of cleansing your body. That makes me really question what this person is saying. He was the first expert I looked up and then I just gave up because I no longer had a lot of respect for the so called “experts” that were interviewed in the film.
Paige: Another one was Dr. Neal Barnard, he was the “diabetes expert” that he interviewed. When you look up his certifications and credentials he is board certified in psychiatry. So, it is fascinating that someone who is board certified in psychiatry is the diabetes expert. You would really think someone board certified in endocrinology, nephrology or internal medicine. That to me was interesting. One other thing that I think is important to talk about, this is not fair but just something to think about. We don’t need to be judgemental. Whenever I hear, “well athletes do it so it must be fine.” or “This doctor is proclaiming this is the way to go so it must be fine.” I just think we need to take a step back and remember that people have issues. We all do. Just because you are an athlete doesn’t mean you have life figured out. And just because you are a doctor doesn't mean you have life figured out. And just because you are a dietitian doesn’t mean you have life figured out either. But, lots of people in those worlds, in medicine, in sports and athletics have issues about food. I’m sorry, they just do. These are driven people. These are type A. These are perfectionist leaning people. Again, we don’t want to be judgemental and think everyone has issues but maybe just allow that to enter your mind as you are hearing their opinions and their thoughts and proclamation to kind of say, I never know where their biases lie and how they approach life. That was actually one of the big things that stood out to me in the beginning of the film. The narrator, Kip, talks about he has cancer that runs in his family, diabetes, heart disease and goes on and on about his family history. In my personal experience with my clients, whenever someone comes in the door with that type of weight on their shoulders about what they are dealing with mentally about their healthy. That can often really affect how they view food. When you are so nervous about developing these chronic diseases that will inform your approach to food. We got an inside into that with Kip but we don’t know the story about the other people he interviewed or we don't’ know what they have been through and why they have landed where they have. But I would guess some of them have some things to work through in that aspect. Is that fair? Did I say that in a gently enough way?
Vincci: I think so. We don’t get the whole story in a documentary like this. I think even the way the documentary has been presented it is clear we are not getting the full story on anything, I found. We were just talking about the science and how that was manipulated. When I watched the documentary, I think one of the things that upset me about it was it almost felt nothing about it was 100% accurate. It was always missing something or embellishing something. I wouldn’t be surprised either if it was not telling us something about what is going on with these professionals that were interviewed and feel so good on the vegan diet.
Paige: Kathleen can you tell us your reaction as a certified diabetes educator to the conversation around diabetes. I would love to hear your reaction to that.
Kathleen: I had one of those moments where I thought, “Am I crazy” because I don’t remember hearing anything about this.
Paige: Will you quickly talk about what they said incase someone listening hasn't seen the documentary they know why you were confused?
Kathleen: I can’t remember the exacts, but it was something around meat and milk.
Paige: Okay, I can explain it. This is what I took from it, but I couldn’t be paraphrasing wrong. This is a theory or a hypothesis that diabetes is caused from free fatty acids in the blood. Meaning, it’s not attached to a glycerol. These fats in your blood are going on top of the insulin receptor of your cell and basically covering it up to not allow insulin to unlock that cell and let glucose in. I think they said, it “gunking up the cells. or clogging them up” Basically, what it comes down to not only are we villainizing meat but now we are villianzing fat. Which frustrates me so much. There are only three macronutrients we can work with, Protein, Fat, Carbohydrates, to get our calories. When they are saying, “oh fat is so bad” and “most of the protein category is so bad too”, it’s frustrating that all we are left with is food that is not very satisfying. Anyway, I’m getting on a tangent. But, that is basically the theory he is proposing. At least I think it’s a theory. I don’t think it’s canonized, for lack of a better term, in text books and things like that
Kathleen: Thank you for the reminder, Paige. To be honest, I watch it a few weeks ago and thought about watching it again but couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Paige: I don't blame you. Y0u have better things to do.
Vincci: I feel the same way. I planned on watching it twice for this podcast but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Paige: That’s okay. I could hardly get through it the first time.
Kathleen: From a diabetes perspective, have I ever seen that theory before, no. I worked in a diabetes specialty clinic. When I studied for my Certified Diabetes Educator exam there was a whole lot of studying and reviewing the evidence. Not once did I see that [theory]. Another thing that comes up for me is that if we are talking about fat in the blood “gunking” things up, to me that is a form of fat in the blood called triglycerides. Triglycerides are increased not by fat in the diet but by things like sugar and alcohol. So how are you making that discussion, saying that you are gunking up the blood with fat, when in fact that particular form of fat in the blood is most played upon by your sugar and alcohol intake. So that really threw me for a loop. I had an initial moment like, “well I’ve obviously missed something because I don’t ever remember learning that.” But,I don’t think there is a lot to back it up to be perfectly honest.
Paige: This is fascinating because not that I am a proponent of a ketogenic diet, but they have been studied in terms of what happens in your body. A high-fat ketogenic diet, with this theory, would cause higher triglyceride levels. But, it is actually associated with a lower triglyceride level. Which makes sense because a really high sugar, high alcohol diet can lead to elevated triglyceride levels. When I saw that I too had a moment of, “whoa, is this new since I’ve been in school? Did I just miss this?” I think the best way to categorize it is maybe it’s just a theory or a hypothesis that confirms a bias. We all have them, right. I’m not trying to act like I have zero biases, I know that I do and I’m trying to work through that. We all do. That was one of the arguments in the film, all these organizations are getting paid to say these things or they are in bed with these organizations or they are funding research that confirms their conclusions already. I think that is something people with the vegan perspective are guilty of that too. There is always cherry-picking of data to confirm your bias. And there is always funding research you think will confirm your already preconceived conclusion. That is not good science, let’s just say that outright, that’s not good science no matter who is doing it. I don’t think that there is one group of people, such as the vegan researchers, that magically don’t do that. I think we are all needing to check that bias.
The conversation about diabetes is problematic. I’ll just also say development of diabetes is very complicated. It’s not as simple as saying there is fat in the blood...boom, done! This is the same with any disease process. We have to take a step back and look at it from a bigger picture and say, “gosh there is a lot going on here. There is genetics, lifestyle, the way we eat, mental health, stress levels, our work, our sleep, our self care. So that is another frustration, when people try to pick out and say, “well, this is the one reason.”It is never one reason. It is never simple. Any comments about that, you guys?
Kathleen:I agree 100% with you. I think that’s why it gets so confusing for consumers because everyone tries to pick out one factor to make it simple or prove their point by saying, “this is the thing that will save your health.” It might be eliminating animal products. Eliminating carbohydrates. Then they end up conflicting because it’s not just one thing. That is what ends up making people feel like it’s so confusing, I give up, what’s the point. I think that is the overarching theme with these sort of documentaries with biases. That’s what I find so frustrating about watching them as exactly as you sad. There are so many factors and trying to pinpoint it down to one means you are missing everything else.
Paige: That’s such a great comment. I totally agree. Vincci, what do you think?
Vincci: I completely agree as well. It is so complicating. I don’t know if it is necessarily making it confusing for people because I almost think that’s what people are looking for; someone to tell [them] the answer or give [them] an answer. I almost think that is why people like this documentary so much or like similar documentaries. It gives them the answer when, as health care professionals we know it is more complicated to them than that. We try to express that to people and they say, “we don’t want to hear that it’s complicated.” or “I don't want to hear that I don’t have control over my genetics or my body size or whatever” So, they go to the people or things that tell them, “yes, you can fix yourself of this is the answer.” I think that is actually what people are looking for even if it’s not true. If that makes sense.
Paige: That is human beings 101. This world is so complicated, so messy, so sad, disappointing and beautiful, right. We go through this really messy world and just try it simply it and say, “good, bad, right, wrong, should, shouldn’t.” That’s just not true. The older you get, the more you realize, “wow, there maybe aren’t easy answers.” I actually heard this quote that cracked me up, “The whole problem with the world today is that foods and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people are so full of doubts.” I think it is really true. The more I learned about nutrition, the more I realized there are way more questions than there are answers. I need to be very cautious about making any sweeping claim about this causing that. I need to take a step back and be humble claims and be humble about what I think I know. I think that is the natural place we land when we do this work. Then you see these people who are untrained and are like, “boom, here is the answer.” We want to say, no it’s not...think about all the other complexities. I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about. I think we’ve done an okay job talking about the science. We could spend the whole time trying to debunk the science. I think that is important but it’s not the whole thing. Let’s talk about when you were watching this, I think as dietitians we view things through our clients eyes a lot of times, at least I do, what concerns did you have from that perspective. As someone you work with, care about and really want to see be happy, healthy, successful in life. What did that bring up for you?
Vincci: It’s funny because when I watched it, like I’ve said, nothing of it felt true. Even some of the ways he interacted, even the “journalism” was so bad. He would call a call center, for example the American Cancer Association and say things like, “Why are there recipes with beef on your website?” It’s a guy at the call center so obviously he doesn’t know.” Then Kip would voice over and say, “Obviously the American Cancer Association can’t answer my questions.” Well yeah, you just called the call center.
Paige: That’s an excellent point. You weren’t talking to a medical doctor. He was talking to whoever was helping to answer the phones there.
Vincci: I know a lot of people said the head of the American Diabetes Association could have done a better job. But he was ambushed as well. I am sure, he only got the interview by saying, “oh, I am doing this documentary and I have questions about your organization.” I am sure he got the interview by being very vague. He then shows up and bombards him with nutrition questions. I think he is a doctor,I’m not 100% sure, but he said he was not there to answer nutrition questions. Again, Kip then said they are obviously hiding something from us. It’s like, well no. Even when you think of, as dietitians we do media interview, we go in and have talking points. Even for this podcast we had some talking points we discussed beforehand. You don’t go in blind. He [Kip] was out ot make people look bad. What upsets me about how it’s influencing so many people, I feel like even for a vegan documentary, none of the science is accurate. The way he interviews people you can see on the screen it is unethical. I wonder how is this still influencing people to be like, “Oh yeah, I really need to become vegan in order to be healthy.” That blows my mind because to me it’s a really bad documentary.
Paige: What are your thoughts Kathleen?
Kathleen: I think they do a really good job praying on your emotional fears. That’s what it comes down to. I had the opposite of Vincci where I have spoken to people. I can name at least five people in my head, who went vegan because they watched this documentary. So as dietitians we look at it from a very scientific base. When I was watching the head of the ADA I was thinking, I am a dietitian and I wouldn’t want to answer this guy's questions. Also, I think we need to keep in mind editing is really big and we have no idea what else happened in that interview. It’s like watching reality television. I think that’s really important. We have no idea what else was said before they took those points. I feel like it’s blantient fear mongering. I spoke to this women in my office, the first person to ask me about this documentary, she was pregnant. She said, “ I’m terrified. There’s the paleo stuff saying I shouldn’t be eating carbohydrates, there is this saying I shouldn’t be eating meat and dairy. I don't even know what to do anymore.” It breaks my heart to see the fact that this fear mongering is making people question everything. I think that is the perspective that I saw if from. It preys on your fears so well that even though the science is not good, of course people are going to react that way. Because that’s what he is good at. That is that emotional piece. not the science piece.
Paige: I think it was the ADA doctor, I don’t remember exactly what his credentials are. That’s where there was a lot of confrontation. For those of you haven't seen it, don’t worry about watching it. Basically, what happens is Kip tries to say, “Why do you have these things on your website? Why don’t you want to find a cure?” Basically, accusing him not wanting to find a cure for diabetes. Then he [Kip] says, “What is the diet for diabetes?” The ADA director says, “look, I’m not going to talk about that” Then it just kind of spirals out of control, they fight back and forth, he gets up and leaves, then Kips says, “wow, I guess they just don’t want to find a cure or prevention for diabetes” It’s sort of like, yeah it’s because they are evil people. That part really got to me because I can see where the guy is coming from. I have a perspective on food and nutrition that is up there with religion and politics of things to not discuss with family. It brings up some extremely strong emotions in people. This documentary is a perfect example of that. If we imagine that, let’s just say, Kip was Christian and the interviewee, ADA guy was an atheist. Let say the interview starts out with “tell me about atheism, how do you like that, how are you doing with that, how are you moral.” Just asking question that are easy...but then he starts saying “do you just want to die and never have salvation.” What if he tries to start to convince him that christianity is the only way but this ADA guy is convinced that atheism is just the way he feels good about living life. I see that interaction that those two had as more of a religious back and forth and less of a, “oh the ADA representative just doesn't want to find a cure. “ I think he is thinking I am not engaging in this dogmatic, religious pursuit with you because I don't’ think we are ever going to agree. I also felt for the ADA guy because what he is trying to say is, there is no one right way to eat. I refuse to answer your questions because there is no answer. There Is no clear answer. It is very complicated. It’s very complex. Maybe he and his organization are not in charge of medical nutrition therapy. And, maybe he doesn’t know the proper way to explain the complexities and nuances of an approach to a diabetes way of eating. Whether that’s prevention or management. And maybe he just didn’t want to get into it because he felt he wasn’t the best person to talk to about this, it’s complicated, it’s nuance. I just wanted to point out, I think they were having more of a religious back and forth debate and less of a factual back and forth debate. They just plain old don’t agree on their approach to life and their pursuit of health. And, that’s okay. But to blame the ADA guy, I feel bad that I am calling him that, I should know his name but I don't’t. TO blame him and say “he just doesn't care about a cure or prevention” I thought was extremely unfair to him. And, you’re right. I forget which one of you mentioned this, but who know if he was even prepared for what questions were going to come at him. He really seemed like he thought they were going this nice conversation about atheism or christianity, but then it turned into this, “No, I need to convert you. Or I’m mad at you.” And think he reacted like, “nope, we are not going there.” What do you guys think? Am I crazy with that analogy.
Vincci: You are absolutely right. I
Paige: I just felt for that poor guy.
Kathleen: I agree as well. I really don’t blame the, ADA guy, and I too feel bad calling him that. I don’t blame him for not saying this is the one way to eat because as we talked about it, it’s much more complicated than that. So of course he is going to say we are not going to have a conversation about this when you clearly have an agenda and I’m not going to fend to that agenda.
Paige: Okay, I am glad we hit on that because that was one of those emotional parts. The conclusion Kip draws is, “clearly the people at the top want us to stay sick”
Vincci: I think you do a great impression of him.
Paige: Haha, thanks. I wanted to take a minute to talk about take home messages. What do you wish people knew about this? What do you wish people took away from this? What do you want people who are feeling on the fence...okay do I need to be vegan to be healthy? What do you wish people knew and took away from it if they did watch it? Or if they are listening to this conversation what do you hope they take away?
Kathleen: For the take aways for the film, first of all, all the things we spoke about in regards to the science not being as concert as they said. I will take a step back though. I do think that, as a whole in North America, maybe we do eat more animal products than is necessary or good for our health. I think it is a fair and valid point to say maybe we don’t need to eat a 16ounce steak every night at dinner and maybe adding in some beans or nuts is important. I will say I appreciated that the movie didn’t fear monger about sugar and carbohydrates. That is one nice this I had to say about it. I think the take home is, if you were concerned about this film keep in mind the science is not as solid as they think. If you are concerned start adding in some beans and a meatless monday. It doesn’t mean you have to be vegan to be healthy because you can be healthy thwil consuming animal products.
Paige: Great comments. I love that!
Vincci: I did not enjoy this film at all. In my perfect world, no one would watch this movie. I know some people are saying, “well, it’s a good thing it is promoting a more plant based diet and getting people to question maybe the politics behind our dietary recommendations.” In Canada right now, there is a lot of buzz around the new food guide that might be coming out and might be placing less emphasis on animal based proteins. People are seeing that as maybe we are having less influence from the meat and dairy industry. I think at the end of the day there are better, non-fear based ways, to present this information. If people are choosing a vegan diet based on fear that is not the relationship with food we want people to have. I would even argue maybe if you’re not going vegan, maybe the filmmakers don’t think they have won yet. They actually want people to be 100% plant based. So even if you are like, “oh after watching this film I want to do a meatless monday”, I almost think the filmmakers would hear that and feel like their job isn’t done. They would feel they need to put more fear into people and how bad any meat and animal product is. That is not a good thing. Going back to this idea of trying to scare people into changing their eating, that is exactly what this war on obesity, fat-shaming, weight stigmas are all about. They are trying to scare people into losing weight. They are assuming they are not caring about their health. We know that doesn’t work. We know that fat shaming and weight stimag has not caused a mass weight loss. So, why are we using those same fear tactics to change people's eating habits when we know that doesn’t work. I feel bad because I have nothing good to say about this film. I just feel like there are good messages they are trying to put out, but there are way better ways of doing it that don’t involved bad science and bad journalism.
Paige: I think it would be easier to take little nugget of truth from it if it was more balanced. I feel like if they were more fair and balanced to their approach. Here’s how we see it, but here are how others see it. I feel like the viewer would be able to say, okay there are people who are happy and healthy, living great lives. Who take little nuggets from this but don't do it all. There is a different blueprint for how to incorporate some ideas but not let it rule your life. I think it would be easier to walk away and a take a little bit from that and not the other. The approach they take is very much, gung-ho, black or white, all or nothing, you’re in or you’re out, you’re in and you’re healthy or you’re out and you a lost cause to this world, basically. That to me, when I hear you talk about how you have nothing good to say about it, that is where my head goes. I bet it was because it was so all or nothing. It was very hard to be like, I like that little truth I’m going to take that. They just didn’t set the viewer up to be able to do that. I think, we as dietitians who care about health and wellbeing, maybe there is some permission that people need to have to take some things from it, if they want, I guess, or not and that’s fine too. My overall thoughts and I would love to hear your opinions, is when I take a giant step back from this film and just think about my clients, people in my life that I love, and myself too, I just flat-out refuse to live my life in fear. I don’t want to make decisions for myself or my family because I am afraid. You know what, there are infinite reasons to be afraid in this world. We could think about never driving a car because you might get in a car accident. If you look at the statistics of that it’s alarming too. I guess where I am going with this is in the realm of food there is a school of thought to support any fear you want to have about food. You can literally find at least one reason to be deathly afraid of any food. I’ve worked with people who are afraid to put any food in their mouth because they have heard it all, they care about nutrition, they care about their health. It starts with very innocent pure motives but they get to the point where they are afraid of every single food. Then what ends up happening is, like you said Vincci, they either give up and eat whatever they want and not think about health because it is too confusing. Or they become more and more orthorexic and are only eating a few foods. Well, guess what guys that’s not healthy. If you are pursuing health and only eating four foods, that’s not good. I like to think of myself and my clients as our own gurus about our own bodies. We need to have that autonomy and that power to make decisions about our bodies that feel good to use. It’s okay if that’s veganism. It’s okay if it’s a little more plant based than you are doing now. It’s okay if that’s somewhere in the spectrum. It could look different from your spouse. It could look different from your best friend. All of that is okay. I really think we lose sight when we give our power away and say, I watched this documentary it told me what was right and wrong, what’s good and bad and I’m going to follow that because I don’t trust myself. If I had a message for a viewer it would be that’s such a lie. You should trust yourself. You are so wise. You have everything you need in your body to make decisions about it if you learn to pay attention and tap into that wisdom. That’s what I would want people to know. And, that’s where I really think they didn’t do any type of work in that arena. They didn't even touch on what a vegan diet can do to someone. What a really restrictive, for some people they claim they can do it. I say the word claim because I don’t have experience with it. I’m someone that who would be starving all the time. They claim that they can do it and be fine but then there are others who have tried veganism and that pendulum just swings right over into binging. They never talk about that potential consequence... of if I go on a really restrictive diet with the hopes of curing my “chronic” condition, that doesn’t work, gets too hard or I go to a birthday party and just let loose or whatever happens. Then you find yourself secretly binging in your pantry when your family isn’t looking. You’re doing that every day and your health is suffering as a result. They don’t talk about that. Not everyone can handle such a restrive diet. That’s something that I really think they missed out on. What do you guys think? I’m sure you have seen that in your work as well.
Kathleen: I think that was so well said, Paige. I really agree in that you can't just rely on exclusively outside source. I think we all have a similar approach in that we do encourage clients to pay attention to what feels good in your body. So, if you find when you eat meat or dairy you don’t feel well and if for that reason you choose to consume less of them, great. But saying I’m going to do this really restrivie diet even though I feel awful because I’m terrified. Exactly as you said, it can definitely lead down that road of very disordered eating and a very unhealthy relationship with food. I think that is a major problem.
Vincci: I completely agree. One thing that doesn’t get talked about enough, not just in the film, but even in our health care, in general, is this idea of trust and listening to our own bodies because this is almost something we learned as kids. To listen to our parents and teachers, we do have to as kids, but we never get to that place where we get permission to trust ourselves. So, people feel like they have to turn to, ideally, dietitians or people who practice with an evidence base but that is not something that feels accessible to people they turn to documentaries, blog post, articles on the internet or whatever it might be. That is where we do run into issues because we get these conflicting messages and people get confused and it tell people to trust themselves less and less. So, I think I totally agree, just turning back and learning to trust yourself is the big thing I think, we as dietitians and other healthcare practitioners need to promote more and view these messages that we are getting documentaries, like “What the Health” and say how is this going to look for me or how would this fit into my life.
Paige: Beautiful. Thank you so much for that. You know what this would be a great place to stop because we just wrapped it up all nicely. But, I am not that organized and I had a really important thought that I want to hear your responses on and then I think we will wrap up. Let’s talk about, quickly, what are the benefits of meat and dairy consumption. They didn’t even go there. You don’t need to get scientific here. I’m just talking in your own life what do you get out of eating dairy.
Vincci: What I get out of eating meat and dairy...I think for someone who feels okay eating meat and dairy it is a good source of nutrients. Often people think of meat and dairy as the protein rich groups. It is a convenient source of protein. If we talk about density, meat and dairy tend to have a higher density of protein than some of the other plant-based proteins out there. They are also a good source of other nutrients. Meat is a good source of iron. Dairy is a good source of calcium and phosphorus. Lots of other vitamins and minerals and animal products are your only source of vitamin B12. So, if you are vegan you have to get supplementation. That’s the sciency stuff, otherwise meat and dairy are delicious. I like cheese, yogurt, meat and I think sometimes what can be difficult with a very restrive diet is the social aspect. Being from Alberta, we are know for being beef producers. It is big in our local culture to be eating meat. There is a huge ranching culture in the more rural areas. It’s almost a big part of our identity as Albertans Not to say there are not vegan people who live in Calgary or Alberty and not to say that you can’t socialize over plant based foods. Being creative with plants is really cool, but there are benefits to having a varied diet that includes all foods as well.
Paige: That’s a great thought. I love it. Kathleen tell us about what you think about that idea.
Kathleen: I agree 100% with Vincci. Yes, there are a lot of convenient, Vincci you covered the nutrition stuff pretty well for the meat and dairy so I won’t repeat that. Yeah, it can be delicious. I’m a dietitian and I love cheese and I love ice cream and all those things that maybe some people will be afraid of after watching this movie. I think it is important sometimes for people to hear that, that dietitians eat a variety of foods. We are not just eating salads and kale all day long. That enjoyment piece is important. I like being able to go out for ice cream with friends. Those sorts of aspects that can be really, really isolating for people especially where I live I think we have one restaurant that serves vegan food so you are pretty much restricted to that is the only place you can ever eat out if that’s the way you choose to eat. It’s a fabulous restaurant, it’s ethiopian. But, it can be very socially restricting. If your friends are going out for wings and that’s something you enjoy. Now all of a sudden you don’t have the option, what are you going to do? There is that big social aspect of food that gets ignored really frequently along with the enjoyment piece.
Paige: Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking too. I was thinking about how every Sunday my family and I, unless we have other plans, we make homemade pizza. It’s this wonderful process. We make the sauce, but the mozzarella cheese, grow our basil and it’s such a nice little tradition. I wouldn’t be able to eat the sauce because it has butter in it. I wouldn’t be able to eat the cheese so what would I do, eat bread with basil on it. What is that for me. That’s so boring. I really, about food, I value it’s ability to connect me to people. I value it's satisfying nature, nourshingment, balance. I have all these values around food that help me make decisions about it. For me, I refuse any of those types of restrictions because they don’t aline with the way I want to live my like. It’s okay if they do align with the way you want to live your life. But to me, life is about a Saturday afternoon and going to get ice cream with my two little girls. To me, life is about enjoying all foods in the kitchen and not being restrictive. Life is about getting up from the table and feeling full and satisfied. For me, I feel that way when I eat delicious satisfying foods, including meat and dairy. So that is something I don’t think they touched on. I know vegans will say, I swear up and down I’m full, I’m satisfied, I’m good, I’m never hungry. But then I’ve heard others tell me that they are hungry all the time. So, I guess maybe it depends person to person. I guess my point here is and I think what we are trying to say what are the benefits of eating meat and dairy? There are nutritional benefits. There are also social benefits. There are lifestyle benefits. There is satisfaction that can be enjoyed. All those things, I believe, deserve a time and a place on how we make decisions around food. We are not robots. We do not just eat food and then use that as energy in our bodies. Food is so much more than fuel. It is fuel, but it is more than that. So, that is an important thing to keep in mind as we are navigating these decisions around food. So, I am looking through the comments I got from people on facebook wanting to hear us to discuss. I am hoping we hit on most of them. Again, I think this conversation could be hours and hours long. There is so much to say. I am really helping this is a helpful resource for people. I really want to connect anyone listening to both of you. It is always fun to introduce my listeners to new people to follow who are positive and who are sending out good messages into the world that can help people on their journey with a healthier relationship with food and their body.
Kathleen: I am on facebook, Pulse Nutrition YK. YK stands for Yellowknife. I use to be on twitter and instagram, I’m not going to lie, that became a little much for me so I’m not on there much anymore. You can also find me on my website,