My Opinion on What The Health Documentary

Last night, I finally watched What The Health, a documentary focused mainly on the problems eating a vegan diet could solve from heart disease to global environmental issues.

It came highly recommended by many of my readers after I shared my thoughts on Fed Up, a documentary focusing on sugar in our packaged foods and the obesity epidemic in America. Both are currently on Netflix and I while I recommend Fed Up, I unfortunately do not recommend WTH if you are a current meat eater.

Why?

The short answer is that it was stressful to watch and made me feel like a bad mom unless I feed my child a vegan diet. Stress is one of the leading causes of death and if I have to pick one poison, it’s not going to be cortisol.

What was the documentary about?

In all honesty, the information was not that new to me. Since I began this blog, I’ve learned more than I could ever hope about the food, health and fitness industry. Fed Up was not new news for the most part but what was eye opening was how many people still weren’t aware of basic health principles that I consider basic knowledge at this point. For that reason, it was really informative for the average American and the lifestyle changes were fairly easy to implement in my opinion.

WTH focuses on eating a plant based diet. Based on my own knowledge prior to watching this movie, I’ve always said that if I ever were diagnosed with cancer, I would become a vegan. I do believe in the power of a plant based diet. However, there are plenty of meat eaters who live to be 100 years old and vegans who don’t.

Literally you only live once hence #YOLO so you need to find a balance between eating for survival and pleasure.

This documentary made it feel like everyone who eats meat or dairy would die of cancer, heart disease and diabetes and as a parent feeding my child, I am literally poisoning them every time I serve cheese.

Tommy is a picky eater. I do the best I can with what I believe is nutritious and what he will eat. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for people who work full time, don’t live in a major city with a Whole Foods in walking distance or have more than 1 child.

This documentary came across as too extreme in my opinion and propaganda like for it to be applicable for anyone that is not already a vegan. I have considered veganism and am their target audience but it was too one sided. 

“Almost NO ONE featured in this film is not vegan. There is zero attempt to seek out contradictory views, this is a monochrome of political, nutritional and ecological ideology.” Robb Wolf

Honestly, I barely had enough time today to write this blog post let alone refute the science but there are a few blogs that have already done so at length like this one from Robb Wolf who is known for his Paleo blog. Another review from a dietician blog an Instagram friend shared.

Interesting take aways:

  • Processed meats are listed as a Group 1 carcinogen according to the World Health Organization along with tobacco.

I looked on the WHO website and found the following which kind of refutes the exaggerated stance the documentary takes.

Screen Shot WHO

  • 70% of deaths are the result of diet and lifestyle.
  • 1 in 3 people will have diabetes in 25 years. WTH says it’s caused by fat cells building up in the blood, not sugar. It’s not sugar that causes diabetes, it’s fat.
  • WTH suggested that the media’s focus on sugar has taken away our focus on processed meats and dairy and how they are contributing to diabetes and obesity.

I have to admit I was surprised to see that the doctors and nutritionists thought it wasn’t sugar but rather that meat leads to developing diabetes. The documentary then proceeds showing the American Diabetes Association website recommending recipes made with meat.

The World Health Organization lists processed meat, not chicken or fish but the documentary also talks about why those are bad as well as eggs.

Certain foods can’t be called “healthy” – like eggs according to the FDA. However, did you know that neither can a Kind bar due to the fat content? I feel confident that Kind bars are a healthy snack, especially the low sugar ones but legally they too cannot claim to be “healthy” like eggs.

One point that I do agree with the documentary is that we should be more focused on fiber, not protein. You can get plenty of protein from plant sources. This is true but I’m not opposed to getting protein from animal sources.

There was also this silly segment that tried to suggest our diets should be based on our teeth. Apparently chimps eat 97% plants, the other 3% from insects. Our teeth are similar in being flat. Bears eat animals and have teeth with sharp canines so they can kill and chew I guess… We don’t have teeth like that so we shouldn’t be meat eaters. Whatever. I hate playing the game of what are we supposed to eat based on how we are biologically engineered because I believe the evolution of our diet has enabled us to thrive as a species. Hence why I don’t follow a Paleo diet.

One point that I agree with suggested that you may be able to reverse some diseases with a plant based diet. I think this in part is largely due to the hefty dose of nutrients you consume from food as you eliminate all foods that lack any nutritional benefit when this typically happens by default.

However, they feature one lady who went off all her meds after going vegan for just 14 days which I think is a bit of an unrealistic example.

I did not include a bunch stuff mentioned in the documentary above because it was stressful to watch, one sided and did not allow anyone to counter their arguments.

The problem for me with this documentary is that there was no happy medium. To go from a meat eating cheese lover to a vegan is a drastic call to action. There are also plenty of studies to support the health benefits of certain fish and lean meat, none of which were reported in this documentary. If you want change, you need to appeal to the masses and this film fails to do so. It’s too biased.

Here is Robb Wolf’s (Paleo Guy) reaction to the doc one last time because it really is worth a read.

As a parent whose child loves chicken fingers and cheese, I felt hopeless and guilty. As a mom, I don’t need another reason to feel bad about my parenting skills and that’s exactly what this documentary did.

If you believed everything you saw in a documentary on Netflix you wouldn’t eat gluten, corn, anything with added sugar, and you’d be a vegan. It just feels like an unnecessary stressful way to live in my opinion and unrealistic to expect a parent to feed their a child a diet as such.

So for this reason, I wasn’t a huge fan of What The Health but I do plan to eat more plant based meals and do think I’ll eventually become a pescatarian or even vegetarian but I’ll never label myself as such so that if I decide to have a buffalo wing during the Super Bowl it won’t be the end of the world.

Edited to add: So why am I not feeding Tommy a vegan diet if I think it is the most healthy? I don’t think vegan diets are the right diet for everyone. I think when it comes to diet one size doesn’t fit all and there are serious nutrient deficiencies that come with eating a vegan diet as well as impractical in today’s society often. With a picky eating child, I’m concerned about him eating adequate calories and nutrients from quality sources, meat and cheese, fruits and vegetables and yes sometimes cookies and cake, too. I’m not going to be the parent that doesn’t let her child eat a cupcake at a birthday party because it’s not vegan. When he is older, I’ll educate him on his options and allow him to choose. In the mean time, he does love vegetarian food like falafel but he also enjoys organic chicken nuggets and mac and cheese.

I think Michael Pollan said it best, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

What were your thoughts on the show?

 

My Opinion on What The Health Documentary

| Review | 12 Comments
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12 Comments

  • Erika
    Reply

    Interesting write up, thanks Sarah! Pro tip: As a Boston-based pescetarian who occasionally craves a chicken wing, the Buffalo Shrimp at Legal Test Kitchen are a life saver.

  • Noel
    Reply

    As a long-time follower of your blog, YouTube, and social media, I find this review super disappointing. You’re basically saying you agree that plant-based is the healthiest choice, but that we should choose what’s theoretically easier which is maintaining the much less healthy status quo. With that attitude I’d never work out, train for a race, or achieve any health goals. Being a Mom who cares about health and fitness isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. I don’t consider eating a plant-based diet even remotely as extreme as working out with a toddler or squeezing a HIIT routine in during naptime. Subbing falafel for chicken nuggets or avocado for cheese is pretty effortless in my opinion.

  • Victoria
    Reply

    Ugh, I probably won’t watch it. I’m a paediatric Dietitian (aka I work with kids and families every day). I think it would drive me crazy. Honestly I eat healthy but definitely don’t preach- I don’t eat meat (only fish/seafood occasionally), small amount of dairy, lots of fruits, veggies, healthy fats and a bit of room for treats (usually wine and restaurant outtings). I exercise daily and try to move my body as often as I can. I absolutely do not judge families who are crazy busy and juggling three kids, maybe financially struggling. I can’t imagine pushing a vegan diet on anyone. Research time and time again points to cultures where they include whole foods, small amounts of dairy/meat, moderate alcohol, limited snacking, include downtime and relaxation (to lower stress), walk everywhere, and have drawn out meals to socialize. It’ about overall lifestyle.. not just food! Mediterranean diet, Okinawa diet, French Paradox is where my head is at.
    Interestingly a colleague (who is vegetarian) just got back from a long European vacation last week. She said it was the most difficult thing to find restaurants who offered vegetarian options in France, let alone vegan, and felt she was being shunned in a way. A bit extreme yes, but got me thinking that it’s not like French people have been dropping dead for years of chronic disease. It’s all so multifactorial and so much more about lifestyle.

  • Aoife
    Reply

    I really enjoyed your take Sarah and echo Victoria above on the importance of the overall diet and lifestyle. It’s interesting that the film kind of “switched you off.” As a dietitian, if I used this sledgehammer approach to nutrition education I’d say everyone would walk out! Thankfully I can turn off netflix! Also, funny how it was presented as big news to limit red and processed meats -- dietitians have been recommending this for many many years.

  • stou
    Reply

    I dont understand your point of view. You cannot be half Vegan. Yes people who et meat can live 100 years, but can you denied all studies that show a link with cancer…so why take the risk. It was ver easy for us to switch to Vegan diet. There is tons of very good recipes that you can find, and trust me, I have a very picky eater at home. Just be dropping lactose made a huge difference for me and guess what, it make us drop a lot of dessert at the same time. It’s so disgusting to go food shopping and see all these process foods, no wonder why American are so fat.

  • Caroline
    Reply

    @Noel -- Sarah isn’t saying that eating a plant-based diet is impossible. This documentary is not advocating for just a plant based diet, it’s advocating for an EXTREME vegan diet. If you can’t agree that eliminating all processed foods, meat, etc. is nearly impossible and also just not fair to a young child, you are wrong. Like Sarah mentioned in her last paragraph, kids go to birthday parties. They like cake and cookies and ice cream and shouldn’t be deprived of that. In no way did Sarah mention that a plant-based diet was not attainable if you’re raising a family. All she is doing is advocating for balance.

  • Nina
    Reply

    I agree with Victoria and Aoife. I don’t think the film took the best approach to get their point across. I am largely plant-based and was still turned off by it. However, I do think there is a big portion of people in the US who thinks what they’re eating (processed foods with few fruits and vegetables) is just fine, only because they were never told otherwise. Nutrition education is severely lacking for most people, sadly :(

  • Krystina
    Reply

    Thank you for writing this! I recently watched WTH and felt extremely guilty as well. I have a 2 year old and immediately tried to switch her to almond milk and soy milk…she drank a little of both and told me “I don’t like this milk.” Haha so what am I supposed to do? Rationalize with a 2 year old?? My husband and I did try “almost” veganism for 2 weeks and we did like eating more plant based (even though we already ate a ton of veggies), but I enjoy meat as well. I totally agree with you, WTH is a little extreme and one-sided. We are back to our normal ways but we are replacing some meals with vegan ones each week. It’s all about balance.

    Ps…I also watched the Minimalism documentary on Netflix a week later and I’ve banned influential documentaries from myself…makes me stressed about my life choices. 😉

  • Jess
    Reply

    I tend to disagree with you on the fact that this documentary was one sided. I was pescatarian before watching and have been vegan for about a month now after watching. Multiple times people who were not vegan were asked to explain their position and they were unable to do so.

    Most documentaries aren’t meant to show both sides..I think in this case there is nothing that can be refuted about eating plant based being the healthiest diet.

    The problem is that we are constantly force fed information on a daily basis. I don’t think the point was to make you feel bad about your choices, and honestly if it did make you feel bad then there is some other underlying guilt possibly about food choices. I mean that in the most respectful way because I love your blog and respect you and your family. I just don’t think the takeaway was to shame people… it was to make people more aware.

  • Jessica
    Reply

    Love your blog! Is it just me or is the font color on this page really faint? I feel like I am squinting to read. Can you make it darker? Thanks!

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