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268: ‘What The Health’ Review & Fact Check: Debunking The Vegan Netflix Documentary Claims

268: ‘What The Health’ Review & Fact Check: Debunking The Vegan Netflix Documentary Claims

Netflix documentary, What the Health, has everyone going vegan—again.

Here at Legendary Life Podcast we care about our listeners and making sure they’re not buying into false claims and hype from trending documentaries.

That’s why we fact-checked this documentary for you. So you’ll know what the evidence is for the extraordinary claims that this film makes about health and vegan diets.

In this article I’ll debunk five things that What the Health got wrong—and what it got right.

Unlike other reviews have claimed, the documentary isn’t all bad.

In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that eating plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables can help prevent diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

And most of us would be better off focusing on getting a wider variety of plants into our diet while cutting down on processed meats.

Some of the best nutrition advice I’ve ever heard puts plats front and center:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Polan

Personally, I look for ways to get more plants into my diet and I even eat several plant-based meals a week. Here’s a photo of a Vegan Bowl that I had at a local health food restaurant:

I’m even planning a plant-based diet experiment to see what happens to my biomarkers and body.

Although I don’t ever think I’ll ever go 100% plant-based with my nutrition, I have respect for people who adopt a vegan or plant-based diet. At least the ones who don’t interrupt your meal at a restaurant with some over-the-top drama like this:

I’m telling you this because I want you to know I’m on board with the idea that eating more plants is good for our health. And I personally practice this by shooting for 10 servings of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds etc. each day.

Unfortunately, the recent Netflix documentary What The Health takes the message to eat our fruits and veggies to the extreme.

I tend to ignore these types of films because they usually have an agenda other than sharing the latest scientific evidence about what we should eat in a balanced and thought-provoking way.

Actually, Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn directed What The Health. These are the guys who brought us the film named “Cowspiracy”—arguably the most controversial pro-vegan documentary ever.

And you know how vegans tend to be about sharing their nutrition choice…

But so many of my clients and listeners have asked about the documentary that I felt like I needed to save some time to watch it and to fact check to make sure it wasn’t misleading health-conscious folks like yourself into following a nutrition regimen that’s based more on emotions than truth.

I hope reading this helps you make better informed decisions as to what you should do nutrition-wise to avoid disease and live a legendary life!

 

One (Plant-Based) Diet To Rule Them All

Like so many nutrition documentaries and diet books before it, What The Health promises us that there is one—and only one—way to eat that will keep you healthy and prevent disease.

This time, What The Health promotes avoiding all animal-based food products as the one true way of achieving long-term health and longevity.

And the movie is compelling with its message. They list disease after disease and issue and issue with eating an animal-based diet. And they enlist numerous experts like vegan Dr Michael Greger (who I’m actually a fan of) to support their hypothesis that a plant-based diet not only causes weight loss and the reversal of diseases but is also better for animals and the environment as well.

They show case studies where a few of the people who were suffering from debilitating and/or life-threatening illnesses were able to lose weight and get off of medication after only a few weeks of eating a plant-based diet.

You see the director calling up organizations like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association trying to get answers about studies contradicting the nutrition recommendations found on the organization’s websites.

Also, Kip Andersen conducts a heated interview with Dr. Robert Ratner, the chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association. Dr. Ratner’s defensive demeanor and refusal to answer questions (and skilled editing on the part of the filmmakers) further supports the conspiratorial tone of the movie.

You’ll watch behind-the-scenes footage of the poor conditions of animals in factory farms. They’re some especially gross scenes of pus-filled sores on animal carcasses presumably on their way to the butcher to be prepared for your local grocery store. You’ll see the sores popped with knives as thick, putrid liquid oozes out.

It’s a compelling story full of dramatic scenes that are designed to elicit an emotional response rather than a logical one. And herein lies the problem.

Ironically, our feelings are what causes many of us to eat too much of things we know are bad for us in the first place.

Overindulging in treats likes cookies feels pretty good.

via GIPHY

That’s why neuroscientists like Dr. Stephan Guyenet are helping to crack the obesity conundrum by shedding light on how our brain drives our eating habits without us being conscious of it.

Related Post: The New Science Of Fat Loss With Dr. Stephen Guyenet

I interviewed another neuroscientist and best-selling author, Dr. Susan Peirce from Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin, And Free, who talked  about how food addiction is similar to drug addiction and how to change our brain and break this bad habit for good.

Related Post: The Science Of Breaking Bad Eating Habits With Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson

You should also check out my interview with The Paleo Solution author Robb Wolf as he talks about how we’re wired to eat and how our brains regulate our appetite through a complex interplay of hormones and neurotransmitters.

Related Post: Wired To Eat: How To Turn Off Food Cravings And Rewire Your Appetite for Weight Loss with Robb Wolf

 

Debunking The Claims of What The Health

I won’t go into every claim What The Health makes, but I will cover the major ones to give you a more objective and balanced perspective.

Ultimately, What The Health cherry-picks studies while ignoring other-and sometimes much stronger-evidence that doesn’t fit the narrative of the film.

What the Health is part of a genre of food documentaries and diet books that selectively analyze nutrition research to demonize particular foods and praise a particular nutritional approach. It sells well but does a disservice to those of us who want to make our choices on the best information available—not the most marketable information.

In this case, Kip Andersen cherry-picks studies about nutrition and often exaggerates their findings or reports them out of context, to drive home his case for veganism.

Here are five things that What the Health got wrong—and I’ll also share with you what I believe they got right.

Myth #1 Debunked: 5 to 10 percent of cancer is caused by genetics, and the rest is caused by food. (30:04)

Although heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States, I find cancer much more frightening. We know that lifestyle interventions like losing body fat, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction can go a long way to prevent heart disease.

But once cancer starts growing uncontrollably, it can be a death sentence. And it’s sad to watch someone deteriorate as the cancer gets out of control.

I also have a personal interest in cancer, as my father and grandfather were both diagnosed with colon cancer. That means I have a strong family history and a higher chance to develop it myself.

Although my grandfather survived and lived to the ripe ol’ age of 93, and my father survived as well, that elevated cancer risk is always in the back of my mind.

So when the What The Health asserts that 5 to 10 percent of cancer is caused by genetics and 90 to 95 percent is caused by what we eat, I want to know the truth!

So, I dug into research to find more about the connection between cancer and diet. And it turns out is more complex than the film makes it seem.

Here’s what we know so far:

Cancer research published in 2015 focused on how random genetic mutations in part drove cancer rates. They also found a strong relationship between how often a tissue’s cells divide and how frequently that tissue develops cancer. For example, brain cells rarely divide so brain cancer is rare. Conversely, colon cells divide rapidly so colon cancer is much more common.

In other words, the longer you live, the more chance that certain cancers have of developing due to this cell-division factor.

However, according to a comprehensive article published in Nature this factor is considered a moderate contribution to lifetime cancer risk. The study’s authors state:

“Here we provide evidence that intrinsic risk factors contribute only modestly (less than ~10–30% of lifetime risk) to cance r development.”

The article goes on to say that many cancers are more prevalent than cell division can explain and that there is huge geographical variation in the rates of different cancers.

For example, breast cancer is five times more common in Western Europe than in Eastern Asia. Another example is that prostate cancer is 25 times more common in Australia than South-Central Asia.

In fact, numerous studies have established strong evidence that many cancers have lifestyle and environmental factors that increase risk. For example:

 

Conclusion: Although what you eat plays a role in the development of some cancers, you can be vegan or eat a plant-based diet and still develop cancer if you drink excessive amounts of alcohol, become infected with Human Papiloma Virus, go overboard with sun exposure or smoke tobacco.

It appears that what type of cancer we’re talking about matters a lot when determining the role diet plays in your risk level.

 That said, the role that diet plays in your general cancer risk is not as accurate as the film would have you believe.

Myth #2 Debunked: Eating Meat Raises Your Risk of Getting Cancer (77:51)

They also bring up how in 2015 the World Health Organization classified processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen and unprocessed red meat as a group 2 carcinogen.

Sounds scary, right?

Group 1 carcinogens contain nasty chemicals like asbestos and formaldehyde. But group 1 also includes things like ethyl alcohol aka the stuff you drink in beer, wine and scotch.

Here’s what we know so far:

In the same year that the World Health Organization added meat to the list of carcinogens, an analysis published in journal PLoS One looked at the incidence of colorectal cancer and meat consumption. They also distinguished between processed meat and unprocessed meat.

The researchers found that processed meat was linked with an increase in colorectal cancer. But they also stated that there was little evidence linking higher intakes of unprocessed meat with colorectal cancer.

In the film, they also bring up heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These substances are chemicals formed when meat—including beef, pork, fish, or poultry—is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying, broiling or grilling directly over an open flame.

While animal studies have shown that exposure to HCAs and PAHs causes certain types of cancers in rodents, it’s still unclear how much they increase risk in humans. It’s also important to note that the rodents in the studies were fed high doses of HCAs and PAHs—the equivalent to thousands of times the amount that a human would eat in a normal diet.

Acrylamide wasn’t mentioned in the film but I’ll bring it up now. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you may have heard of the HCAs and PAHs before but you’ve never heard of acrylamide. Acrylamide is a natural chemical that is formed when you heat certain foods like root vegetables and grains. In other words, the foods that What The Health is telling you to eat to avoid getting cancer.

Some potato chips, cakes, cookies, cereals, and coffee also have high levels of acrylamide due to the level of heat that was used in their preparation. Like HCAs and PAHs, acrylamide has shown to cause cancer in animal models and is listed as a probable carcinogen for humans.

Maybe the guys who made What The Health weren’t aware of acrylamide or maybe they conveniently left it out of the film because it didn’t go with their message.

What is important is that cooking using high temperatures that cause a browning or charring of your food produces chemicals that may increase your risk for getting cancer. (Notice I said “may” and not “definitely.”) Processed meat seems to increase your risk as well. However, the evidence linking unprocessed meat to colorectal cancer (and other types of cancer) isn’t quite clear and the evidence seems weak.

It’s also important to note that for all the epidemiological studies linking red meat to cancer, they don’t show a direct cause-and-effect relationship. They show correlation.

There’s a big difference between the two. And many of the studies rely on food frequency questionnaires to gather data. They also don’t adjust for the healthy user bias and group hot dogs into the same category as grass-fed beef.

And the quality of meat does seem make a difference. Research spanning three decades has shown that grass-fed beef has a better fatty acid profile and higher levels of antioxidants than conventionally farmed meat.

And then there are randomized controlled trials and looking at how the meat we eat affects specific biomarkers for disease. While epidemiological studies look for correlation, randomized trials test a specific thing (like red meat) to see what the effects are.

In one randomized controlled study published in 2007 in the Journal of Nutrition, sixty participants were recruited for 8-weeks to determine the oxidative and inflammatory effects of increased lean meat consumption.

They were randomized to replace some of their carbs with 200 grams of lean, unprocessed meat per day or to maintain their usual diet (for the control group). Markers of oxidative stress and inflammation were measured at baseline and at the end of intervention. At the end of the study, there was no increase in inflammation or oxidative stress.

Conclusion: As you can see, the situation is more complicated than saying red meat = cancer. The link between meat and cancer comes with caveats.

If you’d like to hear an expert dive into the nuances of the research and why you can’t trust what the media is telling you about your diet, I highly recommend that you listen to my episode with Kamal Patel from Examine.com—a website that does independent analyses on supplements and nutrition.

Related Post: Why You Can’t Trust What The Media’s Telling You About Your Diet With Kamal Patel

Myth #3 Debunked: Drinking milk causes cancer.

What The Health makes it seem like dairy is a poison causing cancer and destroying our bones. To say that’s an exaggeration is an understatement.

Of course, we’ve also been heavily marketed to by the dairy industry telling us that milk and other dairy products are some of the healthiest foods a person can eat.

 They’ve even used Marvel super heroes like Wolverine to seduce us into drinking more milk.

“Drink your milk, bub.”

The truth, like in many cases, is in the middle.

Here’s what we know so far:

First, let’s talk about what in milk is supposedly causing the increase in cancer risk. A few were mentioned in the film:

  • Growth hormones
  • Estrogen
  • IGF-1

Let’s tackle one by one before we jump into the research linking cancer with dairy consumption.

Growth Hormones

Unless you’re buying dairy that is specifically labeled otherwise, most of the dairy products you buy is from cows given hormones to increase their rate of growth and the amount of milk they produce.

Theses hormones go by names like recombinant bovine growth hormone (rGBH) and bovine somatotropin (bST).

Although these hormones do find their way into your milk and other dairy products, it’s only a small amount and the hormones don’t seem to be active when you ingest them orally. Most of it is destroyed in the pasteurization process and during digestion.

It still sounds disgusting but the evidence suggests that it isn’t worth the worry. And you can always support dairy companies that don’t use hormones on their cows.

Estrogen

Estrogen is typically considered a “female” hormone although it’s found in smaller quantities in men as well. There are a few forms of estrogen—estradiol, estriol and estrone.

Since estrogens are naturally found in dairy products in small amounts, there’s a fear that these hormones may increase the growth of estrogen-sensitive cancers.

However, most of the estrogens are broken down during digestion and you’d have to drink a lot of milk to have any effect on your endogenous estrogen levels.

IGF-1

IGF-1 stands for insulin-like growth factor 1. IGF-1 encourages cell growth and regeneration—which is great when you’re growing but not good at all if you have cancer.

Since milk has some naturally occurring IGF-1 and also increases your body’s natural production of IGF-1, many people are concerned that this may lead to an increased risk of developing cancer or aggressive growth rates of cancer.

However, scientists aren’t sure if IGF-1 actually causes cancer or is a consequence of having cancer. It’s also important to point out that its’ not the naturally occurring IGF-1 in milk that is responsible for the increase in IGF-1 levels—it’s the protein.

In fact, IGF-1 levels are positively correlated with your protein intake. In other words, the more protein you eat, the higher levels of IGF-1 you have. And this effect happens for all sources of protein, including plant-based protein. I even found a study that showed that a soy protein supplement increased IGF-1 levels higher than what we’ve seen with milk.

So protein—regardless of whether it’s animal or plant-based—increases IGF-1. And the link between IGF-1 and cancer risk doesn’t have a lot of strong evidence to support it at the moment.

Conclusion: As you can see, the “eating dairy = cancer” claim is not as clear as it seems. In other words, milk’s link to cancer is weak.

And while some research shows that people who eat more dairy products have higher risks of certain types of cancers, other research shows that people who eat dairy regularly have the same or lower risk of developing cancer compared to those who eat less dairy.

As you can see, we’re not close to being able to say whether eating dairy causes or prevents cancer. It seems specific to the cancer and depends on the type of dairy you’re eating.

Even then, other risk factors—like obesity and inactivity—seem like a much better focus than figuring out how much dairy you should or should not have.

On that point, here’s a study linking dairy consumption to a reduced risk of weight gain, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Again, this doesn’t mean that milk and yogurt are the superfoods that the dairy industry has made them out to be. But dairy products aren’t the villains that What The Health portrays them to be either.

Myth #4 Debunked: Eating eggs is as bad as smoking cigarettes.

Yep, the egg is under fire again. In fact, What The Health makes the claim that eating an egg a day is as bad as smoking five cigarettes.

You gotta wonder how they even came up with this type of specific comparison.

Apparently they’re referring to the idea that arteries develop plaque build up from the high cholesterol levels in eggs.

Here’s what we know so far:

This claim is based on a misunderstanding of link between dietary cholesterol and cholesterol levels in your blood.

Your liver makes two-thirds of your circulating cholesterol. And although saturated fat intake is strongly associated with an increase in LDL cholesterol (aka “bad cholesterol), 50 years of cholesterol studies show that dietary cholesterol only has a small effect on blood cholesterol levels.

And a randomized controlled study published in The International Journal of Cardiology found that eating two eggs daily for six weeks had no effect on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and artery function.

Conclusion: Even if the claims were true that eggs were the cholesterol bombs that clog arteries, equating egg eating to smoking tobacco is just not accurate.

Two out of three smokers will die as a direct result of their habit. And smoking tobacco is a leading cause of heart disease and cancer in practically every country in the world.

The link between eggs and disease is nowhere near as clear or strong.

According to a 2013 meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal eating an egg a day is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease or stroke at all.

 That’s right. Zero increased risk. So much for the one egg = five cigarettes comparison.

Myth #5 Debunked: Fat Causes Diabetes, Not Sugar

After hearing for years that sugar is the cause of diabetes, I know most people thought they just entered the Twilight Zone when they heard diabetes expert and researcher Dr. Neal Barnard say:

“Diabetes is not and never was caused by a high-carbohydrate diet; and it’s not caused by eating sugar. The cause of diabetes is a diet that builds up the fat into the blood. I’m talking about a typical meat-based, animal-based diet.”

via GIPHY

Then he goes onto say:

“You can look into the muscle cells of the human body and you find that they’re building up tiny particles of fat that is causing insulin-resistance. What that means is, the sugar that is naturally found in the foods that you’re eating can’t get into the cells where it belongs. It builds up in the blood and that’s diabetes.”

Here’s the thing. Although you may not have ever heard the connection between fat and diabetes, there’s a lot of truth in the above statement.

However, it’s not the whole story. Let me shed some light on the role of sugar and fat in diabetes.

Here’s what we know so far:

 

The Fat and Diabetes Connection

In a study performed in the 1927, scientists observed an unusual connection between what people at and insulin resistance. The researchers took healthy young men and split them into two groups. One group was put on a high-carbohydrate diet and the other group ate a high-fat diet.

Within just two days, the high-fat group developed blood sugar levels that were two times higher than the high-carb group. The test results showed that the more fat a person ate in their diet, the higher the blood sugar levels would be.

Decades later, scientists—with the help of MRI machines—would discover that fat circulating in the bloodstream can build up in our muscles.

And this build up of tiny fat particles (called intramyocellular lipids) can block sugar from getting into our muscles leading high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

And this effect can happen in within three hours of having a high-fat meal.

If this is your first time hearing about this, you’re not alone. This is something I learned recently when I interviewed endocrinologist and obesity medicine expert Dr. Karl Nadolsky.

Related Post: Facts and Myths You Should Know About Hormones, Fat Loss and Your Health with Dr. Karl Nadolsky

 

What They Left Out (AKA The Rest Of The Story)

After reading all about fat and its role in diabetes, you may think What The Health was right about their “sugar doesn’t cause diabetes” claim.

What you were lead to believe was that eating more fat—specifically from an animal-based diet—causes diabetes. Fortunately, the basic causes are well understood.

In my interview with neurobiologist and obesity researcher Stephan Guyenet, he said that excess body fat is the main cause of insulin resistance and diabetes.

And there’s strong evidence to back that statement up. One example is the Health Professionals Follow-up study that analyzed data from nearly 52,000 men.

 The analysis found that body mass index (BMI) was the dominant risk factor for developing diabetes. Stephan put together this graphic to show the powerful connection between BMI and risk of developing diabetes.

Source: Stephan Guyenet

The graph shows that a person with a BMI over 35 is 42 times more likely to develop diabetes than someone with a BMI of 23 or less.

People who were on the cusp of obesity (BMI of 30) are over 6 times more likely to develop diabetes. Of course, genes, stress, inflammation, sleep quality and activity levels play a role as well.

 

High-Fat Diets and Diabetes

Another thing that What The Health conveniently left out was that low-carb, high-fat diets have been successfully used to improve biomarkers of metabolic health.

In this study published in the journal Diabetes, researchers used a diet that was 50% fat and 20% carbohydrate.  The diabetic participants had an improved fasting glucose, HbA1c, and triglyceride levels after 5 weeks.

I mention this one study but there are numerous studies available that all show the same thing.

It’s important to note that the triglyceride levels are the circulating fats that end up in the muscles messing with insulin resistance. So a diet that was 50% fat reduced the fats circulating in the blood.

How did this happen?

Because how many calories you eat and how many calories your burn drives how much fat you store, not necessarily how much fat you eat.

If you’d like to read more about why you’re not losing fat, read my article that will tell you everything you need to know to start losing fat today.

Conclusion: Thus your level of body fatness is the main (controllable) driver of diabetes risk. Eating meat and fat don’t make you fat. Eating too many calories make you fat. Another myth debunked.

Although the fat you eat is more easily turned into stored body fat than carbohydrates, this only matters if you’re overeating (and under exercising) to begin with. And while sugar isn’t the dietary devil that its been made out to be, ingesting too much of it can make you fat as well.  In short, being fat but not necessarily eating fat may lead to diabetes.

 

What the film gets right: Conflicts Of Interest Nutrition Guidelines And Big Food

One thing What The Health gets right, in my opinion, is pointing out the disturbing financial relationships between the food industry and national public health groups. Of course, this is nothing new.

I remember reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser when it first came out in 2001. It’s a fascinating book on many levels and documents the evolution of fast food and how it coincided with the advent of the automobile.

More relevant to our discussion, Fast Food Nation also explored issues with food safety, questionable relationships between food companies and the government and more.

What The Health shows us that little has changed since then.

Large amounts of antibiotics are still used in the factory farming of animals. This agricultural use of antibiotics is directly linked to the development of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. In fact a research review published in 2012 concluded:

 

“It is now critical that agricultural use of antibiotics be recognized as one of the major contributors to the development of resistant organisms that result in life-threatening human infections and included as part of the strategy to control the mounting public health crisis of antibiotic resistance.”

Even the CDC has created an infographic calling for the responsible use of antibiotics in people and animals.

Source: CDC

It’s great that the CDC has an initiative to deal with this issue.

But if antibiotic use in agriculture is a known contributor to drug-resistant bacteria, why hasn’t the government taken more action to regulate this?

I’m no conspiracy theorist but it’s easy to see the financial impact this would cause to drug companies who sell antibiotics and the factory farms whose methods rely on pumping antibiotics into the feed to maximize their production.

To quote the Wu Tang Clan, “Cash moves everything around me.”

via GIPHY

What The Health also points out how organizations like the American Diabetes Association are sponsored by food companies like Oscar Mayer and Kraft—which sell processed foods that are usually high in fat, sugar and salt.

While this doesn’t sound good and could cause a conflict of interest, I went onto the American Diabetes Association website and looked around.

It was full of basic information and I wasn’t able to find anything that stood out as misleading-the-consumer-to-benefit-big-food-profits propaganda.

Although I didn’t find anything incriminating, Marion Nestle, the former editor of the 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health, has documented the pressure that food companies put on the government and public health organizations to change recommendations to benefit them.

For example, federal dietary advice changed from “decrease meat consumption” in 1977 to “have two or three daily servings” due to pressure from meat producers.

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Why Nutrition Science Is So Confusing

I’m sure you’re shaking your head after reading this and thinking that you don’t know what to believe anymore.

I mean, experts can’t even agree whether eating eggs is good for you or artery-clogging dealers of death.

Believe me, I get it.

From your average person’s point of view, the science of nutrition seems like a hot mess. One study says one thing. Then another study comes out saying the exact opposite.

Here are just a couple of reasons why:

 1) Science isn’t about truth; it’s about reducing uncertainty.

Many people don’t understand and appreciate the scientific method. You don’t do a study on a big question, like meat causing cancer for example, and think you have the answer after the research is concluded.

In 2005, a professor of medicine at Stanford University looked at highly regarded medical research findings. He found that of 34 that had been retested, 41% had been contradicted or were greatly exaggerated.

In my interview with nutrition researcher and educator Alan Aragon, we spoke about how initial research on fish oil supplements was very promising but a later review of fish oil research showed overblown claims.

(On a side note, I highly recommend you check out Alan’s website. I personally subscribe to his research review which one of the best resources for staying on top of the latest research in nutrition, supplementation, and training.)

Science is a process of putting ideas up against each other and fighting it out over a long period of time using the scientific method to determine the winners. And those winning ideas have to be reproducible when held up to scrutiny.

2) Nutrition science is still in its infancy.

If you look up the history of chemistry, its foundation goes back to 1000 BC with the manipulation of metals. Compare that with nutrition.

Hippocrates may have said: “let thy food be thy medicine” in ancient Greece. However, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the link between nutrition and health started to be recognized. Vitamins and the calorie content of foods weren’t discovered until the 1900s.

Nutrition science will eventually mature but for now we’re stuck with taking baby steps.

3) Not all studies are created equal and context is important.

 The type of study tells you how about how strong the evidence is for its conclusion. As you can see from the graphic below, randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews are the top two tiers of evidence. Expert opinion is at the lowest.

Source: Cornell University

Randomized controlled trials are when researchers randomly assign study subjects into two groups. One group will get the treatment and the other group gets a placebo.

If there’s a statistically significant difference in the outcome of the two groups, it’s reasonable to say that the treatment caused the difference.

Systematic reviews are a methodical and thorough review of a group of studies focused on a particular question. They can be done for different types of studies as well.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to run these sorts of studies for nutrition questions. It’s hard to have one group of people eat grilled steak for their entire life and the group eat fruits and vegetables to determine whether red meat causes cancer. (Would you sign up for that study?)

And then you need to conduct several of them to make sure your results are accurate and reproducible.

As a result, we end up relying on observational (i.e. cohort) studies that track big groups of people who are required to check in periodically.

Then we see who develops cancer or heart disease. Although these studies can be very useful—that’s how scientists learned about how damaging prolonged sitting is to our health—they aren’t as precise and can have many confounding variables.

So we’re left with low-quality studies that make correlations between things like dairy and cancer or fish oil and prostate cancer.

However, these links don’t mean causation. In my interview with Kamal Patel, he mentioned how increases in Nicholas Cage movies were correlated with an increase in drowning deaths. I know some of his recent films weren’t that great but c’mon. Nobody is drowning over them.

Add to this mess the fact that the media is constantly misinterpreting or dramatizing research findings, and you get one highly confused and frustrated public.

Conclusion

Watch the documentary if you want, but don’t believe everything they’re claiming.

Or you will start to believe that eating meat is killing you or that milk is giving you cancer.

My advice for you next time you watch a documentary like that is to do your own research or fact check their claims by visiting places like Legendary Life that give you health information based on real science not health claims based on cherry-picked evidence like What The Health does.

That’s why I don’t really have a diet philosophy. Instead, in my Legendary Lean Private Coaching Program I have a personal coaching process to get my clients results. I listen to their needs. What they want to accomplish. How they live. What’s really important to them.

Then I create the right dietary approach—one that’s specific to their goals and lifestyle.

That’s what has being working for my clients for the last 18 years. No, it’s not as straightforward as “avoid meat” or “eat like a caveman”.

But I believe it’s the only sane and rational approach.

It also happens to be the only approach that actually works in the long run.

 

Here are my evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle habit recommendations:

Habit #1: Avoid being overweight or obese

While the link between eating dairy and meat and diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease is controversial, having too much body fat is strongly linked to all three of those diseases and more.

If you’ve been having trouble losing body fat, then check out my latest article on how to lose fat even if you’re exercising and eating healthy.

Related Post: 5 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Fat Even Though You Eat Right And Exercise.

Habit #2: Eat More Fruits And Vegetables

Vegetables and fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. Numerous studies have linked higher fruit and vegetable consumption with lower risk of developing diseases and the vast majority of Americans don’t get the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Here’s a 2014 systematic review (the strongest level of evidence) showing higher consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality, particularly death from cardiovascular disease.

If you need a number to shoot for, I recommend at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Habit #3: Exercise

This one shouldn’t come as any surprise if you read/listen to Legendary Life. Regular exercise has a host of proven benefits. It’s been shown that you can lower your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer without changing your diet at all—just get in more exercise!

I highly recommend that you do a combination of weight lifting and cardiovascular exercise.

Habit #4: Be More Active

Inactivity is a killer. Too many of us—even if we hit our workouts regularly—spend too much time sitting.

Sitting in our car on our way to work. Sitting at our desks for 8 hours. Then sitting on the couch after we get home to relax from all the work we did that day.

Sound familiar?

Our sedentary lifestyles are making us fatter and increasing our risk of developing disease. And being more active can help us burn more calories than we do with our workouts.

It’s been estimated that there can be a 2000 calorie a day difference between people of similar sizes. Read my article about how to burn more fat through ramping up your daily activity in this article.

Related Post: Sitting Is Killing You Even If You Workout Regularly (Here’s What You Should Do About It)

Habit #5:To thyself be true

It is so important to know yourself and recognize what works — and what doesn’t work — for you. I’ve counseled many different types of clients over the years, and the secret is to be true to yourself, to recognize where you are with your nutrition and which realistic changes can you make in your diet.

Some people are spending too much time researching and reading articles, books, and films about the perfect nutrition instead of taking real action and making a difference in their diet.

So, take some time to reflect on what you like and on what works for you. Then, take ACTION and do it!

If you are trying to improve your health and lose weight, check out my video training, where I’ll walk you through the 5 Bad Habits That Almost Everyone Makes When Trying To Lose Weight (And How To Break Them). To get access to this video training, you just need to fill out our 3-Min Survey. 🙂

If you have a friend, colleague or relative who needs help with their nutrition, please share this post with them. In fact, be sure to suggest they to watch my video training on how to break the bad habits that are making you gain weight — it’s SPECTACULAR.

 

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