The Game Changers Review: Plant-Based or Fear-Based?
I can’t believe I actually sat and watched The Game Changers, but it happened! So many of you wanted a Game Changers review, so this is for all of you. You’re welcome.
The Game Changers is a documentary that follows MMA fighter James Wilks through his transition journey to a plant-based diet.
All in all I thought it was the same Netflix nutrition documentary formula that we always see: a biased, heavy-handed fear-based take on the subject with threads of truth woven through it.
During the course of the film, Wilks speaks to different athletes – mostly men, with two exceptions – about how plant-based diets have helped their athletic performance and their health.
There’s an emotional backstory about the Wilks’ dad, who recently had a heart attack and CAN HAVE ANOTHER AT ANY MINUTE!! because of his diet.
There’s a lot of diet and erection-talk – complete with diagrams. Jesus, take the wheel!!
There are portrayals of successful plant-based athletes.
There’s a lot of scary, science-y talk about endotoxins, TMAO, heterocyclic amines, heme iron, NEU5GC, and AGEs.
Probably unlike most people who watched The Game Changers, I wrote down every citation I saw ostensibly ‘backed up’ the movie’s claims. I looked those citations up and compared them to what the movie was trying to prove.
Complete with celebrity cameos from Dr. David Katz, Dean Ornish, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Game Changers is hell-bent on convincing you that meat is slowly killing us and the planet.
But is what the movie says really true?
Let’s take a look where the movie hit, and where it missed:
Myth: A ‘plant-based’ diet means a vegan diet.
The first mistake that The Game Changers makes is to not define ‘plant-based.’ This term means different things to different people – for example, I think a plant-based diet is one that contains primarily plants, but some animal products, too. Others believe it means a diet that contains no animal products at all.
This is confusing, and throughout the film, we don’t know exactly which athletes are eating some, or no, animal products. This detail matters.
Truth: Our culture has pushed the fallacy that meat and animal products make us strong and that vegan diets are low in protein.
Definitely true. The movie showed this very well – with the Hungry Man Dinner commercial that shouted, ‘eat like a man, and be full like a man!’ and lots of talk about and with athletes showing their pre-game steak-eating rituals.
In fact, a vegan diet can contain more than enough protein, even for athletes, and the movie outlined this very well.
Myth: Animal-based meals cloud your plasma with fat.
One of the more memorable moments in the movie is the sequence that shows three NFL players being fed high protein meals, either animal or plant-based – and two hours later, vials of their blood.
The plant-based player’s blood plasma was clear, and the animal-based players’ plasmas were cloudy.
The doctor doing the demonstration concludes that the cloudy plasma indicates that these players’ ‘endothelium isn’t functioning well’, and this can lead to clogged arteries. Sort of a big reach from a 2-hour study of three people, don’t you think?
Physiologically, having fat in our blood after a fatty meal is completely normal: how do you think it gets to our organs?
Also: what else had these athletes been eating? How long did these effects last?
All information that we aren’t given. I saw this a lot in the film: there was no attempt to give a balanced view of anything.
Black and white, no grey.
It was like a full-court press for plants and against meat of any kind in any amount.
By the way, I looked at the citation that the film had up on the screen during this experiment, and it took me to a study on the same subject, done by the Hass Avocado Board.
Remember this when you read the last point in this post.
Myth: Iceberg lettuce has more antioxidants than salmon or eggs.
This sort of oversimplification (and *ahem* cherry picking) of information is popular in The Game Changers. There are a lot of different antioxidants, so does lettuce have more of all of them than fish or eggs? And what else does lettuce have in it that salmon and eggs don’t?
Not a hell of a lot, it turns out. While salmon and eggs contain high-quality protein, vitamins, and yes -antioxidants – lettuce is mostly water.
Comparing it to these proteins is like comparing Wonder Bread to wheat berries and saying that the Wonder Bread is superior because it’s a good source of wheat.
Myth: As humans, our bodies aren’t built for an animal-based diet.
The movie claims that our digestive tracts are longer than those of animals in order for us to be able to break down and absorb plants. But not all animals eat meat…so how do you account for the herbivore animals out there like giraffes (their digestive tract is LOOOOONG), primates, and antelopes among so many others?
The film also says that our teeth are made for crushing plants and our eyesight is made for spotting ripe fruits.
While this may be correct, to hypothesize that this means we’re meant to be herbivores completely ignores what we know to be true: that we weren’t built to be either carnivores or herbivores; we’re built to be OMNIVORES.
It’s not either/or, carnivore or vegan. It should never be either/or.
Polarizing the issue like this just leads to more diet divisiveness.
But I guess that sells movies, right?
Myths: People who get all of their protein from plants reduce their risk of heart disease by 55%.
This study was done on a group of Seventh Day Adventists, and focused on vegetarian diets, not ‘people who get all of their protein from plants.’
Seventh Day Adventists also live an alcohol and cigarette-free lifestyle, and eat a wide variety of whole foods, which is definitely a confounder when compared to the average person. The 55% number is relative, not absolute, risk. The actual risk is much, much, smaller…even if it did apply to you.
People who eat a diet high in animal protein have a 75% increased risk of premature death from all causes.
The study that’s cited to back this up isn’t measuring deaths from animal protein-rich diets. It’s measuring low protein diets and their effects on health. When a study comes to a conclusion that it’s not meant to measure, this isn’t a valid methodology. Fail.
Drinking cows milk can increase a man’s estrogen levels by 26% in one hour, while dropping their testosterone levels by 18%.
The movie banks on the common belief that nothing makes men more paranoid than the thought of messing with their testosterone. Unfortunately for Game Changers, this tiny study was done on 7 men 5 women, and 6 children, and did not show a significant, long-term drop in testosterone.
Consumption of animal foods ‘make our cells rev up and multiply faster’ – animal products are associated with increased risk of cancer.
The study that’s cited didn’t find an overall increased risk of cancer from animal products. Maybe they thought nobody would check it. Hm.
Vegetarians who add one serving of chicken or fish to their diets a week more than triple their risk of colon cancer.
This didn’t even have a citation, so it must have come from someone’s imagination. It sure sounds like it does.
Truth: Some RDs are not representative of the entire profession.
I think The Game Changers did pretty much the worst portrayal of a dietitian that I’ve ever seen. Instead of interviewing any media RD in North America, the filmmakers got an out-of-context clip of the RD from the Cattlemen’s Association giving an interview on a news program. In that interview, she says that there is no causal link between cancer and processed meats, and we should basically eat as much meat as we want.
Okay, most of us RDs would NEVER say something like that, because it’s simply not true.
Again, this was a completely lame attempt to cherrypick information to suit the movie’s agenda.
Myth, sort of: When an animal protein is cooked, preserved, or digested by our gut bacteria, highly inflammatory compounds are formed. Trimethylamine N-oxide, heterocyclic amines, and nitrosamines. These ‘corrode our cardiovascular system’
I love how these sorts of movies use huge words like these to convince viewers that the science is legit.
Animal protein does create a compound called TMAO, which we think is bad, but we don’t know for sure.
Heterocyclic amines – those harmful compounds formed on charred meat – can be eliminated by marinating the meat.
Listen: if you eat a diet that’s full of processed, un-marinated, charred meat, it’s probably not a great thing for your health.
But including some animal products in a diet rich in plants has never been proven to be harmful in any way. That’s my overarching opinion about nutrition and my retort to this movie.
Also: scaring people with big words isn’t okay.
Myth: Big Food and Big Pharma are in cahoots to sell us ‘bad’ food that makes us sick and the drugs to treat those illnesses.
The movie asserts that the food industry intentionally causes confusion about meat on purpose so that we continue to eat it. Also: the meat, dairy, and egg industries fund research to promote their products and basically trick us to consume them.
But wait! How about the Hass Avocado Board studies? Are those okay to believe because avocado is a plant?
This is just classic Big Food/Big Pharma bullshit conspiracy theory.
We aren’t powerless in the face of the meat industry or any food industry.
Make your own decisions about the food you eat and take some responsibility for that.
Just because some people are highly successful on a vegan diet doesn’t mean it’s for everyone or that these people aren’t outliers. Diet isn’t the only predictor of athletic performance or overall health.
The Game Changers will convince a lot of people to eat more plants, which I think is fantastic. But using fear mongering and incorrect information to persuade people of something isn’t right or sustainable.
A plant-based diet is great, but so is a diet that contains some meat. Even the Mediterranean Diet, thought to be one of the healthiest diets on the plant, contains some animal protein.
Do what’s best for YOU, not what some half-baked ‘documentary’ on Netflix scares you into doing.