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The Game Changers is a popular 2018 documentary that claims plant-based eating promotes strength development in elite athletes. Georgia Ede, MD, is passionate about helping her patients optimize health through dietary choices, but after analyzing the science behind The Game Changers, she found the evidence contradicted many of its claims. In this talk from Dec. 15, 2019, Ede describes what the scientific literature reveals about seven half-truths the film uses to promote plant-based nutrition and why she is “convinced by the science that animal foods belong in the optimal human diet.”
“There are many many half-truths in the film to wrestle with,” Ede explains. “I just chose seven.” She describes those seven as follows:
- The need of vegans and vegetarians to supplement vitamin B12 is not an indication that their diets are lacking, because even animals and omnivores need B12 supplements. “The whole truth,” Ede says, “is that supplements of B12 are only necessary under unnatural conditions, by which I mean human beings who are not eating animal foods or animals which are not eating their proper diet or are not raised on pasture, if that’s where they belong.”
- There is no good nutritional reason to eat animal foods. “The whole truth,” Ede explains, “is that it’s about so much more than B12 … . There are many nutrients that are much more difficult for us to obtain from [plant-based] foods,” because whereas animal foods have complete proteins, plants lack essential amino acids. Part of the film’s argument in favor of plant-based eating relies on suggesting animal foods are detrimental to human health. Following the EATLancet report, for instance, the film suggests animal foods promote cancer growth and heme iron in animal foods contributes to heart disease. Ede delves into the scientific research the film uses to support these claims and finds the papers have either been misconstrued or are based on epidemiological studies — i.e., “questionnaire-based wild guesses.” “Epidemiology is not biology,” Ede argues. “Epidemiology is mythology.”
- Plants have more antioxidants and therefore reduce inflammation. Ede notes it is true that plants have antioxidants, but so do humans, she explains, and humans have no nutritional requirement for plant antioxidants. Regarding the purported health benefits of taking antioxidant supplements: “You can take them if you want to,” Ede says, “but good luck making use of them, because they really don’t function in the human body … it’s been shown in paper after paper after paper that their bioavailability is extremely low. We either don’t absorb them at all, or what we do absorb, we rapidly transform into something else.” She adds: “There are many many people making a lot of money off of this antioxidant myth.”
- Plant-based diets reverse heart disease. Ede explains the studies supporting this half-truth have multiple confounding factors, so we have no way of knowing what part of the intervention — dietary, medication-based, or otherwise — led to the touted improvements.
- The brain is desperate for glucose. Ede explains, “There is no dietary requirement for carbohydrate in the human diet, because we can make all of our own glucose, smoothly and naturally, 24-7, without any drama, without any peaks and valleys, through this process called gluconeogenesis, which simply means ‘making glucose from scratch.’” She clarifies: “So yes, the brain needs glucose, but you don’t need to eat carbohydrates to get glucose.”
- Athletes are even stronger and even healthier on a plant-based diet. Ede concedes that it may be possible for an athlete to grow stronger while consuming plant-based foods, but she argues the film leaves important aspects of health out of the equation — aspects such as reproductive health, mental health, and metabolic health. “If you don’t know where you stand on the insulin-resistance spectrum, you don’t know whether or not you’re actually healthy,” she argues.
- The healthiest diet is a plant-based diet. Ede claims the film’s definition of “plant-based” is ambiguous to the point of being unuseful. It is unclear whether the subjects in the film are vegetarian, vegan, or just eating predominantly plant-based foods alongside animal products and/or processed foods.
“So the whole truth … about vegan and vegetarian diets is that I’m not aware of any studies demonstrating that simply removing animal foods from the diet makes any human being healthier in any way,” Ede concludes.
“I think the real game changer is not … how many plant or animal foods you need but whether or not you’re eating foods that are not whole foods,” she argues. “Regardless of the kind of diet you eat, whole foods [are] best every single time.”
To read a complete transcript of the presentation, click here.