The Game Changers is causing a stir. The documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Louie Psihoyos and James Cameron investigates plant-based eating, and features the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Lewis Hamilton and Novak Djokovic.
If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s streaming on Netflix now and is essential viewing. Meat and dairy are painted as deadly, with vegan diets the only solution for optimal physical and environmental health. It presents the latest nutrition, health and environmental science in an enticing and motivational way – be it in an all or nothing manner.
So does the film put the final nail in the coffin for the meat and dairy industry?
Even if you are a sceptic about vegan diets and their nutritional quality, The Game Changers cannot be criticised for the scientific credibility of the health benefits of plant-based eating presented.
Some key myths debunked by The Game Changers:
- The label ‘complete protein’ attributed to meat is dated…why do both consumers and many health professionals hold onto this belief? The truth is:
- All plants contain all essential amino acids, be it some at lower levels than meat protein.
- Food combining at mealtimes is not needed. Protein balance is achieved over the course of the day and not dependent on the protein consumed in one sitting.
- As long as individuals meet their energy requirements, a diet based purely on plant foods will achieve protein balance.
- Vegans, like omnivores, exceed their protein requirements.
The Game Changers illustrates this point brilliantly by using elite power and endurance athletes following a vegan diet, whose performance has clearly not been compromised.
- The film demasculinises meat by showing high-profile elite male strength and endurance athletes excelling on a plant-based diet.
- Iron and vitamin B12 deficiency is not a consequence of meat and dairy avoidance but a result of our current poor quality dietary and farming practices.
- Epidemiological studies have consistently demonstrated better health outcomes in individuals following more plant-based diets: heart health, cancer, diabetes, body weight.
- Soya does not feminise men, nor does it reduce testosterone levels. This has been a long-held misconception based on theoretical risk and animal studies using pure isoflavones or exceptionally high loads of soya feed. All human studies using soya foods and drinks have consistently demonstrated no risk to human health and in many cases improved health outcomes.
- And of course, sustainability. The leading scientists from the EAT forum, including Dr Rockstrom, Dr Tim Lang and Prof Walter Willet discuss the overwhelming evidence that animal farming is the leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, water and soil pollution, carbon emissions and the biggest user of fresh water and land.
This is not new scientific thinking. The key facts from The Game Changers have been repeatedly demonstrated by the scientific literature from randomised controlled or epidemiological studies, meta-analyses and systematic reviews. At Nutrilicious, we’ve been championing sustainable plant-based eating amongst health professionals, organisations and brands as a core mission since our foundation.
We’re thrilled to see this reach the mass consumer. The Game Changers have presented the science in such a refreshing, convincing and inspirational way which will have significant influence on consumer perceptions and acceptance of plant-based eating – something the scientific community has been struggling to achieve despite the plethora of scientific research published.each the mass consumer.
What about the criticisms that have ensued since its release?
There will always be criticism when a seemingly radical change to day-to-day food systems is proposed, especially when one of the biggest food industries is the target – meat and dairy. Most of the critics of The Game Changers have unfortunately fallen in the common trap of using dated and poorly designed scientific studies for their counterarguments.
Some have commented that The Game Changers only reports on elite athletes and the benefits of plant-based diets cannot be extrapolated to every-day consumers.
The film’s key aim is to remove the long-held belief that removing meat and dairy from the diet will compromise protein quality and quantity, and be unable to meet other essential nutritional needs. If elite athletes’ performance can excel by switching to a vegan diet for many years, we have proof that the nutritional quality of the diet is not compromised – even in individuals with exceptionally high-quality nutritional demands.
What about other athletic performance factors such as sleep, recovery, training programme etc., not discussed by the documentary?
Firstly, The Game Changers does not set out to claim that if all consumers followed a vegan diet they can become elite athletes. Secondly, the athletes in the documentary have always followed a highly-regimented training programme and have only altered one factor – their diet, with a switch to veganism. This is an excellent group of individuals to demonstrate how changing one factor in their regimented programme does not compromise performance.
However, what The Game Changers does fail to do is bring a practical, balanced approach to how the public can change their dietary habits.
- As Arnold Schwarzenegger comments near the end of the documentary (we too are shocked that we are quoting Arnie!), telling individuals that they have to stop eating meat isn’t going to bring about change. We need to bring the public on board, gradually advising on small realistic achievable goals.
- The film lacks any practical advice on how someone can progress to a more plant-based diet in a balanced and healthy way. Advising consumers to drop key food groups is not the solution. The public needs to be guided on which foods to consume and in the right quantities.
We need to bring to life what the scientific evidence demonstrates to be a healthy ‘plant-based’ diet i.e. more fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, beans, pulses, seeds and nuts. The foods and meals served on the documentary are, in the main, highly-processed plant imitations of meat and dairy, and salads were drenched in high calorie ‘vegan’ dressings. This has to be a big watch out for retailers and food manufacturers developing and launching new plant-based foods.
Additionally, portions sizes are extremely ‘American’ (aka large), which will do little to thwart our obesity epidemic. While that may be fine for elite athletes who burn it off, it’s not so good for the average person.
- It neglects to acknowledge that most national dietary guidelines globally do focus on a more plant-based healthy and environmentally sustainable diet.
- ‘Vegan’ in itself is not the answer – someone consuming processed carbohydrates, fried and highly processed vegan foods, vegan chocolates and biscuits will do little to improve physical or environmental health.
- Finally, The Game Changers doesn’t tackle behaviour change and the importance of changing the food environment consumers live in. As the latest evidence clearly demonstrates, individual responsibility will have little, if any, impact on public health outcomes. A significantly bigger role needs to be played by all food providers.
Would we have done it differently?
In the main, this is an exceptional documentary presenting the latest scientific thinking and debunking the myths associated with plant-based diets in such a consumer inspiring and appealing way.
We need to shift consumers to a more plant-based dietary pattern – though not necessarily vegan, which is neither realistic or practical for the masses. Removing misconceptions and popularising a diet predominantly based on plant foods with just a garnish of meat and dairy is a win-win for both human and environmental health.
Our Nutrilicious tweaks would be:
- Provide more practical, how-to solutions focusing on which foods you can have, rather than which foods to avoid. Step-by-step guide to gradually including more plant foods whilst reducing animal foods.
- Rather than meat and dairy imitations, bring the focus on the versatility of natural plants such as beans, pulses, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and fruit and vegetables.
- Focus more on the food providers and marketeers and the drastic changes they need to make.
- As always in winning comms…lead with the creative ‘inspirational’ yet credible marketing spin!
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