Since the documentary "The Game Changers" is on everyone's mind right now, let's take a close look at the content of the film's statements today.
In this article, we want to deal ONLY with the health aspects and NOT with the ethical aspects. After all, the film is mainly about the allegedly very positive effects of a vegan diet on health.
Before we begin, however, let's make it perfectly clear why we're criticizing the film in the first place, because the message to stop eating animal products is absolutely brilliant for ethical reasons:
Many people who see the film will stop eating animal products (or eat less) and thus fewer animals will be kept in inhumane conditions and fewer animals will be killed. Of course these things are good!
BUT it is not good if we, in order to preserve this exemplary message, simply close our eyes to the statements of the film, some of which are actually false. After all, there was some real propaganda going on. It is propaganda with a good purpose, but it is not helpful if we give up on our skepticism because of it.
After all, there will always be propaganda campaigns that do not serve a good purpose. If we get into the habit of not being skeptical, we will also fall for such evil propaganda.
So again, to avoid any misunderstandings: The ethical message of the film is absolutely excellent. If the film had limited itself to these ethical aspects, then there would also be no reason to criticize the film.
Unfortunately, the film made a big deal about the alleged health benefits of a vegan diet, so now we should take a close look at those claims.
In this article, we only criticize the health aspects of the film.
Criticism 1: Anecdotes
Since we will talk about many studies today, the studies are numbered this time. This will make it easier for you to refer to the studies.
The first point of criticism is that the film mainly deals with anecdotes. Anecdotes are certainly nice in that they trigger emotions in the viewer, but of course they don't really substantiate anything.
For example, the film presents the successes of vegan Olympic athletes who credit the vegan diet as being responsible for their standout performances.
What is not shown, of course, is that there are many more successful non-vegan athletes; for that matter, very little is shown about what the athletes who are now vegan ate before their diet change.
However, one athlete, namely heavyweight boxer Bryant Jennings, did come forward and talk about his diet before he switched to a vegan diet. He explains that he mainly ate fast food and didn't even know most of the common vegetables.
If such an athlete starts to eat vegetables and fruit, then it is of course no wonder that they will suddenly feel better, and in many cases also perform better. In the film, eating meat is often equated with eating fast food without any vegetables or fruit.
Except we don't need to argue that a vegan diet without fast food is healthier than a meat-based diet with lots of fast food. That is certainly obvious to everyone. A much better comparison would be to compare a vegan diet without fast food with an omnivorous diet without fast food that does include lots of vegetables and fruits.
Anectodes rarely prove anything!
Speaking of inappropriate comparisons: A quote from vegan strongman Patrik Baboumian in the film is "Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?" An appropriate response would have been, "Have you ever seen a human being that has 4 stomachs and eats over 100 lbs of grass a day and then chews their cud?" Probably not.
Another (paraphrased) quote from the film is "What does a gorilla eat? No meat."
Here, of course, the speakers point to the fact that oxen and gorillas have good muscles, even though they don't eat animal products. However, these are completely misguided comparisons, because oxen and gorillas have, among other things, a COMPLETELY different digestive tract than we humans do. The transferability to us humans is therefore not a given.
Oxen and gorillas cannot be compared with humans!
Criticism 2: Steak before sports
The next point of criticism is that in the film it is assumed that most people - especially athletes(!) - think that you should eat steak just before playing sports in order to perform as well as possible. In the film, for example, professional football players were shown eating a steak buffet just before their game.
This is completely absurd, since it has been quite clear in sports science for several decades that carbohydrates before sports increase performance, not protein alone - especially not a steak that is heavy on the stomach. This is also known to most coaches in professional sports.
So this is an absolute strawman argument. If you don't know what a strawman argument is: You take a straw man, give it to your discussion partner, and then set it on fire.
In a figurative sense, this means that you simply claim that your discussion partner has a specific weak argument (although this is not truly what they are arguing at all) and you then refute this argument. But there is nothing to refute, because you have invented the argument yourself.
It is not true that many people believe that steak gives you energy before sports. This is a strawman argument.
Criticism 3: Vegan Gladiators
Let's move on to the next point of criticism, namely the vegan gladiators. In the film it was mentioned that a study showed that the gladiators did not eat meat and of course still had a lot of power. But the thing is that this alleged "study" was only a simple article - namely article 10.
This may sound like a small thing, but the requirements for a study are much higher than those for an article. In some circumstances, an article may not have to meet any particular requirements at all.
Although a proper study is mentioned later in the film showing that gladiators ate very little meat, the fact that an article is called a study does not, of course, speak well of the scientific investigation done by the filmmakers.
The next question is then: So what? Then the gladiators simply ate little or no meat. What does this knowledge bring us now? Nothing at all! Perhaps they would have performed even better if they had eaten more meat.
By the way, the same article says that the gladiators ate extra carbohydrates, mostly simple carbs, in the form of vegetable products to put on more body fat.
This is because they needed a good layer of fat so that 1) they would be protected from their opponent's attacks and 2) the wounds would look more spectacular (without them dying). At least, that's what the article says. So these gladiators didn't avoid meat to have more power or to be healthier.
Gladiators did not eat a low amount of meat to have more power. They ate mainly simple carbohydrates in the form of vegetable products to build up a protective layer of fat.
Criticism 4: Vegetable vs. animal protein
The next point of criticism is that the film claims that vegetable protein is better for building muscle and strength than animal protein. However, this is simply wrong.
While the film says that many plants have all the necessary amino acids present in different ratios (this is true), what they don't address is that the biological value of a protein source is limited by the amino acid that is least present.
Accordingly, it does us very little good if the protein content of a plant food is high, but the value is limited by an amino acid that is hardly present. In addition, of course, the protein content of most plant-based foods is very low.
So we have two problems: The value is low, and the amount of protein present is also low - at least in most plant-based protein sources.
If we cleverly combine these vegetable protein sources and also eat a lot of them, then we can avoid these two disadvantages (which, by the way, is not a strategy that is discussed in the film). But to claim that vegetable protein is BETTER for building muscle and strength than animal protein is not true at all.
For more information, you might want to take a look at studies 4 through 9. In all of these studies it was shown that animal protein is either equivalent to or even better than - but NEVER worse than - animal protein for building muscle and strength.
By the way, the filmmakers also do a lot of cherry-picking WITHIN studies. They look for a statement in a study that supports their hypothesis, mention only this statement, and then ignore other statements in that study that would fail to support or would even refute their argument.
For example, they do this with Study 12: They cite a passage that says plant and animal proteins are equivalent for muscle and strength building if the amino acid profile is identical between the two.
But then they don't mention that the same study also says that vegetarians on average have a lower creatine phosphate concentration in their muscles, which can negatively affect their performance. They definitely should have cited that fact as well.
Vegetable protein is not better for muscle and strength building than animal protein. It is at best equally effective!
The most amusing thing in the whole movie was probably the peanut butter sandwich example. It was claimed that a peanut butter sandwich contains as much protein as three eggs. They are implying with this that vegans can get a lot of protein very quickly and easily.
But let's do the math: Three eggs contain about 21g of protein. The two slices of bread contain about 4g of protein. Accordingly, 17g of protein must still come through the peanut butter.
This corresponds to about four tablespoons of peanut butter (so 60g). That is ENORMOUS amount of peanut butter for a sandwich, which then also has a good 515 calories. Just for comparison: The three eggs have only 270 calories - and eggs are already quite a fatty protein source!
So if you want to get as much protein from peanut butter sandwiches as you would from animal protein sources, you would have to eat a VERY large number of calories.
Perhaps that's exactly what strongman Patrik Baboumian did. He says in the film that he gained around 55 lbs when he stopped eating meat. He probably tried to meet his protein needs with peanut butter sandwiches.
By the way, it must be said that he also WANTED to gain weight. And of course as a vegan there are much easier ways to get a lot of protein - for example, through vegan protein powder - than through peanut butter sandwiches, despite what the film suggests.
No, a peanut butter sandwich is NOT a good source of protein!
Criticism 5: Carcinogenic meat consumption
The next point of criticism is that the filmmakers claim that meat consumption is carcinogenic, and that it increases inflammation levels and the risk of developing heart disease, among other things. For example, they say that 50g of processed red meat per day increases the risk of developing cancer by 17%.
Of course, that sounds frightening at first. However, it should be noted that this is a relative change.
I.e. it does not mean that the risk of getting cancer jumps to 17% if you eat 50g of red meat per day. It just means that the risk jumps from, say, 1% without meat consumption by 17% to 1.17% with meat consumption. This is, of course, much less frightening.
Even this supposed small increase in risk is questionable, by the way. Study 1 is the most detailed literature review we have on the health effects of eating red meat. It includes 5 smaller literature reviews and the conclusion is that red meat consumption does not appear to have significant negative health effects.
Shortly after the publication of Study 1, another literature review was published (Study 2). The result of this study is that the better the study design of a study on the topic, the lower the probability of a negative effect of the consumption of red meat on health.
The idea that meat consumption is carcinogenic and increases inflammation levels and the risk of developing heart disease, among other things, has not been scientifically proven.
Criticism 6: Correlation and causation
Let us come to another point of criticism: the film often considers correlations which do not necessarily imply causation. For example, the blood of American firefighters was examined. Afterwards, the results were reported to them: In most cases, these were very poor blood values.
Then the firefighters were told how unhealthy a diet with animal foods would be. As a result, the firefighters switched to a vegan diet and after a certain time their blood values suddenly improved enormously.
So this is supposedly proof that a vegan diet is healthier!
The thing is, however, that before their change to a vegan diet these firefighters had mainly eaten fast food. We have already discussed in detail why the comparison between a diet with animal products, mainly fast food, and a vegan diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is a misguided one.
Also, your blood levels will improve not only if you change your diet, but also if you manage your stress better, sleep more, exercise more, lose weight, etc. These are all factors that were not controlled for in this firefighter example.
It could very well be that the firefighters were so shocked by their poor blood values that they also paid attention to these other factors and led a generally healthier life. Perhaps they would have had just as much improvement in their blood values without the omission of animal products.
The film often makes the statement that a vegan diet is the healthiest option. However, for the same reasons that we have just gone over, this cannot be said to be the case. On average, vegans or vegetarians have a lower body fat level, and they eat more fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins than meat eaters.
This is shown in study 3, so it may be that vegans are healthier simply because of this and not because they give up meat. Someone who eats meat can also eat a lot of fruits and vegetables; eating meat does not in any way make this impossible.
Correlation does not imply causation!
Criticism 7: Conclusions are not meaningful
The next point of criticism is that in the film, conclusions are often derived from experiments that are not at all meaningful.
For example, based on a study done on three athletes, it was observed that when they ate a meat-based burrito, they had worse blood results and fewer erections at night than when they ate a plant-based burrito.
However, such experiments are absolutely not meaningful, because, just for example, the researchers did not observe what the subjects had eaten otherwise, nor how much and how well they had slept, nor whether they had drunk alcohol or smoked, and so on. In addition, there were only three athletes - so a super small sample size.
Also, this was not a double-blind experiment. Both the doctor who conducted the experiment and the athletes knew whether they were getting an animal or a plant-based burrito.
This is important because double-blind experiments are typically used to eliminate the placebo effect. Doing this probably wouldn't have changed anything about the blood results, but it could have changed the results pertaining to the number of erections experienced by the subjects.
The experiments performed in the film are absolutely non-scientific and, accordingly, have no explanatory power.
There are also some other points worth criticizing in the film which we won't go over in quite so much detail now, since if we did that we'd be stuck here for days.
The film claims that it is quite easy to go vegan and still get "enough protein," in the film's words. This may be true for people in the general population who never exercise and have hardly any muscles, who can probably manage with only 50g of protein a day. That is what is called "enough protein" in the film.
However, this is definitely not enough protein for most athletes. They need more so that the damage to their muscles from training can be repaired. Of course, as a vegan, you can still make an effort to eat more protein. But this is not as simple as the film shows it to be, and most vegan athletes rely on vegan protein powder, which was not mentioned in the film at all.
In the film it is assumed that 50g protein per day is "enough." However, this is DEFINITELY not true for athletes!
One positive point about the film was that the filmmakers recommended that vegans supplement vitamin B12. That is really important. However, it could also have been mentioned here that many vegans will often have an iron or calcium deficit, for example, and should think about supplementation or an even more targeted food selection.
Good point: The recommendation for vitamin B12 supplementation
Also, they talk about a "plant based diet" quite often in the movie. This is super confusing, because you never know exactly what they mean: Is someone who eats, say, one Big Mac but also an entire 4 lbs of vegetables a day "plant based" or not? There is a lack of clear delineation here.
What does a "plant based diet" even mean???
The film also mentions that a vegan diet is healthier than a diet with animal products because it contains more antioxidants. Yes... logically, if you eat more vegetables and fruits through a vegan diet, then you will get more antioxidants as a result.
But again, this is only relevant when comparing a vegan diet with lots of fruits and vegetables to a diet based on lots of fast food with animal products but without lots of fruits and vegetables.
Vegans get more antioxidants because they eat more fruits and vegetables on average, NOT because they avoid animal products!
One last thing that was mentioned in the movie is that humans are supposedly not made to eat meat because plants contain vitamin C and our bodies can't make vitamin C on their own.
Why should that be a reason for us to eat ONLY plants? We can eat meat AND plants. The idea that we have to choose a diet strictly based around only one or the other is simply a false dichotomy. There is not only black or white, but also a gray in between.
False dichotomy: we do not have to choose between a diet of only plants or only animal products!
Surely there are some other things we could criticize, but these were the most essential points.
The film relies mainly on anecdotes, and it includes inappropriate comparisons, strawman arguments, the twisting of facts, cherry picking both in the selection of athletes/studies and even in the specific paragraphs used from particular studies, inconclusive experiments, statistical facts presented in an over-dramatized manner, and suggestions that correlation also means causation.
If the film had limited itself to the ethical arguments for a vegan diet, then there would certainly be nothing to criticize, but the focus of the film is quite clearly on the allegedly scientifically proven health benefits of a vegan diet.
Consequently, the filmmakers now have to accept criticism if these health benefits have not been scientifically proven.
So: If you can not ethically support the ways in which animals are raised and killed, then eliminate or reduce the animal products in your diet. However, the idea that a vegan diet is healthier than a diet with animal products AND lots of vegetables and fruits is absolutely untenable from a scientific perspective.
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