dietetics, wellness

Documentaries: Science or BS?

As a soon-to-be Registered Dietitian, I often have people ask me about certain diets or eating patterns that they have thought about trying. Many times the inspiration has come from social media, a friend or coworker, or a celebrity, because clearly if Gwyneth Paltrow juice cleanses, it must be good for you! Surprisingly, many times the information I’m being asked about has come from a documentary. This is why I decided to watch the popular Netflix documentary Game Changers and assess some of the claims they make, so you, my loyal readers, don’t have to. What can I say? I’m a giver.

The whole purpose of Game Changers is for prominent figures like Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, UFC fighter James Wilks, and Ultra marathoner Scott Jurek to share their own health journeys and promote a plant based/vegan diet, specifically for athletes looking to improve performance. Is it bullshit? Is it science? Come on this journey with me and we’ll find out together.

The claim:

Eating a diet high in protein can lead to fatigue and lower stamina

The research: Eating an omnivore (both plants and animals) does not lead to lower energy for performance. The only evidence of lower glycogen (our body’s energy from carbs) has occurred in athletes who follow a ketogenic diet (very low carb).

The takeaway: This claim is basically false! Eating a high protein diet that also includes carbs is sufficient for performance.

The claim:

A peanut butter sandwich has the same amount of protein as 3 ounces of steak

The research: It would take 5-6 tablespoons of peanut butter for this to be true, which is a gigantic amount. For reference, a serving size of peanut butter is 2 tablespoons. Also, the quality and source of the protein matters just as much as the total grams of protein. Animal food has a higher bioavailability (ability for our body to use) than plant sources of protein.

The takeaway: This claim is technically true, but it’s not that simple! Whether you eat plant-based or not, you’re probably getting enough protein. If you want to eat a high protein diet to help build muscle mass, including meat sources will help you reach your goal easier than plant-based sources.

The claim:

Drinking cow’s milk can increase estrogen levels and decrease testosterone levels

The research: The study this claim was based on used pregnant cows, which is not standard for cows to be milked. Additionally, consuming foods with hormones does not directly affect the hormones in the body.

The takeaway: There isn’t enough evidence to support this claim! While our diets can affect our hormonal balance to some extent, other factors such a stress, sleep, and intake of supplements (like performance- enhancing steroids or birth control) play a larger role.

The claim:

Eating heme iron (meat sources) can increase risk of heart disease

The research: High intake of meat iron sources (like red meat) can contribute to fat buildup in arteries and increase “bad cholesterol”.

The takeaway: This claim is true! Eating heme iron sources in moderation (limiting to 2 times/week) can help protect the heart and still ensure sufficient iron intake.

While documentaries are an easily accessible source of “information”, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re mainly meant for entertainment, and to be skeptical while watching them. Given the fact that there was really only one true claim here, you’re better off seeking nutrition advice from a Registered Dietitian (Mackenzie Musch, MS, RDN, LDN coming to you in about 9 months!).

In the meantime, I’ll be taking a break after all of this investigative work.   


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