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Debunking 'What The Health'? Dear National Post Author, Here's Why You Have It All Wrong

There is an article in the National Post written in an attempt to debunk a documentary called ‘What The Health’. I haven’t seen the documentary, so I can’t defend it. But I'll address the health claims made in this article, by an author whom has likely never studied the subject of plant-based dieting before nor after cherry picking clinical studies and writing this contradictory dribble that sounds like a panicked paid endorsement for the meat industry.

For starters, her first paragraph states “the more scientists have studied what constitutes a healthy diet, the more complicated the answer has become.” But then continues to refer to science for support. Well if the answer has become more complicated and the science keeps changing, then how can you possibly know which scientific claims to rely on and which not to? Some of the most relied on studies have come out of Harvard, including several that conclude that a Plant-Based diet is superior to an omnivorous one. But I’ve done the back n forth game of whipping out published trial report after report, it goes nowhere and there will always be conflicts and inconsistencies in the scientific industry for many reasons. So without the ‘my science is better than yours’ nonsense, I’ll stick to addressing this poorly documented article and the studies she cites.

In another paragraph, she states “Eventually, we all have to choose something to stamp out our hunger. Because of this, we tend to cherry pick data to support our own biased nutritional claims.” ... Um precisely. She then slips in a mention of the health benefits of cheeseburgers... yes cheeseburgers! With all their "conjugated linoleic acid"..“protein and heart-healthy.” Bigging up meat as having some“healthy heart" benefits, yet completely neglecting to mention any negative impact of consuming it and it’s link to many types of diseases, as though the unnecessary benefits of linoleic acid in any way shape or form makes up for all the different cancers and heart disease linked to animal protein. She even mentions protein as if it’s some sort of isolated benefit unique to meat, yet many plants are an excellent protein source, which only confirms a lack of knowledge on her part about protein and plant sources.

She goes on to state in a matter of fact manner that the truth is behind our genetics and “any diet that presents itself as the only answer to the complex problem of human nutrition is a diet woven out of red flags.” Where is this “science” coming from exactly? Let’s dissect this for a moment - Is the human diet unlike any other species? All lions are carnivores, all bunnies are herbivores and all Orangutans are frugivores. Yet we humans are so unique that we require the dietary needs of all species combined? Our digestive tracts are exactly the same as the rest of our species and happens to be identical to that of a frugivore and almost completely opposite of both carnivores and omnivores, yet humans cling to the “I’m an omnivore” theory, “look at my canines.” I looked at your canines and there isn’t a meat eating mammal on this planet that they compare to.

The author then proceeds to mention “multiple studies” without actually naming or citing most of them. Yet we should just take the words of “another one in the journal PLoS..” I’m sorry, which one was that? Doesn’t matter because what they allegedly had to say fit with her narrative, “we should eat according to our genetic makeup, not according to any one stop shop Miracle Diet.” According to whom? And why is it so much easier to accept inconsistent claims that genetic makeup should determine diet, yet our actual physiology, which reflects that of a plant-eater, is not even considered in this article? I wouldn’t know if it was considered in the science she refers to, because she doesn’t state most of the trials she is basing her information on.

Her next paragraph highlights her bias and method of using specifically selected studies, as she goes on to accuse the film makers of seeking “out evidence in support of veganism while ignoring endless scientific literature offering a different perspective.” Nothing at all like what her entire article has done.. (sigh). “From a scientific standpoint, What The Health should be immediately disqualified for holding a pre-existing bias.” Huh? A scientific standpoint? Pre-existing bias or pre-existing knowledge? Again, I haven’t seen the film and can’t defend it, but what constitutes bias in her world, if not this article?

“After using the meaningless and fear-mongering term ‘toxin’ without explaining what it means, an infographic pops up onscreen to illustrate this misinformation.” So here we have someone with absolutely none of the scientific background that she depends on - yet also questions, simply writing an article for the National Post and may or may not be getting a kick back from the meat and dairy industry, (given her cheerleading song and dance for them, I’m guessing she is) going on to tell the general public that toxins are meaningless and nothing more than “misinformation”. Yet again offers absolutely nothing to support this. Not surprising that in all the studies she refers to without citing or listing, she hadn’t come across one that explains the carcinogenic effects that cooked meat causes in all humans.

Carcinogens are toxins. Insulin growth factor-1 found in meat can actually corrupt cells in adults and cause tumour growth. Methionine found in animal products promotes tumour growth. Saturated fats from animal products can also contribute to tumour growth, making them toxic by definition. Definition of toxic: poisonous, dangerous, harmful, injurious, deadly.. But ‘misinformation’ and ‘meaningless’ says the meat apologist author.

One of the few studies the author actually cites, conflicts with her interpretation of the study itself. She states “A 2016 study published in the journal American College of Cardiology confirmed that rates of heart disease increase as countries develop and the accessibility of packaged foods high in refined grains, added sugars, salt and unhealthy fats increase.” Can’t argue with that. Except here’s what she failed to mention, probably because she either didn’t bother to take the time to read the actual study, or she cherry picked the words she wanted to use to support her ‘misinformation’. - The study clearly (clear to those whom read it) states “In more recent analyses, red meats, particularly processed red meats, were associated with increased CVD, CHD, stroke, and cancer mortality..” “Both unprocessed and processed red meats are associated with greater CVD risk compared to poultry, fish, or vegetable protein sources." The abstract of the report even states that “Based on the current evidence, the traditional Mediterranean-type diet, including plant foods/emphasizing plant protein sources, provides a well-tested healthy dietary pattern to reduce CVD.” Yet none of this was pertinent enough for her to mention.

There is no doubt that processed foods are dangerous to overall health. I don’t think anyone has claimed otherwise as far as their link to cardiovascular disease and cancer, but that doesn’t make meat a healthy solution or any less of a health hazard than it already is. Dr. Colin T. Campbell covers this very topic in The China Study. She might want to have a read, as it supports the science behind the link between processed foods and CVD, but alas it also boasts a plant-based diet... but then so does the study she cited.

She goes on to say that weight loss that is achieved by people, “is not limited to the magical ability of veganism alone.” Of course not and no one would claim such a thing. I can be vegan and eat coconut based ice cream everyday and become overweight and nutrient deficient. Vegan should be used in the context of lifestyle, not diet. Plant-based is the healthy diet that will help with weight loss, not simply the ‘magic’ of vegan itself. Of course activity levels play a role too.

More contradictions - “A cohesive vegan diet can help with this just as much as an omnivorous diet that focuses on nutrient-dense whole foods.” So it isn’t the omniovorous part of the diet that she is even claiming is assisting with any health benefits, it’s the whole foods she refers to. Might as well be saying ‘in order to counteract the negative impact of animal products in your diet, be sure to eat more plants'. Oh wait, she is saying that, but I don't think she realizes it, as her article implies that meat doesn't have a negative impact on health.

She states, “Eggs aren’t even classified as carcinogens by the World health Organization,” followed by her claim that saturated fats found in eggs don’t raise cholesterol, yet cited a study earlier in her article, that contradicts that and states that “Eggs are also a source of dietary cholesterol”... and “Overall, consumption of eggs in moderation (one egg/day) is likely neutral for CVD. However, relative to other protein-rich foods that lower LDL cholesterol, such as whole grains and nuts, eggs would likely increase CVD risk.” Yet according to her and in the same paragraph “The myth that the saturated fat found in eggs raises cholesterol, eventually leading to cardiovascular disease, has been debunked by multiple studies, including those published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and The BMJ.” So which is it? Neither confirms for certain any lack of links, only suggested evidence, and lack thereof. BMJ study concludes, “Saturated fats are not associated with all cause mortality, CVD, CHD, ischemic stroke, or type 2 diabetes, but the evidence is heterogeneous with methodological limitations.”

“The World Health Organization classified processed meat as a carcinogen in 2015,” as she states in one of her final paragraphs. So what did they classify it as before 2015? Safe? Non-carcinogenic? What changed? What is defined as processed meat? All meat is processed in some way before it even hits the store shelves. But I’ll assume for all intents and purposes we’re only referring to hot dogs and cold cuts... because convenience.

I just have one last question for this author, if meat is so safe and non-toxic, then why claim it to be “a luxury that many of us can stand to eat less of” if it has no negative impact on human health?

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