The Netflix documentary What the Health has created quite the stir online and I’ve seen reactions ranging from admiration of its message to dismissal of the content as propaganda. Reading the many reactions taught me that people are very serious about their food and I understand. I view food in the context of the health of me and my family. I’m always seeking healthier standards of living in an increasingly toxic world and I often research health topics and studies looking for new insight. So in this respect, I must say – yes, WTH changed my perspective about eating meat.
Did I Jump on the Bandwagon?
No, I was already headed in that direction. Now, let me provide some perspective on this. As I’ve grown older I’ve started to notice things that never concerned me when I was a young adult. My twenties felt like an immortal zone where young people rarely fell sick and most of my friends’ parents and even grandparents were alive. Fast forward to the present and I’m more cognizant of the headlines stating that people are sicker younger and that life expectancy for the US has decreased.
It made me wonder, what is going on?
I don’t blame food for all ailments. But I am a firm believer in the old saying that you are what you eat. Just prior to viewing WTH I started to become uncomfortable eating meat. I stopped eating beef 15 years ago and never regularly ate pork. My family mostly ate chicken (so, so much chicken), some lamb and fish. I was looking for an optimal diet for us that was high on vegetables and fruits but I wasn’t certain how much meat was necessary in a balanced diet. I wanted to cut back on meat and focus on plants, but I was afraid. Meat was what I knew. It filled me up and it was the centerpiece of my meals.
Still, the more I researched nutrition, the more I became convinced that vegetables and fruits with their high antioxidants are the most valuable to good health. After all, antioxidants combat the free radicals that cause disease. The more, the better. So I knew a focus on vegetables was good.
But was meat really that bad? Years ago I saw Forks Over Knives and I read The China Study and I was impressed by both but it wasn’t until WTH that I was provoked to do my own research on studies such as the one by the WHO which classifies red meat and processed meat as carcinogens.
I was also unaware that one cup of chicken breast contains 119mg of cholesterol. I never paid attention to specific cholesterol or saturated fat amounts in meat (other than shrimp and egg yolks) but now I know that cholesterol and saturated fat often go hand in hand and increase the risk of heart disease. The USDA recommends that the “intake of saturated fats should be limited to less than 10 percent of calories per day.” Red meats such as beef and lamb are already high in saturated fat and that’s before you add in cheese and other fatty foods that may be included in an American meal.
In its 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines the USDA went from recommending up to 300mg cholesterol daily to “as little dietary cholesterol as possible.” It also noted that:
“Strong evidence from mostly prospective cohort studies but also randomized controlled trials has shown that eating patterns that include lower intake of dietary cholesterol are associated with reduced risk of CVD, and moderate evidence indicates that these eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of obesity.”
While their dietary recommendations still recommend meat products, if you have to watch them so closely as to constantly not to exceed cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium counts I would rather just focus on a broad range of healthier options. I love the range that a plant based diet offers and the vast nutritional benefits given across the spectrum of nutritious vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains.
Our Current Diet
So with all that said, what is my family eating now? Well, I have been gluten free and dairy free for over 3 years. Overall we are more plant based than ever and consume far less meat overall and no pork, turkey or red meat.
Our meat consumption is limited to fish and some organic chicken for gut health. Our fish intake is 1-2x weekly and consists of low mercury, wild caught fish such as flounder and haddock. I appreciate the amazing benefits of the Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish, which include lowering the risk of heart disease and increased brain function. These type of fish also have vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and even vitamin D. They are extremely low fat, between 1-4%! And one study revealed that pesco-vegetarians have a 19% lower risk of death than non-vegetarians, which was even a slighter lower risk than other types of vegetarians. Go figure!
While I’m not a doctor and I do not believe in one size fits all approaches, a diet focused on vegetables and fruits provides so many benefits with plenty of options. In fact, I find the variety in vegetarian diets alone fascinating: vegan, raw vegan, plant based, pescatarian, lacto-ovo vegetarians… you get the idea. I appreciate the dialogue that WTH has started and I think as individuals we should educate ourselves about healthier options and make the best decisions for our circumstances.
So considering that I was already heading in that direction, was it the timing in which I saw WTH that contributed to our new diet? Probably, yes. My guess is that when I previously studied the effects of meat on health I just wasn’t ready to try something different. WTH caught me at a different time in life. It gave me that last push I needed to try a diet mostly focused on plants. And for that I’m truly grateful because so far I love it and I haven’t looked back.
Do you see What the Health? What did you think?
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This site’s content is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Readers should consult their own qualified health care professional for medical advice.