Challenging ‘The Game Changers’
The Game Changers, a nutrition-based science documentary advocating a plant-based diet, has become the best-selling documentary on iTunes and Netflix, within a week of its release. The film has simultaneously gained popularity and become a controversial point of discussion in several scientific debates and podcasts. The documentary follows the journey of James Wilks, a former MMA fighter, on a quest to seek the best dietary advice to recover from his disabling injuries. In his 1000 hours of research, Wilks interviews key opinion leaders in the field of medicine and nutrition as well as top performing athletes with plant-based diets. The documentary debunks the myth that we can only get protein from meat. As it turns out, the amount of protein content in some vegetarian foods such as legumes, peanut butter and even bread is a lot higher than we typically assume. For example, legumes such as lentils (18g in one cup) has the same protein content as three boiled eggs.
As true Skeptifics, we are keen to show our readers the opposing viewpoint to some of the movies’ claims, to encourage critical thinking.
“Meat intake is associated with cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
Skeptics of the film have criticised these studies for using the Standard American Diet (SAD): typically processed meats, such as hot dogs, burgers and meat from fast food chains. We can all agree that these are bad for health and can be a potential cause for disease. A more balanced comparison to make is between healthy, organic meat vs a plant-based diet. In some studies, the intake of grass-fed beef leads to reduced cardiovascular problems. Moreover, a review of all the published evidence regarding meat intake and its associated risks concluded that the studies carried out provide limited or weak evidence to recommend reduced intake of red meat.
“Meat intake increases inflammatory markers.”
The movie highlights a study where a group of eleven people have increased inflammatory markers four hours after the consumption of a single burger. The presence of inflammatory markers suggests inflammation in our body, which is a common denominator of most chronic diseases. However, there are several processes during which inflammation rises temporarily in our body and then resolves itself i.e. immediately after exercise, during wound healing or infection. Inflammation is in some ways a marker of health, it is our defence mechanism, which only becomes a problem when it is prolonged or chronic. It is the long-term presence of inflammation that can lead to all sorts of disease. Indeed, in some studies the intake of meat has resulted in reduced inflammatory markers. In this study, the intake of red meat in a group of 100 women lead to improved muscle size, strength but also reduced inflammatory markers measured after 4 months.
“Meat intake impairs blood flow.”
The erection experiment carried out in the film showed that after the intake of a single plant-based meal, your blood flow is improved. Three participants had their erections measured over two nights. They found that having a plant-based burrito vs. a meat based burrito for dinner, resulted in more frequent and sustained erections overnight. Although the documentary shows clear results, no scientific conclusions can be drawn from this as there are several other variables which have not been taken into account. Sleep quality, stress, physical activity, tobacco use and many other factors also heavily impact the likelihood and magnitude of an erection. These variables are not controlled for in those three individuals. We also question how much you can generalise results obtained from just three people.
Our intention isn’t to criticise Game Changers. One half of the Skeptific team has been a vegetarian for eleven years and the documentary deserves credit for advocating the benefits of plant-based foods and making us think about the consequences of what we put in our bodies. Our purpose is to encourage people to be aware of opposing viewpoints and to make informed decisions, before deciding to adopt a plant-based diet (based on the findings in one film!).
Question, be critical and be skeptical!