A Netﬂix documentary on veganism has caused quite the stir. Here one expert reveals the truth
As a nutritionist I was excited to watch the new Netflix documentary The Game Changers, which sets out to prove that a plant-based diet is better for your health. But as the film progressed, I became more and more disappointed with the lack of responsible nutritional information and the disingenuous way in which experiments and studies were presented.
Anyone who comes to a consultation with me will tell you that I am obsessed with getting more variety into our diets, and yes, I will almost always ask people to cut down on their meat consumption and to add in more vegetarian protein options such as beans, pulses, nuts and seeds. These are great for adding fibre, nutrients and supporting the microbiome.
I also often ask people to eliminate dairy and wheat to see if it helps with any number of symptoms. But to encourage people to go fully plant-based (it sounds more appealing than vegan, doesn’t it?) without reference to possible deficiencies is irresponsible at best, and dangerous at worst.
As far as the environmental and animal welfare arguments go, I get it. And I’m with you. But I also know that going vegan from a nutritional point of view demands hard work and effort to get it right.
The documentary features mainly elite athletes. As others have already mentioned, I can guarantee you that these athletes will have a team of nutritionists, physios and other experts behind them who will be monitoring their nutrient levels and making sure they are supplementing any deficiencies.
Because the truth is, it is virtually impossible to eat a vegan diet without having to lean on supplementation. To say that plant protein has the same nutritional value as animal protein in terms of complete amino acid profile is false.
You can make sure you obtain all the amino acids by combining different plant sources, but if you tend to eat the same things all the time (which a lot of people do) that becomes hard.
Vegans need to make sure that they vary their protein sources and include a good range of beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and some soya.
The most irresponsible part of this documentary, and usually the biggest gap in knowledge for vegans, is the lack of information on possible micro-nutrient deficiencies.
Yes, they will tell you about vitamin B12, iron and possibly the essential fatty acids, but they rarely tell you about vitamin A, B5, zinc, choline and many others, which can affect bone health, energy levels and much more. Most people don’t realise that there are several nutrients in plants that need to be converted to animal form before we can utilise them.
You may have the perfect genetic set-up that allows you to easily convert every plant nutrient into a form that you can use, but the chances are, you don’t. And the only way you are going to find out is when your health suffers.
Yes, in general we need to cut down on how much animal protein we eat, and many people will benefit from exploring their sensitivities to dairy. Anyone suffering from cardiovascular or inflammatory issues might especially benefit from a switch to a plant-heavy diet. But please don’t go vegan altogether without consulting a qualified nutritionist, and being fully conscious of the possible consequences and nutritional impacts.
Sarah Carolides is a qualified nutritionist working Beyond Medispa and others.