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Published on August 16, 2017

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A dietitian's review of "What the Health"

If you have not yet viewed "What the Health", let me give you the run-down on the premise: an animal rights activist goes on a self-led journey of research into the effects of animal products (meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, fish, etc.) on health outcomes, and discovers the dire "truth": that a diet that includes these things is the cause of all ill health.

Now, if you've been a Nutrition Bites Weekly subscriber for any length of time, you've hopefully already determined that including all foods can be part of a healthy balanced diet. The problem is that most Americans eat animal products at every meal and in large quantities. Many people could probably improve their health by cutting back. But does this mean that everyone should be eating a vegan diet?

No.

Everyone should be eating a balanced diet. The bulk of research shows that a plant-based diet (one that includes animal foods less frequently and in small amounts) and a vegan diet result in very similar health benefits and outcomes. A vegan diet is not the magic bullet for health. It is just as possible to have an unbalanced or unhealthy vegan diet as it is to have a healthy and balanced meat-containing one. Furthermore, there is no one-size-fits-all diet that will be appropriate for everyone.

A lot of the research quoted in this documentary was compelling, but it was largely misinterpreted and misrepresented. No, eating an egg a day is not as bad as smoking five cigarettes. No, eating processed meat is not as carcinogenic as smoking. No, drinking milk does not alone cause cancer. These are sensationalized interpretations, not hard-and-fast conclusions.

The American Heart Association and the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Diabetes Association are aware of this and they are not trying to hide anything from you. It is their job to make recommendations based on the most up-to-date research, and do so responsibly and accurately. Nutrition research is highly complicated and ever-evolving. The director of the American Diabetes Association knows this; this is why he refused to talk to the narrator about it, not because he was trying to cover up a different agenda.

The bottom line remains the same as it has always been: make sure most of your diet comes from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Animal products should be considered side items rather than main entrees and consumed less frequently and in small amounts. If you do this 80 to 90 percent of the time, you don't need to worry too much about the current headlines or the latest documentary. And if you have questions, consult your registered dietitian and not your Netflix account!

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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