Muscle for life

Is What the Health Right? The Definitive Evidence-Based Review

Is What the Health Right? The Definitive Evidence-Based Review

If you want to know whether the alarming claims in What the Health are true or false, and what you should do about it, then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. Meat, dairy, and eggs don’t ravage your body and increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, and other nasty diseases and dysfunctions.
  2. If you want to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible, you want to eat more plant foods, not less.
  3. Veganism isn’t necessary to get and stay healthy, and what you eat isn’t the only thing that determines your long-term health.

The new documentary What the Health is causing quite the stir these days.

According to some people, it’s the nail in the coffin for omnivorous eating, conclusively proving that animal products have disastrous effects on your health and the environment.

Others scoff at such claims, dismissing the movie as vegan propaganda meant to shock and scare people into changing their ways.

Every day I hear from at least a few people who are surprised, concerned, or skeptical about what’s presented in the film and want my take, and so this is an article I’ve owed you for a little while now.

Well, here’s the long story short:

What the Health makes some very good points, and all-in-all, will probably help many people make healthier eating choices. Unfortunately, it’s also riddled with factual errors, misrepresentations and oversimplifications, and outright fabrications.

I’m going to break it all down in this article and directly address a number of questions that you probably have after watching the film, including…

  • Does eating animal products really increase your risk of heart disease and cancer?
  • Is a 100% plant-based diet the best (or only) way to maximize long-term health and vitality?
  • Are the people that disagree simply justifying their own poor eating habits?
  • Do rent-seeking food conglomerates reign over public health institutions?
  • And more…

By the end of this article, you’re going to know what What the Health got right, what it got wrong, and what science actually says about eating animal products.

Would you rather listen to this article? Click the play button below!

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The 7 Things That What the Health Got Wrong

Over 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, nearly 50% of adults suffer from at least one chronic health condition, and close to 25% suffer from two or more.

Long-term, these diseases account for seven out of ten deaths in the United States, and obesity and weight-related diseases are responsible for 5 to 10% of all healthcare spending (around $114 billion per year).

These numbers paint a rather horrifying picture, and while diet isn’t the only contributing factor, research indicates it’s the main one. Specifically, we eat too many sugary, fatty, and processed foods, and too few fruits, vegetables, and home-cooked meals, and we’re paying the price for it.

Given that, if What the Health does nothing more than encourage people to “clean up” their diets a bit, it’s doing a public service.

The problem, though, is in the methods used to accomplish this, which mostly consist of scare tactics and sensationalism, e.g. the claims that eating meat and dairy is akin to smoking, that the meat industry is an environmental catastrophe on par with the Deepwater Horizon spill, and that the only way to save yourself and the environment is swearing off animal products forever.

You could argue that the end justifies the means, but we don’t have to debate the ethics because the lying and misdirection simply aren’t necessary. As you’ll see, a powerful case can be made for eating a plant-centric diet without it.

Let’s start making that case by unpacking the 7 biggest things the documentary got wrong.

“There’s No Such Thing as a Protein Deficiency.”

Low-protein dieting and veganism usually go hand-in-hand because while it’s certainly possible to eat plenty of protein on a vegan diet, it requires a fair amount of attention to detail in your meal planning.

This is one of the main concerns that many of us fitness folk have when considering a vegan diet: will we be able to eat enough protein to stay healthy and improve our body composition?

According to What the Health, such worries are unfounded because “protein deficiency” isn’t even a real thing. And that’s just plain wrong.

First, a multitude of studies have shown that the minimum protein intake for basic health needs is around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.

If you eat less than that for too long, you’ll likely experience various negative side effects such as dermatitis, hair loss, and tooth decay. Eventually, a protein deficiency can lead to the development of one of a number of debilitating diseases, including kwashiorkor and marasmus.

Now, the good news is that it’s quite hard to develop a serious protein deficiency unless you’re severely malnourished in general. If you eat enough calories every day and are at least halfway sensible in your food choices, it’s almost impossible to eat less than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Second, if we move beyond basic health needs and consider how protein intake affects muscle gain and fat loss, daily requirements rise dramatically.

Specifically, extensive research has demonstrated that for the purposes of gaining muscle and losing fat as quickly as possible, you want to eat around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day (or 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day).

This can be done on a plant-based diet, but as I mentioned earlier, it requires careful meal planning, which most people don’t want to do. (This is why protein intake tends to be quite low among vegan and vegetarians.)

The Bottom Line

Medically speaking, protein deficiency is very real, and most vegans and vegetarians eat enough protein to avoid it, but not to maximize muscle gain and fat loss.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

“All Meat Is Bad for You.”

what the health movie fact check

A primary motif of the film is that meat is toxic to the body and should be eliminated from your diet, regardless of how it’s sourced or prepared.

The evidence offered in support of this radical position consists of a few studies that found that people who eat the most meat also have the highest risk of cancer, heart disease, and death from all causes.

Research like that makes for splashy headlines but doesn’t prove that meat is a menace because it’s observational research, which can suggest correlation but not establish causation.

In other words, such studies can highlight a potential relationship between meat consumption and poor health outcomes, but until further experimental research is done to confirm or deny the hypothesis, it remains just that–a theory.

Furthermore, the research in question has serious deficiencies, not the least of which being the many confounding factors that scientists can’t fully control for, including smoking, BMI, drinking, and inactivity.

For example, here’s an excerpt from one of the studies:

“Men and women with higher intake of red meat were less likely to be physically active, and more likely to be current smokers, drink alcohol and have higher BMI. In addition, a higher red meat intake was associated with a higher intake of total energy, but lower intakes of whole grain, fruit and vegetables.”

The people who ate the most red meat also tended to neglect their health on the whole, so you’d expect them to experience more disease and live shorter lives. Was meat to blame for this, though? At least partially? How can you say without further illumination?

Now, a more legitimate bone to pick is eating highly processed meat products like hot dogs, hams, bacon, pre-packaged deli cuts, and other meats that are pink, cured, and preserved with sodium nitrate.

There’s good evidence that two substances in particular in these foods—nitrates and heme—may increase the body’s production of carcinogenic compounds known as nitrosamines.

Another caveat worth noting is research shows that in some people, eating meat that’s cooked at very high temperatures, like frying or grilling, or very thoroughly (to the point of being well done), may increase the risk of cancer.

This is due to a genetic polymorphism that undermines the body’s ability to process  several compounds produced by these cooking conditions. I myself have this polymorphism, so while cause and effect hasn’t been conclusively established just yet, I’m playing it safe by generally avoiding grilled and overcooked meat.

Now, speaking of “playing it safe,” you may be aware of everything I’ve discussed thus far and figure that while the correlation between meat consumption and disease is weak at best, it might be prudent to cut it out “just in case.”

To that I say “to each their own.”

That said, you should know that meat can benefit your health in several ways because it’s high in protein, iron, zinc, B-vitamins (including B12), and other beneficial compounds such as carnosine and creatine.

The Bottom Line

Meat doesn’t ravage your body and increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, and other nasty diseases and dysfunctions. That said, eating lots of processed meat or meat cooked at very high temperatures may increase your risk of cancer, but more research is needed.

“Dairy Can Kill You.”

what the health critique

What the Health repeatedly insists that dairy is much to blame for cancer’s meteoric rise here in the West.

The main culprit, they say, is the hormone insulin-like growth factor one, or IGF-1, which is naturally present in milk (in very small amounts), and which your body naturally produces more of when you drink milk.

IGF-1 encourages cell growth and regeneration, and IGF-1 levels are often elevated in people with cancer, so this seems to make sense on the surface.

What “they” didn’t tell you, though, is scientists haven’t yet to establish whether high IGF-1 levels increase the risk of cancer or is simply a byproduct of it.

In other words, are we looking at correlation or causation? The literature hasn’t provided a definitive answer yet.

Moreover, while research has shown that people who eat more dairy may have a slightly higher risk of certain cancers, studies have also found that people who drink more milk have the same or a lower risk of cancer than people who eat less dairy.

IGF-1 levels are also generally correlated with your total protein intake, including plant protein, so the more protein of any kind that you eat, the higher your IGF-1 levels are going to be. Soy protein, for example, elevates IGF-1 more than milk does.

So by the “IGF-1 = cancer” logic, a high-protein diet would be far more dangerous than moderate milk consumption, and we know that there’s no credible evidence that this is the case.

The Bottom Line

There’s absolutely no credible evidence that dairy increases the risk of or causes cancer.

“Eating Eggs Is as Bad for You as Smoking Cigarettes.”

The film claims that eating a single egg is as harmful to the body as smoking five cigarettes.

This has blazed through social media like chain lightning, but it’s fake news.

The turmoil originally kicked off years ago when observational research suggested that there may be a relationship between egg yolk consumption and atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries), similar to what’s seen among regular smokers.

As you now know, such research can never prove causation, so any suggestions to this effect are simply false.

Additionally, more recent, larger studies have refuted these earlier findings, demonstrating that egg eating isn’t associated with heart disease and, to the contrary, may be associated with a lower risk of stroke.

We also know that two out of every three long-term smokers will eventually be killed by it, but nothing of the sort has been observed among regular egg eaters.

The Bottom Line

Eating eggs isn’t as bad as smoking cigarettes, and people who eat more eggs appear to have a lower risk of some diseases.

“All Animal Farming Is Cruel and Bad for the Environment.”

What the Health depicts your typical livestock farmer as a mustache-twirling malefactor who gets his rocks off by abusing animals and the environment.

Well, it’s very true that gruesome abuses occur in concentrated animal feeding operations–a quick search turns up pages of videos that will turn your stomach.

What you’re not told, though, is this isn’t the norm in the meat and dairy industries.

Most of the whistleblower accounts of horrid abuses at factory farms come down to the actions of a small number of errant employees, not company-wide policies and practices.

Scientists have also spent many years and many millions of dollars researching and developing more humane methods of raising and slaughtering livestock. Why go through that much trouble if you’re just going to neglect and torture the animals?

Finally, there are stringent regulations in place to prevent animal cruelty and pollution, which are monitored and enforced.

Now, if you still have scruples over purchasing meat produced by commercial farms, you should know that they aren’t the only game in town.

There is a growing movement of farmers who pride themselves on caring for their animals, raising them on a natural diet of fresh grass, giving them plenty of exercise, and allowing them to enjoy each other’s company.

You can support these businesses instead and not only feel better about your purchases, but help create the change that you want to see.

The Bottom Line

Painting all farmers with the same black brush is unfair. The majority would never engage in the cruel and malicious mistreatment of animals, and some even go out of their way to be humane.

“Dietary Fat Causes Diabetes.”

what the health documentary criticism

Diabetes is wreaking havoc here in America, and according to What the Health, dietary fat is to blame, not sugar.

There’s a kernel of truth here, but not in the way that you’re being told.

Diabetes is a disease caused by the body’s inability to produce or process the hormone insulin, which primarily helps your cells absorb and use the carbohydrates that you eat.

Type-1 diabetes is a genetic condition wherein your immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin, but type-2 diabetes is the more common condition, and it’s a “lifestyle disease” caused by sedentary living, chronic overeating, and high levels of body fat.

This is where dietary fat enters the picture, because it’s high in calories (about 9 calories per gram), easily converted into body fat, and makes foods more palatable, so the more fat you have in your diet, the easier it is to overeat and gain weight.

This is why studies show that obesity is more prevalent among high-fat dieters, and why high-fat dieting can contribute to the onset of diabetes by promoting fat gain.

To suggest that dietary fat causes diabetes, though, is simply false.

In fact, research shows that so long as calories are restricted, high-fat diets are equally effective as low-fat diets for helping diabetics lose weight and thereby improve their health.

That said, not all types of dietary fat are alike. There’s one in particular that we should avoid, and that’s trans fat.

Trans fat occurs naturally in some meat and dairy foods, but is also manufactured industrially by infusing vegetable oil with hydrogen, creating the “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” that you find in many processed foods.

These chemically altered oils are added primarily to increase shelf life, and while I’m not one for dietary absolutism, there’s little argument at this point that artificial trans fats should be eliminated entirely from our diets.

Studies show that relatively small amounts of these fats can increase the risk of a whole host of health problems, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, depression, and more, and there’s also evidence that trans fats may increase the risk of diabetes as well.

To quote a review conducted by scientists from Harvard:

“TFA [trans-fatty acid] consumption causes metabolic dysfunction: it adversely affects circulating lipid levels, triggers systemic inflammation, induces endothelial dysfunction, and, according to some studies, increases visceral adiposity, body weight, and insulin resistance.

“Consistent with these adverse physiological effects, consumption of even small amounts of TFAs (2% of total energy intake) is consistently associated with a markedly increased incidence of coronary heart disease.”

The Bottom Line

Dietary fat doesn’t cause diabetes. Eating too much, moving too little, and being too overweight does. Trans fats, however, are shockingly harmful to your health and should be avoided.

“Veganism Is the One True Diet for Long-Term Health & Vitality.”

what the health vegan

Perhaps the most fundamental flaw of What the Health is the notion that eating a vegan diet is the only way to avoid poor health and disease.

While there are many benefits to eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, this doesn’t mean you need to eliminate all animal products from your diet.

In fact, doing this presents its own problems, including an increased risk of various nutritional deficiencies, including iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Furthermore, while diet plays a pivotal role in determining our long-term health, it’s not everything. There are many other factors to consider, including exercise, body composition, alcohol consumption, smoking, sleep hygiene, and stress levels, and if these are mismanaged, they can override even the most scrupulous diet.

The Bottom Line

Veganism isn’t necessary to get and stay healthy, and what you eat isn’t the only thing that determines your long-term health.

The 3 Things That What the Health Got Right

As you now know, many of the alarming assertions in What the Health are highly misleading or flat out false.

That said, the film did make several points that we should take to heart.

Most of Us Should Eat More Plant Foods

Most Americans eat a lot of fat, sugar, and processed foods, and very little fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.

Simply put: this is asking for an early, painful death.

Plant foods provide the majority of the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients that improve overall health and well-being and help prevent just about every disease you can think of.

So, if you want to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible, then you want to eat more plant foods, not less.

Yes, you should also include treats in your meal plans and apply the principles of flexible dieting, but on the whole, you should be getting the vast majority of your calories from relatively unprocessed, nutritious plant foods.

The Bottom Line

If you want to optimize your health and performance and drastically reduce your risk for disease and dysfunction, then you want to eat at least two to three servings of fruits and vegetables per day and include generous amounts of whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes in your diet.

Food Companies May Influence Public Health Guidelines & Policies

What the Health does a good job showing how corporations use their considerable financial resources to attach themselves to public health institutions.

For example…

What the Health implies these instutions know which side their bread is buttered on and act accordingly, but offer little in the way of proof.

Well, while conspiracies absolutely do exist, and especially when money and power are involved, it’s not fair to automatically assume the worst when presented with facts like these.

The reality is it’s impossible to say whether these relationships are harmful because there’s no clear evidence of wrongdoing.

That said, human nature being what it is, it’s fair to assume that not everyone involved has all of our best interests in mind. Ignorance and economics are more likely motives than outright maliciousness, but that doesn’t make anyone less guilty.

Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about what may or may not go on behind closed doors. Instead, we can simply take it upon ourselves to learn the simple science of healthy eating as opposed to blindly following our guts (literally) or national guidelines.

The Bottom Line

Public diet and health guidelines are probably influenced by food companies to some degree, and some of this influence may be to our detriment. This is why it’s incumbent on us to educate ourselves as opposed to blindly following the masses.

Your Diet Will Largely Determine Your Long-Term Health

what the health truth

If there’s one thing that What the Health and other similar documentaries do best, it’s highlighting the fact that how we eat directly correlates to our overall health and longevity.

Unfortunately, too many people whistle past this graveyard, ignoring the facts:

  • Their eating habits are objectively awful.
  • They probably won’t change their ways anytime soon.
  • Medical advances probably won’t be able to save them once the wheels fall off.

In other words, they’re stacking the odds against themselves and significantly increasing their chances of experiencing pain, misery, and an untimely death, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.

This even applies to many people who take fitness seriously. Many want to believe that so long as you’re lean and muscular, you’re healthy, but that’s far the truth. A favorable body composition contributes to your overall health, but most definitely isn’t a foolproof barometer of it.

Remember: you can have a killer six pack and a whole host of nutritional deficiencies that, if allowed to fester, may literally one day kill you.

So, What the Health is right in that what you eat matters, and a lot more than many people would like to believe.

The Bottom Line

Your diet plays a crucial role in your health, vitality, and longevity. Neglect it at your peril.

How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat on a Vegan Diet

If you’re considering overhauling diet after watching What the Health and also care about your body composition, this section is for you.

Many people say that you simply can’t build a great body without eating animal products. They’re wrong. You absolutely can, but you have to know what you’re doing.

The bottom line is if you don’t understand the downsides and limitations of a vegan diet in the context of bodybuilding, you’ll get disappointing results.

If you do, though, and plan and adjust accordingly, then you’ll have no problem building muscle, losing fat, and getting strong as a plant-fueled athlete.

It all comes down to following three simple steps:

  1. Eating the right number of calories.
  2. Balancing your macronutrient intake.
  3. Eating the right foods and/or supplements to avoid common nutrient deficiencies.

I break it all down in this article:

This Is the Definitive Guide to Vegan Bodybuilding Every Plant Eater Needs

(And if you’d prefer a 9-minute video overview, just click the play button below).

The Bottom Line on What the Health

At bottom, What the Health is more fiction than fact.

It’s not a groundbreaking expose of collusion between the government and food industry to keep us fat, sick, and dying, so much as a carefully stage-managed presentation meant to sell you on vegan ideology.

That said, it does contain some truth and good advice.

Most people’s diets are horrible and at least partially responsible for the epidemic-level health problems that plague us here in the West, and most of us could benefit greatly from eating a lot fewer animal and a lot more plant foods.

That doesn’t mean that a 100% vegan diet is the absolute best way to eat for everyone under all circumstances, though. You can enjoy all the benefits that plant foods have to offer while also eating animal foods, including meat and dairy.

What’s your take on this review of What The Health? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • linda513

    Good article! I’m vegan and I agree with everything you wrote except the part about industrial farming. Over 90% of animal meat is from a factory farm, so although there are humane farmers out there, most Americans are not getting their meat from them. The problem is especially prevalent in the poultry industry. These animals have terrible lives.

    • Thank you! That’s a valid point. I may need to touch that section up a little.

    • Joshua Dumesnil

      I agree. I also think that no matter how much experts in fitness and nutrition want to chime in, this film has doctors in specific areas. So I’m taking these doctors advice as they are world renowned in their niche. Also with your statements about dairy, how can you not realize how simple it is to understand that we as humans get milk as infants like any other mammal. We’re the only ones that steal it from another as adults and still consume copious amounts of it. I don’t need studies to tell me it’s not normal and likely unhealthy especially in large amounts.

      • I’d agree that it’s a good idea to eat a healthy diet of whole, nutritious plant foods, lean meats, whole grains, etc., and avoid the steroids and illegal drugs that many bodybuilders take. While some dairy products do contain contaminants, it’s not fair to dismiss all of them as unhealthy. Eat well, exercise, reduce stress, sleep enough, and you’ll do well.

  • Leslie

    I watched part of the movie on Netflix and realized it’s just another scare tactic. I eat meat lots of it including red meat and I don’t plan to change. I also eat eggs every single day. Im physically active and am of normal body weight for my height I do have health issues but nothing that was caused by my diet. I have celiac so I’m gluten free I have colitis so raw veggies and other foods are out plus I have thyroid issues. If other people choose to be vegan that’s their choice but don’t try to shove your lifestyle down my throat. Thank you for exposing some of the lies this movie tried to pass off as truths.

    • Thanks for the comment Leslie. I would definitely recommend incorporating generous amounts of fruits, veg, nuts, legumes, and whole grains your diet. Your body will thank you. 🙂

  • Michael D

    Great article. Lots of good information. I’m so tired of militant vegans…sigh.

    We’re just cold blooded murderers because we eat meat.

    Funny though that scientists have started discovering how our brain evolved larger BECAUSE we started cooking meat.

    • Glad you liked the article Michael. I don’t mind vegans agitating for something they believe in, but yes, when it turns into personal attacks, it becomes unproductive.

  • Sven

    Not sure your blog hits the mark on this occasion and appears somewhat anti “What the Health”. You mention most vegans don’t carefully plan their meals and this may be true. However, for those serious about building muscle, tracking calories for vegans is no different to any omnivore. By tracking my calories, I have no problem hitting 2850 calories (P:180g | C:330g | F:90g) which is the surplus I need to gain lean muscle whilst eating a whole food plant based diet (vegan). I can assure any Vegan looking to build muscle that the deficiencies called out by Mike such as iron, calcium and protein can easily be hit daily through a whole plant food based diet. I wonder how much the Whey companies are paying you to promote the health benefits of dairy?

    • CPANinjaDoug

      Did you not read the section entitled “How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat on a Vegan Diet”? Mike specifically says a vegan diet can work in that section and covers every point you made. He also points to an entire article he wrote on how to build muscle on a vegan diet. It’s the last sentence of that section and points to https://www.muscleforlife.com/vegan-bodybuilding/. If you read the *whole* article I think you’ll find it’s fairly well balanced.

  • Mark Duddridge

    Good article, Mike! Thanks!

    I haven’t watched the movie, but a bunch of my coworkers did, and I did some research on it. This is the best rebuttal I’ve come across.

  • Sonja

    Great article! Though I questioned the validity of some of his arguments, I took away the same thing: each more fruits and veggies, less processed stuff. I also love it when a documentary says “I found a study that says that…”. We also found a study that said eating chocolate helps you lose weight….until the author said it was a lie and skewed statistics. One study doesn’t make things true, numerous studies confirming the same thing suggests there might be some validity to the conclusions.

    • Thanks! Yup, if you eat generous amounts of fruit, veg, nuts, legumes, and whole grains, you’re doing it right.

  • Bobby Hyam

    Hi Mike

    Firstly, thanks for all the great content. I think I’ve learned more from you than anyone else. Keep up the good work.

    I’m pleased to hear that you agree that WTH has had a positive impact on society by making people think about what they’re putting in their bodies and choosing less processed foods. The plant-based part I think is a personal choice.

    With the aim of having a positive impact on your readers, I would like to request that you edit the article to put the ‘Things WTH Got Right’ before ‘Things WTH Got Wrong’.

    Many sceptics will be looking for content that reaffirms their existing beliefs and allows them to continue to eat as they are. With the short attention span many have these days in the advent of twitter and short blogs, I fear many may only read the negatives and your article might therefore bolster their existing position rather than encourage the desire to question.

    I think with this change you can still present your interpretation of the movie but have tweak the outcome for your readers to their benefit.

    Thank you again.


    • Hey Bobby!

      Thanks for the kind words and support. 🙂

      Honestly I think the emphasis on plant-based foods is the KEY, not the point that should be negotiable. Going 100% plant-based is the personal choice.

      You know I thought about that and originally had the positives before the negatives but ultimately flipped them for no particular reason, haha. I’ll consider reverting!


  • Nathan Roberts

    Mike, go Vegam for two solid years. Learn the entire concept. It takes at least a year to get to a point your adjusted and learn the basics. Doing quick research like you have to debunk WTH is not going to cut it. You literally have to walk in our shoes. It’s much broader than food. You need to really do your homework next time. Its like me trying to tell you what being black is like and all the while I am white. My opinion is this article was a huge MISS. You have only limited knowledge based on experience so therefore your writings are trash.

    • Thanks for the comment Nathan but do you care to address any of the specific points that I make in the article?

      The “walk a mile in my shoes” argument is weak. I don’t need to live under communism to know it’s horrible. Similarly, I don’t need to follow a vegan diet to know that it has pros and cons, nutritionally speaking.

      • Wesley L. Riojas

        Hi Mike, before the big vegan craze, I went plant food vegan for 2 years in 2012 thru 2014. I can tell you that my body diminished. I felt hollow. I tried playing men’s softball and Ilbut quit because of lack of strength and short stamina. If you are someone who has severe heart disease, I would strongly recommend this diet as the book Reverse and Stop Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn is amazing. But otherwise a plant based diet is not the only way. The fact that there are no vegan, indigenous groups on the planet to bring the credible proof is one of the biggest problems I have with the vegan evangelist. The healthiest cultures in the world all eat meat to some extent as published in the great book “The Okinawan Diet.” It’s not all about what you eat as much as it is about how much you eat and how active you are. Great article Mike.

        • Thanks for sharing, Wesley! I appreciate the support 🙂

    • zkysk7

      Nathan… Try not to take everything personal, and try to see things more objectively.
      You are appealing to the more intuitive side of eating habits and concept. You aren’t providing scientific evidence like Mike has…

      “You literally have to walk in our shoes. It’s much broader than food.”
      That doesn’t provide scientific evidence unless it is documented and weighed against absolute evidence of other studies.

      “Its like me trying to tell you what being black is like and all the while I am white.”
      If you’re talking about what it feels like to be Vegan, that is a different story. Mike isn’t talking about how it *feels* to be a Vegan vs. a more flexible dieter, he is talking about what aspects of the documentary was biased, incorrect and correct.

      “You need to really do your homework next time”.
      He’s done his homework, if you are very well-knowledged about this topic, can you write us an article with scientific evidence debunking every point Mike has laid out in this article? You would actually be doing us a favor, don’t think about it as a challenge from us to prove us wrong and say “Aha, I win!” We aren’t the type of people to be stubborn, if we see the evidence and it is very sound and convincing, we will believe it.

      “You have only limited knowledge based on experience so therefore your writings are trash.”
      Mike has proved his ability to analyze and convey the research in his articles to help his audience to move in the right direction in matters of health and fitness.
      Experience and academic experience don’t always go hand in hand, but when it comes to seeing the evidence and drawing accurate conclusions, the scientific method is often superior than gut instinctive feeling. That’s why we are now living in high-tech civilizations and not in caves any more. Our ability to look at the evidence and scrutinize our theories and draw and redraw proper conclusions is what puts us where we are at now. You’re welcome to continue relying on your gut instincts and feel great with your lifestyle, but if you come to tell us that we are wrong, you need to provide us with evidence in return. You can’t go to a court and testify evidence that you have no proof for- same concept.

  • Meredith Andrews


    I thought of this video I watched a couple months ago as read your article. LOL

  • litxus

    Hey Mike,

    It would be nice if you did go vegan for a couple weeks for research purposes and record how you feel, your strength and everything else. Veganism might work for some, but not for everyone. I know some who tried, but could not stay due to health reasons, they still need to consume some meat. I have tried myself and did not count calories while eating all healthy raw and cooked veggies, but noticed I felt completely unmotivated to do anything.

    In short, there are so many industry players that confuses us with information and the research that they sponsor that it is very hard to know who to believe. I do believe a healthy diet can be done with minimal or no meat, but that might not work for everyone. I grew up outside of US and we ate healthy all the time, as processed food did not really exist, but we ate meat no more than 2-3 times per week as it was always much more expensive than fruit or vegetables. Meat was always accompanied by huge portion of veggies, so it was never the focal point. Nobody ever counted calories and you would have to try real hard to find anyone overweight.

    Also, check out “cowspiracy” and let me know what you think. I believe buying food from sources that treats animals humanly would help most, and eat more vegetables as well, as have you ever thought why pound of chicken cost same as Organic Broccoli or less??? That does not make sense to me as Animals are not vegetables, it takes much more time and resources to grow them.

    • Thanks for your comment! Veganism can definitely work with some proper meal planning (and maybe some supplements too in order to make it a bit easier). I eat a ton of whole, plant foods regardless, but I may test it out eventually.

      Cowspiracy is another one of these documentaries I’ll have to check out. Thanks for the tip!

  • Brian

    Hello there Mr. Matthews, Mike. I have some criticisms on the nutritional research you referenced and some of your general statements in your review.


    “Low protein dieting and veganism go hand-in-hand.” What might be considered “low” to you Mike is actually perfectly adequate for the general population that is interested in health and disease prevention. Not everyone is in the business of getting big and gaining muscle and they don’t have to if they want good health and want to be free of disease.

    Your average vegan and vegetarian get more than enough protein. We know this from one of the
    largest studies in history on those eating plant based diets. (1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4081456/)

    In the study above the researchers compared the nutrient profiles of about 30,000 omnivores (nonvegetarians in the study), 20,000 lacto-ovo vegetarians who eat no meat but consume eggs and milk, about 5,000 vegans (strict vegetarians in the study), flexitarians who switch from vegetarian to omnivorous eating day by day (semi-vegetarian in the study), to pesco vegetarians who eat no meat
    except fish.

    When the researchers compared the protein levels of each group they reached an interesting conclusion. The nonvegetarians got more than 70 grams of protein… and so did everyone else. (figure 1 in the study above). 70 grams? Is that a lot? For your average Joe or Sue, it is actually. The USDA recommends we follow the Institute of Medicine’s guidelines for protein which is about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight for adult men and women. Or 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women. (2.

    In fact only about 3% of the adult population in the US doesn’t get enough protein (see table 1 in study below) and it is presumed those that don’t get enough are just eating a very low calorie diet.

    Furthermore, are bodies maintain large pools of free amino acids that be utilized if need be. About 90 grams of protein enter our digestive tract and get broken down and reassembled so our bodies can mix and match whatever amino acids we need. (see second paragraph on second page of
    study.) (4. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5d07/60b3ef8b124a4cf6951b50e4b2b8442f8ace.pdf)

    So no. Your average vegan or vegetarian gets more than enough protein and they do not require a fair amount of detail in meal planning.

    You are not fully informed about Kwashiorkor either. There was a disease of malnutrition; presumed to be a deficiency in protein, which was discovered by the Jamaican Physician Cicely Williams in 1932, called Kwashiorkor. See middle of the first paragraph under “Clinical Description” on the first page of
    the study. (5. https://sci-hub.cc/http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673674916493?_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_origin=gateway&_docanchor=&md5=b8429449ccfc9c30159a5f9aeaa92ffb&ccp=y)

    To combat this protein deficiency malnourished infants and children were given amino acid mixtures but yielded mixed results. Ms. Williams and others through their work in the field soon changed their speculation of Kwashiorkor being a protein deficiency and concluded that Kwashiorkor was most likely an energy deficiency. In fact Ms.Williams spent the latter of her life trying to debunk her incorrect
    assumption that Kwashiorkor was a deficiency in protein. “For the last 20 years I’ve been spending my time trying to debunk Kwashiorkor.” See the last few sentences under “Clinical Description” on the first page of the study above.

    Williams and others concluded that, “Food-consumption data and dietary surveys incriminate energy rather than protein deficit. Increasing the energy intake and not that of protein has produced catch-up growth in under-nourished children.” See middle of the fourth paragraph down in the conclusion from study above.

    It turns out that there is no real evidence of protein deficiency. See first paragraph in summary of study below.(6. https://sci-hub.cc/http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0035920384900531)

    The cause of Kwashiorkor still remains obscure, but we know now that it is not a protein deficiency. “Speculation regarding its pathogenesis has focused on inadequate protein intake and/or excessive oxidative stress, but substantial evidence to refute these hypotheses has come from epidemiologic surveys and clinical trials.” See middle of first paragraph in study below. (7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667500/)

    Our best guess at the moment is that Kwashiorkor is more related to the gut microbiome. I won’t go into that, but if you are interested you can read the full study above.

    The Bottom Line

    Vegans and vegetarians get plenty of protein without “careful meal planning”. There is no real evidence for protein deficiency as it stands right now. This is primarily an issue of eating enough calories than a specific nutrient. The current theory is that Kwashiorkor is related to changes in the gut microbiome.


    As long as we restrict our calories then it doesn’t matter whether we eat high-fat or low-fat because both are equally effective in helping diabetics lose weight? I see no sources for this claim, but this is
    irrelevant to those with type 2 diabetes. Sure losing weight when your a type 2 diabetic is great, but how about we get rid of the type 2 diabetes first? Those who go on a plant based diet can do this
    actually and I’ll talk about this later.

    Getting back to does dietary fat does cause type 2 diabetes? Yes! And in fact we have known this since the 1930’s.

    We have known since the 1930’s that high fat diets cause hyperglycemia (high levels of sugar in the blood) and decrease our sensitivity to insulin. This study fed healthy men aged 18-22 a high fat or high carbohydrate diet for one week. After one week they gave oral glucose to the subjects to test their sugar tolerance, I.e how much sugar stays in the blood and how fast does it exit the bloodstream. See figure 1 in the study below on page 59 which shows the glucose in the blood rising dramatically and taking longer to come back down to normal levels. The researchers then gave the test subjects 5 units of insulin to test their insulin sensitivity. In figure 2 on page 59 you can see that insulin took longer to act (bring down blood sugar) and when it started to act it worked at a slower rate compared to the high carbohydrate diet.(8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2444943/pdf/brmedj07161-0009.pdf)

    Researchers have found that when you infuse fat into people’s bloodstream it inhibits the transport of glucose by causing insulin resistance. The researchers concluded in the last paragraph of the discussion on page 2684 that, “we found that elevation in plasma free fatty acid concentration causes
    insulin resistance by inhibition of glucose transport”(9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC507380/pdf/972859.pdf)

    The same thing happens in adolescents. If you infuse fat into their bloodstream the fat builds up into their muscles and decreases their insulin sensitivity. The researchers in this study took 13 African
    American and 15 White adolescents and first measured the amount of fat in their muscle cells. The researchers then randomly selected individuals and infused fat into their bloodstream and waited
    overnight to retest the lipid content of their muscle cells the next day. (10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3574210/)

    The researchers found that the levels of intramyocellular lipids (fat in the muscle cells) in the adolescents had about doubled overnight in both the African American and White individuals. See figure 2 in study above.

    The researchers concluded that elevation in plasma free fatty acids in healthy adolescents is accompanied by significant increases in intramyocellular lipids and reductions in insulin sensitivity with no race differential. See conclusion paragraph in study above.

    The researchers also stated that the study observations provide evidence that increased fat in the bloodstream is an important contributor to the development of insulin resistance in healthy and obese patients regardless of your diabetes status. Meaning it doesn’t matter if you are slim, fat, diabetic, or non-diabetic, fat in the bloodstream will raise the fat content in your muscle cells which will lead to insulin resistance. See last sentence in third paragraph in discussion of study above.

    The opposite of this scenario is also true. If you remove the fat from the bloodstream then insulin resistance goes down and insulin sensitivity goes up. (11. https://sci-hub.bz/http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/48/9/1836.long)

    Figure 2 on page 1838 in this study shows the insulin sensitivity before and after the use of a fat storage suppressing drug Acipimox to simulate the effects of reducing fat in the muscle cells (instead
    of just making the study participants eat less fat for a period of time). You can see the insulin sensitivity of each group, lean and obese, diabetic and non-diabetic, all increased after the drug had
    simulated low levels of fat absorption in the subjects. The white bars in the graph represent the insulin sensitivity before Acipimox and the black bars represent the boosted insulin sensitivity after
    the drug Acipimox.

    The researchers conclude that “lowering of elevated plasma FFA free fatty acid (fat in the blood) levels can reduce insulin resistance/hyperinsulinemia and improve oral glucose tolerance in lean and obese nondiabetic subjects and in obese patients with type 2 diabetes”. See last sentence in the first paragraph of study above.

    Okay so if I just keep the fat out of my blood then I will stay sensitive to insulin and the best way to do that is to eat a diet high in carbohydrate, I.e plant foods. Let’s say you believe all of this then where are all the studies reversing type 2 diabetes? Where are all the doctors curing people of this seemingly easy to understand disease.

    Researchers and doctors have been reversing this disease since the 1930’s. In this study they took 100 people and randomly put them into a high carbohydrate plant based diet or kept them on their
    normal diets and followed their insulin use for 5 years to study the effects of diet on diabetes. All of the study subjects required insulin at the beginning of the study, but what happened after the 5
    years? Table 2 on page 139 shows insulin dosage use before and after the 5 year study time for both individuals on the old diet and on the new high carbohydrate plant based diet. (12.

    If you look on the far right side of table 2 at the “5 Years Later” you’ll see three zeros. The three zeros actually correspond to 12 individuals on the new diet. Those 12 individuals required no insulin
    after 5 years. Why? Because their bodies were making enough insulin on their own. These people no longer had type 2 diabetes. 12 out of 50 people or 24% of the individuals on the new diet were cured of
    type 2 diabetes and the other 38 reduced their insulin needs by an average of about 50%. See last sentence in first paragraph of study.

    Wait wait wait. If you didn’t notice in the title of the study, this was a low calorie diet. So was the reversal of type 2 diabetes because of what they ate or what they didn’t eat?

    Twenty years later an influential doctor at Duke University performed an interesting experiment. His name was Walter Kempner and he wanted to find out what would happen to his diabetic patients if he put them on a diet of literally only rice and fruit. A diet of 90% carbohydrate!

    He took the next 100 patients that walked in his door and put them on his rice diet for a least three months and their fasting blood sugars dropped despite a drop in the amount of insulin they were taking. See table one on page 360 of study below. The patients average fasting blood sugar went from 202 to 155 and their insulin use dropped from 25 to 17. (13. https://sci-hub.bz/http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00325481.1958.11692236?needAccess=true)

    But something else happened that blew people’s minds. 44 of the patients had diabetic retinopathy (blindness causes by diabetes) and after about 2 years on the rice diet their diabetic retinopathy
    improved! See table 3 on page 362. 44 patients and at the bottom of the table 11 showed a status of “improved”. There photos on page 363 are remarkable. The dark spots in the before photo showing the dark shapes of blood blockage in the back of eye and in the photo below these blockages are gone.

    What does this mean in real life? Those photos on page 363 are from a 54 year old woman who one month before going on the diet noted she was unable to read headlines in her left eye. Three years later her vision was completely normal. Read through Case 1 at the bottom of page 362.

    At the time this study was conducted diabetic retinopathy had been considered a sign of irreversible destruction. What’s unique about Kempner’s work compared to the study in the 1930’s was that these
    positive changes in blood sugar levels, insulin requirements, cholesterol, blood pressure, eye sight, etc, occurred both in patients who lost weight and in those who did not have any significant weight change. See first paragraph on page 370 of study above.

    So it must have been something specific about the diet. The total elimination of animal fat, animal protein, cholesterol? At the time they really didn’t know.

    How do we treat diabetic retinopathy today by the way? We can do two things. One, we can inject steroids and other drugs straight into your eyes and if that doesn’t work there’s always pan-retinal
    laser photocoagulation. Using lazer burns to etch over nearly your entire retina. Search PRP and reach the first search return where it says PRP is an established technique for treating severe diabetic
    retinopathy in the study below. (14. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/208502)

    Surgeons literally burn out the back of your eye. Why in the world would they do that? The theory is that by killing off most your retina the little pieces you leave behind get more of the blood flow.
    See first paragraph on page 167 in study below. (15. https://sci-hub.bz/http://journals.lww.com/co-ophthalmology/Abstract/2014/05000/Pan_retinal_photocoagulation_for_proliferative.4.aspx)

    Okay so these studies are interesting and all, but have we done anything recently? Indeed we have.

    Another twenty years later after Kempner’s work we have a new study by James Anderson and Kyleen Ward. This time around the researchers set out to eliminate weight loss from the puzzle. No low calorie
    plant based diets today. This study used a weight maintaining strategy. If the study participants began to lose weight on the plant based diet they were told to eat more food to gain the weight back. This was enforced because this was a metabolic ward study which if you remember is a study where you are practically locked in a room and given the food by the researchers. No outside influence. (16. https://sci-hub.bz/http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/32/11/2312.long)

    The control diet they compared the plant based diet to was the conventional diabetic diet, about 43% of calories from carbohydrate, very similar to diets traditionally used to treat patients with diabetes. The high carbohydrate vegan diet group had about 70% of their calories coming from carbohydrate and only 9% coming from fat. Truly a low fat plant based diet. See second paragraph in methods on
    page 2313 in study above.

    Alright so how did this study pan out? I really want you to see the results clearly so I will try to paste a picture of the results below. Hopefully it shows up. If not I will try to attach a picture to this comment if that will work.

    This is table 3 in the study above. This table shows the number of units of insulin the test subjects had to inject in themselves before (in the control group) and after (when they went on the high carbohydrate vegan diet). Overall insulin requirements were cut about 60% from 26 to 11 (see on the total line) and about half (count all the zeros under HCF) were able to get off insulin all together.
    Complete reversal of their type two diabetes in about half of the patients!

    So how long did this take? 5 years like in the study from the 1930’s? 3 years like in Kempner’s study in the 1950’s?

    16… 16 days. This was the average actually. Some were 13 and some were 21. See table 1 on page 2313 on the far right of the diet where it says HCF diet duration.

    We’re talking diabetics who’ve had diabetes for as long as 20 years (see patient 9 on table 1) injecting 20 units of insulin everyday then as few as 13 days later off insulin all together thanks to less than two weeks on a high carbohydrate vegan diet.

    You can see on the bottom graph in figure 1 on page 2314 where patient 15 was on 32 units of insulin on the control diet and 18 days later on the high carbohydrate vegan diet on no insulin whatsoever. Lower blood sugar on 32 units less insulin.This is the power of plants.

    The icing on the vegan cake is that their serum cholesterol dropped like a rock after an average of 16 days. See table 4 under cholesterol and compare the numbers under “Control” to the numbers under “HCF”. This is why we should recommend significant changes in diet to those who want significant results. Moderate changes in diet usually result in only modest reductions in disease. Just like how moderate changes in cholesterol, switching from red meat to chicken, only produce moderate results. Similarly, asking people with diabetes to make moderate changes in their diet (eat fewer carbs, get more exercise) often achieves equally moderate results.

    This is why 84% of those with type 2 diabetes require oral medication, insulin, or both. See fourth paragraph in discussion from study below. (17. https://sci-hub.bz/https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11892-010-0093-7)

    I think this is a good place to stop for today. There are so many more issues with your review that I will just have to address at a later date. Things such as:

    1. Meat and diary being unrelated to heart disease and cancer.
    2.Egg consumption not be associated with atherosclerosis.
    3.Vegan deficiencies of various nutrients.

    4. The role of IGF in the body how it relates to diet.

    5. The many other dietary hazards of animal foods: Cholesterol, saturated fat, heme iron (you mentioned this), N-Nitrosamines (you also mentioned this), heterocyclic amines, endotoxins, TMAO, and so on and so on.

    I applaud you for giving advice to those who wish to transition their diet into a more plant focused one, but you seem to make a bunch of the usual mistakes when talking about nutritional studies. Observational studies have their place in nutrition especially when they are conducted using a multivariate analysis. You seem to condemn them all regardless. Yet, you link to plenty of observational studies yourself. This kinds of studies aren’t bad it really just comes down to what is specifically being measured and observed in the study and how it this is being accomplished accurately with
    regard to confounding factors. For example you linked to a study showing that people’s heart disease
    risk rises as their consumption of meat increases. Sure this was an observational study and you go on to say that this is only correlation not causation and furthermore they did not fully control
    for other confounding factors such as smoking, BMI, drinking, or inactivity.

    This is true of the study in question, but the very next study you linked actually DID factor in the study participants smoking habits, BMI, drinking, physical activity, and more! Maybe you only read the first
    study you linked and not the others? Anyways I’ll save discussing these issues for another day.

    • Brian

      Here is a picture of Table 3 that I mentioned towards the end of the diabetes section in my post above. Sorry I couldn’t figure out how to get it into my first comment post.

      • Hey Brian, thanks for the thoughtful response. I read through what you wrote, and while some of it is interesting (the research on Kwashiorkor in particular), what I included in the article is more representative of the majority of the research. For instance, you’re right that most vegans get enough protein to maintain their health, they eat what would be considered a “low” protein diet for improving body composition.

        You’re absolutely right, though, that most people would benefit from getting more of their calories from plant-based sources.

        • Brian

          What you included in your article is more representative of the majority of the research? Let’s assume your assertion is true. Are you talking about the information I linked about Kwashiorkor or Type 2 Diabetes?

          You only posted one link for Kwashiorkor and that was to a Wikipedia article. I posted links to 3 different nutritional studies on Kwashiorkor. Two of the studies reference the original research of Cicely Williams who founded the disease in the first place and like her see clear evidence that the original “protein deficiency” was an incorrect hypothesis. The third study also follows this line of evidence and even proposes a new pathway to this disease, the gut microbiome.

          I think the multiple nutritional and clinical studies I linked are more representative than your one Wikipedia article. Let’s move on.

          Maybe you were referring to the body of studies I linked about Type 2 Diabetes?

          You claimed and I quote, “To suggest that dietary fat causes diabetes, though, is simply false.”

          To back up this assertion you provided two links. The first hyperlink of “research” sends you to not actually a scientific paper, but a review of the current scientific research about low carbohydrate diets and how they affect Type 2 Diabetes. I’ll talk about this review in a minute, but lets continue.

          Your second link sends us again not to a scientific paper, but another one of your articles which does not mention Type 2 Diabetes even once, not once. Odd.

          After posting these two links as evidence you conclude and I quote,
          “high-fat diets are equally effective as low-fat diets for helping diabetics lose weight and thereby improve their health”.

          Well your second link doesn’t mention diabetes so that doesn’t back up your statement, but maybe that first link to a review of the scientific research about low carbohydrate diets and how they affect Type 2 Diabetes will?

          Okay so let’s read the review and see what the results are, The reviewer of the literature states and I quote, “Low carbohydrate diets in people with type 2 diabetes were effective for
          short-term improvements in glycemic control, weight loss, and
          cardiovascular risk, but this was not sustained over the longer term.
          Overall, low carbohydrate diets failed to show superiority over higher
          carbohydrate intakes for any of the measures evaluated including weight
          loss, glycemic control, lipid concentrations, blood pressure, and
          compliance with treatment.”

          Not only does this review not back up your claim that “high-fat diets are equally effective as low-fat diets for helping diabetics lose weight and thereby improve their health” it actually supports the opposite in the long term!

          I posted eight studies to support What The Health’s and my claim that dietary fat does cause Type 2 Diabetes. The studies I posted actually demonstrate disease reversal on a vegan diet and this is even when weight loss was controlled! People reversed their Type 2 Diabetes without even losing weight on a vegan diet! Just simply by focusing their diet around plants and reducing their consumption of fats, both animal and plant.

          So no Mike I can’t say I believe you when you claim that your article is somehow more representative of the majority of the research when the one study you posted doesn’t even support your position. The evidence on your side is lacking considerably if I’m honest.

          Again with one hand you give advice to vegans on building muscle, but with your other hand you discredit their diet with a lack of evidence from nutritional studies.

          You seem like a well meaning person interested in nutritional research. This is why I’m telling you straight that your nutritional evidence, not mine, is the one sorely lacking and not representative of the majority.

          • Thanks for your input, Brian. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

          • Brian

            I know this is your business Mike and I’m not trying to attack that or anything, but it just comes to a crucial point where the information you are spreading to people will greatly affect their health and you sure as heck want to be correct when you give it out or at least be willing to seek the evidence to become correct if you truly care about the people you’re giving this information too.

            Brushing off evidence that contradicts your position does nothing to help you and actually hurts those that seek you out for nutritional advice. Imagine your doctor (who supports smoking) is smoking a cigarette while you show him evidence that says his behavior could lead to lung cancer and all he says in return is, “We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.” My confidence in this doctor would plummet immediately and it would be difficult for me to take anything he says seriously.

          • Look, dude, I’m not “brushing off” the evidence you presented. What I’m also not going to do is spend an hour going through your comments and responding to each point in turn, in a blog comment. If you want to write an article with your thoughts and your impressions of the research, and post a link here, I’d be happy to read it and address your points.

          • Brian

            I acknowledged two particular health claims you made in this article Mike, protein deficiency among non-meat eaters (kwashiorkor) and the falsity of how dietary fat causes type 2 diabetes. I read the evidence you chose to back up for these two health claims, explained how they were untrue and made my own health claims to the opposite of yours, and of course provided my own evidence to back up my claims so they were not unfounded. I even provided the page numbers and pointed out what paragraphs to read for each study and everything! Super simple.

            You did not respond to these studies I provided as evidence in any specific way. All you essentially said was, “My evidence is more representative.” This is a baseless and unfounded statement since you didn’t explain HOW your evidence is more representative or HOW my evidence is incorrect and not representative. Given that I think it’s reasonable for me to assume you ignored (brushed off) the evidence I provided.

            Human nutrition is complicated and it takes time to read and understand studies. This is why I explained the evidence in the studies I posted as simply as I could and provided the page numbers and paragraphs which point out the results of each individual study. If you don’t have time to read the evidence I provided, fine. If you would have said that in the beginning I would have stopped right there.

            You can do whatever you want. But what you can’t do is tell someone their wrong and not be able to specifically explain to them HOW they are wrong.

            My thoughts and impressions of the research do not matter. What matters is the evidence which comes out of this research. Clear, precise, mechanistic evidence that shows for instance that high dietary fat intake leads to fat in our muscle cells which leads to insulin resistance that blocks the cell’s insulin receptor and causes type 2 diabetes.

            I made my points pretty clear in my first comment and have explained how your points are incorrect. Again my points are, vegans and vegetarians do not have to worry about kwashiorkor because protein deficiency doesn’t exist and type 2 diabetes is caused by high dietary fat intake. I’ve made my argument and taken the time to explain how your argument is incorrect. You have made your argument, but you have not explained how my argument is incorrect.

    • Heinz_Guenther

      Thank you for this impressive body of evidence. I was aware of some of what you posted, but this was exceeding my previous knowledge by far.
      Especially the part of Type 2 diabetes was fascinating.
      So all your work is not lost to ignorance, at least i read it, found it interesting and will dig into some topics deeper. Thanks for your great work, it is great to find at least one well written piece here! Cheers

      • Brian

        I am happy to share Heinz. I feel like there are a lot of people out there making claims about human nutrition, but don’t back it up at all with evidence. This is why I provide all the full text studies that back up my nutritional claims and I do my best to explain to the reader how to understand these studies. Good luck delving deeper into the topics that interest you. If you ever need help locating nutritional research about a particular topic feel free to message me.

        Thank you for the kind words,

  • Gabs

    Hi Mike,

    I just watched “What the health”. It made for good viewing but I did end up shouting at my TV a few times. Whereas I understand the benefits of a vegan diet, I have to say that having yo-yoed with my weight over 30+ years I have tried every single diet on the planet and seen benefits and drawbacks to most diets.

    The vegan diet follows very closely to a clinic I visited once upon a time called Buchinger. They are big proponents of getting healthy through fasting and more of a vegetarian diet. The diet they have is actually an anti-inflammatory diet which is probably why people see results and true to the documentary, people after a week have some pretty stellar results with their blood work.

    I think where the documentary falls short is simple, that anyone can find a piece of research that suits their hypotheses. It is the lack of acknowledgment of studies that go against what people want to believe that leads to more of an ego trip then actually finding the answer.

    I started watching What the Health after reading a book called “The Diet Delusion” by Gary Taubes. This is an exhaustive book written by an investigative journalist who sifted through a lot of studies (the notes section is 70 pages alone!). Funnily enough he talks about the AHA and a bunch of organisations and common theories that were put into practice.

    The most important thing in the book is that he acknowledges both sides of the arguments for the different hypotheses that we accept as fact. (Fats cause CHD, Carbs and sugars are bad etc…). You should give it a read sometimes, there is some good eye opening stuff in there and the studies are all in the footnotes.

    As for those who advocate a vegan diet, that is absolutely fine. The problem lies with the fact that it is not a silver bullet to all health problems as you mentioned. People need to start taking responsibility for their nutrition and for whomever says that cheese is addictive, I cannot remember the last time I had to buy cheese because I was having withdrawal symptoms.

    As you mention in your article, there is a lot of movement towards farm to table living. Seasonal eating is also making a comeback. I think that at the end of the day, you can get your protein however you please, personally I enjoy a good steak, I just choose to go to a butcher when I can. As for the dairy, I don’t overdo it but coming from a Middle Eastern background, yoghurt has been part of our diet for centuries if not millenia!

    The other story that people like to bring up is the whole “you don’t need that much protein”. If I choose to get my protein from steak or plants, that is my business. The amount of protein I eat is also up to me. Studies show a great deal of things, but in response to Brian’s post which you answered, studies usually try and encompass the majority of the population in the bell curve as you mention. For some athletes and bodybuilders, they prefer a higher percentage of protein in their macros. Getting this from a plant source can work but you definitely need to plan effectively! The advantage of meat is that you can have a smaller meal (especially if you are a pro bodybuilder and hitting up 4000-6000 calorie days!)

    The big problem I think people have with veganism is that the most vocal vegans use guilt to get people to try their lifestyle. Instead of scaremongering, which I am sorry, What the Health does, they should explain the science behind their nutrition.

    Imagine what the health as a documentary about an anti-inflammatory diet, one that says “Hey guys and girls, this can help reduce internal inflammation which has these health benefits including, lowering of cholesterol, lowering the risk of CHD and Diabetes.”

    Personally I am not against doing a week of veganism to really give my body the tools to detox properly. Yes the body detoxes every 3 days anyway, but you can give it a helping hand by putting in super clean nutrients too. However, I do enjoy my meat, eggs and cheese! Only celery doesn’t make my diet because that is seriously just evil!

    Anyway, this is a long long post to say thanks for your views on the documentary. There will be, just as with any scientific study, people who agree and disagree. What is important is that we all learn to accept and see the opposite arguments of our findings. Because true science is the acceptance that there will be an anomaly and that can only be explained by finding further knowledge.


    • Hey Gabs! I agree that following a vegan diet can work for bodybuilding if you plan effectively, and that fearmongering and sensationalism are not the best methods of spreading your ideas and trying to influence others. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  • Bruce

    Hi Mike, really love to read your articles, full of information that i know is based on science and experience, keep it up.
    Truly agree with: what we eat really determine what we become,
    Really need to revise my daily regimen to what it should be (healthy)
    I m interested in your meal plan, hit me an email if you re gonna have another promo on your meal plan at the future
    Best regards!

  • Joe

    Hey Mike,

    Nice article. I am impressed at the analysis of the What The Health points and use of your studies to debunk claims made in the film. I’m stuck between your information and the information in the film as they both make compelling arguments which confuses me. Thus, I would like to suggest that it would be nice to see you have a plant-based doctor on your podcast like Dr. Michael Greger or Dr. Neal Barnard so you can have a discussion. I would definitely be interested in that and hope you consider it for a future podcast episode.

    • Thanks Joe! Which points are you stuck on particularly? I may be able to help.

      Honestly I’m hesitant to bring people onto the show that I would kind of just end up arguing with. For example, here’s an in-depth review of How Not to Die that highlights many flaws:


      For my part, I’d rather just focus on putting out positive, practical information that will help people, which is why I rarely write articles like this.

      • Heinz_Guenther

        Did you read that “in-depth” review?

        In the first part she is referring to a study on oxalate rich vegetables and writes

        [sic] “Along with stating “there is some concern that greater intake of some vegetables … might increase the risk of stone formation as they are known to be rich in oxalate,” the researchers suggest […]” the study is linked under index 1.

        And true, the researchers state that…. IN THE INTRODUCTION! I mean that is so impressively stupid…

        But true the study doesnt refer to oxalat rich vegetables as unproblematical, but neither does Greger. Which means the basic statement of Denise (the author of the article) is wrong. The part in which he refers to the study just states that higher vegetable intake is associated with lower risk of kidney stones, and well…. that is exactly what the study says.

        This is the very first point of yet another work of Denise Minger that is lacking even a basic quality, and it falls flat in every point!

        • Hey man, I haven’t read the book, so it would be premature to say whether or not I agree with everything in Denise’s article. That said, most of what she wrote is accurate and overall she has an excellent track record when it comes to reviewing scientific evidence.

          • Heinz_Günther

            Yeah, But i didnt wrote about everything in her article, but about the very first point she is making.
            And this point is referring to the page 170-171 in the book. There is no need to read the whole book.
            The study is referenced under the number 59 on page 170, that is merely 50 words to read.

            And the very first point she makes falls flat on the very argument that denise is making, then she quotes the introduction of the study, without stating that in her “article “. So basically there is nothing left of that. That is failing all the way!

            So the analysis of the flaws has some flaws, and you didnt read the book (which is understandable) but you mostly agree with the criticism based on what? I mean fact checking it was obviously not!

            Wouldnt it have been more honest and competent to say “i cant really say anything about Gregers work, didnt read it!”. I mean integrity and so…?

            if you say:
            “[…] she has an excellent track record when it comes to reviewing scientific evidence.” then you base it on what?

          • Look man, I’m not going to read his entire book just to verify whether or not he did or didn’t say that oxalate-rich vegetables might increase the risk of kidney stones. You’re fixating on a single point, and, flawed or not, ignoring everything else in the article.

            As to her reputation, she’s considered an extremely well-read and intelligent researcher but just about everyone I respect, so yeah I generally trust her opinions. Doesn’t mean she’s perfect or gets everything right, but she normally is.

          • Heinz_Günther

            Well the point is, that not only she cited the book wrong, but the study she cited actually did say the opposite of what Denise claimed because she cited the introduction and therefore the very subject of the study, nothing more.

            That are two fundamental flaws in the very first point. So i cant see how that can happen to a great “researcher”!

            And again, you could have just checked her sources to find that!

            And again, you do not need read his book, it is just not a really good work of either her nor you!

  • Heinz_Guenther

    Hi Mike,

    Let me start by saying i like your work. Read BLS and it is great work.

    Nevertheless you might reconsider calling this piece of work “the definitive evidence based review”, i mean come on…. seriously?

    Lets start with the point of observational studies. Its true, observational studies cannot prove causation, fair point, every idiot knows that. Then again observational studies can come very close to prove causation, if the body of evidence is big enough. One study is certainly not enough for this, but neither is one controlled, randomized study.
    As far as I know, there has never been a controlled randomized study on protein deficiency on humans btw.

    Which leads to point number two. There is not one reported case that i know of, where a well feed vegan reported a protein deficiency. Not one. With malnourished people you kind of have the problem, that it is hard to know which factor is causing the health issues, undernourishment is quite a big confounding factor. Though there is evidence, that a shortage of protein is causing health issues you should be consequent in your standards.

    The point of muscle gain and protein, and if a bigger amount of protein is needed on a reduction diet is up to debate, and there is quite good work outside there arguing against your point of view. I am not saying that your conclusion is wrong, just that it is not as definitive as you make it look here. Funny thing is, that there is a quite in depth discussion of the pros and cons of Eric Helms Paper, which you linked to, with Eric Helms included.

    But the biggest crimes against basic logic is literally every of your bottom lines. You take a lack of evidence for the argument in WTH and turn it around without any viable evidence yourself.

    There is no evidence, that meat has any health benefits as you proclaim, a vegan diet shows very well to be superior to your diet recommendations when it comes to longevity and health. There is a big variety of fields suggestion that a diet very low in animal products does exactly that, and there is no reason to conclude that cutting out the remaining low amount of animal products is in anyway harmful. You can find flaws in each study, but together the body of evidence gets pretty strong.

    The environment and cruelty part is actually so badly argued, it is physically painful to read.

    It is a valid point to conclude that WTH states a lot of things as facts that are by far not as conclusive as the film pretends, and it is an important thing to state that. But you did a really poor job.

    I am not a vegan, which is probably of advantage to mention, for my own reasons, but this article doesnt leave a good picture of you as a “researcher”.

    • Hey man, glad you liked the book. You made a lot of points, but before I address any, would you mind providing some supporting evidence for at least some of your claims?

      It’s fine if you want to critique the article, but failing to give any real counter-argument doesn’t make for much of a discussion. The one paper you brought up, the one by Eric Helms, clearly states that the majority of evidence shows higher protein intakes are probably better while you’re cutting. That’s also his opinion (having spoken with him several times), and the opinion of many of the researchers in that field.

      • Heinz_Günther

        First of all, thanks so much for a reply.

        Sure, i will try my best. On the topic of protein see here to find a discussion https://bayesianbodybuilding.com/eric-helms-protein/
        Then there is “How much Protein” by Brad Pilon
        just to make that clear, i do not call you or Eric wrong, it might as well be, that protein needs are highly individual. But as said, you state your point of fact, which is okay in some circumstances, but not really cool in an article where you criticize exactly that in others.
        I am though somewhat indifferent about that, so i really lack the capacity to argue about how might be right!

        • Hey, I’ve read the article by Menno (who’s on our Advisory Board over at Legion Athletics, by the way), and he raises some good points. Eric has addressed them as well, and overall, most of the evidence still points to higher intakes for people who are restricting their calorie intake.

          • Heinz_Günther

            That is really cool to know.

            Look man, i am following your guideline on protein, so a discussion of how much would be fruitless and completely miss the point i tried to make!

          • Hey man, so it seems like we agree?

      • Heinz_Günther

        Next point is the superiority of a plant based diet (or one very low in animal products) over a “traditional” healthy diet.
        The problem is, that each study on their own has flaws as said before, the adventist health study is not diverse enough, the epic study to diverse (to many confounding factors), the work of dr esselstyn has only shown effect on deadly sick. The China study had very little control, the work on the bluezones is not diverse either.
        So you can say, that each one is not conclusive, but the evidence points in a clear direction towards a superiority of a plant based diet.
        And that is by the way, how observational studies come close to prove a causation.
        There are very few other fields, in which people would be so ignorant to theories that stand the test of time, have been detected in several occasions and if applied lead to the absence of the consequences.

        And just to prove my point, there has never been a controlled, randomized study of smoking, or any other carcinogen on humans, it is just unethical.

        So when stating:
        “We also know that two out of every three long-term smokers will eventually be killed by it, but nothing of the sort has been observed among regular egg eaters.”

        You should ask yourself, how do you know? Through an observational study? That is complemented by a wide body of research, that finds such a strong connection between smoking, sickness, quit smoking and minimizing risk?

        Where is your standard baseline of an argument?

        Btw. the research of the positive effects of animal product consumption is as far as i know way less rich!

        • First, correlation never proves causation. And the body of evidence in favor of moderate meat consumption is pretty robust. If you look at just about any study on centenarians, for instance, most still include some amount of meat/animal products in their diet.

          In regards to eggs in particular, I linked to the latest research showing that they aren’t, in fact, a causative factor for heart disease.

          I also agree that a plant-based diet is best, but that doesn’t mean “plant only” diet, either.

          • Heinz_Günther

            No, it certainly does not. And you are right, in nearly every long living society meat and animal products have their place.
            If it is moderate, low or high is up to debate as this are not absolute terms. But usually the consumption of animal products is somewhere around 5 to 10% in these societies. Most of the authors by the way do not neglect that, but to know that one needs to read them!

            No, correlation never proves causation, that is not even close to what is was saying! But as said before, not a smart point to make though!

            Check the arguments you are making and check how many you prove by observational studies, throw them out and see what is left of this article!

      • Heinz_Günther

        next is the cruelty and environment part, where you write:
        “Most of the whistleblower accounts of horrid abuses at factory farms come down to the actions of a small number of errant employees, not company-wide policies and practices.”

        How would you know? This is a claim without any evidence, same as:
        “What you’re not told, though, is this isn’t the norm in the meat and dairy industries.”

        True though, the opposite is as much a groundless claim, but that does not make your statement any better.

        The claim of the policies seems naive at best.

        I honestly dont know to well about the situation in the USA, as i am obviously not from there. In Europe the policies are so easily outsmarted, everyone with average intelligence can do that. Further the violations are that many and that often, that an effective control is not very likely.
        Maybe in the US you are better in this, but that just doesnt seem that way, at least for what was stated here during the TTIP negotiations. The differences seemed to minor, though major when eradicated.

        Plus even if the producers would comply with the policies, they are way to low. There is not even a real argument from you, just a link to the side of the USDA. I am sorry, but to prove that the policies are sufficient and complied with with a statement of the very same department that made the policies in the first place is a bit weak or?

        • Hey, actually, that’s how the entire legal system works. Laws are made, then that organization makes sure people follow them. So, uh, yeah unless there’s good evidence to the contrary the system isn’t working, then yes, the idea that there’s some kind of conspiracy to cover up animal cruelty needs more evidence than, “Of course they aren’t following the law.”

          • Heinz_Günther

            That is actually a very good point.

            It would go into a very fundamental discussion.
            Check the subprime crisis to see how good that works, if there is no independent organization to check the rules.
            Once there is profit and no harm, you do not need a conspiracy, and the current rules actually work in favor to cover a lot of stuff.

            But again i can only speak for europe, and most of the time only for the little piece of land i call home.

            But i can give you an example from over here: Antibiotics: It is law, that antibiotics are just allowed to treat sick animals, not as a Tool to get the animals growing faster. To treat sick animals, it is allowed, to treat a complete group of animals as soon as one is sick. They call this “regulation”. Certainly, in intensive animal farming there is always one sick animal in the group! Further it is always claimed that the use of antibiotics is no real issue, cause they use kinds that are not used for humans mostly.
            Here is the point, they feed reserve antibiotics to the animals. Officials state it is no problem, farmers state it is no problem and the companies state it is no problem, cause the link between animal farming and antibiotic resistant bacteria is to weak. That it is nearly impossible to get data, cause the company can claim the statics about sickness a “company secret” is not so well known.
            There has been an article about that in scientific american. Did not search it, cause i anyhow read the german issue. if you would like i search the source!

          • Hey Heinz, thanks for bringing those up, those are some interesting points for sure. Danke. 🙂

          • Heinz_Günther

            Gerne 😉

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