What the Health - Summary and Review
Updated: Jun 11, 2021
I recently finished watching the documentary, What the Health, and I sure wish I saw it earlier in my life, like in high school or even middle school.
The documentary explains how the standard American’s diet is way too high in animal products (meat, cheese, eggs), which results in the standard American diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Furthermore, the government and non-profit health organizations aren’t trying to get people to limit animal products, but instead promoting these animal products because the meat companies have gotten so big and powerful that they provide big funding to the government and sponsorship dollars to the health organizations. That’s a major conflict of interest.
On top of all that, the pharmaceutical companies view these chronic illnesses as cash cows, so despite there being lots of scientific research showing how making healthy changes to diet and lifestyle can reduce, prevent, or even reverse diseases, they don’t educate consumers on it. Instead, they make treatments and drugs that the patient has to take for the rest of their lives.
As an individual member of society, there’s not much we can do to change the current state of affairs. The best we can do is to educate ourselves through reading books, taking courses, and watching educational documentaries like What the Health. In this article, I share some of the key points from this film.
1 in 10 healthcare dollars is spent on people with diabetes
The US government and media blame diabetes on sugar and lack of exercise, but the true cause of diabetes is actually too much fat, which blocks the sugar receptors on cells.
It’s not the sugar in a cookie making you fat, it’s all the butter in the cookie that makes you fat
Food companies try to confuse the public and bring doubt about their food being bad. Since consumers are never told definitely that those foods are unhealthy, they will continue eating those unhealthy but deliciously addictive foods.
Pharmaceutical companies sell 80% of their antibiotics to animal agriculture companies.
450 different drugs are given to farmed animals to prevent disease and make them grow faster.
Factory farmed animals eat mostly GMO soy and corn, which are heavily sprayed with toxic pesticides and herbicides
When we eat that meat, we are eating all those drugs, antibiotics, pesticides, and herbicides in their flesh or milk.
The people living near animal factory farms get diseases from all the pollution that comes out of those facilities
In an animal slaughter house, animals are slaughtered at dangerously fast speeds, like 1 cow per 4 seconds. That’s why most meat is contaminated with fecal bacterial and pus.
The leading source of salt in the American diet is chicken because chicken is injected with sodium water. [Side note: the reason is to make the flesh softer and easier to chew, thereby making customers eat more of it, so then the companies can sell more of it.]
Dairy has a chemical in it called casein. When digested, casein becomes casomorphins. Though it is not as addictive as real morphine (a pleasurable and addictive drug), it has a similar effect, which explains why people are so “addicted” to dairy.
Human milk has 2.7g per litre of casein per litre. Cow milk has 26g of casein per litre.
The countries that consume the most dairy also have the highest rates of osteoporosis (weak bones), so dairy doesn't lead to strong bones.
The USDA has stated it is illegal to for eggs to be labeled as nutritious, low fat, part of a balanced diet, low calorie, healthful, healthy, good for you, or safe. That’s why companies use other words like “incredible edible egg”
Eggs are very high in cholesterol, and high levels of cholesterol contributes to clogged arteries and heart disease
Tens of thousands of fish get killed from the waste water that comes out of animal factory farms
Fish are getting contaminated with all the toxins due to the water pollution from animal agriculture, including all the pesticides, herbicides, and mercury
Farmed fish are given antibiotics similar to farmed land animals
Food Companies and Marketing
The meat and dairy industry spends at least $557 million annually to get the government to promote their products. That’s where we got messages like “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner,” and “Milk. It does a body good.” These advertisements are really effective and make people consume more animal foods than the USDA recommends (i.e., unhealthy levels of consumption).
The meat and dairy industry spends at least $138 million lobbying congress to influence food and health laws
Health Organizations and Pharma Companies
They take donations from the meat companies and fast food companies, hence they don’t speak up about why eating too much meat is bad for your health
Chronic diseases are cash cows for pharmaceutical companies, so they invest all the money in treating the disease with medication rather than on how free lifestyle changes could prevent the disease (and thereby put them out of business)
The pharma companies lobby the government more than any other industry in the country.
The Cheeseburger Law states that you as the consumer should have the common sense to know that these products are bad for you, so the food companies don’t need to warn you about it.
Agriculture-Gag laws make it illegal for anyone to publish any abuse that happens in animal factory farms because it would hurt the company's profits. That's why it’s so hard to such footage.
Nutrition guides are funded by the big food companies. That’s why they make sure that meat and dairy get a prominent feature.
The average American gets twice as much protein as the recommended amount, but they get less than half of the required fibre (which comes from plants).
People worry they won’t get enough nutrition on a plant-based diet. The fact is, people are not getting the nutrition they need on an animal-based diet, and they will get much more nutrition if they substituted animal products for plant products.
After watching the documentary, I think most of it is great, but there were some inaccuracies. To be fair, it’s impossible to make a perfect product, and I think the filmmakers did an excellent job making a documentary that is both informative and captivating.
The inaccuracies are some of references to certain scientific studies. For example, the film cited a study that said “each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.” The film didn’t explain clearly that the 18% is a relative increase, not absolute increase. The average person’s risk of colorectal cancer is 5%, so an 18% increase is now 6%, not 23%. This is a common mistake that many people and media outlets make when reporting on scientific studies.
The film did do a good job covering a wide subject of interrelated topics such as diet, health, social impacts of factory farms, why the government and food non-profits aren’t heavily promoting plant foods despite everyone agreeing on their healthiness, and why the pharmaceutical companies focus on making drugs to treat diseases as opposed to getting rid of diseases. It’s a tough balancing act to juggle all that in a 90-minute film, and I applaud the filmmakers for taking on that challenge.
One comment I have for other people who watch the film is that diet is not the only factor to health. For example, the Blue Zones project looked at areas in the world where people consistently live to 100 and are healthy, and they identified 9 big things that affect health, including food, purpose, community, relationships, and exercise. So if someone has a bad diet but still does well on other health factors, they could still be healthy.
Another comment is on the topic of veganism being too extreme for health purposes. It’s true that you do not have to be vegan to be healthy. The point of veganism is not purely for health. It’s for health, moral, and environmental reasons, with morality being the most foundational reason. Yes, you can eat animal products and be healthy because there are so many other factors to health. However, the more important question is how much animal products can you eat to remain healthy?
The problem of whether animal products are healthy or not keeps getting debated, and different people will find different scientific studies to confirm their own opinion. But the question of how much meat is not really debated any more. Pretty much every health expert agrees our diet should be mostly plant-based, and people right now are not eating enough plant-based foods.
On the relaxed end of the spectrum, Harvard Health and the Canada Food Guide says 25% of our food calories come from healthy proteins. That can be animal proteins, but it can (and should) also include plant proteins like nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and leafy greens.
In the five Blue Zones, it's an even higher standard: people get 95% of their calories from plants and only 5% from animal products. One of the Blue Zones, Loma Linda, is completely vegan. The other Blue Zones only eat meat 5 times a month on average, and the serving size is small—just 3 to 4 ounces (4 ounces = 0.25 pounds = A quarter pounder burger from McDonald's). In other words, from a health perspective, people should get 0% to 25% of their calories from animal proteins, and probably the closer you are to 5% or even 0%, the healthier.
The final comment I’ll make is that there are totally legitimate reasons for not going vegan or making a slow transition towards veganism. Few people become vegan overnight. People may not be ready right now and need to do more research. Or they have too many things going on to be thinking about adding another big change in their life. Or they don’t have control over their food and what gets put on their plate. Or they face extreme social pressures to eat meat. But regardless of the situation, most of us can eat less animal products.
Change and improve at a rate that is comfortable to you. Maybe it’s doing “Meatless Mondays” where people eat vegan just on Mondays. Maybe it’s picking one meal a day to be plant-based. People could buy plant milks to add variety to their milk choices in the fridge. Instead of only buying meat for protein, people could buy vegan mock meats from the grocery store. People could also buy more fruits and vegetables and put them on the kitchen table to remind themselves to eat more plants. As these small, healthy changes add up over time, we can improve our health naturally and comfortably.