‘What the Health?’ documentary takes pro-vegan agenda too far

While “What the Health?” gets some things right about plant-based diets, local dietitians were “shocked” by some of its overstatements and nebulous health claims.

On Nutrition

When I watched the documentary “What the Health?” a few months ago, I quickly realized that I wasn’t watching a documentary about the benefits of plant-based diets — I was watching a propaganda film. “What the Health?” has a very strong pro-vegan agenda, with information tailored to support that agenda and footage edited for maximum drama. What’s more, the film makes a number of nebulous health claims, including “miracle cure” type testimonials that are literally too good to be true.

The final straw came when some of my patients who had watched the film told me they felt guilty — and even scared — that they had been “poisoning” themselves by eating milk, meat, poultry, eggs and fish. But before totally writing the film off, I decided to consult two of my favorite Seattle dietitians: Chris Vogliano, MS, RD, LD, who speaks frequently on how plant-based diets can improve the health of people and the planet, and Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and past chair of the Academy’s Vegetarian Nutrition dietetic practice group.

“After hearing rants and raves about this film for weeks, I decided it was time to check it out myself,” Vogliano said. “Within the first 20 minutes, I was shocked by the overstatements and bias presented. While there are sprinkles of validity, this film is ripe with cherry picking and over-exaggerations. ‘What the Health?’ is promoting a 100 percent plant-based, vegan diet. Can vegan diets be healthy? Absolutely. Must we all be vegan to be healthy? Absolutely not.”

Hultin said she loves to hear people becoming more interested in plant-based diets — whether vegan, vegetarian or simply eating less meat. “There are a lot of reasons to eat less meat but none of them should stem from fear,” she said. “I worry that this is the approach ‘What the Health?’ took.”

What the film gets right

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The research in support of plant-based diets is strong, likely because they are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber, while being lower in saturated fat. Hultin said there’s good reason to learn more about the benefits and versatility of plant-based meals….

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