A review of 'What the Health'

There has been a lot of controversy about the documentary ''What The Health'' which was released a couple of months ago. People seem to take camps of either standing by or fighting against what it claims. It is, however, not simply black or white. There are things that have been exaggerated, but also important points that shouldn't be overlooked. We would like to take a step back and offer you our honest review, while focusing on the take-away messages.

There are different ways how to provoke a thought and get people to change. ''What The Health'' has chosen a very old and effective strategy: intimidation. It makes you feel it's severe and you need to do something about it. Fast. While it has helped several people to rethink their eating habits and put them on a path to change, we don't believe it's fair to scare you into doing something - there are other ways and you have the right to make informed decisions.

The documentary starts by touching upon statistics that are staggering - 70% of deaths are lifestyle related. If you are among the haters of this documentary, you might bundle it up with the facts that have been over-exaggerated and therefore false. However, it is a hard truth: two thirds of us will die because of a disease that could have been prevented. This is something that should not be overlooked. While lifestyle doesn't encompass only food, it is by all means one of the most important factors. Most importantly - it is something we have control over. Nevertheless, we are often eating too many of the wrong foods and struggle to include those, that could benefit us.

Eating one egg is not as bad as smoking five cigarettes, and a single slice of bacon will probably not trigger cancer growth, but ''What The Health'' still has a point. Did you know that, according to FAO, Denmark has one of the highest numbers of meat consumption in the world? We eat almost just as much meat as people in the U.S. and one of the most meat-loving countries - Uruguay. On average, we consume 101 kg of meat per year, which makes it almost 300 g a day per person. The amounts are definitely alarming, considering the scientifically proven link between overconsumption of animal protein in the development of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer.

Why do we eat so much meat? Let's compare two protein sources - beef and chickpeas. 100g of beef has 20g of protein, no fiber (as all foods from animal sources), however 7g of fat, out of which, more than one third is saturated, even in a lean cut. Micronutrient-wise, you will get 1.5mg of iron, 20mg of magnesium and 330mg of potassium. Now, with the chickpeas - you get exactly the same amount of protein, whopping 12g of fiber (half of your daily needs) and 6g of fat, but only 0.5g of these are saturated, making it a source of unsaturated fats, that we need in our diet. You might have been told that beef is one of the best sources of iron, but chickpeas will give you almost three times as much - 4mg, along with 80mg of magnesium and 720mg of potassium double and triple the amounts of what is in beef. Healthcare professionals, organizations and associations all convey the same message: eat more plant based. We thrive from plants - they provide us with so many of the necessary vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are the source of fiber that we are always in lack of and that offers so many benefits on immediate and long term health.

Most of us are focused on meat being at the center of the dish. What if we would throw the equation around and instead work around vegetables and plants? What if we embrace them fully? It would not only benefit us, but also the planet. This is where ''What The Health'' is accurate - we have a serious problem in our hands. Meat production is the third biggest contributor to climate change. Did you know, that it takes about 15 000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of beef? That basically means that a family of four shifting from spaghetti Bolognese for dinner to a plant-focused dish will save about 7500 liters of water per meal that equals about 130 showers. Vegetarians produce nearly half the amount of CO2 emissions, compared to meat eaters, while vegans go as far as three times down. It doesn't mean you have to necessarily become vegan, if that's not something you believe in, but we would all benefit from reducing our meat consumption and increasing the amount of veggies on our plates.

''What The Health'' might have chosen an aggressive strategy and insulted the research community by choosing weak studies, only to make their arguments more bold. However, it touches upon very serious arguments that still hold true, even when brought down to reality and compared to sound scientific conclusions. There are health, environmental and ethical reasons to bring our meat consumption down. Maybe it's time to move the vegetables from side dish to main dish and embrace what plants have to offer.

03.12 2017