Why “Game Changers” Needn’t Change Your Game

Have you seen it yet?

If you have, and you’re thinking you’ve got to ‘go vegan’ as the main takeaway, it’s worth considering whether all the information presented should be taken at face value, or if, just perhaps, some of it may have been taken just a tad out of context.

The latest in a series of documentaries, many which contain scientific backing and sound research, Game Changers, is “a revolutionary new film about meat, protein and strength”, “tells the story of James Wilks, elite Special Forces trainer and The Ultimate Fighter winner, as he travels the world on a quest to uncover the optimal diet for human performance. Showcasing elite athletes, special ops soldiers, visionary scientists, cultural icons, and everyday heroes, what James discovers permanently changes his understanding of food and his definition of true strength.” (1)

Both the film and the website, both beautifully produced and presented, give a host of reasons why ‘eating meat is bad’ including the old go-to that ‘meat causes cancer’, that animal products create inflammation in humans and that livestock require excessive land because animals are actually just the “middlemen”, consuming on average six times more protein than they even produce.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And all those things are true… if we’re talking about beef sourced from inhumane stock yards, chicken from deplorable battery-cage production facilities stacked as high as the ceiling who never see the light of day and pigs stuffed into pens so small they cannot turn around.

None of these practices are acceptable and as a starting point, should never be supported in any manner.

Add to that, then, the next step:  the way in which our food is packaged and processed, then served to us in giant portions on a platter… or a to-go bag from many of the nearly quarter of a million fast food eateries that existed as of 2018 (2).

From preservatives to allow a longer shelf life to hidden, and hidden sugars to cater to the cloyingly sweet palate so many Americans have unknowingly created for themselves after a lifetime of including the white powder as part of their ‘everything in moderation’ directive to FDA approved colors and stabilizers, what ends up on our greasy burger wrapped in paper is certainly far from anything that should be a part of what any of us eat regularly, if ever.

But what about properly sourced animal based products, eaten in the proper quantities (as in small), balanced out with a plethora of local, in season veggies and ample natural fats?

That’s a horse of a different color.

Below are ten reasons why simply ‘going vegan’ after watching this film, or for any other reason, for that matter, isn’t necessarily the best course of action.

1. Proper Sourcing of Animal Products Benefits the Environment

When properly managed, raising animals on pasture instead of factory farms is a net benefit to the environment. To begin with, a diet of grazed grass requires much less fossil fuel than a feedlot diet of dried corn and soy. On pasture, grazing animals do their own fertilizing and harvesting. The ground is covered with greens all year round, so it does an excellent job of harvesting solar energy and holding on to top soil and moisture. As you will read in the bulletins below, grazed pasture removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively than any land use, including forestland and ungrazed prairie, helping to slow global warming (3).

2. Portions

Meat, eggs, and dairy products from pastured animals are ideal for your health. Compared with commercial products, they offer you more “good” fats, and fewer “bad” fats. They are richer in antioxidants; including vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Furthermore, they do not contain traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs.    One group of athletes in Game Changers consisted of three pro ball players, two of whom regularly ate excessive portions of steak or fried chicken as part of their pre-game meal (the third was vegetarian, and often for a bean and cheese burrito).   Not only was the sourcing of the proteins sub-par at  best, the sheer size of the steak was enough to feed four athletes.    For comparison, a pre-game meal for a large man, consisting of 4-6 ounces of grass fed and finished rib eye,  paired with a large arugula, avocado and olive oil salad, a large portion of steamed broccoli with fresh lime and salt and 6 ounces of baked yam with raw butter would provide ample carbohydrate, fat and protein, a high level of nutrient density, fiber and a net alkaline load on the body, setting him up for proper digestion and assimilation… just what is needed to perform at a high level, not solely in sport but also in daily life.

3. Vegan-Labeled Food Isn’t Necessarily Healthy

Any diet that one may choose to follow can be taken out of context, even if it is based on sound principles.   We saw it with gluten-free, then paleo and now keto.    An authentic Paleo Diet, which mimics the foods our ancestors ate using readily available foods we can source in our modern day society from our farmer’s markets and our own backyards, is a far cry from a grocery cart full of paleo-labeled pancakes, breads, cookies and pasta.    If what one gleans from this film, or others like it including What the Health or Forks over Knives, is to simply nix any animal products and that’s it, this is a lateral step over from the standard American Diet in terms of the net inflammatory which results in the body.   If it’s in package, it’s still likely to be highly processed and low or completely lacking in nutrient density.

4. Vegan Food Production Can Also Be Toxic To Our Planet

Soy crops rob the soil of nutrients without giving back, they’re one of the pesticide laden crops and they are now almost all genetically modified. The major part of it goes to feed livestock, who get sick eating it. Some factory produced cuts of meat are now injected with extra soy. This is yet another reason to stay clear of factory-farmed animals: save yourself and the environment from soy.

Monsanto, the largest soy producer now sues every farmer who gets their soy cross-pollinated by Monsanto’s patented GMO crops. Cross-pollination used to be the way plants reproduced, now it’s illegal! It should actually be the opposite where the farmers sue Monsanto for infecting their crops, but of course Monsanto is now too big to be vulnerable. They have a very strong political power because of the lobbying they do (4).

And that’s just the part we ingest, not even considering what it is packaged in; plastic waste from America, collected for recycling, is shipped to Indonesia. Some is burned as fuel by tofu makers, producing deadly chemicals and contaminating food (5).

5. Vegan Diets Can Also Create Inflammation

It’s not only poorly sourced meat, dairy and poultry that can create inflammation in the body; grains, beans, nuts and seeds  and vegetable oils can also do an excellent job at that. Naturally occurring substances, anti-nutrients including saponins, lectins or phytates, found in plant-derived foods, interfere with absorption or proper functioning of nutrients in the body.

Anti-nutrients are compounds that are produced by plants as part of their defense mechanism. These compounds that protect plants from pesticides and chemicals in the soil, have a damaging effect to our gut, since we are unable to digest them

They bind to nutrients in our healthy food options and while we might not notice anything immediately like a stomachache or other GI distress, the start of inflammation in the body has started and it doesn’t always stay in the gut. Symptoms can manifest throughout the body, ranging from headaches, mental fogginess, joint pain, onset or exacerbation of autoimmune conditions…just to list a handful of the maladies that can ensue. (6)

6. Small Amounts of Mindfully Sourced, Natural Proteins Are An Essential Component of a Healthy Human Diet 

Studies show that the modern human brain consumes 20 percent of the body’s energy at rest, twice that of other primates. Historically, meat and cooked foods were needed to provide the necessary calorie boost to feed a growing brain and meat must have been an integral, and not sporadic, element of the prehuman diet more than 1 million years ago (7).

7. Properly Sourced Animal Foods Play A Crucial Role in Baby’s First Foods; Vegan Diets 

Animal-sourced zinc stimulates healthier bones and low zinc stunts growth.  Vegan children, especially boys, tend to be shorter and further, getting enough zinc from birth through age five can metabolically program your child’s height.  In addition, higher zinc levels leads to improved cognitive development.  In a study, researchers compared introducing meat to iron fortified cereal to exclusively breast fed infants and found that the meat-fed infants had substantially higher rate of brain growth and demonstrated trends to other advanced developmental advantages.  (8)

8. Plant Based Needn’t Mean Vegan

Who ever decided that a plant based diet and moderate portions of mindfully sourced proteins cannot be one and the same?  I consider the way I eat and the way I feed my family, including our 7 month old son, to be plant based.   If over 80% of what we are eating is local, in season, organic veggies and a little bit of fruit, how could it be classified as anything else?   When we portion our meat properly and not in the greedy manner we’ve grown accustomed to, we are, in fact, plant based and treating our body and our planet respectfully.

9. Performance on the Field / Performance in Life Also Depends On Our Genetics, and It’s Not One Size Fits All

We’re all individuals.   The idea that all humans should eat in the same way makes about as much sense as the idea that every woman across the world should have a menstrual cycle that lasts exactly 28 days all the time without factoring anything else in.   If we begin with taking a look back to a few generations earlier, we can see what our own genetics would likely predispose us to.  And while certain populations certainly tend to  have a more meat-based and others more plant if we go back a hundred years or so, you can rest assured that most people were not going out of their way to avoid any and all meat and animal products as a means to prevent heart disease or keep their blood sugar from climbing up even further to the pre-diabetic range.  They ate locally, seasonally and fresh.   They ate food.   It was only in the past 75 years or so that food began to become an industry; a hugely profitable (for big food) giant.    If we do nothing else, just by taking a moment to see what our own families ate, we can see how that compares to what we’re eating now and make small changes to mimic what they did.

10. Here’s an Idea: What if We Just Nixed All the Labeling and Just Ate Food?

I always find it interesting to learn all the new ways we choose to label the way in which we eat.   Pesco-vegetarian.    Pegan.  Part time vegan.   Weekend Paleo.   What if we just dialed it way back to tuning into what food really is: ood is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for an organism. Food is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals. The substance is ingested by an organism and assimilated by the organism’s cells to provide energy, maintain life, or stimulate growth (9).  Confused and overwhelmed about how to decipher confusing labels?   Choose things that do not come in a package with a label.   There’s no doubting what’s in a bunch of kale or an avocado!

Undoubtedly, documentaries of this nature do a great job at raising awareness and granted, if someone following the Standard American Diet makes positive shifts as a result, that’s fantastic.

But to eschew all animal products regardless of where they’re sourced,  how much we eat and in what manner they’re prepared isn’t the straightforward answer one might think if they walk away from the film without mulling over some of the points I shared above.

(1) https://gamechangersmovie.com

(2) https://www.statista.com/statistics/196619/total-number-of-fast-food-restaurants-in-the-us-since-2002/

(3) http://www.eatwild.com/environment.html

(4) https://paleoleap.com/dangers-soy/

(5) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/14/world/asia/indonesia-tofu-dioxin-plastic.html

(6) https://thepaleodiet.com/antinutrients-the-antithesis-of-true-paleo/

(7) https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/sorry-vegans-eating-meat-and-cooking-food-is-how-humans-got-their-big-brains/2012/11/26/3d4d36de-326d-11e2-bb9b-288a310849ee_story.html

(8) “Super Nutrition for Babies: the Right Way to Feed Your Baby for Optimal Health.” Super Nutrition for Babies: the Right Way to Feed Your Baby for Optimal Health, by Kelly Genzlinger et al., Fair Winds Press, 2012, p. 41.

(9) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food