Are we what we eat? A Netflix film thinks so…

By Hayley Philip March 14, 2024 | 6 MIN READ

Diet

Health and Nutrition

Ingredients

The Dirt

Another food documentary has hit your streaming services, but watcher, beware. We explore the research and diet recommendations in these episodes to determine if they’re fit for our nutritional health…or flawed.

Nutrition

Are we what we eat? A Netflix film thinks so…

Another food documentary has hit your streaming services, but watcher, beware. We explore the research and diet recommendations in these episodes to determine if they’re fit for our nutritional health…or flawed.

Diet

Health and Nutrition

Ingredients

By Hayley Philip March 14, 2024 | 6 MIN READ

The Dirt

Another food documentary has hit your streaming services, but watcher, beware. We explore the research and diet recommendations in these episodes to determine if they’re fit for our nutritional health…or flawed.

Netflix’s “You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment,” directed by the acclaimed Louie Psihoyos, presents a look at the effects of diet on health through the unique lens of an 8-week ‘controlled’ study by Stanford University. The documentary series, released in January 2024, unfolds the intriguing findings from an experiment involving 22 sets of genetically identical twins.

The overarching message of the series is that ‘meat is bad for you, and plants are good for you’, as is seemingly made evident by Dr. Christopher D. Gardner, Ph.D., the study’s author and principal investigator. However, a closer examination of the study uncovers limitations and concerns.

netflix documentary, Are we what we eat? A Netflix film thinks so…

The study’s premise was straightforward: each twin was assigned a different diet—one vegan, one omnivore—both seemingly balanced and nutritious. Initially, the twins received pre-prepared meals to ensure dietary adherence, followed by a transition to self-prepared meals for practical application. Commentators then chime in to provide additional insights based on their expertise, including NYC Mayor Eric Adams, Senator Cory Booker, Dr. Michael Greger, and Marion Nestle.

Considering Overall Health

We agree that a diet rich in fresh produce and limited in red meat is certainly the way to go!

But before you jump into all vegan diet, consider some of the drawbacks and how to manage them.  This film entices you to become a vegan because the twin that eliminated meat showed significant outcomes: a 10% to 15% decrease in LDL cholesterol, a 25% reduction in insulin levels, and a 3% weight loss—all achieved through whole, plant-based foods without any animal products. Conversely, those on the omnivore diet showed no significant health benefits.

While the vegan group experienced positive changes in their LDL cholesterol (the bad one) and weight loss, they also had negative changes in HDL cholesterol (the good one) and triglycerides (bad fat).  High triglycerides may contribute to the hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery wall, therefore, contributing to heart disease.

Furthermore, the oversight of potential risks associated with Vitamin B12 deficiency in the documentary is a significant concern. Vegetarians need to take a B12 supplement to make sure they have enough of this crucial nutrient for their overall health, particularly for the proper functioning of our nervous system and the production of red blood cells.

netflix documentary, Are we what we eat? A Netflix film thinks so…

Additionally, the documentary‘s observation that the weight loss in the vegan group primarily consisted of muscle loss raises concerns about the impact of unbalanced weight loss strategies.

Losing muscle mass during weight loss is generally undesirable because muscle tissue plays a crucial role in metabolism, physical strength, and overall well-being.

Muscles help burn calories and support daily activities, and their loss can lead to a decrease in metabolic rate, making it harder to maintain a healthy weight.

Another noteworthy concern is its feasibility as a long-term diet. Most participants in this study reported lower dietary satisfaction with a vegan diet suggests that long-term adherence to such a diet may be challenging for many individuals. This aspect challenges the feasibility and practicality of adopting a vegan lifestyle for a substantial portion of the population.

If you’re interested in adopting a better way of eating that eschews the potential bias, the study’s limitations, potential deficiency risks, and the challenges associated with long-term dietary adherence, consider The Mediterranean Diet. This tried and true eating style has the most peer-reviewed research showing its positive effects towards living a long and healthful life.

And should you want your diet to factor in particular health concerns, consider researching epigenetics. This is the study of how your behaviors and your environment can cause changes in how your body reads your DNA.

Ideological Issues

netflix documentary, Are we what we eat? A Netflix film thinks so…

There are plenty of healthy vegans, so that is not the issue.  It seems as though those affiliated with the documentary is using diet to make a political stance on meat.

This becomes evident when we consider the affiliations of Dr. Gardner one of the study authors, who is connected to Beyond Meat, a prominent producer of plant-based meat alternatives. While financial conflicts of interest were disclosed in the study, there is also a strong conviction in promoting a plant-based diet.

The film also focuses on animal welfare concerns associated with meat production but fails to address issues related to growing our food.  Every single bite we take has its own, including labor issues, pesticide concerns, and water usage, to name a few.

By solely emphasizing animal rights, the documentary neglects broader ethical and environmental considerations in our food system that span to crops and plant-based diet foodstuffs as well.  This documentary falls into the same category as so many others.

Not The First…and Certainly Not The Last

Consumers are often drawn to exciting and visually compelling documentaries about food, especially when they promise groundbreaking revelations about nutrition and health.

netflix documentary, Are we what we eat? A Netflix film thinks so…

These documentaries can be engaging, emotionally charged, and persuasive, making them highly effective in shaping public opinion. However, it’s important for consumers to recognize that these films are often crafted with a specific agenda or perspective in mind and overlook some core components.

While documentaries can provide valuable insights into various aspects of our food system, they should not be the sole source of information when it comes to making important dietary decisions. Here’s why consumers should exercise caution and seek factual resources for nutrition information:

netflix documentary, Are we what we eat? A Netflix film thinks so…

To make informed decisions about nutrition, consumers should seek out a variety of reputable, evidence-based resources. These can include peer-reviewed scientific journals, registered dietitians or nutritionists, government health agencies, and academic institutions specializing in nutrition and health research.

By consulting a range of sources and critically evaluating information, consumers can make dietary choices that are based on a well-rounded understanding of nutrition rather than being swayed solely by the excitement of a compelling documentary.

The Bottom Line

We must critically evaluate diet-based documentaries and consider a holistic view of nutrition. A well-rounded approach includes nutrient-based dietary choices that align with individual health goals and ethical considerations.