Chris Kresser: Debunking “The Game Changers” Documentary (Think Twice About a Vegan Diet) – The Joe Rogan Experience

Key Takeaways (Chris’ Problems with The Game Changers Documentary)

  • “If the purpose of this film was to say, ‘It’s possible to survive on a plant-based diet and here are some athletes that have done so,’ I wouldn’t have had any qualms with it… I take issue with it because it went a step further and said a plant-based diet is the optimal diet for athletes and everybody else.” – Chris Kresser
  • “If you take someone who’s been on a standard American diet… and they switch from that to a plant-based diet, well, of course, they’ll feel better. They’ve gone from eating absolute crap to real foods.” – Chris Kresser
    • But as time goes on, vegans often deficient in protein and a variety of micronutrients (i.e., vitamin A, vitamin B12, calcium, zinc, and iron)
  • Vegans kill animals too
    • Industrial agriculture kills far more animals (insects, rodents, mice, and birds) than eating cows
      • Chris recalls a study that found between 35 and 250 mice are killed per acre of land cultivated for agriculture (in total, ~7.3 billion animals are killed every year from plant agriculture alone)
  • Greenhouse gases emitted due to meat consumption are largely exaggerated
  • A standard American diet that includes meat is NOT the same as a whole foods-based diet that includes meat
  • It’s mostly a myth that consuming chicken, fish, and red meat increases your risk of cancer
  • Raising cattle doesn’t waste as much water as you think
    • The typical claim: 2400 gallons of water is used to produce a pound of beef
    • But what you don’t hear: The vast majority of this water, even from feedlot beef, is rainfall (only 6% is groundwater)
      • For pasture-raised beef, 97% of the water used comes from rain. The other 3% comes from irrigation (typically, about 280 gallons is used to produce a pound of beef – this may sound like a lot, but keep in mind this is less than the water needed to produce a pound of avocados, rice, almonds, or sugar).

Intro

  • Chris Kresser (@chriskresser) is a former vegan who now advocates for an omnivorous diet
    • For more Chris, check out the Podcast Notes from his diet debate with Joel Kahn last year on The Joe Rogan Experience
    • For a full list of the references that Chris mentions, check out his website
  • Host – Joe Rogan (@joerogan)

Chris’ First Round of Thoughts on The Game Changers Documentary

  • “I think this film was the best out of all the vegan documentaries that have been made… Especially for someone who doesn’t have the background or science awareness to critique some of the claims, it’s going to be persuasive and compelling.” – Chris Kresser
  • Why are these types of films made? Do the creators believe what they’re preaching? Or are they just trying to convert people to a vegan diet for the benefit of the world?
    • Most likely, they genuinely believe a vegan diet is healthier and are truly trying to help people

Were gladiators vegan/vegetarian?

  • (The documentary claims so)
  • Well…
    • Gladiators had a low life expectancy and were basically prisoners of war
    • They often did eat a vegetarian diet and tons simple carbs (like barley) to increase their odds of survival in the arena (the bigger they were, the better they were protected)

Is a plant-based diet best for athletes?

  • (The documentary claims so)
  • “If the purpose of this film was to say, ‘It’s possible to survive on a plant-based diet and here are some athletes that have done so,’ I wouldn’t have had any qualms with it” – Chris Kresser
    • It can definitely be done – take Rich Roll, for example
    • “Where I take issue with it, is it went a step further and said a plant-based diet is the optimal diet for athletes and everybody else”
  • There’s no evidence to support the claims in the film that a vegan diet increases strength and endurance

The Vegan Honeymoon

  • “If you take someone who’s been on a standard American diet… and they switch from that to a plant-based diet, well, of course, they’ll feel better. They’ve gone from eating absolute crap to real foods.” – Chris Kresser
    • But, as time goes on, vegans often become deficient in protein and a variety of micronutrients (i.e., vitamin A, zinc, calcium, and iron)
  • “You can’t just look at what happens a month after someone goes vegan. You have to look at what happens 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years after.” – Chris Kresser

Protein

  • The documentary claims that there’s an equal amount of protein in a peanut butter sandwich and 3 oz. of beef
    • Chris debunks this:
      • 3 oz. of 90% lean ground beef has 24 grams of protein. So, you’d have to have ~5 tablespoons of peanut butter in that sandwich to get the equivalent amount of protein (a third of a cup!!). Not to mention, that’s a huge calorie load.
  • The facts: animal protein is far more bioavailable (the amino acids are of higher quality)
    • In terms of bioavailability: Protein isn’t worth much if you can’t digest and absorb it
    • You can certainly get as many amino acids from plant-based proteins, but you need to eat a much higher quantity

The Best Argument for Veganism

  • “Factory farming is disgusting. The cruelty of treating animals as a commodity and serving them up for slaughter in the horrific conditions… THAT’s the argument for veganism.”Joe Rogan

Vegans Kill Animals Too

  • “The argument that plant-based agriculture doesn’t kill animals is just false” – Chris Kresser
    • Monocropping plant agriculture (AKA industrial agriculture) kills far more animals (insects, rodents, mice, and birds) than eating cows
      • Chris recalls a study that found between 35 and 250 mice are killed per acre of land cultivated for agriculture (in total, ~7.3 billion animals are killed every year from plant agriculture alone)
        • Fact: There’s far more life taken by plant agriculture than by animal agriculture
  • That said, vegans counter the above by arguing that most of these monocrops are used to feed animals
    • Chris doesn’t believe it
      • Just think: Fake meats are primarily made of soy (an industrial crop)

What about the environmental argument for veganism?

  • Chris recalls a 2017 study that examined the question: Would removing animal products from our diet save the world and reduce greenhouse gases?
    • The findings: It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by just 2.6%. To add, our intake of carbs and total calories would go WAY up (and thus result in many nutrient deficiencies).
      • There’s already a surplus of calories in the average diet by about ~145%; if we removed animal products entirely, this would rise to ~230%!
      • In summary: “There’s a lot of downstream consequences that haven’t been fully thought through” – Chris Kresser
  • “The vast majority of our greenhouse gas issues are coming from transportation and industry” – Joe Rogan
    • (The EPA has estimated that ~80% of greenhouse gas emissions come from industry)
    • Greenhouse gases emitted due to meat consumption are largely exaggerated
      • The Game Changers documentary states that of the global emissions total, livestock emissions make up 15% and transportation accounts for 14%
        • But the problem: This number accounts for the full life cycle of the cattle (carbon needed for feed, transport, etc. – NOT just methane burps), and only accounts for the direct tailpipe emissions for transportation (not the carbon necessary for manufacturing cars, the carbon inputs for making fuel, etc.)
      • If you examine DIRECT emissions in both categories:
        • Livestock makes up 5% of the global emissions total, while transportation accounts for 14% (in the U.S., livestock only makes up 3.9%)

Regenerative, Holistically Managed Livestock Production

  • THIS is how we go about saving our planet (not by adopting a vegan diet)
  • Done right, regeneratively/holistically managed livestock can be carbon neutral (or even a carbon sink – AKA it removes carbon from the atmosphere)
  • How does it work?
    • Cows burp out methane
    • Methane enters the atmosphere
    • Via hydroxyl oxidation, the methane is converted to CO2 and water vapor
    • Plants take in CO2 and turn it into food
    • Cows then eat the plants
    • Repeat
  • The above is a natural cycle, but specific farming techniques must be done with the livestock to make it a carbon-neutral process (essentially, cattle have to be moved around in a particular way)

But will the farming method mentioned above feed everyone? Do we have enough land?

  • “It’s the only way we’re going to feed everyone” – Chris Kresser
    • Why? – Currently, soil is degrading at an alarming rate (it’s estimated that we only have ~60 harvests left)
      • Trying to scale up industrial plant agriculture will only further degrade it, and at some point, we won’t have any soil left

Grass-Fed Beef

  • Using the above farming method, all beef would technically be “grass-fed”
    • Currently, only 2-3% of beef is grass-fed
  • Feedlot meat is mostly grass-fed, but in the last 5-10% of the process, it’s grain-finished (which makes the animals sick)
    • One common food item used for this process: Soy cakes (a byproduct of soybean oil production)

A Few More Problems with Everyone Going Vegan

  • What would we do with all the animals?
  • What about the food we feed animals? (86% of what cattle eat isn’t edible by humans)
    • When soy cakes decompose, they release carbon into the atmosphere

You Should Know This

  • James Cameron, one of the filmmakers behind The Game Changers documentary, is one of the founders of Verdient Foods, a peat protein company
  • Sadly, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine is offering CEUs (Continuing Education Units) to doctors who watch The Game Changers and complete a quiz
    • “That’s ABSOLUTELY ridiculous. This isn’t peer-reviews science.” – Chris Kresser
    • The American College of Lifestyle Medicine was founded by the Seventh-day Adventist Church (and they’re vegetarians)

The Underlying Principle

  • A standard American diet that includes meat is NOT the same as a whole foods-based diet that includes meat
    • But the problem: Research has treated them the same

We’re Caught in Our Bubbles

  • In the realm of social media, algorithms tend only to show you content that caters to your viewpoints (because you’re more likely to click, thus resulting in more ad dollars)
    • More likely than not, if you’re a vegan (and frequently talk about it/engage with vegan content), you’re more likely to see vegan videos/perspectives

Chris’ Experience Going Vegan

  • A while back, Chris was a “raw food” vegan, but experienced multiple adverse side effects:
    • Depression
    • Altered digestion
    • Anxiety
    • Chris adds – “It just clearly wasn’t working for me, but that’s not to say it can’t work for some people”

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Protein

  • The current RDA of protein is 0.8 grams/kg of body weight
    • Note – this ISN’T the amount needed for optimal health, it’s the amount required to avoid being malnourished
  • New research suggests the RDA for the general population should actually be 1.2 g/kg of body weight (and 1.4-2.7 g/kg for an athlete!)
    • For reference: 2.1 g/kg of bodyweight equates to 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of body weight
  • Long story short, MANY people will go protein deficient on a vegan/vegetarian diet

More Issues With Plant-Based Protein

  • Leucine’s concentration, an essential amino acid necessary for anabolic signaling and muscle growth, is quite low in plant proteins
  • Compared to every other plant protein. beef is higher in every single amino acid (such as white beans, soybeans, peas, and rice)
    • One exception: Tryptophan is higher in soybeans than beef
    • You can undoubtedly meet your amino acid needs with plant proteins, you just need to eat a TON (or supplement with protein powder)

A Monologue from Joe

  • “It is so important that we’re honest about what we know. This is the problem I have with a lot of these documentaries; they’re not honest about what they know. They’re only giving you little snippets, and cherry-picking data… They’re using all this deception, pretending that the gladiators chose to eat barley to kick ass. Get the f*** out of here. This is nonsense, and they know it’s nonsense!”Joe Rogan

Think About This

  • “As humans, we have a hard time differentiating between our own experience, what works for us, and the larger picture” – Chris Kresser
    • Sure, something like the carnivore diet may heal an autoimmune issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect diet for everyone
  • “I’ve always argued that an optimal diet includes both plants and animal foods. Plants contain nutrients animals don’t have, and animals contain certain nutrients plants don’t have.”Chris Kresser
    • As far as the proportions of plant/animal food/ that depends on your genetics, where you live, health status, etc.

Debunking the Vitamin B12 Myth

  • The Game Changers documentary states (paraphrased):
    • Vitamin B12 isn’t made by animals, but by bacteria that animals consume in the soil and water. Before industrial farming, farm animals and humans could get B12 by eating traces of dirt on plants or drinking water from rivers and streams, but now, because of pesticides and antibiotics that kill bacteria, even farm animals have to be given B12 supplements.
  • Chris debunks: “That’s just all false and factually wrong” 
    • B12 is made by bacteria, but by the bacteria in animal stomachs (in cows, bacteria covert cobalt from grass into B12)   
    • Humans can also make B12 in our guts, but we can’t absorb it (chimps and gorillas are the same, but they get B12 by eating their own poop)
    • “There’s no evidence that B12 is fed to cattle and there’s no evidence that humans have ever been able to meet their B12 needs by eating soil and water” Chris Kresser

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

  • Chris recalls a related study:
    • For background, there are 4 stages of vitamin B12 deficiency. Serum B12, the marker that’s usually used to measure this, only drops in the 4th and final stage. Other markers are more sensitive and will drop earlier – holoTC is one of them.
    • A 2013 study compared holoTC levels in vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores:
      • Only 11% of omnivores showed depleted levels
      • 77% of vegetarians and 92% of vegans were deficient
  • What is B12 useful for?
    • Energy production
    • Staving off neurological damage 
    • Keeping homocysteine low
      • Homocysteine, a sticky inflammatory protein which can cause heart disease and dementia, tends to be found in much higher levels in vegans/vegetarians

Further Debunking The Game Changers Documentary

  • “There’s a lot of f***ery in this movie, man”Joe Rogan
  • The film states:
    • “This whole fantasy that we need to eat meat to get our protein, it’s actually bullsh**. Look at a gorilla. A gorilla will f*** you up in two seconds. What does a gorilla eat?”
    • Chris debunks: “That’s a nonsensical argument. You know what will fu*** you up faster than a gorilla? A human who has a gun and eats McDonald’s and KFC… What is a gun? It’s a tool. How did we develop tools? We started eating meat and fish, and we came down out of the trees, and we weren’t spending half of our waking hours eating leaves and low-calorie fruits.”Chis Kresser
      • Gorillas, to meet their protein requirements, eat 4-6 lbs. of food a day!
  • The documentary also argues that humans have always followed a plant-based diet throughout history
    • It’s just not true – isotope studies show humans have been eating meat for 2.5 million years!
      • “The fossil record clearly indicates that homo sapiens, neanderthals, and our hominid ancestors were eating a lot of meat” – Chris Kresser
  • “There was this whole section in the film about chicken and fish causing cancer, and dairy products causing cancer… It went from, ‘You can do well on a plant-based diet as an athlete,’ to, ‘Animals products are horrible and going to kill you.’ That’s a big leap.” – Chris Kresser
    • The film states that vegetarians who had one or more servings/week of white meat (chicken) more than tripled their risk of colon cancer
      • Chris debunks this: A meta-analysis of 16 studies, with more than 2 million participants in total, found no increase in cancer risk from consuming fish or poultry
    • Related: Chris recalls another extensive meta-analysis that showed “only low, or very low certainty evidence, that red meat causes any kind of disease”

Nutrient Density

  • Comparing to plant-based foods: “Meat is far more nutrient-dense, per calorie, per ounce, per amino acid profile” – Joe Rogan
  • The most nutrient-dense foods (in order)
    • Organ meats
    • Shellfish
      • A cool fact: One serving of oysters will meat your zinc needs for the entire week (and zinc is essential for male virility) 
    • Herbs and spices
    • Muscle meats and eggs
    • Vegetables
    • Grains and legumes

Let’s Talk About Boners

  • The film documents a notorious “boner experiment,” in which the effects of vegan/meat-based burritos are measured on the nightly erections of three NFL players
    • (Read more about the experiment here)
    • The film goes on to show that eating the plant-based burrito results in 500% more frequent erections throughout the night, and also an “increased erection strength”
  • Chris debunks:
    • “What can we include from this? Absolutely nothing. It was just an experiment made up and done in a film. It wasn’t peer-reviewed and wasn’t scientific at all.” Chris Kresser

What about the cloudy blood?

  • In the film, a small group of people was fed both meat-based and vegan burritos
    • Afterward, the blood of the participants was examined. It was then shown that the people who ate meat had “cloudier blood.”
  • Chris debunks:
    • This isn’t that big of a surprise – meat has more saturated fat
    • “So what? That’s the big question. It might actually be better for you.” – Chris Kresser

Saturated Fat and Cholesterol

  • Cholesterol is necessary for functioning optimally 
    • Most of the cholesterol we have in our body (~70%), we made ourselves (~30% comes from the diet)
  • The fact of the matter is, people respond differently to foods in terms of how their cholesterol levels are affected

Doesn’t raising cattle waste water?

  • The typical claim: 2400 gallons of water produces a pound of beef
  • But what you don’t hear: The vast majority of this water, even from feedlot beef, is rainfall (only 6% is groundwater)
    • For pasture-raised beef, 97% of the water used comes from rain. The other 3% comes from irrigation (typically, about 280 gallons is used to produce a pound of beef – this may sound like a lot, but keep in mind this is less than the water needed to produce a pound of avocados, rice, almonds, or sugar).

Fake Meat

  • There are companies like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat that are making fake meat:
    • Impossible Burger‘s main ingredients are GMO soy, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and natural flavors
      • The primary ingredient is SLH (soy leghemoglobin), a bioengineered protein additive that adds meat-like taste and color (but the FDA doesn’t recognize it as safe)
    • Beyond meat’s main ingredients are pea protein isolate, canola oil, and refined coconut oil

TMAO, Neu5Gc, and Heme Iron

  • The film states: “In animal products, you’re getting protein packaged with inflammatory molecules like Neu5Gc, endotoxins, and heme iron. When we consume animal products, it also changes the microbiome, the bacteria that live in our gut. The bacterial species that have been shown to promote inflammation begin to overgrow and produce inflammatory mediators like TMAO.”
  • Chris debunks:
    • Neu5Gc is a signaling molecule that helps distinguish self from non-self
      • Humans don’t produce it, but cows do (so it’s found in meat and milk). The theory is that our body’s attack the Neu5Gc we consume, and then an autoimmune response develops, which increases the risk of disease (but this hasn’t been proven at all).
    • Heme iron is the form of iron found in beef and animal products
      • Heme iron does form toxic compounds implicated in colon cancer. BUT, if you eat plants along with heme iron, it cancels out the adverse effects.
        • If you consume heme iron in conjunction with a crappy American diet, then sure, it might cause a problem
    • TMAO is a molecule generated in the gut from carnitine and choline
      • Studies show that choline and carnitine supplements increased blood levels of TMAO. BUT, research hasn’t shown that whole foods (particularly meat and eggs), increase blood TMAO levels.
      • To add, TMAO levels can also be increased from factors that have nothing to do with meat:
        • Insulin resistance via an enzyme in the liver (and 1 out of 3 Americans are insulin resistant)
        • SIBO (bacterial overgrowth in the intestine) 
        • Kidney disease, which results from diabetes

Another Wrongly Stated Point

  • The film describes how our body’s cant derive fuel from protein, and we can only do so from carbs
    • This just isn’t true – our body converts protein to glycogen via a process called gluconeogenesis 
  • Sure, if you play an explosive sport, you’ll probably do better with carbs in your diet
    • But, if not, or even if you’re an endurance athlete, you can survive on just fat/protein

Additional Nutritional Info.

  • Fish is very high in protein and collagen, which is super important for recovery/repair
    • “A lack of collagen probably explains why a lot of vegan athletes get injured” – Chris Kresser
  • A serving of salmon has 716x more selenium than lettuce and provides 100% of the RDA of vitamin B12
  • On average, hunter-gatherers got about 70% of their calories from animals foods and 30% from plants
  • 2 out of 3 people are lactose intolerant to a certain extent
    • People who tend to be lactose tolerance are of northern Europe descent 

Additional Notes

  • Joe is a huge fan of hemp protein
  • Chris recalls a quote: “A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree, and he turns away. Show him the facts and figures, and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic, and he fails to see your point.”
  • ~60% of available land is not suitable for cropping
  • Joe thinks Joel Kahn lost the diet debate he had with Chris Kresser last year on the podcast (check out the Podcast Notes)
  • During Sober October 2018, Joe was doing 5-6 hours/day of cardio
  • Joe highly recommends Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne
  • Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback, went vegan in February 2019, but after a poor season and quite a few injuries, ultimately decided against it 
  • 90%+ of scientific findings are not reproduced 
  • Sacred Cow, a documentary which discusses the health benefits of meat, is coming out next year
  • Joe read Dead Doctors Don’t Lie a while back
    • One of the main topics discussed: the mineral depletion of soil
Bookmark
2 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.