My review of the popular ‘what the health’ netflix documentary (feat. other expert rd’s)

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If you're coming into this blog post completely unaware of the documentary I'm about to review, here's a few quick things to know...a "tldr", if you will.

  • Documentary Name: What the Health

  • Where Can I Find It? Netflix

  • What Is It About? General hysteria relating all animal products to cancer, interviews with major associations, and funding scandals related to both.

  • #GeneralWellness rating: 6/10...good to be aware of some of the funding bias, but nothing to worry about people.


I have spent the last five years of my life studying nutrition, and am about to spend one last year doing so in order to get my Masters degree. I am now (thanks be to God) a Registered Dietitian (RD) and feel I have a pretty well-rounded view on nutrition. But just to be sure, I've called in some back up to help me with this blog post/review of the new documentary, What the Health. 

Que @fysnutrition (Jayme Bisbano RDN, LD), @alajmckee (Alex McKee MS, RD), and Rachel Powers RD ~ my partners in crime who's thoughts you'll also have the pleasure of reading today. 


   Let me start by saying that I base my life on principle, conviction, and scientific facts. And this documentary had me actually shaking in my boots when I heard about it. As my roommate can attest, I was genuinely worried that this documentary would expose me to science I somehow didn't know existed, and I would have to be a vegan for the rest of my life...on principle of course...because of the claims they made trying to link animal products to cancer. 

"WHAT IF THIS IS ALL TRUE AND I CAN NO LONGER HAVE QUESO!!!?" The thought truly haunted me as each moment of the documentary passed by. 

Pen and paper in had, I furiously wrote notes and copied down research article titles in order to do my own research when I finished the film. Fortunately for me, and my love for queso, this is what I found:

Each of the research articles have very specific, and not mentioned, stipulations. In general, there was an association between processed meats (luncheon meat, sausage, salami, hot dogs, bacon) and increased risk for heart failure in women. However, correlation is NOT causation... so we cannot assume because of this one association that all processed meats are causing heart disease. Additionally, other reviews of red meat consumption state clearly that it's about a 50/50 split for red meat causing and not causing any heart related issues. 

Moral of the story above: BALANCE. 

Other claims in the documentary are for animal products (such as eggs, milk, cheese) causing "cancer". First of all, let's be very clear that "cancer" is a VERY broad term...and there is absolutely no claim for animal products in general causing cancer in general. I reviewed the  research articles (another example here) mentioned in the film and each of them were focused on hormone based cancers (think breast, prostate, etc) and none of them made any claims that animal products CAUSED (or even were associated with increased risk of developing...) that specific type of cancer. If you read further, you can see small associations between increased risk of relapse or severity of disease progression with increased intake of chicken with skin, high-fat dairy, and eggs. But no association with increased risk of developing cancer at all. 

Moral of the story above: do your research and don't believe everything people claim.


"The root of science is in its ability to prove things. But even moreso, in its ability to prove things over and over. We didn’t know vegetables were good for us until we completed experiments over and over (and over) that gave us evidence that vegetables were good for us. This is where the documentary, What the Health, lost its credibility. Many of the topics discussed were based upon unsubstantiated claims that could hardly be called scientific evidence." - Jayme Bisbano RDN, LD


There were some over arching themes from the documentary that I DO agree with, and those definitely deserve to be noted! 

I think everyone leaning towards a more plant based diet is beneficial for so many reason. Plants provide us with so many important vitamins, minerals, fiber, amazing things, etc. And we should definitely all strive to be eating more of them. The documentary mentions all kinds of health benefits when people switch to plant-based diets for reversing diseases, and these can all be true! Most people are switching from a pretty poor, high fat, high sugar diet and plant-based diets are extreme in the best way for them and DO reverse disease progression. Plants are powerful, no doubt. 

"Plant based diets can be and have been shown to have many positive health benefits for people. But unfortunately by portraying this information in such a way with over dramatized rhetoric and exclusively showing handpicked studies to support their perspective it instills people with more fear and confusion on what to eat." - Alex McKee MS, RD

Another important thing to note is the discussion on dioxins. Dioxins are mainly found in meat, fish, shellfish, and dairy products…especially in the animal higher on the food chain (think big fish that eat little fish that eat littler fish). However, most contamination is from the FOOD or feed the animal is eating. Therefore, buying high quality meat that is grass-fed, antibiotic/hormone-free, organic, etc becomes increasingly more important when it comes to dioxin exposure. Read more about dioxins here

What about the Lobbying and Funding? 
The lobbying and funding scandal presented in this documentary is unfortunately very true at times. Information from industries can be VERY corrupt and very heartbreaking. So once again, do your personal research and try to depend on nutrition professionals (hint: Registered Dietitians...not doctors who don't go through proper nutrition training in med school - mentioned in the documentary as well) to give you nutrition advice, not just documentaries or news articles...please I beg of you. 

“I feel like this film could have made a better point if they'd been less extreme about their medical conclusions. Their point about the corruption of lobbies on our health system would have been more compelling if they hadn't been like ‘everything you've ever heard about what causes heart disease and diabetes and cancer is wrong! It's actually meat and milk and eggs!’" - Rachel Powers RD


Conclusion (yes, finally):
So yes, eat your vegetables, fruits, and whole grains! Avoid the “dirty dozen” (Peaches, Apples, Sweet Bell Peppers, Celery, Nectarines, Strawberries, Cherries, Pears, Grapes, Spinach, Lettuce, Potatoes... buy these organic when you can), high fat meat, processed meats, and overconsumption of animal products (don’t eat more than 3-5 oz of meat at a time…nobody needs that). Cut back on calorie-dense, processed foods...the same mantra we've always been supporting. And in conclusion, we should not just live, but live WELL on earth. To me that includes great balance, not hysteria or fear associated with food of any kind. Make smart, informed decisions, and please let us help you when you need it! Live for #FoodFreedom!