What the Health is a 2017 documentary by filmmaker Kip Anderson. In this documentary, he sought to provide evidence that eating meat, eggs, and dairy is dangerous for human health.
Driving this point home, the film compares the dangers of eating processed meat and eggs to smoking cigarettes. This comparison leaves a powerful impression on the viewer’s mind. But is it true?
What the Health Debunked: Processed Meat vs. Cigarettes
An early film scene shares that processed meat is classified as a “Group One” carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). This is the same category as cigarettes, asbestos, and plutonium. Does this mean that processed meat is as dangerous for your health as long-term cigarette smoking?
The WHO clarifies that being in the same group does not mean that they are equally dangerous. It means that there is equally strong scientific evidence that these agents cause cancer.
A candle and a campfire can be grouped together because they both produce heat. Putting them in the same group does not mean they are equally hot.
The WHO groups refer to the strength of evidence, not the level of threat.
Cancer is a serious illness. And lifestyle factors do play a role in cancer prevention. However, the impact of processed meat consumption pales in comparison to the impact of cigarette smoking.
According to the WHO, every 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colon cancer by about 18%.
By contrast, cigarette smoking increases the risks of lung cancer by about 699% in men, and 733% in women.
When it comes to cancer risk, eating breakfast sausages is NOT exactly the same as smoking cigarettes.
What the Health Debunked: Eggs vs. Cigarettes
Another direct comparison is made between eggs and cigarettes. What the Health claims eating “just one egg a day” has the same effect as “smoking five cigarettes per day” on life expectancy. Let’s take a closer look at the two articles cited to support this bold claim.
The first study looked at dietary cholesterol and the risk of mortality – not egg consumption and risk of mortality. The word “egg” is not even mentioned in the study.
Although egg is a common source of dietary cholesterol, there are many other foods that also contain cholesterol, including chicken, beef, and cheese. Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn about long-term egg consumption and the risk of mortality from this study.
The other study cited examined the relationship between egg yolk consumption and the amount of plaque found in major blood vessels. This study does not address the question of life expectancy, which was the claim made by the movie.
If there is a link between egg consumption and life expectancy, the studies cited by the film don’t talk about it.
In other words, the film does not give any scientific evidence to back up the claim that “eating one egg per day is just as bad as smoking five cigarettes per day for life expectancy.”
This is likely because there are many dietary factors that can impact a person’s life expectancy. The effect of long-term egg consumption (if any) is difficult to isolate among them.
By contrast, studies do support the significant impacts of cigarette smoking on life expectancy. A 50-year study in male British doctors found that those who smoked had a 10-year decrease in their life expectancy. In a study of female nurses, approximately 64% of deaths among current smokers were attributable to cigarette smoking.
Similar to the comparison between processed meats and cigarettes, there’s little scientific evidence to back up that eating eggs are just as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes. Consider these claims made by What the Health debunked!
What the Film Gets Right
While the health risks of eating moderate amounts of animal foods have been over-exaggerated, there are many benefits of enjoying a plant-based diet.
A predominantly plant-based diet, rich in whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables, and fruits has been recommended to help prevent chronic illnesses. As mentioned in the documentary, this pattern of eating can also help towards sustaining a healthy planet.
Moving towards and sustaining a plant-based diet is a fantastic choice. It also doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. Increasing your vegetable and fruit intake, replacing meat with plant-based proteins, and replacing dairy with plant-based beverages are a few simple changes you can make.
Another strategy is to try “Meatless Monday” every week. Start with ideas that appeal to you and your unique lifestyle. Adjust your meal pattern or number of meatless meals over time to meet your goals.
While some of the claims in the documentary were sensationalized, the benefits of a plant-based diet for our physical health and environment are real. Making small, incremental changes to your diet can be a great way to sustain these healthy changes.
What will you do to include more plant-based foods in your diet?
The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Edible IQ urges you to seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. Edible IQ advises you to never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Website.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or local emergency service immediately. Edible IQ does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the website. Edible IQ does not guarantee the accuracy of information on the Website and reliance on any information provided by Edible IQ is solely at your own risk.