I’ve had a lot of clients recently ask me about the ‘Game Changers’ Documentary on Netflix, and it has ignited mainstream and social media commentary about the benefits of vegetarian and veganism on health, as well as the environmental and the ethical standpoint. As a clinical and sports Dietitian I thought it timely to comment on this, at least as far as the health aspect is concerned, in a balanced and holistic way.

As a nutrition health professional, it pleases me greatly to see people make positive steps towards improving their health and performance through dietary change. From patient accounts, the documentary appears to have catalysed the decision to adopt more healthy eating patterns towards a higher vegetable intake. So that’s a plus. The message to eat more fruit and vegetables is not new, and neither is the message to moderate the amount of meat consumed. As dietitians, we have been banging on about this for years.

However I do object when arguments for dietary change are presented as science, but do not actually stand up to scientific scrutiny. Many arguments were made in the program that either do not reflect the current scientific evidence base, or make claims that imply that nutritional recommendations are not reflective of the evidence base. If you are interested to read an analysis of the scientific claims made in the documentary, I can direct you to an excellent review by a highly respected Performance and Nutrition Scientist, Asker Jeukendrup:


In a nutshell, the documentary really tries to make the point that we do not need to get our protein and iron demands from meat, and that is in in fact possible to achieve our dietary requirements through plant based food and without eating meat at all. Over and above the scientific rigour of the claims made in the program, the polarising nature of the arguments made (namely the benefits of “meat based vs plant based diets”) is unnecessary to those that genuinely would like to improve their diet, whether that be to improve health or athletic performance. Every diet should be predominantly based on plants, whether meat and animal products are included or not. And those that choose to use plant-based protein foods to the exclusion of animal foods, can indeed meet their protein requirements and can perform at a high level. No one is disputing this. But divisive arguments that draw on conspiracy theories and pseudoscience at a time when so many people are already confused by the ever-changing conflicting messages (eg: paleo diet, ketogenic diets, low fat, high fat, etc…) has the potential to discourage many from even trying to improve their health through dietary change. And on the other end of the spectrum lies the people suffering from an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. This is a real issue and to these people, adopting more and more restrictions on foods can lead to adverse physical and mental health outcomes.  

Nutrition science is not an exact science and we continue to further our understanding in so many areas. Many areas are open to interpretation, expert opinion and consensus. One thing that is clear to all of those studying or working in this discipline is that very few things are black and white, and that the truth nearly always lies in the grey.

What we do know:

  1. Eating a Vegan diet can be healthy but it needs to be done well.
  2. The vast majority of people that eat meat will benefit from moderating their portions.
  3. The vast majority of people will benefit from eating more fruit and vegetables.
  4. High performance athletes can do well on vegan/vegetarian diets (but professional input is often needed and highly advised).

But the question at the heart of the debate is whether eating meat has such negative health consequences…

This, and similarly worded questions, come up all the time amongst my clients. The fact of the matter is that any food or nutrient in excess will lead to health consequences – this can be true whether it is too much sugar, too much meat or even just too much food. All of these will lead to poor outcomes by numerous varying mechanisms, whether diabetes, fatty liver or vascular disease develop. Excessive meat consumption is indeed not conducive to good long-term health. If I push aside the complicated scientific explanation, the simplest reason being that a large slab of meat on your plate leaves little room for sweet potato, beans, broccoli and cauliflower. All of the very well-known protective effects of these foods will be heightened if you simply cut that large porterhouse steak in half (or choose a smaller, leaner cut) and fill your plate with a lot more vegetables.

The message from the Game Changer’s that pleased me the most was “it does not need to be all or nothing”. I could not agree more. I believe Arnold’s expression was…

“Once a week, chill it with the meat!”

Consuming a vegetarian meal at least once a week is a positive step that almost anyone can incorporate. Some people may choose to drop meat at lunchtime and learn more about incorporating meat alternatives. Others may choose to cut their meat portions in half or bulk out meat dishes with more vegetables and legumes. These are the real-life game changer’s that people can incorporate into their diets that will indeed have positive effects on health. If you are looking to make dietary improvements whether for health, performance or ethical reasons and you are unsure of how to do it safely, seek help from a nutrition professional. A dietitian can support you to consume a vegan or vegetarian diet if that is what you choose to do. If you would simply like to know if your diet is balanced and meeting your nutrient requirements, we can assess your diet and give practical recommendations for optimisation. 

Chris Rauch

Accredited Practicing Dietitian

Southern Suburbs Physiotherapy Centre