No doubt you’ve seen the Netflix documentary Game Changers. I mean, everyone has. It’s been near impossible not to see it since the turn of the year, such as the plant-based hype. I would go as far as to say that there are undiscovered tribes at the heart of the Amazon basin that have seen it – bare minimum they’ve caught the trailer.
But let’s forget its ubiquitous nature for a moment. It’s 2018, and Netflix has released a documentary focussed on athletes. It talks up the benefits of ditching meat from your diet, is hosted by an ex-UFC fighter and espouses going plant-based for a boost in performance and general health. It then trots out a whole host of convincing scientific notions to back it all up. The world bows at the root of the vegetable.
As influence goes, I’ve never seen anything like it. I mean, I know a few people who, in 1984, were so impressed with Eddie Murphy’s laugh in Beverley Hills Cop that they completely changed their own to emulate it for a while, but that was as weird as it got. This was something else. Almost overnight it became the answer to everything. Looking for a better marathon time? Game Changers. Trying to alleviate anxiety? Game Changers. Fancy dressing better and being generally more attractive? Game Changers. OK, maybe not that last one, but I’m almost certain decisions were being made at the highest levels of power that, when questioned, would be justified by the reply, “Game Changers, mate”. At which point everybody would sit back and marvel in reverence. “Ahh”, they would say with a knowing wink, “got you”.
Now, as a former men’s fitness magazine editor, I’m no stranger to jumping into weird new diets in the name of research. There was a time when I carried one of those little green meal bags so often that people wondered if I was transporting vital organs in there. I’ve tried the paleo diet (too much meat) going vegetarian (too little meat). The juice diet – man, that was depressing. I’ve tried vegan, too, at least until the tofu levels sent me over the edge.
But I’m nothing if not easily swayed by public opinion. So, looking back, it was only a matter of time before I was all-in on this. I probably knew that about 10 minutes in to the film. By the time they’d rolled out Arnold Schwarzenegger and his vegan-powered guns I was sold.
There was another element, too: fear. The plant-based crew are militant. Tell people that you’re not into it and you’ll likely receive the type of look normally reserved for social pariahs. Either that or just a smug glance that says, ‘Oh, you don’t care about the environment then? OK, fine!’ You go home expecting to find a massive floret of broccoli in your bed. So, yeah, I caved.
But with increasing hype came increased scrutiny, and the claims were being held to account on a global scale. Science, as it turned out, was not too happy. Magazines and blogs wrote long-read pieces claiming Game Changers’ references to be a little wooly – I’m paraphrasing – while also wondering if it overemphasised the scientific benefits that it did have. The plant crew shot back, with claims of their own, things got real.
Me? I’m not here to debunk the science, just to eat stuff. But Sinead Scott, sport and leisure manager – and in-house nutritionist – at Zabeel House’s Native Club & Spa, is.
“Game Changers made valid points about embracing the animal-free plant-based way of living,” explains Scott, whose favourite vegetable is celery. “But I found it extremely biased, often bordering on fear-mongering. Look, I get it. The moral is to promote vegan diets, and as a plant-based vegan for the last 30 years I respect that, but there are ways to do it. You shouldn’t need bullying or scare tactics. To make these claims we really need multiple lines of data demonstrating similar results to arrive at an accurate conclusion.”
For me, Veganuary didn’t really start well – I was half-way through a burger when I remembered I was actually doing it. But once plugged in, it really wasn’t too tough. Certainly easier than my efforts 12 months previously. Then, particularly in the Middle East, choice was severely limited. But now, supermarkets stock vegan ranges and it’s almost impossible to get though a day without receiving an email about a restaurant’s new vegan dish.
But here’s the thing. Like almost any diet that totally eliminates a food group, it was never going to last. Did going vegan make me feel healthier? Not really, but it felt good trying.
If you’re vegan and this is a way of life based on eliminating animal cruelty, then of course, I get it. If not, balance is the key. There’s just no reason to entirely ditch anything from your diet providing that you have it in moderation, meat and fish included. In fact, going vegan means you’re actually losing things like vitamins B12 and D, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, selenium, zinc, iron, and protein.
Ultimately, the message is simple. Eat more vegetables. When you shop, stick to the edges of the supermarket – this is where the veg lives. Avoid things in packets. Have meat and fish, if you want, but just a few times a week and make it unprocessed and organic. For me, a more accurate Game Changer is also called a balanced diet. You can have your cake and eat it. Probably best to make it a carrot cake, though, just to be on the safe side.