Vegan documentaries……. I love nothing more on a Sunday afternoon than turning on Netflix (other film providers are available), making some vegan treats and watching a good old vegan film that puts the world to rights.
But for me, these films mean more than a bit of Sunday viewing pleasure. They help instruct and maintain historical records. They document aspects of modern life and reality that often get overlooked in the mainstream media. They inform. And they inspire people to make fundamental and lasting changes in their lives.
If you are vegan, then you will know what I mean. We have all had that moment in life when the penny finally dropped. It was a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon in November. You have just been to the supermarket and are overdosing on sweets that are rotting your body and your mind. You are sat flicking through film options when a thumbnail catches your eye. You start watching and within 15 minutes your whole life has been turned upside-down. You have just realised you are living in the matrix.
The reality for most is that once you know the truth there is no going back. Within days you have removed all animal products from your house. The freezer, the fridge and even your cleaning and toiletries are not safe. Your family thinks you are having a nervous breakdown.
The documentary you watched on Saturday provoked such strong emotions that you were compelled to change your diet and lifestyle forever. A lifestyle that had remained largely unchanged since birth.
That is the power that well-made vegan documentaries can have over people. And these type of documentaries have probably done more for veganism in the last 15 years than anything else combined.
Below I have listed some of my personal favourites. Documentaries that have had profound and lasting impacts on my life. I hope you find the list useful, and if I have missed off any great choices then leave a comment in the comments section below and I will update the list regularly.
Fork Over Knives is a documentary that examines the claim (or as I like to call it, TRUTH), that most, if not all of today’s degenerative diseases can be prevented, halted and even reversed by rejecting animal products and replacing them with plant based foods. The majority of the story is focussed around the work and research of two leading Dr’s. Dr Colin Campbell and Dr Caldwell Esselstyn. The film also discusses the findings of Dr Campbell’s 20-year China-Cornell-Oxford project that were laid out in Dr Campbell’s book, The China Study. The China Study shows how the majority of diseases in the western world (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes and obesity etc) are a direct result of animal based foods and other processed foods in people’s diets. This is a must watch film for anyone who is concerned about their family’s health.
Is one of the best vegan documentaries out there! The producers follow 3 New Yorkers for 6 weeks as they give up meat, dairy and eggs and adopt a vegan diet. The film documents (with hilarity at times) their journey as each of the participants discover how they can create a greener, kinder and cleaner world, one bite at a time.
I am not going to lie; Earthlings is a very tough watch. It was made in 2005 and documents how humans have created a total reliance and dependence on animals purely for economic purposes and greed. The film is broken down into 5 elements: research, pets, food, clothing and entertainment. If you are easily upset, then I suggest you watch some of the other films on the list and avoid this one.
Is one of the first vegan documentaries that was funded almost entirely through crowdfunding. And it has probably turned more people vegan than all the other films combined (slight exaggeration there!). The film chronicles the journey of Kip Anderson as he uncovers animal agriculture as the most destructive industry facing the planet today. You are taken on a journey where you learn that the meat and dairy industry is the number one cause of deforestation on the planet. The industry creates more pollution and greenhouse gases than all of the transportation industries combined. And many, many other mind-bending statistics are revealed. The story gets really interesting as Kip approaches leading environmental groups with his research only to find that there is an intentional refusal by these organisations to discuss the issues in hand. But why is this and what are the consequences for Kip’s personal safety?
This is the unbelievable journey of Kris Carr and her battle with cancer. She changes her diet, juices, takes up yoga and changes many other aspects of her life in order to beat the disease and obtain optimal health. The emotional fight is sprinkled with humour and even romance. A must watch for anyone who wants to understand the disease in greater detail.
This film uncovers what farms have been struggling to keep secret for years. The conditions that animals are kept in, as well as their treatment and diets are all exposed. This is one of the great vegan documentaries that takes viewers on a white-knuckle ride that crawls through bushes, flies in planes and hides in factories, all to come face-to-face with the farmers who are rearing animals in such poor conditions. A must see!
The Cove was released in 2009 and is an Oscar-winning film. The film follows a group of brave and courageous animal activists as they expose a small Japanese town, that is home to an industry that slaughters dolphins for meat. The film also follows the story of a former dolphin trainer (from hit TV show, Flipper), as he tries to forgive himself for exploiting these intelligent creatures in his earlier days. A great all round watch!
I only saw this for the first time a few months back, but it quickly became a personal favourite of mine. Blackfish chronicles the story of a captive killer whale, that has taken the lives of several people. The film undercovers the poor conditions that these creatures are kept in and highlights problems within the sea-park industry that have been deliberately covered up for years.
Is one of the lesser known vegan documentaries out there, but it’s still a great watch. This feature film documents the human relationship with animals. It also looks at the history of veganism and the reasons underpinning why people turn to veganism. The health reasons, the ethics and environmental reasons are all discussed.
This is a great documentary that documents the journey of 6 Americans with diabetes as they switch to raw vegan diets in an attempt to reverse this disease. The participants give up meat, dairy, eggs, processed foods, nicotine, caffeine and all cooked foods for 30 days. The results are startling. A must watch for anyone who has diabetes or who has family members battling with the disease.
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There is a common misconception that fish is a healthier alternative to meat and that it actually promotes health in the human body. In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are many reasons why fish is not healthy I have listed the main four below.
Proteins & IGF-1
Regardless of whether you eat fish, meat, eggs or dairy you will run into problems at some point in your life due to the higher concentrations of essential amino acids contained in these foods. One of the main reasons these amino acids are so detrimental in the body is that they increase the levels of IGF-1 (an insulin-like growth hormone) (study, study, study)
The knock-on effect of this is that IGF-1 speeds up the process of cell division in the body. This extra stimulation of cell multiplication has been heavily linked with cancer proliferation for many years. The science is very clear in this area and we know with certainty that animal proteins increase IGF-1 levels in the body and raised IGF-1 levels cause cancer (study, study, study, study).
Saturated Fats And Cholesterol
If you ask most people why they consume fish the standard response is that it’s heart healthy as it contains omega-3 fatty acids. So let me clear this area up for you:
While SOME fish do indeed contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), the vast majority of fatty acids derived from fish is actually in the form saturated fats. Fish also generally contains high levels of cholesterol. Both cholesterol and saturated fats are among the main risk factors for heart disease.
To give you an idea of how much cholesterol is contained in fish – in both a 3 ounce portion of bass and beef there is the same amount of cholesterol (approx. 75 milligrams). Yet most people don’t associate fish with cholesterol.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is derived from the plants they eat in the sea. Fish do not make omega-3’s. You can get omega-3’s by eating plant based foods like nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables and fruits. These foods provide ALA (fatty acid) which then gets converted in the body to the longer chain fatty acids EPA and DHA (both of which protect us from heart disease).
We only need the 1000mg of cholesterol our bodies make every day for optimal health. We DO NOT NEED ANY dietary cholesterol in our bodies. The more dietary cholesterol we load the body with the more we increase our risk of heart disease.
Chemicals & Pollutants
Most health authorities around the world have advisories around the amount of fish people consume. The reason for these advisories is that most oceans are heavily contaminated with metals such as mercury, chemicals such as PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) and insecticides and pesticides such as DDT and chlordane (See sample advisory). In this recent study by the United States Department of Agriculture 84% of all fish sampled from around the world contained unsafe levels of mercury. And why is mercury so bad for the body? Well mercury is neurotoxin (kills brain cells). When you eat foods that contain mercury it is very difficult for your body to remove it. It can then accumulate in the heart (for example) and inhibit normal heart function as well as causing causing central nervous system damage in foetus’s during pregnancy (study, study)
What Fish Is Lacking
So we know that fish today contains dangerous levels of mercury, hazardous chemicals and high amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol. So lets also talk about what healthy nutrients fish doesn’t contain. Fish contains no carbohydrates (essential for optimal health). It also contains no fiber, essential for healthy bowel movements and the prevention of digestive cancers. It also lacks any real amounts of antioxidants, phytochemicals and other macronutrients essential for health promotion. So in reality people are eating fish for perceived health benefits when in reality its a pretty poor dietary choice.
Surely Fish Is Better Than Meat Right?
This is a ridiculous notion that we humans love to use. Just because fish is slightly less damaging in the body compared to meat, we classify it as a “health food”. While the science supportsfish eaters being healthier than meat eaters in terms of parameters such as diabetes, weight and other important health factors, lets not be under any illusion. Fish eaters still have very high rates of disease and illness compared to those on plant based diets. So yes, you might be slightly healthier than a meat eater, but if you want to live a long and healthy life then avoid both fish and meat (and dairy for that matter!).
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The average person on a standard western diet is often unaware that they are consuming between four and six times the Recommended Daily Allowance for protein. The biggest issue with this is that these unnecessary proteins are derived mainly from animal proteins. And why is this a problem? Well we know from 30 years of evidence that animal proteins cause a much faster rate of growth in cells. This would be fine if we didn’t have that little thing called cancer to contend with. Higher amounts of animal proteins are also known to increase risks for heart disease, diabetes, strokes, kidney failure and neurological degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, you can get all the protein you need from fruits and vegetables. You actually only need 5-10% protein in your diet for optimal health (as outlined by the World Health Organisation) and fruits and vegetables will provide you with this. And the biggest thing to remember is that plant based proteins are not associated with cancer, heart disease, strokes or any other condition for that matter. In fact, we know that plant based proteins will help prevent and reverse many of the leading causes of death.
But why is it that plant proteins are healthier than animal proteins? Surely a protein is a protein and an amino acid is an amino acid? If you assume so, then you would be wrong. Animal proteins have much higher concentrations of sulphur based amino acids. The problem with this is that these get metabolised fundamentally very differently from plant based amino acids (which are lower in sulphur). When highly sulphur containing amino acids gets metabolised the metabolites remaining (the substance remaining after the body has used the amino acid) are very acidic in nature. Your body needs to have an alkaline PH level of approximately 7.35-7.45. When you eat lots of acidic foods and proteins the body becomes acidic and in an attempt to counteract the acidity your bones dump calcium and other minerals into the blood. Which explains why those who eat and drink more animal based proteins have much higher rates of osteoporosis and other bone diseases. So no, animal and plant based proteins and amino acids are not the same. People with a consistently acidic bloodstream have much higher rates of cancer, strokes and heart disease. All the references are below.
You Need Milk for Strong Bones
We have all been brought up on the marketing that milk=calcium=healthy bones. And this myth has been perpetually running for 50 years. The truth is though that milk is not or has never been a great source of calcium. And we know this because countries who consume lots of milk tend to have the highest rates of osteoporosis (low bone density).
Without getting involved in the ethics of it all, cow’s milk is designed to support the rapid growth of calves. Our species has never required or needed cows (or any other species milk for that matter) for optimal bone health. On top of the fact that it is not a particularly great source of calcium for humans, (many vegetables such as broccoli provide more calcium) it is also home to unwanted toxins such as growth hormones and antibiotics that have been injected into the cow in attempt to prevent disease, increase growth and keep the cow lactating. Cow’s milk also contains high amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol. Study after study (see below) have linked milk and dairy to heart disease, strokes, cancer, dementia, diabetes and kidney disease. Remember, milk is not a healthy source of calcium and it should never be described as essential and healthy for humans.
If you want to find a better source of calcium then look no further than vegetables like bok choy, kale and broccoli. On top of this, these vegetables will also provide you with lots of vitamin K which is essential for bone health. Other particularly good sources of calcium are beans, which can increase calcium and other mineral absorption because of their phytate content (an antioxidant).
Many nut milks, such as almond milk, are also fortified with calcium and vitamin D. But remember there is no need to concentrate on one food or drink to gain your calcium requirement. It’s about eating a wide variety of plant based whole foods which will provide you with all the calcium you will ever need.
Meat, Eggs And Fish Are Healthy Protein Sources
Yes meat eggs and dairy contain vitamins and minerals, but they also contain very high levels of saturated fats and cholesterol (even in lean meats). And all of the below studies show that the risks outweigh the benefits where animal proteins are concerned. In contrast, fruits and vegetables contain absolutely no cholesterol and only very low levels of saturated fats (with the odd exception). But it’s not just the cholesterol and saturated fats you need to be mindful of. Meat and fish is often heavily contaminated with pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, faecal matter, mercury and other chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
As stated above, you can get all the protein you will ever need from plant based sources. Some particularly good choices are: quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, nuts and seeds. These also have the added benefit of being very good sources of fibre (another important nutritional element missing from meat and fish).
Carbs Are Bad For You And Will Cause Weight Gain
This is another belter of a myth. Many people often believe (because of stupid fad diets) that carbs are bad for you. As a consequence they replace these carbohydrates with proteins and fats. This then leads to people becoming nutritionally deficient in a number of essential nutrients that are found in high carbohydrate foods. And we know that people who live on protein and fats instead of a high carbohydrate diet are dramatically more likely to suffer from chronic disease and premature death. Just look at the rural Japanese diet. It’s based on approximately 75-85% carbohydrate with only 3-5% of calories coming from animal proteins. This dietary approach sees these populations living longer and healthier lives than anyone on the planet.
What you need to remember is that there are good and bad carbohydrates and these are not equally healthy. Unhealthy refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta will spike blood sugar levels and cause weight gain. In contrast, naturally occurring carbohydrates in the form of polysaccharides and starches have high amounts of fibre and contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals such as B-complex vitamins and they also provide the body with lots of slow release energy. Fruits and vegetables are healthy essential carbohydrates for the body. Refined and processed breads and pasta are not.
Eating Healthy Is More Expensive
Many health foods (lentils, brown rice, frozen fruits and vegetables etc) are among the cheapest foods on the market, especially when bought in bulk. Admittedly, some organic fruits and vegetables will cost a premium, but the choice is quite simple. Pay more for quality food during your life or pay with poorer health as you age.
For some reason many of us have got our values inverted. We would rather spend our money on fancy cars and houses rather than provide our children and ourselves with the most nutritionally dense foods we can get.
Below are a list of the most comprehensive studies ever done that show why the above myths are absolutely false. They are show beyond any doubt that you your diet is largely based on fat and animal proteins (instead of healthy high carb diets) then you will inevitably run into the below diseases during your lifetime.
Everyone knows that if you have high blood pressure that you are at an increased risk for strokes, kidney disease, and of course, heart disease. A blood pressure of 120/80mmHg or slightly below is considered ideal for long term health. Anything over this and you are increasing risk factors and putting more pressure on the heart.
Most people are not aware though that in the vast majority of cases what you put on your plate is directly dictating whether you have high or low blood pressure (and succumb to heart dissease). If you eat a largely plant based diet (with no or minimal animal proteins – meat, dairy and eggs) then your arteries can be kept in great shape indefinitely.
We know that your resting pulse is a barometer of your overall heart health and blood pressure is a barometer of how healthy your arteries are. If you listen to many doctors they will tell you that high blood pressure (or hypertension) is simply a common part of the aging process. But just because it’s labelled common it doesn’t mean it’s normal. One of the most important things for you to remember where blood pressure is concerned, is that high blood pressure is not the root cause or the main problem; it is simply a systematic response by the body to the damage being done to the artery walls. High blood pressure simply means that the arteries are too constricted and silted up with deposits to properly relax during heartbeat contractions. This damage speeds up the aging process because a narrowing of the arteries means a reduced blood flow and a reduced blood flow means a reduction of oxygen to the muscles and tissues where it is needed. This then causes the heart to work harder in an attempt to get the reduced oxygen supply to where it is needed. This then increases blood pressure and further damage to the arteries occurs (plaque formation). The whole process is a relentless perpetual cycle – IF YOU CONTINUE TO LET IT HAPPEN!
The easiest way to visualise your arteries is to imagine them as a system of plumbing pipes travelling round your house until they meet the boiler (your heart). Each contraction of the heart emits oxygenated blood and essential nutrients around the body. Much in the same way as when the boiler is switched on hot water is circulated around the house. If your blood pressure is too high it can put pressure on the artery lining and damage the sensitive cells. In a normal healthy arterial system the arteries have lots of cells called endothelial cells that produce nitric oxide. This enables the arteries to expand, contract and blood to flow smoothly. When you damage the endothelial cells (by eating too many animal proteins and junk food), there is not enough nitric oxide to enable the arteries to expand under pressure and inflammation and damage occurs. As a response cholesterol is used by the body as a bandage to cover up the damage and inflammation to stop the artery walls from rupturing. This process of “furring” or the narrowing of the arteries is commonly known as atherosclerosis. If a piece of this calcified cholesterol breaks off a heart attack is likely as it will block blood supply to the heart.
If there is only one thing you take from this article then I hope it is your understanding of homocysteine. You probably have never heard of it before but it is probably (along with cholesterol) is the single most important factor in the body for preventing and reversing both high blood pressure and heart disease. Homocysteine is a by-product of the amino acid cysteine, i.e. when your body metabolises proteins it creates the toxin homocysteine. This toxin damages your artery walls more than any other compound in the body. And if you are eating lots of animal proteins (most people are eating four times the recommended daily amounts) and not taking in sufficient amounts of vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid (these nutrients detoxify homocysteine from the body) then you will put yourself on a one way course to high blood pressure and heart disease. For more information on proteins, see my recent article The Risks of Protein. One final thing you need to remember is that you need to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of magnesium in your diet. Magnesium helps muscles relax and contract healthily. Two common symptoms for low levels are muscle cramps and eye twitches.
Now you are probably reading this and rightly questioning what I am saying. Maybe if this were true my doctor would have told me about it or it would have been in the media. Well lets put this assumption to the test. Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, had such severe heart disease that he required two heart bypass surgeries. After the second operation his arteries continued to clog. His life was in that much of a perilous situation that his doctors told him to “get his affairs in order”. In other words, they could do no more for him. So here we have a man with access to the best medical doctors in the world and he was simply told that no further medical intervention could help him. No medication. No surgery. Luckily for the former president he is an inquisitive man. He didn’t take things at face value. He did his own research, found out about the work Dr Dean Ornish and Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, and changed his diet. This is what happened:
Today, Bill Clinton has reversed his heart disease through dietary modifications. So my question to you: if a former president didn’t know about reversing heart disease (with his access to the “best” medical doctors in the world, then how would you? The answer is you wouldn’t, not unless you looked for the information. In the next couple of years this information will become mainstream and accepted, but until then, don’t rely on the media or your doctor for information.
Now we have got all the science out the way, let me just reiterate that in nearly all cases high blood pressure and heart disease can be treated with dietary modifications and without the need for medications. In populations where meat and salt consumption are low, and fruit and vegetable consumption are high, then heart disease and hypertension is non-existent. In contrast 1 in every 2 people who eat the standard western diet will die from a heart attack.
Foods To Absolutely Avoid
All wheat grains and all refined sugary foods and drinks. Some of the worst culprits are white breads, biscuits, crisps etc.
Avoid all cooking oils as these damage endothelial cells. This includes olive oil. It has never been or will never be healthy (despite the marketing crap you hear!).
All hydrogenated fats – commonly found in mass produced margarines, cakes, biscuits and other readymade meals. These cause heart disease. That is why many countries are now in the process of banning them.
Sodium chloride (or salt) is responsible for causing high blood pressure in approximately one third of people. Salt causes water retention in the body which then in turn increases blood pressure and damage to the arteries. If you absolutely must have salt in your diet then choose potassium or magnesium based salts (such as Himalayan salt) as opposed to sodium based salts.
Remove or reduce stimulants from your diet. In most cases you can reduce your blood pressure by 30 points or so just by removing caffeine from your daily routine.
Too much sugar in your diet will simply convert to fat in the body. This will cause an increase in blood pressure. Watch out for all those hidden sugars in foods.
Common sense but reduces the amount of alcohol in your diet.
Foods To Prevent And Reverse Heart Disease And Hypertension
Berry it up! Eat berries every day. Blueberries, blackberries, goji berries and strawberries will prevent the arteries from becoming clogged. If you already have hypertension or heart disease then berries will help break up the cholesterol deposits around your heart.
Eat lots of green vegetables and lots of different fruits every day. Simply try and eat the rainbow everyday (and this doesn’t mean skittles). Also eat a handful of nuts every day, and regularly eat quinoa and brown rice.
Make sure you are getting plenty of magnesium and potassium in your diet to help with muscle function and relaxation. Some great choices are: almonds, bananas, sunflower seeds, butterbeans, dried figs, kale, spinach and beetroot.
If you are not a fan of vegetables then try making a couple of fruit and vegetable juices everyday (or smoothies).
Aim for a largely plant based diet (and aim for at least 9 portions of fruit and vegetables a day). Plant based diets are generally very high in magnesium and potassium and very low in sodium. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds will dramatically reduce your blood pressure and heart disease risk, as well as providing you with hundreds of different antioxidant compounds that will help protect you from cancer.
Eat lots of garlic, broccoli and onions which all have a diuretic effect in the body.
Help your body to detoxify heavy metals (such as lead and mercury) by eating foods with a high chlorophyll content. Coriander and seaweed are great choices. Toxic metals will cause an increase in blood pressure so it is essential these are removed from the body.
Lycopene found in tomatoes has also been shown to lower blood pressure and break up cholesterol formations. Eat more tomatoes!
Garlic has been used as a flavour enhancer and also for its medicinal properties for well over 5,000 years. Often called the “stinking rose”, garlic has been a staple for many cultures around the world, including Asians, Indians, Italians and Egyptians.
The UK produces large amounts of garlic but is dwarfed by the production of the U.S., China, India, South Korea and Spain.
We know that garlic adds a great dynamic when cooking, but every year we are learning new nutritional benefits that can be used when preventing, reversing and treating certain diseases.
One small clove of garlic will provide you with up to 23% of your daily requirement of manganese. You will also receive an infusion of antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and minerals which have numerous operations in the body from bone production and repair, the maintenance of healthy thyroid function and even helping to regulate calcium absorption. The “stinking rose” also provides approximately 17% of your daily requirement for vitamin B6, 15% of your RDA for vitamin C, and also providing adequate levels of selenium, calcium and phosphorous.
Over the last 30 years there have been lots of leading studies that have demonstrated the potential health benefits of garlic which include: preventing the common cold, reversing free radical damage (the leading cause of cancer), preventing the formation of cholesterol plaques and even helping with skin conditions such as psoriasis.
While you can buy garlic that comes in paste, powder or flake formats, you should really buy fresh garlic to receive the maximum health and nutritional benefits. When buying fresh garlic you should select bulbs that are plump and that are not overly soft to the touch. Common sense, but you should also avoid bulbs that have signs of decay or mould growth.
When storing garlic at home avoid refrigerating and also make sure it is not in direct sunlight. It is best stored in a cool dark place. If you do this then the fresh garlic should keep for approximately 4-6 weeks. While you can freeze peeled garlic it is not recommended as it dramatically effects the flavour and texture.
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