Members of the scientific and the vegan communities have spoken out against some of the claims contained in a pro-vegan documentary recently added to Netflix, accusing the filmmakers of cherry-picking studies to promote their agenda.
What the Health, a 2017 documentary by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, explores links between food and chronic diseases, claiming it is possible to prevent and reverse certain diseases by eating vegan food.
A vegan diet is a plant-based diet that excludes the consumption of meat and fish as well as any animal-derived product.
The documentary also claims that health organisations and animal farming companies tend to cover up the benefits of plant-based diets as they can earn considerably more from selling their products.
The film, produced by American actor, musician and activist Joaquín Rafael Phoenix, has been endorsed by several celebrities, including singers Miley Cyrus and Moby, actor Liam Hemsworth and actress and model Shay Mitchell.
Although the general consensus seems to be that the documentary ultimately contributes to shed light on obesity and other food-related health risks, as well as on the link between non-profit organizations like the American Heart Association and food industries, some have criticised it for distorting scientific data and promoting "pseudoscience".
For examples the filmmakers – who labelled their documentary as "the health film that health organisations don't want you to see" – say that eating one serving of meat every day increases "the risk of developing diabetes by 51%".
Some health experts have argued such claim is unsubstantiated and scaremongering. New York City dietitian and nutritionist Mary Jane Detroyer told the Daily Mail the claim was "distorted science".
Although consumption of red meat has been linked to the increase of risks of some cancers and diabetes, the scientific community believes that the current risk associated to diabetes is of 19%.
The movie also claims that eating one egg per day is the equivalent of smoking five cigarettes every day.
Alexandra Freeman, executive director of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, at Cambridge University, told The Times that the claim was sourced to an "extremely controversial paper".
Some vegans have also spoken against some of the claims contained in the documentary.
Virginia Messina, a Vegan registered dietitian with a master's degree in public health nutrition, praised the documentary for its effort to promote a more healthy diet and animal advocacy, but she slammed it for misinterpreting data.
"It cherry-picked the research, misinterpreted and over-stated the data, highlighted dubious stories of miraculous healing, and focused on faulty observations about nutrition science," she wrote on vegan.com.
"The themes of What the Health are that a vegan diet is the answer to preventing and treating all chronic disease, meat, dairy and eggs (and fat) are the cause of all these diseases, and non-profit organizations don't want you to know this because they are funded by Big Food. Most of the misinformation in the film is due simply to a poor understanding of nutrition science and research."
Vegan Youtuber Swayze Foster, owner of the popular Unnutural Vegan channel, said: "Promoting a vegan diet as the only healthy diet – particularly an overly restrictive low-fat vegan diet – and acting as though even a tiny bit of meat is going to significantly increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer it's pure pseudoscience.
"We [vegans] discredit ourselves every time we exaggerate claims in order to convert people," she continued.
The filmmakers – who also produced Cowspiracy, a documentary that aims to expose the link between animal farming and pollution as well as depletion of natural resources – stand by their work.
Their movie, they say, "exposes the collusion and corruption in government and big business that is costing us trillions of healthcare dollars, and keeping us sick".