by Dr. David Minkoff July 30, 2020 8 min read
There is no aspect of health more important (and more discussed) than diet. The simple question of “what should I eat?” generates thousands of answers, with each type of diet claiming miracles.
One of the more popular recent voices on the subject promotes a plant-based diet in a big way: The Game Changers. This Netflix special proposes eliminating meat from your diet and replacing it with plant-based sources of protein and nutrition.
Having spent years as a vegan and understanding the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, I couldn’t help but agree with many of the points brought to light in the film.
As a medical doctor, I saw a fundamental flaw in his information: plant-based proteins do not contain enough of each essential amino acid for most people to provide their bodies the wherewithall to optimize body protein synthesis. This is a fact observed through my own experience, through the experience of my patients, and backed by scientific research.
The Game Changers makes several claims that have selective value but are taken out of context and positioned in a way to push an agenda, falling a little short of revealing the full picture.
Achieving and maintaining optimal health requires educating yourself on the subject of protein and ensuring your body gets the amino acids it needs for optimal function.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through a couple of the more important claims made in this documentary and round out the facts. First, let’s discuss some fundamentals of protein.
Protein is defined as:
“any of a class of organic compounds that consist of large molecules composed of one or more long chains of amino acids and are an essential part of all living organisms, especially as structural components of body tissues such as muscle, hair, collagen, etc., and as enzymes and antibodies.”
The word protein is derived from the Greek word “prōtos,” which means “first,” because it is the fundamental building block of the human body.
Amino acids, on the other hand, are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 (or 22 depending on where you look) basic amino acids, eight of which your body cannot create, and which must come from your diet – called “essential amino acids” or EAAs.
Each form of dietary protein (including meat and plants) is composed of amino acids, and each gram of protein you eat contains varying levels of each amino acid. Meat protein is considered to be “complete” because it is built using a combination of all eight EAAs, whereas MOST plant proteins are “incomplete” because they tend to lack or be very low in one or more of the EAAs.
For more information on protein and amino acids, watch this video.
Your body has two distinct ways to use amino acids:
Let’s make a quick analogy here and imagine building a simple table. You might need:
Now imagine that you received three legs, two tops, ten screws, and no feet. How many tables can you produce? None. Instead, each of those ingredients become “waste” and would go down the catabolic pathway.
The same goes for amino acids. When your body has an imbalance of the eight EAAs, the amino acids that are not combined with others are recognized as useless by your body and are removed.
This is the fundamental premise on which the body’s utilization of protein and the relative value of each protein source is based.
With that understanding, let’s go through some of the claims from The Game Changer.
“Contrary to popular belief, the largest study comparing the nutrient intake of meat-eaters with plant-eaters showed that the average plant-eater not only gets enough protein, but 70% more than they need. Somewhat ironically, even meat-eaters get roughly half of their protein from plants.”
This claim is based on a study of over 71,000 subjects with an average age of 59 years and is accurate – with one limitation: the study indicates that, on average, those who enjoy plant-based diets do get a sufficient volume of protein, but there is no indication of quality. Here is the graph from that study:
“Another common misconception about protein, paid for again by marketing and lobbying dollars, is that the quality of plant protein is inferior, because plants apparently don’t contain all of the essential amino acids. This is also patently false, since every single plant contains all of the essential amino acids, in varying proportions. While it is true that some plant foods are lower in certain amino acids than others, our bodies break protein down into individual amino acids so that the appropriate proteins can be built at the necessary times. This would explain why, when it comes to gaining strength and muscle mass, research comparing plant and animal protein repeatedly demonstrates that as long as the right amount of amino acids are consumed, the source is irrelevant.”
Here is where the film starts to really mislead you.
Not only does the documentary generalize information from two contradictory studies, but it also omits a fundamental basic: each plant-based protein contains a unique amino acid profile that has more or less of the various EAAs.
The first study they use states that “Mixtures of plant proteins can serve as a complete and well-balanced source of amino acids for meeting human physiological requirements.”
The second study is contradictory in that it states “By calculating the amount of each essential amino acid provided by unprocessed complex carbohydrates (starches and vegetables) and comparing these values with those determined by Rose, the results show that any single one or combination of these plant foods provides amino acid intakes in excess of the recommended requirements. Therefore, a careful look at the founding scientific research and some simple math prove it is impossible to design an amino acid–deficient diet based on the amounts of unprocessed starches and vegetables sufficient to meet the calorie needs of humans. Furthermore, mixing foods to make a complementary amino acid composition is unnecessary.”
Now, here are the FACTS:
The other misleading claim I want to discuss is the following:
“As discussed earlier, most people, including people who follow a plant-based diet, easily get more than enough protein to optimize health.”
This claim is an extrapolation of the fact that most people consume the CDC recommended volume of protein – but again disregards the qualityand amino acid profile of the protein they consume.
For example, someone could eat three steaks per day and get more than enough protein to satisfy CDC requirements – but that is far from what the body needs to “optimize health.”
To clarify, here is the amino acid utilization of common food sources:
The growing health concerns and obesity rates throughout the U.S. and around the world are, in fact, an indicator that there is something very wrong with modern diets and bodies are not getting the amino acids they need to thrive.
In The Game Changer, there is also an analogy made of animals being poor “middle-men” in the body’s quest for protein. One of the individuals featured (Patrick Baboumian) states:
“Someone asked me, ‘How could you get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?’ and my answer was, ‘Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?’”
Now, while I’m not going to promote eating meat, I do want to clarify the “middle-man” analogy. Animals consume a variety of plants and have the physiology and digestive system needed to use the amino acids in plants to build muscles, cells, organs, and sustain their body.
By doing so, they create proteins that have an inherently more balanced and complete amino acid profile – which is why the utilization rates of meats are much higher than that of plants. So, are they middle-men? Yes – and on a one-for-one basis, meat provides a significantly higher and more useful amino acid profile than most plants do.
That being said, there are plenty of pro’s and con’s when it comes to eating meat – and again, I’m not recommending it. The meat industry and agricultural impact of mass-produced animal products are terrible, and I fully support those who adopt a plant-based lifestyle.
I just want you to have the fundamental truths that help YOU optimize your health.
In this film, Mr. Wilks and his team make an excellent effort to promote the advantages of a plant-based, vegan diet – and there is no arguing that such a diet can be highly beneficial. But the decision to switch to a plant-based diet must be done carefully and with your eyes open.
The Game Changer makes mention of a few key nutrients that plant-based diets should supplement, which is correct. For optimal health, anyone who chooses to become vegetarian or vegan should supplement:
As a young vegan athlete, I suffered a hamstring injury that would not heal. I searched extensively for the answer and discovered the fundamental deficiency in my diet that was preventing my body from functioning properly: essential amino acids.
Supplementing amino acids in my diet not only resulted in my body repairing my injury but also:
The health improvements were so substantial that I not only fully recovered from my injury, but then proceeded to achieve a personal best at Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C.
I have now completed 43 full Ironman Triathlons and continue to compete. How?
It’s called PerfectAmino.
After I discovered the benefits that an EAA supplement had on me, I continued my research and came up with the ultimate solution: a non-GMO, vegan, plant-based source of the perfect combination of the essential Amino Acids. With a 99% amino acid utilization rate, it is far and above the ideal source of protein.
99% utilization means that almost all the amino acids go down the anabolic pathway – promoting growth, cellular repair, and optimal health.
It is available in powder or tablets and is the PERFECT solution for vegans, vegetarians, and anyone else who wants to optimize their health and achieve personal physical bests.
by Dr. David Minkoff
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