To veg or not to veg? – The Game Changers reflection

“The Game Changers” is a 2018 documentary promoting the benefits of a plant based diet amongst athletes and bodybuilders and generally presenting science based arguments for the veganism. It is currently available on Netflix and I have recently been getting asked a lot about it, so here are my thoughts.

First of all, I am happy to see people are interested in the topic and that nutrition is being discussed. Our food and lifestyle have the power to change the expression of genes (turn them on/off) and set out the scene not only for our own health, but also health of our children (these activated or silenced genes are heritable as well as the basic genetic ‘matrix’). The process is called EPIGENETICS and it is something I am very passionate about. I believe that once we understand this epigenetic relationship between the dietary, lifestyle and environmental inputs and health, we will all get empowered to take control over our future.

But back to “The Game Changers”.

Vegan athletes and bodybuilders are supported by nutrition specialist and provided with the precise guidance as to what, how much and when to eat. For everyone else who is inspired by the film and would like to transition into a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, here is a list of things you may want to consider.

1. If you eat a Standard Western Diet, perhaps you should consider a phased approach. Start with two plant based days per week and build on this. Perhaps go pescatarian first for a month, work on removing processed foods from your menu, learn how to cook new things, become more adventurous when shopping; then go vegetarian and vegan as the final step. Mind that some of us will not suit being vegan due to our genetic makeup. Listen to your body, keep a diary of foods consumed and any new symptoms that may appear. Consult any concerns with your GP and a nutrition specialist.

2. In my professional experience, the vegan diet is one of the most challenging and difficult to get right. I am not trying to put anyone off but I would like you to make an informed decision and be aware of the potential consequences. It requires a lot of insight into nutrition, a lot of interest in the topic. Also time – to plan and prepare meals, to explore new foods, to research. And commitment. I think we should all change the way we perceive food – every meal is not only nourishment, but also information for your genes (epigenetics!). Don’t waste any opportunity (meal) to send the right message and move towards a healthier future.

3. Protein – I think the filmmakers didn’t put enough emphasis on the fact that protein is required not only for building muscles, but also:

  • for making other tissues and organs, blood, skin, bones, arteries, digestive tract and most body structures
  • to transport other molecules around the body,
  • to support liver detoxification
  • to make hormones (thyroid hormones, dopamine, insulin, melatonin, adrenaline)
  • for the functioning of immune system (antibodies, immunoglobulins)
  • and more

And therefore the quality and quantity of protein we consume is of the utmost importance. I do agree that meat is not necessary, but don’t underestimate protein and make sure you plan your meals around good quality plant sources. These include: beans, lentils, soy/edamame, peas, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, plant ‘milks’, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts and seeds and nut butters. If you go vegetarian, include eggs and cottage cheese. Pescatarians will have fish 2-3 times per week.

Make sure you eat variety of sources every day and ideally include protein in every meal and snack. The absolute minimum recommended by NHS is 0.75 grams of pure protein per kg of bodyweight. Remember – this is the minimum an average person needs not to fall ill. For optimum health you need more, also if you are pregnant, recovering from illness or constantly break muscles during exercise, your requirement is increased.

4. Fats – these are absolutely essential for health. Your brain is 60% of fat, your sex hormones and stress hormones are fat based, every cell’s membrane is made from fat. There are 36 types of fat and they range from saturated (firm at room temperature) to mono- and poly-unsaturated (liquid at room temperature). All are important and the source of fats matters. Pescatarians will obtain beneficial anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats from fish (choose SMASH – Sardines, Mackerel, Anchovies, Salmon, Herring). If you decide to exclude fish, ensure you get plenty of good fats like avocado, various nuts (walnuts, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, almonds) and seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin, sunflower etc) and olives.

  • For frying in high temperatures use firm fats: butter (vegetarians) and coconut oil (there is an odourless version!)
  • For quick stir frying you may also use olive oil or avocado oil
  • For salads use walnut oil, flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil, sesame seed oil
  • Avoid bread spreads, margarine and highly refined vegetable oils (sunflower oil, rapeseed oil)

5. And last but not least – VARIETY is the key! Go wild with fruit and vegetables – choose the varieties you have never tried before. EAT THE RAINBOW – make sure every day you consume at least 6 different colours of fruit and veg: green, red, yellow, orange, blue and white. Don’t rely on meat replacements – veggie beef or chicken. These are highly processed products and I don’t recommend them for long term consumption, they may help you during the transition phase or can be enjoyed occasionally, but they are not good quality sources. Compose your meals from wholefoods and emphasise the quality of the ingredients.

If you are unsure what foods are best for you, always consult a professional. Tailor your diet to your particular needs to ensure you are on the path to the abundance of health, not just absence of disease.

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