The Truth Behind The 5 Most Outrageous Claims In Netflix's 'What The Health' Documentary

Not to scare you, but...

Is 'What The Health' Real? Netflix Documentary Review & Fact Check what the health

I've always been drawn to those gross documentaries about food, and I've never once flexed a muscle to make a move toward changing my diet in any extreme way. I don't scare easily when it comes to food. I make zero excuses for my love of meat. And up until recently, there wasn't much anyone could say to sway me from my carnivore lifestyle.

That was until I watched What the Health, a now-viral Netflix documentary produced by actor Joaquin Phoenix.


This documentary focuses on an alleged conspiracy behind how the public is kept blind to the fact that a meat-heavy diet is killing us.

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It really opened my eyes. Just the thought that the food industry is toying with me and that my life and well-being have a price on them — that alone was enough to make me want more for myself.


So I made the leap: I went vegan just days after watching the What the Health. And I wasn't alone, either. The rest of Netflix's viewers were slowly but surely turning too.

Of course, we all had our reasons, but I'm almost certain that the unveiling of such a deep conspiracy is what opened our eyes more than any other food documentary has in the past. 


But how much of that conspiracy is true? Is What the Health real?

We decided to take a look at some of the most shocking revelations to come from the health documentary and fact-checked some of the claims so you don't have to — and here's what we found. 

1. CLAIM: Advocacy groups are not protecting us.

The American Cancer Association recommends eating "eating less red meat (beef, pork, and lamb)" and "less processed meat (bacon, sausage, luncheon meats, and hot dogs)." That seems like a good thing because 800 different studies have linked cancer to processed meats.


But when you realize that these studies defined "processed meat" as any meat that has been altered in order to preserve its shelf life or a particular taste, then you may think that the ACA's recommendation doesn't go far enough to protect us. Other processes include salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking. 

However, you can find quite a few different types of processed meat listed on the ACA's shopping list that claims to be the "basic ingredients for a healthy kitchen," including chicken breast and ground turkey.

The American Diabetes Association promotes a similar diet despite studies proving that a higher diabetes risk was linked to the consumption of red meat and processed red meat. As the documentary brought to our attention, the ADA also seemingly irresponsibly promotes recipes featuring bacon. As one doctor points out during the documentary, "we're in the business of treating sick people, not preventing sickness."

It sure seems that way, with foundations like Susan G. Komen partnering with Yoplait regardless of the link between dairy and breast cancer. However, it seems that, like with most things, moderation is key. Multiple studies have found that meat dairy products that are low in saturated fat actually do not increase your risk for cancer.



The studies concerning the links between meat, dairy, and our health are out there — you just have to look for it. Advocacy groups do provide the information we need. The key is taking all things in stride and never overdoing your intake of these certain types of food. 

2. CLAIM: Meat harms your health instantly.

According to the documentary, "within minutes of eating dead meat bacteria toxins, the body gets a burst of inflammation, stiffening, or paralyzing the arteries." And certainly, you're thinking that this is probably limited to red meat but apparently it's not — chicken and turkey are allegedly just as bad. When a doctor in the documentary was asked about which meat was more harmful his words, he compared it to having to choose whether you'd want to be shot or hung. Harsh.



Yeah, I know — scary stuff. But a number of studies have linked meat to things like obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, not to mention the immediate risk of food poisoning. But again, moderation is key — and that one 4th of July barbecue hot dog isn't going to kill you right away.

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3. CLAIM: Our diets are the number one cause of health issues, not genetics.

One of the most shocking claims in What The Health is the notion that the diseases we've come to blame on genetics, like obesity and diabetes, are actually linked to lifestyle choices like eating meat. 


"People have bad lifestyles that they've been exposed to a certain way or eating and living that they've carried on into adulthood, passed on to their children. That is why they go on to develop the same diseases as their parents and their grandparents," said dietitian Susan Levin. Cardiologist Joel Kahn gives us the numbers stating that some of America's biggest health woes — "the diabetesthe arthritis, the heart disease, the dementia, the obesity, the cancers are affecting about 70 percent of deaths; all the data is those 70 percent of deaths are lifestyle related."


Okay, so here's the deal. Studies have found that genetic factors influence the risk for developing diseases like diabetes and Thyroid disease. As Doctor Alan Goldhamer says, "even if you have genetic predisposition doesn't mean it's necessarily going to manifest, what determines if it manifests or not are the things that you can control — the environmental factors, there is the dietary factors, lifestyle factors."

If processed meats are classified as a group one (while red meat is classified as group two) carcinogen (along with cigarettes which are known to cause cancer), then it would make sense that a "poor" diet could be linked to so many ailments. But, still, we did a little research of our own to find our how much truth there was to this claim that so many different doctors made throughout the hour-long documentary. Research has found that just like smoking, diet and exercise have the ability to alter our genetic makeup. 


4. CLAIM: Fat causes diabetes, not sugar.

Forever and ever, we've been told that the root of diabetes was the number of carbs and sugars we were pushing down. However, the documentary made an enlightening claim that diabetes is NOT caused by of a high carb diet and sugar.

Doctor and Clinical Researcher Neal Barnard's words were, “diabetes is not and never was caused by eating a high carbohydrate diet and it’s not caused by eating sugar. The cause of diabetes is a diet that builds up the amount of fat into the blood. I’m talking about a typical meat-based, animal-based diet.” He elaborated, “it is causing insulin resistance... the sugar that is naturally from the foods you're eating can't get into the cells where it belongs in" as a result of a buildup of fat.  



According to Dr. Joel Kahn, in the medical world, it's commonly agreed upon that a diet high in fat increases your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. According to the ADA, "being overweight does increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and a diet high in calories from any source contributes to weight gain." That doesn't mean you're free to go on a sugar binge, though. The ADA notes that "research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes."

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5. CLAIM: Milk doesn't make you stronger.

If those "got milk?" commercials are any indicator, milk is an essential component for strong bones. But according to What The Health, milk does not actually make you stronger.


The documentary alleges that people who drink milk have higher rates of hip fractures, have more cancer, and live shorter lives and disclosed that people who drank more milk were more likely to get osteoporosis. It's also apparently linked to many different types of cancer.

There was a study reported in the BMJ from 2014, that backs up the findings that drinking milk can actually lead to an increased risk in bone fractures. So, you have to wonder why there's so many campaigns for milk-based products and little to no warning about the real scoop that's coming with our ice cream.


Here's the thing. Milk does not make you stronger, per se. But it does contain the calcium that your body needs for strong bones. According to Men's Journal, your body gets calcium from your diet but if you're not consuming enough, it'll start taking calcium from your bones, effectively making them weaker. “In terms of bone growth and health, you need a certain amount of protein, potassium, calcium, and other nutrients,” Dr. René Rizzoli, head of the Division of Bone Diseases at Geneva University Hospitals in Switzerland, told Men's Journal. “The food that contains the most well-balanced amount of these things is milk and other dairy products.”


While I myself have decided to sip the Kool-Aid and take the vegan plunge as suggested by the documentary, I will admit what's on a lot of people's minds which is that it is easy to cherry-pick the findings that best back your argument — especially on a subject matter as controversial as this one. I mean, I witnessed it as I looked for sources here. And, I will acknowledge that not everything is for everyone; it's important that you do what's going to get you through your days feeling good. 

I'm personally one of those health nuts who will try anything for three months, and although I can't ever see myself being a hardcore vegan the transition of giving up meat (my main source of energy for 24 years) isn't nearly as difficult as I imagined. 

Perhaps that's because in light of the documentary I have so many newbs banding together with me, but whatever it is I do hope I continue to feel this way beyond the next 30 days. 

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 Kiarra is a YourTango intern by day–Netflix binger and wine connoisseur, by night. New to the “Big Apple” she spends a great deal of time wondering, WWCBD (what would Carrie Bradshaw do)? Follow her on Twitter.