What the Health: The Startling Truth Behind the Foods We Eat, Plus 50 Plant-Rich Recipes to Get You Feeling Your Best

What the Health: The Startling Truth Behind the Foods We Eat, Plus 50 Plant-Rich Recipes to Get You Feeling Your Best


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The definitive, stand-alone companion book to the acclaimed documentary—now with 50 plant-based recipes and full-color photos to help you start changing your health for the better

There’s something terribly broken in our industrial food, medical, and pharmaceutical systems. What’s going wrong? Can we really avoid the leading causes of death just by changing our diet? Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, creators of the revolutionary What the Health and the award-winning Cowspiracy documentaries, take readers on a science-based tour of the hazards posed by consuming animal products—and what happens when we stop.

What the Health will guide you on an adventure through this maze of misinformation with the same fresh, engaging approach that made the documentary so popular. Journey with Andersen and Kuhn as they crisscross the country, talking to doctors, dietitians, public health advocates, whistle-blowers, and world-class athletes, to uncover the truth behind the food we eat. With the help of writer Eunice Wong, they empower eaters with knowledge about the lethal entwining of the food, medical, and pharmaceutical industries, and about the corporate web that confuses the public and keeps Americans chronically—and profitably—ill.

Plus, discover 50 recipes to help you reclaim your life and health, including:

  • Creamy Mac

  • PB&J Smoothie

  • Winter Lentil and Pomegranate Salad

  • Mom’s Ultimate Vegan Chili

  • Black Bean Fudgy Brownies

  • Baked Apple Crumble with Coconut Cream

If the film was a peephole, then the book knocks down the whole door, featuring expanded interviews, extensive research, and new personal narratives. There's a health revolution brewing. What the Health is your invitation to join.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781946885524
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 12/18/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 604,302
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Kip Andersen’s awakening as a filmmaker came as a result of An Inconvenient Truth. After seeing the film, he dramatically changed his lifestyle and believed he was doing everything he could to help the planet. But his life took a different direction when he found out animal agriculture is the leading cause of environmental destruction. Together with Keegan Kuhn he co-produced his first film, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, which became an overnight viral success and ignited the environmental movement. Following this success, he was invited to speak in front of the European Parliament and a new cut, executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, was exclusively released on Netflix in September 2015.

Andersen is the founder of A.U.M. Films and Media, a 501c3 non-profit focused on creating films and media that promote thrivability, compassion, and harmony for all life. He is also a serial entrepreneur, as well as a certified Jivamukti and Kundalini yoga teacher. Andersen is a graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo school of business and has called San Francisco home for more than a decade.

Keegan Kuhn is the award-winning co-director of the highly acclaimed documentary film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, executive produced for Netflix by Leonardo DiCaprio. Kuhn is the owner and operator of First Spark Media, a digital film production company tailored to creating films for social justice.

Kuhn's skills as a director, producer, cinematographer, editor, animator and composer have been utilized in film subjects as diverse as modern Alaskan homesteading, gender inequality, animal rescues, Buddhism, endurance sports and environmental destruction. He is motivated by a deep desire to shed light on untold stories of the most downtrodden in our society, and to raise awareness through greater visibility of social justice issues. Kuhn is the owner of the camera accessory company First Spark Gear and creator of the educational music project True Nature. He lives with his partner Shani in the East Bay of San Francisco, California.

Read an Excerpt



When I visited my dad in the hospital, the room was mostly dark. He was asleep. A monitor beeped and I heard laughter from the nurses' station in the hall.

A wave of anxiety and helplessness washed over me.

How many years before it's me lying in that bed?

I feel the same helplessness when I see my aunt or uncle, who both have diabetes. My aunt is becoming blind. I've always been careful to keep my weight down and not eat too much sugar. But it's in my genes.

I wondered, though, after the little bit I'd learned about meat and cancer, if there was a larger picture to genetics and disease. I was particularly preoccupied with the diabetes in my family. You'll get it too ... It was worth looking into.

What I found was remarkable. I turned up study after study showing that eating animal products — meat, dairy, or eggs — significantly increases your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

But when I went on the website of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), their "Diabetes Meal Plans" recommended lean meats, poultry, fish, and nonfat dairy products. Their recipes included Moroccan Lamb Stew, oven-barbecued chicken, Asian pork chops, barbecued meatballs, and blackened tuna with tangy mustard sauce.

Maybe I was missing something. The scientific reports linking animal products and diabetes are filled with numbers and language I don't understand.

Perhaps an expert at the ADA could clarify things for me.

* * *

"With Type 2 Diabetes, there's an enormous genetic component," Dr. Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer of the ADA, told Keegan and me.

His words hit me in the pit of my stomach.

"There's no question that we're in the midst of a diabetes epidemic," Dr. Ratner said. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do population-based surveys in which they ask people about diseases, and then follow up with blood tests to confirm it. Their 2014 report estimated that 29 million people in the United States have diabetes. Of those, approximately 8 million people do not know they have the disease. It only showed up on the blood test.

"We're seeing an increase in new diagnoses of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in the US and around the world."

"Why are there so many more people with diabetes now?" I asked.

"It's unclear why the incidence of Type 1 diabetes is going up," Dr. Ratner answered. "With Type 2 diabetes, as I said, genetics plays a huge role. That risk is brought out by the interaction of diet, exercise, environment, genetic propensity — you need all of that together for the disease to occur."

I made a mental note. If the disease requires all those factors, then — maybe? — genetics wasn't playing such a "huge" role.

"There are two populations of Pima Indians who are virtually genetically identical," Dr. Ratner said. "The ones in central Mexico are subsistence farmers: thin, with virtually no diabetes. The other group lives on an Arizona Indian reservation. They're obese, with a 50 percent prevalence of diabetes.

"Another example," he continued, "is the case of first-, second-, and third-generation Japanese, starting in Japan, who move to Hawaii, and then to Seattle. You see a progressive increase in the development of Type 2 diabetes the farther they get from Japan, and as more generations pass."

"What's happening in Japan that's different from Seattle?" Keegan asked from behind the camera.

"There's no question that lifestyles are different," Dr. Ratner replied. "They're walking more. Their diet is clearly very different. There's no question that the Western-type diet seems to correlate with an increased risk of diabetes."


"Which part of the Western diet is the culprit?" I asked.

"There are so many potential confounders. There is no such thing as a diabetes diet."

I thought of the meal recommendations on the ADA website, but said nothing.

"More recently," Dr. Ratner said, "new devices have been developed for the delivery of insulin, and the ability to monitor glucose in patients without having to go to the doctor's office. The convenience of treating diabetes has been revolutionary in the last thirty years."

I looked down at my notes. "What's the best way to prevent diabetes?"

"It's unclear."

"I've come across a lot of studies," I said, "saying diet is a huge contributor, and you could potentially cure or reverse diabetes with a purely plant-based diet."

Dr. Ratner seemed to stiffen a tiny bit.

"I don't believe there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that," he said.

"How does a low-fat plant-based diet compare to the ADA diet you recommend?"

"We don't recommend a specific diet. We recommend healthy eating."

"The one on the website."

"We recommend healthy eating."

I tried again. "You have a meal plan, and recommended foods on your website —"

"They are selections of foods to consider."

"If you compare those selections, then, to a plant-based —"

"No one's done that study."

I rifled through my papers and pulled one out. "There was one in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009," I said, reading from it. "A 74-week study comparing a low-fat plant-based diet to the ADA plan in Type 2 —"

Dr. Ratner grabbed his coffee mug and swiveled away in his chair. "I think we're done here. I'm not getting into an argument about —"

I looked up, startled. "No, no. I just want to know if this is true —"

"Any diet works," he said, turning to face me. "If. People. Follow it."

I was a little thrown. "But — if it's not the proper diet —"

"No. If that's where you want to go with this, I'm sorry, I'm not the person you should be talking to."

"Then — who do we talk to about diet?" I was completely confused. He had just said there was no question the Western diet was associated with an increased risk of diabetes.

He looked at me. "You can talk to anybody you want. We do not advocate a specific diet."

"Why not?"

"Because the data doesn't exist to support it."

"We have data here —"

Dr. Ratner stood up abruptly. "We're done."

I looked up at him. "I'm sorry?"

"We're done. I'm not going to get into that argument with you." He plucked the microphone off his tie.

"Why is it an argument? I just have this study here —"

"There are lots of studies," he interrupted, standing over me. "Lots of studies in the literature. Many of which have never been replicated, or, frankly, are wrong. That's why we do peer review, okay?"

"The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition isn't peer-reviewed?"

"I don't know what study you're referring to," he said, pocketing his phone. "In the absence of being able to see that study, I'm not going to comment."

"I could show it to you," I said hopefully. "I just want to know whether —"

"I'm sorry, I don't have time for that." He turned and walked out of the room.

I looked over at Keegan behind the camera. He was as dumbfounded as I was. My heart was thumping.

"That was bizarre," said Keegan.

After a moment, we packed up our gear in silence. I noticed my hands were shaking.

* * *

The ancient Greeks believed in three goddesses, more powerful than any others. We know them as the Fates. They would arrive at a newborn baby's cradle, where the first goddess spun the thread of life and the second determined the length of thread. The third — the most feared, known as "the inevitable" — cut the life-thread. The baby's path was fixed from that moment.

In 21st-century America, not many of us still believe in the Fates with their spindle and shears. But we have replaced them with a modern substitute: genetics.

There are diseases and disorders that are 100 percent genetically determined. No matter how or where you live, if you have the genetic combination for these conditions, they will manifest. These include Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and Huntington's disease, a degenerative brain disorder. Every person with the gene for Huntington's will eventually develop it.

But I want to unpack the genetic component of the top causes of death in our country, like heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's, and diabetes, along with contributing factors like obesity. People often believe their genetic lot is the most powerful influence over whether they'll develop these diseases.

I've believed that since I was a teenager. I did everything I thought I could do to stave off my family's diabetes, cancer, and heart failure. But deep down, it felt like running away when a monster is chasing you. You have a choice: you can run or stand still. If you stand still, the monster will get you much sooner. If you run, you'll buy some time, but ultimately — come on, we're talking about a monster here. It's going to get you in the end.

I kept going over the interview with Dr. Ratner. He was very emphatic about genetics playing a major part in the development of Type 2 diabetes, but almost everything else he said — before he refused to talk to me — actually contradicted that statement.

He was the one who brought up the Pima Indians, who did or did not develop the disease depending on how they lived. He brought up the Japanese, whose Type 2 diabetes soared when they moved away from Japan and its traditional lifestyle and diet.

Diet, exercise, environment, genetic propensity — you need all of that together for the disease to occur. There's no question that the Western-type diet seems to correlate with the increased risk of diabetes.

Those were his statements, not mine. But when I asked him to home in on how diet might prevent or reverse the disease, he shut everything down, and I was left in the dark.

Time to grope around for some lights. Keegan and I packed our cameras and hit the road.

* * *

When I first heard the news snippet on meat and cancer, I HAD no idea there was a health revolution brewing. Throughout the country, there's a growing movement of doctors challenging the conservative teachings that I — and everyone I know — had grown up with.

Dr. Neal Barnard, a trim man with light-brown hair, is president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit organization of 12,000 doctors. He's also on the medical faculty at George Washington University. Keegan and I visited him at the PCRM offices in DC.

"I think of genes in two ways," Dr. Barnard told us. "There are dictator genes. Those genes give orders — blue eyes or brown hair — and you don't have any choice. The genes for diabetes, heart disease, or certain forms of cancer, they're more like committees giving suggestions. But you've got a lot of control over whether those genes ever express themselves.

"The vista on diet-related disease is spreading out in a bigger way than we ever imagined. We thought maybe diet affected heart disease and a few cancers. Then there was diabetes. Now it's also brain disease — not only stroke but also Alzheimer's. We thought that was entirely due to genes and age. Now we know it's due, to a very substantial degree, to diet. We've got control. Not perfect control, but certainly control we never had before."

Our journey had begun.

Dr. Garth Davis is a bariatric surgeon, who at the time of our interview with him, was running the Davis Clinic in Houston, Texas, one of the busiest surgical weight loss clinics in the country, as well as being head of bariatric surgery at one of Houston's biggest hospitals. Dr. Davis has since moved to Asheville, North Carolina, where he works at Mission Health as the medical director of their weight management clinic.

Dr. Davis starred in the television series Big Medicine, and wrote a bestselling book in 2008 called The Expert's Guide to Weight-Loss Surgery. In that book, he recommended eating a high-animal-protein diet. But while following his own advice, he felt sicker and sicker, and got fatter and fatter. He began poring through the scientific literature on nutrition and diet, examining epidemiological, experimental, and prospective cohort studies, analyzing research designs and conclusions. He even went back to 19th-century accounts of African eating patterns. He ended up overhauling his previous, very publicly stated beliefs on nutrition.

On the flight to Houston to visit Dr. Davis, I looked through my plastic oval window. I could see the plane's wing and the bright blanket of clouds beneath us. Next to me, Keegan was reading Dr. Davis's new book, Proteinaholic, a strong rebuttal to his previous book.

I thought back on our interview with Dr. Barnard. His words made me feel like a prisoner watching the heavy cell door open just a tiny sliver. Was this for real, or was that door going to slam shut again?

* * *

We talked with Dr. Davis in an examining room at his clinic. I'D watched YouTube clips of him from Big Medicine, and was surprised that he looked far more youthful and powerful in person, despite his salt and pepper hair and starched doctor's coat. In the Big Medicine clips, he looked puffy and tired. He's now a prize-winning Ironman triathlete.

"In order to get many diseases, two things have to happen," Dr. Davis said. "First, you have a genetic predisposition. Second, something sets that gene in motion. Let's take Okinawans, from one of the Japanese islands. They're skinny, they don't have a lot of cancer, and they're one of the most long-lived cultures in the world. But if you move an Okinawan to America, they gain weight rapidly. They get heart disease, they get diabetes. In China, they used to think they didn't have diabetes. Now suddenly they have a huge increase in the disease, and they're blaming it on Western food, specifically the large amounts of meat."

Dr. Davis had essentially given us the same migration-disease model that Dr. Ratner from the ADA had used. But Dr. Davis was following the example through to its conclusion.

We heard something similar from Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a celebrated cardiologist who has been practicing medicine for over 40 years. He works at the Cleveland Clinic, rated the best cardiac care center in the country by US News & World Report. He's also a former Olympic rowing gold medalist.

"Let's look at the genetics of the Papua Highlanders, the Tarahumara in northern Mexico, or the rural Chinese," Dr. Esselstyn said to Keegan and me in his library. "They have different genetics, but there's no heart disease in these populations. The field of epigenetics is breaking through in spades right now, in which you can actually alter genetic expression. You can turn genes on and off, and by what? By the environment, and perhaps nothing is as powerful as food.

"And it's not just heart disease," Dr. Esselstyn continued. "When you look globally, there are certain cultures where breast cancer is much less frequently identified than in the US. Kenya. Rural Japan in the 1950s. Yet, what happened to the Japanese women, when they migrated to the US for the second and third generation, still pure Japanese American? They had the same rates of breast cancer as their Caucasian counterparts."

* * *

The World Health Organization (WHO) pinpoints four factors as the main causes of death before the age of 86:

1. poor diet

2. high blood pressure

3. obesity

4. tobacco use

Three of the four are diet related.

The National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine came to the same conclusions, finding that diet and activity patterns — far ahead of tobacco, alcohol, drug abuse, gun violence, and car accidents — are the primary factors behind premature deaths in this country.

No more than 10 percent to 20 percent of risk for the primary causes of death comes from our genes. Only about 5 percent to 10 percent of cancer cases are attributable to genetic defects, with the other 90 percent to 95 percent rooted in lifestyle and environment. Colon cancer, the second most lethal cancer in the country, is the cancer most directly affected by what you eat. According to WHO, 80 percent of all heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes can be prevented.

Scientific literature from the mid-1980s shows that eating saturated fat, which is mainly found in animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs, is more strongly associated with death than smoking cigarettes.

Think about that. If you took your family to a neighborhood cookout, and the dad next door offered you — and your child — a cigarette and a light, how would you react? And yet we accept, with thanks, the glistening beef burgers from that same dad.

What's the difference between taking the cigarette and the burger? The smell and the taste. The social assumptions. The habits. The lack of knowledge.

People think heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are inherited, not realizing that what they've actually inherited are the eating habits of their parents and grandparents.

"People are exposed as children to a certain way of eating that they carry into their adulthood. They pass it on to their children. That's why they develop the same diseases their parents and grandparents may have had before them, but it is not inevitable," Susan Levin, director of nutrition education at PCRM and a registered dietitian with a specialty in sports nutrition, told us. She's also an avid runner, and when we interviewed her, she was 39 weeks pregnant.


Excerpted from "What the Health"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



  1. Genetics: The Writing on the Cell

  2. Medical School: The Doctor of the Future

  3. Diabetes: Jamming the Lock

  4. Chicken: What the Cluck?

  5. Flesh Food

  6. Cancer: Feeding the Growth

  7. What Is Milk?

  8. Eggs: Cracked

  9. Fish: Pollution Sponges

  10. Blood Vessel Disease: The Tree of Life

  11. Our Children

  12. Exploding Myths

  13. The Next Stage in Human Evolution: Vegan Athletes

  14. Things Spiral Around

Top Secret

Recipes: Eat Right, Live Well


Selected Bibliography and Films



What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Don't read What the Health unless you want to change the way you eat—but if you do, the book presents a compelling path to longevity."

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