I mentioned recently that I watch documentaries while walking on my treadmill. Today I fired up Netflix and watched The Magic Pill, produced by Pete Evans and directed by Rob Tate. I met them both when they visited the Fat Head farm in 2015. That’s Pete mugging it up in the photo below, of course. There’s a reason he’s a TV personality. Rob is the quiet guy farthest to the right in the photo.
They didn’t mention the film back then, so perhaps they weren’t working on it yet. Or perhaps they weren’t far enough along to talk about it. Either way – and I don’t say this just because I like them personally – it’s the most compelling documentary I’ve seen on food and health. Period. It’s beautifully shot, beautifully written, and a couple of the stories told over the course of the film will likely bring a lump to your throat.
Before we continue, here’s the official trailer. If you don’t subscribe to Netflix, you can also buy or rent the film on Amazon.
The film opens with the question Why are so many people around the world fat and sick? Why are we dying of what seem to be preventable diseases that didn’t afflict our ancestors?
The filmmakers interview Aboriginal Peoples in Australia, who, like Native Americans living on reservations, have screamingly high rates of diabetes. The older people remember a time when their parents and grandparents died of old age, not heart disease and diabetes. We learn that several of them will go on a retreat for some weeks and live on their traditional diet.
That story alone would have been interesting, but then we’re taken to meet people in America who are also struggling with the diseases of civilization: obesity, diabetes, asthma, cancer and autism. They have likewise accepted a challenge to switch to a real-food diet of meats, seafood, vegetables, eggs, nuts and fruits — in other words, a paleo diet.
Watching these people empty their kitchens and pantries of what passes for food these days is simultaneously amusing and horrifying. You know what I mean, because you’ve tossed those foods yourself … the cereals, breads, Spaghetti-Os, goldfish crackers, Doritos — oh, and of course the wheat crackers in a box bragging about the whole grains and low fat content.
Then we see them learning to cook and enjoy real foods. It doesn’t always go well. One little girl on the autism spectrum was so outraged at having her goldfish crackers and Doritos taken away, she refused to eat for five days, according to her parents. But once she started eating actual food, she kept asking for more.
While waiting for the results of the dietary-change experiments, the filmmakers take us on a tour through a bit of dietary history. We learn how a low-fat diet based on grains became the standard nutrition advice and what the results have been. Lots of people whose books or other works you know make an appearance: Nina Teicholz, Nora Gedgaudas, Dr. William Davis, Lierre Keith, Dr. Jason Fung and Joe Salatin.
We also learn how ferociously the food industry (and the dietitians they support) will fight back against the real-food movement by seeing some footage from the Tim Noakes trial — the one where he was acquitted of all charges before the HPCSA decided to appeal and go after him yet again.
The lump-in-the-throat moments come around near the end, when we see what happens to sick people who switch to real-food diets. Sure, I knew they’d get better. I expected to see overweight diabetics lose weight and stop taking insulin. I expected to see asthma to go away. I even expected to see cancer go into remission.
But as a father of two girls, seeing the effects of a real-food diet on the little girl with autism got to me. I was also moved by the retired nurse who was fat and miserable and diabetic and taking ever-higher doses of insulin, then lost 45 pounds and now needs no insulin at all. You can tell this was a woman who was ready to give up.
Rob Tate, the director, mentions to her that our treatments for people struggling with obesity and diabetes always seem to boil down to Here, try this pill or that pill. Maybe what we need to try is changing what we eat.
I think I always knew that, she tells him. But I think I didn’t know how.
Bingo. With so much garbage advice being handed down from dietitians, government agencies, “health” organizations like the American Heart Association, etc., etc., it’s been difficult for people to know how to cure themselves with food.
The real magic pill is real food – and it tastes good too. That’s the message of this beautiful film.
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