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Louie Psihoyos latest doc-series shocks the medical community The Oscar–winning director talks to NEO

By on April 2, 2024

by Kelly Fanarioti

Through his latest doc-series, You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment, the Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos highlights the impact of vegetarianism in the human body. During the four-part documentary, which is available on Netflix, we see pairs of monozygotic twins who follow a specific diet plan for eight weeks.

In each pair, one twin follows a strict vegetarian diet and the other a meat-eating one. At the end of the eight weeks, all of them underwent medical examinations, with quite impressive results. Those who followed the vegetarian diet had, among other things, lower cholesterol and a younger biological age. In fact, this particular method pleasantly surprised the scientists, among whom the Nobel laureate in Physiology and Medicine Elizabeth Blackburn.

Louie Psihoyos

The Director of “The Cove” Louie Psihoyos

“Selfishly, I want people to live longer and healthier lives. Look at a place like Icaria, Greece which is called ‘the Island where people forget to die.’ It’s one of the five so-called Blue Zones: geographical regions around the world where people live the longest and healthiest without chronic disease-what all these regions have in common with food is they eat primarily plants. I’m Greek and have many Greek relatives that died young of heart disease and diabetes, and when you love someone you want them not to suffer. I feel I have an obligation to let people know there’s a way they can upgrade their lives, have more energy and be around to see their children and grandchildren grow up,” Psihoyos tells  NEO.

As he admits, with You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment, he wanted to know the truth, but the outcome shocked not just him, but the medical community around the world.

“Elizabeth Blackburn won the Noble Prize for her work with telomeres, which are the end caps of our DNA, longer telomeres are associated with a longer life – shorter telomeres shorter life. Her lab analysed the twins DNA before and after the study and what they found was that after a just 8-week dietary intervention the identical twins weren’t identical any more – all the twins on the plant-based diet had longer telomeres so they were biologically speaking, younger than their meat-eating counterpart. It seems pretty evident that there is a strong relationship with diet and the longevity all-stars living in Icaria and the other blue zones.”

As for the 21 pairs of twins who participated in the experiment, most of them decided to follow a plant-based diet in their everyday life. “The Stanford Twin Nutrition study, which was our idea, has struck like a lightning bolt through the medical community. Altmetrics is a service which measures engagement for scientific studies – a score of 20 is high ours is 1776,” the director says excitedly.

Psihoyos describes himself as a person who wants to leave the world a slightly better place and, therefore, he feels an obligation to use his ability to scale social change as effectively as possible. His actions in recent years prove the above.

Louie Psihoyos during filming “The Cove”

In 2010 his documentary “The Cove,” exposed Taiji’s dolphin slaughter and was awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film was secretly filmed at night, with the film crew constantly in danger of being caught by the police. Following the release of the documentary, the Japanese government announced it was particularly offensive, and since then Louie Psihoyos is considered persona non grata in the country.

“A lot of people don’t want to change, but many do.  I had one of the first electric cars in America and it was powered by batteries charged by solar panels – in fact my whole house and business were charged by alternative energy – back then people thought I was a lunatic.  Now of course electric cars are becoming mainstream – it just took time before society realized EV’s are an upgrade – they are more fun to drive, they pollute less and they are much cheaper to power and repair.”

He supports the view that one of our goals as human beings is to relieve suffering, not just for our families, but for our communities, and for the planet. According to him, many people are unaware of the consequences of the seemingly-innocuous act of eating. However, he stresses that if people spend only ten seconds in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, they would change their eating habits.

‘’If you spent 10 seconds in one of them, you would be appalled by the overwhelming smell of ammonia and feces–10 seconds! And these animals have to live in these foul environments their entire lives. The average American eats about 10,000 animals in their lifetime – now imagine an entire country eating that way – that’s a lot of suffering. Raising animals this way is also bad for the environment. Unlike with humans, their sewage goes untreated and runs off into streams, rivers and eventually the oceans- it’s the biggest cause of freshwater pollution, and ocean dead zones. Raising animals for human consumption also creates more greenhouses gases than the entire transportation sector, which creates an immigration issue for people fleeing to Greece, because their homelands are becoming deserts.”

Twin sisters, Pan & Wendy Drew who took part at ‘’What You Eat: A Twin Experiment’’

Twin sisters, Pan & Wendy Drew who took part at ‘’What You Eat: A Twin Experiment’’

Concluding our interview, I couldn’t help but ask him about the inequalities. The food choices I saw in his doc-series are, unfortunately, not affordable by a large portion of people. High prices for fruits, vegetables, oil and other healthy foods make it, unfortunately, easier for a family to buy and cook something with lower nutritional value.

There’s a myth that eating healthy is more expensive. Lentils are cheap. Beans are cheaper than meat. In all the Blue Zones, people eat beans. Beans are cheap and packed with protein and fibre. People in Icaria and all around the world grow their own vegetables and they taste much better. In America we now spend more on health care than food. Almost 75-80% of the diseases we have can be reversed by eating healthier. When you factor in the cost of healthcare to the cost of eating animal products – vegetables are the deal of a lifetime. You have a choice to pay a little more for your food now or pay a lot more later for your hospital bills. When you’re on your deathbed, because your arteries are clogged with trans-fat and saturated fat from eating meat – vegetables will look pretty cheap.”

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