First, I should give you some background on Dr. Campbell. He grew up on a dairy farm in northern Virginia and believed milk was "Nature's most perfect food". He was the first person in his family to go to college and went on to earn a master's and PhD from Cornell where his research focused on how to make cows and sheep grow faster. He then went on to study carcinogens and diet's effects on cancer. And of course, he lead the China Study. (I'll get to that in a bit.) He also sat on various government committees dealing with nutrition. He is Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemsitry at Cornell University. He has received more than 70 grant years of research funding and has authored more than 300 research papers. Pretty impressive stuff.
The title of "The China Study" is actually a little misleading (Campbell agrees--the publisher chooses titles) because the study is only one part of the book. Campbell also covers other research he did and the research of other scientists.
After 40 years of scientific research, education and policy making as part of government committees, Dr. Campbell's conclusion basically comes down to this: if you want to be healthy and reduce your chances of chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, just to name a few, you should eat a whole foods, plant-based diet.
What does whole foods, plant-based diet mean? Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes. Avoid processed food and sugar as much as possible and refrain from any animal products including meat, milk, and eggs. Sounds pretty simple, right? The first half of that is pretty much common sense these days. But the second part is also pretty radical for most of us who grew up eating the all American diet of meat and potatoes with a glass of milk.
One of my favorite parts about Dr. Campbell's book is that he doesn't sensationalize his findings. This is NOT a diet book. He's not out to make a load of money. His motivations really seem to be quite pure. He just wants to share with the world how he feels we can be the most healthy after all his years of study and research. In fact he says he hopes this book can help to repay the tax-paying public who helped fund his research over the years of his long career. I love this quote from an article Dr. Campbell wrote in response to some criticism of his book: "In effect, our research was conducted with an eye toward breadth, consistency, plausibility and, eventually, human health. It was not emphasizing the results of one experiment or one bit of data."
Although I wish I could summarize the whole book for you, I can't. This post would be entirely too long and no one would read it anyway. Really you should just go read the book. It is very well-written and extremely interesting, even if you have no desire whatsoever to give up your steak. The entire last section of the book is all about the "dark side" of science and how government, science, and industry all get blurred when it comes to diet and nutrition. Very interesting. I'm not going to get into that section here though. I'm just going to briefly summarize a few of his most convincing pieces of research. I hope you will go on to read the book in its entirety.
One of Dr. Campbell's big research projects studied the effect of protein (specifically casein, the protein found in milk) on the growth of liver cancer in rats. First they gave the rats aflatoxin, a carcinogen that causes liver cancer. Then they fed the rats either a high protein (20%) or a low protein (5%) diet. The rats that received the high protein diet ALL got liver cancer, whereas the rats that had the low protein diet ALL did NOT. These results are pretty darn amazing. The researchers did several variations of the experiment, including feeding the rats soy protein. In that case the rats also did NOT get cancer. They would even adjust the levels of milk protein at different stages and found they could actually turn the cancer growth on and off based on the amount of milk protein they fed the rats! Other researchers found similar results when studying breast cancer in rats. Dr. Campbell concluded that there is something in milk protein that actually promotes cancer growth. Pretty startling conclusion if you ask me.
Next up-the China Study: Done in the 1980s the study has been called the "Grand Prix of epidemiology" by the New York Times. It was a massive survey of thousands of chinese citizens that effectively gave scientists a "snap shot" in time of diet, disease, habits, etc. Scientists were able to find more than 8000 statistically signifiant associations between lifestyle, diet and disease.
Obviously, Dr. Campbell didn't go into all of these associations and I can't cover even all the ones he did explain. But taking into account all the research and looking at the big picture, he reached the same conclusion: we can minimize our risk of contracting deadly diseases just by eating the right food.
Dr. Campbell was so convinced that he stopped eating most meat and eventually gave up almost all animal-based foods. He says he is considerably more fit at age 70 than he was at age 25. He said: "This has all been done for health reasons, the result of my research findings telling me to wake up. From a boyhood of drinking at least two quarts of milk a day to an early professional career of scoffing at vegetarians, I have taken an unusual turn in life."
I love how humble he is about it all. He didn't set out to prove that animal-based foods are bad. In fact it was quite the opposite--if anything he had a bias in favor of animal products. But he always remained open to the evidence and the science led him to conclude that the best way to eat is a whole foods, plant-based diet.
The second section of the book covers various diseases that afflict us: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and then he touches on few more. He spends time explaining the research on each of these diseases and how diet can prevent and even reverse them. It is very convincing. I have no doubt that we all have someone in our families who has suffered and/or died from heart disease or cancer. Obesity becomes a greater problem every year and diabetes rates are rising too. Isn't it amazing that just by changing the way we eat we could drastically reduce the number of people who are afflicted by these diseases?
So what do we do? As I said, this is not a diet book. Dr. Campbell says he can state his philosophy in one sentence: "eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, while minimizing the consumption of refined foods, added salt and added fats." He also gives 8 principles of healthy eating.
- Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- Vitamin supplements are not a panacea for good health.
- There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
- Genes do not determine disease on their own. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed.
- Nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.
- The same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages (before diagnosis) can also halt or reverse disease in its later stages (after diagnosis).
- Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.
- Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.
One of my new favorite quotes is found on page 238: "The process of eating is perhaps the most intimate encounter we have with our world; it is a process in which what we eat becomes part of our body."
Isn't that a beautiful thought? We truly are connected to our world.
This book has profoundly affected me and how I view the food I eat. We already ate a mostly vegetarian diet, but now we are going to take that extra step and stop buying dairy as well. This doesn't mean that I will never eat ice cream again (no way!) but it does mean that we aren't going to always have it in the freezer. When at a friends house or a restaurant I'm not going to freak out about eating a little dairy or meat or what have you, but in our home we are no longer going to have those items. I have been eating A LOT of dairy and it was a big wake up call to learn that its not actually so good for me.
An important point to make is that it is very possible to be a "junk food vegetarian/vegan". This is NOT a good thing! You must eat whole foods as much as possible and eat a wide variety of foods to ensure you are getting proper nutrition. I'm currently reading the book Becoming Vegan which has a lot of very useful information (including chapters about pregnancy/lactation and kids) although it does get a bit overly complicated at times. If you have kids, I think it is even more important to do some reading about how to make sure your family is getting a varied enough diet.
For more info on milk, I found this very interesting little article/quiz from RealAge.com: "Does Milk Really do a Body Good?" Definitely worth checking out.
And for fun...here is a recipe for coconut milk ice cream that I really want to try! yum!
And Jared just came home with some Coconut Bliss ice cream he bought at Whole Foods. One word: HEAVEN!
I'd love to talk to anyone out there more about this, if you'd like. Feel free to leave comments and/or email me.