Saturday, March 13, 2010

An Inconvenient Truth

I just finished Dr. T. Colin Campbell's The China Study, a book that my dear friend Olivia sent to me as part of a fabulous care package from Korea. I put off reading it for a few months, mostly out of laziness and because I wanted, for a little while, to avoid the advice that lay within the pages of research: consider saying "So long" to meat and dairy.

The author, with almost 30 years of research under his belt, concluded that consuming a whole foods, plant-based diet is one of the most important contributions one can make to his or her health. The China Study, dubbed the "Grand Prix of Epidemiology," documents the most comprehensive study conducted on nutrition and its relation to cancer and chronic illness. Campbell also includes prominent studies by other researchers who have similarly focused on the connection between diet and health on multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, and heart disease.

Bottom line: when it comes to health, Campbell advocates a diet without meat and dairy, influential "foods" that play a role in chronic illness. Despite the telling research, I wondered about The China Study's reach into the mainstream. How convincing is this book and would it inspire people to give up meat? I'm not entirely sure of the answer. I would guess that most people reading the book are uber health nuts, researchers, doctors (fingers crossed), or people facing a serious illness. It's usually in sickness that people will seek such books, researching and committing to lifestyle changes in the hopes of healing their bodies and reversing and preventing future illness.

It's frustrating that a book with so much to offer people hasn't gotten more attention. There are many explanations for this, of which I'll name a few. First and foremost, the meat and dairy industries have done a good job of marketing their products and are steadfast when it comes to lobbying and protecting their financial interests. Meat and dairy are pervasive and they are not going away anytime soon. It subsequently makes a diet without these products seemingly peripheral or even radical. Secondly, food is political. People with ties to various food industries, with much to lose or gain, have held seats on advisory panels and positions within government organizations. Case in point: Six out of eleven members on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had ties to dairy, beef, egg, and even Slim-Fast companies! Conflict of interest? I think so!

Lastly, food is cultural, emotional, and personal. Accepting a whole foods plant-based diet means, for many people, letting go of traditions, comfort food, and a way of eating that is commonplace and natural to them. A change in diet seems most likely to occur when health is compromised and it becomes a necessity to remove certain foods. For me, removing dairy was such a necessity. And while I started a meatless challenge to support a friend's Lenten practice, the research on animal proteins has convinced me to permanently abstain.

Regardless of your orientation to meat and dairy, I recommend checking out The China Study. It's an important contribution to the literature on the relationship between diet and health.

Check out Kris Carr discussing her cancer journey as influenced by The China Study. Note that she discusses several different food plans (macrobiotic, raw, alkaline). They all involve whole foods plant-based diets with different preparations.

Have you read the book? What do you think about Campbell's research?


Olivia said...

I'm SO glad you liked it! I can't wait to see you soon to catch up over a healthy meal. xo

Jen said...

Me too, O! Can't wait to see you!

Ed said...

I just finished today, and it's an excellent read. It's very 'inside baseball' at times, and Dr. Campbell is never slow to point out what great accomplishments he's made, but it's definitely groundbreaking, and hopefully inspirational. I got a little scare when I saw that a daily food intake consisting of cereal, milk, pizza, soda, grilled chicken and sweets conformed to what some groups say is a healthy day of eating. Those were my habits far too often until I wised up.

One also can't help but get angry reading about Campbell's frustrating experiences with influence peddlers from academia who should really know better. With so many official sounding groups bought and paid for by Dairy, Meat and more, it's no wonder that Americans are clueless about what to eat. My mother, a registered nurse, was skeptical when I tried to explain why milk is a fraud that has no place in our schools, let alone America's refrigerators.

Ed said...

One additional thing. I'm glad Campbell was very clear in stating that being an avid runner does not give you a free pass to eat crap. Running doesn't make up for it, but there have been numerous occasions where I justified a big soda or pizza or burgers by saying I ran a lot of miles.