The China Study makes the point that an animal-based diet is bad for health.
Campbell makes some good points, but many criticizes his rather extreme conclusions and his research methods.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- The China Study Criticism
- Real Life Applications
- An animal based diet causes cancer
- A diet of only plants is the foundation of a healthy life
- Take the above claims with a big grain of salt (read Criticism on The China Study)
The China Study, the book, takes most of his data from a large study which came to be known as, you guessed it, The China Study.
The study began when researchers from Cornell University and the University of Oxford partnered with the Chinese government to conduct one of the biggest public health researches ever undertaken.
The focus of the study was to find out how environment and nutrition affected health.
The China Study Results (for Campbell)
Campbell says the China Study revealed a strong connection between diets high in animal consumption and cancer.
The research results suggest, says Campbell, that we can largely prevent cancerous tumors by eliminating our consumption of meat.
We Can Get By on Less Proteins
Campbell says we all worry not to eat too much carbs. But we also worry we might not be eating enough protein.
And when we think of protein, we all think of meat.
But first of all, Campbell says you don’t need as many proteins as most people think.
And you can get plenty of proteins without meant. For example, plants with a high quantity of proteins are:
And they don’t have the same nefarious effects that animal proteins have.
Indeed, Campbell says, there are no nutrients in animal food that are not better provided by plants (B12 an exception).
As you might have guessed, The China Study takes a very strong stance against animal meat.
Indeed Campbell makes the point that even small amount of animal-based protein had negative effects.
My Note: I found it a bit suspect the author doesn’t go into details on the correlation between small amount and negative effects.
A vegan diet helps reduce the risk of cancer.
The author picks three different types of cancer saying they are well representative of all cancers: prostate cancer, breast cancer and bowel cancer.
And he makes the point that a plant based diet will strongly reduce the incidence of all the three of them.
A plant diet will also reduce the amount of fat we ingest.
And fat, says Campbell, is also correlated with cancer.
For example, breast cancer. Campbell says that many animal products such as milk and butter contain a lot of fat.
A high-fat diet can raise the level of estrogen in the body. And an excess of estrogen increases the risk of cancer in women.
Animal-based diet is associated with high cholesterol and plant-based diets are associated to low cholesterol.
Plants are healthier also because they contain more fiber than animal products.
The China Study found that a high-fiber diet correlates to fewer cases of colon and rectal cancer. And to lower levels of cholesterol.
Fruits and vegetables are sources of antioxidants, which help the body neutralize harmful molecules known as free radicals.
Olive oil and cocoa are also sources of antioxidants.
Plant Benefits – Quick Overview
- Fruits – vitamin C and more phytochemicals
- Whole Grains – carbohydrates, minerals, fiber and B vitamins
- Leaves – antioxidant vitamins, fiber and complex carbohydrates
- Roots – complex carbohydrates
- Legumes – protein, fiber and iron
- Flowers – antioxidants and phytochemicals
- Nuts – high in omega 3 fats, vitamin E and protein
- Mushrooms – selenium and more antioxidants
Low Carb Diets
The author takes aim at the growing popularity of low carbs and high protein diets. He says that eating this way is possibly the single greatest threat for health.
Some examples of low carb diets:
Campbell says that the healthiest diet you can have is a high carbohydrates one. It shows, he says, to revert heart diseases, diabetes and prevent a plethora of chronic diseases.
If that weren’t enough, he says, it also causes significant weight loss.
However, big caveat, you should consume carbs complex and unrefined.
Avoid These Carbs
To be precise, avoid refined types of carbs:
- White flour
- Regular sugar
- Pasta from refined flour
- Sugary cereals
- White bread
Stop Blaming Genes
The author says that there’s no obesity gene. Or actually there are, but there are many. And their interaction is complex. There’s no such a thing as a single gene that will make you fat.
And genes always interact with the environment. If you eat well, you will neutralize bad genes from ever having any effect.
In Cambell’s words:
Nutrition primarily determines whether the diseases will ever be established
And now let’s see how a day eating plant-based would look like:
The China Study Recipe
And here’s an idea for a full day of eating based on The China Study:
- Breakfast: fruit smoothie
- Morning Snack: Peanut Butter Bars
- Lunch: Pumpkin soup, big salad
- Afternoon Snack: Cucumber dip, raw vegetables
- Dinner: Spaghetti with Broccoli and Cashew Sauce
- Dessert: Vegan Chocolate Cake
- Add a variety of plant foods to your diet
- Eat different colors and different parts of the plant (seeds, roots, leaves)
- Go for whole, raw state
- Eat fruit as close to their natural state as possible (don’t peel them!)
- Cook as little as possible (don’t boil beans)
- Add as little oil, salt, sugar and fat
- Stay hydrated (with water)
When you walk in a food store, ask yourself: is this food plant or animal. If it’s plant, you get the first check mark. Second question: is it in its natural state without salt, fat and sugar?
That’s all you gotta do to eat healthy, says the author.
Campbell says that talking of diet to prevent cancer and heart diseases is threatening in the US because it implies that the American diet is so bad that it’s killing people.
He says when it comes to nutrition the government is against the people.
He mentions lobbies and powerful producers that are trying to hide the facts and impose their good-for-business view -and that can easily be true-.
He says about the reception of his theories:
The status quo boys didn’t like it
The power that be didn’t let it happen
Whenever I see references to establishment trying to cover up the truth, I think of complotist theories and I get a bit suspicious about the sources.
Mind you, complotist theories can be true! It’s happened already (cigaratte industry and lobbies). However, many times they are also wrong.
And it always raises hackles in me. I think the author would have been more convincing if he had avoided some of the vitriol leveled against “the establishment” trying to cover up “the truth” (ie.: his truth).
Less Pills, Vitamins and Surgeries
I fully agree with the second conclusion he draws.
Colin Campbell makes the point that our health care system is based on fixing rather than preventing. He says most doctors natural reaction is to look at the current available drugs and prescribe them to “cure” diseases.
And while medicines can often be helpful, they can often be dangerous as well. They are rarely a silver bullet and have many drawbacks.
What’s better, instead?
Prevention, which happens mostly with nutrition.
Campbell says all his recommendations are based on the whole food, not on the dietary supplements of individual nutrients.
He says that looking at single ingredients is a mistake. And that’s why the food supplement and pills’ industry got it wrong.
The China Study Criticism
It’s impossible to review The China Study without going over the criticism leveled against it. Its conclusions, with the complete animal food ban, are rather extremist, so it’s only fair we dig deeper here -as someone said, big claims need big evidences-.
I’m not a nutrition researcher, but my main criticism runs deeper. My criticism is NOT on method and not even on data.
What could be more important than data, you might wonder?
Well, it’s mindset.
Campbell shows a cheerleader mindset. He’s a cheerleader for vegetarianism. That’s my first gripe with The China Study.
How can a researcher keep an open mind to different research results and to changing his mind when he is entrenched in his position?
From psychology -a field I know a bit better-, we know that when someone takes a position he will naturally tend to discard contrarian information and look for confirmation.
Eventually their position on the topic will become part of their identity. When that happens, their whole self is at stake and they might keep fighting for their position even when contrarian data become more and more compelling (to overcome this tendency read the antifragile ego).
Personally, I feel that’s what’s happening with Campbell.
Shorter Life Expectancy
For all the vaunted advantages of not eating animals, and the fewer incidence of cancer, has it ever dawned to Campbell that the Chinese were still having shorter life expectancy?
Of course, I’m not sure there’s any causation here.
Personally I don’t even think there’s any causation with the diet and that the reason is to be found in overall quality of life (including nutrition).
But that’s the point: a careful scientist -or human observer for that matter- shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
And that’s another major critic of The China Study: it sees a lot of causation where there could simply be causation.
Criticism on Actual Data
Now if you need criticism on the data, there’s plenty to go around for that too.
Here are some:
- The China Study, Fact or Fallacy
- and Campbell reply to that post, for fairness (published on vegsource though :S)
- The reply to Campbell’s reply:
- The China Study, a Formal Reply and Analysis
- Loren Cordain debates Colin Campbell
- The Truth About the China Study
If you’re too busy to dig into all that amount of data, here’s a TL,DR summary: The China Study book does not use rigorous (and neutral) scientific methods.
And it discounted or failed to analyze results that ran contrary to the author’s main thesis.
Don’t Trust Your Doctor
Campbell says that as a rule of thumb you shouldn’t trust your doctor on nutrition. I’m sure there are plenty of good doctors who now about nutrition, but I think it’s a great habit to rely a lot on your own research as well.
As someone once said, you can be your own best doctor.
Don’t Boil Green Beans
As part of not overcooking your vegetables, this was a big takeaway for me. I often eat beans from cans, but too often I let them boil.
However, don’t undercook them either. The Plant Paradox says that 20% of all food poisoning in the US were from lectins found in undercooked legumes.
Try to Avoid Supplements
Getting all your nutrients from the whole food is always better than going for supplements.
Bad Public Service
The book might lead many people to follow the recommendations. But as we’ve seen the recommendation don’t come from a neutral source.
I think of this guy for example, who started being vegan -and later quit- because of The China Study. And I even think of Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs autobiography says he tried to cure himself from cancer with a plant and fruit based diet. Might it be because of The China Study book, or because of the hype surround the book?
I don’t know, but I’m quite sure there are many people out there who deserve proper scientific methods and neutral sources to help them decide how to eat.
Lots (lots) of Scientifically-Based Criticism
As we’ve seen above, there are many, many good resources with valid arguments that refute The China Study’s conclusions.
Ancient Wisdom as Source of Present Wisdom
Campbell mentions Plato and Seneca and how aware they were of the benefits of plants. He asks rhetorically “how could they predict the future so accurately”.
Well, that’s no proof to me and really adds nothing to the discourse.
More Vegetables Will Help You!
This review has been rather critical. But don’t throw away the baby with the bad water! Campbell does have a great point when he says that more vegetables will benefit you.
I enjoyed reading The China Study.
I like a rebellious, contrarian view -as long as it adds value of course!-.
And I agree with Campbell we should all do our own researches and not necessarily trust doctors just because of the title they carry (authority principle of influence).
I also agree our western society relies too strongly on medication, drugs and surgery. And we should all focus a bit more on prevention and diet.
However, I cannot recommend neither the book nor Cambell’s own conclusions.
I have read too many valid critics leveled against The China Study. And Campbell’s position seem too me as way too extremist, chearleading and entrenched to be a neutral source I can trust.