The China Study by T Colin Campbell, PhD (2006)

I know, I know.  Another book on diet and nutrition.  One might think I’d get sick of reading these books; however, it’s just the opposite.  The more I read, the more encouraged I am that the general public will begin to see the connection between what we eat and how we feel.  While I’m not crazy about Dr. Campbell as an author, I’m quite taken with his work as a researcher.  The China study began with a study about malnutrition in the Philippines, a problem that was addressed through the promotion of animal based protein.  The outcome: fewer cases of malnutrition—and a huge increase in liver cancer. Thus began Dr. Campbell’s life-long project studying protein and its many forms and its many effects on disease, particularly heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Campbell’s credibility is diamond quality.  He’s been affiliated with top universities and research centers (MIT, Cornell, Oxford, and a number of national health boards and policy groups), and he grew up on a dairy farm eating meat, eggs, and milk. If anything, one would think he’d promote the diet of his youth and of his family’s livelihood. However, the more he delved into the research of protein, the more he discovered the opposite: animal based protein leads to all sorts of health issues.  And so he’s spent his career trying to sort out the mixed messages we get in our society.  Unfortunately what he discovered (and what I’ve been reading about for the past three years) is that decisions about American health and diet are made by powerful lobbies, government entities, and opportunistic scientists.  Basically researchers can be bought off, scientists who disagree with the status quo are kicked off of policy committees, and big business controls government. Meanwhile, Americans are the fattest, unhealthiest people in the world with a health-care system that benefits from all the sickness and disease while we all foot the bill in the form of higher premiums.  The answer?  A plant-based diet. I’ve been reading this for years, but still…no one’s listening.  Campbell provides mountains of research to back up this, but the bottom line is that too many profitable industries stand to lose if we all ate more plants and fewer animal based products. Obviously the power of lobbyists is no secret, but what surprised me is the way that industry has influenced academia.  Industry forms relationships with academics who also hold positions of influence outside of academia, often in science-based organizations that develop policy.  These folks then form committees with like-minded people who also have industry ties.  Then, industry funds studies (even under the auspices of a major academic institution) and get the results they want, and these results then are used in making national policies.  So academics  can get personal compensation from big business while at the same time undertaking government sponsored research projects that ultimately set policy.  Huge conflict of interest.  And it happens all the time. The “safe” amountof added sugars in foods is based on research partially funded by the M & M/Mars Company.  The recommended amount of calcium is based on research funded by the Dannon Institute.  And so on and so on. There is no end to the industry influenced research and policy.

Bottom line: ignore everything you read that’s put out by government or industry and just eat more plants.  Michael Pollen says the same thing.  His seven word mantra: Eat food. Not too much.  Mostly plants. If I had followed this advice throughout my childhood and college years, perhaps I might not have gotten breast cancer.  Thankfully, I’ve been following this for much of my adult life.  The China Study is well worth your time.  Read it and then shop at the farmer’s market.  (nonfiction)

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