Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The China Study: This is Why I'm Hot

Reading this book, I found myself thinking over and over again that this information was too good to be true. I mean, a New York Times bestseller written by an experienced, incredibly credentialed PhD scientist who was raised on a farm and who ate meat most of his life that argues for overwhelming nutritional and health benefits of a vegan/vegetarian diet? Really? Not to mention the high amount of critical acclaim and minimal critique (there are some critiques to be sure, but they are few and mostly focus on smaller, fringe issues such as the fact that he doesn't focus enough on the actual China Study itself but brings in other data etc..) this book has received. Minus the animal testing done throughout to prove his points, Cambell perpetuates my beliefs about food and nutrition to the point of literal excitement. Nothing makes me happier than reading a book like this.

And since it makes me so so happy and since I have been so hungry after my long work days that I haven't been taking pictures of the delicious food I have been cooking for the past 3 days (including coconut lime cupcakes, cashew cheese pizza and grilled portabella mushroom burgers) I decided to write a little book review. Actually, this "little book review" turned into a rather long book review that has taken me the better part of 8 days to finish. I know it's a large pill to swallow, but for those of you who care and who want the long and short of the book without actually having to read it (as well as my fascinating and insightful opinion on the material) here it is.

I want to highlight some of the more impressive quotes with textual and photographic aids in order to motivate more whole, plant-based foods in your life. And if this post makes you as excited as I am about this book, borrow it from me! Or buy it here :)

Disclaimer: I am only using bits and pieces of this book. I don't cite the sources. Campbell references hundreds and hundreds of studies, if you want the proof and the numbers. Buy the book. I am simply relaying his more profound and exciting conclusions. 

From the introduction: "I have come to see that the benefits produced by eating a plant-based diet are far more diverse and impressive than any drug or surgery used in medical practice. Heart diseases, cancers, diabetes, stroke and hypertension, arthritis, cataracts, Alzheimer's disease, impotence and all sorts of other chronic diseases can be largely prevented" (22-23).

Alright if this doesn't get your attention, nothing will. Who doesn't know someone who hasn't suffered from one of these diseases. No one! And if you aren't afraid of falling victim to one of these diseases yourself (Alzheimer's is my big fear - Thanks Grandma!) well I'll eat my shoe (don't worry, it's a vegan shoe). Veganism is a hugely effective preventative for a number of diseases. More on this as we go.

"Eating the right way not only prevents disease but also generates health and a sense of well-being, both physically and mentally. Some world-class athletes, such as ironman David Scott, track stars Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses, tennis great Martina Navratilova, world champion wrestler Chris Campell and sixty-eight year old marathoner Ruth Heidrich have discovered that consumer a low-fat, plant-based diet gives them a significant edge in performance" (24).

Carl Lewis
David Scott
Okay first off I want to say Martina Navratilova is BAD-ASS. She kills at tennis and even though (at age 65) she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she is beating it like a champ and even climbed Mt. Kilmanjaro that same year. (In fact I think it's in total remission now, 3 years after diagnosis).

But in other news, LOOK AT THESE GUYS. I should just make a shirt with these guys on it that I can wear around to fend off the stupids who ask me how I get my protein.

Ruth Heidrich
And apparently UFC is chock full of vegan/vegetarian fighters. I don't know because I don't follow UFC at all, but Colin says they are top notch fighters and the whole vegan thing is spreading like the plague among top athletes. Can I get a woo woo!

Last but not least, this bad-ass marathon runner is also vegan. AND SHE'S 70 YEARS OLD. Jeeze Louise. Killin' it with that plant-based stuff. Ha, get it. Because you're not actually killing anything. Except plants.

Moving on to cancer: "The results of these, and many other studies, showed nutrition to be far more important in controlling cancer promotion than the dose of the initiating carcinogen...nutrients from animal-based foods increased tumor development while nutrients from plant-based foods decreased tumor development." (66)

This is incredible to me. Campbell shocked himself with the studies that showed the correlation between plant-based diets and low cancer rates. Doesn't matter where the animal protein is from or how it lived (although caring about those things is still preferable if you are going to eat meat), veganism means a dramatic reduction in the incidence and severity of cancer. According to Campbell's science-y studies. And who am I to argue with science?

On the cancer note, one more good quote: "In this case, multiple observations, tightly networked into a web, show that animal-based foods are strongly linked to breast cancer" (89).'s the science. I'm just the messenger.

Wait for it! We're onto one of my favorite topics: Fiber! Yep. You heard me. When I got to this section of the book I was beyond thrilled because I think that fiber is important for so many reasons and Campbell had amazing research to back that up as well as to refute claims about iron deficiencies in high fiber diets (something that had been a mild concern of mine up until this point).

Here are some fiberous quotes from the book: "Fiber, having few or no calories itself, helps dilute the caloric density of our diets, creates a sense of fullness and helps to shut down appetite, among other things. In doing so, it satisfies our hunger and minimizes the over-consumption of calories" (90). And also: "People who consumer more plant-based foods, thus more dietary fiber, also consumer more iron, all of which results in statistically significant higher levels of hemoglobin" (91). 

*Le sigh* I love fiber. It's like magic. I love it so much I joined a Joy of Fiber Club. No joke. You get delicious bars that look like this and are delicious. Yay for fiber!

Onto vitamins. And fruit. And vegetables. Which contain vitamins. These things are inexorably linked. Stop taking so many vitamin C tablets. EAT MORE FRUIT. Dr. Campbell thinks so too:

"Cancer rates were five to eight times higher for areas where fruit intake was lowest...the triumph of health lies not in the individual nutrients but in the whole foods that contain those nutrients: plant-based foods" (94). In other words, don't supplement your diet with tons of multi-vitamins and pills and call yourself healthy. BE healthy by eating these things in their natural forms and in the way that your body was meant to digest them.

Bob Atkins, throwing back some steak tartar
A little word on the Atkins Diet. I love this part: "I have heard one doctor call high-protein, high-fat, low carbohydrate diets "make yourself sick" diets, and I think that's an appropriate moniker. You can also lose weight by undergoing chemotherapy or starting a heroin addiction, but I wouldn't recommend those, either" (97). Ha! Take that. I also appreciate how he called the real Dr. Atkins out for being fat and having a heart attack. Fail Atkins, fail.

You CAN be fat and vegan. It's just a lot harder
But if you want to talk about diets, hear this: "people who consume low-protein, low-fat diets composed of whole plant foods have far less difficulty with weight problems, even if they consumer the same, or even slightly more, total calories" (102). Oh and also: "Fruits, vegetables and grains - as whole foods- are much less energy-dense than animal foods and added fats" (141). That's right. Vegetarians and vegans can eat more calories and still be thinner. This is why I always have snacks. I love my snacks. Does it mean that vegetarians and vegans are always thin? Hell no - see: Oreos, potato chips, bagels, white bread, donuts, pie, baked goods, Divine Cupcakes and so many other vegan junk foods - but it does make it a hell of a lot easier to care about what you're eating, read ingredients and balance your nutrient intake. All of which leads to being thinner healthier.

But what if you don't want to be thinner?! What if you are trying to build muscle or have a problem keeping weight ON? Don't worry: "Body growth is linked to protein in general and both animal and plant proteins are effective" (103). That's right. You aren't going to be a skinny little wispy thing as long as you are getting the right nutrients and proteins from plant-based products. Healthy and fit! Best of both worlds. Vegan style.

Now onto another critically important issue: Heart Disease. This is something that scares me more than almost anything else. It kills quickly and often without warning and it has hit very close to home for me. Let's see what Dr. Campbell has to say about Heart Disease.

"The cultures that have lower heart disease rates eat less saturated far and animal protein and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. In other words, they subsist mostly on plant foods while we subsist mostly on animal foods" (116).

"The unfortunate association of meat with physical ability, general manliness, sexual identity and economic wealth all cloud how the status quo scientists viewed food, regardless of the health benefit" (121). I particularly like this quote. Manliness = Meat in the U.S. It also means higher rates of heart disease, high cholesterol and a lower life span for men. Just sayin'. At what point does it become silly to risk your nutrition and health in order to adhere to an outdated stereotype? And HEY, if the Old Spice man is vegan, you can be too! I mean what is more manly than the man your man could smell like?

One more heart disease factoid: Dr. Caldwell B Esselstyn (one of the stop cardiac surgeons in the US according to Campbell) did a study on heart disease where he essentially took 18 of his patients with "severe heart disease" who had experienced a combined forty-nine coronary events within the eight years preceding the study (including angina, bypass surgery, heart attacks, strokes and angioplasty) and switched them to a strict, whole foods, plant based diet. In the following 11 years, there was only one cardiac event among these patients and it occurred two years after one of the patients stopped the diet. In other words, all of the patients who stuck with the diet had significantly healthier hearts and exponentially fewer coronary events. Exponentially meaning none. AND all but one of the patients were still alive and in their eighties as of 2003. The quote to remember from this?  "Forty-nine coronary events prior to a whole foods, plant-based diet, and zero for those patients who adhered to a whole foods, plant-based diet" (129). 49 to 0. For the win!

Now to Cancer - yep, the C word. Similar results to heart disease but they take a slightly different form.

Breast Cancer: "Findings suggest that environmental chemicals seem to play a far less significant role for breast cancer than the kinds of foods we choose to eat" (166). 

Colon Cancer: "People who consumed the most fiber had a 43% lower risk of colon cancer than the people who consumed the least fiber. Those who consumer the most vegetables had a 52% lower risk than those who consume the least vegetables" (172).

Prostate Cancer: "Men with the highest diary intakes had approximately double the risk of total prostate cancer, and up to a fourfold increase in risk of metastatic or fatal prostate cancer relative to low consumers" (178).

And, a personal favorite of mine: "There is enough evidence now that doctors should be discussing the option of pursuing dietary change as a potential path to cancer prevention and treatment" (182).

Donald Watson
Duh. I mean food and nutrients are what keep us alive. If you put crap into your body, you will get sick. If you eat shit that you are not meant to eat, you will develop diseases. If you eat healthy, you won't get sick as much. Simple. I am a perfect example. I haven't been sick in 2 years. Not one single time. I exercise 7 days and week, I sleep about 6-7 hours a night and I rarely ever nap. (Also the book DOES credit the health promoting benefits of exercise and says exercise is CRUCIAL in maintaining health. I don't write about it but it's true!) In case you need more proof, Donald Watson - they guy who invented the term "vegan" and was vegan for a whopping 60 years lived to be 95, took zero medication and died in his home of natural causes. No cancer. No doctors. No meds, nothing. And apparently he was super active until his last days. That's quite a feat, Mr. Watson.

Onto Obesity. This might go without saying but herbivores are skinnier than omnivores. Generally. On average. Dr. Campbell says so too: "The findings of some impressive research studies, large and small, show time and time again that vegetarians and vegans are slimmer than their meat-eating counterparts. People in these studies who are vegetarian or vegan are anywhere from five to thirty pounds slimmer than their fellow citizens" (139).

"Why is this?" You may ask. Why I have an answer for that too: "Those who follow a whole foods, low-fat, plant-based diet consumer fewer calories. It's not because they are starving themselves. In fact, they will likely spend more time eating and eat a larger volume of food than their meat-eating counterparts. That's because fruits, vegetables and grains are much less energy-dense than animal foods and added fats" (141). Eat more! Be thin! But remember, as evidenced by the banana-split creme Oreos, you can be an herbivore and still be fat.

One personal note on this that I feel needs to be addressed: Veganism to me is not a "diet" - it is a lifestyle and should be treated as such. I don't believe in "dieting," I believe in making long-term shifts for your health and wellness. Figure out what nutrition means to you and how it works for you. Take the time to listen to your body and figure out what it needs and you will be happier and healthier long term. It's a constant journey but one that is full of continuous adjustments and rewards. I promise.

A couple interesting stats from the chapters about diabetes and bone health before Campbell moves on to nutrition.

"The depth and breadth of evidence not implicating cow's milk as a cause of Type 1 diabetes is overwhelming, even though the very complex mechanistic details are not yet fully understood. We not only have evidence of the danger o cow's milk, we also have considerable evidence of the most damaging things a mother can do is to substitute the milk of a cow for her own" (194).
DUH. Why humans ever starting drinking the breast milk of another animal is beyond me. There is a reason why lactose tolerance is a genetic mutation that has evolved over the course of the last several hundred years, not something that humans can do inherently. And there is a reason why lactose intolerance is still so common. We aren't meant to drink the milk of other animals. It's weird when you actually think about it.

But...what about the Got Milk Campaign? I thought milk was supposed to be good for you?! That is some powerful marketing, my friends. The Dairy industry is LOADED and is doing what is in their interest, not the interests of the consumers. More on that in a minute but here is an interesting factoid: "Those countries that use the most cow's milk and its products also have the highest fracture rates and the worst bone health" (205). Calcium absorbed in conjunction with animal protein causes the calcium to be leeched back out of your system and deposited in your urine. This means that while you are taking in calcium, your body is not readily absorbing it into your bones the way the dairy industry makes you believe. I mean, humans all over the world drink little to no milk and have lived without it for thousands of years and you don't see them breaking bones and developing osteoporosis all over the place. In fact, they struggle with fractures and bone diseases far less than Americans. News flash: You don't need milk for bone health. You don't need it for calcium. You just don't.

Now for the last section of the book. Topics include: Nutrition and "Why didn't I know about this?!" and Government - not to be confused with - The Food Industry (with guest stars Meat Industry and Dairy Industry)

NUTRITION. This whole book is kind of about nutrition, but here are some more succinct concepts surrounding the plant-based diet, how it will help and, ultimately, why we need it

"Americans are drowning in a flood of horrible nutrition information...Americans love to hear good things about their bad habits...Very little of the nutrition information that makes it to the public consciousness is soundly based in science, and we pay a grave price" (224).

Campbell goes on to list a whole plethora of principles about the nutrition of a plant-based diet, but I will just highlight a few of my favorites :)

Principle #3 - There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants. That's right. Not iron, not calcium, not omegas, not PROTEIN. HA! With the big exception being Vitamin B12, a crucial vitamin that actually comes from soil and that humans have been able to get enough of for hundreds of years until we starting washing all of our fruits and vegetables so meticulously so we wouldn't get sick from pesticides. Now the only way to get it is from either digesting the flesh of an animal who consumes it from the soil or by taking a supplement. I take a B complex supplement and I do just fine. Great, I would say.

Principle #4 - 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. Genetics 101! Genes express differently! Just because you have a "genetic predisposition" for cancer does not mean you will get cancer unless that gene expresses. This principle is kind of a central tenant of this book; Campbell argues that if you put the right things into your body, you can keep bad genes from expressing in  your phenotype. Bam!

Principle #7 - Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.  Umm...yes. Nutrition is holistic. Meaning it should have positive benefits for all parts of your being.

Which brings me to Principle #8 - Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected. Yep. That pretty much sums it up. Good food and good health is simple. But, as Campbell points out and as I have learned from 2.3 years of experience - it can be hard at first. "The bottom line is that you can eat a plant-based diet with great pleasure and satisfaction. But making the transition is a challenge. There are psychological barriers and practical ones. It takes time and effort. You may not get support from your friends and family. But 
the benefits are nothing short of miraculous. And you'll be amazed at how easy it becomes once you form new habits" (246). Coming from someone who has done it, I couldn't agree more with this quote. Yes, it's difficult to give up chicken nuggets and cheese. But it's not as hard as you think. You will find ways to compensate, to feel satisfied and, more than anything, within a few weeks after transitioning you will feel better. Your body will stop being blocked by the crap that you have been putting into it and will start to actually crave the things it needs. Before I became vegan I hated bell peppers; couldn't stand them, didn't like the taste in anything. About 2 months after I became vegan, I suddenly had a huge urge for an orange bell pepper. It was the strangest sensation in the world (and I have had many sense) so I went to the store, purchased a single bell orange bell pepper and ate it raw. Bell peppers are chock full of vitamins and my body was just telling me those were the vitamins that I needed. Now I love them. Same goes for mushrooms, cucumbers and a whole slew of other fruits and veggies I wouldn't touch before. And the craving for cheese that I loved so very dearly? Yes, I missed it for a month. Missed it bad, but after about a month, month and a half, my desire for cheese began to dissipate at an alarming rate until I never ever craved it. It's difficult, but I promise it's a fraction of how difficult you think it will be and worth it a million times over.


I mean, if this is SO profound and SO influential that eating a plant-based diet could keep me from getting heart disease, cancer and all these other diseases as you so claim, why the hell hasn't anyone told me before??

Well, for starters the information IS out there. It is slowly but surely coming into the dominant conscious of not only the American public, but also the media and even the government. The USDA recently admitted that

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases” 

and also that veganism can be healthy through pregnancy and for children. HOWEVER, the reality is still that veganism is not mainstream and it has a significant amount of stigma attached to it within a culture that associates meat with affluence, convenience, sensibility and, of course, manliness. As Campbell states: "There are powerful, influential and enormously wealthy industries that stand to lose a vast amount of money if Americans start shifting to a plant-based diet...The entire system - government, science, medicine, industry and media - promotes profits over health, technology over food and confusion over clarity" (249-250). I mean, nothing is more confusing than McDonald's claim that it offers healthy, nutritious options or Taco Bell's claim that it can help you loose weight. Common sense, people. These corporations and industries have money, and lots of it. And in a place where money equals power and where organic and local and sustainable industries have little money, they have little power to persuade the media or the government of their side of the story.

As for the medical industry? Well they would rather see you continue to buy prescription drugs and pay for surgeries than transition to a more healthful diet. "Big Medicine in America is in the business of treating disease with drugs and surgery after symptoms appear" (267). Also, they just straight up don't think that people want to hear about nutrition. The American public would rather take a pill or have a surgery that will fix their problems than to examine the root cause of their problems and make a corresponding lifestyle shift. I mean, if we can treat the symptoms, there is no need to take a deeper look at what is causing them, right??


(Hint: WRONG)

"Few people really question research if it is published in the best journals. Very few people, especially among the public, know which studies are 'benefiting' from direct corporate funding" (299). It's a scary corporate world we live in, people. That should come as no surprise. Question everything.

"It is a systematic problem where industry, academia and government combine to determine the health of this country. Industry provides funding for public health reports and academic leaders with industry ties play key roles in developing them. A revolving door exists between government jobs and industry jobs, and government research funding does to the development of drugs and devices instead of healthy nutrition" (318-319). This is no conspiracy theory. Just think about it - just look around you.

We can't even get the good stuff right 100% of the time. I mean, did you know that a papaya has about four times as much vitamin C as an orange? And yet the orange industry somehow confuddled everyone into thinking that Dole Orange juice and orange flavored Vitamin C tablets and EmergenC were the best ways to get your vitamin C. Shit, a cup of broccoli has more Vitamin C than an orange. Not that I don't love oranges, because I do, I'm simply trying to prove a point about how we get information, who controls it, and what it means for our health. Those with the money have the power and control the information.

Doctor's don't even get trained in nutrition - and if they do it insignificant compared to the amount they are trained in technique, procedure, drug use, disease treatment and so many other things. Campbell claims "The medical status quo relies heavily on medication and surgery, at the exclusion of nutrition and lifestyle. Doctors have virtually no training in nutrition and how it relates to health" (327). AND, the "educational nutrition information" (often in the form of pamphlets and brochures) they do have is often funded by a few heavy hitters such as The Dannon Institute, the National Cattleman's Beef Association, the National Dairy Council and Wyeth-Ayerst Association. These are the people with the money to supply information to all the top medical schools in the country. These are the corporations with the hegemonic power to not only intentionally lead people astray, but also to often believe that what they say is true. That dairy is the best source of calcium. That you NEED red meat to survive. This disconnect has been forming since long before the likes of Sinclair's The Jungle and if it made it through a horror like that, it will continue until people take it upon themselves to be informed.

"How did we get to a place where the companies that profit from our sickness are the ones telling us how to be healthy; where the companies that profit from our food choices are the ones telling us what to eat; where the public's hard-earned money is being spent by the government to boost the drug industry's profits; and where there is more distrust than trust of our government's policies on foods, drugs and health? (346).

I for one don't have an answer. But all I can do is keep being informed, keep questioning the nutritional status quo, keep blogging about all the good things that I create in my life and that I care about, and keep on keeping on feeling good every day about the decisions I make for my body, my health, my planet and my future.

UPDATE: This book is being, more or less, made into a movie called "Forks Over Knives." If you haven't already, check out the trailer. Unfortunately, it hasn't gotten stellar reviews - the Washington Post claimed that "the documentary’s structure has a significant flaw that’s hard to overlook. Fulkerson will despise this analogy, but “Forks” lacks the sugar that would help his medicine go down. In other words, it’s desperately in need of charisma, humor or personality to balance the steady stream of scientific facts we’re asked to absorb." But that's okay. That is why you have this book. AND ME to give you all the charisma you  need to make the medicine go down (ha - get it?!) In other news, Oprah loved the movie. To me that isn't saying much but maybe it makes all the difference to you. All I can be thankful for is that very few actually criticize the information/facts/message of the movie, they just criticize the way it is presented. I'm still going to buy it. Woo woo!


  1. What a great review. Nice work, Evolve Vegan! It's amazing how you haven't been sick in two years. Oh wait... ;)
    ...but seriously, really great work. You are slowly but surely getting me hooked...

  2. Haha Carly as much as you like to call me out for this, it's actually valid this time. I've been vegan for about 2 and a half years, and I haven't been sick in about 2. I've also changed my eating habits dramatically since then to be more "whole foods" and less processed foods, which is why I've also lost 15 pounds. So while I won't make the claim that I've never been sick since being vegan, it has been almost two years! Woo woo!