raw food diet

The China Study: Fact or Fallacy?

Disclaimer: This blog post covers only a fraction of what’s sketchy with “The China Study.” In the years since I wrote it, I’ve added a number of additional articles expanding on this critique and covering a great deal of new material. Pop over to my Forks Over Knives review for more information on what’s wrong with the conclusions drawn from Campbell’s casein/aflatoxin research, and if you’d rather look at peer-reviewed research than the words of some random internet blogger, see my collection of scientific papers based on the China Study data that contradict the claims in Campbell’s book. I’ve also responded to Campbell’s reply to my critique with a much longer, more formal analysis than the one on this page, which you can read here.

When I first started analyzing the original China Study data, I had no intention of writing up an actual critique of Campbell’s much-lauded book. I’m a data junkie. Numbers, along with tiny strawberries and Audrey Hepburn films, please me greatly. I mainly wanted to see for myself how closely Campbell’s claims aligned with the data he drew from—if only to satisfy my own curiosity as a long-time dietary inquisitor.

But after spending a solid month and a half reading, graphing, sticky-noting, and passing out at 3 AM from studious exhaustion upon my copy of the raw China Study data, I’ve decided it’s time to voice all my criticisms. And there are many.

First, let me put out some fires before they have a chance to ignite:

  1. I don’t work for the meat or dairy industry. Nor do I have a fat-walleted roommate, best friend, parent, child, love interest, or highly prodigious cat who works for the meat or dairy industry who paid me off to debunk Campbell.
  2. Due to food sensitivities, I don’t consume dairy myself, nor do I have any personal reason to promote it as a health food.
  3. I was a vegetarian/vegan for over a decade and have nothing but respect for those who choose a plant-based diet, even though I no longer limit myself to the vegetable kingdom. My goal, with the “The China Study” analysis and elsewhere, is to figure out the truth about nutrition and health without the interference of biases and dogma. I have no agenda to promote.

As I mentioned, I’m airing my criticisms here; this won’t be a China Study love fest, or even a typical balanced review with pros and cons. Campbell actually raises a  number of points I wholeheartedly agree with—particularly in the “Why Haven’t You Heard This?” section of his book, where he exposes the reality behind Big Pharma and the science industry at large. I admire Campbell’s philosophy towards nutritional research and echo his sentiments about the dangers of scientific reductionism. However, the internet is already flooded with rave reviews of this book, and I’m not interested in adding redundant praise. My intent is to highlight the weaknesses of “The China Study” and the potential errors in Campbell’s interpretation of the original data.

(more…)

Tuoli: China’s Mysterious Milk Drinkers

Important disclaimer: In light of new information, this post needs to be taken with a really whoppin’ huge grain of salt. It turns out Tuoli was “feasting” on the day the survey crew came for China Study I, so they were likely eating more calories, more wheat, more dairy, and so forth than they typically do the rest of the year. We can’t be completely sure what their normal diet did look at the time, but the questionnaire data (which is supposedly more reliable than the diet survey data) still suggests they were eating a lot of animal products and very little in the way of fruits or vegetables.

At any rate, I recommend not quoting this post or citing it as “evidence” for anything simply because of the uncertainty surrounding the Tuoli data in the China Study. Please see the following posts for more information on the issue of Tuoli’s accuracy:

http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/08/03/the-china-study-a-formal-analysis-and-response/

http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/07/16/the-china-study-my-response-to-campbell/


 

As I mentioned in the previous post on dairy consumption and disease in China, there’s a fascinating little county by the name of “Tuoli” situated in northwest China—a place quite worthy of nutritional study, due to their unique diet.

They live here:

Which looks like this:

Where they eat a lot of this:

But not a lot of this:

The Tuoli diet is so abnormal for China, in fact, that T. Colin Campbell et al omitted this county from analysis in several China Study papers—such as “Vitamin A and cartenoid status in rural China,” published in the British Journal of Nutrition:

One county (Tuoli County in Xinjiang Autonomous Region), composed primarily of an ethnic minority population of herdspeople, had disproportionately high values for retinol, lipid and protein intake due to an exceptionally high intake of animal foods. This ‘outlier’ was not included in the analysis, to characterize more accurately the average intakes of the rural Chinese population and to avoid the undue influence of one data point on the results.

Given the prevailing beliefs about nutrition and health—such as saturated fat and cholesterol as a cause of heart disease, the necessity of fiber for colon health, the immunity-boosting properties of fruits and vegetables, and the dangers of a diet high in animal fat—it would seem the Tuoli should showcase the health woes that come from breaking every rule in the diet book.

But is that the case? (more…)

A Closer Look at the China Study: Dairy and Disease

Mongolian yaks: A source of Chinese dairy.

I’ll admit it: Out of all the variables in the China Project, dairy is the one I’ve been most eager to analyze. Not because I’m a dairy lover myself (I haven’t touched it in years) or because I’m secretly a billionaire milk tycoon with my own thousand-acre Holstein farm (au contraire; I’m strangely phobic of cows). In his book, T. Colin Campbell makes such a compelling case about casein (a milk protein) as a cancer-promoting agent that I’m left wondering: Does the China Study data shows an equally convincing link between dairy and disease?

After all, the counties studied in the China Project weren’t eating the hormone-laden, antibiotic-stuffed, factory-farmed dairy we find in most stores. Their dairy was from pastured animals—typically sheep, goats, or yaks along with cattle—raised on natural diets in rural areas. As best I can deduce, milk products were neither pasteurized nor homogenized. This means that any connections we find between dairy and mortality variables are probably from dairy itself—not the nastiness that accompanies the dairy Westerners are more familiar with. This could be one of our best opportunities for studying dairy consumption in its raw, natural state. Yeehaw! (more…)

A Closer Look at the China Study: Eggs and Disease

Ah, eggs: Incredible and edible, as the commercial goes. A quintessential staple of American breakfasts, loaded with protein, packed with cholesterol. Bodybuilders chug ’em down en masse, and raw foodists sometimes experiment with them—but could they raise your risk of disease, as T. Colin Campbell claims all animal foods do? Let’s take a look at the original China Study data and find out. (more…)

A Closer Look at the China Study: Meat and Disease

As promised, it’s time to unveil all this China Study business. Grab a raw, nonalcoholic drink and make yourself comfy!

Let me start by saying that this isn’t an attempt at “debunking” the China Study or discrediting T. Colin Campbell. Quite the contrary. “The China Study” book is excellent in many ways, if only to underscore the role of nutrition in health. If I ever met Mr. Campbell in person, I’d give him a jubilant high-five and thank him for fightin’ the good fight—for exposing the reality of Big Pharma, for emphasizing the lack of nutritional education most doctors receive, for censuring the use of scientific reductionism, for underlining the importance of diet in disease prevention. Campbell and I are on the same page in many ways. His scroll of accomplishments is impressive and I sincerely believe his heart is in the right place, even if I don’t agree with all of his conclusions. (more…)

Exciting Update: Analyzing the China Study

Alright, folks: the hiatus is over. Time to get back into the bloggin’ swing of things!

To kick it off, I want to unveil a special project I have in the works. Some of you are no doubt familiar with the China Study by T. Colin Campbell—a book that has, since its publication in 2005, become wildly popular among vegans and raw foodists as the “final word” linking animal foods and disease. While the book has many strengths, I’ve always been skeptical of its conclusions, and woefully curious about the data Campbell used to decide animal products are universally harmful.

Lo and behold, my knowledge-thirst is quenched! It turns out the entire raw data set is available online for anyone with a bit of spare time (and some knowledge of stats) to analyze:

China Study Data at Oxford University

Not only that, but—after months of searching—I’ve finally managed to get my paws on the original China study book: “Diet, Life-style and Mortality in China,” which is an uninterpreted, 894-page collection of all the correlations the China study data uncovered. Venturing lightyears beyond the effects of just animal protein, this book connects the dots between consumption of specific foods, nutrient status, lifestyle factors, diet habits, and chronic diseases. You can look up fruit consumption, for instance, and see what diseases it correlates with or seems to protect against.  The book is an absolute jackpot of information. And it’s mine, all mine, until July 3rd (when the inter-library loan expires and I have to return it—shucky darns!).

With the data now at my fingertips, I’m researching and analyzing like a maniac. And although I initially started this project out of personal curiosity, what it’s uncovering has been so completely shocking that I’ve decided to post everything I find here on my blog. My next few entries will have some awesome data for you.

But you have to wait, because it’s not in presentable form yet. Oh, the suspense! 🙂

In the meantime, I’ll just say that the findings reaffirm what I’ve suspected for a while: Campbell’s “China Study” book is a spectacular example of how you can cherry-pick data to create a reality that isn’t there. And also, wheat may be one of the most toxic things you could ever put in your mouth. More on that later.

Stay tuned.

What is the “Optimal” Diet for Humans? (Part 2)

Did we adapt to cooked food, or is that idea—ahem—half-baked?

In part 1 of this “optimal human diet” series, I mentioned that there is no single, exact diet that will deliver perfect health for everyone. We’re tough cookies, us humans—and we only made it as far as we did by adapting to whatever happened to land on our evolutionary dinner plates. Mastodon meat, sweet little figs, plant roots—we made food of it all.

Even so, there’s a notion in the raw food world that we’re still best-suited for the type of diet we ate back in the good ol’ days. You know, before we exited the tropics, conquered all corners of the planet, and invented the deep-fried Krispy Kreme (which surely triggered the downfall of humanity). Maybe you’ve heard claims that we haven’t adapted to cooked food at all, that we’re designed to be vegan or vegetarian, and that our digestive systems still look like those of other fruit-munchin’, leaf-chompin’ primates.

But do those beliefs hold up to reality? Let’s take a look. (more…)

What is the “Optimal” Diet for Humans? (Part 1)

Does this fella offer us nutritional clues?

Part of what first led me to raw foods was a curiosity about our “optimal diet.” It seemed like such a simple concept: a combination of foods that our bodies are best adapted to, that we could easily discern by looking at our anatomy, that evolutionary history supported, and that would lead to the best health possible. It shouldn’t be rocket science, right?

Unfortunately, it kind of is. (more…)

Raw Food Leaders No Longer Raw or Vegan: What’s Up With That?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (or a durian shell), you’ve probably heard the news that some raw leaders—including Paul Nison and Victoria Boutenko—are no longer 100% raw vegan. And if you’re like many raw foodists, this information is shocking, alarming, troubling, angering, saddening, confusing, and a bunch of other adjectives I’d list if I had a thesaurus handy.

The impact of this news on the raw food movement has been both fascinating and diverse. Some folks have reacted like this:

How dare they abandon raw! They’ve betrayed the community, they’ve broken their pledge of raw-ness, and they’ve crossed over to the dark side! Off with their heads!

Others have reacted like this:

Does this mean a 100% raw vegan diet isn’t possible to sustain? Should I go back to cooked food? Should I go back to meat? McDonalds, are you calling my name, my sweet former lover?

And still others have reacted like this:

What a relief to know I’m not the only one who can’t make 100% raw work! Phew. Now I can eat this steamed spinach leaf in peace.

So what’s really going on here? Why are raw food leaders not only coming clean about their divergences from raw, but actually promoting those divergences as okay (and maybe even healthy)? How should the raw community be responding? And how can we use this news to expose—and improve—some of the problems in the raw food movement? (more…)

Raw Gone Wrong: When the Honeymoon is Over

Paradise no more

It starts like a good relationship.

You meet someone new. Sparks are flying. You both like Hitchcock films and that obscure reggae band from Norway; clearly, it’s meant to be. After a string of perfect dates, all-night phone calls, and butterfly-inducing smooches, you’re sure that they’re “the one.”

Then a month later, you wake up and realize the other person has some pretty freaky nose hairs. And they burp without apologizing. And they snore. Oh, do they snore!

So it is with raw. Almost without fail, the beginning of the diet yields a brilliant honeymoon phase—filled with surging energy, renewed vigor, and zest for your lively cuisine.

But somewhere down the line—months for some people, years for others—the wonder starts to wane. Maybe you start feeling like something is inexplicably missing. Maybe your energy takes a dive and noontime naps become the norm. Maybe your weight loss plateaus. Maybe your last dentist visit wasn’t so pretty. Maybe those niggly health problems you had prior to raw—aches and pains, lethargy, allergies, arthritis, skin conditions—start resurfacing out of nowhere. Whatever the reason, raw just doesn’t seem to be working as well as it did in the beginning. Your enthusiasm diminishes, and in its place comes doubt, discontentment, and a plethora of questions.

In other words, you start seeing raw foods’ freaky nose hairs and you begin to wonder: what did I get myself into? (more…)