raw food

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.

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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: Fish and Disease

In my last post, I explored what the China Study data says about meat and disease—which turns out to be a far cry from what Campbell reports in his book of the same name. In a nutshell, meat has no statistically significant correlations with any diet-related disease, and actually has a negative correlation with death from all causes and death from all cancers. That means the populations that ate more meat generally had fewer chronic diseases than the populations that ate less of it. While it’s impossible to tell from the China Project alone whether this is because meat was protective of illness or simply corresponded with other helpful factors (like better health care), it does undermine Campbell’s assertion that animal product consumption always went hand-in-hand with disease in the China Project.

(If you’re not sure what the China Study is or why I’ve suddenly made it my life’s purpose to examine every modicum of its data, take a gander at the previous entry for an explanation.)

Of course, the “meat” category doesn’t include fish, eggs, or dairy—so these foods aren’t out of the hot seat yet. In this post, I’ll be looking at fish. Sushi lovers, listen up. (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…)

What You May Not Know About Avocados

There’s often a division in the raw food world (and other health spheres) when it comes to fat versus fruit. Cultivated fruit gets plenty of flack for being sweeter and less nutritious than its wild counterparts—changes attributed to human intervention and centuries of selective breeding. And the issue of ‘man-made’ modern fruit sometimes becomes an argument for limiting its consumption and eating low-sugar fruits instead, like avocados and tomatoes.

I’ll be writing about the wild/cultivated fruit issue in a later post. In the meantime, I find it interesting that avocados—one of the most popular fat sources on a raw food diet, and the staple of many low-sugar raw cuisines—have managed to dodge criticism about their humongous size. I guess it’s hard to picture avocados being anything other than the plump, fleshy fruits we see in common cultivars like the Hass. But what most people don’t realize (even fruit-and-vegetable-savvy raw foodists) is that commercial avocados are a far cry from what they were originally. In fact, without deliberate cultivation by humans, avocados are small, fibrous, large-pitted, and yield only a tiny layer of that creamy green flesh we all know and love. It’d easily take ten wild avocados to get the equivalent flesh of one Hass, if not more.

That isn’t to say we should avoid avocados or that they’re bad for you—certainly not! But for folks interested in eating foods that are close to their natural state, it’s helpful to understand that these so-called “alligator pears” have been bred specifically for their size, fat content, and copious edible flesh. They aren’t quite so luxuriant in the wild.

Curious what these uncultivated avos look like? Check out the pictures below, and click ’em for a larger view. (more…)

My Current Diet

Disclaimer: This post is in no way intended as a framework for others to follow; I only put this up because I get so many questions about what I eat. Although I’m wildly interested in science and the mechanics of nutrition, I also believe that—at the individual level—personal experience trumps theory. My diet is an ongoing n=1 experiment; not an eating plan I deem universally optimal. What works for me could easily send someone else straight to the 9th circle of blood-sugar hell.

So here’s the gist of my eating plan, which has been pretty similar for the past nine years. You can assume that whatever’s on this page is current, since I update it when anything changes. (Latest edit: February 2015; I eat less liver these days.)

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