Raw Foods

The China Study: Fact or Fallacy?

Disclaimer: This blog post covers only a fraction of what’s wrong 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. Please read 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 strawberries and Audrey Hepburn films, make me a very happy girl. 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.

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 am no longer vegan. 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.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: My response to Campbell’s reply, as well as to some common reader questions, can be found in the following post: My Response to Campbell. Please read this for clarification regarding univariate correlations and flaws in Campbell’s analytical methods.)


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: 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…)

Cleansing vs. Building: Can Detox Go Too Far?

Rub-a-dub dub, raw food in a tub.

Pop quiz time.

Say we’ve got a 2-year raw foodist—we’ll call her Betty Lou. Lately, Betty Lou hasn’t been feeling like her usual vivacious self. She’s always tired and fatigued, and even when she musters up the energy to exercise, she can’t seem to build or keep her muscle tone. Her husband Billy Bob keeps pointing out the dark crescent-moon circles under her eyes and complaining that she’s too bony to cuddle with. Poor Betty Lou! She decides she must be going through a deeper phase of detox, and decides to speed up the process by going on a two-week water fast.

What’s wrong with this scenario? (more…)

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…)