Raw Foods

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…)

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…)

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…)

Cravings: What Do They Mean, and When Should You Listen?

 

Want some fries with that low-blood-sugar shake?

 

No raw food diet would be complete without some mind-boggling, head-spinning, drag-you-to-your-knees cooked food cravings. Especially in the beginning weeks and months. I don’t think I’ve met a single raw foodist who didn’t have to battle the Craving Monster at some point or another—so if you’re facing this challenge, you’re not alone.

Your body always tries to work in its own best interest—and for the most part, it does a good job. Wounds heal, hunger signals compel you to fuel up, fatigue ushers you towards sleep. It’s a diligent worker and an excellent communicator. But sometimes your poor body gets confused—such as with autoimmune disorders, when it attacks its own tissues, and addictions that create reliance on unhealthy substances. And as you may already know, certain cooked foods are loaded with chemical additives, refined sugar, opioid peptides (think opium and morphine), and other addictive ingredients that literally make you “need a fix.”

When it comes to food cravings, this poses a challenge: is your body asking for something it needs, or is it remembering something it’s addicted to? Should you ignore your cravings or indulge them?

The answer isn’t always clear. But as a guideline, here are some tips for deciphering what your body is asking for. (more…)