“Forks Over Knives”: Is the Science Legit? (A Review and Critique)

Welcome to my “Forks Over Knives” analysis, AKA the longest movie review you’ll ever attempt to read. Thanks for stopping by! In case you aren’t yet convinced that I’ve made it my life’s mission to critique everything related to T. Colin Campbell, this should seal the deal.

As most of you probably know, a documentary called “Forks Over Knives” recently hit the theaters after months of private screenings. Vegans everywhere are swooning, giddy that their message is now animated, narrated, and on sale for $14.99. Proud meat-eaters are less enthused, sometimes hilariously so. The film’s producers call it a movie that “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.” Roger Ebert calls it “a movie that could save your life.” I call it a movie that deftly blends fact and fiction, and has lots of pictures of vegetables. (more…)

One Year Later: The China Study, Revisited and Re-Bashed

Lest this blog sink further into its eery two-month silence, I think it’s high time for an update!

First item of business: The Ancestral Health Symposium. Due to some serendipitous events, it turns out I’ll be presenting at this hyperventilation-inducingly-awesome event next week. My lecture is at 10:00 AM on August 6th in the Rolfe 1200 auditorium. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, I hope to see you there, and to verify my existence for anyone who still thinks I’m a meat industry puppet. Otherwise, unless PETA pops in and sets fire to UCLA, all the presentations should be available online for free shortly after the symposium is over. Woohoo!

Second item of business: Now that he’s outed the project himself, I feel safe in announcing that Mark Sisson is going to be publishing the book I mentioned working on in an earlier blog post, and that it’ll be released mid-2012. I’m super excited, and couldn’t ask for a better publisher to work with. Or one with more impressive abs (see link above). More details to come in the near future.

Now on to the real point of this post. (more…)

New Interview and More Sucky Science

I’m back from a blogging hiatus that you probably didn’t know about because I never told anyone. Sorry! But what better time to return than on World Vegan Day?

First of all: I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview at “Let Them Eat Meat” about my experience with veganism, thoughts on its healthfulness, my overwhelming adoration for the American Dietetic Association, and—because I’m forever branded as That China Study Girl—some final thoughts on a certain book we all know and love.

In case you haven’t heard, Let Them Eat Meat is the brainchild of Rhys Southan, a non-disgruntled ex-vegan who applies his stellar writing skills to the subject of veganism. If you haven’t already stumbled across this site, please stumble there now—you’ll find some fantastic interviews with former (and current) vegans, discussions of related health and moral topics, and a critical look at the arguments for avoiding animal products—including a recent deconstruction of vegan ethical tenets. Even if you don’t have personal experience with an all-plant diet, you might find the material there fascinating from a psychological perspective. So go peruse.

In other news, it looks like bad science—or at least bad reporting—is still alive and well. Case in point:

Fellas: is saturated fat lowering your sperm count? If you believe the flurry of recent articles, it sure sounds like men who eat more saturated fat have fewer—and less virile—swimmers. A Harvard study presented at a reproductive conference last week spawned some gems like these:

High saturated fat intake ‘damages’ sperm

Diets High in Saturated Fats Can Lower Sperm Count, Researchers Say

Eating saturated fat can damage your sperm

Are the meat and dairy industries actually massive government-funded schemes for population control? Is humankind’s history of meat consumption the reason we’re verging on extinction?

Interestingly, when you actually read the articles above, you’ll see that saturated fat wasn’t the only type of fat the researchers linked with sperm problems. From here:

According to the study, an increased intake of saturated fats and monounsaturated fats—which are commonly found in meats, butter, and dairy products—may result in a lower sperm concentration.

(Isn’t it cute how they don’t list the common sources of monounsaturated fat? No one wants to diss olive oil. That’s what the Mediterraneans eat!)

And from here:

The researchers found that men with the highest intake of saturated fat had 41% fewer sperm than men who ate the lowest amount of saturated fat. And men with the highest intake of monounsaturated fat had 46% fewer sperm compared with men with the lowest intake of monounsaturated fat.

I’d give the ol’ “correlation isn’t causation” reminder, but in this case, it might not even be necessary. It looks like the figures cited are the unadjusted ones, because according to this Medscape article (which has more details about the study than the others):

The association between fat intake and semen quality parameters was made with linear regression while adjusting for total energy intake, age, abstinence time, body mass index, smoking status, and intakes of caffeine and alcohol. The results showed that saturated fatty acid levels in sperm were inversely related to sperm concentration (r = −0.53); however, saturated fat intake was unrelated to sperm levels.


So basically, men with higher levels of saturated fat in their sperm tended to have poorer semen quality—but actual dietary intake of saturated fat wasn’t implicated after adjusting for confounders. At least that’s what I’ve pieced together from the available articles, since a quest for the original study yielded nada. Regardless, this is a prime example of the media skewing headlines to fit conventional nutrition wisdom and assuming an association between variables proves cause-and-effect.

And in case anyone’s wondering what’s going on with “The China Study” Suckypedia Wikipedia article that’s now moderated by a vegan editor: Along with pruning out all mention of my critique, gone also are the criticisms from Science Based Medicine’s Dr. Harriet Hall (here and here) as well as the fabulous critiques from Chris Masterjohn (here and here). The only one still up is a brief mention of Loren Cordain. And in case that’s not enough, the “Criticism” section has now been changed to “Reception and criticism,” so half of it is dedicated to praise.

Go figure.

And at the risk of sounding like The Girl Who Cried Wheat Entry, the wheat entry really is coming next! I promise. In the meantime, here’s a new study that shows we have microorganisms in our mouth that can actually degrade gluten. Might this play a role in how folks at risk for celiac respond to wheat? Seems possible.

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone who’s contributed to the (oft-informative) discussions unfurling on previous entries. I haven’t had time to jump in myself, but I’m grateful to all of you who’ve taken the time to share your thoughts here and engage in what has generally been civil discourse. You people are awesome.

Heart Disease and the China Study, Post #1.5

First of all: I’ve got some bad news, folks.

I just learned from a highly reliable source that I am not a “private blogger,” but rather, “very likely a large scale underground defamation campaign against Dr.Campbell.” As a result, all mention of my critique—AKA the Minger Scam—has been yanked from Wikipedia’s “The China Study” page by a vegan editor there. The rationale is as follows:

Just tell me, which “private fun blogger” is able, aside of her alleged full time work and study of “English literature”, to write 36 pages of scientific responses to a professor?!! And again and again??? Either “she” is some sort of very mighty – and very mad and crazy and hate filled – genius, which in itself would be something extremely rare and highly unlikely (really, why would a pretty young girl have so much reason for such a giant ordeal, fight, all that massive work, all that hate???) … Or “she” is in reality another underground [campaign].

Whoops—my bad! I forgot females aren’t supposed to think or write stuff; we’re here to take Home Ec and vacuum in stilettos and learn how to become Good Wives:

On behalf of Minger Scam, Inc., I apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused. 😉

Now onto business.

I’ve got graphs, graphs, graphs galore, but they aren’t really relevant to the upcoming wheat post, so I’m plopping them here instead. In my first China Study critique, I looked at some mortality differences between the five counties that ate the most animal foods and the five counties that ate the least. Here, I’m doing something similar—except this time I’ll be comparing the counties with the super-highest and ultra-lowest heart disease rates and seeing what they do differently in terms of diet.

One of the incredible things about China is the vast difference in heart disease mortality between regions. One county, Fusui, has only 1.5 per 100,000 deaths attributable to heart disease—whereas another county, Dunhuang, has a whoppin’ 184. That’s even more than the US’s figure of 106.

In case graphs freak you out, here’s a summary of what’s below:

  • The healthy-hearted regions almost universally had higher intakes of animal fat, animal protein, dietary cholesterol, and saturated fat than the heart-disease-prone regions.
  • The healthier regions generally had lower intakes of fiber, light-colored vegetables, plant protein, vegetable oil, and—big surprise—wheat flour.
  • Consumption of green vegetables didn’t differ significantly between the high and low heart disease regions. Neither did smoking rates, total cholesterol, or non-HDL cholesterol, although HDL cholesterol looks slightly higher in the regions with excellent heart health.

Does this “prove” anything about diet and heart disease? Nope—there’s the curse of epidemiology again. But we can make the observation that some regions in China exhibited astonishingly low rates of heart disease while eating more animal foods than the Chinese average. And the county with the absolute lowest consumption of animal foods, Longxian, had the second highest rate of heart disease mortality out of all the counties studied. (For the record, I used the China Study II data for this, all of which is available online.) (more…)

The China Study: My Response to Campbell

Alright folks, I’ll be honest. I was not expecting my China Study critique, which started as a nerdy personal project pursued in the wee hours of the morn, to generate much interest. Like most of my weird projects, I figured it would be briefly perused by a few number-lovers before fading quietly into the abyss of cyberspace.

Instead, it went viral and racked up 20,000 page views within 24 hours.

I’m surprised, but equally thrilled. My self-marketing skills are pretty dismal, and it was only by the grace of all the bloggers who featured my critique that this page-view boom occurred. Thank you to everyone who helped spread the word. I owe y’all!

This post is going to be quite long (no shocker there) and, in places, a bit more technical than the last. I know not everyone digs science mumbo-jumbo, so I’ll try to keep that to a minimum and explain things like journal quotes in simpler terms.

First, I’d like to address a couple points I’ve seen crop up in reader comments and emails I’ve received. (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:


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…)

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…)