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The China Study is one of the first books I'll recommend to someone who wants to learn more about why a healthy vegan diet is better for our health than a "well-balanced" regular, meat-filled diet.
What I think makes it incredibly convincing is that the author of the book. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, is essentially a skeptic-turned-believer.
He started his medical career with the intention of proving that people needed to drink more milk and found that his hypothesis was wrong. He found that in those countries with the highest consumption of calcium consumption, there existed the highest rates of bone fracture and osteoporosis.
For some reason, it's always easier to believe someone who used to be a non-believer, isn't it? Their accounts seem less biased than those from someone who always lived and believed one way. It's also easier to relate to someone like ourselves, and most of the vegans I know grew up eating meat and drinking milk, mostly because our parents told us it was good for us.
Had Dr. Campbell simply set out to prove that a plant-based diet was superior, his results might have been a bit less startling.
The China Project is a study conducted by Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine on 240 countries and over 880 million Chinese people over the course of 20 years that uncovered shocking correlations between diet and degenerative diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Dr. Campbell, as the principal author of The China Study, revealed that people who ate the most animal products had the highest rates of chronic disease, and those people who ate the most plant-based foods had the lowest rates of chronic disease.
They were able to isolate groups of people by their eating patterns largely because most of the people eating the traditional, local food lived in rural areas without access to the processed and Westernized foods that people ate in the cities. People living in cities tended to eat the most animal protein, and people living in the country ate the most plant protein, especially soy.
In The China Study, the authors, Dr. Campbell, Jacob Gould Schurman, and Thomas M. Campbell II revealed that there is a "direct relationship" between eating animal protein and the risk for developing breast, prostate, and bowel cancer, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, obesity, degenerative brain disease, and macular degeneration.
If your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles have all "gotten" those diseases, don't just assume you're next in line for them or that they're all inherited. This study proved that eating a plant-based diet can lower your chances for developing degenerative diseases.
If you happen to have one of those diseases and have come to veganism looking for a solution, you might be in luck. The China Study discusses other studies that show you can actually reverse the damages done by the disease just by cutting animal products out of your diet.
Eating meat and dairy is a lifestyle choice very similar to using tobacco. If you use tobacco, you're more likely to develop lung cancer (among other diseases). If you quit tobacco, your lungs will often regenerate and reverse much of the damage. If you stop consuming animal products, your risk for developing disease will decline.
If another study hadn't failed, perhaps none of us would have had the chance to read The China Study.
In his earlier career, Dr. Campbell took part in a research project on malnourished children in the Philippines to find out why so many of them developed liver cancer. The project assumed that the children were not eating enough protein. What the study actually found was that the kids eating the most protein were the ones with the highest incidences of cancer, and that a lot of their protein came from milk.
Dr. Campbell had to reconsider his prior beliefs about nutrition and he began research on other countries concerning the role of nutrition on cancer. In one of his experiments, he found that rats who had 20% of their diet supplemented with casein (the main protein in milk) grew cancerous tumors. When the rats were given only plant-based diets, the tumors got smaller. When they went back to the casein diet, their tumors grew larger.
Dr. Campbell kept looking at dairy products and found they are linked to Type 1 diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer. In countries where people don't consume much dairy, their rates of those cancers are much lower.
After finishing the preliminary research, Dr. Campbell helped to launch the China Project and began studying the role of nutrition in risk for degenerative diseases. And, as they say, the rest is history.
I think it's universally accepted knowledge that high blood cholesterol levels are bad, and that they can lead to illness. What most people don't realize though is that even small amounts of those it's the animal protein specifically that increases blood cholesterol levels.
The China Study discusses that in any given country, the people who have the highest blood cholesterol levels are the most likely to develop diseases and those with the lowest levels are the least likely to develop what they call "diseases of affluence," such as cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.
We can think of them as Western diseases because they occur most frequently in Western countries, where the largest amount of animal protein is consumed. Dr. Campbell says the diseases of affluence could be called "diseases of nutritional extravagance."
People who eat their traditional diet, which if often very low in animal protein just do not get the Western diseases. They are more likely to get "diseases of poverty," such as pneumonia, parasites, tuberculosis, pregnancy complications, and others that presumably could be cured with better access to hospitals and medicines. Chinese people living in rural areas and eating traditional diets get the curable diseases and Westerners living in populated urban areas get the "incurable" diseases that can actually be cured with better diet.
In an ironic twist, when those same traditional Chinese people leave their homeland and start eating animal-based diets, they develop Western diseases of affluence.
Even in China, where cholesterol levels overall are much lower than in Western countries, when a group was found with high levels of blood cholesterol, the group had the highest incidence of Western diseases. The diseases were much more rare in China than in Western countries at the time of the study.
Once they found this, they then found that blood cholesterol levels were in direct correlation to diet. The China Study describes several studies that indicate that animal protein increases blood cholesterol levels. Plant-based proteins contain no cholesterol, and actually help to reduce the amount of cholesterol that the body produces. Although saturated fat also increases cholesterol levels, the increase is lower than that from animal protein.
In a scary twist, the people in the study who were considered heavy animal protein eaters still ate less animal protein than most Westerners. Even with their lower intake, the direct correlation between diet and disease existed, so you can imagine that it would be an even stronger correlation for people who truly eat the standard American diet.
The rural Chinese eat about 10% of their calories from protein, but only about 10% of their protein comes from animals. That means only about 1% of the calories in a typical Chinese diet come from animal protein.
The average Westerner eats about 15% of calories from protein, and 80% of the protein is from animals. That means about 12% of the calories in the typical American diet are from animal protein.
We're talking averages too, and I know of some people who eat much more than 15% of their calories in the form of protein (think of all those high-protein diets), and that means it can get into an even scarier range.
The China Study's authors say that the less animal products one consumes, the greater the health benefits. They also say that the "optimum percentage of animal-based products is zero, at least for anyone with a predisposition for a degenerative disease.”
In the Good Nutrition Guide section of The China Study, the authors recommend a diet based on whole grains and plant foods. They give solutions on changing from a traditional diet to a healthier, plant-based diet.
One thing I like about this section is that it emphasizes that The China Study is not a diet book, and it says that you can eat as much as you like, of the right foods, and just avoid the wrong foods. I personally never feel like I can't eat certain things, or that I have to practice portion control or count calories. I eat whatever I feel like, I just always feel like eating things that aren't going to kill me.
The book also offers eight principles of food and health, which essentially state that plant foods are all better for us than animal-based foods, that we aren't a product of our genes and can surpass them with good nutrition, that it's better to eat real food than to eat vitamin supplements, and that we can prevent and reverse illness by practicing better eating habits.
The last section of the The China Study, "Why Haven't You Heard This Before?" talks about why Americans are not familiar with the truth about diet and information. Dr. Campbell even gives personal examples of others trying to silence his own research.
We see instances of information manipulation in our daily lives, but are unaware of them. The book talks about powerful lobbyists, companies, and even government agencies that work to prevent normal people from learning about what food is actually good for them. The food industry works hard to prevent their products from being labeled as unhealthy.
When you think about the wealthy corporations and how much money they would lose if people switched to more plant-based diets, you can imagine how much money is spent preventing the release of information about the health hazards of those foods.
The medicine and surgery industry is said to be extremely focused on the money-makers, which are more drugs, rather than on curing the diseases. Many studies show that good nutrition can actually cure some diseases, but there those who produce these studies are often shunned from medical establishments like some kind of witches.
“I propose to do nothing less than redefine what we think of as good nutrition. You need to know the truth about food, and why eating the right way can save your life,” said Dr. Campbell in The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health.