Should we shun the carbs? Which protein source is the best? Is it possible to prevent cancer, heart / blood vessel diseases and diabetes through diet and lifestyle? What is the secret behind the people groups that live the longest and enjoy the best quality of life?
In 2006 a revolutionary book was released, which is claimed to be “the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted”. “The China Study” by dr. Colin Campbell takes us on a fascinating journey behind the scenes, where we get acquainted with daring studies sponsored by prestigious universities like Cornell and Oxford. The result of more than 40 years of research leads to revolutionary conclusions in the field of nutrition. Long established myths are broken, and more than ever we understand the great importance of diet and lifestyle in relation to health and happiness. Dr. Campbell gives us the recipe for how we can prevent lifestyle related sicknesses like cancer, heart / blood vessel diseases and diabetes.
Colin Campbell grew up on a farm. He was the first in his family who got the possibility to study at the university. He was of the general opinion that animal foods are the cornerstone in a nutritious diet. His doctorate research at Cornell University was intended to improve the production of animal protein.
His early carrier brought him to the Philippines, where he led out in an extensive, countrywide research focusing on improving the diet of malnutritioned children. It was supposed that the problem was rooted in a lack of quality protein – from animal sources. The research revealed that there was an abnormally high occurrence of liver cancer among children in the Philippines. It was thought that this was due to a frequent occurrence of aflatoxin – a fungus found in peanuts and grains. But as the research developed, dark secrets came to the forefront: The occurrence of cancer was significantly higher among children who ate a lot of animal protein – children from affluent families.
During this phase, dr. Campbell stumbled across research reports from India, which contained provoking, relevant findings. Indian researches had done studies with rats exposed to aflatoxin. They divided the rats in two groups. One of the groups was fed a protein rich diet (20 %), while the other group was fed a low protein diet (5 %). Amazingly, all the rats on a protein rich diet developed cancer, while the cancer-percentage of the rats fed a low protein diet was zero. The protein they fed the rats was casein, which makes up 87% of the cow milk protein.
Now the farmer faced a huge challenge. He felt that his entire carrier was in the balance. His research seemed to take a completely different turn than he expected. His goal had been to prove that animal protein was the solution to the problems of the world! It would not be popular to question the meat and dairy-production.
But his upbringing on a farm had made him an independent thinker. Problems and challenges were there to be solved. He didn’t fancy being controlled by preconceived ideas, systems, politics or money. He wanted to take the challenge, and test the radical claims he had stumbled across.
He embarked upon thorough research in the laboratory. His aim was to find out the relationship between diet and cancer, especially related to protein. He was wise enough not to reveal his suspicions connected with animal protein on an immature point of time, and the research was done in the name of some of Americas most acknowledged institutions. The results were chocking. Diet seemed to have much more to say in relation to cancer than both genes and toxins. Actually the choice of diet was so decisive that he literally could turn cancer on and off in the rats. Plant protein did not promote cancer, even when the percentage was increased, while a protein rich food from animal sources consistently developed cancer.
However, the research did not end in the laboratory. A door opened for dr. Campbell to continue his studies in China, in cooperation with Cornell and Oxford University and The Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. He compared people groups with different diets and the occurrence of cancer. The project eventually produced more than 8.000 statistics related to diet and disease! The revolutionary fact was that all studies in concert pointed in one direction: “A whole foods, plant based diet”, in dr. Campbells’ own words. The secret was using as unrefined, living and natural foods as possible – plant food.
If the evidence is so massive for animal protein being linked with our most challenging lifestyle diseases, how come that it is generally accepted knowledge that we need quality protein (ergo: from the animal kingdom) to develop normally and be healthy and strong?
The protein myth
Protein. The word originates from the Greek root ‘protos’, which means ‘first’. No doubt, protein plays an important role in our bodies. Protein is needed in order to build muscles and repair tissues. In addition protein is important in order to synthesize vital enzymes and hormones. But which source is the best, and how much protein do we actually need?
Protein is complex molecules built from single building blocks, called amino acids. There are 20 (-22) amino acids which the body needs in order to build the needed proteins for life and health. 8 (-9) of these are called essential amino acids – the body is not able to synthesize them itself, and they must be derived from food. If you would look at the combination of amino acids in a piece of meat and a single plant product, it is quite logic that the combination of amino acids in the piece of meat tends to be closer to the proportions the human body requires. From this knowledge the myth about quality protein grew – the theory that meat protein is of a better quality than plant protein.
Already in the beginning of the 1900’s the well rooted myth about meat being necessary for strength and endurance was challenged. Professor Russel Chittenden from Yale University performed a research study related to the connection between protein and performance among athletes. He divided the athletes into two groups and gave them different diets: A ‘normal’ diet based on animal products, and a plant diet free from animal protein. After five months those who ate the plant foods improved their performance by a striking 35 % compared to their counterparts.
In the 60’s two other researchers challenged the protein myth further. The doctors Hardinge and Stare from Harvard and Loma Linda University focused on which sources provide the best quality protein. They operated with three research diets: One based on animal products, one lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (incl. dairy products and eggs), and one purely plant based diet. They wanted to find out which of these diets most likely resembled the optimal combination of amino acids. The standard which they monitored after was the recommendation of the World Health Organization, and human breast milk – which from the Creators side is developed to meet the needs of the human body. The result was surprising: The combination of amino acids in a purely plant based diet most closely resembled both standards!
You see, the amino acids we get through the food are broken down and built up again according to the need of the body. So we could say that all the food we eat during the day contributes to an amino acid pool which the body can draw from in order to build the necessary proteins. When you eat a varied plant based diet, you will receive the most balanced selection of building blocks. Interestingly enough, even though you would get all your daily calories from one single plant source – which is neither realistic nor recommendable – many common plant products (ex. potatoes, whole grain rice, oats, tomato, beans, broccoli) would provide more than sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids. Such a one sided diet would however not be nutritionally complete – other nutrients taken into consideration.
It is interesting to note the combination of nutrients in the mothers milk in different species. You will fast discover that the protein content stands in proportion to how fast the offspring grows. Cows milk contains relatively more protein than the human breast milk – dog, cat or rat even more. The protein content increases in proportion to how fast the animals grow. So if we would begin to drink the milk of another species, would that lead to a double as fast growth? Of course not. Growth is mainly genetically dependent. The surplus protein actually becomes as burden to the body.
So how much protein do we actually need? Even though recommendations from official channels can go up to 35 % of the daily calorie intake from protein and 35 % for fat (The China Study, p. 306), these recommendations are far from optimal. In order to cover our daily protein-use we only need about 5-6 % of our daily calorie intake from protein. However, it is recommended to get 9-10 % to make sure that the intake is sufficient (The China Study, p. 308). The fear of getting too little protein through a plant based diet, is quite unfounded. Dr. Mark Messina, who holds a Ph. D. in Nutrition Science from Michigan State University, expresses it in the following way: “…when people eat several servings of grains, beans, and vegetables throughout the day, and get enough calories, it is virtually impossible to be deficient in protein.” (Proof Positive, p. 151, by dr. Neil Nedley)
The low carb hysteria
We are continually confronted with new headlines in the field of nutrition. At times it can be hard to navigate the scientific landscape. First we are told to eat 5 servings of fruits and greens, in the next moment fruits are listed among the food items to be careful with in order to avoid obesity – not to mention the dangerous potato! The low carb diet encourages a high consumption of protein rich foods.
So is there any truth to the low carb hysteria? No doubt, in our Western world we get far too many refined carbohydrates. Many of the promoters of the low carb diet has pointed out a valid problem. But speaking about carbohydrates, we cannot generalize. The truth is that some of the people groups that live the longest and enjoy the best life quality get up to 75 – 80 % of their calories from carbohydrates – complex carbohydrates. (Diet and Health, Scientific Perspectives, p. 29, by professor Walter J. Veith)
So the solution to the carb-problem is obviously not to add more fats and protein to the diet. We have already been looking at some of the dangers connected with a protein rich diet. Several disturbing statistics are also connected to a high consumption of fat – mainly from animal sources. We know the dangers of saturated fats and cholesterol in relation to heart / blood vessel diseases. The encouraging news, that most people are not aware of, is that if you switch to a plant based diet, you will receive no dietary cholesterol at all. No plant products contain cholesterol. The liver is able to make the needed cholesterol. Ideally we shouldn’t get any cholesterol through our diet.
Fat and lifestyle diseases
Animal products are often rich in saturated fat. Saturated fat actually has double as great ability to raise our cholesterol levels as dietary cholesterol. High cholesterol levels is one of the main factors in arteriosclerosis, which paves the way for the greatest murderer worldwide: Heart / blood vessel diseases. The clogging of the arteries develop gradually, and many are not aware of the problem before they get a stroke or heart attack – and then it is many times already too late. By cutting down – or cutting out – animal products, you promote a free blood circulation, which is the foundation of good health. A fresh blood circulation carries oxygen, water and nutrients to every cell of the body, and removes wastes.
A high fat consumption is not only related to heart / blood vessel diseases, but also to other lifestyle diseases, like cancer and diabetes.
What about fat from lean meat, as chicken and fish? It is true that chicken contain less cholesterol than f. ex. egg yolk and liver, but the truth is that there is not a major difference between the cholesterol levels in chicken, beef and swine. Chicken, and not at least fish, contains less saturated fat than red meat, however. Fat fish contains rich amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids, which has received a lot of attention for its beneficial effects on blood circulation, brain health and metabolism. The unsaturated fats have many good properties. In contrast to saturated fat, it lowers cholesterol – even though saturated fats have double as strong ability to raise the cholesterol, as polyunsaturated fats have to lower it.
There are both plant and marine sources of polyunsaturated fats. Walnuts, chia- and flax-seeds are some of the products that tops the plant food list. The benefits of getting your Omega 3 from plants, is that you avoid the negative effects behind the terms ‘bioaccumulation’ and biomagnification’. Marine life has an exceptional tendency to accumulate toxins and heavy metals.
The most healthy fats we find in plant products like seeds, nuts, olives and avocado. Natural, unrefined fats bring with them a host of health benefits: Unobstructed blood circulation, increased memory, intelligence and learning ability, healthy skin, improved metabolism, protection from autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammatory ailments and oxygen shy microorganisms.
We need fat. We need proteins. We need carbohydrates. The question is: From which sources and in what amounts?
One of the greatest problems we face talking about carbohydrate-intake, is refining. Primitive people groups, living in harmony with nature, mainly feed on the products of the earth, without any human manipulation. The industrialization has unfortunately brought with it a lot of evils. We have intruded creation to ‘refine’ its products, while the ‘refinement’ actually has proved a deterioration. Sugar and refined grain products, as white bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes, sweets and sodas, are stripped of nutrients and fiber, and gives the body a lot of empty calories, contributing to obesity and a well of other lifestyle diseases.
The sugar monster
White sugar can actually be classified as a chemical. It is stripped of any nutritional values. In order to digest sugar, however, nutrients are needed, especially the B1 vitamin, which has to be taken from the stores in the body. A high sugar consumption can lead to vitamin deficiencies, and also rob the body of important minerals which are important for healthy and flexible joints.
Sugar contributes to an acid environment in the body. It paves the way for a host of diseases, like f. ex. arthritis. The body seeks to balance and neutralize the acids through subtracting alkaline minerals, as calcium, from the bones. This not only leads to osteoporosis, but calcium drawn from the bones settles in muscles, tissues and blood vessels, and leads to arteriosclerosis, joint inflammation and other ailments. Acidity in the body lowers the phosphor levels. Without phosphor, the body can not absorb calcium. This can contribute to nervousness, skin problems, poor digestion and week teeth.
Sugar also weakens the immune system, and inhibits the ability of the white blood cells to kill bacteria. Cancer cells also have a great appetite for sugar.
Lately there has been a greater focus on the connection between nutrition and mental health. Research has been made on the relationship between sugar consumption and intelligence, concentration and performance. Sugar has a negative effect on the frontal lobe, which is the center for reasoning, decisions, morality, spirituality and will power. It is common knowledge that hyperactivity among children is connected to a high sugar consumption.
Simple sugars do not need to be broken down in the same way as complex carbohydrates. The sugar is easily absorbed into the bloodstream – and the blood sugar is shooting high. This causes an emergency reaction in the pancreas. The hormone insulin is pumped into the blood stream to handle the high blood sugar levels. Insulin helps to remove the sugar from the blood stream and store it – f. ex. as fat. The emergency reaction from the pancreas causes the blood sugar to fall below normal, which affects the brain and other vital organs that needs a constant release of glucose. Unrefined products containing complex carbohydrates does not cause the same ‘roller-coaster’ effect in the blood sugar levels. The fibers in natural foods like fruit and grains helps to regulate the blood sugar and gives a steady release of glucose, which is like fuel for brain and muscles.
The benefits of a fiber rich diet
Fiber does not only contribute to regulate the blood sugar. Even though we as humans cannot digest fiber and transform it to energy, it still has a very important role in the machinery of the body. Fiber is needed for the digestion. You have probably heard the expression that it ‘brushes’ the colon. Fiber has a unique ability to absorb water so the stools are more easily passed. It counteracts constipation and protects against harmful carcinogens – cancer causing chemicals – at the same time as it enhances a healthy bacteria flora.
Fiber actually is a very important factor in prevention of both cancer and heart/blood vessel diseases. Oat and bean products contain high amounts of water soluble fiber, which effectively combats the high cholesterol levels in the blood, especially LDL cholesterol – the harmful cholesterol, which has a tendency to build up and clog the arteries. By binding cholesterol and bile acids, fiber not only reduces the cholesterol levels, but also protects against colon cancer, since secondary bile acids, which are formed by bacterial conversion of bile acids, are carcinogenic. Wheat bran has also proved to decrease the estrogen levels in women, protecting against breast cancer.
Through refining the most important substances in grains, as fiber, vitamins and minerals, are removed. Vitamins and minerals are needed for vital body functions, the immune system, metabolism, healthy bones, muscles, skin and hair.
Unrefined, complex carbohydrates provides the body with energy and many important nutrients. We find them in vegetables, fruit, grains, roots and legumes. These complex carbohydrates are not the problem – it is the refining processes that poses the carb-dangers. The closer to nature, the better. The more fresh and living, the better.
The closer to nature, the better
In his book, the China Study, dr. Colin Campbell concludes his extensive research in the following words: “There is no such thing as a special diet for cancer and a different, equally special diet for heart disease. The evidence now amassed from researchers around the world shows that the same diet that is good for the prevention of cancer is also good for the prevention of heart disease, as well as obesity, diabetes, cataracts, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, cognitive dysfunction, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and other diseases. Furthermore, this diet can only benefit everyone, regardless of his or her genes or personal dispositions. All of these diseases, and others, spring forth from the same influence: an unhealthy, largely toxic diet and lifestyle that has an excess of sickness-promoting factors and a deficiency of health-promoting factors. In other words, the Western diet. Conversely, there is one diet to counteract all of these diseases: a whole foods, plant-based diet.” (The China Study, p. 109-110)
Health is not an isolated matter. There are so many elements playing in for an optimal quality of life. The acronym NEW START is often used as a short summary. It contains 8 simple keys which together contribute to health and happiness: Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunshine, Temperance, Air, Rest and Trust in God.
The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell PhD | Proof Positive, by dr. Neil Nedley |
Diet and Health, Scientific Perspectives, by prof. Walter J. Veith