Skip navigation

The China Study

Posted by Superfiend Dec 1, 2010

The title of this post is eponymous with a book that I'm currently reading by T. Colin Campbell, M.D. I bought it a while ago but only had a chance to begin reading it last week during the Thanksgiving holiday. The content of the book is, quite simply, changing my life and I feel like there's nothing I can do about it.


It's essentially a compilation of well-written arguments supported by powerful research for the promotion of whole, plant-based foods. It is ignorant and downright dangerous to ignore the findings in these fields.


I grew up like most Americans; with a breakfast table full of milk and cereal, eggs, bacon, sausage, pork roll...etc. Dinner, the other large meal of the day, was typically something animal-based; meatloaf, chicken cutlets, steaks...etc. I love these things; they represent my childhood and are the foundations for my (evidently ignorant) understanding of a well-balanced diet.


I muddled along blissfully unaware of the damage that I had been doing to my body. One example which startled me was that of cow's milk. This dairy beverage is a staple in the average American's diet. I was breastfed, and then went on to formula I believe, and then spent the vast majority of my life consuming milk under the pretenses of its beneficial effects on bones and such. That's what was pounded into my head as a child by my parents and teachers. "Milk does a body good", "Milk has calcium which is good for bones", "Milk makes you grow up big and strong", ad infinitum.


The China Study shattered these preconceived notions. As an example of the harsh effects of animal-based food, and more specifically animal-based protein, cow's milk protein is composed of 87% casein. This type of protein has been shown to effectively strip calcium from human bones which is subsequently excreted in urine as waste. Studies in the book show migrant studies, comparative and longitudinal studies between populations varied in their consumption of cow's milk and the incidence of osteoporosis as one example. The results are simply staggering.


I love milk, though. I really do. I love having way too many bowls of milk and cereal in the morning. I was obstinate even in my resistance of my family buying skim or 2% milk. I called it “bullshit” and petulantly drank only whole milk which is creamy and delicious. The book just destroyed my simple unchallenged love of such a harmful substance. It’s still hard for me to even understand the concept of milk as “harmful”.


Another argument against dairy products in general, but more specifically milk, entailed a comparison in nature. We humans are the only species that consumes milk after being weaned off the milk of our mothers, and furthermore the only species that consumes the milk of other species. It’s simply unnatural and gives credence to the existence of lactose intolerance. This condition should be the norm; people simply aren’t mean to ingest and metabolize these products.


The book also bashes all animal-based foods as epidemiologically linked to a wide variety of diseases, more specifically the proteins therein. A study conducted in India showed these results most clearly as it relates to liver cancer. The control group of rats was administered the most potent known carcinogen, aflatoxin, and a diet of 5% animal protein. The treatment group was also administered the carcinogen, but the diet consisted of 20% animal protein, a proportion analogous to that which most of us consume in the West. The results cannot be ignored. By the end of the study ALL the rats in the 20% animal protein group had liver cancer. NO rat in the 5% animal protein group had liver cancer. This isn’t simply some slightly significant result; it’s 100 to 0. The book goes on to show other links between diet and disease, mostly what Campbell calls “diseases of affluence” such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.


I find myself shaking my head unconsciously as I read this book because I progressively realize the implications of reading it on my life. It sucks. I don’t want to stop eating eggs and bacon in the morning. I don’t want to stop getting a big nasty grilled chicken, chili, bacon, American cheese, onions and green peppers sandwich for dinner. I don’t want to stop getting meat lover’s pizzas. I spoke to one friend about the book and she contentedly brushed it off with the “ignorance is bliss” attitude. I envy her. I wanted to go on about what I had been reading to burden her with it. Somehow I feel like spreading this earthshattering knowledge will somehow make the transition easier for me, but it doesn’t. I’d like to say that I’m talking to other people about it for their own good, but I realize that there’s a selfish desire behind it.


I’m already making the change; I really do feel like I don’t have a choice. I got rid of all the old foods I had in the cupboards and the fridge that don’t work with this diet (Fruit Rollups, Meat-based pasta sauces, 20-some eggs, half a pack of Maple-flavored bacon…) and I went shopping at a Whole Foods Market. I’m lucky to have one so close to my apartment.


This new environment was bizarre. I went to the vegetable area and it looked somewhat like what I’m used to seeing at a grocery store. I tentatively picked some carrots and broccoli while glancing over my shoulder nervously expecting someone to accost me exclaiming how I don’t belong or that I’m doing it all wrong. It was nerve-wracking. I picked a huge fruit salad and put that in my cart as well; let’s stick to the relatively familiar for now. I turned the corner and there was a large area with a pristine glass case for customers to choose their cuts of fish. I remarked that it smelled quite good, but steered away from it apprehensively. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to eat that since I haven’t finished the book. I’m sure that I was shaking my head while walking through the market and I consciously recall several moments when, while reading some label or other, I would think “This sucks”.


I had to give up whey protein since it’s animal-based. Dammit. On to the vitamins and supplements aisle. Hemp protein…what? Isn’t that weed? No, I guess I heard you can use it for other things. No, thanks. Soy protein? No…I’ve read too many bad things about its hormonal effects on men. Wild plant booster…super sun supplement…warrior based fish stash…wait, what? This is ridiculous.


I found one that I deemed acceptable: Lifetime Life’s Basics Plant Protein. I personally think they could have emphasized the “life” point a bit more in the name. Its protein is all plant-based, derived from peas, hemp and rice and also has something called Chia Seed. No idea. It’s a “complete protein”, though, which is great. This means that it provides all the essential amino acids, something that few whey products, especially isolates, can do. The label was impressive, and its protein content is higher per scoop than the whey isolate I was using (22g vs 20g). The amino acid list was convincing and it also contains the “good fats”, Omega-3, 6 and 9. They say it’s supposed to be good for you.


The thing that’s making this even more difficult for me is that I felt perfectly healthy before with my sporadic mostly animal-based diet. This change feels unmerited in the face of perfect health and excellent fitness, and as a result I feel the diet change is mostly preventative. I’m hoping I notice some other effects in the near future as far as increased energy, concentration, muscle change in tone or growth…etc. Something miraculous wouldn’t hurt to help legitimize this change. It’s hard to rationalize such a dramatic transition with no tangible effect.


The plant-based protein supplement seems legitimate, but we’ll see how I feel during the recovery period. I just took two scoops after my usual Endurance workout (1.5 mile run to the gym, 1 hour/6 miles on the Elliptical, twenty pullups, isometric stretching). The protein is foreign to me, and I was actually hesitant about consuming it but I eventually did. It mixes relatively well considering it looks like the result of blending a stale piece of wheat bread and packaging the crumbs. It tasted all right, I suppose. Not great; not remotely as good as the vanilla-flavored whey isolate from GNC.


Speaking of taste, I bought a brand of hemp milk called tempt. It’s gross. I hate it. It makes me miss a tall glass of whole milk or a bowl of cereal. I bought some more Kashi cereals which I really do like, but I can’t imagine trying them with the hemp milk. It looks like milk, and kind of has the consistency of milk, but the aftertaste is awful. I felt like I could taste it all day even after brushing my teeth. Granted I bought the original unsweetened variety (I’m tough), so I suppose I should try the vanilla or chocolate kinds before resorting to physiological aversion. I’ve heard that almond milk is good, so I might try that instead if hemp milk and I don’t work out. It’s got a lot of good things in it, though, apparently: Omega 3 & 6, lots of calcium, B12 and D vitamins. It has way more Omega-6 than soymilk. I brought the container out to cite the ingredients while writing this and I’m able to remember the taste distinctly by just looking at the packaging, but not in a good way.


I’ve basically gone “cold turkey” from animal products since coming back from Thanksgiving when I was home. I gorged over the break and thoroughly enjoyed all the food and the subsequent tryptophan-induced coma. It’s rough and I don’t like it. I’m sure it will get easier but I feel like I need a damned support group for this transition.


I refuse to call myself “vegan” or “vegetarian” because I’ve often been the one to propagate such stigmas against these people. Maybe I feel subconsciously unworthy of the title. I spent the greater majority of my young adulthood and adolescent life, since my very discovery of such lifestyles, scoffing at them for their choices. In further examination of my feelings on the subject I see that a great deal of my frustration was due to the unexamined and haphazard way in which the vegetarians and vegans I met made their choices and regulated their diets. I saw it as capricious and unreliable and ultimately based on whim and nonsense. I should like to believe that the movements are based on such solid empirical evidence as is provided in The China Study, but I can’t help but feel that – even now – the decisions are based on weakly supported moral beliefs and a certain generalized defiance toward the status quo and popular culture which I’ve always found distasteful, unrefined and insulting to rationality.


All that aside, they’ve got it rough. I empathize with them now since I am essentially in their boat. We as a society are simply inundated with advertisements for the worst possible foods. The healthcare system in our country, being the most expensive in the world, is our third leading cause of DEATH after heart disease and cancer. Most of the items on this “top ten” list are ultimately preventable with diet and the vegetarians and vegans have a significant one-up on everyone else.


There’s a passage from the book that I’d like to share because I feel it properly summarizes a pervasive and dangerous mindset in our country. This is as Campbell quotes G.S. Myers from a personal communication with D. Groom in 1961:


“Thumbnail sketch of the man least likely to have coronary heart disease:

An effeminate municipal worker or embalmer, completely lacking in physical and mental alertness and without drive, ambition or competitive spirit who has never attempted to meet a deadline of any kind. A man with poor appetite, subsisting on fruit and vegetables laced with corn and whale oils, detesting tobacco, spurning ownership of radio, TV or motor car, with full head of hair and scrawny and un-athletic in appearance, yet constantly straining his puny muscles by exercise; low in income, blood pressure, blood sugar, uric acid and cholesterol, who has been taking nicotinic acid, pyridoxine and long term anticoagulant therapy ever since his prophylactic castration.”


Campbell retorts smartly with:


“The author of this passage might just as well have said, ‘Only REAL men have heart disease.’”

380 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: running, diet, nutrition, endurance, vegetarian, protein, vegan, casein, plant-based, plant_based