Wednesday, October 31, 2012

T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study Reviewed

Campbell, T. Colin, The China Study; Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books, 2006.

I recently finished reading the China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his son Dr. Tom Campbell. I have been intrigued with the book for quite some time, however for some reason the 400 page monograph seemed daunting. While still 400 pages, the book is a distilled and truncated version of Dr. Campbell’s and Dr. Chen Junshi’s Diet, Life-style and Mortality in China which clocks in at a massive 894 pages. The New York Times called this study the “Grand Prix of epidemiology" and the "most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease."

This book is a powerhouse of fair, balanced, and evidenced-based nutritional information, which makes the book standout when it is placed among “diet” books on shelves in bookstores. Containing nearly thirty pages of references and three appendixes with more detailed information, the book is clearly the result of a lifetime (over forty years in Campbell’s case) of research in nutrition.


T. Colin Campbell’s story is interesting on its own and he includes a large part of his story in the final section of the book. He grew up on a rural dairy farm. Perhaps ironically, his father died quite young of heart disease. As the first in his family to attend college, Campbell studied pre-veterinary medicine at Pennsylvania State University. He obtained his B.S. in 1956 and then attended veterinary school at the University of Georgia for a year. During that time he became increasingly interested in the diets of humans, changed tracts, transferred to Cornell,  and finished his Ph.D. under Clive McCay (a famous researcher of diet and aging) in 1961. He then went to teach and research at MIT and later Virginia Tech, but ultimately spent the majority of his career in the nutrition sciences department of his alma mater, Cornell.

His early research focused on malnutrition and protein, which brought him to Indonesia, to study diet and lifestyle. While there he began to notice, that contrary to his then working hypothesis, the more animal foods one ate, the more likely the person would suffer from cancer. Up to this point, Campbell firmly believed malnutrition was the result of a lack of animal protein from a persons diet. However he soon began to question this hypothesis and the result dramatically altered his career. Finally, while he was in Indonesia, Campbell read a small and obscure paper published on cancer and animal protein in mice and rats, which observed that cancer grew more rapidly when a diet contained higher levels of casein (the main protein found in cheese and dairy products). Even more important, a diet low in animal protein could stop and even reverse the growth of cancer cells.

Campbell returned to the States and recreated the experiment he read about. It amazed him. He then spent the next thirty-five years furthering the field along this path while winning some of the most prestigious awards for research along the way. However, his most remarkable work remains the China Study.

The Study

In the early 1970s, the premier of China was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a result, he ordered a nationwide survey to collect information on the disease and its impact on the Chinese population. Between 1973-75, the surveys were collected. It was a monumental study of death rates for twelve different kinds of cancer for more than 2,400 Chinese counties and 880 million (96%) of their citizens. The end result was an atlas showing where certain types of cancer were high and where they were almost nonexistent. The atlas made it clear that in China, cancer was geographically localized. “Some cancers were much more common in some places than in others.” This was significant because the variations existed within a country where 87% of the population was of the same ethnic group, essentially taking genes out of the equation of cancer risk. Because there was such a massive variation in cancer rates among different counties where genetic backgrounds were similar from place to place, it seemed possible that cancer could be connected to environmental and lifestyle factors rather than genetics (it is estimated that genetics determines only around 2-3% of the total cancer risk- “Genes do not act in isolation; they need a trigger for their effects to be produced”).

China proved the perfect place to study cancer and lifestyle because “critical to the importance of the China Study was the nature of the diet consumed in rural China.” It was a rare opportunity to study health-related effects of a mostly plant-based diet.

This sparked Dr. Campbell’s interest and in 1983 an international team of biochemists and scientists were working closely to find correlations between the cancer atlas and a new, large collection of dietary surveys and blood work. Between 1983-4, they collected data on 367 variables from 6,500 people living in 65 different counties, and then compared each variable with every other variable. The results were astonishing. They collected over 8,000 statistically significant associations between lifestyle, diet and disease variables. Not surprisingly, the more animal protein that was consumed, the greater the risk for contracting a number of different diseases, including several different types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. They also compared Chinese populations to American populations of similar activity levels and found that on average the Chinese consumed 30% more calories based off body weight than Americans and yet found their body weight was on average 20% lower.

While Dr. Campbell is very forthright about the fact that “absolute” proof of causation is almost impossible in scientific studies, his book leaves little doubt about the correlation between diet and disease. The study emphasized a whole-food plant based diet while also eliminating all meats, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products (Dr. Campbell identifies dairy as one of the most potent carcinogens that humans are exposed to). They claim that eating a healthy vegan diet will help one escape, reduce or even reverse the development of chronic disease.

The Actual Book

 In this work, Dr. Campbell has set an ambitious goal: “I propose to do nothing less than redefine what we think of as good nutrition.” The book is divided into four sections, but for simplicity it can really be divided into three parts.

The first section reviews some of the ground I’ve already covered. Dr. Campbell’s transition towards and advocacy for a plant based diet, his early work on mice, casein, and tumor growth and the China study. Just from this section alone, Campbell builds a compelling case linking the consumption of animal protein, cholesterol, and processed foods to increased cancer risks. However, in section two Campbell goes into a detailed review of the peer-reviewed secondary literature dating back to the late 1800s, which demonstrates how animal protein is linked to nearly every other major western disease (also know as diseases of affluence).

In this section, Dr. Campbell and his son have done extremely diligent work. Each chapter relates to a different major disease and how diet and nutrition can affect that disease. These chapters include heart disease with an extended discussion of the work from Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. John McDougall, obesity, diabetes as well as more surprising chapters on autoimmune diseases, bone health, and kidney, eye and brain diseases.

In each chapter, Campbell discusses the newest research on the causes of these diseases. By this point in the book, it is no surprise that animal products are intimately linked to each one. For instance, it now seems the autoimmune disease known as Type 1 diabetes, previously thought to be a genetic issue, could actually be triggered by exposing newborns to dairy milk (perhaps in infant formula) too early in their lives. In fact a study done in Chile found that children weaned too early onto cow’s milk-based formula had a 13.1 times greater risk of contracting the disease. This is because most newborns are unable to fully digest the small amino acid chains or fragments of the original protein found in milk and remain in the intestines and absorbed into the blood. The immune system recognizes these fragments as foreign invaders and goes about destroying them. Unfortunately, some of these fragments look exactly the same as the cells of the pancreas which makes insulin. As a result, the immune system will also start attacking the cells of the pancreas and the body will no long be able to produce insulin. The result is a devastating disease that the child will have to deal with for the remainder of its life.

The final section focuses on why this information isn’t more common spread. The answer is surprising obvious. Imagine for a second a newspaper headline about Cows milk causing Type 1 diabetes? It would have a dramatic financial implication for American agriculture. Obviously the entire food system would be greatly impacted. As a result there a barriers built into the system to help protect against that from happening. But is it a conspiracy? According to Dr. Campbell, no it is not. Rather, he claims it is simply the powerful work of a few people favoring the status quo over  sound science.

Unfortunately, part of the status quo means that the majority of nutritional information is filtered through three different levels. First are the scientists, many of whom have close ties to the food and drug industries as their departmental positions are funded in part by various corporations, the result, according to Campbell, are nutritionists become less interested in challenging a system which literally supports them. These scientists are also the most likely to be placed onto governmental committees as "experts" who are responsible for creating acceptable nutritional standards. 

Second is government. Perhaps the saddest of the trio, the government has consistently put economic issues and corporate interests in front of protecting their citizens’ health. This is evidenced every time a major governing body fills committees with lobbyists rather than scientists or when lobbyists are successful in their attempt to bury an honest report. Just think back to the most recent farm bill debate where tomato sauce ontop of pizza was defined as a vegetable and pink slime was found to be nutritionally acceptable. 

Finally, Campbell points his wagging finger at the corporations who fund most of the nations nutritional research. These corporations are broad in their range as well as their influence. Obviously, the meat, dairy and egg industries are powerful, but Campbell also reminds his readers that the orange industry has been startlingly successful at identifying their product with Vitamin C. Not only that, but drug companies sponsor most medical schools in the nation. 

One does not need to have an overactive imagination to imagine what this trio has caused to those who eat the Standard American Diet. Campbell claims this is one of the largest threats to America's future security as a nation, as healthcare spending dwarfs even the swollen military budgets yet the population becomes increasingly less healthy. Campbell’s theory is more than plausible as he details his own personal struggles from within the scientific community. Indeed it is often hard to believe his career was not squashed by these powers while he was still in Indonesia.

The book details the struggles that Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. John McDougall  faced as well. Dr. McDougall was threatened with expulsion from his residency when he counseled a heart patient with advice about nutrition.  Dr. Esselstyn, a top surgen at the Cleveland Clinic, was ostracized by his peers and his plea to help Cleveland’s medical school develop a plant-based healing center have consistently been ignored. Still both have remain steadfast and have been able to help thousands of people heal themselves of heart disease and diabetes through diet.

It seems possible that some of Campbell’s claims are the result of overreaching from the actual evidence; after all, correlations are not causation. But its more likely that Campbell’s work is really that definitive. Campbell prides himself on the fact that he is nothing if not a careful and cautious scientist and while his book is written for a general audience, in the three appendixes Campbell goes into further detail about his protein studies in rats, his China Study, supplementations and Vitamin D – all of which were highly provocative as well as useful. When one considers the large amount of supporting secondary research Dr. Campbell relies on, it becomes nearly impossible to ignore his findings.

While the book has had it’s fair share of critics (many of which have been responded to personally by Campbell), it has met the praise of some of the most serious researchers in the field including Dr. Wilfred Niels Arnold from the University of Kansas and Professor Hal Harris of the University of Missouri–St. Louis who actually converted with his graduate students to a whole food, plant-based diet after reading the book. CNN’s Sunjay Gupta claims the book had a similar impact on him in his documentary called The Last Heart Attack. Campbell’s admirers also include President Bill Clinton, Oprah, Dr. Oz and thousands of others around the world. It seems to me that few others have had the impact on human health that Dr. Campbell has had (or, ironically, for animal rights, something Dr. Campbell does not vocally support). There are few books which can literally save your life, this is one of them and it should not be ignored. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kat's Story: "Hold the Meat, Cheese, and Oil"

This week I have a very special post to share with you all. For nearly a year now, I’ve been writing about how eating a whole food, plant-based diet can change your life. I’ve included recipes and reviews of all sorts in the hopes that I’ll convince others to give it a try. I’ve been told by many of you that while you’ve greatly increased the amount of fruits and veggies in your diets, the idea of going vegan is too abstract or difficult to actually follow through on. However, today I’m sharing an open letter from a good friend of mine. Someone who never imagined they would go vegan, but then tried it and watched their life dramatically change for the better. Her husband and I went to school together, and he is also enjoying increased health since making the switch. I can remember a time when I would be hanging out with the guys eating a lentil salad while he and the others would be stuffing cheese steaks into their faces. I now look forward to sharing a lentil salad with him. This post is a post about courage, about change; about the possible. So now I turn the mic over to my friend, Kat and I hope you are as inspired by her story as I am, and hope you are willing to try a whole food plant-based vegan diet. 

“It all started when I was nine months old. My mom was eating crackers with peanut butter and just as any nine month old would, I picked up the lid to the peanut butter jar and put it in my mouth. It wasn't long before I was a swollen, hive-ridden infant. I had already been diagnosed as being lactose intolerance but that day we discovered my allergy to peanuts as well. Little did I know it was just the beginning. As I got older, my reactions became more frequent and more severe. At eighteen, I developed four new allergies and I had been in anaphylaxis (a life-threatening state, caused by an allergic reaction) twice. In between these severe reactions I was constantly having gastrointestinal upset and eczema. By the time I was twenty two I had been in the emergency room a grand total of six times for anaphylaxis, receiving intravenous epinephrine, prednisone, rinantidine, and antihistamine. Food was my mortal enemy.

Somehow, I was still able to find love, and beyond that, he turned out to be a man who wanted nothing more than to help improve my broken relationship with food. He started by cooking everything from scratch for us when we ate in; and asked more questions at restaurants than my mind could even fathom. Unfortunately, it seemed I was still stuck with unexplained symptoms like constipation, diarrhea and an unruly dermatitis. My allergist suggested that I try eating completely organic to rid myself of these symptoms. This helped some, but in the interim I developed a condition known as Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) where I would react to uncooked, or undercooked foods that grew close to my environmental allergens. These reactions remain localized to the mouth and throat and rarely require any more treatment than a low dose of Benadryl. Still, it was annoying, to say the least.

While my relationship with food was slowly improving, my relationship with that man continued to grow and eventually he became my husband. Together we experimented with different types of diet changes with the hopes of it further reducing my sporadic reactions. Everything was hit or miss, and I was ready to give up. After twenty-two years I was finally accepting that, I would never really be able to enjoy food.

Recently, however, that all changed. This past July my husband and I were on vacation and he said to me "you remember Ant? He is a vegan, we should look into that" and the research began. He messaged Ant on Facebook asking for tips and I started reading "Skinny Bitch" (knowing that vegan activist, Ellen DeGenerous, had recommended it). Once again I started to believe that my diet could change my life. I read articles, watched "Forks Over Knives" and my husband and I started to eat less meat... Instead of going cold turkey as the saying goes, I decided to throw the turkey out completely along with all other meats, dairy, and eggs from my diet.

It only took a few weeks of eating this way before I stopped having the gastrointestinal symptoms, the eczema, and the OAS. I now have more energy, feel more nourished and have also been able to greatly reduce the amount of daily medications I need to take. Because of these results I now have the full support of my allergist and primary-care doctor. Both of them were shocked by my success and have voiced their desire to share what I have done so other patients who have similar symptoms can learn about how food can help heal us.

I now keep a record of my daily intake just to be sure all my nutritional requirements are being met. As any reader of BYOL will tell you, it’s no surprise that they always are. Never once have I been protein deficient. I get all the vitamins and minerals I need. Neither is my carbohydrate intake too high or anything of that sort. Becoming a vegan has changed how I live my life. Although I still have numerous severe food allergies, the complications that made them so difficult to deal with are gone and that has significantly improved my quality of life.

On top of that, my husband has also found new vitality. He still eats meat occasionally- about once or twice a month- typically when I work late, but he believes in the results I've had and also finds he feels better eating less meat. He also loves coming up with new recipes.

Our favorite recipe is probably my husband’s vegan stuffed mushrooms but I also want to add that we tried and loved BYOL's sweet potato curry recipe - we actually made that for my parents and they loved it as well. It helped them realize they could afford to cut some meat out of their diet while still enjoying their food. Now they are only eating meat two days a week! 

Going out isn't a problem either. Almost everywhere I go has a soy milk option for my coffee, and I can get an awesome fresh salad or vegan taco anywhere, even if I just have to ask them to hold the meat. When I order, Steve and I give them the run down on what I'm allergic to, how serious it is, and then finish with “hold the meat, cheese, and any oil or sauce.”

Finally, I'm eating more than ever before, and yet my weight is more stable than at any other period of my life. It truly is a thrill for both of us. I firmly believe that becoming a plant-strong vegan has repaired my broken relationship with food. I've learned about diet, lifestyle and health will continue to impact me personally as well as professionally. The answer is not a new pill or medication; the answer is spinach. I encourage you all to try a vegan diet, if only for one month. I am willing to bet that, similar to what I experienced, the change will be so profound you'll never look back. I know I'm not.

Thanks for everything, wishing you all good health,



Monday, October 8, 2012

Black & White Plant Strong Smoothie

Okay everyone, there are three days left in my Navitas Naturals Giveaway! This is one you don’t want to miss! Just based off the entries alone everyone seems excited but to get you even more stoked I spent the past week perfecting a smoothie recipe using Navitas’ products! As my friend Adam Sobel (the master behind the Cinnamon Snail) would say, “this will definitely make you eat your wig!” It’s a healthy variation of the classic ice cream shake: the Black & White Plant Strong Smoothie!

This is a calorie-dense, alkaline-forming smoothie designed to offer a large protein and antioxidant boost to help fill you up and repair your body after an intense workout. I can tell you in all truth, I leave for my marathon training runs drooling about the Black & White reward awaiting me when I get back!

Here is what you will need. Place them into the blender in this order:
      5 cubes of ice
     ¼ cup raw almonds*
     ¼ cup raw cashews*
     2 dates or sweetener of choice to taste
     1 tablespoon Navitas Naturals Goji berries
     3 tablespoon Navitas Naturals Hemp Seeds
     2 tablespoon Navitas Naturals Cacao powder
     1 teaspoon Navitas Naturals Maca powder
     2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
     1 cup cold water
     ¼ cup almond milk
Blend until smooth and creamy     

Now don’t forget to sign up to win a free box of Navitas Naturals goodies by entering here

Happy Columbus Day Everyone,

*To increase the nutrition absorption of the nuts soak them in warm water for at least 2 hours. If you do not have a high power blender substitute the nuts for 3 tablespoons of almond butter.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Navitas Naturals GIVEAWAY!!!

After meeting the phenomenal Julie Morris at Whole Foods a few months ago, I’ve been following the young company she represents, Navitas Naturals. Navitas, the Latin word for energy, has a simple mission statement: Sustainable, organically grown, nutrient rich whole foods are best. As such, they have dedicated themselves to making the most nutrient rich, sustainable foods on the planet available to the average consumer. (They lovingly refer to their product as superfoods). All of their products look to enhance health and increase energy.

I do not think you need to include “superfoods” into your diet to be healthy. Nor do I believe that the inclusion of superfoods into an otherwise unhealthy diet will greatly change your overall health. That said, if you already eat a healthy array of plant-based foods, Navatis Naturals’ superfoods are an excellent way to greatly boost your antioxidant and phyto-nutrient intake. 

Recently, a large box arrived at my doorstep. I was delighted when I opened it up!

Now just to be clear, they did send me these products for free with the expectation that I would do a blog review of their products; however, the agreement was for nothing more than a serious and honest evaluation of their products. That said, I freely admit that I am biased. These were in my pantry when the box arrived:

I also buy Navitas Naturals chia seeds, however I keep them in a glass jar instead of their package. When the box arrived I was happy to see some old favorites but I was really excited to try a few products which I have not yet sampled.

Product One: Maca Powder!

I love this stuff. A root vegetable similar to turnips which grows in mineral rich volcanic soil of the Peruvian highland, maca has been a staple of native Peruvians for thousands of years. While I’ve never tasted fresh maca, the raw maca powder from Navitas has a sweet, almost vanilla taste. Among its many benefits, maca helps the adrenal glands find balance. When the body becomes stressed either from the chaos of every day or from a hard workout, the adrenal glands respond by releasing corticosteroids such as adrenaline but also release serotonin which helps the body feel relaxed and calm. When the body is stressed frequently, the adrenal glands become over worked. This will result in the bodies’ decreased ability to deal with stress and can lead to hormonal imbalances, exhaustion, and disease. Because modern day life is so hectic, this is not an uncommon problem. As if reducing your stress load wasn’t enough, maca is also a rich source of a steroid-like substance called sterols which promote the regeneration of muscle tissue! By incorporating a small amount into a smoothie after a workout, (or by making some of Julie’s amazing Maple-Maca Ice Cream) the body is better able to recover after hard workouts or long stressful days. Raw Maca powder is one of my favorite staples from Navitas and I especially love to mix it with just a little bit of vanilla extract, cinnamon, some raw cocoa and some soaked almonds for a delicious post-workout recovery smoothie!

Product Two: Chia Seeds

Okay, so I’ve blogged about Chia seeds in the past and for good reason. These tiny seeds have eight times the Omega 3s as salmon, five times the calcium as milk, three times the iron as spinach, three times the antioxidants as blueberries and are twenty percent protein! They effectively replenish minerals used in muscle contractions and are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, helping to sustain high energy levels.  I sprinkle these things on pretty much everything I eat, from salads to steamed veggies to lentils. Sometimes I even just toss a tablespoon into water and drink them straight. The downside of chia is it can be expensive. Navitas offers a pretty great deal, often a few dollars cheaper than the other brands on the shelf and to top it off, they are certified organic and always completely raw!

Product Three: Twister Blend (goji, acai, and pomegranate)

This product is new to me. It is a blend of goji berry powder, pomegranate powder and acai berry powder As you can see in the picture above, I have each of these guys individually, however buying them in a blend seems like a great way of saving some money and not having to choose between the various benefits of each powder. It is hard to tell the color, but I was surprised to find a cayenne pepper color with dark purple sprinkles mixed in. 
           Goji berries have long been trumpeted as one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods on the planet! In fact, I typically bring a bag of Navitas Naturals Goji Berries with me when I travel. Goji’s are an excellent source of protein, antioxidants, all of the essential amino acids and over 20 other vitamins and minerals! There is a reason why these tiny red berries are held in such high esteem in Asia! Navitas Naturals’ Pomegranate Powder is particularly special. They freeze-dry the entire pomegranate skin, pulp, juice and pod and then blend it into a fine, sweet light pink powder preserving all of the fruits' amazing nutrients. Particularly high in Vitamin C and potassium, it has also been proven to be an antioxidant powerhouse containing phytoestrogens and polyphenols. These two compounds are remarkably capable at fighting free radicals, helping to prevent the breakdown of cells and inhibit viral infections. The juice of the pomegranate has also been linked to good heart health. Finally the Twister contains acai, a dark purple berry, native to South American palm trees. Becoming increasingly popular among westerners (in juice form) acai contains monosaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids as well as flavonoids, which have been linked in early studies by UCLA to reduce the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Hesperidin, a type of flavonoid have also been shown to have beneficial effects on capillary permeability, making blood flow more easily throughout the body.

Obviously, this powder was created to be mixed into smoothies; however I find it is also great in oil-free salad dressings, as a sweetener in tea or can easily be added to flours to add an extra antioxidant boost when baking. Simply put, I was really impressed with this mix. I even started mixing a teaspoon of it into my breakfast quinoa, buckwheat and oatmeal mix!

Product Four: Power Snack (three varieties)

These little bite sized delights are brilliant. I’ve only tried the Blueberry Hemp Snack, but Navitas has taken their most potent and delicious superfoods and created each of these delicious snacks as a way of taking the power and energy of superfoods easily on the go. Personally, I have enjoyed packing a few of these guys on my long marathon training runs for when I am looking for a little pick me up after hours of pounding the pavement. While I admit that this is the only product of theirs I have tried where the flavor was not an instant hit, by bite two I was hooked and I’ll be coming back for more soon and often. Besides being a great fuel for running, they would make a perfect lunch companion for anyone looking to cram a lot of nutrition into their afternoon meal. 

Besides offering amazing products, Navitas Naturals is committed to sustainable growing methods as well as human welfare. Their products are all certified organic. Their cocoa products are not only organically grown, they are fairly purchased as Navitas really demonstrates their commitment to a food revolution by only sourcing their products from certain places. Often times, small companies source their products, particularly cocoa and other forms of chocolate, from all of the global making the growing and laboring conditions difficult to trace. Navitas Naturals however has received a seal of approval from the Food Empowerment Project On top of that, their website is filled with delicious and nutritious recipes using superfoods! They really are a feel good company!  

Now for the part you are all waiting for. I am happy to announce Navitas Naturals has the distinct honor of being BYOL's first blog giveaway (a bag of dried lentils didn't seem as exciting!) They agreed to send a small package of goods to the winner of this contest! Here are the rules. First, the winner needs to live in the United States (sorry international readers, no disrespect). Second, you must be a subscriber to the blog. There are two ways to gain entry. First, leave a comment on this blog post about which product you most want to try. Second, “like” Navitas Naturals Facebook page. Doing both will increase your chances of winning. The contest will end Friday, October 10, 2012. Good luck and cheers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Obviously, I owe a huge thank you to Navitas Naturals for the goodness they have provided me as well as for agreeing to do the giveaway. I also want to thank Julie Morris and Mic LeBel of Navitas Naturals and finally Gena Hamshaw of the blog choosingraw. She helped me set up the contest rules and is a huge inspiration to me.