I have been rereading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II, MD as it is a dense book that I seem to be able to pull valuable information from each time I refer to it. Chapter 11 is titled: "Eating Right: Eight Principles of Food and Health." In the process of reviewing this chapter, I felt it would be conducive to a simple article for the website where we can have a conversation about these 8 Principles and how they apply to our lives. Having the educated insights of The China Study paired with my own personal story of how I changed my life on a whole foods, plant-based diet will hopefully be fuel for your own changes towards a healthier you!
The Eight Principles of Food and Health (and How to Eat Right)
- Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The China Study consistently conveys a holistic view of nutrition. One of the important components of this 1st Principle is quite simply that it seems to accommodate for all those moments where we "cheat" on our diet. In my own life, on the rare occasion that I do this these days (as I have trained myself over the years to find healthy, plant-based alternatives for most things), I like to say: "Make it the exception, not the rule."
If you are struggling to adopt a plant-based lifestyle and find yourself slipping up from time to time, don't be too hard on yourself! This is the main message, I think, because you can live a healthier life than the day before, and your overall health will be dictated by the majority of your decisions, not the small minority.
Another element of this Principle is quite simply that each food itself is complex when broken down into it macro and micro nutritional content. That is, the protein, carb, fat, vitamin, mineral, etc. contents.
- Vitamin supplements are not a panacea for good health.
First, an excerpt from The China Study: "Supplements will not lead to long-lasting health and may cause unforeseen side effects. Furthermore, for those relying on supplements, beneficial and sustained diet change is postponed. The dangers of a Western diet cannot be overcome by consuming nutrient pills."
The modern pharmaceutical and nutrition supplement industry has made an argument over the years that supplementation is required for healthy living. But there is a simple alternative: eating a diet that provides the vast majority of these nutritional components in large quantity (sometimes in excess, even). It's hard to ignore the scientific research suggesting that supplements are not nearly as beneficial as we once thought, as well. The key part of a "whole foods" based diet is that it will enable you to get these nutrients without fear of missing out on specific, isolated elements.
- There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
This Principle is tied to a common question asked by meat-eaters, that is, where do you vegans get your protein? It is a valid question, albeit a fairly ignorant one that stems from chronic misinformation. Many vegetables provide high levels of plant-protein. Of even more importance is the reality that many modern nutritional recommendations tend to over-emphasize the value of protein, as if it is the only nutritional property we need to pay attention too. The China Study, in promoting holistic health, would recommend you consider all the nutrients you lose out on by just eating a steak or a chicken.
For myself, the experience of nutrition becomes a personal one as I have seen what eating a diet consisting of plant-based foods has done in my life. Reversing symptoms of aging, chronic pain, and most noticeably enabling me to drop over 60 pounds of fat. Now that I feel more energized than ever, it is hard to ignore that "something" is working here.
- Genes do not determine disease on their own. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed.
Let me preface this section with another quote from The China Study: "..It is useful to think of genes as seeds. As any good gardener knows, seeds will not grow into plants unless they have nutrient-rich soil, water and sunshine. Neither will genes be expressed unless they have the proper environment. In our body, nutrition is the environmental factor that determines the activity of genes."
This is a powerful quote because it exists in a world dominated by media that has so frequently portrayed many health woes and obesity as a direct result of a genetic predisposition, but reality is much more nuanced. Reality of genetics shows that genes do play a role, but the role is far more passive than we have been taught to think. The reality is that environmental factors (such as upbringing, the health of friends and family, etc.) as well as personal dietary decisions influence overall health far more substantially.
- Nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.
The China Study says: "So many of us seem to want a scapegoat. We do not want to hear that our favorite foods are a problem simply because of their nutritional content."
Everything we consume into our body is broken down into base chemicals and substances by our bodies, which in turn leads to either positive or negative impacts on our body. While there are some carcinogens that enter our bodies that we may not have control over, such as second and third-hand smoke inhalation from cigarettes, the vast majority of things that enter our body we are in total control over.
If you decide to eat a burger from McDonalds instead of a fresh, organic salad; you should be prepared for the consequences. The long term, chronic consequences may be substantial if your diet is primarily made up of poor choices (like the aforementioned McDonald's burger). But, even in the short term you may experience negative consequences that result from these "noxious chemicals" such as sensations of addiction from high fat, salt, and artificial sugar contents.
- The same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages (before diagnosis) can also halt or reverse disease in its later stages (after diagnosis).
This is one of the Principles that really sticks with me as it is simply stated, and showcases the real power of positive decisions regarding diet and exercise. I have experienced in myself significant changes to my body and mind as a result of changing my diet to a whole foods, plant-based diet and incorporating more natural exercise (primarily through gardening, hiking, canoeing, and going to the gym) into my daily routine. I have seen reversals of chronic pain, reduction or elimination of disease, and most noticeably a reduction in over 60 pounds of fat. This has left me feeling healthier and more energized.
- Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.
So often we hear stories in the media about how a certain vegetable is linked to a reduction in a certain disease. It definitely can get you to think about the value (or lack of value) of certain foods, but it misses the point of adopting a plant-based lifestyle entirely. The reality is that a WFPB lifestyle is scientifically known to be related to a reduction of cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc. The list goes on and on. This was what I experienced myself, by simply eating a plant-based diet I found that I was not only losing weight, but losing pain and symptoms of other diseases I carried with me as well.
- Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.
Holistic health is grounded in noticing how all individual parts of our body and world are connected. A healthy diet manages to show itself in all aspects of life. It decreases the likelihood of you facing certain diseases, such as cancer, and increases your ability to enjoy life to the fullest. A healthy, plant-based diet paired with a good exercise routine is the simple solution to our daily woes.
The China Study has proved to be a valuable resource in my life. I first came across it early into my adoption of a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle and I continue to reference it even now, years into my transformation. The best part about The China Study is how easy to digest it is, and how all the complex scientific research is easily summed up in a way even your average person can understand. I hope you are able to find this little excerpt useful, and perhaps even inspiring for your own journey towards a healthier you.