Forks Over Knives and The China Study’s T. Colin Campell Chats with Jonathan Bailor


T. Colin Campell (from Forks Over Knives and The China Study) and I recently had a conversation on a public Amazon discussion board. Our chat started a bit rocky, but then became quite useful.

Context

The research supporting SANE was brought up by a reader on the aforementioned discussion board. T. Colin Campell then wrote (http://amzn.to/JtSwt5): “But fortunately, science will prevail over ad hominem attacks.” When this was brought to my attention I was quite startled as thousands of pages of peer-reviewed academic research do not agree with Campell’s recommended “low-protein, low-fat” and therefore unnaturally high-carbohydrate diet. To ensure that a diverse set of research was represented within the discussion, I shared a set of studies showing that natural fats are not harmful (http://amzn.to/K3EHoj) along with the short editorial: “You were right. Science prevailed.”

The Discussion

Note: If you visit the discussion board, you will see that many others contributed to this conversation. I’ve included only my chat with Campell here as I’m frequently asked what I think about Forks Over Knives and The China Study and this provides a useful answer.

 

Campell’s reply (http://amzn.to/KsXFlW):

I previously said, “…science will prevail”. I said what I mean and mean what I said. But this can have meaning, I suspect, if only the would-be scientists and their minions in this discussion group would agree to really learn some science.

John Bailor’s post is a beautiful illustration of the problem. He certainly is clever in creating a list of studies, some quite well known, supporting the hypothesis that it is not total fat that has caused our high rates of heart disease, obesity and related ailments.

I agree that these studies, mostly all published in the peer-reviewed research literature, certainly support this hypothesis. Moreover, I not only support this hypothesis but said so, publicly, BEFORE any of these studies were conducted!!!!!!!

I suspect that this comment of mine may be surprising for those of you who post so many silly `storeys’ in this discussion group. I believe that this is because these individuals do not understand science, have not been trained in the field of nutrition and/or have inadequate access to the literature.

I personally know several of the investigators involved in these studies and spoke about their shortcomings on the dietary fat question even before they were organized. I lectured three times at Harvard when the Nurses’ Health Study was initially being organized and once at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center who organized the mammoth Women’s Health Initiative, each time offering that it would be a shortcoming to investigate the role of total fat in the etiology of these diseases with the cohorts and the protocols that they were using (all the other studies cited by Bailor also had the same shortcoming).

Namely, I have always been unwilling to assume that single nutrient adjustments in an exceedingly complex nutrient diet would show much of anything. It is unlikely to see a meaningful single nutrient effect within such complexity because of the interacting and compensatory effects of countless-and co-linear-nutrients (e.g., of fat) having similar disease producing effects. Even more importantly, in these studies cited by Bailor, these countless other factors will have already `maxed out’ their deleterious effects. Removing or decreasing one dietary item, e.g., total fat, has very little, if any, chance of working. This is similar to the use of nutrient supplements that we now know do not work, and in some studies actually do the opposite of what wa intended.

In short, in ALL these studies, trivial changes are being studied. This is NOT the way that nutrition works. For example, in NONE of these studies, were their subjects consuming a truly low fat, low protein, whole food, plant-based diet (never mind the superficial and really stupid characterization of `low fat’ as being something like 25-30% of total calories-read again my commentary on this book). This is where truly large and sustaining effects are observed.

As far as I am concerned, the evidence now available for a low fat, low protein whole food, plant-based diet is irrefutable. What these studies listed by Bailor prove-and this is the best of science!-is that adjustment of fat alone in Western type diets will have little or no effect. I have spent far too long (more than a half century) doing the experimental research, publishing the results in peer-reviewed literature, and helping to develop national food and health policy to believe otherwise. It simply works when people do it the right way. This is the future history!

 

My reply (http://amzn.to/IurkjH):

T. Colin Campbell says: “I have always been unwilling to assume that single nutrient adjustments in an exceedingly complex nutrient diet would show much of anything.”

Well stated. I appreciate all of your work in this field and your focus on whole foods. My research 100% agrees that eating dramatically more non-starchy vegetables, more nutrient dense fruits (ex. berries and citrus), and more nuts and seed is critical to health and fitness. You are 100% correct that eating a lot more of the *right* plants is critical to long-term health and fitness. Great work and thank you.

Given that you are “unwilling to assume that single nutrient adjustments in an exceedingly complex nutrient diet would show much of anything,” why the recommendation to adjust the single nutrients protein and fat down? Data unquestionably show there are healthy and unhealthy plants as well as healthy and unhealthy non-plants. Sugar is a plant. Wild caught salmon is not. The evidence now available irrefutably states that given the choice between sugar and salmon that the plant is preferable. Tombs of research, including your work in China, suggest that the consumption of seafood (a non-plant) dramatically improves health.

Why not find the best plants and best animals and focus on consuming those rather than making polarizing statements along the lines of plants are good and non-plants are bad? As you state so well, the answer in this exceedingly complex area is more nuanced than that.

The broader research community 100% agrees that consuming more non-starchy vegetables, more nutrient dense fruits (ex. berries and citrus), and more nuts and seed is critical to health and fitness, so why not focus on that rather than making scientifically-unsupported statements against the consumption of healthy non-plants such as seafood? The data is equally clear for those foodstuffs.

Thank you for dedicating your life to making the world a healthier and happier place. We share that goal.

– Jonathan Bailor

 

Campell’s reply (http://amzn.to/II0PXG):

Jonathan Bailor says:

Given that you are “unwilling to assume that single nutrient adjustments in an exceedingly complex nutrient diet would show much of anything,” why the recommendation to adjust the single nutrients protein and fat down?

When I did the experimental research on protein and fat (mostly protein), I was doing it in a way that was generally accepted (i.e., nutrient by nutrient)–keep also in mind that this is the way that we got funding from NIH to do research because this the way that we think. As I got into this research during a 27-year project doing hundreds of studies, I found the responses to be so provocative, almost unbelievable (both because of my personal and professional backgrounds). Gradually I was accumulating a series of what were regarded as heresies, at least for me.

It was then that I started asking about the properties of other nutrients, other disease endpoints and, most importantly, other explanatory mechanisms, as well as becoming concerned about the relevance of this information for humans instead of experimental animals. This is when I began 1) to realize and to demonstrate that nutrient compositions characteristic of WHOLE plants aggregated together, both in kind and in amount, had what clearly was the centuries old idea, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. It then became more of a question how and whether the effects seen individually could be accommodated within a whole diet framework.

There’s far more to this story that will be published in a new book that I am just now completing, “Whole”, due in January 2013.

By the way, sugar is not a plant, it is a fragment of a plant and, as such, it behaves very differently (in size and kind of effect). Yes, salmon is a whole food but it does not accommodate information showing in a rabbit experiment that its protein increases serum cholesterol more than any plant protein source. Also, salmon has very small amounts of the large group of antioxidants and none of the complex carbohydrates, both of which are the core of the benefits of whole plants.

When I draw generalizations between plants and animals, I do so partly on the totality of the evidence on nutrient composition, partly on the biological plausibility of the evidence and partly on the results that are obtained in human trials–and more.

 

My reply (http://amzn.to/JFnbYN):

T. Colin Campbell – The explanation of your focus on protein makes sense. Hopefully it also makes sense that your statement “I have always been unwilling to assume that single nutrient adjustments in an exceedingly complex nutrient diet would show much of anything,” and similar sentiment provided in your popular text, are contradictory with your message to essentially avoid protein, as doing so is a single nutrient adjustment.

I am aware that sugar is not a plant 🙂 I hope my point was clear and reasonable. Tobacco is a plant, and I suspect that you would not recommend eating large quantities of it. If anything other than the importance of water consumption is close to unanimously agreed upon in the broader nutrition research community, it must be that there are healthy and unhealthy plants as well as healthy and unhealthy non-plants.

You are a very influential man and if I may be so bold, I would urge you to use that influence to encourage people to consume whole foods that help us avoid overeating (have high satiety), do not have a detrimental impact our blood sugar or hormones, provide an abundance of nutrients etc. per calorie, and do not promote the storage of excess fat, rather than trivializing what you rightly call an “exceedingly complex area” by suggesting that all plants are good and all non-plants are bad. I realize that some of the correlations found in your research may not agree, but I do hope you acknowledge that there are tombs of research from highly respected institutions demonstrating the health benefits of non-plants fitting the criteria I outlined above.

Best of luck with your upcoming work and I do hope that our paths cross in the future.

– Jonathan Bailor

 

Campbell concluded our discussion with (http://tinyurl.com/6pqecxj):

Jonathan,

I must emphasize the rationale for doing the research the way we did, not only because it was opportunistic and potentially rewarding but also, because of the funding, we focused on protein as researchers did and still do with focused hypotheses and study designs. As time passed, the very provocative findings with protein prompted me to go further to see the extent to which similar phenomena existed with other nutrients. This is where w discovered lots of interesting things that pointed to the benefits of a whole, plant-based foods diet. I then suggested that the “closer we get to a whole foods plant-based diet the greater the health benefits.” Ever since, I have pointed out that I do not know of scientific evidence showing that going 100% the whole way is better than, say 95% or so. Therefore, I have never said that 100% plant based is a proven scientific fact and that every last drop or crumble of the difficult foods need to be excluded. This is what others have said about my findings. However, I also have said many times that 100% nonetheless is, for me, advisable because it allows our taste preferences to adjust and within 1-3 months, sufficiently adjusted to a point where we do not want to return to our old ways. It is analogous to telling heavy smokers to stop smoking but letting them have a cigarette or two a day. It really doesn’t work because of the tenacity with which old preferences keep us hooked. On this point, I believe people have told more than a few times that I am some sort of inflexible activist.

 

I hope this was useful or at least interesting 🙂

I covered The China Study briefly a few months back and a quick web search will provide much more thorough China Study commentary if you’d like to read more.