Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor, back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Truly an epic show today, we have one of the most influential individuals in the modern nutritional discussion, a man who is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University.
He’s authored over 300 research papers, been doing this for decades, wrote what has got to be the most talked about nutrition-related book in the modern era, The China Study. His brand new book Whole just came out. He was featured in the documentary Forks Over Knives. He is also the founder of the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. You can learn more about that at TColinCampbell.org. As you can guess by the name of his organization, we have none other than Dr. T. Colin Campbell joining us today. Dr. Campbell, welcome to the show.
Dr. Campbell: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.
Jonathan: Well, Dr. Campbell, one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show today is your new book is titled Whole. I love that title and I am sure you love it as well, that’s why you titled your book it and because it captures what seems to be the new approach to nutrition that yourself and many other individuals are trying to push into the mainstream, and that’s focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods and thinking of the body as a whole, integrated system rather than maybe a metabolic mass machine. What inspired you to title your book Whole?
Dr. Campbell: Well, The China Study, if I can mention that first, that was an attempt of budding (??) with my son, who is a physician by the way, writing with him and essentially documenting what I thought I had been learning in the laboratory and research arena for the previous four decades or so. We are just simply telling if we could a story that makes sense of what we had learned. What we learned from my perspective and my interpretation was something substantially different than what it was when I started my career.
I was a believer in the good old American diet — high in protein, fat and all the rest of it — but what we have really learned was that, a diet that’s much lower in protein, lower in fat, whole plant-based foods was where it’s at and which would gain the greatest health. Some of these effects were really remarkable, so that was The China Study.
What we didn’t answer, at least when I finished writing the book, I realized what we didn’t answer was why has this kind of information sort of been hidden in a sense, in the dark corners of our minds, and it really wasn’t that well known. It’s not taught in medical schools; in fact, nutrition is not even taught in medical school.
I ended up with as many questions as I did answers by the time we got done with The China Study, and I wanted to write another book to see if I couldn’t address this question — why nutrition has been so confusing for so many people. Why we, as I say, push it in the background as far as the practice of medicine is concerned and things like that.
The idea that basically had been evolving for many years and finally wrote it down was just having a look at the way the body works that’s starting with the cell. We’ve got more than 10 trillion cells in our body, and being a biochemist as I was also, I became really fascinated with what each cell is. It’s like a universe essentially. It’s a relative difference between things (??). It’s about looking at the universe we know, and at the same time, it’s an extraordinary complex thing a cell is, and yet at the same time, in spite of this complexity, the integration of activities is just beyond comprehension.
We see that with a single cell, then you start building it up and finally it gets to the whole body. This idea of looking at complexity on the one hand, yet looking at simplicity on the other, in terms of the way and the efficiency with which the body works, was obviously apparent to me that it’s the whole system that works together and all the different parts that are communicating with each other. They depend on each other, and that was the concept of the Whole idea. In fact, that’s really the definition of nutrition.
We have for far too long been spending time, and we still do today, thinking nutrition is all about individual nutrients or individual mechanisms by which they work or individual diseases that might be affected as well as health events. We think in this very reductionist way, and that’s the way we do science. That is the way I do science in much of my career.
In fact, much of my career was working on one thing at a time, if you will. And so the real effect, the most exciting effect is when you allow things to work together as they were raised by nature, if you will, and when it is done that way — and of course, we choose the right kind of foods — amazing things happen. We can cure heart disease, we can basically cure diabetes, type 2 at least. We, in our laboratory, were able to reverse cancer, turn it on and off through nutritional means. That at the time was a reductionist idea initially, but eventually it turned out to be a holistic idea. I think this idea of thinking holistically about what nutrition can do is, in my mind, it offers tremendous opportunity to, in a sense, tell us if we think this way, we can actually make great gains in terms of making people healthy and saving on healthcare costs and all the rest of it that goes with it.
Jonathan: Well I think you hit the nail on the head there, Dr. Campbell, in describing and using the word opportunity because it seems like, by focusing on whole, nutrient-rich foods — in fact, that seems to be — I know there is a lot of debate. Obviously, there has always been debate in the nutritional community. But it seems like, everyone, it seems at least, maybe not Coca-Cola or Unilever, but non-corporate interests all seem to agree that the key is getting back to whole, nutrient-dense things that we find directly occurring in nature. And why do you think that approach is becoming so popular, so quickly over the past decade?
Dr. Campbell: Well actually, I think you’re a little optimistic from my perspective. I didn’t know it had become so popular so quickly, but I’m certainly hopeful that we’ll begin to think that way. I do know more people are talking about it but for sure. I would like to see more progress obviously, to be honest about it, but the fact of the matter is, it works. It simply works.
What my son Tom and I said in The China Study at that time, by the time we get done writing the book, I offered to the reader the idea essentially –the information, the data, if you will, is very, very complex and complicated oftentimes, sometimes controversial obviously. And I just basically said to the reader, “You don’t have to believe me, just try it.” It turns out that subsequent to that — and that was almost nine years ago –and since then, I’ve given 500 lectures, and most of them were med schools.
I’m running into so many people who just try it, and the breadth of effect in terms of affecting [Inaudible 0:08:01] diseases that otherwise might be present or are going to occur, the breadth of effect is just incredible and the rapidity with which the response actually occurs. And so compare this [Inaudible 0:08:14] with let’s say the alternative, which we’re now doing. It’s basically relying on drugs. If we took the best of all the drugs and put them together somehow, it couldn’t come close to touching what nutrition can do when it is done the right way.
It’s really strange. Bizarre diseases, let’s say, for which we don’t know what the answer is, and we call them idiopathic, if you will, and names of that sort. It turns out that when you start doing this, people get rid of aches and pains, and it just [Inaudible 0:08:52] things straight off — colds and flues and the serious diseases, obviously.
Jonathan: Well, Dr. Campbell, the thing that is — again, I see the same thing, and it’s just try eating whole, natural foods and you’ll be shocked at the medical improvements in these seemingly auto-immune or idiopathic diseases, which are otherwise untreatable via traditional means. The thing that is always so fascinating to me, and I’d love to get your take on it is, certainly, you have been the brunt of some, let’s say, critiques and at the core, especially with the new book here. I hear two very distinct messages.
I hear, “Don’t eat processed garbage. Eat nutrient density and eat whole, natural foods.” In fact, that message seems to be very much reflected by some of your key opponents in the Paleolithic, or paleo or primal community like that. That core underlying message — and by doing that, by focusing on natural, nutrient-density sources of calories, you can cure disease and live better. Just stop eating processed garbage; you can live better. That seems to be the foundation of both movements. If that’s true, why does there seem to be such an either/or between those two movements?
Dr. Campbell: Well, I think, this is my own impression — in fact, I’ve had some interaction with some of the paleo folks — and that is that, yes they do offer the idea that eating whole, plant-based foods is not a bad idea. It’s a good idea. Even some of the people, the Atkins-type enthusiasts, if you will, have said that too as well. Just sort of standing back just for a second and reflecting on this, I see food as being sort of in a seense in three categories: one is animal-based, the other is plant-based and the third one is processed foods, of course.
If you could look at the processed foods for example, we find a lot of problems with it. It’s just too high in salt and sugar and fats — not good. If you look at, animal foods have problems too, really serious problems. I could spend all day long talking about the negatives of those two groups of food, and I would prefer not to; I like to give positive. So that’s why I say whole, plant-based foods because plant-based foods is where it’s at. The closer we get to that kind of diet, the healthier we’re going to be.
The paleo approach is that it doesn’t aggressively promote, let’s say, the consumption of animal-based foods. They allow for the fact that you can basically consume as much as you like. It is basically a low-carb kind of derivative in a sense, and I do not agree with that. And so we can agree on some common ground here, that processed foods are a problem, obviously, but as to whole foods, I don’t see us eating whole animal foods very readily, certainly not raw which some of them want to promote. It doesn’t make sense.
The protein content, if we allow ourselves to continue to believe that protein is so important, and of course, most of us get most of our protein from animal-based foods. That is going to shut down or at least decrease substantially the consumption of plant-based foods. I don’t know, I’m not terribly comfortable.
Jonathan: Dr. Campbell, what I hear you saying, which I love and when I had the great fortune of talking to, I think, one of your professional friends, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, he also echoed the importance of whole, nutrient-dense foods and this idea of opportunity cost. If we are allowing less nutrient- dense or nutrient-poor foods crowd out more nutrient-dense foods, that’s certainly not good, and that’s what I hear you saying. There is some concern that if individuals were to eat non-nutrient-dense but still non-processed animal foods, that would be less beneficial than eating the most nutrient-dense foods. Is that fair?
Dr. Campbell: Yes. It is very similar [Inaudible 0:13:21] reflects what I think. But I will also suggest that we go back and look at the definition of what nutrition really is and what a nutrient is — an essential nutrient. An essential nutrient basically, some would argue, is both present in plants and animals. But from my perspective, having been in the field of nutrition for so long, the only nutrients that there really are, are those that we have to consume because we can’t synthesize them. They’re all from plants. I basically say that animal foods have no nutrients in them that cannot be obtained in a better form in more appropriate levels by consuming plants.
The nutrient-dense idea, I haven’t gotten too excited about either, and to be honest about it, because it allows then people to think that animal foods have lots of nutrients that are important, especially protein, if you will, or calcium and such, and that’s just not true. The level of consumption of those so-called nutrients in animal foods is an inappropriate level. And to go back to the definition, as I said, most of the powerful nutrients, the antioxidants, of course, the complex carbohydrates in plant-based foods, and fat and proteins also on appropriate levels in the right balance, and minerals and so forth and so on.
Jonathan: It’s a very fascinating point because it seems like there are — what I heard you say, correct me if I’m wrong, is that plants can provide all essential nutrients — all essential nutrients. If you ate a purely and properly formulated, completely vegan diet, you could obtain all essential nutrients, and certainly that has some backing.
What are your thoughts on, oftentimes — this just might be my personal experience — I have many vegan or vegetarian friends, and they take in such an abundance of non-essential nutrients, a.k.a. sugars and starches and they are just — wheat processed into bread, even if it’s whole wheat, does not seem to be particularly helpful at anything except maybe giving you diabetes. People will be like, “It’s plant based, so I’m doing good. I’m listening to Dr. Campbell’s advice.” What would you say to those kind of people?
Dr. Campbell: First I would say, let’s not use the words vegetarian and vegan. In The China Study for an example, we never use the word vegan once, and the word vegetarian I think was only used about once in reference to something that I was not particularly happy with. Vegetarians, you know, I didn’t get into this because I had any particular fondness for vegetarianism in those days.
In fact, I thought that movement was kind of strange to be honest about it. But it turns out that vegetarians, about 90 percent of them are still using a lot of dairy, oftentimes eggs and maybe fish and so forth. The nutrient composition of their diet — and it’s nutrient composition that really matters — the nutrient composition of their diet is not that different from the omnivore, for example, a non-vegetarian. Especially fat and protein intake, so you see a little bit of benefit but not the big time benefits I’m talking about.
Vegans, on the other hand, I just don’t like to use that word because historically most vegans became vegans because of ideological reasons. It’s good and sufficient, and I don’t want to argue with their rationale for this, but in any case, that’s not why I came to this particular point of view. Because we are not talking about veganism really, because vegans still use, just as you said, you’re absolutely right. The average fat intake in a vegan diet is up around 25 percent to 30 percent. It is not that different, and at the same time these are processed foods. The usual composition of the vegan diet is often poor, it really is.
For those two reasons, not wanting to say that what I was talking about was neither vegan nor vegetarian. I was the one who actually coined the phrase “plant-based diet.” It was when I was working with NIH at the time, on the study session, we were determining the priorities of research activities, and I had to share with some of my friends what I was talking about. I didn’t want to use the vegan-vegetarian words because it denotes some negative expression before you even start the discussion. The whole food, plant based, is an awkward set of words, obviously, but it best describes, I think, what I’m talking about. And all of my views are really based on the science and the evidence, not on ideology.
Jonathan: It certainly makes sense and I think there is this unfortunate conflation of — it seems on both sides of the coin, both on the individuals who do partake in animal foods and individuals who do not — where you have these low quality sources or food sources which contain very few essential nutrients. Like on the plant side, we’ve got our starches and our sugars, which it seems, just mathematically, do not even compare to things like vegetables and fruits in terms of providing a lot of what you do need and not so much of things you don’t need.
On the animal side, we’ve got processed, corn-fed, hormone-injected pink slime. And then we have things like wild-caught salmon. Sometimes when describing eating the most of the things you need and the least of things you don’t need with people, I hear them express some confusion in the sense that they’re like, “Well, if I focus on plant foods, can I eat those things, those starches and sweets?” They don’t seem to just get that it’s about focusing on the quality of food.
I hear you saying that it’s really important to focus on the quality of food, but in your mind, are all plant-based things equal and all animal things equal, or do you stratify within those two categories?
Dr. Campbell: I don’t sort of partition the individual foods within the categories that much because they’re very distinctive, and big differences are when comparing, let’s say, whole, plant-based foods with animal-based foods, the nutrient composition of each of those groups is substantially different, you know, as groups from one to another. We can see within the groups, individual foods, of course, have a rather substantially different concentration of this or that or some other kind of nutrients perhaps. I’d like to speak of a dietary lifestyle first off, and then talk about these whole, plant-based foods, some of which, of course, are going to be providing the majority of our energy needs, some of which are going to be more concentrated in the anti-oxidants — and as I say it’s a very important category of substances — some of which are going to be providing a lot of complex carbohydrates. They’re all good, and the right balance of minerals.
Surely, you can look at tubers, for example. Tubers are very high in carbohydrates, we know that. And maybe 98 percent to 99 percent of the total energy in a tuber, like a potato or such, is going to be the complex carbohydrates.
In that category, and by the way, it’s true that when you look at it chemically, a potato is going to a very starchy vegetable. We all know that, but the starch in that particular form as a whole food when combined with other kinds of foods, like the anti-oxidant containing foods or other sources of foods, it’s great. My diet, in terms of nutrient composition is 80-20-20. In another words, I’m talking about a diet that approaches something like 75 percent to 80 percent total carbohydrate.
Much of that, if we look at it chemically, is going to be called starch. And so I think starch is taking a bad rap in some ways, because it’s also consumed, out of the context of whole foods, and it does lead a little bit to higher, hyperglycemic response maybe than some other things. When it’s done that way, you can always put your finger on a few things that aren’t exactly what you like. But if you’re eating the whole food, and mix and match all of them, you can forget about those crazy ideas.
You don’t even need to think about the detailed information of exactly how much of this nutrient and how much of that or anything else. It just so happens that you end up consuming a diet that has approximately the right amount of protein, the right amount of fat, the right balance of minerals, and of course the right vitamins, complex carbohydrates and the rest of it. I don’t get too excited — I’m trying to make a point of that.
One of the things that got me to this idea too is that in science, we tend to want to measure things very precisely. [Inaudible 0:22:52]. We tend to actually want to know the chemical identities of things, and we want to know exactly how they function. I taught this in upper-level nutrition classes for years. I did the same thing, but then when you start to looking at the numbers a littler more carefully, what do these numbers really mean? What do these individual identities mean? They end up getting translated into, let’s say, nutrient supplements, and they get translated into dosages of an exact amount. That’s crazy. That’s what science has become unfortunately, and I’m kind of a critic of science. In my own science actually, I’ve come to know because I think the concept of holistic sort of concepts is one where we tend to pay less attention to the numbers, to the densities and things like that. We just go with the flow as far as what nature provided.
Jonathan: Two interesting points, Dr. Campbell, that you’ve said this twice and I love it. You said, “Go with the guidance that nature provided,” and earlier in our conversation you said, “As arranged by nature.” I think some individuals may get hung up on the fact that based on our teeth, based on the fact that humans are naturally omnivorous creatures.
Going with the flow in nature would entail things like, if you could eat grass-fed beef liver and wild-caught salmon, that would be acceptable. Is there a paradox there, where if we go with the flow of nature that includes whole, nutrient-dense plant foods and whole, nutrient-dense animal foods, and to do anything different, is that still in the flow of nature?
Dr. Campbell: Well, I don’t think it was really in the flow of nature for us as one species to basically be carnivorous. Sure, there are some animal-based foods that have been consumed — I think most people would agree with that, some of that — in our distant past. But at the same time, our nearest, living primate relative is only consuming between three, four, five percent or so of animal-based foods, and most of that is insects.
I know there’s been a big thing mentioned — and people feel very passionately about this — that we are hunter-gatherers. I think we are more gatherer-hunters than hunter-gatherers. I don’t mean to say that we can’t allow for some consumption, obviously, of the animal-based kingdom. On the other hand, I don’t buy the argument that somehow we know for certain that we were consumers of large amounts of animal-based foods in our past. I don’t think we were.
I’ve met a lot of palaeontologists who will argue that we didn’t do that, and the arm of the human species that drifted northward — mainly the Neanderthals, for example — they did get into more of the meat as I understand it. I’m not a paleontologist or an archaeologist by any means, but just reading the literature, they did get into more of the animal kind because they were living in the far north. They sort of had to with the winter climates, but the Homo sapiens who were more in the equatorial part of the world, in the tropical and even the temperate zones, they could easily live, and they still do, to a great extent, live on just plant-based foods.
I don’t like to make my argument based on that, because I’m getting out of water. This is not my territory. I’m really talking about it — I’d rather prefer to talk about the evidence that I know from a biochemical perspective. And from a biochemical perspective — and this is the one story I haven’t been able to tell, because a person has to be trained in biochemistry to be able to understand this. When we go inside of the cell and we see this incredibly, incredible complex biochemical reactions, and we understand how enzymes, for example, can catalyze, can control the reaction rate forwards and backwards, all these things and this marvelous way of enzymes being able to change to be able to do that, all the feedback loops and things like that.
You can go through and look at all these reactions and ask yourself, as you go through these reactions systematically. The body and cell, in this particular case, is always trying to create health. They’re trying to maintain life as they go, and then they will reproduce themselves. Donor (??) cells do the same thing. So their direction [Inaudible 0:27:40] reactions, when it’s going in a certain direction, it basically points to health.
When you just allow the cell to do what it wants to do, it goes towards health, and the substances that are used from the outside of a body to propel it in the forward direction are plant-based materials. They’re the nutrients are plants. You’ve got this marvelous collection of just almost infinite varieties and numbers of different kinds of chemicals in plants to the extent that they impact the reactions within the cell, particularly the enzyme activities that control those reactions. When you look at it from that perspective, it’s so overwhelmingly, massively, the evidence is massively in favor of consuming plant-based foods.
In fact, that is when I really started to get into that whole idea because I was raised on a farm, as you probably know, milking cows and all the rest of it. I was teaching to the contrary at the beginning part of my career. But when we really started to get into the basic science, and doing original research, and trying to understand what makes reactions goes this way or that way and how enzymes work, and how all that in relation turns into disease formation or the maintenance of health, it becomes just abundantly clear that we were largely a plant-based species. It really overwhelms any arguments to the contrary about our anatomical features. Some will argue, “Well, we had canine teeth.” We don’t have canine teeth, I can tell you, as we all know. Like a feline species. Well, its cats and to some extent the dogs, we don’t have those kind of anatomical features.
Jonathan: Yeah, certainly it seems that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that consuming a high proportion of our food from things like vegetables and fruits just has such a dramatic impact on health. I know my personal experience and everything I write about, certainly eating the vast majority of your plate being non-starchy vegetables — seems like the science supports it — is the single most important thing we can do about our health.
I’m curious, Dr. Campbell, one thing that you mentioned we have these essential nutrients and then we have non-essential nutrients, and those non-essential nutrients are often things we just need in order to fuel our bodies, such as maybe carbohydrate or fat, since our body can metabolize both. What would be your thoughts on an individual who, lets say, ate a plant-based, whole foods diet but got the majority of their calories from fibrous, whole-food plant fats such as avocados, coco and coconut. What if they were getting — because those are very calorically dense foods, but they’re also very high in essential nutrients and other photo chemicals –what if they were eating a large portion of their calories from those types of foods?
Dr. Campbell: Well, I would find that somewhat problematic. I’m not sure that people do subsist on diets largely made up of, let’s say, avocado or coconuts or nuts, if you will, all of which are, as you know, quite high in fat on the one hand. On the other hand, I believe that all those foods can be consumed in, and I hate to use the word moderation, but I think we all simply know what that sort of means. And the interesting thing about those foods that are high in fat that some warn against, which I don’t — in any case, the fat that is stored in those foods, especially in the case of nuts, for example, the plant actually, when it was forming seeds as well as the nuts, well, actually nuts in particular, they were basically saving up a lot of energy, ready to go in a sense with the next generation of plants. So they stored it as fat. They stored this energy as fat, and that in turn has a certain composition to it. And it also has a tendency, over time, to become rancid, to become oxidized. We know that too because it’s the chemical structure of fats.
What nature did, I am speaking almost like a teratological (??) believer but not quite. What was accomplished was that they actually stored a lot of anti-oxidants with those fats. I think it’s not coincidental that nuts, for example, have quite a lot of vitamin E. It’s a good source of vitamin E, and say these anti-oxidants stored with the fats in order to protect it.
Again going back to nature, even for the high fat or high oil kinds of plant foods, you asked me the question whether we should consume or not, I see nothing wrong with consuming some of those foods as long as they’re in moderation because when we’re consuming the fat in that form, we’re getting complex carbohydrates that come along with it. We’re getting lots of anti-oxidants. We’re also getting a good supply and the right balance of minerals. So, I don’t see anything wrong with that. People tend to want to argue this food is good food, that is bad food, kind of thing. But, I eat nuts myself.
Jonathan: Well, I love the point you made there about people want to argue about this versus that, and one thing that I loved about the title of your new book is — we’ve already talked about it, it’s called the Whole. It obviously then has the connotation of focusing on eating whole foods. What is your thought — it seems, and correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like the single worst — and this also seems supported by the data in the wonderful China-Cornell-Oxford project is that these processed non-foods, and things like beer and cigarettes — just these edible substances that come along with the western diet — are certainly terrible.
Basically, if you could eat food instead of eating those, you would be dramatically healthier. What are your thoughts on, because right now, it seems that there is so much time spent on arguing which foods are good and which foods are bad when we all agree that non-foods are bad, and that still makes up the vast majority of the western diet. Do you think there is anything to be gained by us stopping arguing about which actual foods are good versus bad and saying non-foods are the worst. Let’s unite on not eating those and then if you want to go a level deeper, we can go from there. What do you think?
Dr. Campbell: Well, that’s not a bad idea. I rather like it. It requires a very careful definition for what is a non-food, and how do you decide?
Jonathan: Let’s say you couldn’t find it in nature. Let’s say it’s not available in nature.
Dr. Campbell: Okay. In other words, something synthetic, processed, if you will.
Jonathan: Yeah, something that requires anything more than cutting or cooking basically.
Dr. Campbell: Right, right. Yeah, that’s a reasonably good thought and I can go along with that. I don’t want to eat non-foods. I want to eat food. For me, you know, food is really whole, if you will. Obviously, it’s that nature packaged it all together and worked on it for a few million years, I might add. So, in the natural laboratory it took a long time for these arrangements to be put together to as they have been. That sound of that phone doesn’t bother you…
Jonathan: That’s a non-food sound. See, in nature, you wouldn’t hear that.
Dr. Campbell: Yeah, that’s a non-food sound. Well, we’re onto common ground there on that one, on the non-food thing. At the same time, I have to say, I may sound like a purist to a lot of people and the way I like to say it is that a whole food, plant-based diet, for me, is the goal. I like the word “goal.” I don’t want to just come down really hardnosed about this. It’s the goal to reach for and the closer we get to it, the healthier we are going to be. I honor the step that everyone takes as they approach that goal.
And one of the reasons I set that as goal is not just because of the empirical data I’m familiar with and also the [Inaudible 0:36:36] if you will. It’s also the fact that once we get there, our taste preferences change. That’s a big deal. That is a really big deal. It’s not been talked about very much, and that is to say that when we are consuming the typical American diet, high in fat, salt and sugar, at least for salt and for fat — there is pretty good evidence of this in the literature — we get addicted to those things to the extent that we demand them. We consume ever higher quantities, and so there’s been some research to show that when people switch from a high fat or high salt type of diet to what should be the normal one that’s normally provided by plant-based foods, it may take a month or two or so to basically get rid of that addiction. I mean, it really is a physiological addiction response. Once you get past that, then you can taste it and you have some new tastes, and they’re lovely. It’s just a different experience.
Jonathan: Absolutely. I would add to that list because the research is certainly as compelling. We talk about the three things that food manufacturers like to subjugate us with, and you mentioned fat and salt, certainly it’s processed, unnatural fats and unnatural salts and then also sugar. Right?
Dr. Campbell: Of course.
Jonathon: We do not become addicted to fruits when they’re in the whole package. Dr. Campbell, I mean I know so much of the conversation nowadays is a bit like you have these people who understand that food is really where it’s at. As you said, as arranged by nature, it’s about food. The more we can eat food, the better off we’ll be. The less food we eat, the more non- food we eat, the worst off we’ll be. So much time is spent basically on which is the best food debate that the other 99 percent of the population that’s still getting 60 percent of their calories from non-food is just like, “I’m confused. I’m going to step away.”
Do you think there is a future where we just say, “Okay. Stop. Eat food.” Let’s all just agree that like these manufactured processed sugars, and these trans fats and these — it’s like smoking. Until we can get people to understand that smoking is bad for you, nothing else really matters. I mean, do you think there is a future where we can see like a Palaeolithic type person and a T. Colin Campbell like joining forces to say, “Eat food first. Once you do that, we can talk, but do that first.” What do you think?
Dr. Campbell: Yeah sure. I like the debate. I don’t shy away from the debate at all. I’ll make my case for what I tend to believe and if others want to tweak it a little bit and say it a little bit differently, that’s fine too. We will keep on working towards that end. I think the key that really has been missing in our narrative is the fact that nutrition, as a subject, as a discipline, is a scientific discipline.
The subject of nutrition, although much discussed by the public and the public is very interested in this concept on what is nutrition, of course, the problem is the professions don’t take it seriously. Medical schools don’t teach nutrition as a discipline. There is not a school in the country that really teaches nutrition adequately. There are a few that have an elected course on nutrition and maybe some hours, 10, 20, 30 hours or something. That’s really nothing compared to getting really good training on nutrition.
The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge the fact that nutrition is a very powerful natural force, if you will. It’s a really interesting concept. Let’s teach it, number one. Number two, let’s also say that the government needs to get a little busy and acknowledge the fact that nutrition is that important.
As far as policy is concerned, they need to understand really what to do. I speak from firsthand experience on that because I spent about 20 years involved in development of national policy in the area of diet and health policy. I know the inside of it like the back of my hand, I guess, and I saw — in fact, and it still works, that the [Inaudible 0:50:49] of the corporate sector — the food industry, the drug industry and the medical industry — they’re trying to protect their interests. Much of the information that the public gets really is coming from those sectors. It’s not coming from a considerate discussion of what really is nutrition. It’s not taught in medical schools either, so the public, unfortunately, is the unwitting victims of this massive lack of good information. It’s terrible.
Our book Whole, I could have been going down that track and told them about the whole lifetime of experiences I’ve had with, let’s say, the corporate sector or even the government, you know, the role they play in it too. It would’ve been a very negative sort of expose of stuff, and I don’t particularly want to do that. I’d rather talk about the positive ideas and then try to figure out how all of us as a society, whether we’re professionals or not, is there some kind of narrative that we can kind of agree on. I think that the concept of Whole is really where it’s at, which in turn is that’s what nutrition is. Nutrition is a holistic science.
Pharmacology is a reductionist science, one thing at a time. A lot of people want to turn nutrition into a reduction science, and that’s what’s happened, a lot of it, make nutritious supplements and they don’t work and things like that. I am sorry for this really long answer, but I think if we can just agree to have a civil discussion about the facts and not get caught up in, you know, trying to protect some particular industry or even for that matter protecting our cultural past.
Jonathan: Absolutely. Well certainly, Dr. Campbell, I think the listeners can and I personally appreciate a lot of what you just said in terms of government needing to get involved here, us needing to think about nutrition as a viable path in medicine. The fact that that’s even being discussed to me seems almost disgusting because it seems so obviously true that — it seems like there is this need for unity because of those things you just discussed. It’s like everybody who doesn’t have a vested interest in the status quo continuing agrees.
I crave the day when we can all come together, everyone who believes in the power of nutrition. Maybe we don’t have the same beliefs about how to get — it’s almost like religion in some sense. We all kind of agree that you shouldn’t kill people and that lying is probably not optimal, so let’s just all work together to help anyone, any corporation, any major entity that is doing these things which are just unambiguously bad. I crave the day when we can focus on combating that and combating these billboards I see all around my home now which says, “Coca Cola, it’s only 140 calories a can.” Both you and the Marxists (??) or Loren Cordains of the world would find so many problems with that, but yet that’s what…
Dr. Campbell: I do too, yes.
Jonathon: Anyway, I don’t know. Maybe someday we can create a “We Are the World” kind of video and unite around those kinds of things.
Dr. Campbell: Right, right, find a common ground.
Jonathan: Absolutely. Well Dr. Campbell, I know you’re a very busy man and we’ve gone over our time here. I just want to thank you again for sharing your time with us today and folks, obviously there is no shortage of information out there. Dr. Campbell’s book The China Study has sold so many copies, they probably lost track by now, so check that out. Also check out…
Dr. Campbell: Actually, it’s well over a million now, that’s what they tell me.
Jonathan: Oh goodness. Well, congratulations. That’s amazing, and his new book Whole is out, and certainly he’s got his foundation which you can learn more about on TColinCampbell.org. While Dr. Campbell and myself may not agree on everything as we talked about here, certainly these key things, the things that are killing our friends and family, which is eating too much non-food and not eating enough food, we agree on.
Dr. Campbell: Right, absolutely. Absolutely.
Jonathan: Dr. Campbell, I so appreciated your time today. I will follow up with an email afterwards because I’d love to have you back on the show, and I wish you a wonderful week.
Dr. Campbell: Thank you for having me.
Note: Please read our unity mini-manifesto before listening to this show.
This week we have the pleasure of hearing from a biochemist who specializes in the effect of nutrition on long-term health…T. Colin Campbell.
He is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University and the author of over 300 research papers. Campbell advocates a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet, and is the author of two books on the subject, The China Study (2005, co-authored with his son), which became one of America’s best-selling books about nutrition, and Whole (2013). Campbell featured in the 2011 American documentary, Forks Over Knives.
Campbell was one of the lead scientists in the 1980s of the China-Oxford–Cornell study on diet and disease, set up in 1983 by Cornell University, the University of Oxford, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine to explore the relationship between nutrition and cancer, heart and metabolic diseases.
Today we chat about coming together on enabling whole nutrient dense foods to heal that which ails us 🙂