Nutrition is one of the areas where normally rational people (such as the typical HN reader) go totally off the deep end and rely on superstition, hearsay, herd mentality, group think, and whimsy. In general, most people (including people who are otherwise quite rational) do exactly what advertisers and corporate sponsors want when it comes to nutrition.
There was a huge bombshell study a few years ago, documented in the book "The China Study" on the western diet (by a guy from Cornell). It should have made headlines. People should have thrown their meat and dairy into the garbage immediately... but nothing happened.
Instead, ostensibly "health conscious" people convince themselves that there are "good fats" and ask themselves if they are getting enough protein.
Most Americans are overweight and will end up with obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, or colon cancer. Most vegetarians are overweight, pallid, and sick-looking (b/c they eat so much "good fat" -- more fat than McDonalds aficionados eat!).
What it means for a human to eat optimally is well known and has been backed up by rigorous scientific research... why hasn't it made headlines? Because in this case it's too much work to think critically... it's not easy going against the grain of an entire society built upon destructive mythology with the nutrition establishment telling us to eat according to a harmful food pyramid, etc.
So the whole "nutrition" industry is focused on convincing people that health is obtained by consuming or avoiding magic ingredients like "Omega 3s" or "turmeric" or "trans fats" or "mono unsaturated fats" or "whole grains" or "protein". All of this is at best minimally correlated or patently false.
What's the difficult truth that nobody wants to hear? Animal protein causes disease. That means no meat, fish, milk, etc. The optimal human diet is plant based and should contain 80% carbs (as much of this unrefined as possible), 10% protein, and 10% fat). Fresh fruit has a few percent fat already, so very little extra fat is needed, even if it's so-called "good fat".
If you're skeptical, read The China Study and then raid your fridge and cure your future cancer immediately :)
1) humans can survive on lots of things including meats, cardboard, etc. b/c we evolved to survive in extreme conditions/habitats. That does not mean that all things we can digest are optimal for health. Also, it is trivial for any modern human to obtain sufficient calories only from optimal foods.
2) link to book (well worth the $10, read the reviews on Amazon):
I'd rather live well on delicious foods and most likely die in my 70s, than worry about this and derive satisfaction from pride in piety and devotion to some food religion.
And for the record, I'm not obese, nor am I overweight (BMI of 21). But I'll be damned if I'm going to give up one of the greatest sources of pleasure I have ever known just to eke out a few more years on this planet.
We're also not talking about being old and immobile... you could feasibly enjoy an excellent quality of life in your 90s and beyond. Think of it... you could get a Ph.D at 80 if you wanted to, while your contemporaries had been dead for around a decade.
You also may not realize this, but eating optimally offers immediate, pleasurable benefits. How would you like 25% more energy, vitality, and endurance? How would you like a more sharply focused mind?
Mind and body are one... you can't expect to experience true pleasure if you neglect either one.
He is likely the foremost nutritional researcher, not only of our time, but of history. The work he and his team did in the decades-long China Study research has not been paralleled.
Some of the notable discoveries they made was that a particular protein found in dairy products, casein, enabled tumor growth. When removed from the diet, the tumors stopped.
A similar tumor on/off mechanism was found with regards to the percentage of calories from protein in the diet. When the protein went over a certain threshold, tumor growth was enabled, but not at the lower levels.
Excellent summary of his work, btw. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for him professionally to have exhibited all the courage he did in going against the status quo only to remain in relative obscurity.
I guess great insights sometimes don't catch on right away.
This was before the China Study research, and I do not know if it was covered in the book, but he talks about this in at least one talk that is available online.
I think this is the talk here:
In addition to being sincere and extremely knowledgable about his subject matter, a characteristic of T. Colin Campbell is that, despite the respect and acclaim (more so in recent years) he has garnered, he comes across as quite humble.
I must confess it is a pretty frustrating task to try and gain a well-informed, well-balanced general understanding of nutrition with an accompanying good idea of "what to eat". I've become pretty interested in the subject of late and in my research came across another source, Gary Taubes, whose theory I thought was pretty damn compelling. Unfortunately, the Campbell position seems pretty much directly opposed to the Taubes hypothesis.
I have no idea what to think. If anyone can point me to a fair, informed criticism of either or both, by someone who knows what they are talking about and is not obviously writing in defense of some preconceived partisan allegiance, I would be delighted to read it.
Right now I would say I find Taubes more convincing, simply because I tend to mistrust any statistics I didn't do myself. There could be any number of factors causing the strong correlations Campbell is graphing; without the full data they are close to useless.
I'm only in the introduction now, but something on page 4 struck me:
More than forty years ago, at the beginning of my career, I would have never guessed that food is so closely related to health problems.
Contrast that to a popular saying in Japan, 医食同源: medicine and food have the same origin. Compare that to the common refrain, that the difference between medicine and poison is the dose.
I find it hard to believe that Western societies have always overlooked the relationship between diet and health. Perhaps it is a recent phenomenon. When did we lose our wisdom?
And, per the line you mention, the established view at the time was that the cure for worldwide malnutrition, etc, was to figure out better ways of producing protein. This was actually what TCC was trying to do initially in his research before he discovered that animal protein causes health problems.
Notice that today everything is marketed as a health food. I was watching TV earlier and saw a commercial for "Sunny D" that essentially sells it (yucky orange flavored sugar water) as a health food :)
One note: The first bit of the book is a bit sensational, but stick with it -- the claims are all nicely substantiated.
He who does not know food, how can he understand the diseases of man?
...so that answers half my question.
I'm about a third of the way through now. I found the chapters on animal protein and the China Study very interesting and well presented.
Thank you very much. I've read a bit online re: diets, nutrition and health, and Campbell presents a very compelling argument for vegetarianism, or at least very moderate consumption of meat.
It occurs to me that traditionally cured meats have a much stronger taste, and naturally lend themselves to lower levels of consumption--just a little for flavoring, the same way one would use blue cheese. I wonder if there's more to it.
I would guess that if you're going to eat meat, eating small quantities is probably far better than eating larger quantities. Maybe at some point there will be a more detailed epidemiological study that can tell us if small quantities of meat cause proportionally less harm.
As omnivores, do we share any of these processes, or are we really just herbivores that have become omnivores through cooking?
Do you know of any research in this area?
Any species has some set of foods it is capable of digesting. The set of such foods is a function of the environment in which the species has evolved.
All of these specializations/tradeoffs of an organism's design (fangs, intestinal tract length, stomach composition, etc.) are a function of the species' unique evolutionary environmental history, and should be viewed as optimizations over past environmental factors.
There is also the important factor of calorie scarcity as a driver of selection -- through most of evolutionary time, simply getting enough calories was paramount for all species, including the human species. Also note that there is significantly greater selection pressure for characteristics that facilitate survival through reproductive age even at the expense of overall longevity... so being able to eat (or even craving) a food that causes disease at age 60 historically offered a benefit well through the reproductive age and thus offered a net selection advantage.
So, if one takes the list of foods a species is capable of eating and removes the notion of calorie scarcity, one can determine which foods are most optimal for vitality and longevity...
Most of the arguments for why humans should eat meat, fats, etc., are based on the implicit assumption of calorie/nutrient scarcity. Of course if you're stranded in the arctic it's a great idea to eat some seal blubber... and it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective to crave it or to enjoy the smell of cooking meat.
But when you're living in an advanced, rich society with essentially no calorie/nutrient scarcity, it becomes possible (and fun) to address the question of optimal nutrition.