The China Study and Forks Over Knives: Is Vegetarianism Healthier For You?

Have you seen Forks over Knives yet? It’s a documentary that, according to their website:

Examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.

The film is predominantly based on the lengthy research of Dr. T. Colin Campbell most of which was published in a book called The China Study.

I’m sure you have heard of the China Study, but have you had a chance to read it? Honestly, it has taken me quite a few attempts, but after having an in depth discussion with a patient last week regarding her concern over eating animal products, I dug back in.

In the book, Dr. Campbell tells of his life and of how he came to start researching whether or not animal protein causes cancer in the 1960’s. From his original studies, conducted on lab rats, his theory is: animal protein (not plant protein) triggers cancer to turn “on” in the body.

Does that statement worry you? I’m a die-hard omnivore (and a converted vegetarian) and I have to say, I wanted to know more.

Before I read the China Study, my first thoughts upon hearing about Dr. Campbell’s research went something like this:

What was the quality of animal protein he used to determine this finding? Obviously, we know that the quality of animal protein varies dramatically from commercial farms to grass-fed farms. What about the pesticide loads? What type of protein did he use? How much protein was fed to the lab rats he used?

And, then I got into his research and found out something astonishing– Dr. Campbell’s early laboratory research clearly did not study the effect of ALL animal protein–he only studied the effect of milk protein, called casein on lab rats. And, what’s worse, he used a powdered, processed form of casein on his subjects.

My next thought: Well, of course the animals had an increased incidence of cancer. They were being fed a diet of processed milk protein.

I then went to a blog that I follow regularly, The Daily Lipid. It is put up by a brilliant young scientist, Chris Masterjohn. Chris has gone over the China Study extensively (much more extensively than myself) and I want to share with you his thoughts on Dr. Campbell’s early research,

Other questions, such as what effect different types of processing have on casein’s capacity to promote tumor growth, remain unanswered. Pasteurization, low-temperature dehydration, high-temperature spray-drying (which creates carcinogens), and fermentation all affect the structure of casein differently and thereby would affect its physiological behavior.

My thoughts exactly. And, if you watched Forks over Knives, they make a strong argument (which I couldn’t agree more with) for avoiding processed, unnatural foods. Yet, the premise of this “animal protein causes cancer” theory that Dr. Campbell has purported is based on a processed form of milk protein. Hmmm.

Again to quote Mr. Masterjohn,

What powdered, isolated casein does to rats tells us little about what traditionally consumed forms of milk will do to humans and tells us nothing that we can generalize to all “animal nutrients”.

But, this milk protein lab rat research was only the beginning. The actual China Study part came in the 1980’s when Dr. Campbell–moving forward with his animal protein causes cancer theory– headed up a very large epidemiological study in China. During his time in China, he and his team collected data from a total of 6,500 adults by way of questionnaires, direct observation and blood samples.

Now, when it comes to breaking down for you how Dr. Campbell obtained his data and made his “scientific” assessments, I don’t want to reinvent the wheel as there have been quite a few stellar reviews of The China Study. So, if you’re interested, please take yourself to the following two reviews:

1. Chris Masterjohn’s review on his blog: TheDailyLipid (this review is of the film Forks over Knives, but there are links to Chris’ previous reviews of the China Study that are well worth the read)

2. Denis Minger’s review on her blog: RawFoodSOS.com

But, to briefly sum it up: the assumptions that Dr. Campbell made regarding animal protein and its cause of cancer were purely assumptions. Dare I say they were assumptions made by a scientist who is extremely devoted to finding evidence to support his theory. And, sadly Dr. Campbell fell victim an issue that afflicts many scientists: he manipulated his data to support his theory.

That may sound harsh, but I’m late to the game when it comes to the above statement. However, you can do your own research here and draw your own conclusions. But the bottom line is– a ton of data was left out of his results and the data he presents is not scientifically derived.

So, now that I’ve thrown too much information at you. Let’s discuss what I think about animal protein…

I think it’s an imperative piece to our diet. I think everything in moderation (so cliche, I know). I think if we were meant to eat a vegetarian diet we would have 4 chambered stomach like the other herbivores. And, personally I was a vegetarian for 5 years and I feel much healthier on meat. That’s not to say it’s for everyone. And, I respect the rights we have as individuals to choose the diet that works best for us. However, from a purely professional, clinical and nutritional standpoint–animal protein is the most nutrient dense food we can ingest.

And, lastly (finally! ha!) my opinion of the movie, Forks over Knives…

The one thing I really loved was how the health of those followed in the movie improved dramatically when they changed their diet. Life was given back to people who had zero quality of life. People who were ill got better. Diseases like type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol were rectified. And, that is amazing. I see results like that in my clinic too. But, I don’t see it as a side effect of avoiding animal protein, I see it as a side effect of avoiding processed foods. Forks over Knives definitely drives home the point that we need to get back to eating foods that are as close to their natural state as possible and of course I agree. However, I’m sticking to my guns: animal protein does not cause an increase in cancer. There is no science out there supporting this notion.

If you haven’t already, take some time and check out the reviews I linked to above. And, if you have even more time watch Forks over Knives. But don’t be swayed into a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle–instead be convinced that eating wholesome, nutrient dense foods that are as close to their natural state as possible will bring you optimal health.

The end.

2 thoughts on “The China Study and Forks Over Knives: Is Vegetarianism Healthier For You?

  1. There was a study done once on the toxicity of different meats, which I think would be totally helpful to point out. It found that there is a direct correlation with the Biblical clean/unclean delineation (that is, pig meat is very toxic and lamb is not very toxic, for example). Toxic was defined as, paraphrasing here: "killing or prohibiting the growth of the culture it was introduced into". Whatever that means for cancer, I don't know.

    There was also a study done on cereal grasses, which actually found that in a certain stage of growth (at the time you usually juice them) they have an equivalent or better nutritional profile than all major vegetables and even chicken — including, shockingly, protein.

    You can find the references to these studies in the book Patient Heal Thyself by Jordan Rubin.

    My theory on meat eating is that originally we all ate plants — even tigers — but over time the species that were more capable of eating meats (can you imagine an elephant trying to hunt? it just wouldn't work) did so for various reasons and their bodies adapted to that lifestyle.

    Since the dawn of industrial agriculture, the quality of our edible plant life has gone down so drastically that we aren't able to get what we need from plants and are in many cases forced to either eat insane amounts or add animal products and/or concentrated supplements. It's pretty sad.

    I am definitely all for unprocessed/organically grown food of the best quality and variety you can obtain in as close to the original form as possible. But we can only do so much. Good luck, everyone!

  2. Dear Aimee, First let me say that I read your book 'Live Clean to be Strong and Stay Sexy'- which I might add I enjoyed alot and passed along to a few friends and still go back and re-read parts of your fabulous book.My point in writing is I feel in your blog about Forks Over Knives you should also point out that you DO agree with their belief that dairy should be avoided —Page 99 of your book… 'Dairy:IT DOES THE BODY BAD!'Upon reading your book and watching Forks Over Knives, I gave up the dairy- and am SO glad I did. I also believe as you do on the protein, and eat poultry, eggs and fish—just no beef, as my body just cant digest it…anyhow, hope to see a new book from you in the future, just wanted to make the dairy point—

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