I finally finished my first real book of the new year. The China Study was given to me by a second cousin over the holiday. She works in nutrition and has some experience of her own that gives her opinion significant weight in my eyes. Not only was she born with a heart abnormality that makes it impossible for her to work out (aside from going for walks), she was also diagnosed with cancer around my age and sent home with a death sentence. Here she is, well into her 50s, and healthier than ever. How did she get rid of cancer when the doctors said there was nothing she could do? Nutrition.
That’s the short of the story. She lent me this book after a lengthy discussion about health and told me it is the most important book on nutrition anyone can read. Since she works in nutrition, her office is a library of various health books. Out of all of them, this is the one she singled out as paramount.
I love this book! For starters, I wouldn’t classify it as a diet book. Campbell is not preachy and doesn’t even make a suggestion about what the reader should do about diet until the end. In this way, I feel like I was allowed to come to my own conclusions before he ever made a suggestion. It gave the reader a sense of control over interpretation of the information.
The China Study is a well-known study which Campbell participated in, however, discussion around this study takes up very little of the book. Most of the book is about all the other research, spanning decades, which found similar results to his own. Certainly there are dissenters to the studies he cites, which would be a problem if he didn’t call them all out. He always mentions critics to the studies he praises and addresses their merit (or lack thereof).
Even more impressive to me was how he made science and government policy make sense. There isn’t a stone he left unturned. He mentions the moral issues of animal studies. He mentions the companies financially backing studies. He goes into how science, medicine and government work in synergy to create the world as we know it.
Campbell goes into our infatuation with specific ingredients in our food. We add vitamin C here, remove fat there and use calorie free sweeteners. The core problem he addresses with all these is that we focus on one thing. Repeatedly, he discusses how everything we put in out mouths are made up of many different chemicals. When they enter our body, they will be interacting with multiple intricate systems. Focusing on one element, like vitamin C, ignores how those complex chemical reactions affect how the body uses the nutrient.
Depending on where you are in life, this book has the potential to frighten and empower. Time and time again, with each study, we see the detrimental effects of our society and, yet, we are not given a death sentence. The answer is easy and so old that Campbell quotes Plato at the end of the book. Even he knew the answer: eat fruits and vegetables. By that, Campbell and Plato don’t mean you should eat a coup of broccoli with your steak. They mean that the vast majority of what you eat should be plants.
After reading The China Study, I feel more at ease with food. I’m not obsessing over calories or wondering if I’m missing something. Moreover, it has put concepts of carcinogens and contamination at ease. I will mention one study here that I found more fascinating than all the rest. They did a study on rats where they were able to literally turn cancer on and off regardless of carcinogenic level. Some rats were given small amounts of carcinogens while others were saturated with far more than you or I will ever experience. The amount of harmful chemicals (in this study) had no effect on cancer. What it did do is create the DNA for cancer formation, but that did not determine whether or not that gene was expressed. By changing one aspect of the rats’ diets, they turned cancer on or off. When feed one way, there was 0 instances of cancer. When fed the other way, there was cancer in 100% of the rats! Do you realize how crazy that is? 100% almost never happens in science.
In further studies, they were able turn cancer off as well. By that, I mean that they let the cancer progress in some rats. It didn’t matter what stage their cancer was at. They still only had to change that one element and the cancer dissipated. How crazy amazing is that? I’m not trying to say this study is a holy grail, just that the study itself is fascinating. There’s no other like it.
That’s how I would describe this book as well. There is no other like it. It was very well thought out and didn’t seem slanted. That isn’t to say that I lack a healthy amount of skepticism, I just don’t feel like he left anything out. Every time I thought to myself “yeah, but what about…,” he’d address the exact question on the next page (if not the next paragraph). To me, this gives his research and ideas credit.
The last thing that I liked about this book was that is pulled together and explained a lot of famous studies that I had thought of separately up to now. You get the big picture of nutrition in this book with everything you need to take charge.
- Good, well thought out research
- Explained the who, what, where, when and why of science so you could understand what was happening
- Explained how science, government and industry relate to each other
- Wasn’t preachy
- Leaves you feeling empowered
- Took me a while to read through all the science and stats.