Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Some Thoughts on The China Study

Every 2 years I am required to do 16 hours of continuing education to keep up my accreditation as a Nutritionist.  This year I did my hours on The China Study, by Dr's. Collin and Thomas Campbell.  I read several reviews of the Study first and most of them said that it is impossible to read the Campbells' book and not radically change the way you eat.   In a nutshell, the China Study demonstrates a disturbing link between the consumption of animal products - in particular cow's milk - and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even multiple sclerosis.  I was impressed with the way the research was conducted and found it difficult to argue with the doctors' conclusions.  

After having gone through chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer, I asked my oncologist if there was anything I could do in terms of my diet to help prevent a recurrence and he said to avoid beef.  I haven't touched it in almost 11 years.  Along with beef, I cut down my consumption of milk fat, drinking only an occasional cup of skim milk and eating primarily low-fat or fat-free cheeses.  Because my heart was damaged by one of the chemo drugs, my cardiologist advised that I follow a low-fat diet, and I have been trying to keep my daily fat intake to around 15% of total calories consumed, an amount significantly lower than the 30% "recommended daily percentage".  I have not had a French fry or any other deep fried food in years, and have avoided all ooey-gooey desserts.  As for meat, on days that I consume it, I try to limit my intake to lean skinless poultry, and an occasional pork tenderloin.  Since I was raised on lamb, I also allow myself a lamb chop or braised lamb shank every now and then.  So...did reading The China Study result in my radically altering my diet?   Yes and no.

Following the diet recommended by The China Study means giving up all animal products - anything with egg, milk, cheese, fish, or meat.  With allergies to many nuts, and sensitivities to foods such as raw tomatoes, peppers, and salad greens that have not been washed multiple times, this would make an already difficult diet even harder to keep.  So I am starting by making small changes.  I will eat meat less often than I was (from 5 to 2 or 3 days a week) and will limit those meats to lean poultry and, very rarely, lamb.   I try to eat the recommended 35+ grams of fiber per day, and keep my grains whole.  I have also replaced skim milk with Almond Milk once again  (an exception being my "skim" chai latte from Starbucks).  Maybe after I am an empty-nester next year, I will more strictly adhere to the diet recommended in The China Study, with meat and dairy being "special treats".   But I'm still not sure. 

If you read the book, you will note that milk fat is the main culprit in inducing the above-noted diseases, and that those cultures that eat no animal products (or very few of them) tend to be healthier overall.  Dr. Campbell makes no distinction between full fat and fat-free dairy and I tend to believe that the unhealthy components of dairy are found in the milk fat.  Doctor Campbell also failed to mention that the Mediterranean diet - one rich in fish, yogurt, goat's cheese and lamb, as well as many fresh fruits and vegetables -  has also been found to be extremely healthy and linked to long life.  I think the emphasis needs to be in eliminating junk and processed foods from our diets, as well as fried foods and foods high in saturated fats.   A diet that does this and includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will be one that combines the best of both worlds.