Recently I’ve been asked if I’ve read a book called “The China Study.” I haven’t, and I don’t intend to. Why? Because I already know it’s an entire book making the case for vegetarianism and veganism, and that’s all I really need to know about it.
Now I want to be clear this is not intended to criticize or offend my vegan and vegetarian friends. If it works for you, and you are truly healthier and happier with that choice, that’s great. While I completely respect individual diet/nutrition beliefs, I should feel comfortable and free to explain my beliefs as well.
First off, what I do like about “The China Study” is that it promotes a diet high in whole plant foods — vegetables and fruits. We should all try to eat 10 servings or more daily. This is not some far-out notion and very few people can eat too much of these foods.
The China Study also asserts there is a corporate conspiracy to sell you unhealthy foods, and I also believe that to be the case. I just don’t think it’s necessarily all about animal products.
I view “The China Study” the same way I view a long line of other sensational diet plans, starting with the Pritikin books in the 1980s, and leading up more recently to “The Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution.” Oddly, no book called “The Balanced Diet” ever seems to make the bestseller list.
A major premise of “The China Study” is that consuming animal foods raises cholesterol, and therefore increases the risk for disease. This is not a scientific slam-dunk — in fact, the largest and longest-running medical study ever conducted on actual human beings, The Framingham Heart Study, actually found those who ate the most cholesterol and saturated fat had the lowest serum cholesterol levels, weighed the least and were the most physically active. Additionally, studies have shown high-carbohydrate programs actually can raise cholesterol levels.
Attributing higher rates of disease in Americans to the fact that Americans eat more meat and animal foods than rural Chinese people does not take into account many other factors. Americans also eat much more sugar, wheat, corn, soy, and much higher levels of omega-6 fats like vegetable, corn, soy and safflower oils. Americans also eat fewer vegetables and fruits and are largely more sedentary than rural Chinese residents.
In our society, while rates of disease have increased, consumption of animal foods has actually decreased over the decades since the 1930s. Consumption of cereal grain foods and sugar however has increased. Perhaps more importantly, consumption of omega-6 vegetable fats has increased a whopping 400 percent by some estimates.
Consuming high levels of omega-6 fats has been linked to almost every disease we know, mainly because it contributes to increased chronic inflammation and free-radical oxidation in the body.
There’s an omega-6 twist to animal food products as well. Americans eat animal foods almost exclusively from animals fed high amounts of grain in factory farming facilities. Feeding grain to animals such as cattle radically changes the fat profile, raising the level of omega-6 fat to 10 times higher than normal.
Animals raised exclusively on grass and other forage, on the other hand, contain much lower levels of omega-6 fat, and also much higher levels of health-enhancing omega-3 fat, known to reduce inflammation.
Another premise of “The China Study” is that animal-based foods feed cancer cells and tumors. Vegans know the body can build complete protein, just like that from animal foods, from various amino acids found in plant foods. So animal protein feeds cancer but identical protein made from plants doesn’t? I fail to see the logic.
While some people can do well on a vegetarian diet, it’s difficult for many people to meet individual protein needs from plant foods without overeating from the carbohydrate group. For example, to get 8 grams of protein from bread, you have to eat more than 50 grams of carbohydrate. Typically, about half of carbohydrates consumed are directly converted to fat and stored. For those who are insulin resistant, the amount may be even higher.
Many also turn to soy foods to meet protein needs, and the many potential health problems associated with eating large amounts of soy products, especially highly processed soy, are now evident.
I have many friends who are longtime vegetarians. Some have functional health problems. A few have battled serious health issues, ranging from macular degeneration to thyroid cancer. It’s clear none of this was caused by eating meat.
The root of most dysfunction is imbalance. What’s worked for me for many years has been a diet high in vegetables and fruit. I also eat high-quality animal-based foods including eggs, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, wild game, wild fish, yogurt and cheese, and whole cream. I keep grain-based and soy foods to a minimum, especially things made from refined grains. And I avoid omega-6 vegetable oils.
Diet is a powerful component in staying healthy, but it’s only part of the equation. Physical exercise, managing stress levels and especially environmental factors also play big roles. In fact, if someone wants to do another “China Study,” the relationship of disease to all the plastic stuff we import from there might tell us more.