(I’m probably the last blogger to arrive at this party, but just in case you’re not already aware of it …)
I frequently receive comments and emails from vegetarians who tell me that if I’d just read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, I’d see the error of my ways and start counseling everyone to live on a plant-based diet with as few animal foods as possible. I usually reply that since Dr. Weston A. Price observed amazingly healthy people all over the globe — most of whom lived on diets rich in seafood, animal fats, and animal protein — I don’t really care what The China Study says, especially since I’m not Chinese.
Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Neal Bernard also cite The China Study while exhorting their TV audiences to stop eating meats and animal fats. Considering that I became leaner, stronger and more energetic after giving up grains and eating more animal fat (not to mention improving my blood-sugar and lipid profiles), once again, I don’t really care what The China Study says. (And I’m increasingly convinced that Drs. Oz and Bernard are what Larry, Moe and Curly would describe as “intelligent imbeciles.” They both, for example, seem to think hydrogenated trans fats and natural saturated fats are identical.)
I’ve read critiques of The China Study before, but a young blogger recently posted her own, and it’s a thing of beauty. As I’ve mentioned in a few posts, my college physics professor told us, “Learn math. Math is how you know when they’re lying to you.” Denise Minger, who blogs about diet and nutrition from a raw-foods perspective, knows math — and that’s how she knows T. Colin Campbell is lying to us.
Okay, she’s actually too polite to call Campbell a liar. And given her talent for number-crunching and logic, she doesn’t have to … instead, she takes the data from his own study and smacks him around with it. She also drives home a point I frequently try to make on this blog: associations are just that — associations. They don’t necessarily tell us about cause and effect.
For example, Campbell cites statistics showing that people who eat green vegetables frequently have lower rates of heart disease. His conclusion: vegetables protect against heart disease. Minger digs into the data and shows us that while eating vegetables frequently (especially year-round) is associated with a lower rate of heart disease, there’s no such association with simply eating a LOT of vegetables. The difference, as she explains, is probably due to geography — the people who eat vegetables frequently live in the southern regions of China:
If green vegetables themselves were protective of heart disease, as Campbell seems to be implying, we would expect their anti-heart-disease effects to be present in both quantity of consumption and frequency of consumption. Yet the counties eating the most greens quantity-wise didn’t have any less cardiovascular disease than average. This tells us there’s probably another variable unique to the southern, humid regions in China that confers heart disease protection-but green veggies aren’t it.
Some of the hallmark variables of humid southern regions include high fish intake, low use of salt, high rice consumption (and low consumption of all other grains, especially wheat), higher meat consumption, and smaller body size (shorter height and lower weight). And as you’ll see in an upcoming post on heart disease, these southerly regions also had more intense sunlight exposure and thus more vitamin D-an important player in heart disease prevention.
Basically, Campbell’s implication that green vegetables are associated with less cardiovascular disease is misleading. More accurately, certain geographical regions have strong correlations with cardiovascular disease (or lack thereof), and year-round green vegetable consumption is simply an indicator of geography. Since only frequency and not actual quantity of greens seems protective of heart disease and stroke, it’s safe to say that greens probably aren’t the true protective factor.
That’s just one example. She shreds several more of Campell’s leaps in logic, and uses his own data to show that some of healthiest people in China live in regions with the highest levels of meat consumption. As other critics have pointed out, the only solid conclusion we can take away from The China Study is that rats who are fed a diet of nothing but casein (an isolated dairy protein) will become sick and die. From this, Campbell indicts all animal products.
I doubt the vegan true believers will read Minger’s critique, and I doubt their fat-deprived brains could comprehend it if they did. No matter. The next time you’re confronted by a vegan who tells you The China Study proves we should all be living on plant-based diets, send a link. If nothing else, Minger’s logic may confuse the vegan into shutting up for awhile.
In the meantime, read Minger’s post for your own benefit.