Campbell seems to have a passion for disease prevention, public health, and eating well. I share these same passions and this is where we can certainly agree. This post will mostly be about where Campbell and I agree.
An undeniable truth that Campbell discusses in The China Study is the fact that diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are too rampant and something needs to be done. Lifestyle is a huge factor that impacts disease risk. Unfortunately, many people and some health professionals would rather blame genetics and rely heavily on medication to lower risk. While genetics certainly play a role in disease risk, the impact of lifestyle is quite dramatic, yet often ignored. It is easy to become complacent and not equate the food on your plate to disease risk, but everything we eat day-in and day-out is setting us up for health or debilitating disease. Remember that not everyone dies suddenly. Often, people live for decades with body aches, angina (chest pain), loss of sight, loss of limbs, painful surgeries, and the list goes on and on. That is what poor nutrition and lack of exercise do to a person. So, its not all about genetics and its not all about life or death. Your quality of life is heavily determined by what does or does not enter your mouth and how much you move. Of course, some people will need medication no matter what they do and it is important to take medication as directed. However, lifestyle can impact the amount you are taking and how effective the medication is.
On page 233 of The China Study, Campbell makes this statement:
"Much of this focus on genes, however, misses a simple but crucial point: not all genes are fully expressed all the time. If they aren't activated or expressed, they remain biochemically dormant. Dormant genes do not have any effect on our health. This is obvious to most scientists, and many laypeople, but the significance of this idea is seldom understood. What happens to cause some genes to remain dormant, and others to express themselves? The answer: environment, especially diet."
I am very deficient when it comes to understanding genetics, but I thought this was a very great and interesting way of explaining why lifestyle is so crucial. If anyone has more knowledge about genetics and would like to comment on the excerpt, I would love to hear it!
Nutrition is a vital ingredient to a healthy life. Another point that Campbell spent a lot of time discussing was that people do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Adults need a minimum of three to five vegetables daily and two to four fruits. I am guilty of not always meeting my vegetable needs and I actually felt inspired to take the personal challenge of increasing my vegetables after reading this book. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They are so powerful at helping to reduce disease risk and are not consumed enough in America. Whole grains are also under-consumed whereas refined carbohydrates are abundantly eaten. Refined carbohydrates are stripped of many important nutrients and also tend to raise blood sugar more quickly due to their lack of fiber.
With the exception of just a few nutrients, Campbell believes firmly that nutrients should come from whole foods and not a pill. (The nutrients that he claims we should get from a pill are available in animal products.) This is an important point. We cannot replicate the many phytonutrients found in foods and we have yet to even identify most of them. Getting your fruits and vegetables will never be as easy as popping a pill. Vitamin supplements will not replace disease-protection that fruits and vegetables provide. I do not agree that we should take pills to replace the vitamins that are lost by avoiding animal products. Instead, I believe we should get those from small servings of meat and dairy. While I do believe that much is lost by depending on supplements to get the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables, vitamin supplements are sometimes needed for "insurance". I believe that it is important to take prenatal vitamins, especially because folate is actually more bioavailable in the synthetic form. Also, children may benefit from a multi-vitamin if they do not eat a good variety of foods. This is not to say that these vitamins replace what we find in plants, but they are helpful to reinforce some very pertinent needs. There are also other disease states and conditions that require specific vitamin supplementation; however, those should be overseen by a Medical Doctor and Registered Dietitian.
Another major area where Campbell and I agree is that Americans are consuming way too much meat. I don't know who could really argue with this. A serving of meat is three ounces. Most restaurants serve steaks in portion sizes that are at least double the proper portion size. Plates should be mostly full of plant foods and have a small portion of meat. Instead, plates are full of meat with a sprig of green. The amount of meat being consumed in America is really hurting our health. The part where we disagree is that I believe meat has a place in a small part of the plate. Campbell believes that meat should be avoided completely.
In general, Campbell and I share the same sentiment that we all need to eat healthier.