by Marion Nestle
Aug 8 2011

It’s time for some Q and A’s

I’ve just turned in the copy-edited manuscript of Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics (pub date March 2012) and now have time to catch up on some questions:

Q. I was recently given to read a book titled “The China Study” which is based on research conducted in 1970′s in China by Dr. Colin Campbell. His main conclusion is that eating dairy and meat causes cancer. His resolution is that a plant-based diet (i.e. vegan) is the (only?) healthy diet for humans. This book has made strong enough of a point to convince several of my friends to “convert” to a vegan diet in order to save their health. Could you share some comments on the validity of the research and conclusions this book presents with regards to detrimental effects of dairy and meat on human health?

A. Campbell makes a forceful argument based on his interpretation of the research and on case studies of people whose diseases resolved when they became vegans. And yes I’ve seen Dr. Campbell’s new movie, Forks over Knives. The first half is a terrific introduction to how the current food environment promotes unhealthy eating.  The second half promotes Dr. Campbell’s ideas about the hazards of meat and dairy foods.

Whether you agree with these ideas or not, the film is well done and worth a look.

Some scientists, however, interpret the research as demonstrating that people are healthier when they eat dairy foods.  For example, the enormous consensus report on diet and cancer risk from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund concluded in 2007 that eating lots of red meat and processed meat is convincingly associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer (but no others).

On the other hand, they found dairy foods to be associated with a decrease in the risk of colorectal cancer.  They found limited and less convincing evidence that dairy foods might decrease the risk of bladder cancer but increase the risk of prostate cancer.

How to make sense of this?  These are two food groups in the diets of people who consume many kinds of foods and who do many things that might increase or decrease cancer risk.  Given this complexity, one food or food group seems unlikely to have that much influence on cancer when considered in the context of everything else people eat and do.

Nutrition research, as I am fond of saying, is difficult to do and requires interpretation. Intelligent people can interpret the studies differently depending on their point of view.

The new Dietary Guidelines say to cut down on saturated fats. Those are most plentiful in meat and dairy foods (plant foods have them, but in smaller amounts). Pretty much everyone agrees that plant-based diets promote health/  But whether they have to be 100% plant-based is highly debatable.

The new USDA MyPlate food guide suggests piling plant foods—fruit, vegetables, and grains—on 75% of your plate so the argument is really about what goes on the remaining 25%, what USDA calls the  “Protein” section. You can put beans in that quarter if you don’t want to eat red meat, poultry, or fish.

Q. I’d love to hear your take on the recent walnut flap [accusations that the FDA now considers walnuts to be drugs].  I suspect walnuts got caught with such offenders as Pom, Froot Loops, and Juicy-Juice, but I’d love to find out what the FDA actually said about this. For some odd reason I don’t believe the article is presenting the whole truth.

A. This is a health claims issue. The FDA is not saying walnuts are drugs. It is saying that Diamond Walnut is claiming walnuts as drugs on package labels. How so?

The labels say the omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts may help lower cholesterol; protect against heart disease, stroke and some cancers (e.g. breast cancer); inhibit tumor growth; ease arthritis and other inflammatory diseases; and even fight depression and other mental illnesses. These are disease claims for which the FDA requires scientific substantiation.

The company’s petition did not provide that substantiation so the FDA issued a warning letter. In general, you should be skeptical any time you see a nutritional factor advertised for its ability to prevent or treat such a broad range of problems.

Q. A question about sugar and how it is counted: My books say: 4 g = 1 teaspoon = 15 calories. My Illy Caffe says 10 g of sugar, but 50 calories. Ingredients: coffee, sugar, potassium bicarbonate, potassium citrate. If the drink is 50 calories, shouldn’t it say 12 g or more for the sugar listing?

A. Sugar should be the only ingredient that has calories in this coffee but I’ve seen calorie lists that say 5 calories per gram for sugars. Food companies have some leeway in the way they compute calories. Illy may be using a method that gives 5 rather than 4. But the difference between 40 and 50 is hardly measurable and I wouldn’t worry about amounts this small, annoying as imprecise figures may seem.

  • chuck

    T Colin Campbell’s book The China Study has had many holes shot in it. The bottom line is when the data from his China research is crunched using today’s technology, his arguments are not well supported at all. This site does an incredible job of drilling down into the numbers that Campbell didn’t do.
    http://rawfoodsos.com/the-china-study/
    There were more positive correlations with cancer and plant protein than with animal protein.

  • Erik

    Congrats on getting the manuscript done, looking forward to reading it.

  • http://blog.greenconsciousness.org/ Greenconsciousness

    MN SAID:”The new USDA MyPlate food guide suggests piling plant foods—fruit, vegetables, and grains—on 75% of your plate so the argument is really about what goes on the remaining 25%, what USDA calls the “Protein” section. You can put beans in that quarter if you don’t want to eat red meat, poultry, or fish.”

    I say put tofu there or seitan:

    http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2008/07/cumin-grilled-tofu-with-papaya-salsa.html

    http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2007/08/home-style-tofu-with-shiitake-mushrooms.html

    http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2006/12/mini-crustless-tofu-quiches.html

    http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2010/07/grilled-tofu-with-blueberry-peach-salsa.html

  • http://blog.greenconsciousness.org/ Greenconsciousness
  • Marjorie

    I try to forget tempeh. Nasty rancid glop gave me 3 days of wicked cramps and the dribbling doo-doos. A too-memorable experience I wish you hadn’t reminded me.

  • Anthro

    @green

    Tofu is made from…beans! Tempeh, too, no?
    ——

    Marion, you did Campbell, now how about Taubes? Every time I post anything about diet, I get a deluge of rebuttals about this guy. Why can’t people accept the simple message of balance of nutrients and limited intake (calories)? They always seem to want a guru who will tell them you can eat as much as you want of (fill-in-the-blank) magic substance and have perfect health and weight!

  • http://www.deliveryhero.com.au Jasmine

    A great read! Thanks :) Jas x

  • http://blog.greenconsciousness.org/ Greenconsciousness

    Anthro

    You are so correct – Iam LOL ! The tofu I love is even called Bountiful BEAN.

    Marjorie

    Temphe comes in many different flavors and there is one I hate too but I always forget which one it is — so I often end up with it when I buy tempeh which is not often. However, everything is good when you fry it in olive oil. Just cut it in thin strips and fry it. I can even stand the ick one cooked that way with lettuce leafs as the wrap.

    I even find tofu, other than Bountiful Bean, is not that great (most made by Monsanto and not organic – just tastes wrong). Luckily, I am in the home state of Simple Soyman and can get FRESH tofu (Bountiful Bean) from Milwaukee every Friday. It is so good I can faint just anticipating it with nutritional yeast and tamari.

    http://www.bulkfoods.com/yeast.htm
    http://www.bulkfoods.com/nutritional_yeast_recipes.asp

  • http://drjohnlapuma.com John La Puma

    Hi Marion…thanks for the wonderful clarity of your blog: I look forward to the new book and can’t wait to read it.

    As you know, the FDA did caution Diamond that their nuts are drugs:

    “Because of these intended uses, your walnut products are drugs within the meaning of section 201 (g)(1)(B) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(B)]. Your walnut products are also new drugs under section 201(p) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(p)] because they are not generally recognized as safe and effective…”

    I realize the FDA’s Warning Letter responds to Diamond’s label (which I think is pretty innocuous and quite factual: the info is mostly about omega-3s, of course, and is scientifically sound, and carefully phrased to be cautious).

    The FDA’s letter seems to me to be an over-response. Health-conscious consumers actually like knowing what’s in their food that’s good for them, and manufacturers can provide that.

    Promoting the health benefits of a food–and of course, the main ingredient in walnuts that is healthful might just be “walnuts”– is one of many ways to begin to compete with much less healthful foods. Which could help everyone…except for the producers of less healthful foods.

    What should the FDA have done?

    I have no ties to the Walnut industry, or the omega-3 industry, btw.

  • Chris

    “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought” -JFK

    A book promoting a vegan diet written by a vehement vegan should immediately give you cause for concern. Campbell’s China Study research conclusions have been refuted over and over again, and you know the best part? They were refuted with China Study data….in studies where Campbell is a named contributor. The China Study, Forks over Knives; it’s all agenda-driven reactionary tripe. I could find case studies supporting any diet ever imagined. Remember the guy who lost weight on the all Twinkie diet? Please, for your own health and well being, do your own research. Burn the China Study. Just eat real, unprocessed food (FYI, “whole-grains”, juice, sugar…all processed foods), and exclude animal products at your own peril.

  • Dana

    I wasn’t going to comment, but after reading the last post by Chris, I couldn’t help it. Comparing people who lost weight on a Twinkie diet to the overall health benefits of consuming a primarily plant-based diet is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Anyone can temporarily lose weight by decreasing their overall calories… including eating a Twinkie for every meal. The point of this conversation is not about weight loss or extreme calorie reduction, its about lowering your risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. Where are the health benefits of a processed, cream-filled snack food? Absurd.

  • Chris

    Dana, clearly that wasn’t the point of my post. And twisting my words to make it sound like I’m promoting a Twinkie diet is cheap theater.

    My point was that taking the unsubstantiated gospel of a known vegan and making it your diet is not only foolish, but dangerous. I am in no way discounting the health benefits of eating a diverse diet of unprocessed real food. This includes plant AND animal foods. With the twinkie example, I was simply making a point that the data can often say whatever the individual analyzing it wants it to say (i.e. The China Study), but that doesn’t mean it’s right. If you want to talk about lowering your risk for the diseases of civilization, I’m sure that the majority of our depressingly unhealthy population would benefit from a diet richer in colorful plant foods, but they would also surely benefit from a diet richer in food from animals that were raised humanely and on their optimal diet.

  • Roxanne

    Chris,

    Some people thrive on vegan diets and some don’t. I thrive on a diet of 80-90 percent whole plant foods, about 10 percent cultured, low-fat dairy, and minimal meat. My gall bladder and digestive system don’t handle animal fat too well. Too much meat just leaves me lethargic and bloated. How about everyone just find a diet that leaves them feeling well and full of energy, and keeps them lean and healthy? How about that? It’s different for everyone. My sister thrives on a completely whole foods vegan diet. She loves it and it works for her (she takes a B12 supplement a couple of times a year–you don’t need it everyday and the body stores it very well). My personal opinion is that more than 2 oz of animal meat a day is too much for the general population that is dealing with obesity and its health complications. That being said there a lot of reasons for being vegan–environmental and ethical, and the way our planet is being trashed, they are looking more and more valid as the years go by. At some point, there is going to be a reckoning for our greedy consumption of food animals. The planet just cannot sustain our current level of consumption. To raise food animals sustainably, ethically, and with correct diets means reducing our consumption considerably. We, as a nation, have to decide which is more important: cheap meat that we can eat 3x a day or a sustainable industry that requires our decreased consumption which means a steep rise in the price, regulating meat consumption to holidays? Pick one. We cannot have both.

  • Charlie L

    Interesting discussion. I, too, would like to read some of Dr. Nestle’s thoughts on the infamous Taubes’ take on calories. From what I remember, his point was that while the calories-in-calories-out paradigm is true, it is not too helpful for people trying to lose weight. His analogy of the crowded room–that is, the room is crowded because there are more people coming in the room than are leaving–is challenging. Yes, it’s true that you’re fat because you’ve consumed more calories than you’ve expended, but it doesn’t explain why you were so hungry. Why were there more people coming in than leaving? Explanations of portion size and a culture of excess are common and no doubt play some contributing roles, but I found refreshing his emphasis on how what we feed our bodies influences and interacts with our body’s biochemistry.

    Anyway, I respect that people choose to become vegetarians or vegans. I’ve run into vegans who claim they just don’t like the taste of meat. I get that, and can sympathize. And good for them for following through with what they believe is consistent with their beliefs, indeed, the core of their identity. But I find annoying the preachy kind who think they’ve put themselves on some kind of moral pedestal over non-vegan/vegetarians.

    The inescapable fact is that there is nothing we can eat for which something else doesn’t die as part of the preparation process. Whole swaths of natural habitats and ecosystems–living creatures that want to live below, above, and within the top-soil itself–must be destroyed in order to produce the veggies, even organic ones or the ones at farmer’s markets, in order for us to enjoy a plant-based diet. Oil is also used in the agricultural process. Wild land animals must be evicted from their shrinking, natural habitats and the smaller ones that remain become easier prey for other predators or get chopped up in the farming machines by accident during harvest. If irrigation methods are used, chances are that some natural body of water had to be diverted, meaning that it cannot sustainably support the native fish and other water life for long. And did I mention pesticides?

    Also, as a matter of moral consistency, while the preachy vegan’s circle of empathy extends broader than most people’s, it only extends to cute furry animals and not much more, especially the less anthropo-centric those others are. It usually doesn’t extend to bugs, insects, bacteria, fungi, plants, or other microscopic microorganisms, like it should. Insects no doubt are sentient beings capable of feeling pain and desperately wanting to live, like any other animal. Even plants can be said to display what we normally consider sentience even though they don’t have brains or a nervous system. Biologically, plants don’t want to become part of anyone’s plant-based diet. Plants raise all sorts of chemical defenses against herbivores, insects, and even other plants in order not to die. Some plants, since they cannot flee like animals, will also raise havoc on animal digestive systems, all in order to survive. They also display altruism toward fellow plants by sending warning signals or summoning enemies of enemies to help. It’s even been noted that plants prefer certain kinds of music. Why shouldn’t insects and plants be afforded the same respect by preachy vegans as they give to cute animals?

    OK, off my soap box.

  • Roxanne

    The last few sentences of my above post should actually be reversed: sustainable animal husbandry requires more operating costs, which raises the price of meat considerably, which will, in affect, reduce consumption of meat for most American families to holidays and special occasions. For the most part, I’m o.k. with this.

    @Anthro: re your assertion that losing weight is all about calories in, calories out: not so much according to Dr. Joel Furhlman, who is the leading medical care doctor for obesity and diabetes. According to his research and his years of clinical practice, it’s the special phytochemicals in plant foods that allow the body to heal itself of the diseases caused by overeating and obesity. Plant foods are healing and promote natural weight loss, while sugar, processed oils, and high levels of meat consumption promote inflammation in the body which triggers autoimmune reactions and prevents the body from using stored fat. Also, he has proven that a diet super rich in plant foods doesn’t have to be portion controlled, because plants are naturally low in calories, and it’s very difficult to over consume on plants because the fiber is so high and calories are low.

    Saying that weight loss is all about calories in, calories out is oversimplifying the matter. Dr. Furhlman’s foundation practices are not new and have been proven in current nutritional research which has been peer reviewed in several professional journals over the last 10 years.

  • Chris

    Roxanne,

    First off, I never said that people can’t thrive on widely varied diets, but thrive is a relative term. I wouldn’t say that having to go into the doctor to get a biannual B12 shot because the food you eat doesn’t provide you with the essential nutrients you need in order to survive thriving, but I digress. Also, please don’t toss out arbitrary numbers like 2oz of meat per day that are based on absolutely nothing. Saying that’s too much for the general population of sick people is a gross (yet widespread) ignorance of what actually constitutes a healthy diet. We as a society have been poisoned (literally) by bad interpretations of bad science and bad advice from the likes of Ancel Keys, T Colin Campbell and our own government for decades. Like it or not, animal products are the healthiest, most nutrient dense foods you can eat – and I’m talking not about factory farmed animals here. I’m talking about those raised in their natural environment, eating the diets they’ve evolved to eat.

    Let’s see, sustainability of food. Not to be a jerk, but again, you have to do your own research instead of being fed garbage by people who think they know what they are talking out. Wheat, corn, soy, nearly all vegetables that we as Americans eat; those are annual monocrops, not perennials. Their growth is fueled by fertilizer that is produced with fossil fuels. Their planting and harvest are fueled by machines that are powered with fossil fuels. Their transportation to you and everyone else is powered by fossil fuels. Their need for nutrients strips our soil of all available nutrients and all of our topsoil leaving desolate, unusable land….unless you have more fossil fuel fertilizer to make it grow. Bottom line. Agriculture in its current state is unsustainable. To say otherwise is akin to saying that nuclear power is sustainable – not taking into account the mining, enrichment, decommisioning, storage of used fuel etc. If you only look at a fraction of the picture, of course it will look good. The only way our argument that meat is unsustainable hold water is if you’re talking about factory farms that feed corn from this whole process to their animals. I have a giant freezer full of beef, lamb, pork, bison, goat, chicken, duck, etc. all wild or raised on pasture less than 50 miles from my home. I paid much less for this than you ever would in a grocery store. And yes I realize that not everyone has access to this, but the point is that sustainably raised animal products exist and are fairly widespread if you open your eyes.

    Now, I don’t mean to be brash, and I don’t mean to condone your diet and lifestyle choices. If you and everyone else can find something that works for you, fine, so be it. My problem is with the failure of everyone to think rationally about this. If the government has been telling us to eat less fat, less red meat and replace it with more complex carbs for the past 4 decades, and we have, yet we’re fatter, more diabetic and sicker than we’ve ever been, at some point you have to question the underlying assumptions of that advice. If a fanatic vegan writes a book about the “science” he did that just so happens to support all the arguments made for a vegan lifestyle, you might want to question the objectivity of said book. People are devoted to ideas, not necessarily to results, and no matter how much we may ‘want’ something to be true, we lose what is best in us when we cease to think and adopt dogma instead of facing the need to reevaluate our deeply entrenched positions.

  • Ben

    Charlie, very few, if any at all, beliefs are founded upon bullet-proof logic. Yes, a distinction is made between a pig that can undergo a lifetime of mental and physical suffering and a pile of organic plant material. It’s not an arbitrary distinction though, nor does it undermine the vegetarian or vegan logic to say that the entire idea is flawed because microorganisms in the dirt died so that a cow may live; that would be like ending good-natured welfare programs because one person used theirs irresponsibly or ending world war two because a single civilian died in the cross-fire. If you want to call a distinction in the name of a greater good hypocrisy then so be it.

  • Roxanne

    Chris,

    I don’t buy your statement that animal products are the healthiest foods a person can eat. The amount of peer reviewed nutritional research done over the last 10 years proves otherwise. The Standard American Diet is very meat heavy. We haven’t been reducing meat and eating more complex carbs. Social eating and consumer trends say otherwise! I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for 15 years and what the majority of Americans eat is meat, and a lot of it! The standard USDA advice is to eat 2 portions of meat a day, no more than 4-6oz (and even current research says that’s too high). The average American eats 4-6 times that amount! Vegetable consumption is so low in this country, it really is pathetic. We eat too much meat, too much dairy, and too many processed carbs. You seem to be confusing complex carbs (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, pulses, and nuts) with the processed carbs that infect the SAD. Our brains and muscle tissue depend on complex carbs for fuel. Our bodies don’t use anything other an glucose for fuel. Protein is used for tissue repair and muscle growth, not for fuel. Both are important, but the important distinction is that you don’t need animal foods to meat protein needs. That myth has also been disproven. You also don’t need animal foods to meet iron needs or B12 (you can get various kinds of B12 through algae consumption–which is the type of supplementation my sister uses. No need to see a doctor for B12).

    I’m glad you find “naturally raised” meats so affordable…for you, but for most people it’s not. If the USDA completely banned factory farming and regulated sustainable agricultural, we would see a huge price increase across the nation because demand can’t meet supply. It’s simple economics. For vegetable growing, on the other hand, if we made organic, sustainable farming the legal requirement, we would still be able to meet the need for fresh produce, with the added bonus of eliminating a lot of waste!

    You claim to be thinking rationally, but I think your missing the boat by dismissing years of solid research.

  • Charlie L

    Ben,

    I don’t think vegan/vegetarian logic is flawed because microorganisms in the dirt have to die for a cow to live.

    However, a major premise behind such logic is that people should eat vegetables (or at least not eat meat) so as not to participate in the harming of animals, especially through factory farming. But such a belief misses (or ignores) the fact that in order to eat a plant-based diet, animals (including insects) and sometimes nearby rivers must be killed or forcibly removed from their habitats in order to cultivate that land.

    The scale of slaughter caused by agriculture also depends on what kinds of living creatures you believe are deserving of moral compassion and respect. Basically, where you draw that arbritary line in the sand. However, if the reasoning behind why a cute furry animal is more deserving of moral compassion than an insect or vegetable isn’t arbitrary, for example, I’d love to hear it.

  • Chris

    Roxanne,

    See my last sentence. You are falling into the exact trap that I warn of. I’d like to point out the most flawed pieces of your last post before leaving this conversation for good as I fear that attempting to get you to think outside the box is a futile effort.

    (1) Glucose is absolutely not the only fuel our bodies burn and is only absolutely required by the brain. The body runs very efficiently on fat and ketone bodies. See the use of ketogenic diets in the treatment of Epilepsy and Autism. (2) You are right. Protein is not used for fuel, however it can be broken down into glucose via de novo gluconeogenisis for fuel. Protien is, however, used for pretty much everything else in the body and you there are no plant sources that provide all essential amino acids, only animal products. (3) B12 from algae huh? Sounds tasty…Does your sister live on an ocean? Assuming she doesn’t, is she walking to the ocean to pick her own algae? If she’s buying it at the store that’s just another use of fossil fuel for her to get an arguably insufficient amount of B12. B12 deficiency is a seriously frightening disorder – I would not leave that to algae, but whatever, her choice. (4) and lastly, with a few exceptions, the state of nutrition research in this country is atrocious. It is littered with bias and subjectivity (see previous posts on T Colin Campbell). I could give you example upon example of where your ‘research’ is misguided or just plain wrong, but I won’t since it won’t matter to you.

    Look, I don’t know whether you are a moral, political, nutritional vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan or what, but if you really fancy yourself educated and unbiased on the topic I suggest you look past the conventional wisdom and research. That is only way you will find the real truth. Although there may be some research that supports your view, the science, the biochemistry, the anthropology, does not. i wish you the best of luck in whatever lifestyle choice you make. If you and your sister can make if work for yourselves, more power to you. The simple fact though, is that your beliefs, whatever they are, are clouding your judgement and your logic, and until you can accept and understand that, you will never reach your optimum health, and you’ll likely be steering others in the wrong direction while you’re at it.

    Cheers,
    Chris

  • Roxanne

    Chris,

    I’m not anything but a whole foods enthusiast. I keep my meat consumption pretty low because it doesn’t make me feel good, bottom line. I eat low-fat cultured dairy in modest amounts and pounds and pounds of fresh produce. I’ve never been healthier than I am now. Tons of energy (I no longer need to nap in the middle of the day), clear skin, steady weight loss, and even better vision! That’s all the proof I need that my diet is optimal for me. The two of us are going to have to agree to disagree.

    If you visit http://www.greensmoothiegirl.com, Robyn Openshaw does a much better job of arguing for a plant based whole foods diet than I do. She debunks 12 diet myths in her Nutrition Manifesto that’s good enough for me. She has helped hundreds of people attain optimum health and reverse nutritional diseases.

  • Francine

    This discussion is getting all science-y and much too technical. I like it better when we just argue about opinions and Dr. Nestle tells us what to think. There is no reason anyone should have to care what a gluconeogenisis is.

  • Jon

    Any blog that calls for a completely fat-free diet is unsuitable for citing about nutrition, since omega-3s and omega-6s are, in addition to being essential for health, FATS! The bigger concern is calories. In general, by amount of calories per gram (a bad thing), we have fat > carbohydrate and protein, but by amount of time in the stomach (a good thing), we have protein > fat > carbohydrate. And of course, as pica (kids eating chalk, for instance, for a calcium deficiency) demonstrates, there’s more than just stomach capacity involved.

    The essential problem with the China Study is that it’s taking one example, and fudging the numbers. One could easily, EASILY write up a plains Indian study finding that as one eats less meat, the probability of contracting type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart attack approaches 1. Type 2 diabetes especially. This occurs a lot; in epidemiology, it’s known that people in Kenya (where practically all men are circumcised) have a 10% seroprevalence rate, compared to 30% in South Africa (where it’s somewhat rarer). But Kenyans still have a 10% seroprevalence rate, much higher than any non-African country. And to call 10% of a population having HIV “low” is insane. Yet, I’ve seen that in medical journals.

  • john

    “Like it or not, animal products are the healthiest, most nutrient dense foods you can eat”

    Are you kidding me!? This is the most absurd claim made in this entire post. Farm-friendly raised or not this is simply untrue.

  • http://nutritionbytradition.blogspot.com C-Murph

    Dr. Nestle,

    You say that “Pretty much everyone agrees that plant-based diets promote health.”

    I wanted to direct your attention to a rapidly growing cadre of doctors, experts, ex-vegans, and others known as the “ancestral health/paleo” movement. This segment of the health-conscious population advocates nutrient-dense food, including full-fat dairy (the original kind, the time-tested kind we had for 10,000 years), properly-prepared legumes and grains, pastured organic meat, organic seasonal produce, clean seafood, etc.

    I think that the idea that saturated fats in meat and dairy are unhealthful is errant, based on correlative – not causative – scientific studies. Many have refuted this notion by now, including Stephan Guyenet, Mark Sisson, Denise Minger, Chris Kresser, Kurt Harris, and other leaders in the ancestral health movement.

    I propose that instead of demonizing one nutrient over another, we favor whole, high-quality foods of both animal and plant origin. I propose that we reestablish traditional diets — the very highest products of human culture, designed by nature (and thousands of years of trial and error) to meet the needs of their respective populations.

    What do you say?

    Cheers,
    Colin Murphy
    Nutrition by Tradition
    nutritionbytradition.blogspot.com

  • http://nutritionbytradition.blogspot.com C-Murph

    An addendum! Here’s a list of some prominent blogs’ and groups’ debunking of the sat fat myth. What do you think of their arguments? Sound?:

    Whole Health Source

    (1) http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2009/07/diet-heart-hypothesis-stuck-at-starting.html

    (2) http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/01/does-dietary-saturated-fat-increase.html

    (3) Thoughts on the 2010 Guidelines:
    http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/02/assorted-thoughts-about-2010-dietary.html

    Mark’s Daily Apple

    (4) http://www.marksdailyapple.com/saturated-fat-healthy/

    The Healthy Skeptic

    (5) http://thehealthyskeptic.org/new-study-blasts-the-ridiculous-low-fat-dietary-guidelines

    - Dr. Kresser proposes a different set of factors that cause obesity and chronic disease:
    (6) http://thehealthyskeptic.org/the-top-3-dietary-causes-of-obesity-diabetes

    The Weston A. Price Foundation

    (7) Characteristics of traditional diets:
    http://www.westonaprice.org/basics/characteristics-of-traditional-diets

    (8) Challenging the Lipid Hypothesis:
    http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/the-skinny-on-fats#lipid

    (9) The ‘Oiling’ of America:
    http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/the-oiling-of-america

  • Hylton

    Marion Nestle:
    “Campbell makes a forceful argument based on his interpretation of the research and on case studies of people whose diseases resolved when they became vegans.

    I bet their health didn’t improve much from not wearing fur or leather. Vegan means something specific; it’s not just a plant-based diet. Look don’t take my word for it, he’s what Dr. Campbell says.

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/nutrition-advice-from-the-china-study/

    Colin T Campbell:
    “I don’t use the word “vegan” or “vegetarian.” I don’t like those words. People who chose to eat that way chose to because of ideological reasons. I don’t want to denigrate their reasons for doing so, but I want people to talk about plant-based nutrition and to think about these ideas in a very empirical scientific sense, and not with an ideological bent to it.”

    Also…

    Marion Nestle:
    “Pretty much everyone agrees that plant-based diets promote health/ But whether they have to be 100% plant-based is highly debatable.”

    Dr. Campbell doesn’t insist that a 100 percent plant-based diet is proven to be best. What he is trying to convey is that people are likely to include animal products and junk food anyway, so as a practical matter he doesn’t make suggestions to consume them.

    Colin T Campbell (from the above link):
    “It’s not because we have data to show that 100 percent plant-based eating is better than 95 percent. But if someone has been diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, it’s smart to go ahead and do the whole thing. If I start saying you can have a little of this, a little of that, it allows them to deviate off course. Our taste preferences change. We tend to choose the foods we become accustomed to, and in part because we become addicted to them, dietary fat in particular.”

    Not everyone is going to graduate from high school or be a straight A student, but teachers will advocate a message of graduation and excellence in order to motivate every student to an ideal. That’s Dr. Campbell’s strategy, advocate for 100%, but understand that people will naturally fall along a spectrum.

    Remember, it’s this idea of junk food moderation that industries use to wedge dubious products into consumers diets. A soda once and a while won’t hurt, that’s true. Fast food every so often is fine, okay, But this becomes habit forming for many people and a message of “moderation” has a way of expanding poor eating choices. Campbell is trying to skew the conversation the other way. He understands that people are creatures of habit especially concerning food; so his strategy is to have people strive to “always” eat well (by his accounts), and the times you don’t won’t amount to much. Some people may achieve 100%, but many will fall into a percentage of plant-based eating that you (Marion Nestle) claim, “pretty much everyone agrees… promotes health.”

    With that said I feel that Dr Campbell’s work is one data point among many and there’s plenty of room for interpretation and discussion. I’ve never once heard him say that he is absolutely right. Vegans use his work as evidence to support their view and yes many people decide to become vegans (in it’s totality of meaning) after reading The China Study. However, saying that Colin T. Campbell advocates veganism is a subtle but important mischaracterization of his position.

    He advocates whole food plant-based diets.

  • Shane

    Great comment, Hylton!