How much do you know about nutrition? True or false?
1. We need milk to get enough calcium to protect us against osteoporosis.
2. A diet high in protein is healthy.
3. The best source of protein is animal foods such as meat, chicken, eggs, fish, and dairy.
4. Plant foods do not have complete protein.
5. To get adequate protein from a plant-based diet, you should combine certain foods to make sure you receive a complete complement of the necessary amino acids at each meal.
6. We can protect ourselves against cancer by switching to low fat animal foods such as chicken, fish, and skim milk and by omitting red meat.
One day we hear that a high-fat diet causes cancer, and the next day a study shows that those on low-fat diets do not have lower cancer rates. The public is so confused and fed up that they just eat anything, and the number of overweight people continues to grow.
The China Project
Fortunately, evidence from a massive series of scientific investigations has shed some light on the confusion. The China-Cornell-Oxford Project (also known as the China Project) is the most comprehensive study on the connection between diet and disease in medical history. The New York Times called this investigation the “Grand Prix of all epidemiological studies” and “the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.
Spearheaded by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., of Cornell University, this study has made discoveries that have turned the nutritional community upside down. To the surprise of many, the China Project has revealed many so-called nutritional facts as demonstrably false. For example,
the answer to all the Nutrition Quiz questions above is false.
China was an ideal testing ground for this comprehensive project because the people in one area of China eat a certain diet and the people just a few hundred miles away may eat a completely different diet. Unlike in the West, where we all eat very similarly, rural China is a “living laboratory” for studying the complex relationship between diet and disease.
The China Project was valid because it studied populations with a full range of dietary possibilities: from a completely plant-food diet to diets that included a significant amount of animal foods. Adding small quantities of a variable is how scientists can best detect the risk or value of a dietary practice. It’s the same principle as comparing nonsmokers with those who smoke half a pack a day, to best observe the dangers of smoking. Comparing a fifty-cigarette per day habit with a sixty-cigarette per day habit may not reveal much more additional damage from those last ten cigarettes.
In China, people live their entire lives in the towns they were born in and rarely migrate, so the dietary effects that researchers looked at were present for the subjects’ entire life. Furthermore, as a result of significant regional
differences in the way people eat, there were dramatic differences in the prevalence of disease from region to region. Cardiovascular disease rates varied twenty fold from one place to another, and certain cancer rates varied by several hundredfold. In America, there is little difference in the way we eat; therefore, we do not see a hundredfold difference in cancer rates between one town and another.
Fascinating findings were made in this study. The data showed huge differences in disease rates based on the amount of plant foods eaten and the availability of animal products. Researchers found that as the amount of animal foods increased in the diet, even in relatively small increments, so did the emergence of the cancers that are common in the West. Most cancers occurred in direct proportion to the quantity of animal foods consumed.
In other words, as animal food consumption approached zero, cancer rates fell. Areas of the country with an extremely low consumption of animal food were virtually free of heart attacks and cancer. An analysis of the mortality
data from 65 counties and 130 villages showed a significant association with animal protein intake (even at relatively low levels) and heart attacks, with a strong protective effect from the consumption of green vegetables.
All animal products are low (or completely lacking) in the nutrients that protect us against cancer and heart attacks fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, folate, vitamin E, and plant proteins. They are rich in substances that scientific investigations have shown to be associated with cancer and heart disease incidence: saturated fat, cholesterol, and arachidonic acid.4 Diets rich in animal protein are also associated with high blood levels of the hormone IGF-1, which is a known risk factor for several types of cancer.5 The China Project showed a strong correlation between cancer and the amount of animal protein, not just animal fat, consumed.6 Consumption of lean meats and poultry still showed a strong correlation with higher cancer incidence. These findings indicate that even low-fat animal foods such as skinless white-meat chicken are implicated in certain cancers.