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October 22, 2014
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editorial

The ideal diet


But a very little digging reveals that one can examine the exact same data set as Campbell and come up with some quite different conclusions. A critique at rawfoodsos.com/2010/06/01/a-closer-look-at-the-china-study-meat-and-disease/ (which, as you will see, is not unfriendly to Campbell in every respect) lets the reader look at the same raw data Campbell was working with, and argues that in many cases the correlations in the underlying study do not justify Campbell’s blanket conclusions.

For instance, the raw data set does show that there is a positive correlation between the consumption of animal protein and hypertensive heart disease. But there is also a positive correlation—of exactly the same degree—between eating plant protein and the incidence of heart attacks and coronary heart disease. In other words, at least as far as this particular data set shows, meat protein may aggravate one type of cardiovascular disease; plant protein may aggravate another.

The raw data also do not seem to support claims of a general correlation between consuming animal protein and the occurrence of cancer. Of 14 cancers studied, none show a statistically significant relationship with the consumption of animal protein, either for good or bad. The consumption of plant protein shows only one statistically significant correlation with cancer: eat more plant protein and you are less likely to get nasopharyngeal cancer.

That’s only one tiny sliver of the data Campbell deals with, and we’re not trying to make up anybody’s minds for them on the question of plant vs. animal food in diets. But we recommend a visit to the above site, including its comment strings (in which there are both defenders and critics of Campbell) as a good way to get an idea of how deeply complex these matters are, and how unsuitable popular simplifications or generalized conclusions are to their nuanced nature.

There could be a variety of reasons to suggest that people shift the proportions of plant and animal food in their diets. But when it comes to sweeping claims about the ideal diet from a health point of view—especially when they rule out entire food groups or advise mega-doses of others—caution is warranted. If you see one nutritional theory, it’s a good idea to seek out the opposition view and find out what data support both sides—double blind placebo studies (which does not describe “The China Study”) are considered scientifically the most conclusive.

Then pay attention to how your own body reacts to different diets and draw your own conclusions.