Years ago these guys teemed up with a huge number of Chinese medics and researchers to study the nutrition, environment, and health problems of a weighty number of small villages in China. They looked at the average diets in different regions and compared health problems in those regions looking for patterns related to disease. As far as I can tell, this is an ongoing study and one of several studies done on diet and potential health problems. This book references this study, but that is not the point of this book.
This book is a sales pitch for a plant based diet. No bones about it, it isn’t primarily anything else it’s about. It isn’t trying to give details concerning the science except where they help with this panegyric.
I say this up front for one specific purpose – after reading 5-6 reviews on this book it became immediately apparent that people missed the point. They wanted to debunk the science, or they were all dewey-eyed and waxing lyrical about the quality of the science or brilliance of the results. Both of these annoy me – especially the 9000 word detraction against this book by one blogger. It took a while to wade through it, and on to make it worse that article hadn’t really dug into the results of the actual china study.
In the opening chapters of this book the doctors explain this, and offer brief touches on the ideas of normalization of figures and the enormity of the task of sifting through data. It also mentions the problems within the scientific method when applied to complex systems. For most scientific research you pause all variables but one which is tweaked in one group and left un-tweaked in another. All done to see what happens! Here he willingly acknowledges that two people with identical genes eating exactly the same diet could end up with different problems (although statistically unlikely).
Now this could be part of his sales pitch, but I think it’s really a more realistic grappling with the problems of large scale analysis and certainty. Parts of his book he differentiates between different levels of certainty from 99.99% on down to 95% and below.
Now I don’t think a sales pitch is a bad thing. Human beings need to be persuaded to take action from time to time, and I think this is one of those times.
So, why are these guys advocating for a plant based diet? From what they report in their china study and numerous other studies population that derive their primary sources of fat and protein from animals – either through meat directly or via milk and eggs – tend to have higher rates of the diseases of affluence – everything from cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune, and some mental illnesses. That’s one heck of a list, and if he’s right we are spending lots of money on cures and treatments for diseases of a lack of discipline.
Of course he couples this with a call against processed foods as well. Meal after meal of processed pasta isn’t any good and accounts for what I call the “fat” vegan effect. I cannot presume to judge people based on appearance, but I’ve been told by numerous friends about acquaintances that went vegan only to find themselves gaining weight. While I strongly doubt anyone goes vegan just to loose weight, the problem of gaining weight can be real when you think you can be a healthy vegan on Oreos and bbq potato chips.
My own experience was the opposite, I dropped 10 pounds over a month and a half while stuffing my face on as many vegetables and fruits as I could eat. My smoothies in the morning may have had 10x the calories of a crispy cream, but I felt good after drinking it. On top of that my Cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure dropped into a much healthier range. I felt like I had more productive sleep and more energy. If it wasn’t for social considerations, I would continue to be vegan. Honestly, I didn’t miss cheese like I thought I would.
Am I persuaded? In a word, yes. However, I do not think that meat and dairy and processed food needs to go away from our diets entirely. Occasional treats work just fine as long as the majority of our nutrition comes from a variety of plants and whole foods. Honestly, they should ship this book with a cookbook and a sample recipe calendar. For my part I gush at the number of articles that are almost ignored in the public eye, heck this book is over a decade and a half old.