- Publisher : BenBella Books (December 15, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 350 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1950665704
- ISBN-13 : 978-1950665709
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1 x 9 inches
Review of “The Future of Nutrition: An Insider’s Look at the Science, Why We Keep Getting It Wrong, and How to Start Getting It Right” by Professor T. Colin Campbell with Nelson Disla.
Reviewed by George Jacobs of HealthPartners.sg
Professor T. Colin Campbell has long been a major voice for plant-based nutrition. He has calmly and fearlessly gone against the nutrition establishment. He went into gentle but indefatigable battle armed not with the billion-dollar budgets of Big Pharma, Big Insurance, and Big Agriculture or the power of well-established hospitals, universities, and government bodies, but only with the ever-growing research evidence that Whole Food Plant-Based diets are the best way to halt the suffering and the horrible waste of nonhuman and human animals’ lives caused by animal-based and processed foods.
Professor Campbell started life on his family’s dairy farm and began his research career studying animal-based protein, something that, at the time, he thought was a must for good health. The evidence he discovered changed his mind. Colin is probably best-known for his 2006 nonfiction best seller “The China Study” (https://www.socakajak-klub.si/mma/The+China+Study.pdf/20111116065942) named for a very large study he helped lead in China which suggested that moving away from animal-based foods was the best path to health.
In a blurb on the back cover of Colin’s current book, “The Future of Nutrition,” David Feinberg, MD, head of Google Health, gets to the issue at the heart of what this book is about, “T. Colin Campbell’s latest masterpiece on whole food, plant-based nutrition is a must-read for anybody interested in understanding … how a proven lifestyle has become so controversial.”
As Colin explains (p. 4), “controversy does not necessarily mean that contradicting evidence exists. The notion that smoking causes cancer was once viewed as extremely controversial, not because of an impressive body of evidence proving the healthfulness of tar and nicotine, but because it challenged prevailing norms. … Evidence that disputes the status quo will always be controversial.”
Colin defines WFPB (whole food, plant-based) diets in 12 words (p. 7):
- Consume a variety of whole plant-based foods.
- Avoid consumption of animal-based foods.
Two points stand out in this definition. First, no vegan junk food. Second, some people take “plant-based” to mean mostly plants with maybe some animal-based food every so often, what some call “flexitarianism.” Flexitarian is much better than a typical omnivore diet, but it’s not what Colin is talking about. The superiority of WFPB diets lies in their strong supply of antioxidants, complex carbs, and vitamins.
Despite all the advances in health care and in knowledge about healthful lifestyles, the status quo is weak and becoming weaker. Even before COVID, U.S. life expectancy had began to decline, and even when earlier it was rising, much of that rise was due to management of disease, not prevention or treatment (pp. 18-21).
Despite the research evidence for WFPB diets, most people, are confused for two reasons (p. 25). First, they do not see the strong link between diet and health, and second, even those who believe a powerful connection exists do not recognize the power of WFPB. They do not appreciate that “the more animal-based foods one eats, the less one consumes cancer-preventive plant-based foods packed with antioxidants, fiber, and other protective nutrients” (p. 51). For example, many people think that cancer is attributable more to genes and the impact of environmental chemicals, such as industrial pollutants, than to food (p. 145).
I am involved in research in education, not health, but the book’s Chapter 7 resonated with me, as it addresses what Colin sees as limitations to what is considered valid research. He argues that while methods such as double-blind, placebo-controlled research have undeniable value, they may lead to excessive focus on discrete variables and technological solutions. Instead, we need an emphasis on context: “The ‘real world’ isn’t as easily controlled as a double-blind experiment conducted in a laboratory setting” (p. 163).
Part of the solution in research, just as in WFPB, is wholism (see Colin’s earlier book “Whole”). The reductionism of most contemporary nutrition research yields incomplete pictures, because so many factors impact health, not a few isolatable variables. For instance, the plants we eat contain hundreds of thousands of phytochemicals, and innumerable and constant interactions occur in the trillions of cells in a single human body (p. 171). Reductionist research results in “an elaborate system for collecting conflicting information that neither medical professionals nor the public know how to apply (pp. 201-202). Furthermore, how can nutrition science hope to grasp this complexity when budgets for nutrition research are dwarfed by those for pharmaceutical R&D.
Chapter 10 offers recommendations. One of these is to value technology, but not to overvalue it. WFPB can be so simple. As Dr Greger of NutritionFacts.org often notes, companies cannot make much money selling broccoli, but they can make lots of money on high-tech supplements that claim to be even better than the original plant food: “WFPB is not a technological solution—quite the opposite, in fact—and so it generates little interest or funding support from the techno-scientific establishment” (p. 251).
Some of Colin’s other recommendations include (pp. 256-257; 263-269):
- Solid nutrition programs, including practicums, as part of the education of health professionals
- Subsidies to support WFPB diets
- Reflection on how we came to put so much faith in drugs and “high-quality” animal protein
- Faith in the agency of each individual, as we can be role models via the choices we make every time we eat
- Civil disagreement and “meet[ing] with people where they are (it’s the only place we can meet them)”
- “[W]holism’s guiding principles—appreciation for context, communication, integration,” respecting and supporting Nature.
In conclusion, while written for lay readers, “The Future of Nutrition” is not an easy read, although spice is added by the many stories Colin tells from his own experiences. Perhaps, the book’s greatest value lies in the perspective provided on how we got into our current mess by taking the wrong direction in our food journey, a direction that wreaks havoc on the environment and on our fellow Earthlings, human and otherwise.