The China Study is considered to be one of the best and most thorough epidemiological studies on human health ever conducted. The New York Times, in typical absurdly idiotic fashion (like when they told us all about the WMD’s to help create a national panic that led to ‘Iraqi Freedom’), calls The China Study “the Grand-Prix” of nutrition/health studies. It was thorough no doubt. Way to go T. Colin Campbell! You’ve even managed to convince Michael Pollan that every man, woman, and child the world over should “eat mostly plants.”
To people who study ancient diets, the work of Weston A. Price (the real grand-prix of health studies), and low-carb evangelists, The China Study is a massive cause of tummy-upset. If I were an antacid kind of guy, I might reach for some TUMS just seeing the words “China” and “Study” next to each other. I’ll pass on the TUMS though.
The China Study, for those who aren’t familiar with it, showed, very convincingly, that the greater the amount of protein in the diet, particularly from animal sources instead of plant sources, the greater the amount of degenerative disease. The correlations supposedly match quite well, and the amount of data is huge across the endless provinces of big ‘ol China.
But should this study make us nervous? Will protein really make us more likely to get heart disease or develop liver cancer? If you’re a Chinese person, evidently it will. I actually believe that may be true – that the edition of animal protein to a Chinese diet will increase health risks. Here are my explanations.
First, let me at least point out that if China’s Northerly neighbors in Mongolia, a fitter, stronger, and more robust group of people were taken into account – every single one of those correlations would have been demolished. The rural peoples of Mongolia eat a diet of almost exclusively animals from plump, juicy mutton and whole sheep’s milk. They are a fabulously healthy race in comparison to the west, and in many regards compared to the Chinese as well. They certainly tend to have better physical and dental structure and greater physical prowess in general.
I bring this up, because right off the bat we know that the study is flawed, and that the assertion that animal protein causes degenerative disease can be flung out the window – perhaps even waterboarded before it’s flung.
But I explain the results of the study as follows:
In China, white rice is the staple food. They eat a considerable amount of white flour as well. Their consumption of refined sugar is quite small though, probably in the neighborhood of 10% of what it is in the United States (which, by many accounts, is probably why their health is generally superior). So right away we set up a study that is basically asking that if you eat refined grain as your staple food, what foods, in addition to that diet, will increase your risk of developing degenerative disease faster?
First let’s remember McCarrison. I brought this point up long ago in my McCarrison posts, and that is the fact that on a nutrient-deficient diet based on refined grain (white rice), the addition of butter to the white rice caused animal subjects to invariably die faster than with rice alone. Butter is healthy. Butter is nutritious, but it seemed to merely exacerbate the nutritional deficiencies of a refined-starch diet and cause a more expedient death. Of course, butter in the diets of test subjects on an unrefined-carbohydrate-based diet (fresh-ground whole wheat), didn’t lead to rapid death or health problems at all. It was a wonderful, health-promoting diet for any and every species of test animal.
But the study shows that, in circumstances of deficiency, butter is framed as a villainous substance that leads to a quicker death. A nutrition legend comparable to McCarrison, Roger J. Williams supports this line of thinking – that if saturated fat kills you or clogs your arteries, then there must be something gone awry or missing from your diet, because when nourishment is superb, saturated fat does not have that effect. He states:
“A large amount of information, based upon carefully controlled scientific experiments, indicates very strongly that vitamin B6 is another key nutrient which is often present in inadequate amounts in the cellular environment of those whose arteriosclerosis is extreme. Experiments with monkeys have yielded clear-cut results. When they are rendered vitamin B6 deficient, they develop arteriosclerosis rapidly. When monkeys are fed diets supplemented with vitamin B6, they have much lower levels of cholesterol in the blood than when these diets are not supplemented. The animals on the supplemented diet eat much more food than the others, and since their diet contains cholesterol, they get far more cholesterol into their bodies. This does not matter, however; the extra vitamin B6 they get allows them to dispose of the surplus, with the result that their cholesterol blood levels are not as high as in those animals that consume less cholesterol.”
Saturated fat aside, The China Study is all about animal protein (higher, generally, in fat than plant foods as well which may or may not be relevant). Again, however, if the entire population is subsisting off of white rice, deficient in many vitamins and long-since known to be able to cause deficiency diseases, then the addition of any number of benign substances, meat, poultry, and fish included – could exacerbate those deficiencies. What is white rice most lacking in? B vitamins of course, particularly B6 which is well-known to be a somewhat difficult nutrient to get in the modern diet.
B6 is important because it is required to convert homocysteine, a harmful metabolite of methionine, into the benign amino acid cystathionine. Homocysteine is very highly correlated with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and other facets of metabolic syndrome. Other B vitamins lacking in refined rice and wheat, but present in high amounts in the unrefined version, are important in this cycle as well, including folic acid and vitamin B2.
So meats added to a diet based on refined carbohydrates can cause health problems for two reasons – added homocysteine levels from greater quantities of protein, and greater quantities of fat. Both of these added to the refined carbohydrate scenario can quicken the development of health problems due to chronic consumption of white stuff. That’s why I’ve concluded that a diet based on refined grain and sugar even moreso that is high in fat, protein, and calories is the worst possible diet on earth. This, is obvious. That’s the American diet. If you want to eat refined sugar and grain, it is probably best to eat as little as possible and primarily be a vegetarian that eats a lot of fruits, vegetables, and other fresh foods that help make up for your B-vitamin inadequacies (but you really short-change yourself, and future generations that will inherit your deficiencies if this is the route you take).
Only through profound nourishment and pretty strict avoidance of refined carbohydrates can all the rules be thrown out the window, and the ultimate human diet, rich in all life-enhancing macronutrient classes and overall calories be consumed with great results.
So yeah, now that my digestion and metabolism has improved, I see absolutely no benefit in avoiding fiber and instead opting for white rice and such. I’m all about potatoes with skin, popcorn with nutritional yeast, and brown rice right now – all B vitamin powerhouses.
As an interesting note, since writing about my vegan escapade, I am unable to get my blood glucose levels over 100 mg/dl. Unless…
… I consume refined carbohydrates, which spike it over 100 every time when consumed as part of a mixed meal.
In summary, The China Study blows. Hopefully this offers insight as to why it does and does so very hard.
“…in the absence of vitamins or in their inadequate supply, neither proteins nor fats nor carbohydrates nor [minerals] are properly utilized; some are largely wasted, while others yield products harmful to the organism.”
–Sir Robert McCarrison