Evidence-based nutrition advice from The China Study
“Milk builds strong bones”, “carbs make you fat”, “meat is the only good source of protein”, “calories in, calories out”. Whether you’re passionate about fitness or you occasionally surf the web for diet tips, you’ve probably come across most of the above health and weight-loss myths. Since medical care is oftentimes unreliable as a standalone treatment and prevention method for chronic diseases, proper nutrition has become the cornerstone of good health and a way for people to take their physical and mental wellbeing into their own hands. But how can we, as conscious consumers, make more sensible choices when it comes to our diets and lifestyle?
Why persistent inaccurate myths are dangerous and life-threatening
Despite the fact that the finances spent yearly on health care have dramatically increased over the past four decades, the overall wellbeing of Americans has progressively worsened, to the point where chronic illnesses plague elders and young children alike. It is estimated that approximately 595,690 people will die from cancer in 2016 in the United States alone. In addition, cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death and claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Accounting for almost 1 of every 3 deaths in America, heart disease kills over 375,000 people in the United States each year. Along with a distressing rise in the number of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis cases, there is also an excessive increase in the production and consumption of meat and dairy. However, many people still hold on to unwarranted, but deep-seated beliefs regarding their diet choices and worry that consuming a lower amount of protein is a decisive and urgent health issue. I used to be one of those people – before I got into fitness, I couldn’t imagine my life without my meat and cheese every day. But I learned to be more open about my lifestyle choices and, more importantly, stick to facts over feelings when it comes to my body’s health.
The claim that started it all
With fad diets and Instagram weight loss tips catching onto the public more than ever, finding science-backed health advice has become increasingly difficult. As someone who’s passionate about health, I had a hard time filtering out useful nutritional information. And I notice the same confusion in most people today who are just starting out their fitness journey or are still clinging to fad diets to lose weight. While many people are genuinely terrified of eating an apple because they think carbohydrates will make them fat, there’s very little thought given to the excessive amounts unhealthy fat and cholesterol consumed from animal products. At the same time, we’re also frightened by the idea of eating too little protein, without being aware of the large quantities we’re already consuming. Very few people know that, while protein is vital for keeping our cells functional, the quantities our bodies require are far smaller than we think. The initial protein recommendation that we all follow today was proclaimed in the nineteenth century by German nutritionist Carl von Voit, who determined that we only need to eat 48 grams of protein every day in order to keep our bodies healthy and thriving. Although his own research supported a low-protein diet, Voit recommended eating 118 grams of protein daily on the assumption that “too much of a good thing” can’t be bad. Given the recent studies which attest to the negative impact of animal protein on the human body, this presumption has been proven false. Nonetheless, the protein myth persists both in the media and in the minds of most consumers.
The China Study and the startling implications of diet on weight and health
In the early 1980s, the Chinese government collaborated with a group of researchers from the University of Oxford and Cornell University in order to initiate the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted, which would later become known as The China Study. The primary aim of the research project was to investigate how nutrition and environment affect an individual’s overall health. Scientists decided to choose China due to its regional diets, which range from those based around animal protein to those that are more plant-oriented. Additionally, China was selected because of its genetically homogenous population – meaning that genetic variations would not alter or misconstrue the results of the study. The researchers visited 60 different regions within China and had the participants fill out questionnaires and provide food and urine samples. After collecting heaps of data sets, the scientists then integrated the results with the information in the Cancer Atlas, a published collection of cancer studies conducted over several decades, sustained by the 1970s Chinese Premier Zhou EnLai.
How animal-based protein diets promote cancer growth
The results of The China Study found that there is a strong link between diets rich in animal products and cancer cell growth. This is due to the fact that carcinogens (or potentially cancer-triggering agents) can only replicate and make healthy cells cancerous if there are certain enzymes present in the body. Theses enzymes create groups of cells called foci, which later grow into fully-developed tumors. Recent evidence has shown that the size and number of foci is determined by the body’s animal protein intake and not by the presence of carcinogens. This means that the more animal protein is consumed, the larger are the quantities of produced enzymes and, consequently, the more aggressive and accelerated the cancer growth becomes. Moreover, even if the patient has high levels of carcinogens, a low-protein diet decreases the enzyme activity in the body and can stunt the growth of cancerous cells.
Heart disease can be reversed through nutrition
Another compelling finding of The China Study is that cardiovascular disease can regress using proper nutrition. Physician Caldwell B. Esselstyn, M.D., treated coronary heart disease patients with whole foods, plant-based diet and was followed by Dr. Dean Ornish and several other physicians across the country. Not only did the diet change halt the progression of the illness, but the clogged arteries were opened and the damage reversed in 70% of cases.
Why adopting a plant-based diet can save your life
The large-scale research project also found that populations which consumed a largely or exclusively plant-based diet had low to zero rates of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis. This is not only due to the lack of animal protein but also because plant foods are high in fiber and essential antioxidants, which have been linked to lower instances of colorectal cancer and other chronic diseases. Moreover, the high-fat content of animal products raises estrogen and cholesterol levels in the body. Adopting a plant-based diet can dramatically reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in women, as well as greatly decrease the chance of having a stroke or developing a life-threatening cardiovascular disease. Given the urgency of America’s growing epidemics, it’s important for us, as sensible consumers, to take small steps towards a more conscious and well-informed lifestyle, which can help us recover our health instead of deterring it.