WHOLE: An Interview with Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Written by Katie Vann

Dr. T. Colin Campbell

There are few books out there that have revolutionized how people look at their dinner plate like Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study. Exhaustively researched, Campbell’s work is the definitive guide on the health benefits of plant-based eating, and he argues that most chronic diseases can even be prevented or reversed through diet. The China Study inspired the groundbreaking documentary Forks Over Knives, a cookbook, a foundation, an online plant-based nutrition program at eCornell, and so much more.

Dr. Campbell picks up right where The China Study left off with his new book Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, released earlier this month. Whole explains the science behind all the evidence presented in The China Study. Dr. Campbell spoke with us about his new book and shared some strategies for helping others adopt and sustain a plant-based diet.

 

Dr. T. Colin CampbellQ: What inspired you to write The China Study and now your new book Whole?

A: My research career started in 1956, so I’ve been around a long time. Most of my career was spent at Cornell University where I had a large research program. Initially, my research focused on diet and cancer. Through my research, I saw some very unusual things that did not appear in textbooks. It challenged my own thinking. Namely, the research showed that we could turn on and turn off cancer.

Nutrition tends to be confusing to most people—even among medical researchers and practitioners. There is not a medical school in the United States that teaches this. The public is also very confused. It’s given very low funding status to even study the topic of nutrition. People certainly don’t know much about consuming a plant-based diet. Finally, I decided to write a book—The China Study–which I co-authored with my son who is now a physician. The China Study came out in 2005. The book has done very well. It’s sold more than a million copies. Since the book, I’ve lectured all over the place. Even President Clinton received the book, and it has helped him resolve his own health problems. The China Study was my attempt to document what we had learned, and while it was very successful in telling what I learned, it didn’t necessarily address why this happens the way it does.

With Whole, I wanted to know why haven’t people heard this before? Why do they reject the idea? And where does this come from? I tried to really understand those questions. What is nutrition? What do we mean when we talk about the practice of medicine? So the book Whole really is quite exciting. It’s a transforming book. I believe that it changes the way we think about nutrition and health, and it even challenges the way we do research.

Q: So, why doesn’t everyone eat this way?

A: If you look around, there are all kinds of reasons people who tend not to go there. Number one: they haven’t heard this message before and their doctors weren’t trained in this area. Although most of my lectures are to medical schools, what I’m finding is that once they see these findings, and once they hear me explain what this is all about, a growing number of them are saying, “Why wasn’t I taught this before?”

We need to change the fundamental information. The average person doesn’t know this information, and they are skeptical about it. For example, without this information, people tend to consume the comfort foods they’ve always eaten. So in their minds, they think they know what is good food, but what they really are referring to is what food tastes good. But good taste is basically an addiction. Like any chemical addiction, it takes a while to get over.

Dr. T. Colin CampbellQ: In your book, you mention the harm caused by our current health system. How do we even begin to change this? 

A: The first level for change is information, as I said. There are various ways of putting information before people: books, online courses, lectures, and having colleagues elsewhere talking about plant-based eating. However, information is not enough to cause people to change. Most people still don’t do it. The key is to let people try the lifestyle for themselves. To some extent, this can be a game-changer, especially when done in the proper way. The third stage is developing a way to sustain behavior change.

My sons are currently establishing a healthcare model to do this, and we’ve tested various parts of it. We think we have it melded together. I think it is time to inform the public about this information in a way that allows them to choose. Different people are motivated to change by problems like healthcare, the environment, and violence, all of which are related to one another, especially through the food we eat.

The results most people get when they try this dietary lifestyle are really quite dramatic. It really works. People can drop their serum cholesterol within days. Blood pressure problems usually resolve. Blood sugar goes down. Type 2 diabetics get off their medications, and type 1 diabetics can reduce their medications. We’re also finding that even with diseases like MS, diet can stop the progression, which is amazing.

This practice represents one solution with infinite outcomes if we stick with the whole, plant-based foods, and we don’t add back a lot of oil, fat, sugar, or salt–that’s the key. It’s very simple. Learn about this. Learn how to cook. Stay with it for a little while, and the taste will come. The food is delicious. It has amazing effects on everyone’s health. I think we’re sitting on a very eye-opening kind of thing that for centuries has passed us by. We’re rediscovering what Hippocrates said 2,500 years ago: “Let food be thy medicine.”

 

Find T. Colin Campbell’s new book Whole on his website, and watch the powerful film Forks Over Knives, based on The China Study’s findings, on Netflix. For more information on T. Colin Campbell’s foundation, visit TColinCampbell.org, and to join a community of plant-based eaters, visit Wholevana.com.