The China Study examines the effect of animal protein intake on cancer risk and suggests improving your health by focusing on a plant-based diet.
If you ever have a chat with a vegetarian or vegan friend, this book is bound to come up. It’s often called the bible for vegans, because the research that made up the groundwork of this book is what first backed a vegan diet scientifically on a big scale.
It’s been a big step forward for advocates of plant-based diets, because like in most divisive issues, such as politics or religion, it’s really hard to argue when all you have to argue with is morals and ethics. Now, with some scientific truth to back up a plant-based diet, supporters of vegetarian or vegan diets can make themselves heard.
The book is loosely based on a 20-year study conducted with over 6,000 people from 65 rural counties in China.
Here are 3 lessons from the book to get your thinking gears spinning about food:
- Your health is not a matter of medicine, it’s a matter of nutrition.
- You don’t need as much protein as you think.
- Animal-based protein is more likely to cause cancer than plant-based protein.
Ready to learn something new about nutrition? Let’s go!
Lesson 1: Your health is a matter of nutrition, not medicine.
In a way, we’re all slacking with our health. We have this great medical system, which we can rely on to take care of us, whatever might one day be wrong with our bodies.
There seems to be a magic fix for every disease, a pill for every pain and a surgery for every slightly misplaced nose or other symmetric irregularity in our faces or on our bodies.
But by relying blindly on the health care others provide for us, we’re giving our health into other people’s hands. And if those hands are shaking at the wrong time, for example during a tumor removal surgery, it’s lights out.
In reality, your health is yours to preserve. It’s in your hands, and yours alone. You decide about your health with every meal you eat, every piece of fruit or milkshake you choose.
Even though we’re spending 3 times as much money on healthcare as we used to 40 years ago, sickness and disease has gone up across the board. 7% of all patients suffer from severe side effects of their medication, even when taking it as prescribed.
Health is a matter of prevention, not redemption. You choose your health by choosing your nutrition. Every single day.
Lesson 2: You don’t need as much protein as you think.
The Paleo diet is one of the most popular diets and has seen a massive surge in its following over recent years. Prompting us to eat like our caveman ancestors, it relies heavily on veggies, nuts, seeds, berries, and, of course, meat and animal products. It’s particularly popular among fitness freaks, due to its high intake in protein, which is important for muscle growth.
More and more, even non-athletes thus start to demonize carbohydrates, because they’re high in sugar, supposed to make you fat, and receive little attention when eating Paleo.
The China Study begs to differ, quoting German nutritionist Carl von Voit, the father of modern nutrition science, who found way back in the 19th century, that 48 grams of protein per day is enough to remain healthy.
Ironically, he’s also the same guy that started the pro-protein craze, recommending 118 grams of protein per day himself, “for there can never be too much of a good thing.”
Lesson 3: Cancer is more often caused by animal-proteins than by plant-based proteins.
Meat, milk and fish are prime sources of protein, and therefore fuel most people’s diets. Nobody’s worried about taking in too little carbs or fat – we all know we get more than enough of that – we think, and instead just focus on upping our protein intake, mostly resorting to animal-based products, because their laden with it.
However, the results from The China Study suggest that cells fed with plant-based proteins are less likely to attract cancer cells, because of a different set of enzymes being present. For those rural areas in China where a low animal protein diet was followed, much less instances of heart disease, diabetes and several forms of cancer occurred, as compared to areas with a high animal protein diet.
Additionally, they conducted studies by exposing rats to aflatoxin, a substance potentially causing liver cancer, and then comparing what happened, depending on how much animal protein the rats had in their diet.
For the rats living on 5% casein (the protein in milk), chances of developing cancer were just 30% of what they were for rats eating a 20% casein diet. What’s more, even low aflatoxin exposure rats developed 9 times as many tumors when eating 20% animal-based protein than high aflatoxin exposure rats eating just 5% animal-based protein.
Therefore, The China Study advocates getting your protein from beans, soy, nuts and lentils and switching your diet to one that’s mostly, if not entirely, plant-based, like a vegetarian or vegan diet.
My personal take-aways
I’m not pro-vegan. I’m not pro-paleo. I think all diets are useless. Limiting the number of items you eat is just stupid, in my opinion. Humans thrive on variety. I eat to be healthy, not because I believe animals are our friends, that cows are holy, pigs are dirty or that genetically mutated corn and wheat is our demise.
The truth is you can eat any of the above, as long as they’re high quality. There’s grass-fed beef and pork, from animals who have spent their entire lives outside, not crammed into sheds and you can get locally grown corn or home-made bread from the market down the street.
What some people might call me unethical for is really just non-spiritual – I’d hate to turn food into a religion, which leaves me unable to remain objective about it and do what’s actually best for my health. For me this means shooting for high quality food and steering clear of the extremes.
Hint: Call me too objective again, but for me a good indicator of what’s extreme is always how many people follow the trend – after all, that’s how an extreme is defined in statistics. For the vegan diet, it’s ~1% in the US.
If you’re interested in food and health, definitely read some summaries around this topic and pick up this book – but make sure to balance your view with more books on the topic – I like Salt, Sugar, Fat.