Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition (Book Review)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 by Jenna M

“I ultimately became aware of two things: First, nutrition is the master key to human health. Second, what most of us think of as proper nutrition—isn’t.” - T. Colin Campbell, PhD

My grandfather was the doctor of a small town, a consultant in other clinics and hospitals, and helped start a successful university medical school. He believed in beginning the day with a grapefruit. On visits, my siblings and I weren't allowed to leave his breakfast table until we finished drinking the milk from our cereal bowls. My grandfather also had diabetes, cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, kidney trouble, cancer, and had experienced at least one stroke and heart attack in his lifetime. He took multiple prescriptions and, grapefruit aside, ate whatever he wanted. Grandfather loved his salt, his rich dinners, and the best of everything. Meat and dairy were at the forefront of his eating habits. Despite being known for helping others, he himself was not as healthy as I had once assumed.

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition uncovers many facts about science and nutrition and questions the current "health" system. Author T. Colin Campbell has dedicated his life to the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and the science backs up his belief that a whole food, plant-based diet is essential in achieving optimal health. I think the most interesting topics in this book center around the dangers of animal protein and dairy, how profit-oriented systems provide quick and temporary fixes instead of addressing the real issue, and the idea of reductionism vs. wholism. Let's look at these a little more closely.
 

The Dangers of Animal Protein and Dairy
Dr. Campbell published a book in 2005 called The China Study that he touches on in Whole about a 20-year study conducted in China in relation to animal protein and dairy consumption leading to an abundance of chronic illnesses. You'll want to read The China Study to look at the research and a full explanation, but Campbell notes his surprise when learning that animal protein activated cancer cells, but plant protein didn't. Having grown up on a dairy farm and previously believing in the good of animal protein and dairy, his entire perspective changed. I was also surprised by this information because I grew up hearing about the importance of eating meat and dairy. I was led to believe that I wouldn't get adequate protein without them. If you research the protein content of various whole foods, you'll quickly learn that many other high-protein sources exist.
 

Profit-Oriented Systems and Quick Fixes
Instead of health-related research simply going through science, Dr. Campbell writes about how this vital part of our lives also goes through the pharmaceutical industry and government. He writes, "A significant problem with the pharmaceutical business model is that healthy people tend not to take drugs." Healthy people don't need pills because they're eating right and exercising more often than not, so it can be assumed that the people who are taking these drugs are doing so because unhealthy lifestyle choices caused some form of symptom or disorder. Campbell makes it clear that there are cases where some forms of medical intervention are necessary, but prevention through a whole food, plant-based diet is obviously his preference. The case is made that there is profit in creating a drug, but the industry cannot profit off natural food grown in the ground; you cannot patent the earth. Likewise, you can have any number of surgeries to fix something that is ailing you, but those surgeries will never help define you as healthy. Campbell advocates for looking at food as medicine before anything else. There is no quick fix for health.
 

Reductionism vs. Wholism
When discussing reductionism and wholism, Dr. Campbell writes, "If you are a reductionist, you believe that everything in the world can be understood if you understand all its component parts. A wholist, on the other hand, believes that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. That's it: the entire debate in a nutshell." In other words, you must understand how everything impacts your body as a whole instead of focusing on it in parts. Likewise, you cannot make a few small changes and expect every system in your body to be clean and healed. That goes with medicine, supplements, specified diets like low-fat, low-carb, etc. You must address every area of your health in order to truly be healthy. It's that simple.
 

“Instead of ‘dieting,’ we must change our lifestyle to include a diet that promotes health.”
In regard to food, living a (w)holistic lifestyle involves eating a whole food, plant-based diet with little or no added oil, salt, or refined cabohydrates like white flour and sugar. Apart from that basic guideline, Campbell doesn't focus on food lists, and there are no recipes. He leaves that to other people and other books. Now, does that simply mean being a vegan? No, not necessarily. Vegans can find ways to be unhealthy too. Any form of diet or restriction can involve unhealthy choices. So, instead of focusing on labels, let's just eat healthy... for real.
 

whole food

 

While it isn't spelled out in the book, I think it fair to operate under the principle that no one is perfect. I agree with what Kaitlin said in her Hungry for Change book review about moderation. I don't think there is anything wrong with going out for pizza and beer if the other six days that week revolved around eating healthy and exercising. Remember, no one wants to suffer. I think we all deserve our little indulgences, especially those who earn it. I'll admit that my mind shot straight into vegan mode when I started reading this book along with watching Forks Over Knives, a documentary that Campbell is featured in. I realized in a matter of days that I don't want to operate under a label. Instead, I'm getting rid of red meats and will moderately eat other animal proteins and dairy. They will essentially be my reward after the six days of eating a whole food, plant-based diet and exercising. It may not be perfect, but it works for me.

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition is an informative look at the state of health today. Campbell has spent his entire adult life researching and has a clear passion for health. The most important message I got out of reading this book is that it's never too late to make changes and improve your health. Campbell's final message is that “it’s time for us to begin a real revolution—one that begins by challenging our individual beliefs and changing our diets, and ends with the transformation of our society as a whole."

 

Have you read this book? What is your reaction? What are you doing to live a healthier lifestyle?


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