Prof. Emeritus T. Collin Campbell, nutritional sciences, attempted to dispel myths about the importance of meat and dairy proteins for a healthy diet Thursday, in a talk titled “A Convocation in Nutrition.”
Campbell, co-author of The China Study, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic detailed the scientific evidence for the benefits of plant diets, citing the diet’s positive results for everyone from former President Bill Clinton to those suffering from degenerative diseases.
The two explained that these diets not only minimize the potential risks of developing chronic diseases, but also hold the potential to reverse some of the damage and heal the body even in fairly late stages of degenerative diseases.
Campbell showed the audience of a clip of Clinton with Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Sept. 25, where the former president explained that he had lost a considerable amount of weight on a plant-based diet, including a daily protein supplement and the occasional fish meal. Clinton cited Campbell’s The China Study as crucial reading for helping along his weight loss. While Campbell and Esselstyn applauded Clinton for his adamant stance on having “no dairy” in his diet, they suggested that his protein supplement was unnecessary and the occasional fish could be just as harmful as the occasional cigarette.
In his talk, Campbell explained that the entrenched beliefs in science when he was younger were that meat-based protein was an essential component of any diet. Campbell even fed Filipino children meat in an attempt to eradicate malnutrition in their country while in the early stages of his career.
As Campbell saw studies correlating protein consumption with development of cancer, he began to question the nutritional orthodoxy that based diets around the intake of protein.
“I don’t want you to leave here with the impression that protein is a bad thing,” Campbell noted.
Many of his nutritional studies found that the ideal proportion of protein consumption in one’s diet is approximately 10 percent — any more and instances of cancer development increase dramatically. Campbell also cited studies that linked consumption of dairy with different types of cancer.
In addition to the different links between protein and cancer development, other studies seemed to show that “cancer is a geographically localized disease,” Campbell said, where the geographical regions that report higher instances of cancer are those that have diets high in protein.
Campbell summed up by saying that nutrition is holistic, a concept which is “anathema” to most scientists’ method. He noted that he often fell victim to the rigid scientific mentality himself, looking for a single causal force for cancer when in fact, there are multiple mechanisms.
“We missed the big story,” Campbell said about his previous way of conducting scientific research and one that he believes is still prominent today.
Dr. Esselstyn began his lecture by deriding the current medical system’s tendency to resort to “quick fixs” like surgery or medication to reverse underlying conditions, explaining that plant diets have been shown to heal such complicated illnesses as heart disease and coronary artery disease.
“Nothing with a mother. Nothing with a face,” Esselstyn said as he rattled off a list of foods to avoid and foods to include in an ideal diet. Esselstyn noted oil, fish, fowl, meat, dairy and caffeinated coffee as common foods to avoid.
“The only people who really don’t want to see me succeed … is the government, the USDA. Every five years they make a wonderful pyramid that is laden with foods that guarantee that millions of Americans will perish,” Esselstyn said.
As anecdotal evidence of the virtues of plant-based diets for protein consumption, Esselstyn cited the example of Joe Rollino, the legendary Coney Island strong man. Esselstyn said Rollino only ate a plant-based diet his entire life. Up until earlier this year when he was killed by a delivery van, Rollino was still living healthy at 103 years old.
Esselstyn recommended going “cold turkey” when switching to a completely plant-based diet.
Mickey Singer ’12 understood the expert’s philosophy in the case of dealing with patients who were progressed into cardiovascular diseases, but disagreed with this strict approach for average people.
“For more moderate purposes, you need a little bit of animal product … We need the protein. And I think it would be in his best interest to serve his patients by making his advice more easy to follow,” Singer said.
Carrie Kaysen, who traveled from Philadelphia for the lecture, has read Prof. Cambell’s The China Study and has been following Esselstyn around for two years.
“[My boyfriend] had two heart attacks and we [started the diet] because he had two heart attacks,” Kaysen said. “He’s lowered his cholesterol from over 400 to 150. He’s no longer diabetic and he’s off all his heart medicines, his diabetes medicines, everything. We’ve lost over 100 pounds between the two of us.”
Joseph Niczky contributed reporting to this article.