Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition


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New York Times Bestseller

What happens when you eat an apple? The answer is vastly more complex than you imagine.

Every apple contains thousands of antioxidants whose names, beyond a few like vitamin C, are unfamiliar to us, and each of these powerful chemicals has the potential to play an important role in supporting our health. They impact thousands upon thousands of metabolic reactions inside the human body. But calculating the specific influence of each of these chemicals isn't nearly sufficient to explain the effect of the apple as a whole. Because almost every chemical can affect every other chemical, there is an almost infinite number of possible biological consequences.

And that's just from an apple.

Nutritional science, long stuck in a reductionist mindset, is at the cusp of a revolution. The traditional “gold standard" of nutrition research has been to study one chemical at a time in an attempt to determine its particular impact on the human body. These sorts of studies are helpful to food companies trying to prove there is a chemical in milk or pre-packaged dinners that is “good" for us, but they provide little insight into the complexity of what actually happens in our bodies or how those chemicals contribute to our health.

In The China Study, T. Colin Campbell (alongside his son, Thomas M. Campbell) revolutionized the way we think about our food with the evidence that a whole food, plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat. Now, in Whole, he explains the science behind that evidence, the ways our current scientific paradigm ignores the fascinating complexity of the human body, and why, if we have such overwhelming evidence that everything we think we know about nutrition is wrong, our eating habits haven't changed.

Whole is an eye-opening, paradigm-changing journey through cutting-edge thinking on nutrition, a scientific tour de force with powerful implications for our health and for our world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781939529848
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 05/06/2014
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 106,388
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

For more than 40 years, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, has been at the forefront of nutrition research. His legacy, the China Study, is the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted. Dr. Campbell is the author of the bestselling book, The China Study, and the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. He has received more than 70 grant-years of peer-reviewed research funding and authored more than 300 research papers. The China Study was the culmination of a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine.

Howard Jacobson, PhD, is an online marketing consultant, health educator, and ecological gardener from Durham, N.C. He earned a Masters of Public Health and Doctor of Health Studies degrees from Temple University, and a BA in History from Princeton. Howard cofounded VitruvianWay.com, an online marketing agency, and is a coauthor of Google AdWords For Dummies. When Howard is not chasing groundhogs away from blueberry bushes or wrestling with Google, he relaxes by playing Ultimate Frisbee and campfire songs from the 1960s. His current life goal is to turn the world into a giant food forest.

Read an Excerpt


Rethinking the Science of Nutrition


BenBella Books, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 T. Colin Campbell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-937856-24-3



The Modern Health-Care Myth

He who cures a disease may be the skillfullest, but he that prevents it is the safest physician. —THOMAS FULLER

What a great time to be alive! Modern medicine promises salvation from scourges that have plagued humanity since time began. Disease, infirmity, aging—all soon to be eradicated thanks to advances in technology, genetics, pharmacology, and food science. The cure for cancer is just around the corner. DNA splicing will replace our self-sabotaging or damaged genes with perfectly healthy ones. New wonder drugs are discovered practically every week. And genetic modification of food, combined with advanced processing techniques, will soon be able to turn a simple tomato, carrot, or cookie into a complete meal. Heck, maybe someday soon we won't have to eat at all—we can just swallow a pill that contains every nutrient we need.

There's only one problem with that rosy picture—it's totally false. None of those lofty promises is anywhere close to being realized. We "race for the cure" by pouring billions of dollars into dangerous and ineffective treatments. We seek new genes, as if the ones we've evolved over millions of years are insufficient for our needs. We medicate ourselves with toxic concoctions, a small number of which treat the disease, while the rest treat the harmful side effects of the primary drugs.

We talk about the health-care system in America, but that's a misnomer; what we really have is a disease-care system.

Fortunately, we have a far better, safer, and cheaper way of achieving good health, one with only positive side effects. Furthermore, this approach prevents most of the diseases and conditions that afflict us before they show up, so we don't need to avail ourselves of the disease-care system in the first place.


The United States spends more money per capita on "health" care than any country on earth, yet when the quality of our health care is compared with other industrialized nations, we rank near the bottom.

As a country, we're quite sick. Despite our high rate of health expenditures, we're not any healthier. In fact, rates of many chronic diseases have only increased over time, and based on health biomarkers like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, they may be headed for further increases. The prevalence of obese individuals increased from 13 percent of the U.S. population in 1962 to a staggering 34 percent in 2008. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the age-adjusted Type 2 diabetes rate in the United States has more than doubled from 1980 to 2010, from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent of the population. Hypertension (high blood pressure) among American adults increased 30 percent between 1997 and 2009.

Drugs and surgical advances are keeping the death rates more or less constant despite the increased risk factors (except for diabetes, whose mortality rate has increased an astounding 29 percent in North America from 2007 to 2010). But the data make it clear that none of our advances in medicine deal with primary prevention, and none are making us fundamentally healthier. They aren't decreasing the death rate. And the price we're paying for these advances is steep.

For many years, the cost of medically prescribed drugs has been increasing at a rate faster than inflation. Think we're getting our money's worth? Think again.

Side effects of those very same prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer. That's right! Prescription drugs kill more people than traffic accidents. According to Dr. Barbara Starfield, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2000, "adverse effects of medications" (from drugs that were correctly prescribed and taken) kill 106,000 people per year. And that doesn't include accidental overdoses.

Add to that the 7,000 annual deaths from medication errors in hospitals, 20,000 deaths from errors in hospitals not related to medications (like botched surgeries and incorrectly programmed and monitored machines), 80,000 deaths from hospital-caused infections, and 2,000 deaths per year from unnecessary surgery, and the tire-screeching ambulance ride starts to look like the safest part of the whole hospital experience.

Yet when you ask the U.S. government about this, you're met with deafening denial. Look at the CDC web page on the leading causes of death shown in Figure 1-1.

Notice anything strange? Not a peep about the medical system being the third leading cause of death in the United States. Admitting that would be bad for business, and if the U.S. government cares about one thing here, it's the economic interests of the medical establishment.

But what about when medical care doesn't kill? Surely the benefits to millions outweigh a few hundred thousand deaths each year?

Visit a nursing home or geriatric center to see for yourself how well the system serves those who need it most. You'll feel the physical and emotional pain of once-vibrant people suffering needlessly with ailments and illnesses caused in large part by the pharmaceutical cocktails they take. Who can blame them? Doctors know best, right? And how many daytime TV commercials promoting drugs to decrease their blood cholesterol, drive down their blood sugar, and increase their sex drive have they watched?

I could go on and on. But I think you get the picture: the more we spend on disease care, the sicker and more miserable we seem to become.


All our trillions of dollars are not improving our health outcomes. The promised breakthroughs are always a decade away and recede just as fast as we chase them. Genetic research has led to nightmarish anti-privacy scenarios, as well as tragic misunderstandings in which mothers are having their young daughters' breasts chopped off just because some geneticist pricked their daughters' fingers, tested their DNA, and scared them half to death with predictions of possible future breast cancer.

That's all pretty depressing, I admit.

The good news is that we don't need medical breakthroughs or genetic manipulation to achieve, maintain, and restore vibrant health. A half century of research—both mine and that of many others—has convinced me of the following:

• What you eat every day is a far more powerful determinant of your health than your DNA or most of the nasty chemicals lurking in your environment.

• The foods you consume can heal you faster and more profoundly than the most expensive prescription drugs, and more dramatically than the most extreme surgical interventions, with only positive side effects.

• Those food choices can prevent cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, macular degeneration, migraines, erectile dysfunction, and arthritis—and that's only the short list.

• It's never too late to start eating well. A good diet can reverse many of those conditions as well.

In short: change the way you eat and you can transform your health for the better.


For some reason, "health food" has a reputation for being tasteless and joyless. You might be thinking at this point that the miracle diet for human health must be the most grim fare imaginable. Fortunately, that's not the case. Evolution thankfully has programmed us to seek out and enjoy foods that promote our health. All we have to do is get back to our dietary roots—nothing radical or miserable required.

The ideal human diet looks like this: Consume plant-based foods in forms as close to their natural state as possible ("whole" foods). Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, raw nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and whole grains. Avoid heavily processed foods and animal products. Stay away from added salt, oil, and sugar. Aim to get 80 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 10 percent from fat, and 10 percent from protein.

That's it, in 66 words. In this book I call it the whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet, and sometimes the WFPB lifestyle (I'm not crazy about the word diet, which implies a heroic and temporary effort rather than a sustainable and joyful way of eating).


Just how healthy is the WFPB diet? Let's pretend that all its effects could be achieved through a drug. Imagine a big pharmaceutical company holding a press conference to unveil a new pill called Eunutria. They unveil a list of scientifically proven effects of Eunutria that includes the following:

• Prevents 95 percent of all cancers, including those "caused" by environmental toxins

• Prevents nearly all heart attacks and strokes

• Reverses even severe heart disease

• Prevents and reverses Type 2 diabetes so quickly and profoundly that, after three days on this drug, it's dangerous for users to continue to use insulin

What about side effects, you ask? Of course there are side effects. They include:

• Gets you to your ideal weight in a healthy and sustainable fashion

• Eliminates most migraines, acne, colds and flu, chronic pain, and intestinal distress

• Improves energy

• Cures erectile dysfunction (that makes the pill a blockbuster success all by itself!)

Those are just the side effects for individuals taking the pill. There are also environmental effects:

• Slows and possibly reverses global warming

• Reduces groundwater contamination

• Ends the need for deforestation

• Shuts down factory farms

• Reduces malnutrition and dislocation among the world's poorest citizens

How healthy is the WFPB diet? It's hard to imagine anything healthier—or anything more effective at addressing our biggest health issues. Not only is WFPB the healthiest way of eating that has ever been studied, but it's far more effective in promoting health and preventing disease than prescription drugs, surgery, vitamin and herbal supplementation, and genetic manipulation.

If the WFPB diet were a pill, its inventor would be the wealthiest person on earth. Since it isn't a pill, no market forces conspire to advocate for it. No mass media campaign promotes it. No insurance coverage pays for it. Since it isn't a pill, and nobody has figured out how to get hugely wealthy by showing people how to eat it, the truth has been buried by half-truths, unverified claims, and downright lies. The concerted effort of many powerful interests to ignore, discredit, and hide the truth has worked so far.


I have spent the last few decades studying the effects of the WFPB diet; for me, the diet's results are convincing based solely on the data. But it's still helpful to explore the question of why. Why is the WFPB diet the healthiest way for humans to eat? Based on my training in biochemistry, I have a few conjectures that can be boiled down to one concept: oxidation gone awry.

Oxidation is the process by which atoms and molecules lose electrons as they come into contact with other atoms and molecules; it's one of the most basic chemical reactions in the universe. When you cut an apple and it turns brown in contact with air or when your car fender rusts, you're witnessing oxidation at work. Oxidation happens within our bodies as well. Some of it is natural and good; oxidation facilitates the transfer of energy within the body. Oxidation also gets rid of potentially harmful foreign substances in the body by making them water soluble (and therefore able to be excreted in urine). Excessive uncontrolled oxidation, however, is the enemy of health and longevity in humans, just as excessive oxidation turns your new car into a junker and your apple slice into compost. Oxidation produces something called free radicals, which we know are responsible for encouraging aging, promoting cancer, and rupturing plaques that lead to strokes and heart attacks, among other adverse effects impacting a host of autoimmune and neurologic diseases.

So how might a plant-based diet protect us from the disease- causing effects of free radicals? For one thing, there is some evidence that high-protein diets enhance free radical production, thus encouraging unwanted tissue damage. But it's virtually impossible to eat a high-protein diet if you're consuming mostly whole, plant-based foods. Even if you munched on legumes, beans, and nuts all day, you'd be hard pressed to get more than 12–15 percent or so of your calories from protein.

But there's much more to whole, plant-based foods than the high-protein animal foods they replace. It turns out that plants also produce harmful free radicals—in their case, during photosynthesis. To counteract that free radical production, plants have evolved a defense mechanism: a whole battery of compounds capable of preventing damage by binding to and neutralizing the free radicals. These compounds are known, not particularly poetically, as antioxidants.

When we and other mammals consume plants, we also consume the antioxidants in those plants. And they serve us just as faithfully and effectively as they serve the plants, protecting us from free radicals and slowing down the aging process in our cells. Remarkably, they have no effect on the useful oxidative processes I talked about earlier. They only neutralize the harmful products of excessive oxidation.

It seems reasonable to assume that our bodies never went to the trouble of making antioxidants because they were so readily available in what, for most of our history, was our primary food source: plants. It's only when we shifted to a diet rich in animal-based food and processed food fragments that we tilted the game in favor of oxidation. The excess protein in our diet has promoted excess oxidation, and we no longer consume enough plant-produced antioxidants to contain and neutralize the damage.

It's important to remember, however, that this is just a theory. The most important thing is not why the WFPB diet works so much as the fact that it does work. The evidence is clear about the WFPB diet's effectiveness—whatever specific reasons there may be.


When I lecture publicly, I'm often asked about the numbers. Many people want precise formulas and rules. How many ounces of leafy greens should I eat daily? What proportion of my diet should be fat, protein, or carbohydrate? How much vitamin C and magnesium do I need? Should certain foods be matched with other foods and, if so, in what proportion? And the number one question I'm asked is, "Do I need to eat 100 percent plant-based to obtain the health benefits you talk about?"

If you're asking those questions right now, here's my answer: relax. When it comes to numbers, I am reluctant to be too precise, mostly because (1) we don't yet have scientific evidence that fully answers these questions; (2) virtually nothing in biology is as precise as we try to make it seem; and (3) as far as the evidence suggests at this point, eating the WFPB way eliminates the need to worry about the details. Just eat lots of different plant foods; your body will do all the math for you!

As far as whether one should strive to eat 100 percent plant-based instead of something less—say, 95–98 percent—my answer is that I am not aware of reliable scientific evidence showing that such purity is absolutely necessary, at least in most situations. (Exceptions would include patients with cancer, heart disease, and other potentially fatal ailments, for whom any deviation can lead to worsening or relapse.) I do believe, however, that the closer we get to a WFPB diet, the healthier we will be. I say this not because we have foolproof scientific evidence of this, but because of the effect on our taste buds. When we go the whole way, our taste buds change and remain changed, as we begin to acquire new tastes that are much more compatible with our health. You wouldn't advise a heavy smoker who wants to quit to continue smoking one cigarette per day. It's much easier to go 100 percent than 99 percent, and you're much more likely to succeed in the long run.

I'm also often asked whether I consider the WFPB diet to be vegetarian or vegan. When describing the WFPB diet, I prefer not to use the "V" words. Most vegetarians still consume dairy, eggs, too much added oil, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods. Although vegans eliminate all animal-based foods, they also often continue to consume added fat (including all cooking oils), refined carbohydrates (sugar and refined flour), salt, and processed foods. The phrase whole food, plant-based is one I introduced to my colleagues as a member of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) cancer-research grant review panel from 1978 to 1980. Like me, they were reluctant to use the words vegetarian and vegan, or assign a particular value to the ideology that lies behind much vegetarian and vegan practice. I was interested in describing the remarkable health effects of this diet in reference to the scientific evidence, rather than in reference to personal and philosophical ideologies—however noble they may be.

Excerpted from WHOLE by T. COLIN CAMPBELL. Copyright © 2013 by T. Colin Campbell. Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Part I Enslaved by the System

Chapter 1 The Modern Health-Care Myth 3

Chapter 2 The Whole Truth 14

Chapter 3 My Heretical Path 26

Part II Paradigm as Prison

Chapter 4 The Triumph of Reductionism 45

Chapter 5 Reductionism Invades Nutrition 58

Chapter 6 Reductionist Research 75

Chapter 7 Reductionist Biology 88

Chapter 8 Genetics versus Nutrition, Part One 107

Chapter 9 Genetics versus Nutrition, Part Two 125

Chapter 10 Reductionist Medicine 140

Chapter 11 Reductionist Supplementation 150

Chapter 12 Reductionist Social Policy 164

Part III Subtle Power and its Wielders

Chapter 13 Understanding the System 181

Chapter 14 Industry Exploitation and Control 196

Chapter 15 Research and Profit 214

Chapter 16 Media Matters 231

Chapter 17 Government Misinformation 247

Chapter 18 Blinded by the Light Bringers 262

Part IV Final Thoughts

Chapter 19 Making Ourselves Whole 285

Acknowledgments 291

About the Authors 293

Notes 295

Index 313

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“After reading The China Study and drastically changing my diet toward the more whole food, plant-based diet recommended by Dr. Campbell, my career numbers shot up when they were supposed to be declining. I thought to myself ‘Why doesn't everyone eat this way?!’ This new book, Whole, answers that question with great clarity. Never again be confused about diet and nutrition.”
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons, 16-year National Football League player, all-time record holder for most touchdowns, most yards gained and most receptions

“America’s premier nutritionist, T. Colin Campbell, with courage and conviction, articulates how the self-serving reductionist paradigm permeates science, medicine, media, big pharma and philanthropic groups blocking the public from the nutritional truth for optimal health.”
Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD, author of the bestselling Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Top 100 Nation’s Doctors

“T. Colin Campbell, based on his long career in experimental research and health policy-making, uncovers how and why there is so much confusion about food and health and what can be done about it. His explanation is elegant, sincere, provocative, and far-reaching, including how we can solve our health-care crisis. Read and enjoy; there’s something here to inspire and offend just about everyone (sometimes the truth hurts).”
Dean Ornish, MD, Founder and President of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California; Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco; and author of the bestselling Dr. Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease

“T. Colin Campbell, PhD, has been the most influential nutritional scientist of the past century. His work has already saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”
John McDougall, MD, Founder of the McDougall Program

Whole makes a convincing case that considering the effect of food on human health and well-being in reference to single nutrients has led to tragic health consequences. Dr. Campbell’s new paradigm will change the way we think about food and, in doing so, could improve the lives of millions of people and save billions of dollars in health care costs.”
Brian Wendel, Producer of the feature film, Forks Over Knives

“There are very few material game-changers in life, but this book is truly one of them. The information herein—backed up by extraordinary peer-reviewed science—has the power to halt and reverse disease, give you energy you’ve never known, and put you on a path of transformation in just about every positive way. Read it and get ready to soar.”
Kathy Freston, New York Times bestselling author of The Lean and Quantum Wellness

“Dr. Colin Campbell opened our eyes with The China Study. In Whole, Dr. Campbell boldly shows exactly how our understanding of nutrition and health has gone off track and how to get it right. Beautifully and clearly written, this empowering book will forever change the way you think about health, food and science.”
Neal Barnard, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington, DC

“Dr. Campbell succeeds in taking a fresh, honest look at the science of nutrition, as he unveils the startling truth behind sickness and reveals a sure-fire way to achieve the excellent health you deserve.”
Chef AJ, author of Unprocessed

“This book is the key to understanding how to increase our natural longevity and health, it is key to slowing global warming, and all of this at no cost, rather, at immeasurable savings to society.”
Mike Fremont, World Record Holder marathons for 88 and 90 year olds

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition should be required reading for anyone interested in health.… I predict that this book will be the catalyst for millions of people to not only change their diets, but how they think about and make decisions concerning health and medicine. The revolution that will reform our broken healthcare system has begun.”
Pamela A. Popper, PhD, ND, Executive Director of The Wellness Forum; Coauthor of Food Over Medicine

“In Whole, Dr. Campbell defines a super-paradigm that elucidates a philosophy—wholism—which medicine needs to aspire to in order to attain an enlightened solution. Whole is a masterpiece of intellectual triangulation, outlining the past, the present, and the critical next steps in the future of biochemistry, human nutrition, and healthcare. This book is going to unleash a health revolution!”
Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition and host of What Would Julieanna Do?

“Why is the most expensive health care system in the world not working? This book provides scientific ‘big picture’ clarity amidst a sea of confusion about how commercially driven ‘disease management’ is costing us millions of lives—while wasting trillions of dollars. Understanding how this ‘health care monster’ operates is the first step toward creating a system that truly promotes health.”
J. Morris Hicks, consultant; author of Healthy Eating, Healthy World; and international blogger at hpjmh.com

“The reductionist view of nutrition and medicine deeply threatens our health unlike any disease we have ever battled.… By understanding and helping to spread the revolutionary concepts in this book, Whole, you are taking those first pivotal steps to change a failing paradigm while also helping yourself, your loved ones, and our nation recover its lost health.”
Alona Pulde, MD, and Matthew Lederman, MD, Founders of Exsalus Health & Wellness Center

“In Whole, leading nutritionist, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, explains how and why nutrition research and education have gotten so far off course that even the most health-conscious consumers are confused. With our current health and healthcare crises, Dr. Campbell's book is an important guide to understanding how we got here and how we can and must restructure the systems that brought us to this point.”
Jeff Novick, MS, RD, VP of Health Promotion, Executive Health Exams International

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