Cultivating Healthy Skepticism

I mentioned in the comments to a recent blog post titled "What Dietary Changes Inhibit Cancer in 100% of Cases?" that a reader wrote to share some concerns.

First, they were worried that the title was too strongly worded, and the citations were lacking. Both of those concerns were valid, and I have since made the title more specific and added citations from Dr. Campbell’s book The China Study. However, the reader also expressed skepticism about the remarkable claims Dr. Campbell makes about the health effects of adopting a plant-based diet, and I wanted to address that skepticism more in depth.

I’ve been asked, more than once, "well, if adopting a plant based diet has so many health benefits, why haven’t I heard about it before?" The assumption is that if something is definitely proven to be good for you, everyone would know about it. But, in my experience, this doesn’t always happen. Unfortunately, in the world today, money talks, and there isn’t a lot of money in telling people to eat a simple, whole foods, plant based diet that they can grow in their own backyard.  You may have heard of the beef lobby, a huge organization with a lot of political clout and advertising dollars, but have you ever heard of a broccoli lobby?

If an idea is unfamiliar, that isn’t a reason to reject it out of hand. If there are more dollars behind advertising Coca Cola than kale, and Cheese Doodles than cherries, then it’s up to each person to help spread the word about healthy living and healthy eating to whatever degree we can. While I’m not in a position to defend Dr. Campbell’s research, and I recognize that people have raised concerns with some of his methods and conclusions, overall his research is in line with the conclusions of virtually every major health association in the United States.

The American Dietetic Association acknowledges that a vegetarian diet can result in "lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; ... lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer." The American Heart Association explains, "You don't need to eat foods from animals to have enough protein in your diet. Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied and caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts all contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. You don't need to consciously combine these foods ('complementary proteins') within a given meal.” The American Diabetes Association cites a study that demonstrates "that a low-fat vegan diet and a diet based on ADA nutrition recommendations can help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood glucose levels and lower their chances for heart and blood vessel problems. These improvements were greater with the low-fat vegan diet."

Each person needs to make their own inquiries into diet and health, guided by their best judgment, the advice of authorities and the wisdom of their body. Skepticism is necessary when evaluating recommendations that have the potential to affect our bodies in a dramatic way. But we should try to exercise a healthy skepticism. Just like we shouldn’t immediately jump on the bandwagon of the next fad diet, we also shouldn’t reject an idea immediately because it’s unfamiliar or conflicts with our beliefs. When we hear from sources that we trust, we can gain the confidence to make gradual adjustments in our diets, such as eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and eliminating some animal fats and proteins. Ultimately, each person will be most convinced by experiencing the results for him or herself. Good health is it’s own motivation and it’s own evidence.