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China Study Critics & How Plant-Based Nutrition Can Prevent & Reverse Disease

By April 7, 2014September 12th, 202333 Comments

This week we hit a huge milestone – 2 MILLION DOWNLOADS! 

Wow. I was blown away when we hit 1 million after about a year since we started this experiment. Then just five months later, we hit the second million. I am beyond words. I love doing the podcast, love it. I do this for you. So it means more than you can imagine that it has found a passionate and loyal audience. With utmost sincerity, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and promise to honor your commitment to the show by striving to always do better and be better.

In honor of the milestone, I thought it appropriate to bring you one of my most compelling and important interviews to date. A conversation with a man I owe my life. A man whose studies, books and tireless advocacy have transformed countless lives across the globe. A man absolutely instrumental in paving a path for my own personal transformation — a journey that begins and ends with my adoption of a plant-based diet.

T. Colin Campbell

Dr. Campbell may not have invented the whole food plant-based diet, but he is most certainly the regal lion of the movement, pioneering it from fringe acceptance to modern age, widespread mainstream adoption. He is best-known as the author of The China Study*, one of the most important, ground-breaking, massively best-selling books ever written on health & nutrition. More recently, Dr. Campbell published an important follow up, Whole: Rethinking The Science of Nutrition*. But even if you have not read either of these books, there is a solid chance you saw him and his work profiled in the incredibly powerful documentary Forks Over Knives*.

The simple truth is that how we are beginning to understand the ways in which food and nutrition impact the underlying causes of so many Western diseases that unnecessarily plague developed cultures — and the means to prevent and reverse them — is due in large part to the tireless scientific research to which Dr. Campbell has devoted his life. He is, quite simply put, an absolute paradigm-busting legend of the modern movement for long-term wellness, disease prevention & reversal, sustainable ecosystems, animal welfare, and agricultural reform.

For the uninitiated, T. Colin Campbell is a Cornell and MIT trained Ph.D. in nutrition, biochemistry and microbiology and current professor emeritus at Cornell specializing in both nutrition & toxicology – specifically the effects of nutrition on long-term health and even more particularly the role nutrition plays in the causation of certain types of cancer. In addition to the two books mentioned above, he is the author of over 300 peer reviewed research papers on a variety of subjects related to the above.

Maybe you’re new to all this — I don’t get all the fuss. What exactly is The China Study?

In a nutshell, it was a gigantic 20-year epidemiological study – described by The New York Times as “the Grand Prix of epidemiology” – conducted by the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, Cornell and Oxford that looked at mortality rates from cancer and other chronic diseases from 1973–75 in 65 counties in China; the data was correlated with dietary surveys and blood work from 100 people in each county.

Why China? And why those specific counties? These communities were carefully selected primarily because they had genetically similar populations that tended, over many generations, to live and eat in the same way in the same place.

What were the findings? The study concluded that counties with a high consumption of animal-based foods were more likely to have had higher death rates from “Western” diseases while the opposite was true for counties that ate more plant foods.

In essence, The China Study* examined the relationship between the consumption of animal products (including dairy) and chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancers of the breast, prostate and bowel, concluding that people who eat a whole-food, plant-based/vegan diet—avoiding all animal products, including beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and milk, and reducing their intake of processed foods and refined carbohydrates — will escape, reduce or even reverse the development of numerous diseases.

Much to Dr. Campbell’s surprise, the book barely moved the needle when it was first published. In fact, it basically landed with a thud. But slowly, things started to take off when certain highly influential people began to discover the book, implement it’s advice, and experience dramatic positive results in their health and waistline.

Even President Bill Clinton became a vocal supporter. After years of living with heart disease, in 2010 he undertook the diet, and within a short period dropped 24 pounds, returning him to his college weight. You might have seen my buddy Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, interview Clinton for Dr. Gupta’s documentary The Last Heart Attack that aired on CNN in August 2011.  In that documentary, Dr Gupta made evident the power of plants — and the impact of Dr. Campbell’s dietary guidelines — on not only slimming the gut, but in preventing and even reversing heart disease. A protocol that has seen similar results in the prevention and reversal of obesity, diabetes and certain forms of cancer — 4 diseases that currently gobble up 75% of America’s total health care costs.

Pretty awesome stuff.

But The China Study is not without its critics and controversy. In the wake of the massive success of his book and Forks Over Knives*, his findings have been challenged — correlation does not equal causation! And suddenly — for reasons that essentially elude me — it has become quite vogue to offhandedly and rather thoughtlessly quip: Didn’t you hear the news? The China Study was debunked!

But has The China Study really been debunked? What is this truly all about?

Ask yourself this question: Who is threatened by attempting to undermine the integrity of Dr. Campbell’s game changing research?  And who stands to gain?

We get in to all of this and so much more in today’s conversation.

Dr. Campbell does not often sit for such long-winded interviews, so it was quite an honor and privilege to grab an hour of his time during the recent Holistic Holiday at Sea.  I had met him on several occasions over the last few years, but this was my first opportunity really getting to know the person behind the book, the research, and the movement. And I learned a lot.

I am very proud of this interview and hope that it will inspire and motivate you to think about your health, your diet and your lifestyle in new and different ways — ways that could have a profound impact on your future well-being. And even if you are well versed with Dr. Campbell and his work, I promise you will learn things about him, his life and research that you did not previously know.

A final note: this interview is intended as Part 1 of a 2 part series. Next week, I will be bringing you Howard Jacobson, Ph.D.— Dr. Campbell’s contributing author on Whole – who shares his own compelling story and fills in the gaps on some of the issues touched upon during today’s conversation. So if you enjoy today’s show you will definitely want to tune in next week as well.

In any event, I truly hope today’s conversation educates and inspires you to take your nutrition, health and fitness to the next level. All as a means to help you unlock and unleash your best, most authentic self.

Thanks for tuning in.

Peace + Plants,




*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.


  • Sin YC says:

    Hi. Enjoyed the interview. Do you have the links to the plant based nutrition papers from 1800’s and early 1900’s mentioned during the interview? Sounds fascinating. Thanks.

  • Dave Ball says:

    Congratulations on hitting the 2m download mark! You are a great interviewer and your guests are superb and varied. Thanks to everyone involved for sharing.

  • BYOL says:

    Rich, another great show. Thanks so much! If Dr. Campbell sends you that research from Russell Chittenden can you post a link to it, or at least provide the footnote for it?


  • PMG says:

    I was so anxiously awaiting this since you tweeted about it! I had thought I had read and known everything there was to know and read about this guy, but the interview captured great bits I hadn’t known. I love his brilliance, accessibility, and practical approach ….the science is the truth! So down to earth. I am amazed that my MPH program mentioned nothing of this book (I had read it outside of our curriculum)…even as an amazing epi study (even if they didn’t want to explore the results). It’s hard to believe with such concrete proof …that people continue to fight the truth as it is so plainly written in the books and on the wall. Thanks for all of your effort involved in teaching and disseminating the right info.

  • Will Kriski says:

    T Dawg! 🙂 Focus on the public with easy to understand movies, books instead of science heavy reports – fight the high fat gurus where they live. Forks over Knives had a lot of influence on the average person. I’m doing my part at the grassroots level to spread the word and be an example.

  • Rick says:

    Tremendous interview! First: the podcast format allows a conversation versu the sound byte pablum from mainstream. More importantly, your questions were pitch perfect and articulate affording Dr. Campbell the opportunity (because you waited) to provide full, cogent responses. This is a rare gem in the podcast universe.

  • Bilbo Baggins says:

    Great interview. I really enjoyed hearing the personal stories as well as the professional findings of Dr. Campbell. I bet it was a treat to sit and talk with him. Thanks for the podcast!

  • richroll66 says:

    Hey there – glad you enjoyed it. I dont yet have that information. I will reach out to TCC and see what he can provide me with – keep ya posted. Thanks!

  • richroll66 says:

    Yes it was – truly. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • richroll66 says:

    Thanks Dave – tell a friend!

  • richroll66 says:

    Will do Ant – thanks as always.

  • DanielFaster says:

    Great Work! Can hardly wait for part 2 . . . If you are taking ideas for future guests Don Matesz has an ebook that talks about the differences between plant and animal based nutrients.

  • nandasmom says:

    So much respect for Dr. Campbell for his work! Switching to a plant based diet has changed my life. Seriously. All the health problems I was struggling with are gone. Weight finally dropped. And that is just the beginning! Thank you for this interview and all the podcasts.

  • Trailmomma says:

    Great podcast Rich. I am a “graduate” of TCC’s Plant Based Nutrition Course through eCornell. I’ve been planted based for over 20 years and yet I still felt compelled to take his course a few months ago. It was mind blowing. In that course, he discussed the study by Russell Chittenden as well WWII, Norway, the removal of their livestock and what occurred ( Quite amazing. Thank you!

  • mikecrosby says:

    Don’t mean to sound morbid, but when the likes of Dr Campbell, Esselstyn, and McDougall are gone, it will be then that we realize we lived among giants.

  • Dadofthree says:

    I’m honored to have met two of the three you mentioned. They are indeed giants.

  • sarah says:

    I hate to be the lone dissenter here because I love your podcasts, Rich, but I really wish you’d pushed a little harder on the “debunking” of The China Study. Instead of explaining the controversy or delving into the nuances, both you and TCC just dismissed it outright. His argument was simply that the other side hasn’t published scientific papers. Ok. But does that get to the heart of the matter? Believe me, I’m sympathetic to this movement, but there seems to be some genuine questions about the China Study — both its methodology and its conclusions — and what TCC falls back on is a knee-jerk slandering of those who deign to keep inquiring. And yes, Rich, I agree: we should keep an eye on who has to gain from impugning TCC, by all means. At the same time, TCC and Esseltyn and Co. have some skin in the game as well. This is their life’s work, and nobody wants their legacy questioned.
    It was great to learn more about TCC’s history, and I appreciate that you don’t want to hold his feet to the fire in a friendly interview. But in the end, nothing was explained or resolved. And people like me — those who inhabit the skeptical middle-ground between the Paleos and the Vegans — are left as confused as ever.

  • richroll66 says:

    Hi Sarah – thanks for the comment & I appreciate where you re coming from. Basically I wanted to address the debunking issue but I also didn’t want this to monopolize the entire podcast, which it could have if I pushed. I wanted to hear his response and we got that. The main “debunking” posts are by Denise Minger & Chris Masterjohn and they are extremely technical – to get into the details of these and address points piece by piece would have lost the audience – the point of the podcast was to get to know Dr. C and his work. Even someone with quite a bit of experience in epidemiological studies would have to spend quite a bit of time parsing through it all line by line. Next week I have Howard Jacobson on who co-authored “Whole” and we get into this issue in a bit more detail (but maybe not as much as you would prefer). My experience is also that we can go around the merry go round on this forever and those who find the study unconvincing will hold to that belief no matter what. In essence the dismissive view stems primarily from the fact that the China Study was a population study that demonstrated strong correlations. But correlations do not always mean proof. The response to this is that the correlations are so strong that inferences can be extrapolated. In any event, I encourage you to do your own research!

  • sarah says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful response.
    And let me re-iterate — I really LOVE your podcasts.
    I guess a part of me wanted to hear TCC say exactly what you just did re/the correlations, instead of the shoot-the-questioner line of reasoning he chose, which, to my mind, just adds to the noise. But I appreciate the nature of the interview, and as you well know, a simple trip to the comments section of any vegan vs pale debate devolves quickly into the merry-go-round you speak of.
    Looking forward to hearing from Howard Jacobson.
    Thanks again for the response, the site, the interview, and the inspiration.

  • Trailmomma says:

    Sarah & Rich, TCC does address the debunking in some of Minger’s critiques on TCC’s own blog. Read that here: He dives deep into her critiques with details. Here is her original critique if you have’t read it:

  • Matt Schrager says:

    Wow. Great show, Rich and Tyler. Found this historical account of Chittenden’s research mentioned by Dr. Campbell (the original article is hard to get, but it is referenced at the bottom of this story):

  • Ken says:

    Not trying to sound like a broken record (because I asked this same question on your last podcast comments), but can someone explain to me what the issue TCC and others have with oils, even what others would consider as ‘healthy oils?’ Understood it’s in the weeds, but I know TCC, Engine 2 diet, and others don’t support the use of any (as I understand it) added refined oils, which includes EV olive oil, cold pressed flax seed oil, etc.

    I just don’t get what the basis for this advice is. Soooooo many athletes report that their bodies just perform better when they start adding more good oils and fats in, possibly due to a better omega 3/6 ratio.

  • Bill Ward says:

    Rich..I want to personally thank you. I found you I believe 5 years ago when you first published the e book of vegetarian recipes which I bought and used regularly. You were very generous with your time by writing me back when I mentioned to you why I was interested in making a change (family history of heart trouble, dealing with HBP). You told me to get a copy of Dr, Esselstyn’s book,,,it would be life changing. Well, it was. I’ve lead mostly a no oil, dairy, animal protein lifestyle since. I dropped weight, put some back on when I joined Crossfit and was told Paelo was the only way. I noticed I simply felt better eating a plant based diet despite all the people with no expertise in nutrition telling me I was wrong.

    I don’t judge anyone for eating a conventional Western diet, but I am truly thankful you are out there spreading a non-judgemental, balanced view of what it means to eat for long term health and vitality for people that are curious. Keep going Rich, in my opinion, you have truly found what you were meant to do on this earth.

    Best Regards,

    Bill Ward
    Pasadena, CA

  • Lance Mateas says:

    TCC argues that oil is not a whole food, it is a highly refined, processed extract not found in nature, same as sugar. This contradicts the importance of his description of the “symphony” of nutrients in whole foods that he writes about.

    Drs. Esselstyn and McDougall both explain the reasoning behind eliminating oil in chapter 10 of their respective books, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and The Starch Solution. Oil causes immediate and significant damage to the endothelium, is easily stored as body fat, and is linked as a cancer promoter.

    I can’t speak for “soooooo many athletes,” I can only speak for myself, but it wasn’t until I gave up oil that I felt good enough to train consistently.

    Here are couple of collections of links:

  • Lance Mateas says:

    Dr. McDougall discusses Chittenden’s work frequently:

  • Lance Mateas says:

    Great interview! You allowed Campbell to talk in a way that I have not heard from him before. I though that his explanation of the “debunking” as a real difference between the blogosphere and the published scientific literature was good and concise. I did not want to go down the rabbit hole of stats analysis! It was Campbell that really convinced me that I was on the right track, and introduced me to the great work of Esselstyn and McDougall. My health has improved dramatically thanks to this message.

  • KenZ says:

    Awesome, thanks so much for that info. I’d just never heard of any data/research demonstrating actual harm. I’ll dig into those a bit.

    I’ll buy the BASIS for saying it’s a refined (and therefor unnatural) item and should be avoided out of principle; basically the Paleo approach, which is a great guideline for most people.

    As for the so many people; I’m talking mostly ultrarunners. There’s this rave following of the Udo’s oil products, and I’m not talking just the athletes who are sponsored (Krissy Moehl, Sage Canaday, I think Max King, etc). It’s the ‘oil the machine’ argument. But then again, as Noakes will point out, the Placebo Effect is good for at least 5% improvement….

    Thanks again for the info. Now I have some homework to do.

  • Frankfurman Jutter says:

    Hey Sarah, if you’re looking for rebuttals to the work of Denise Minger and other Paleoesque ideas, I suggest seeing PlantPositive’s Channel on Youtube. His entire channel is devoted to critiquing their ideas.

    On China Study:

  • Trish Ward says:

    Awesome podcast today!!!! This podcast keeps getting better every week. Had to listen twice to Dr. Campbell! He is so wonderful. I’m listening now to his new book Whole on Audible! Keep up the great work Rich! And Tyler!!!!

  • Stu says:

    Especially the papers he mentioned at the end of the interview on active athletes on plant-based diets. Many of us would like to read this (confirm to what most of know).

  • Monique says:

    EPIC!! I love that man. He should get far more recognition amongst his research peers than he does.

  • Jan Saunders says:

    Im no nutritionist but are you seeing a plant based one or GP? Have you had a blood test? Vit D is the sunshine Vitamin….. are you getting outside every day and making sure your arms and face at least are exposed to the sun for a good 30minutes? A supplement will address if not without resorting to consuming other living beings. Are you taking a B12 Supp? Its necessary in our sanitised society esp for vegans and vegos.

  • Tommy F says:

    TCC brought us the elevated consciousness we needed. Yes, we could’ve figured it out on our own, by studying nature, considering compassion and observing society. But science is much more convincing to our western culture. So it was the necessary ingredient, and TCC brought it out of the void and into the mainstream. Thank you T. Colin Campbell. Our earth and it’s beings all owe you a debt of gratitude.


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