Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

To Your Health: A Plant-Based Diet

Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

To Your Health: A Plant-Based Diet

Article excerpt

College researchers have been conducting in China the most comprehensive diet-disease study ever undertaken. The findings suggest that a radical rethinking of diet may be key to disease prevention.

In every industrialized country, affluence is associated with a diet rich in animal products, fat, empty calories, and processed foods. Although the evidence of dangers posed by such a diet is mounting, dietary recommendations to date amount to little more than minor modifications.

New findings from the most comprehensive diet-disease study ever undertaken suggest that a radical rethinking of diet may be in order.

T. Colin Campbell, professor of nutritional sciences, and Chen Junshi, deputy director of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Hygiene in Beijing, began the study eleven years ago, looking at the dietary, lifestyle, and mortality characteristics of 6,500 individuals living in sixty-five counties in rural and suburban China.

China, whose rural areas are typified by a simple, plant-based diet and whose suburbs are adopting a Western diet, provided unusually provocative insights into diet-disease patterns. The results show that Western diets, which include a higher intake of animal versus plant-based food products, can be correlated with a greater incidence of obesity, higher levels of plasma cholesterol, and increased risk for cancer and heart disease.

The key implication from these findings, observes Campbell, is that small changes in the animal-based Western diet are unlikely to produce optimal health. Fundamental changes are required, he says, and these would be facilitated if nutrition panels felt free to base their recommendations on scientific evidence alone and be less concerned with the political palatability of the recommendations.

"During the past decade," Campbell says, "a large number of organizations, particularly in Western industrialized countries, have recommended a modest decrease in the average consumption of dietary fat to a level of 30 percent of calories. This is to be achieved, in large measure, by using low-fat foods, leaner cuts of meat, and less added fat. Increased consumption of vegetables, fruits, and cereals has also been recommended, but the desired increases are modest and unclear.

"The 30 percent of energy target level chosen for the dietary fat recommendation has generally been based on estimates of what consumers might be willing to accept. This is illustrated by the 1982 report of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer. The committee, which I served on, chose this level of intake for practical reasons, not because of scientific evidence available at that time. The report stated that 'the scientific data do not provide a strong basis for establishing fat intake at precisely 30 percent of total calories. …

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