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Prof. T. Colin Campbell Ph.D. ’61 spoke on nutrition in America in Klarman Hall.

April 24, 2019

Nutrition, Not Pharmaceuticals, Is Key to Good Health, Professor Says

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Correction appended.

America’s health condition is worsening every year. In the past 10 years, obesity rates have risen from 34 percent to almost 40 percent. As of 2017, more than 100 million U.S. adults suffer from diabetes. At the same time, heart disease is the cause of one in every four deaths in the U.S.

These are all issues that nutrition can resolve before medicine and surgeries need to be involved, according to T. Colin Campbell Ph.D. ’61, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Nutritional Sciences, Emeritus.

In a lecture Tuesday afternoon, Campbell said that Americans’ heavy reliance on animal protein in their diet causes obesity and many cardiovascular diseases. Meanwhile, having a plant- and grain-based diet can significantly improve one’s health.

Campbell first became interested in nutrition’s effects on health after his research revealed that a diet with 20 percent of animal dietary protein led to a steady growth in cancer risk. When the same study was repeated with soy and wheat proteins instead of animal proteins, pre-cancer development did not occur.

At the time of his research, cancer was still thought to be a genetic disease, according to Campbell. His study revealed otherwise.

“Cancer primarily is a nutrition-determined disease, not a genetic-determined disease,” Campbell said.

Campbell continued his research on protein’s nutritional role in the American diet. His research first determined that animal proteins promoted disease formation, while plant proteins prevented and even reversed it.

The optimal amount of protein an average adult should consume is between 8 to 10 percent of their daily calories, Campbell said. However, Americans get between 16 to 17 percent — most of which comes from animal sources, one of the primary causes of America’s declining collective health.

“We need protein, but once we exceed a certain amount, that is when disease risks begins to grow,” Campbell said.

Mitigating the heavy reliance on animal protein would not only be beneficial for health, but would also alleviate the money people spend on healthcare and reduce their reliance on pharmaceuticals, according to Campbell. He advocated for wholist nutrition, which promotes a whole-foods, plant-based diet with no animal protein as a means of preventing major diseases.

“Nutrition is about whole foods, not pills and procedures,” Campbell said. “If we can adopt this wholist nutrition lifestyle, which promotes preventative health, diseases won’t arise so often. If there is no disease, there is nothing that we need to treat.”

Based on his findings, Campbell promotes a more comprehensive understanding of nutrition among the American public as a means of preventing disease.

“Medical schools don’t teach nutrition. They teach reductionist medicine: one disease, one cause, one mechanism, one drug treatment,” he said. “But they don’t look at the big picture: all of the events that lead up to disease is the part that we should be focusing on. That’s the point of wholist nutrition.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the optimal amount of protein an average adult should consume is between 5 to 6 percent of their daily calories. In fact, it should be 8 to 10 percent.