Review: Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition
Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, by the author of the China study, starts off with an interesting premise: that a diet comprised of whole vegetables provides the most optimal health benefits to individuals while potentially reversing many ill effects of environmental contact and carcinogens that are consumed.

With all of the interest in anti-oxidant rich food and a general obsession with health topics in our modern culture, this is a timely discussion of a very interesting topic. And from an author who has decades of experience in the field of nutrition and research in that field.

That said, there are two things about this book that disappointed me:

1. I expected a LOT more data backing up the author’s statements, opinions and view of the topic. There are references back to the China study, for certain. But Almost everything else is anecdotal. Now, much of his statements make sense, and might even be true in a lot of cases, but there is a paucity of data backing it up. If physicians treated all of their patients using the same standards, we would very quickly be labeled “quacks” or “witch doctors” (as this is essentially how medicine operated prior to the scientific method and evidence-based medicine). And we’d likely be out of practice in the current world of evidence-based medicine very quickly.

2. There is a severe and over-riding hostility towards almost the whole of scientific establishment, the field and practice of medicine, the federal government, and a rather anti-capitalistic bent.

While I’m certain it wasn’t the author’s intent, that over-riding skepticism is so strong and pervasive throughout the book that it becomes the book’s central theme. I suspect the “Pro-Whole Food Diet” concept was where the author aimed in this regard. But that’s not where the arrow hit.

Topics covered include:
1. How a whole food diet promises to provide almost all of the benefits of the pharmaceutical industry while simultaneously making us healthier and with essentially no side effects.
2. How the reductionist view of science hinders research into this interesting premise.
3. How the reductionist view of science is forwarded in our country and in the world through government funding and how boards of reductionists exclude “wholistic” research.
4. How the capitalist markets and company involvement in the “science of nutrition” impact and perpetuate #’s 2 & 3 above.
5. How capitalistic involvement in research funding & support subtly alter the whole field of nutrition.
6. How animal-protein rich diets have been implicated in increasing various cancers in the China study.
7. How doctors, in general, are unethical in the way they practice medicine, being far more influenced (no studies have been able to confirm this bias) by the pharmaceutical industry than actual science or an interest in patients’ well being.

Much more of the book is devoted to discussions of how the field of nutrition is dysfunctional than it is to any support for the initial premise of the book, and to which the title of the book refers.

I will confess that, as a physician, the sections devoted to the field of medicine were highly insulting. Yes, there are millions of dollars being spent on physicians by pharmaceutical companies on dinners and educational “events” regarding their products. But don’t be deceived… a physician is far more concerned about potential side effects and litigation due to medications than they are about benefiting a drug company by writing prescriptions for their products.

Also, for those of you who are not in the medical field, let me tell you about those “dinners.” They consist of “experts” paid by the drug company to educate the physicians in attendance about a specific drug’s benefits and side effects. Where it is best used and best avoided. Frequently different companies have competing products and you also learn from them more of the specific problems with their competitor’s product(s). Often these are things which are quite difficult to learn from reading a product-insert in 4-point font. And the subtle differences in products aren’t covered in the PDR or those same product inserts.

Additionally, little is mentioned about individuals’ tendency to want to “just take a pill” to treat their ill instead of making lifestyle changes to achieve better (if harder) results. Physicians fight this battle every day. We do it time and time again ad nauseum and it causes quite a divide between us and our patients. Yet we all see that in those patients who DO make lifestyle changes to diet, exercise, etc they almost universally have better results.

But of course that has little effect on our decision-making. Because we apparently make our decisions almost solely on the basis of what pharmaceutical company might buy us a dinner.

For this reason, I think this book is a “miss.” If the book were entitled “Why Your Diet is Wrong” or “The Great Nutritional Lie” or perhaps “A Failure In The System,” I think I could actually have rated the book higher. Heck, just leaving it at the subtitle “Rethinking the Science of Nutrition” would have sufficed. Nothing inside the book would have to be altered one bit. And it would probably sell just as many copies.

But with the title “Whole” I would have liked to have seen a lot more emphasis on the whole food diet. More case studies could have been very interesting. Reducting down parts of the China study with follow-up case studies would have been fascinating. Before-and-after transformations. There is a lot that could have been added to the discussion in order to merit the title “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition.” And doing so might have actually provided a potentially life-changing benefit to its readers.

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