Book Review: The Campbell Plan

The Campbell Plan: The Simple Way to Lose Wight and Reverse Illness, using The China Study’s Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet
By Thomas Campbell, MD
Rodale (2015)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD

Claims:

The Campbell Plan uses the findings of The China Study, of which both Campbell and his father (T. Colin Campbell, PhD) were part, to assert that a plant-based diet can not only allow readers to be the healthiest they can be, but also to fend off diseases, including cancer. The findings are based on the results of the 20-year China Project, which studied the diets of 65,000 adults in 65 counties in China and rates of disease. They concluded that the counties eating higher animal protein had more incidences of ‘Western’ diseases and cancers than those populations eating a plant-based diet. Campbell’s own studies on tumor growth and protein intake (casein, found in milk) in lab rats led him to conclude that consumption of animal protein promotes tumor growth.

Campbell says, “…humans eating lesser amounts of animal protein and more plant-based foods might have not only more energy, but also lower odds of developing obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, brain disease and prostate, breast and colon cancers.” Additionally, he claims that a plant-based diet promotes healthier bacterial communities in the gut. The book includes chapters addressing ‘hot topics’ such as soy and gluten.

Synopsis of Diet Plan:

Campbell believes a high-carb, low-fat diet high in fiber, along with exercise, is the healthiest way to eat. He says, “…if you make the right food choices, you will do more to improve your health than anything else you might do.” But what are his ‘right food choices?’

The biggies to avoid are all animal products (meat, eggs and dairy). Additionally, he includes lists of foods to eliminate, including, pure fats (liquid oils, butter, margarine, substitutes), refined grain products, processed foods, cereals with added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and jarred sauces/dressings with added oils. Recommended foods include fruit, 100% whole-wheat pastas, breads, beans, vegetables, and nutritional yeast.

Campbell’s diet plan, as he presents it in the book, is really a lifestyle change. Campbell does not encourage counting calories or other macronutrients, nor is this a weight-loss plan. He fully intends that readers embrace a ‘no animal products’ eating style for good.

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

All of the foods Campbell recommends are full of health benefits; fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals and whole grains are packed with fiber. But by eliminating both meat and dairy, protein may be lacking in the diet. Campbell states that 12.5 grams of protein per 500 calories is sufficient for most adults, which equates to approximately 50 grams of protein in a 2,000-calorie diet, which does align with the FDA’s protein recommendations as well. However, diet quality determines the amount of protein—and other nutrients—taken in, and not all participants will eat the amount or variety needed to meet their protein needs without meat and dairy. Campbell does make a case for allowing ‘small amounts’ of lean meat and eggs, but only for someone who has followed his ‘optimal diet’ since birth, which is highly unlikely.

Campbell also includes hints for grocery-shopping, label-reading, substitution suggestions and advice on how to discuss your dietary change with others. He addresses added sugars, salt and fat, and discourages the use of ‘vegan’ meat/cheese/mayo, etc… substitutes. A two-week sample meal plan is included that features recipes from the book.

Bottom Line:

Despite its very restrictive nature, there is a lot to like about the book and its presentation. Campbell, above all else, recommends eating real food—whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes—and ditching anything even remotely processed. He also addresses many dietary ‘ills’, like added sugars and trans fats, information beneficial to anyone, not just those ready to swear off animal products.

The book is well referenced, although further research reveals that there are holes in the data, or places in which pertinent data may have been omitted. For example, one of Campbell’s biggest and earliest points is that casein, a protein found in cow’s milk, promotes tumor growth. Not mentioned in the book is that whey, the other protein found in cow’s milk, has a protective effect and delays tumor growth, and that both of these proteins are most often ingested together. Additionally, studies have found that indigenous populations whose diets are high in animal products, such as the Greenland Eskimo, also have very low rates of disease and cancer, despite their animal protein intake. Overall, Campbell makes some broad generalizations, such as the casein example and that high cholesterol is a marker for all manner of disease, that aren’t fully supported by existing research. Follow his advice for eating real, whole foods, making most of your diet plant-based and his guidance for avoiding added sugars, etc… but staying away from all animal products on the basis they are the cause of disease is unfounded.

This book includes 55 recipes and a two-week sample menu.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Campbell Plan

  1. Hi Holly,
    I am a gastroenterologist who started checking out the healthiest diet about 3 years ago. After reading a lot of the peer-reviewed medical literature, I came to the same conclusions as Drs Campbell (both of them) and Esselstyn.
    At the bottom of your review of ‘The Campbell Plan’ you state that ‘staying away from all animal products on the basis that they are cause of disease is unfounded’ rather startling. With a few obvious exceptions (eg car accidents), most CHRONIC dieseases (ie hypertension, heart attacks and strokes, obesity, diabetes) are diet related and the main culprit is animal products.
    Have your read, ‘How Not To Die’ by Dr Greger (it has over 2000 references to the peer-reviewed medical literature). Or have you seen Forks Over Knives ? I also have an evidence-based website you might find of use at foodasprevention.com

    1. Hi Dr. Ganguli, Thanks for stopping by the blog! I’m very aware that some practitioners in the medical field believe consuming animal products is unhealthy at best and can lead to cancer at worst. I’m familiar with both the Campbell Plan and the China Study and their seemingly ‘conclusive’ findings. (Unfortunately, many resources like Food Inc, Forks over Knives, etc… may present some unbiased information, but are clearly advocating for a particular side of the argument and often villain-ize whatever dietary practice/food group they have come to believe is unhealthy.) However, there are other people groups who subsist on almost exclusively animal products (such as the Inuit) yet do not develop diseases such as Type 2 diabetes or heart disease. Have you read Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald? I do believe hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and obesity are highly affected by diet, but don’t know that animal products are to blame. I believe the biggest culprit to health in our country is the ‘modernization’ of the food industry that has produced the ‘Standard American Diet,’ full of highly-processed foods high in sodium and sugar and fillers, as well as the adulteration of traditional growing methods and plants. This includes modern agricultural practices–even the ‘natural’ food we eat today is worlds away from what it once was.
      In summary, I believe a healthy diet is high in fruits and vegetables (including legumes), lean meats (preferable sustainable/humanely raised) and healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, etc…). And the occasional chicken wing or two, since I live in Buffalo. 🙂

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