Does what we eat determine how long we live? That's the premise behind the new film Forks Over Knives, which promotes a whole foods, plant-based diet to reduce cardiovascular disease and improve overall health. We first learned about the film from trainer Bob Harper, who said that the scientific research that the film was based on (which also can be found in the book The China Study) inspired him to go vegan. So when the film was officially released to the public, we decided to speak with one of the main scientists interviewed in the film, Dr. T. Colin Campbell. He also happens to be the co-author of The China Study. Read on to learn about how he says we can use food as medicine and how he inspired former President Bill Clinton to eat meat-free. What did you discover when you went to China to research health, nutrition and longevity? Cancer was much more common in some regions of China than others, so we did a survey to find out why. Individuals who ate a diet mainly of whole, plant-based foods had a lower risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. This specific study, along with 30 years of related nutrition research, helped me to see the major impact the way we eat can have on health, politics and the environment.
What do you see as the main problems with the current average American diet? Most Americans consume too much fat, sugar, salt and refined carbs—mainly in the form of animal and processed foods. So what does good nutrition look like in your opinion?
Campbell, left, has spent his career reading, writing and researching about eating well. (Photo courtesy of Virgil Films & Entertainment)
It's easiest for me to define nutrition by what it is not. Our society focuses on one nutrient at a time and defines a food by its various nutrients. We take out those nutrients and put them in pills instead of eating them in plant form, where everything works together like a symphony. Nutrition is a vital factor in the health care reform debate, and I think it's really been ignored. We're working hard to get nutrition to be taken seriously in the medical world. If we do it right, we can cut health care costs by 75 to 80 percent. We hear that you have some high profile fans. Can you tell us about them? President Clinton went vegan three years ago after a mutual friend of ours passed along a copy of The China Study. He really jumped on the plan before his daughter's wedding. Bob Harper has sent notes praising my work and I'd love to meet him face-to-face someday. The Biggest Loser is actually using the "Know Your Number" methodology that I helped to invent. It's basically a numerical way to evaluate people based on their whole health profile. What is your favorite meal? My wife is a wonderful cook. She makes a dish our daughter learned about in the Dominican Republic that's basically rice and salad topped with beans, beets, olives and avocados. I also enjoy simple meals like kale and beans with potatoes. Now tell us: Is there a specific book or movie that has inspired your health habits or attitudes?