Exporting the Chinese diet... to China
March 7th, 2012
03:49 PM ET

Exporting the Chinese diet... to China

T. Colin Campbell co-authored a bestselling book touting the health benefits of eating like the rural Chinese. Now he’s trying to reacquaint the Chinese with the benefits of the plant-based diet he learned from them.

Campbell, who co-authored "The China Study" with his son, Thomas M. Campbell, said the Chinese are abandoning their vegetable-rich meals for fast food and other western fare.

“It’s ironic that some of the things we learned from the Chinese now we’re sort of taking back to China,” said Campbell, an American who is professor emeritus in nutritional sciences at Cornell University.

Campbell and a group of Chinese celebrities have launched a 21-day Healthy Challenge. The diet is low fat and vegan, meaning no meat, dairy or eggs.

Day 1 calls for cinnamon raisin oatmeal for breakfast, a lettuce wrap for lunch, a snack of edamame, and a vegan stuffed bun with pumpkin and tomato soup for dinner.

The non-profit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine developed 21-day diets for China and the United States.  The Chinese challenge launched Monday. The American challenge begins April 2.

Anyone following either the Chinese or American diets for three weeks can expect to lose weight and to lower blood pressure and LDL, or bad, cholesterol, Campbell told CNN in a telephone interview.

Campbell and fellow researchers documented the link between diet and heart disease, diabetes and cancer by conducting health and nutrition surveys in more than 2,500 counties across China and Taiwan in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Rural areas followed what turned out to be the healthiest diet not by choice, but “because that’s what they had,” Campbell said.

Rapid economic expansion in China has been accompanied by a transformation of the diet and a proliferation of fast food, especially in cities.

“Like other societies that have gone through this transition they tend to want to spend it on richer foods,” Campbell said.

Sales in China’s food service industry have more than doubled since 2005 and hit $99 billion last year, up 14% from the year before, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Like their diets, China’s rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease rates also are starting to more closely mirror western countries:

* Some 10% of Chinese are diabetic and 16% are pre-diabetic, with rates higher in the urban population, according to a study published in the New England Journal in 2010.

* The obesity rate remained below 5% for China as a whole, but was approaching 20%  in some cities, the World Health Organization reported.

* And trends in blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes will result in a 23% increase in heart disease in China between 2010 and 2030, even after factoring in a decline in the smoking rate, one study predicted.

The Chinese healthy challenge has the backing of celebrity "coaches" including actresses Gao Yuanyuan and Barbie Hsu and singer-songwriter Khalil Fong .

Celebrity coaches in the United States include actress Alicia Silverstone, Ironman Brendan Brazier and ultramarathoner Scott Jurek.

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Valentijn

    Be sure to give them vitamin B12 supplements with those "healthy" vegan diets, since they won't be getting any from the food.

    March 8, 2012 at 06:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leon

      Not sure where he was visiting, but the rural areas I have been in are not vegan. Fishe, small animals, and even nsects are parts of the diet.

      March 8, 2012 at 08:26 | Report abuse |
    • Abby

      Leon, that's because the conclusions reached in the book "The China Study" aren't supported by the research done. The data was cherry-picked and anything that didn't fit into the philosophy they were trying to push got excluded.

      March 8, 2012 at 08:31 | Report abuse |
    • Emmy

      Vegan diets can easily include B12 from bacteria in fermented foods and nutritional yeast. Stop spreading myths, B12 is definitely not exclusive to animal products.

      March 8, 2012 at 13:46 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      I've read that they cherry picked the results as well.

      March 8, 2012 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
    • What Now

      Leon, me too! I worked as a biologist in the middle of no where and ate what the locals ate. They ate meat, fish, and insects whenever they could get it. Oatmeal was not in the diet, but we did have noodles, potatoes and rice. There was some other vegetables, but nothing like we think. Mostly a type of greens. Meals were water buffalo, fish or whatever they caught that day, noodles and greens. Breakfast was noodles with some meat on top. I never saw a soybean.

      March 8, 2012 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
    • Abby

      Emmy, any dietician worth their salt will tell you there is no viable plant source for B-12. Even the vast majority of vegetarian/vegan websites say to supplement with B-12. You are spreading dangerous and false information by telling people they can get adequate B-12 from plant sources.

      March 8, 2012 at 17:08 | Report abuse |
    • Emmy

      Abby, I am a licenced dietician and a vegetarian, and I am in fact correcting misinformation. I even listed 2 common sources of B12 for vegans. Bacteria is not "plant" food, but it is not an animal product either and is thus perfectly suitable for vegetarians and vegans. As for the websites, not only do I find it doubtful that you have visited "most" vegetarian sites seeing as how you are against the idea, but I have also personally seen most websites mentioning bacteria as a source of b12. That said, I primarily work and socialize with current vegetarians, as well as being one myself, and I can tell you that anyone who puts a little thought into their diet does not have any vitamin deficiencies, including b12. Therefore, I think its ridiculous to mark clear facts as "dangerous", when the information points the other way.

      March 8, 2012 at 18:13 | Report abuse |
    • Abby

      Emmy, and I'm a rocket scientist, woohoo! (In other words: sorry, but I don't believe you.)

      March 8, 2012 at 19:07 | Report abuse |
    • Emmy

      Abby, despite being the plain truth, whether you believe me or not has no bearing on the fact that what I said is correct, and can easily be looked up. You can verify B12's presence in certain bacteria, you can verify the health effects of a vegetarian diet, you can verify the absence of vitamin deficiencies in vegetarians who pay attention to their diet, and you can verify your overall willful ignorance on the subject, all by yourself! Why trust a stranger on the internet when all that information is even available on Google, for free? But don't blame me for your failure to face and accept plain facts.

      March 9, 2012 at 02:17 | Report abuse |
    • Galina L

      Yes, Emmy, tell us how consuming Carotenes is the same as eating vitamin A from animal sources,about wonders of soy, and advantages of getting B12 from something what is not a real food.

      March 9, 2012 at 15:08 | Report abuse |
    • dt

      Be careful confusing people with truth. Most don't care. Davy Jones was a vegetarian and runner. He was known to be ultra-healthy. He died of cardiac problems – quite young. I just today talked to my doctor about all this and he told me several revealing things – postmortem exams of vegans typically reveal B12 deficiency, but even more scary is that most exhibit signs of glycation before their 6th decade. Glycation is clearly exhibited by the wrinkled skin. He also said that there is a very small difference in life expectancy. So I will stick to meats and keep smooth skin thanks.

      March 9, 2012 at 23:05 | Report abuse |
  2. C.R.MacDonald

    The Asians, while they may eat some meat, use it as a condiment/ flavoring, as opposed to the giant slabs we here in the West eat. We make meat the main part of a dish, rather than starches and vegetables, like the East does. Hence why we have "Western" diseases here that are more uncommon elsewhere in the world.

    March 8, 2012 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Emmy

      Even if someone does not "agree" with a vegetarian or vegan diet, there really is no argument that less meat and a large variety of plant foods greatly improve health and overall well being. There are TONS of conditions and diseases for which the recommended diet consists of first and foremost less meat, more plants. I can see how people would think that's crazy if they believe the many myths about vegetarianism out there, such as that you only eat salad, but that's all they are – myths. I wish people would educate themselves on the matter before attempting to argue about it. I don't care what other people eat, but if they're going to bash the way I eat, they should be prepared with arguments that are not blatant misconceptions and lies. I've been mostly vegetarian all my life, vegetarian for 5 years and vegan for 1, and my doctor always compliments my outstanding health. The health problems I had before are COMPLETELY gone now!

      March 8, 2012 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
  3. Stacy

    But rural Chinese, as with much of Asia, DO eat protein in the form of animals. No, they don't eat it with every meal, or even every day, but they do eat some protein. So, it would be inaccurate to say rural Chinese have a vegan diet. One only needs to watch a few episodes of Bizarre Foods or No Reservations when they are in Asian countries to see.

    March 8, 2012 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chloe

      The China Study never says that the rural Chinese are vegan. It does say that they eat much fewer animal products than Chinese in cities on average. They also have much less cancer. One of the interesting results of the study was that animal consumption and cancer rates went almost in lock step with each other, from one Chinese county to the next.

      A vegan diet has protein, of course. Beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and green vegetables and most other vegetables have a lot of protein per calorie. Broccoli has more protein per calorie than steak. Most Americans eating the Standard American Meat-based Diet eat way too much protein, often double the RDA. A normal well-rounded vegan diet has about exactly the RDA for protein, interestingly enough.

      March 9, 2012 at 22:02 | Report abuse |
    • Galina L

      The statement "One of the interesting results of the study was that animal consumption and cancer rates went almost in lock step with each other, from one Chinese county to the next. " is just not true. Go and check the data on the China study, or go the web site of Denis Minger who performed the statistical analysis of the data.

      March 12, 2012 at 08:23 | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Umm, the American diet is not a meat or fat based diet, its actually a carbohydrate based diet. On average, Americans consume 50% of their calories from carbohydrates, most coming from plant sources, grains and sugar. 15% of on average is protein. If you look at the trends, since the 70s, carbohydrate consumption (mostly processed) has actually increased while protein stayed pretty flat, and fat only went up slightly. Keep drinking the Kool aid!

      September 16, 2012 at 00:56 | Report abuse |
  4. Robert

    "Experts" who try to push vegan and vegetarian diets are funny (funny sad, not funny ha-ha). Cows and rabbits are vegans. Humans evolved eating meat and vegetables. Trying to equate the weight gain of modern urban populations to their consumption of meat ignores that it is the processed foods (sugar and vegetable oils; and remember that complex carbohydrate is a fancy term for complex sugar) which are the problem. Trying to make humans eat vegan makes as much sense as suggesting cows and rabbits eat meat. T. Colin Campbell needs to familiarize himself with the dietary advice of Dr. Kurt Harris, and read up on the archevore (I like paleo 2.0 personally) diet. For true and lasting health eat the way humans evolved to eat.

    March 8, 2012 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Emmy

      Again, I don't care about what anyone else eats as it is their choice, but I don't think there's one diet out there for absolutely everyone. However, if you choose to eat meat, it still shouldn't be the main part of your diet. This is supported by ample research. Also, if humans evolved to need meat, it would mean we couldn't survive without it, which is not in the least bit true. Not only can we survive, we can be perfectly healthy, and even healthier than most meat eaters. I think the research shows that we definitely can eat meat,but it's better left for times when a sufficient amount and variety of plant foods are unavailable, such as freezing climates where plants are scarce, poverty, or famine. Even herbivores will resort to eating carrion if they need it to survive. However, relatively few people in the rich west countries are in such situations, and have great access to a plethora of plant foods that can accommodate all their nutritional needs. They are just used to meat and don't want to give it up because it just tastes good to them.

      March 8, 2012 at 14:11 | Report abuse |
    • theybetrippenyo

      surviving, and thriving are two different things. Sure you can "live" On just veggies... but in order to thrive both mentally and physically you need animal protein.

      Case in point, I betcha I could totally outlast any vegan in the wild. I have no idea how to hunt, neither do they, but I would survive mostly becuase of my epic girth and my consumption of meats before hand. I would have a higher energy level and more reserves then any Vegan could match. It would be glorious!

      March 8, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
    • Galina L

      I bet if you get all your nutrients from plant sources, you will have to consume too much of carbohydrates. Piece of meat with a salad or broccoli on the side looks like more reasonable meal.

      March 9, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
  5. The_Mick

    When you go on a tour of China, you do NOT eat the same food the Chinese eat, even at restaurants like the one at the next to the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian. Almost all tour restaurants are Westernized, though somewhat traditional where you don't order: you sit at a large round table and all the choices are placed on a lazy susan in its middle. On Yangtze River cruise ships, your Chinese guide will most likely eat with the crew because they're not getting westernized food like that in the ship's cafeteria. And the eggs, pancakes, etc. breakfasts are far different than the pickled soups the Chinese are eating.

    March 8, 2012 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      That is true of any organized tour, regardless of the destination.
      I went to China (not on a tour) and avoided tourist restaurants (except for Peking Duck). For some meals I actually am not sure what I ate but it always tasted very good and we never got sick. Portions were reasonable and we had animal proteins and vegetables at each meal.

      March 9, 2012 at 12:25 | Report abuse |
  6. shakham

    The problem is not the meat....
    It's the refined wheat, corn, and sugar products. Essentially all the processed packaged goods.

    Gives you diabetes..
    Makes you obese which also causes diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol...etc.

    This article is nothing but a pitch for veganism.

    March 8, 2012 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      It depends on where the meat comes from. Cows fed grains are not healthy (cows are meant to eat grass) and their meat is therefore not the best, I avoid it. Grass-fed beef tastes so much better. Meat from happy, well-treated and fed, animals is a lot healthier and tastes better.

      March 9, 2012 at 12:27 | Report abuse |
  7. Soyan

    When I moved to north America 15 years ago, I was healthy and fit. But having adapted the SAD (Srandard American Diet) for that many years weakened my immune system. I had all kinds of joint pain, painful conditions in most of the body plus uncontrola le weight issues that were all incurable and my doctors either prescribed meds that only caused other isssues or told me they have no cure. Then I became a vegan 1.5 yrs ago gradually moving to a diet consisting of plant based organic unprocessed foods. My health is now completely restored, all pain gone, weight kept at 30 lbs less than before, my friends are all convinced that not eating animals has not hurt my health but gave my life back. I will never go back to eating animals. It is simply unnatural, just take a look at your digestive system, your body build... 50 years ago you will find people smoking cigarettes in doctors' offices. I wish people would soon catch on and realize that our diets are the major cause of the health problems that are affecting us most. I just wish that people like myself who take responsibility to educate ourselves and eat
    right don't have to pay for others who don't in terms of health care spending and tax/subsidies to the meat and dairy industries.

    March 8, 2012 at 23:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      Yes, diet is very important in our health but I am a human and therefore an omnivore. My meat (2-3 meals a week) and eggs come from local organic farms (i.e. properly fed and treated). Fish is wild caught. I grow most of my fruits and vegetables.
      You seem to think all meat is beef patties found in fast food joints... it is not.

      March 9, 2012 at 12:22 | Report abuse |
    • Galina L

      I have been eating for more than 4 years based on a grass-fed animal products and some vegetables. All my health issues disappeared. The standard American diet is grain and sugar based, not meat based.

      March 9, 2012 at 14:56 | Report abuse |
    • Soyan

      Chris, just to clarify and to correct your mistake, the meat, dairy and eggs I consumed before switching to vegan diet were all organic sourced. Organic animal products did nothing in terms of health improvement. I was convinced that years of high levels of consumption of saturated fat, cholesterol, PCB, dioxins, HCAs and other toxic substances that come with all animal food blocking blood supply to various organs and causing havoc to our immune systems is the truth culprit of our poor health. If humans were meant to consume animal foods, then we should be immune to the negative effects from cholesterol, saturated fat, salmonella, e coli, much as true carnivores are. If we are truly meant to eat animals, we should have a much lower ph environment in our stomach and be able to eat decomposing
      carcasses without getting sick at all, and our arteries won't get clogged by cholesterol leading to heart diseases which is he no. 1 killer in this country right now and costing taxpayers billions of dollars in healthcare.

      March 10, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
    • kf

      Yes Soyan, because a few thousand years of recorded history of humans eating an omnivorous diet is clearly not what we should be doing...

      also, I like how you said that when you moved to north america 15 years ago you started having problems and now that you're a vegan all of your medical issues have gone away. So I guess that means you were a vegan in your home country? Or is just the magical meat fairy in the states that is doing something different to all of the animals here versus what the meat fairy in your country does?

      March 12, 2012 at 04:14 | Report abuse |
    • Soyan

      Kf, if you will, factor in how the animals are raised, the amount of animal food consumption, and the person's age 15-20 years ago and for a country much less industrialized that north America. Maybe you are right I should go back to eating tons of meat dairy and eggs and suffer miserably in incurable diseases, loss of productivity and income while taxpayers take on the burden to fix my health issues so agribusinesses can continue to make a huge profit off the equally miserable animals. That shall make you happy I suppoe?!

      March 12, 2012 at 10:59 | Report abuse |
  8. GrouchyKat

    I love how the anti-meat activists are out in force. I don't metabolize carbohydrates properly, so I eat meat. But, under their diet guidelines, I'd starve or spend my life in the bathroom.

    We evolved eating meat – and not necessarily the sterile meat you get from the meat counter, but rich organ meats as well. Saturated fats are not the enemy either, it's all the created crap that's causing the issues. The genetically modified everything that is full of hormones and antibiotics.

    March 9, 2012 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. David

    I hear that McDonalds is opening lot's of new restaurants in China. What a shame. I switched from the SAD (Standard American Diet) to one which is primarily plant based. I do consume animal products but very infrequently, say 2-3 times per month. I consume lots of legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds. I feel wonderful, and have had a physical which shows that I'm in great health; adequate vitamin D levels, etc. Planned properly, and with appropriate supplements (vitamin D, b-12, DHA) I encourage everyone to try a similar eating style.

    March 9, 2012 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Galina L

      I would rather eat nutritious food than buy supplements. What about some grass-fed liver once a week? Butter from pastured animals is a staple in my kitchen.

      March 9, 2012 at 15:00 | Report abuse |
  10. American Food

    It depends on whether you are a professor or a rail splitter. This so called "Chinese diet" was not by choice, but because there was no food! It sure does keep you slim wherever in the world you are.

    March 9, 2012 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Galina L

    My mom's high blood pressure went normal without medications after I convince her to stop eating oatmeal for a breakfast but choose eggs with deli meats instead . She also stopped eating grains, sugar and white potatoes. After oatmeal her blood sugar was 163 – 167, after eggs and meat -105 .She was never diagnosed with blood sugar abnormalities or diabetes, btw. Good luck, people , with eating oatmeal for 3 weeks! I think before going to China and tell people there what to do we have to sort out the obesity in America. It is growing while population eating more and more "healthy grains".

    March 9, 2012 at 17:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. A Few Things

    1. Although I eat oatmeal everyday and have never had problems, I'm happy Galina's mother has done what most Americans don't: change their diet when they realize it's an issue. Most people I know will continue eating then go to the hospital and complain that there is something wrong. I also agree that we have way bigger problems in America when it comes to obesity.
    2.Chinese eat meat. That is not the problem. It's the processed/fast foods that have replaced the traditional this-fish-was-caught-two-hours-ago that you'd find at an open-air food market.
    3. You can be a vegetarian and get enough B12 without taking supplements. Dairy products and fortified foods usually do it for me. In fact, I've never had to take supplements.Vegans, on the other hand, most likely will

    March 10, 2012 at 10:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jenaka

    When I go to my local Chinese restaurant at dinner time I often see some of the cooks and other employees sitting down to their meal. I always look to see what they are eating. I'd say at least 90% of their food is vegetables. They are not eating the same dishes they cook for customers which is usually loaded with meat with few vegetables.

    March 10, 2012 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. lyle

    T. Colin Campbell looks kinda grumpy in the photo. Probably could use a cheeseburger&fries.

    March 11, 2012 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Lance

    Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (less than 10% of the members are actually Physicians) is a well-known front for PETA and obviously has alternative motives other than the societies health. There are hundreds of scientists who do not agree with T. Colin Campbell's flimsy ideas and dozens of recent scientific articles that do not support his hypothesis. If CNN was interested in reporting fair and balanced information, they should include a story illustrating the contradictions in the scientific literature.

    March 12, 2012 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. peachyshel

    I completely agree with Emmy. I'm studying nutritional therapy so I'm not quite qualified but as a vegan myself I've lowered my cholesterol naturally and my families through the power of a plant based diet. I'm far from deficient in any nutrients and don't take any supplements. I've actually reversed osteopenia through eliminating dairy and meat. The strong correlations between animal foods and many of the affluent diseases that people are dying from today is testament to the vegan way of life. Even if you don't want to follow it fully it's worth considering increasing your intake of plant based foods and at least reducing your animal food intake. There is a cool online 4 week course with recipes, videos, and a whole host of interesting educational topics to get you started which my Dad who had been on statins found fantastic! http://www.happyheartcourse.com is where you can check it out!

    October 4, 2012 at 08:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. MarcysiaaN

    Od jutra rozpoczynam odchudzanie, kto się odchudza ze mną? Nie będzie lekko ale trzeba się wziąć za siebie. Mam już dobry plan na odchudzanie, wszyscy którzy są chętni proponuje zacząć od wipisania w google – xxally radzi jak szybko schudnąć

    June 11, 2015 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply

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