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Q&A with T. Colin Campbell

What motivates you to continue writing books and release your documentary, Forks Over Knives?
I know this information has not been told. All kinds of illnesses that people have could be stopped—actually turned around—by people simply changing their diet. I’m finishing a second book now about specifics on what to eat. I describe nutrition as a symphony, as it’s an almost unlimited number of things working together. The symphonic effect includes where the body gets its wisdom, the way our bodies were fashioned over time in response to the food we eat. Historically, we are far more plant eaters than meat eaters.

Which foods do you recommend people consume?
Whole, plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes. It’s that simple. With respect to whole grains, there is a limited caveat. They’ve only been around 10,000 years and that’s not enough time for our bodies to not have sensitivities to things like gluten. If you have those sensitivities, then avoid foods with gluten. The thing to keep in mind is that it has to be in a whole food form. We tend to take off the best part of the plant, like the bran, to get white rice, or create refined flour, which is a crazy thing to do, since we turn around and fortify the food with vitamins.

In the past 30 or 40 years, processed foods have appeared, which includes oil. A whole plant your body knows what to do with; processed foods, it doesn’t.

Antioxidants are important, and they’re a class of substances you can get almost entirely from plant-based foods. You only see them in animal food if that animal was eating plants before it was slaughtered. Antioxidants are only created by plants and play an extremely important role in preventing cancer and reversing heart disease, building up our immune system, and so on. Green, leafy vegetables are about as good as you can get.

Does cooking time and method affect the nutritional properties of foods?
Cooking should be limited to some extent; I don’t quite subscribe to the raw diets, since cooking helps detoxify some things. I think a little bit of cooking helps, but food shouldn’t be overcooked, or cooked in oil. (Sautéing can be done with water or fresh veggie broth.)

Other than diet, what are some factors in preventing and reversing disease?
Hydration is important, as is getting outdoors, rest (good sleep), exercise, and reducing stress. They’re all part of the total package of what it means to be healthy. In regularly practicing these other things, health becomes even better—but nutrition is clearly the most important of all of them.

What are the biggest misconceptions about nutrition?
Fish is said to have protective Omega-3 fatty acids, and you see fish oil supplements now. I don’t think they do anything, and I think that story about the so-called advantage of eating fish won’t stand the test of time. It’s really the ratio of Omega 6s to 3s that matters, which is what you see in a whole food, plant-based diet.

I’m also writing a whole chapter on the low-carb diet for my new book. It’s high in animal protein and fat and it’s the number one most dangerous fad. Vitamin supplements are another misconception. We have about 30 years of science now showing that they cause more problems than solutions. I’d cross them off the list.

What is your most important nutrition-based finding?
Studying animal protein has occupied most of my medical research career. For me, it was an evolution in thinking, and what I learned flew in the face of existing, dogmatic views about nutrition. One finding was that we can turn on and turn off cancer cells from animal protein. If you get animal protein in excess of what’s needed, you turn on cancer. If you replace it with plant protein, that doesn’t turn it on. That is a shocking concept.

What is your take-away message for readers?
Recognize that nutrition is easily the single most important medical science of all—and that it’s not even taught in medical schools. This information is more powerful than you can imagine. It’s not only useful in preventing future diseases, but also in treating disease. Through the ages, we’ve grown to think we can design our bodies in an unnatural way. I like the idea of going back to nature and eating naturally, which has implications for society on many levels: reducing greenhouse gasses and violence in the world, cutting health care costs. All are tremendous benefits.

Learn more about Dr. Campbell and his upcoming programs at Kripalu.