Eating Right: Eight Principles of Food and Health

by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell

Simply changing your diet—it has never been so easy or so relatively effortless to achieve such profound benefits. This article summarizes the lessons about food, health, and disease that we have learned along the way into the following eight principles. These principles should inform the way we do science, the way we treat the sick, the way we feed ourselves, the way we think about health, and the way we perceive the world.


Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The main message I’m trying to get across is this: the chemicals we get from the foods we eat are engaged in a series of reactions that work in concert to produce good health. These chemicals are carefully orchestrated by intricate controls within our cells and all through our bodies, and these controls decide what nutrient goes where, how much of each nutrient is needed and when each reaction takes place.

Our bodies have evolved with this infinitely complex network of reactions in order to derive maximal benefit from whole foods, as they appear in nature. The misguided may trumpet the virtues of one specific nutrient or chemical, but this thinking is too simplistic. Our bodies have learned how to benefit from the chemicals in food as they are packaged together, discarding some and using others as they see fit. I cannot stress this enough, as it is the foundation of understanding what good nutrition means.


Vitamin supplements are not a panacea for good health.

Because nutrition operates as an infinitely complex biochemical system involving thousands of chemicals and thousands of effects on your health, it makes little or no sense that isolated nutrients taken as supplements can substitute for whole foods. Supplements will not lead to long-lasting health and may cause unforeseen side effects. Furthermore, for those relying on supplements, beneficial and sustained diet change is postponed. The dangers of a Western diet cannot be overcome by consuming nutrient pills.

It is not that these nutrients aren’t important. They are—but only when consumed as food, not as supplements. Isolating nutrients and trying to get benefits equal to those of whole foods reveals an ignorance of how nutrition operates in the body. As time passes, I am confident that we will continue to “discover” that relying on the use of isolated nutrient supplements to maintain health, while consuming the usual Western diet, is not only a waste of money but is also potentially dangerous.


There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.

Eating animals is a markedly different nutritional experience from eating plants. Plant foods have dramatically more antioxidants, fiber, and minerals than animal foods. In fact, animal foods are almost completely devoid of several of these nutrients plus they have much more cholesterol and fat. Animal foods have slightly more protein than plant foods, along with more B12 and vitamin D, although the vitamin D is largely added to milk.

By definition, for a food chemical to be an essential nutrient, it must meet two requirements:

  • the chemical is necessary for healthy human functioning
  • the chemical must be something our bodies cannot make on their own, and therefore must be obtained from an outside source.

One example of a chemical that is not essential is cholesterol, a component of animal-based food that is nonexistent in plant-based food. While cholesterol is essential for health, our bodies can make all that we require; so we do not need to consume any in food. Therefore, it is not an essential nutrient. There are four nutrients which animal-based foods have that plant-based foods, for the most part, do not: cholesterol and vitamins A, D, and B12. Three of these are nonessential nutrients. Cholesterol is made by our bodies naturally. Vitamin A can be readily made by our bodies from beta-carotene, and vitamin D can be readily made by our bodies simply by exposing our skin to about fifteen minutes of sunshine every couple days. It is estimated that we hold a three-year store of vitamin B12 in our bodies. If you do not eat any animal products, particularly if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should take a small B12 supplement regularly and consider getting tested for B12 levels.


Genes do not determine disease on their own. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed.

We can safely say that the origin of every single disease is genetic. Our genes are the code to everything in our bodies, good and bad. Without genes, there would be no cancer. Without genes, there would be no obesity, diabetes or heart disease. And without genes, there would be no life.

This might explain why we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to figure out which gene causes which disease and how we can silence the dangerous genes. This also explains why some perfectly healthy young women have had their breasts removed simply because they were found to carry genes that are linked to breast cancer.

Dormant genes do not have any effect on our health. This is obvious to most scientists, and many laypeople, but the significance of this idea is seldom understood. What happens to cause some genes to remain dormant, and others to express themselves? The answer: Environment, especially diet. In our body, nutrition is the environmental factor that determines the activity of genes.

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