How many PhDs does it take to figure out what we should eat?


With thousands working on it already; maybe we should challenge their methodology of study—because what they’re telling us is not working.

Three articles caught my attention this week and my immediate reaction was to blog about each one of them separately. But then I decided to focus on the overriding theme of all three—the overall confusion over clarity when it comes to what we should be eating.

The first article in Forbes was all about a new “Manhattan type project to end the obesity epidemic.” And although they describe the project as “the best scientists from all corners of the country working as a team,” Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University was conspicuous in his absence. Here’s how they describe their mission:

The Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) is dedicated to dramatically reducing the economic and social burden of obesity and obesity-related diseases by significantly improving nutrition science. NuSI seeks to unambiguously clarify the relationship between diet and obesity and its related diseases as a result of a growing acceptance that nutrition science is – and historically has been – significantly substandard as compared to other scientific disciplines such as chemistry, biology, or physics.

NuSI will be successful because we are bringing together the best scientific minds and giving them the time and resources they require to find the answers we all need.”

Dr. Campbell as he appeared in the movie, "Forks over Knives," on the farm where he was raised.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell as he appeared in the Forks Over Knives movie.

The best scientific minds? Yet they make no mention of Dr. T. Colin Campbell or his world-changing book, The China Study. Then, a few days later, an article in the Wall Street Journal featured him in an article that focused on the health benefits of a vegan diet. He summarized his “pro” opinion:

When I began my experimental research program on the effects of nutrition on cancer and other diseases, I assumed it was healthy to eat plenty of meat, milk and eggs. But eventually, our evidence raised questions about some of my most-cherished beliefs and practices.

Our findings, published in top peer-reviewed journals, pointed away from meat and milk as the building blocks of a healthy diet, and toward whole, plant-based foods with little or no added oil, sugar or salt.

Dr. Nancy Rodriguez, University of Connecticut

The article then shifted to another nutritional scientist, Dr. Nancy Rodriguez of the University of Connecticut who delivered the pro meat & dairy rebuttal. After seeing her a few years ago with Dr. Campbell on Larry King Live, I knew that she would essentially disagree with everything that Dr. Campbell said. I was right. For example, she states:

There is scientific evidence that low-fat or fat-free dairy and lean meat, as part of a balanced diet, produce specific health benefits such as reducing blood pressure. Fat-free, low-fat and reduced-fat options are widely available, as are lactose-free milk and milk products. Many of the most popular beef cuts are lean, including top sirloin, tenderloin, T-bone steak and 95% lean ground beef.

Very confusing. So how is the average citizen supposed to know who is right and which PhD they should believe? Should they adopt a vegan diet or should they continue to eat meat, dairy, and eggs? Do they “need” to eat any animal products whatsoever? Even though our schools of nutrition stand strongly on the side of the meat & dairy folks, and are not likely to change anytime soon—each citizen should do their own homework and ask themselves a few questions:

  • Has heart disease ever been reversed by recommending more consumption of meat and dairy?
  • What do the strongest animals in the world eat, and what do the chimps and the gorillas eat? (the animals whose DNA is closest to ours)
  • How does meat and dairy stack up to plant-based when it comes to water consumption/pollution and energy consumption?
  • Is the American diet (heavy in meat and dairy) sustainable in a world that will soon have 9 billion people? Is there enough land?

I’m not sure what questions President Clinton asked himself; but I do know that he went against the conventional wisdom of our elite schools of nutrition and opted for a whole foods, plant-based diet. He has candidly described it as “vegan” on TV and reports that he followed the advice of T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., and Dean Ornish.

They say obesity runs in the family—so do unhealthy diets that cause obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Back to the PhDs. Regardless of how many thousands of studies that Dr. Rodriguez can quote, the war on cancer is 41 years old, heart disease is still our number one killer and obesity & diabetes are totally out of control. The work of our nutritional PhDs is simply not working.

As for obesity, here is the latest word from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (See last article below)

In 1990, the U.S. obesity average was 12 percent. By 2005, the U.S. average almost doubled, with 23 percent of Americans considered obese. Five years later, that amount doubled again with the U.S. obesity rate weighing in at 35.7 percent between 2009 and 2010.

If America’s obesity trend continues at its current pace, all 50 states could have obesity rates above 44 percent by 2030, according to a new report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

I urge you to take a look at these three articles. Although painful to read, they do illustrate the need for you to do your own homework and choose the diet-style that seems to make the most sense for you and your families.

Consecutive daily blogs (Numerals courtesy of Fiat)

The Bottom Line. Our nutritional education system is not working. They are not providing clarity when it comes to what we should be eating to promote our health and prevent or reverse chronic disease. They’re also ignoring the sustainability and environmental issues involved with the continuation of our harmful, inefficient and totally unsustainable typical western diet.

When I did my own study beginning in 2002, it was like a “blinding flash of the obvious” as to what we should be eating. I summarize all of that study in our book below. Also, there are also almost 600 well-researched blog-posts on this site that will help you find clarity on many topics related to what you choose to eat.

And none of it is confusing. In fact, it can all be summarized in two words: Whole Plants. And since I am not a PhD, maybe now you know the answer to my question in the title of this article.

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Diagnostic Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

International. We’re now reaching people in over 100 countries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or get daily blog notices by “following” us in the top of the right-hand column. For occasional updates, join our periodic mailing list.

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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Blogging daily at hpjmh.com…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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3 Responses to How many PhDs does it take to figure out what we should eat?

  1. Sal Liggieri says:

    How difficult is it to get people to eat a plant based diet?

    Here is two recent examples of SAD addiction, both persons are real, they live in my neighborhood.

    1. Male, age 52. About 100 pounds obese. Serious medical problem-diseased kidneys requiring home dialysis seven days a week, waiting for a transplant. Will he change his diet, an emphatic no. He loves meat too much.
    2. Male, age 61. Thin but with diseased arteries. Just had quadruple bypass surgery and has changed his diet. He now eats only no fat dairy and lean cuts of meat. Would not consider eating plant foods only as this does not make for good health.

    And there it is, the American dilemma! If these diseased individuals with life threatening medical problems won’t make the change, then what can we expect from obese America who have not yet developed health problems.

    In Brooklyn, NY, a new arena just opened, the Barclay Center. Plenty of new restaurants are part of the complex. Just try to get a vegan meal . . . good luck.

    The year is 2012 and just what has been the progress of the plant food movement? As I see it in my limited view, there has been no progress. If it’s so difficult to get change in America, then it would be almost impossible in the other counties of the world.

    But the plant food movement will keep marching on hoping for the miracle of divine revelation and the cows will still be mooing unhappily to their slaughter.

    Long live the Broccoli.

    Sal Liggieri

  2. Nathan says:

    I was reading the “9-18-12 article in WSJ. Would We Be Healthier With a Vegan Diet?” Yesterday, and I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed that the comments section shows a fairly strong bias towards whole food plant based diets. On the other hand, 2 different RD’s from the Dairy Council made statements that come awfully close to violating their ANDA code of ethics. One was about the “critical and essential” nutrition in low-fat dairy and lean meats (with no mention that all those nutrients are easily obtained from plants, which are lower in calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol); the other was the oft repeated misconstruction of “Q: What would you have to eat to get the same amount of calcium found in one 8-ounce glass of milk? A: 12 servings of whole grains or 10 cups of raw spinach or 6 servings of legumes.”
    Not only are those numbers artificially inflated, but this deliberately misses the fact that 1 eight ounce glass of Skim milk is 90 calories, where the equivalent in broccoli or spinach is only 60 calories. On a nutrient density basis, you can eat far fewer calories, get tons of fiber, calcium, and plenty of other nutrients, including a whole bunch of Iron (which dairy is 100% deficient in), just by eating these plants. That was also completely ignoring the existence and prevalence of soy milk, which exceeds the nutritional content of milk in all categories. This also misses the environmental argument, that the cow how to eat that many plants to get the calcium to begin with. Sadly, people with RD can consider themselves nutritional professionals, but are not held accountable for their ethical conduct in regards to keeping current with the science, and not being influenced by financial ties to industry.

  3. Jean Myers says:

    Thanks, Jim, for another great post with a big picture view!

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