Book Review: Whole, By T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., With Howard Jacobson, Ph.D.


After I read Campbell and Campbell’s The China Study, I thought, “done”. It tells the tale in study after study. Animal protein is bad for us, while whole foods plant-based diets are good. The evidence is so overwhelming that it should have hit the media bigtime. But it didn’t. Why? In Whole, Campbell sets out to tell us why and to explain what to do about it.

The type of research that has been done to show the remarkable effects of eating a whole foods, plant-based diet (WFPB diet is Campbell’s term) is what Campbell refers to as “wholistic”.  This means looking at the whole food, not individual nutrients. The scientific community is, in general, convinced that the only type research that is worth paying attention to is “reductionist” – research into one element, looking for one effect. Campbell shows us why the reductionist approach, while valuable, cannot ever address nutrition adequately. The way our bodies metabolize food is incredibly complex, relying on the interactions of many different systems, and is dependent on many variables. A reductionist approach can never see this. It is impossible to take one small nutrient from one whole food and learn what it really does, because it does its work in combination with other nutrients and as part of a large system.

Like another reviewer, Lani Meulrath (it’s worth reading her review for more insight into the book), I offer here an excerpt from the book:

In studying the apple, Professor Liu and his team began by choosing to focus on vitamin C and its antioxidant effect.  They found that 100 grams of apples (about a half cup) had an antioxidant, vitamin-C like activity equivalent to 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C, (about 3 times the amount of a typical vitamin C supplement).  When they chemically analyzed that 100 grams of the whole apple, however, they found only 5.7 milligrams of vitamin C, far below the 1,500 milligrams that the level of antioxidant activity associated with the vitamin C indicated.  

The vitamin-C like activity from 100 grams of whole apple was an astounding 263 times as potent as the same amount of the isolated chemical!  Said another way, the specific chemical we refer to as vitamin C accounts for much less than 1 percent of the vitamin C-like activity in the apple – a miniscule amount.  The other 99-plus percent of this activit is due to other vitamin C-like chemicals in the apple, the possible ability of vitamin C to be much more effective in context of the whole apple than it is when consumed in an isolated form, or both.  ~Whole, pages 152 – 153.

Campbell’s scientific background means that he understands how research is done and how awards are granted to research projects. Because the reductionist method is preferred, funding is rarely available for other types of research. Campbell has experience as a researcher, as a teacher, and as a member of panels that award grants. He has seen the system from the inside out.

Corporations control what we learn. Corporations are large funders of the non-profit disease-centered organizations, like the American Cancer Society. These organizations, usually led by well-meaning persons who genuinely want to help those with these diseases, are given a lot of “help” by the corporations who offer them large donations. Corporations are involved in research grants as well. Corporations have great influence over our national governmental organizations, like the National Institutes of Health, through their lobbies and other means. It is difficult not to be influenced by the meat,dairy, and pharmaceutical industries, even for those who think they are not.

Further, our media is not doing its job. It is meant to be the “fourth estate” – the independent monitors. But too often reporters, most of whom have little scientific training, buy press releases from governmental and NGOs whole hog. In a recent case, the National Cancer Institute issued a press release that cancer rates had gone down, that there was a big drop. There was a media frenzy, reporting that the “war on cancer” was working. Oddly, nobody thought to ask a critical question: what does “big drop” mean? It was a drop of less than one percent. With lazy and uninformed media toeing the line, what hope is there for the rest of us?

One hope is that we ask the questions ourselves, that we not accept the spoon-feeding offered. Campbell believes that the top-down method will not work here: a revolution needs to start with us. First, adopt a WFPB diet. Influence others to do the same. Read the relevant books. This revolution may eventually be televised.

Note: this review is based on my purchase of Whole from

One Response to Book Review: Whole, By T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., With Howard Jacobson, Ph.D.

  1. Perhaps the single most important thing we can to for our health is to adopt true whole foods plant based diet that keeps processed foods to a minimum. Great review. I look forward to reading the book.


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