This week, we invited Dr. Thomas M. Campbell II to discuss his work with nutrition and food as medicine.
Dr. Campbell is a physician, best-selling co-author of The China Study, researcher, and educator. He is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester, where he is co-director of the UR Medicine Nutrition in Medicine Research Center. His experience includes creating and running novel nutrition and lifestyle-focused programs in primary care and hospital settings at the University of Rochester and working with many hundreds of patients over time to prevent and treat illness using optimal diet and lifestyle. He is also author of The China Study Solution and course co-author of the popular Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate offered by eCornell, Cornell University’s online learning arm, and the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. He also runs a private practice focusing on lifestyle medicine.
Dr. Campbell is currently an investigator for two clinical trials testing the effects of plant-based nutrition on subjects with advanced type 2 diabetes as well as subjects with advanced breast cancer. He serves on the American College of Lifestyle Economic Research Consortium and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine Research Committee. He is a graduate of Cornell University and went on to get his medical degree from the University at Buffalo School of Medicine. He became board-certified in family medicine after completing residency training at the University of Rochester, Highland Hospital and is also certified in obesity medicine by the American Board of Obesity Medicine. He has published multiple papers in the scientific literature and has presented widely on the topic of plant-based nutrition. He also has completed multiple marathons.
What Was Your Diet Like Growing Up?
It was a pretty traditional food environment. We had what people in the 80s thought was a healthy kind of American Diet: make sure you have a vegetable at every dinner, fruits and vegetables at other times as well. But make no mistake, we had plenty of sugar, meat, cheese, meatloaf – everything like that. We would run through the fast food on rare occasions. I think my favorite lunch was white toast with mayonnaise and scrambled eggs, and my favorite breakfast was a sausage patty. So I had a pretty typical food experience growing up. But my dad, as he was getting his research findings when I was in late middle school through high school, we really started cutting down significantly on meat. Even then, we wouldn’t get the chicken dish – we would get chicken fried rice that had just little bits of chicken. So it wasn’t until later in high school into college when I was fully vegetarian, and then became vegan when I was writing The China Study with my dad.
What Kind of Nutrition Work Are You Currently Involved In?
My research position at the University of Rochester is a part-time position, but I raised some funding to start a nutrition research program that looked at food as medicine. Not just wellness or prevention, but treating common diseases. Then my private practice is new and small; it’s a telemedicine-only practice. I don’t have a burning need to be super busy during that part of my day, but I might see a patient or two via telemedicine to have a very in-depth conversation about diet, lifestyle, and how it relates to their health concerns and health goals. It’s the thing I’ve been doing in various capacities for five to six years.
How Do You Distinguish Veganism From Plant-Based?
There’s a lot of wonderful aspects of veganism, in the philosophy of veganism, and its benefits, but for optimal human health, it’s not just plants versus animals. It’s whole food versus processed food. That’s actually the bigger part of the equation in my mind, because most vegans, vegetarians, and Standard American Diet eaters all are consuming predominantly ultra-processed foods. The ultra-processed foods are primarily compilations of sugar and fat with some substrate – usually white flour. So, it’s not a single food, but instead a dietary pattern predominantly based on whole foods and plants – plant-based foods.
What Dietary Changes Can People Make For Themselves and Their Families?
Eating fruits and vegetables and avoiding some of the ultra-processed junk out there. If you took the average American family, and an average American kid, you could have dramatic impacts on lifestyle and nutrition-related health just by successfully following sort of moderate dietary recommendations. The situation is so bad that kids are coming home from school with Pop Tarts for breakfast, a bacon cheeseburger for lunch, and maybe some tater tots.
Was there a single vegetable in there? Children are also eating just huge amounts of added sugar. One out of five calories in some age groups is added sugar. All the added fats, the lack of fiber, the lack of fruits and vegetables – all are an issue. You don’t even need to be 100% whole food plant-based, no oil. You just have to get rid of some of that processed food, and have fruits and vegetables regularly. I’ve been doing this long enough now that after a little while, you start thinking beyond the health aspects of the food; But it does take time.
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