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Nutrition and Cancer – A Book Review

TracyMaxwellby Tracy Maxwell, Living with Cancer

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition
Published by BenBella Books (May 6, 2014)
by T. Colin Campbell


I was first introduced to the writing of this decades-long nutrition researcher by a customer on one of the canoe trips I was guiding. Typically our roster of participants lists any special diets we need to accommodate such as vegetarian or gluten-free, etc. I noticed that she was eating very little, and I worried that she wasn’t getting enough food. I asked her if she was a vegetarian and she said, “No. I eat a plant-based diet.” Hmmm, I thought. Then I asked, confused, “How is that different?” Vegetarians don’t eat meat, she explained, “but they eat a lot of processed carbs, junk food and sugar. I only eat plants.”


We spent quite a bit of time discussing her unique way of eating throughout the rest of the three-day river trip. As a cancer survivor, I was intrigued, and this woman explained much of the science in Campbell’s first book that had convinced her to change her own habits. When I was diagnosed with a recurrence of my rare form of ovarian cancer a few years later, I read The China Study myself, and changed my own eating habits drastically.


Like Campbell, who grew up on a dairy farm, I was raised believing that milk was the healthy choice when it came to beverages. In the south where I grew up soft drinks were often served with meals when I ate at friends’ homes, and of course, overly sweetened “sweet tea” was prominent. I had consumed meat most days of my life, and lots of cheese (one of my all-time faves) and ice cream too. I remember so clearly the day I was sitting on my sofa reading to my sister about the main study that led Campbell away from searching for a better source of protein to help starving people, and toward a plant-based diet.


In the lab experiment, mice were exposed to a known cancer-causing toxin. In the control group, the mice were fed a diet of 5% protein and in the experimental group 20% protein. ALL of the mice in the 20% protein diet group got cancer. NONE of the mice in the 5% protein diet group did – even when exposed to higher and higher doses of the toxin. This changed the way I view animal protein forever, especially milk, as the diet fed to the mice was casein (milk protein).


In his new book, Campbell again lays out the science of nutrition in a way that exposes the societal, financial, political and even scientific barriers to changing people’s minds about what they eat. Since all of these systems are based on money from funding for research projects to campaign donations, policy is determined by those who have the most. The pharmaceutical and supplement industries would much rather sell us a pill-based solution to what ails us, and the food industry makes much higher profits by processing foods and packaging them with chemicals, preservatives and fillers, even though, as Michael Pollan stated in his book, In Defense of Food, the latter is creating customers for the former.


Perhaps only organic farmers have something to gain from our adoption of a whole food, plant-based way of eating (WFPB) as Campbell recommends. Oh, and us, of course. Numerous studies have shown that all manner of diseases from diabetes to heart disease and cancer can be prevented and even reversed by eating whole foods as close to their natural form as possible. This idea is becoming mainstream as more and more books and documentaries are being produced on the topic. There are better resources than Campbell’s about HOW to actually adopt this way of eating (my own ebook about this lists tons of resources and some sample menus and recipes), but his books explain the science in layman’s terms anyone can understand.


Of particular interest on the science side is the explanation of reductionism versus wholism to which a large portion of the book is dedicated. Reductionism seeks to find individual nutrients or active agents that can be put into pill form to target a specific problem. Campbell explains beautifully why taking vitamin C supplements is not nearly effective as eating foods rich in vitamin C, largely because of the body’s ability to absorb nutrients in their whole form due to the presence of other important nutrients that further this process, and because the effects of single nutrients in concentrated doses are not fully known and sometimes may be harmful.


As someone who has undertaken a mostly WFPB diet in the past, and is not well-versed in science, I appreciated Campbell’s easy way of laying out the facts without too much jargon. I also resonated with his big-picture approach to our societal barriers, and his willingness to buck the system in order to share information that can save lives. If you want to understand the benefits of a wholistic lifestyle better, I highly recommend this book.



If you are a cancer survivor looking to nutrition to aid your healing, these other books are also great sources of information (and even recipes and specific suggestions):

The Engine 2 Diet, by Rip Esselstyn

Crazy Sexy Diet and Crazy Sexy Kitchen by Kris Carr

Books by Andrew Weil and Dean Ornish, both M.D.s

Visit my website for other recommendations of books on diet, spirituality, healing and health, wholeness and transformation.



Tracy Maxwell is a healing coach and survivorship guide. She believes that healing is an inside job, and while others can support us in this (doctors, therapists, coaches, etc), we have to do the work required to “make ourselves whole” – the literal definition of healing. She offers a complimentary, no obligation 30-60 minute coaching session for anyone interested in exploring their own healing.



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