Cornell-China-Oxford Project

In the early 1980’s, nutritional biochemist Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University, in partnership with researchers at Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, embarked upon one of the most comprehensive nutritional studies ever undertaken known as the China Project.

China at that time presented researchers with a unique opportunity. The Chinese population tended to live in the same area all their lives and to consume similar diets unique to each region. Their diets (low in fat and high in dietary fiber and plant material) also were in stark contrast to the rich diets of Western countries. The truly plant-based nature of the rural Chinese diet gave researchers a chance to compare, among other things, plant-based diets with animal-based diets.

Sixty five counties in rural China were selected for the study and dietary, lifestyle and disease characteristics were studied. Within each of the 65 counties, 2 villages were selected and 50 families in each were randomly chosen. One adult from each household (half men and half women), 6,500 people aged 34-64, for the entire survey, participated. Blood, urine and food samples were obtained for later analysis, while questionnaire and dietary information was recorded. The same counties and individuals surveyed in 1983-84 were re-surveyed in 1989-90, with the addition of 20 new counties in mainland China and Taiwan, and 20 additional families per county, for a total of 10,200 adults and their families.

The Project compared the eating habits the Chinese with the same number of Americans and Britons. This is the largest study, of any kind, ever undertaken. Ninety percent of the Chinese subjects were provincials who ate locally and followed a traditional diet.

Some of the findings of this study were:

  • Rural Chinese consumed many more grains, vegetables and fruits than the average American or Briton.
  • Daily fiber intake for the rural Chinese was three times higher than the average American.
  • The average Chinese derived 6-24% of their daily calories from fat vs. 39% for Americans and 45% for Britons.
  • In most Chinese provinces in this study people ate meat only one time per week. In counties where meat consumption was higher, incidence of cardiovascular disease was proportionately higher.
  • Rural Chinese ate more total daily calories per pound of body weight than their American counterparts did but virtually no obesity was reported.
  • The average Chinese serum cholesterol level was 127 (milligrams per deciliter) vs. 212 in the U.S.
  • Rates for chronic degenerative disease were overall much higher in the U.S. than in rural China but, in the areas of China where more meat products were consumed, rates of chronic degenerative disease were also on the rise.
  • It was noted in the second phase of the study that many previous participants had relocated to urban areas of China and because of the prevalence of western dietary culture in those cities the incidence of heart disease and other degenerative diseases were increasing.

There are a lot of people who extrapolate from this research that we should all become vegetarians or vegans but there is nothing further from the truth.

The reality is that the theory of the Chinese dietary therapy has one simple axiom that guides the rest of the theory, “eat a little bit of everything and not too much of anything”. The theory holds that if one eats from a wide variety of foods, not over-consuming any one thing, the full range of dietary therapy is made available and there is little or no need for remedial supplementation like vitamins and minerals.

Foreign visitors I have known coming to America for the first time are startled and amazed by our grocery stores, it is mind boggling to them that in out produce sections one can purchases any fruit or vegetable, locally in season or not. You can get a pineapple 365 days a year, and at a reasonable price. The problem most of us have is that we do not make use of the vast richness our local groceries provide, we tend to eat very few of the same fruits and vegetables year in, year out and that mundane diet makes for an unhealthy body.

The most frequently asked question by patients in my Vero Beach practice is, “what diet I should follow?” My answer depends a lot on what your diet is like now. The main things to consider are the ratios of foods you are eating. This is also the simplest way to modify your diet because it may only require you to change the quantity of foods you are eating as opposed to the types of foods you are eating.

In your mouth there are four basic types of dentition or teeth that perform three basic functions, half the teeth in your mouth are of the premolar, incisor and molar variety. These teeth are most useful in masticating or chewing fibrous foods that are of the fruit and vegetable variety. The canines and incisors make up about one fourth of your dentition and are useful for ripping and tearing meat. The third group of teeth is; the premolar and molar variety that are useful for grinding grains, seeds and nuts. The three types of dentition overlap in function and make it possible for us to be what we are: omnivorous, that is, we can eat just about anything we can fit in our mouth.

Simple logic implies that if our dentition is structured so that half our teeth are for fruit and vegetable matter, one fourth for seed, nuts and grain and one fourth for meat, then we should be following that as our basic dietary pattern.

My advice is simple and straight forward, let half of your daily caloric intake come from fruits and vegetables, fresh is best, as is wide variety. Let one fourth of your daily caloric intake come from grains, seeds and nuts (breads and pastas are included in this category), and let one fourth of your daily caloric intake come from protein sources (which include meat, poultry, dairy and some legumes).

The next question you have should be, “what is my optimum daily caloric intake?” The answer is “who are you and what do you do?” If you are a large person, 180 – 220 pounds for instance, and you have a sedentary job and home life you may only really need 1200 – 1500 calories per day for simple maintenance. If you have the same body type but you work high steel all day and train for triathlons at night you may need upward of 3000 calories per day for maintenance. The Food and Drug Administration has touted a 2000 calorie a day diet across the board for everyone the last thirty years and we are a nation of obese people as a result of it.  The FDA has also promoted that two thirds of your 2000 calorie a day diet come from grain products and we are a nation of hypoglycemics as a result of it.

I advise you to ignore the food pyramid in favor of the food circle, and as your mother used to say, “Eat your vegetables!”

Yours in good health,

Robert Kienitz, DTCM