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I tried to strike a balance here between being polite, while also challenging his ideas at the same time.  I hope I accomplished this.

I could’ve gone on for 10 hours, but time was the limiting factor…he had to go…

The Takeaway


When it comes to the type of eating, the most research for health benefits as a general rule – for a whole population is a Mediterranean Diet.  The evidence is certainly not for a low-fat, whole food, vegan diet, with the possible exception of heart disease.

A Mediterranean diet is good for heart disease (R), but if we are to believe that Ornish and company are being honest, then their results are pretty significant for heart disease.

But even then, we must look at a side by side comparison and there are few to no serious clinical trials that are doing a side by side comparisons.

The studies that Campbell talks about are rubbish.  They are done with dosages of casein that no one will consume, on animals and with significant levels of toxins.  Other animal studies also have their flaws.

Then he looks at epidemiological studies that are completely flawed and don’t always line up the way he wants them to.  He speaks down at reductionism and praises looking at the whole body of evidence, but he does no such thing.

Anything can be called reductionist and that’s what his main mode of argumentation is.  Any study you bring will be reductionist, but by nature, studies are reductionist because they are looking at single variables.

There is no evidence that the Campbell/Ornish diet is more healthful than a healthy omnivorous diet and there’s ample evidence that it’s not.

It’s also important to note that all of the positive studies for his low fat vegan diet were done by devotees of these diets.

Summary and Extra Information

This summary doesn’t include a lot of what we speak about and I’ve added some information here that you won’t get in the interview..  Therefore, watch the interview AND read these notes…

What diet do you advocate?

He doesn’t advocate a diet..he advocates a permanent lifestyle change…

He doesn’t like the word vegan, because of its ideological connotations.

How is your diet different from a whole food, low fat vegan diet?

No difference.

Why is animal protein bad?

Because you’re displacing healthier foods and you’re having more fat and protein.

What’s bad about protein?

Neglects to mention the positives of protein:

  • Protein is helpful for weight loss and can help prevent hypoglycemia…Studies on high protein diets show that they increase fat burning, reduce appetite and lead to automatic weight loss (R, R2, R3).   Protein also helps people gain muscle, lower blood pressure, improve bone health and reduce various symptoms of diabetes (R, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, R8).

Me: IGF-1 is a performance hormone….it doesn’t initiate cancer, it makes cancer you already have spread quicker.

Him: he disagrees because casein causes cancer….(doesn’t address my claims)

Me: Casein isn’t equivalent to all other proteins.  Casein is inflammatory.

Him: All the animal proteins are inflammatory.

Me: Which proteins exactly elevated blood cholesterol and causes heart lesions?

Him:  Also turkey and egg protein..(I’d like to see those studies…probably reductionist…which he is against).

Me: We need to shift the conversation from plant vs animal to more detailed discussion of the exact protein….With IGF-1, most amino acids will increase it, so it makes no difference if it’s plant or animal.

Him: What do you mean by amino acids?

Me: Leucine would be one example…Any protein you’re going to take in will increase IGF-1 if the dosage is right…even plant-based proteins…

Him: We can’t look at things in a reductionist matter….When you eat protein from plant foods it also contains antioxidants and balancing factors that decrease IGF-1.

Me: You speak about plant-based diets….do you think you should make a distinction between the type of plant?

Him: You need to look at the whole picture…when you eat diverse plants, it balances out…

When you put people on a whole food plant based diet, you cure heart disease…a paleo diet can’t do that…we see the same thing with cancer and type 2 diabetes

Me: Is there an individual difference in how people respond to different diets?  Is the diet you advocate the best for everyone?

Him: Everyone responds in a favorable way, but some people improve more than others.

People who respond better to paleo diets…it’s only a short term effect – they can’t measure long-term health effects…people who don’t respond to his diet don’t try it long enough – more than a month)…

(Campbell’s diet (Ornish) was compared to an Atkins diet in a group of overweight/obese premenopausal women.

After a period of 1 year:

  • The Atkins group lost more weight than the Ornish group (10.4 vs 5.6 pounds) – the difference was not statistically significant at 12 months (R).
  • The Atkins group had greater decreases in blood pressure (R).
  • The Atkins group had greater increases in HDL cholesterol (R).
  • The Atkins group had a 29.3 mg/dL reduction in triglycerides,  compared to 14.9 mg/dL in the Ornish group (R).
  • The people in the Ornish group had trouble sticking to the diet and were twice as likely to drop out of the study, indicating that the Atkins diet was easier to follow.)

Me: The readers of my blog have tried it and for more than a month…

I think there’s a portion of the population that does better with more protein.  These people suffer from chronic inflammation and fatigue…they are often under-methylators… and they are less concerned with cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. For example, these people will do better for more cysteine and methionine.

Him: Those proteins cause metabolic acidosis.  The pH starts to go down and our enzymes can’t work as well ((((not true, when healthy, has a very tight control of our pH – but I didn’t bring it up))))

Me: Are there any clinical trials show people getting metabolic acidosis when combining it with adequate water and fruits and vegetables?

Him: No

When people eat a whole food plant-based diet, taking nutrient supplements on top of that doesn’t work because they get optimal levels of everything they need.  Nutrient supplements don’t work.

(I disagree, but didn’t bring it up….his vegan diet doesn’t get optimal levels of these dietary components:

Me: Nutritional supplements can mean anything…the supplements you’re referring to –beta carotene, alpha-tocopherol, selenium and folic acid don’t work and can be harmful, but it’s not accurate to just label all supplements as unhelpful.

Me: Are there any studies comparing the diet you advocate with other diets that are not the standard American diet?

Him: They did a study comparing a placebo diet to the standard American diet and they didn’t do better ((((I’d like to see the details of that study)))).

Me: Were they also adequately hydrated and eating lots of vegetables?

Him: He’s not aware of the details of what they ate…

Me:  Are you aware of any studies comparing a plant based diet you advocate with a healthy and balanced omnivorous diet?

Him: No…but they’ve done studies on heart disease…out of 179 people who followed the diet, only one person had another heart attack…and that person didn’t keep to the diet…Less than 1 percent got heart disease again…67% of the people who didn’t do it had another heart attack…if these people deviate their numbers will go in the wrong direction.

Me:  I’m willing to concede that the diet you advocate has evidence for heart disease, but we haven’t compared it to other healthy omnivorous diets, so we don’t know which is better.

Me: Your diet lowers LDL, which is good for heart disease…but the studies show that an LDL between 100-130 has the lowest overall death rate…what do you think of those studies and the fact that LDL carries antioxidants (I said in the interview LDL was an antioxidant, but I misspoke)?

(I also didn’t mention that cholesterol is the precursor to all steroid hormones in the body and all of these hormones are critical to health.  Should’ve brought up that fact….)

Him: He thinks they’re reductionist…you need to make sure that they’ve done an adjustment for various factors, such as the care these people may have gotten (they did adjust for confounding variables)…

Here are just two studies: (“Mortality decreased with the increases in both TC and LDL-C concentrations, after adjustment for various confounding factors. These findings suggest that low TC and low LDL-C may be independent predictors of high mortality in the very elderly.” (R) Another study (R).

Me: Is there any other mechanism by which it decreases heart disease?  Does it decrease inflammation and oxidized LDL in the studies you’ve done?

Him: Yes, it does everything…

Me: Do you think using your animal studies are reductionist? (in his animal studies, he mainly dealt with casein)

Him: He looked at the metabolic effects, which are similar in animals (if we include animal studies, then there are thousands showing benefits for dietary supplements.)

Then he saw the human epidemiological studies confirmed what they saw in animals.

Me: What did you measure in the china study and what did it show?

Him: They collected detailed data on 6500 Chinese families and this was the highest quality epidemiological study in the history according to his opinion…

He saw that Western diseases clustered together and they correlated with blood cholesterol…when total cholesterol went up from 80-90 to 160, all the diseases became worse.

Me: They’re tons of markers you could’ve checked for…For example, did you check for fish consumption and total mortality?

Him: Yes, he doesn’t remember exactly what that data was.

Me: There are dozens of studies showing that people consuming fish 2-3X a week show lower mortality and dramatically lower levels of heart disease.

Him: What’s considered dramatic?

Me: Maybe 50% – it depends on the specific type of heart disease….

1) This meta-analysis including 222,364 individuals shows lower heart disease by 38% (R).

2) “CONCLUSIONS: Fish consumption is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause, ischemic heart disease, and stroke mortality at the population level.” (R).

3) “Fatty fish compared with non-fatty-fish consumption was associated with lower CHD mortality…by 34%” (R).

4) “…there seemed to be a U-shaped trend (p < 0.000) with fatty fish consumption and total mortality and with total fish consumption and cancer mortality (p = 0.046).” (R).

5) A study that included more than 4,000 Swedish 60-year-olds, showed that high levels of polyunsaturated fats in the blood are linked to increased longevity and decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease (included other kinds of PUFAs, too) (R).

Him: He’s not familiar with those studies…but the studies on Eskimos aren’t good because they didn’t live long enough for them to get heart disease

Me: There are many other studies…

He Has to go but compliments me on my penetrating questions…

Other Points I Didn’t Get a Chance to Bring Up

  • In a study that recruited people who were customers of a health food store, looking at the difference between health conscious vegetarians and health conscious meat eaters…they found no difference in mortality or the risk of heart disease or stroke (R).
  • Many studies on a Mediterranean diet being healthiest
  • Vegetarians don’t live longer
  • Avoiding lectins prevent/cures autoimmune disease
  • People who feel tired from carbs or get fat?

Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

  • Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
  • SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
  • SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
  • Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

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  • Rik Brutsaert

    I think that the approach of explaining phenomena based on principles to justify an approach is problematic. You should instead put different applications to the test and based on your best guess at how they will work together create a plan of action. Many theories break down when you introduce variability, and many practical applications that work simply don’t have a know theory to back them up.

    Theory that is 100% correct often fails or is superseded by other phenomena when you introduce unknown variability. This has been especially shown to be true in the advent of computers, where experimentation is very cheap. New algorithms have been found and old theory was shown to be problematic through experimentation or even by accident. Specifically, the most effective methods machine learning for optimizing neural networks such as stochastic gradient decent or dropout were found by accident, and then new theories had to be formed to explain why these methods optimized artificial neural networks. Other methods which had been “proven” through theoretical math fell flat on their face due to variability and measurement error in data.

    On the flip side, many applications that are very effective were found accidentally. All the best artificial neural network architectures were crafted through trial and error because in fact, it is part science and part artform. The best example in nutrition for accidental findings is LLLT for hair growth, where researchers were trying to induce hair growth on rats by shaving their backs and exposing them to intense red light. Instead, the rats grew hair much quicker.

    The problem with this interview is that you have two people arguing dogmatically about which approach is better, each with explanations about why each is true. Instead they should be running experiments based on the factors which they have observed create the biggest changes and putting them to the test to observe. It is certainly helpful to know why, but ultimately you have to put it to the test.

  • Matt

    Animal sources of protein are less healthfull than plant sources of protein regardless of the fact that they both contain identical amino acids. It is because animal sources of protein generally have a higher ratio of the particular amino acids that lead to oxidative stress and therefore chronic inflammation. i.e. The sulfer containing amino acids: Methionine, cystine, and taurine.

  • Ethan

    I have a hypothesis that different blood type has different ability to digest animal fat. In my family, my mom can’t digest animal fat well. My dad can eat pork chop whole day and still skinny!

  • Chiquitabanana

    I only read the summary but it looks like a good solid case against recommending a vegan diet for everyone. My ancestors are from the far northern latitudes and were most certainly not eating a vegan diet for most of the year. I went vegan for about 4 months, and after a honeymoon of about 6 weeks of being hyper energetic, I became fatigued, brain fogged and lost hair-and this was with supplementation of iron,b12 and ALA. I believe the initial energy boost wasn’t from the elimination of animal products, but from the inclusion of large quantities and variety of veggies.Really, I think the USDA recommendation of 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day is ridiculously low-at least for me it was, and I think this is one of the biggest reasons people eating a SAD may have worse health outcomes than those following an Ornish style diet. Oh, and by the way, my 23&me testing showed that I have a problem converting beta carotene to vitamin A and ALA to dha/epa-these are not uncommon SNPs, so how can anyone say that the natural diet for those of us with these SNPs should be vegan?

  • cobbler

    Were you wearing ear-muffs or headphones? Whole Foods, Plant based Vegan.

  • Phredd

    Researchers Have Found That Plants Know They Are Being Eaten

  • Skip

    How did you conclude that the best diet for a whole population is the Mediterranean diet? Campbell’s point is that the best diet is a whole foods plant based diet and his extensive research supports this position.

  • j

    joe, what’s your consideration of the okinawan diet? at 6% fat, 9% protein, 85% carbohydrate, it seems to line up pretty well with campbell’s “low-fat, whole food vegan diet”. i think the traditional okinawans have the mediterraneans beat in terms of longevity

    1. j

      as far as i know, all true blue zones consume a low fat, low protein, plant based diet…this includes sardinia, rural china, and okinawa.

    2. Joseph M. Cohen

      I chalk it up to genes and lifestyle. Do you have a reference for 85% carbs?

      1. j

        see page 4 for the nutritional breakdown. while i agree that lifestyle plays a role, i don’t agree about genetics.
        evidence against this is illustrated through the fact that okinawan (and other blue zone diets) has become progressively more modernized as of 21st century (i.e. more fat and protein) and as a result the health of the local people has diminished. “After ranking fourth in 1995, the average life expectancy of Okinawan males plunged to 26th in the national chart in just five short years,”

        1. Joseph M. Cohen

          More modernized=circadian dysruptions, less sun, blue light at night, less exercise/movement, less fish, less veggies, more psychological stress, more non native EMFs, more pollution, toxins, processed foods, breakdown in culture, staying indoors more, etc…..

          Macronutrient ratios are the least important – a red herring.

          1. Jonathan

            Joseph, you are just spouting non-sense to keep your beliefs going. Unfortunately for you, there was a study done as to why younger generation of okinawans were dying at the same rate as the national average and a key point in the study was the fact that they now eat much higher % of fat in their diet (30%) and animal products. I would actually cite this study, but you wont bother reading it, so I wont bother finding it.
            Btw, in the future, please dont send me papers with an impact factor lower than 4 and if I send you one that is higher than 14, I suggest you take it seriously.

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          2. James

            Joseph you are wrong. Macronutrients are the PRIMARY factor. Your body ingests up to 5 pounds of food every day. That is huge. Freqking light waves and circadian rhythm mean nothing compared to 5 pounds of material entering the body on a daily basis.

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  • Jonathan

    Joseph, reading this blog post and watching the interview, I am appalled.
    It seems to me that you actual agenda was to bring the man to tears and when you failed, you came here and wrote up how you wanted the interview to go.
    I disagree with your conclusion. In particular, the study as I have not heard the academic research community finding issue with it – there have been no amendments or retractions.
    As well as the vitamin deficiencies. And there are some things like Methionine and Leucine which are intensionally low for better health (google low-methionine diet).
    There is causation research showing IGF1 and growing cancer cells.
    Feel free to take a look at more research in this site for citations for what I have mentioned:

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      So that’s the interpretation of someone lacking in DHA…Interesting…

      1. Jonathan

        No, that is the interpretation of someone with extremely low homocysteine in their brain.
        Maybe you should check yours. It appears to cause you to act in a juvenile manner.

      2. Jonathan

        Seriously, though. Moderating comments in a discussion? How insecure are you?

        1. Joseph M. Cohen

          You haven’t made an argument. You’ve only brought up IGF-1, which I already discussed in interview – that it was only a problem if you already have cancer.

          If you have evidence against what I said, cite it…

          1. Jonathan

            For IGF1 only? sure
            Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), IGF binding protein 3 (IGFBP3), and breast cancer risk: pooled individual data analysis of 17 prospective studies
            And what do you mean when we already have cancer? When the cancer is 1 cell, 1 billion cells or 10 billion cells?
            Because we can all potentially have some cancer cells in us at all time.
            For more citations, check out the already linked site

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          2. Joseph M. Cohen

            1) IGF-1 only makes tumors grow quicker. Your study doesn’t refute that statement.

            2) Why not look directly at protein and cancer?

            Lower carb and higher protein diets are not associated with cancer according to this study:

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          3. Jonathan

            1) You are over-simplifying. Cancer cells can take 10 years to develop to large sizes. Anyone can have cancer cells in their body at any point in time. The question is, does our body deal with them before they become an issue?
            in the study I gave you, the conclusion was clear: Circulating IGF1 is positively associated with breast-cancer risk.
            2) These studies do show a link between meat and cancer:

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          4. Joseph M. Cohen

            Which of those meat studies only look at grass fed meat, that’s not processed and cooked in water?

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          5. Jonathan

            Do the reading yourself.

            reply icon
          6. Jonathan

            In your low-carb study, why was the LCHP subjective categorisation applied?
            “The LCHP score is indepen- dent of total energy intake, due to the isocaloric nature of carbohydrate and protein, and it allows separate consideration of the amount and quality of fat consumed.”
            Why not simply write down macro ratios and add a side note for fats?
            This grouping ruins the whole study…

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  • Alicia

    Hello Joseph, your lack of credentials really highlights the absurdity of your “take aways”, which do not reflect what Dr. Campbell said. You are merely inserting your unqualified opinion. I also find it sad that you interuppted your guest Dr. Campbell so often, included an unflattering screen shot of Dr. Campbell, did not read “Whole” before interviewing him, and pressed him to use the word “vegan” when that is not how he identifies himself. This man who has changed thousands of peoples’ lives gave you an hour of his time, and you showed him little respect. Shame on you.

    1. Dana

      I saw this and thought I would respond 😉 Alicia, some of the smartest people in the health sector don’t have the required “credentials” that so many people require. I’m also not sure what these credentials would be. Would Joe need to have a doctor’s degree, allowing more conflicts of interest and less time to spend on research? I respect people like Joe who are able to question current health information that is out there and questioned so little. Everyone was treated with respect here, Joe even advocated that people buy Campbell’s book at the end of the interview if they want…because really, it’s up to each person to do one’s own research at the end of the day.

      I have always liked what Schopenhauer says here,”All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as truth.” Nice interview, keep asking questions and spreading the wealth Joe…we all appreciate it 🙂

      1. Joseph M. Cohen

        Thanks babe 😉

  • Anna

    You are so wrong and weren’t even listening to what he was saying. You failed to even understand his first point that he was emphasizing that he has proven that a PLANT-BASED dietary lifestyle is healthier NOT A VEGAN dietary lifestyle. By plant-based, he means UNPROCESSED, UNREFINED, foods as they are found IN NATURE! A low fat, whole food, vegan diet can still include refined foods even if they are “low fat” like whole grains, “low-fat” oils and processed sugars. A PLANT-BASED DIET consists of only eating WHOLE PLANTS IN THEIR NATURAL FORM.

  • goodstew1

    “The studies Campbell talks about are rubbish”

    nuff said. an arrogant VEGAN with an agenda.

  • lordilol

    lol no NEW DIRECTION?
    ah, i guess gordon was a black sheep.
    seriously it almost sounds as he has political interest.

    i mean reductionist view is necessary, simply because those stuff break down even further.
    of course you want the big pic as well.
    lol. its like selective skepticism. what doesnt fit the agenda isnt bothered with.

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      I like to mix it up…

      Ya, basically he’ll define everything you throw at him as “reductionist”…and then give over even more reductionist responses…

      1. James

        im sorry but you literally have no idea what you are talking about. Sometimes I wish people would use common sense to realize that plant foods are healthy and animal foods are terrible for us. Our DNA spells it out perfectly. If we were meant to eat meat, our digestive tracts would be 6 times shorter and our stomachs would contain 20 times more Hydrochloric Acid. Also we have 16 copies of the gene that codes for Alpha-Amalayse, an enzyme that does one thing and one thing only-digest starch. No other animal has this much amalayse production. We are and always have been starch eaters. When you consume meat, the matrix of the muscle tissue actually hardens and expands in the digestive tract, causing hernias and ultimately leading to colon cancer. Incidence of colon cancer is DIRECTLY correlated with higher consumption of meat. your ideas have absolutely NO basis whatsoever. What’s also annoying is you ask if there have been studies where the subjects eat only grass fed beef cooked in water and all these other specific variables. It doesn’t matter where the meat came from or what you cook it in or what else you eat it with, IT IS PURE MUSLCE FIBER, that alone tells you that it is dangerously huge in acidic properties and dangerously high in protein. So stop inventing these wild scenarios and then asking why there haven’t been studies on them. You will obviously never change your mind from someone else’s argument, so ultimately you are true only one who can change your own mind and that doesn’t seem like it will happen. Are you capable of change? Or are you genetically predisposed to keeping your opinion? I think you are, but prove me wrong idk.

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