Can giving up grains cause cancer?

Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell

Could giving up grains cause heart disease and cancer? This is what Colin Campbell claims in his new book The Low-Carb Fraud:

MailOnline: Are low-carb diets BAD for you? Nutrition expert claims giving up grains can lead to heart disease and cancer

Biochemist T Colin Campbell is the author behind the well-known vegan book The China Study and according to him, we should eat a low-fat vegan diet to keep us healthy.

There is a lack of evidence to support Campbell’s ideas. The book The China Study rests on an observational study – uncertain statistics – that doesn’t prove anything. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that the statistical data in the book were cherry-picked to fit the author’s preconceptions. Statistics that pointed strongly in the other direction were not included.

A new review of all relevant similar studies shows that Asians who eat more red meat on the contrary are healthier. They suffer less heart disease and less cancer. Not quite what Campbell managed to cherry pick from his one China study.

There may be good ethical reasons to be a vegan – it’s open for discussion. But those who fear animal foods for health reasons are afraid for no good reason.


Asian Meat-Eaters are Healthier!

Swedish Tabloid Warns of “Low-Carb Cancer”


  1. JT
    Looks like Denise Minger needs to get her gloves off again :)
  2. Boundless
    From the comments on the UK article, it seems that there is adequate skepticism about Campbell's failing attempt to remediate his reputation by attacking diets that work.

    Meanwhile, on "There may be good ethical reasons to be a vegan ..."
    Here's a nice up-to-date update on the hazards & work-arounds for eating vegetarian/vegan:

  3. FrankG
    Just one look at that face and I know that I would not buy a used car from this man.

    But you used the magic words... "T. Colon Campbell" and "The China Study".. let's see how long it takes to fire up the veg*n jungle telegraph system and rally the troops to leap to his defense! :-P

    I had to chuckle when I read his claim that LCHF is even worse than SAD! LOL

    In addition to Chrs Kresser's blog (that post is at over 600 comments!)... Kris Gunnars also has a timely post...

  4. Linda
    I saw this claim (that eating no grains can cause cancer) earlier about Campbell, and haven't looked into why he says that.
    But has he ever addressed how humans before agriculture, (or current meat-centric cultures) didn't seem to die willy-nilly of cancer?
    I hope the claim is that they died too young is not it.

    If you are bored, there are some choice comments on the Amazon review page of his book:

  5. Morgana
    Lack of grains causing health problems? Hmmmmmm......I think grains have caused most of the health problems I've experienced......(celiac disease, as well as cancer!) There are many traditional cultures who eat low carb, grainless diets who thrive, and get no cancer or heart disease of any kind. But these people who have an agenda just ignore that type of evidence.

    Anyway, I have now switched to a low carb, no-grain diet, and I feel better than I ever have before.

  6. Morgana
    Oh, I think it's funny how in the UK article, Campbell claimed that cavemen didn't have easy access to meat. I mean......what the? Has he ever heard of the concept "anthropology"? There's a reason why the cave paintings aren't filled with pictures of bagels and pizza......
  7. Robin Willcourt
    He makes bold statements, with no reference to reality.
    How do you become a nutrition expert with 40 years experience? Is just consuming O2 sufficient?
    He is not a physician either!
  8. Lori Miller
    I read that book last year. It's hands down the most ill-researched and dishonest thing I've ever read. My review:
  9. Troy Wynn
    Assuming you were living in the wild with no flour or sugar. If you ate plant material above the ground to sustain your life, and say you needed 3000 kcals, how many pounds of plant food would you need?
    Ans: If you ate broccoli type vegetables, it would take 20 lbs to get 3000 kcals.

    If you encountered a prolonged drought, what would you do?
    Ans: Die

    Assuming the the same scenario, but ate animals?
    Ans: If you killed and chopped up a buffalo, 1 lb of pemmican (meat and fat) = 3000 calories.

    If you encountered a prolonged drought, what would you do?
    Ans: Eat more animals

    Eat meat and fat, and live.

  10. Sakari Peltola
    Hi everybody!

    I would strongly advice you not to take any advice from any source that is fear based. "If you don't do this and that you'll go to Hell and die forever!!!"
    Because then that advice isn't an attempt to inform you but to manipulate you.
    And manipulation is lame.


  11. Michelle
    Not forgetting that we have the teeth of an omnivore. Why would we evolve these tools if we did not consume meat on a vast scale?
  12. Jo tB
    Statistical data in the book were cherry-picked to fit the author’s preconceptions.

    Where have I heard that before...... Oh, yes, that's right...... Ancel Keys.

    One nut case following in the footsteps of the other nutcase.

    Hopefully we have learned from the one, not to give any credance to the other.

    Ancel Keys gave us the Low Fat diet, and look where it got us. And now Colin Campbell wants us to go vegan, no meat at all. We know what the outcome of that will be.... We will get sicker than we already are. Are we waiting for that?

    Not me. And no one else responding on this site.

  13. LCHF_Graham
    Colin Campbell = an intellectually dishonest ideologue with an agenda. An absolute disgrace to science and the life of the mind.

    Worse than that he has blood on his hands with his crackpot 'advice'.

  14. Paul the rat
    Campbells and McDougalls say (with: "Period." at the end of the sentence) that LCHF damages kidneys. I wonder where these people get their data from?. Period.

  15. Paul the rat
    Colin Campbell - a "biochemist" with an agenda or a dumb biochemist or both. Personally I would never call him a scientist.

    Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Nov 15;178(10):1542-9. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt178. Epub 2013 Sep 5.

    Dietary carbohydrates, refined grains, glycemic load, and risk of coronary heart disease in Chinese adults.

    Yu D, Shu XO, Li H, Xiang YB, Yang G, Gao YT, Zheng W, Zhang X.
    The potential long-term association between carbohydrate intake and the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) remains unclear, especially among populations who habitually have high-carbohydrate diets. We prospectively examined intakes of carbohydrates and staple grains as well as glycemic index and glycemic load in relation to CHD among 117,366 Chinese women and men (40-74 years of age) without history of diabetes, CHD, stroke, or cancer at baseline in Shanghai, China. Diet was assessed using validated food frequency questionnaires. Incident CHD cases were ascertained during follow-ups (in women, the mean was 9.8 years and in men, the mean was 5.4 years) and confirmed by medical records. Carbohydrate intake accounted for 67.5% of the total energy intake in women and 68.5% in men. Seventy percent of total carbohydrates came from white rice and 17% were from refined wheat products. Positive associations between carbohydrate intakess and CHD were found in both sexes (all P for heterogeneity > 0.35). The combined multivariate-adjusted hazard ratios for the lowest to highest quartiles of carbohydrate intake, respectively, were 1.00, 1.38, 2.03, and 2.88 (95% confidence interval: 1.44, 5.78; P for trend = 0.001). The combined hazard ratios comparing the highest quartile with the lowest were 1.80 (95% confidence interval: 1.01, 3.17) for refined grains and 1.87 (95% confidence interval: 1.00, 3.53) for glycemic load (both P for trend = 0.03).

    High carbohydrate intake, mainly from refined grains, is associated with increased CHD risk in Chinese adults.

  16. Paul the rat
    I wish Dietdoctor would take the face-picture of that slimy snake off the blog.

    Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(1):283-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26356. Epub 2008 Dec 3.

    Dietary carbohydrates, fiber, and breast cancer risk in Chinese women.

    Wen W1, Shu XO, Li H, Yang G, Ji BT, Cai H, Gao YT, Zheng W.
    Author information

    Few studies have investigated the association of dietary carbohydrate and fiber intake with breast cancer risk in women in China, where carbohydrate intake is traditionally high.
    The objective was to prospectively evaluate the association of dietary carbohydrates, glycemic index, glycemic load, and dietary fiber with breast cancer risk and to determine whether the effect of these dietary intakes is modified by age and selected insulin- or estrogen-related risk factors.
    A total of 74,942 women aged 40-70 y were recruited into the Shanghai Women's Health Study, a population-based cohort study. Dietary intake was assessed by in-person interviews. A Cox proportional hazards regression model was used to evaluate associations.
    During an average of 7.35 y of follow-up, 616 incident breast cancer cases were documented. A higher carbohydrate intake was associated with a higher risk of premenopausal breast cancer (P for trend = 0.002). Compared with the lowest quintile, the hazard ratios (and 95% CIs) were 1.47 (1.00, 2.32) and 2.01 (1.26, 3.19) for the fourth and fifth quintiles, respectively. A similar pattern was found for glycemic load. The association between carbohydrate intake and breast cancer was significantly modified by age; the increased breast cancer risk associated with carbohydrate intake was restricted to women who were younger than 50 y. No significant association of breast cancer risk with glycemic index or dietary fiber intake was found.

    Our data suggest that a high carbohydrate intake and a diet with a high glycemic load may be associated with breast cancer risk in premenopausal women or women <50 y.

  17. LCHF_Graham

    Yes I know Campbell is a very poor scientist indeed. But he has spent his working life claiming to be one. You would think he would actually display or have some respect for the power of the scientific method (when properly and rigorously applied).

    Sadly that's not the case and why Campbell is a disgrace to science. Unfortunately it is an all too common trend (dumping the principles of good science) that I've witnessed in my own area of science (ecology/evolutionary biology).

    The one thing I hate more than anything else in the world is an intellectually dishonest ideologue. Campbell is obviously such a creature. Data dredging is only the start of his egregious 'scientific' conduct.

    Replies: #19, #20
  18. Paul the rat
    True science in medical fields ended with the end of Second World War. From then on it is just money and career making enterprise. Although recently we see come back of some sort to, quoting Marcus Aurelius: "see what is in its nature, see what it is in itself".
    (I was taught ecology by Profs. Andrewartha and Birch)
  19. Paul the rat
    This paper (and countless like it) illustrates total misunderstanding of LCHF principles. Researches use so called "high fat diets" and show that animal saturated fat is bad (altho they probably do not know that +- 50% of animal fats contained in lard or butter are mono and poly-unsaturated). But look at the diets compositions - these so called high fat diets still contain 31g/100 of carbohydrates. It is truly frustrating, but this is how fat bashing continues, this is how grant money are obtained. This is not science.

  20. LCHF_Graham

    Yes Peter over at Hyperlipid is always good on pointing out many of these 'high fat low carb' animal studies have chow with 20, 30, even 40% carbs - often very simple carbs along with really bad fats.

    Once this is pointed out the immediate question is thus: "can the people that conducted this study be as totally stupid as they appear to be?"

    Well in some cases I'm sure they are but they can't all be. Instead science has slowly being losing its integrity with an insidious form of corruption. A game called "chase the money" , and "chase the significant p value", and "chase the peer-reviewed publication".

    Is it any wonder that 'nutritional science' has been in such a bad way for so long? And that the public are so confused?

    As for peer-review if only people knew just how slack that process can be they would be shocked. Like the person I know that has a policy of only spending a maximum of 30 minutes reading time on each paper he is asked to 'rigorously' review! No wonder editors love him, for some strange reason he is always very quick to get his feedback to them.

    Anyway that's a whole other story (the amount of crap science - in general - published in any one year).

  21. Jennie
    Has anyone read the book 'Grain Brain' by Dr David Permutter?

    ( The Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar - Your Brains Silent Killers)

    Makes a very interesting read!!

  22. Colm
    The experts don't agree with him, about low carb & cancer anyway.

  23. Colm

    I was ment to post this link! Sorry

  24. Julio
    I think Dr- Collins reasearch is pretty solid and there is ample evidence to prove his points. And if we compare the characteristics of carnivorous animals, omnivorous, herbivores and frugivores we can clearly see that the human body shares characteristics with the last three but NOT with the carnivores of omnivores.

    Just take a hungry child and put him in a room with a banana and a rabbit, which one do you think he will try to eat? Doesn't that mean anything to you?

  25. Julio
    The "experts" not agreeing does not necessarily mean much. Most experts would bash the Gerson Therapy for cancer treatment while supporting their more orthodox treatments that actually kill patients. And the Gerson Therapy does work, and it is mostly based on what this doctor says.
  26. Lem
    Grains can cause weight gain as they raise blood sugar.... Blood sugar and heart disease are directly correlated. Denise Minger, as a petite grad student, destroyed Campbell using his own data from his book, "The China Study."
  27. Chris
    There MAY BE ethical reasons? MAY BE? Are you kidding me?! I encourage everybody who eats meat to watch "Earthlings" and "Cowspiracy" to open their eyes about the absolute horror of the meat industry that they are part of.

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