T. Colin Campbell vs Dr. Westman

Dry beans and peas

Thoughts on debate between Campbell and Westman

 Click here to view debate

  Is there a need for such   debates?

NO. I strongly question the effectiveness of debates like these.  Neither side really has time to make their case.  I think it’s very unlikely that  Campbell or Westman were able to get folks in their camp to switch to the other camp.  People on the fence will probably end up choosing the side that allows them to eat the foods that they like best.  This is the choice they would have made anyway if the debate never took place.  As a dietitian who strongly advocates a Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) diet and as a huge supporter of Dr. Campbell,  I could sense his frustration at the end.  His knowledge of nutritional biochemistry, particularly when it comes to protein, is so vast, all he could say during the give and take section is that he hadn’t even scratched the surface about what is known about the dangers of excessive protein.People need to investigate the work and credentials of proponents from both sides. Once folks make a conscientious effort, I believe those with good critical thinking skills will choose WFPB.

My best non-technical summary on what an obese  patient can expect from each approach

From Dr. Westman’s approach:

During the first phase, you will lose a bunch of weight as you severely restrict your carbohydrate intake and get most of your calories from animal proteins and fats.  You will enter a state of ketosis as your body will primarily burn fat and ketone bodies for energy rather than it’s preferred source – glucose.  This is an evolutionary response in times when calories and/or carbohydrates are in short supply.  In essence, it’s a survival mechanism – far from an ideal state.

Dr. Westman admits that symptoms of intestinal distress and other adverse symptoms often result when someone begins the very low carbohydrate phase of his diet.  He often has to treat the symptoms with drugs.  Essentially, the diet makes you sick as you lose weight. Dr. John McDougall has written that his patients could lose weight and lower their blood lipids and blood glucose levels with chemotherapeutic agents.  No Physician would ever prescribe these agents to help obese patients lose weight and improve blood biomarkers. But physician’s like Dr. Westman, don’t seem to have a problem with prescribing unhealthy diets for weight loss. Here is a quick video from Dr. John McDougall that succinctly explains what these low carb diets do to us.

So you go on a low carb diet, get sick and take whatever medication that’s needed to alleviate the symptoms of illness the diet causes.  When you reach a certain level of weight loss, the diet becomes less restrictive.  However, according to  WFPB advocate, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, even the more permissive menus, supposedly for maintenance, are dangerously low in  foods known to offer powerful protection against cancer.  Atkins devotees adopt a dietary pattern completely opposite of what is recommended by the leading research scientists studying the link between diet and cancer in the world today. 1

Dr. Fuhrman also writes:

“Ketogenic diets, like the Atkins plan, have been used to treat children with seizure disorders when unresponsive to medication alone. Medical studies reveal these high protein diets can result in serious health consequences. Investigators report a greater potential for adverse events than had ever been anticipated. The dangers of these high protein diets include hemolytic anemia, abnormal liver function, renal tubular acidosis, spontaneous bone fractures (despite calcium supplementation), and many more. 2 Kidney stones formation is another risk of high protein diets. 3 These studies point out that there are many subtle adverse outcomes not being attributed to this dangerous way of eating.”

So anyone considering an Atkins-like approach to weight loss, must consider if the health risks are worth the almost certain temporary weight loss that is achieved.

From Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s approach:

 Although Dr. Campbell advocates following a WFPB approach, he does not outline specific guidelines.  He leaves that up to nutrition focused Medical Doctors like Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr Dean Ornish and many others.  The fact is that there are many different variations of WFPB diets.    On this website, you can go to the Whole Food Plant Based Experts and Resources page to investigate the differences and similarities between different WFPB practitioners.

The National Weight Control Registry is the largest prospective investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance. Based on their research findings,  folks most likely to be successful weight loss maintainers follow a low-fat, low calorie diet. Practitioners like Dr. Esselstyn, Ornish and McDougall encourage truly low-fat WFPB diets and each have helped many very sick patients meet their long-term health and weight goals.  As a dietitian, I have worked with many folks who have tried the Atkins diet who were unable to be successful maintaining their weight loss. The Atkins plan, like any severe calorie restricted diet plan, will fail in the long term.

In comparison to the Atkins plan, a WFPB diet results in weight loss as people get healthier. As Dr. Campbell mentioned, Medical Doctors who use WFPB diets to treat their obese and diabetic patients do not report the adverse symptoms that have been reported by folks following low-carbohydrate diets.  One of the most impressive points Dr. Campbell made was when he shared Dr. Esselstyn’s phenomenal results.   In the WFPB world, Dr. Esselstyn’s heart disease reversal diet is one of the most restrictive WFPB diets out there.  Yet nearly 90% of close to 200 patients were compliant.  That is an amazing testament to Esselstyn’s skill as a teacher and it’s also a testament to the efficacy of the diet.

One word of caution

Dr. Westman referred to researcher Jeff Volek from the University of Connecticut.  Be aware that the University of Connecticut receives a lot of research  funding from The Dairy Research Institute. Click here for an example.     Dr. Campbell has debated Nancy Rodriguez,, one of Voleks colleagues, in the past.  I suggest any studies with Volek’s and Rodriguez’s name on it be taken with a grain of salt – or better yet, casein.

1 Kuller LH. Dietary fat and chronic disease: epidemiologic overview. J Am Diet Assoc 1997;97(7 Suppl):S9-S15.
Willet WC. Nutrition and cancer. Salud Publica Mex 1997;39(4):298-309.

2 Bankhead C. Ketogenic diet can cause serious adverse effects, data suggests. Medical Tribune 1998;39(17)23.
3 Licata AA, Bow E, Bartler FC, et al. Effect of dietary protein on urinary calcium in normal subjects and in patients with nephrolithiasis. Metabolism 1979;28:895.
Robertson WG, Heyburn PJ, Peacock M et al. The effect of high animal protein intake on the risk of calcium stone formation in the urinary tract. Clin Sci 1979;57;285.
Brokis JG, Levitt AS, Cruthers SM. The effects of vegetable and animal protein diets on calcium, urate and oxalate excretion. Br J Urol 1982;54:590.
Robertaon WG, Peacock M, Heyburn PJ, et al. The risk of calcium stone formation in relation to affluence and dietary animal protein. In: 34 Brokis JG, Finlayson B, eds. Urinary calculus, International Urinary Stone Conference. Littleton Col PSG Publishing, 1981:3.

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