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Reductionism &/or Wholism?

Reductionism and/or Wholism? -While the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, sometimes the parts matter.

In his recent article, Scientific Reductionism Detracts from Whole Food, Plant-Based Message, T. Colin Campbell, PhD said...

"It is my belief that solely relying on reductionism—all too often aninappropriate guide for understanding nutrition research—must be broughtunder control. If this is not done, there is no chance that the true healthbenefits of the WFPB dietary lifestyle will be advanced to the largercommunity. WFPB nutrition cannot be interpreted or adequately judged forits value through the lens of reductionism."

I agree with the overall concept of the article.  The overall dietary pattern ismuch more important than any individual foods and/or individual nutrients.  Iwrote about this here...

However, sometimes, individual foods do matter, both good and bad.Anyone with a food sensitivity, allergy, autoimmune disease, etc., knows this.

This new article by Dr. Campbell states...

“Reductionism is not the way that nutrition works—by definition.

In the case of the WFPB diet,its benefits are so dramatic—for example,in reversing (curing) heart disease(1)(2) —because it works wholistically,a concept that is awesomely illustrated during cellular metabolism, especiallywhen the elements of time and space are also considered."

"We don’t need to avoid high-fat, plant-based foods like nuts,avocados, and coconutsas if their fat/oil is the same as added oil.Similarly, we should beware of generalizations like “the fat we eat is the fatwe wear,” “high-carb diets are the cause of increased diabetes and obesity,”“cow’s milk makes strong bones and teeth,” and“consumption ofsaturated fat in whole plants should be minimized.”

Yet when we go to the two references used to document these commentsand the dramatic reversal of heart disease, we find...

1. C. B. Esselstyn, S. G. Ellis, S. V. Medendorp, T. D. Crowe, A strategy toarrest and reverse coronary artery disease: a 5-year longitudinal study of asingle physician’s practice. J. Family Practice 41, 560-568 (1995).

2. D. Ornish et al., Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease?Lancet 336, 129-133 (1990).

I think we are all familiar with these two studies and the work of both Dr.Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish.  To this day, both recommend not just any WFPBdiet but a WFPB diet that is very low in fat (</= 10% fat) and the eliminationand/or dramatic reduction (minimization) of certain plant foods high in fat andhigh in saturated fat.  While Dr. Esselstyn does allow for a tablespoon or twoof ground flaxseeds per day and Dr. Ornish has recently allowed a very smallamount of nuts/seeds, their diets are still </=10% fat.

Therefore, the references used to make the point of Wholism overReductionism, actually contradict it.   In both studies, the diets used were notjust any WFBP diets but WFPB diets with very specific modifications.

While the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, sometimes the partsmatter.  Focusing on the bigger picture, a diet based predominately onminimally processed plants and low in added salt, sugar and oil, is mostimportant.  However sometimes, to experience the true health benefits of theWFPB dietary lifestyle, the details matter.

Click here for a follow-up discussion of this article in my discussion forum

In Health,



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