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Science, Paradigms and Nutrition

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

In 2020, 6D Book Club read Whole by Dr. T. Colin Campbell . We explored the realities of modern science and how our reductionist paradigms have impacted our overall health and well-being. Particularly of interest was the information presented regarding nutrition and our reductionist approaches to healing and wellness.

Scientists strive to understand, describe, explain and predict the structure and behavior of the natural world. Science is the action or process of pursuing a truth but not necessarily every finding a truth. Dr. Campbell says that science is “an art of observation, basically pursuing a truth*” We look for truth in nutrition but as science is ever evolving, so is our understanding of the whole truth about what is considered optimal nutrition. This evolution in understanding makes for an ever-shifting paradigm surrounding nutritional practices and beliefs.

Moreover, this scientific knowledge is not always cumulative and a new discovery can completely transform our existing paradigm. Groundbreaking discoveries in nutrition, biology and chemistry can revolutionize not only our understanding of those subjects but our understanding of science as a whole as well. Our definition of science and our ideas about what is actually knowable are both transformed with new knowledge. What we even deem worthy of investigation changes through time and study.


In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the American Science Historian Thomas S. Kuhn states that “paradigms are universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners”. In other words, paradigms are a model for how we approach new information, how we process that information and ultimately what we choose to do with that information.

Dr. Campbell defines paradigm as “a framework or system that contains basic assumptions, ways of thinking and methods that are accepted in the scientific community” and he further notes that “paradigms that exist today may have unappreciated, harmful consequences*”.

One consequence of paradigms is that if they truly serve as the philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific discipline, then they also influence what is deemed worthy of study, what kinds of questions are asked, how experiments are carried out as well as the manner in which results are ultimately interpreted, disseminated and utilized. This could be harmful if it begins to limit what we study and which questions we pose depending on the acceptability of the idea – science must be allowed the freedom to question all truths and explore all ideas. Science cannot be solely driven by what is known – it must be allowed to explore the unknown, no matter what the cost. Truth must be sought at all times.


Nutrition is like a symphony and in optimal nutrition there are very few soloists. Wholism holds that all nutritional reactions are interwoven, interconnected and integrated – like a symphony! Our bodies natural tendency to always work toward maintaining a stable, functional equilibrium (homeostasis) is what we call health. Wholistic Nutrition Paradigms hold that when we eat the right combination of whole foods, our bodies naturally tend towards homeostasis and health.

“Rather than something that needs to be wheedled and coaxed out of countless reductionist interventions, health ‘just happens’ in spite of – or, more likely, because of – the inherent complexity of body chemistry” – Whole, T. Colin Campbell page 106

Nutritional paradigms impact every aspect of our lives, our health and our overall well-being. What we believe to be true about our food impacts our health so what we believe needs to be TRUE. Dr. Campbell envisions a paradigm for the future in which we examine the impact of multiple nutrients on multiple health outcomes, arguing that we will learn a great deal more about nutritional health when we replace the Reductionist nutritional paradigm with a more Wholistic one. He furthers argues that there is no inherent conflict between these two paradigms as reductionist studies can be useful in teaching us how mechanisms work in nature – i.e. nutrients, drugs, structure and function, etc. A Wholistic Nutritional Paradigm will envelope the reductionist studies and then include them in the whole picture of health – they become a part of the whole just as each whole encompasses its individual parts.


All sentient beings are interconnected and our whole is much greater than our individual parts. We as individuals need to be aware that paradigms exist and that they serve to guide us in our choices and our beliefs. We as a whole need to challenge these existing paradigms in order to verify the veracity of their claims. If we are more aware of the impact of paradigms, we are better able to see them for what they are and then decide if they are true for our lives. Ultimately, we do control our own realities and can create them as we see fit.

Paradigms are not good. They are not bad. They simply are. Paradigms can help us as a society to communicate with a common language and concept understanding as well as help us to accept common boundaries and mores. Shared preconceptions can provide us with a framework for how the world works and what our role in that world may be. Ultimately, it is incumbent upon each of us to be aware of the paradigm while at the same time being open to adjusting our ideas. Living within a wholistic paradigm is an empowering choice, it does not negate the reductionist view but rather it accepts it as a part of the truth, just not the whole truth.


*Dr. Campbell presented the information provided here in his lectures during the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate course offered at the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

Be well.


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