Jan 262010

I’ve mentioned Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat To Live in several posts, but I realize I’ve never actually written a full review of it. That situation needs to be fixed, because this is my favorite diet and nutrition book of all time (so far at least).  I ran into this book when I was having health problems. After a period of largely raw foods, I fell back on Joel’s diet for more long-term eating and it’s wonderful.

Dr. Fuhrman is the doctor that other doctors send their patients to when their lives depend on losing a lot of weight. And his diet does the job for them. But it’s  not simply the diet that makes the book a must-have. Dr. Fuhrman’s explanations of nutrition and the kinds of food that cause weight problems is simply brilliant. Light bulbs went off all over my head when I read it. In brief, Dr. Fuhrman is concerned with the nutrient density of foods.  Our body is well equipped with “detectors” in our stomach and digestive system that can sense the density, calories, and basic nutrients in our food. Using this information, the body can make sophisticated calculations about when it is full and what it wants us to eat that keep us at the perfect weight. At least, that’s how it works with real food – with the kind of food human beings have been eating for thousands of years.

Our body’s sensory equipment is completely overloaded when when fill our stomach with foods that contain enormous amounts of calories with almost no nutrients. It’s like putting a 50 lb sack of sugar on a postal scale. It completely sabotages the body’s regulatory mechanism. As a result, you think you are still hungry. And you ARE. You are hungry for nutrients. You are suffering malnutrition while packing away huge numbers of calories.

Dr. Fuhrman’s plan, then, is to fill yourself with nutrient-dense foods. These foods will make you feel full and satisfied, because your body can properly  sense that it is getting all the nutrition it needs.

Dr. Fuhrman’s diet has a few simple rules. You eat a lot of greens and vegetables, some cooked and some raw. You eat a lot of fruit. And you eat a little whole grain or starchy food and nuts. You minimize other fats and meat. How strict you have to be with these depends on how much weight you need to loose. The plan is not completely raw-food, but it incorporates much more raw fruits and vegetables than most of us are used to. Fuhrman is one of the experts involved in the “Raw for 30” program for reversing diabetes, so he understands the value of raw food.

Fuhrman has other books that expand on the recipes and diet choices of this first book – but this one is where you learn the nutritional facts – all meticulously researched – that are the basis of his programs. Highly recommended.

Jan 202010

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan. I first ran into Michael Pollan’s work reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan is a Berkley professor of science and environmental journalism. That book made me a fan.  His work is well-researched and absolutely facilitating. In Defense of Food is equally compelling.

After investigating what Americans eat in the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan turned his attention to the question that was pouring in from his readers: What SHOULD we eat? Pollan’s answer is deceptively simple: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. He then spends a number of chapters unpacking that simple advice and using it to construct a set of food rules. I mentioned Pollan’s rule earlier in my post on The Most Important Nutritional Rule. “Eat Food” , for example, isn’t as easy as it sounds nowadays. There are a lot of products out there in the supermarkets and restaurants that may LOOK like food, but that contain ingredients that no human being has every consumed in history – until now.

If it has high-fructose corn syrup in it, it’s not food. If it has ingredients in it your grandmother wouldn’t have recognized – it’s not food. If it arrives through the window of your car – it’s NOT food. Food is made from whole, natural products with as little extra processing as possible.

Along the way, Pollan also takes us on an eye-opening tour of the history of nutrition and food science and their efforts to boost sales and profits by tricking us into eating highly processed junk.

In the last part of the book, Pollan provides a set of rules for how to eat. This includes rules on what to eat as well as how to eat (at a table, with family, etc.) Pollan turns for his rules and his nutritional wisdom to traditional cultures and cuisines that have nourished humanity for thousands of years. Pollan’s book is a potent and convincing defense of common sense and wholesome food in a world where we have lost our way.

Recently, Pollan released a book called Food Rules, which consists primarily of the “rules” part of In Defense of Food. Pollan felt compelled to add a few rules, such as “Never buy any food that you have seen advertised”.  I hope to get a look at this book soon. But if you’d like a more complete treatment of the topic, In Defense of Food is the book for you.

Below is a clip of Michael Pollan discussing some of the ideas in his book.

Jan 122010

In earlier posts, I explored the question – “What one thing can you do that will make the most positive difference in your life”. Out of a host of good suggestions, I suggested that daily self reflection was my personal nomination. Now I’d like to extend this idea and narrow it down a bit. Let’s take the field of nutrition. Of all the health rules you can follow, is there any ONE rule that would make the most difference to your health? I’m focusing here on the area of nutrition. We’ll talk about movement or exercise later.

It seems like every week there are new diet tips in the magazines, and new fads make the rounds. There are things to take out of your diet and things to put in. There are so many possibilities, but it there  any ONE rule that can help you out?

I’m going to cheat a bit here and suggest the rule that makes up the thesis of Michael Pollan’s bestseller – In Defense of Food. Michael proposes a simple rule at the beginning of his book – and then spends the whole book explaining it. His rule for eating is this: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. ”

Let’s focus on the first part for our one rule. “Eat Food”. Here’s what Pollan means by this. Eat things that are actually food – not food imitations, or enhanced food, or artificial food, or synthetic food, or food substitutes. And frankly, that eliminates a lot of what passes for “food” these days. Pollan suggest a few simple guidelines to interpret the rule “Eat Food”.

It’s not food if your grandmother wouldn’t have recognized it as food. It’s not food if it has more than about five ingredients. It’s not food if it contains any chemicals that you can’t pronounce or that your grandfather would not have heard of. This PARTICULARLY excludes anything with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or colors. If it doesn’t spoil fairly quickly, it probably not food. If it makes health claims, it’s probably not food. That stuff on the shelves wrapped in plastic that LOOKS like bread probably isn’t food at all by Pollan’s rule. Does it really require twenty ingredients to make a loaf of real bread?

You get the general idea. As much as possible, eat whole foods, as close to their natural state as possible, and with as little processing as possible. If you are currently following a standard American diet and implement this one rule, I think it will benefit your health more than anything else you could do. Yes, down the road it would be a good idea to pay attention to the “…mostly plants” part of Pollan’s rule. It would also be a good idea to consume more of your fruits and vegitables in a fresh raw state. But this one rule should get you started.

Anyone have any different nominations for the number-one nutrition rule, or variations on this one?

Nov 112009

diet2Just to give you fair warning, this is a negative review. I picked up the audio copy of You on a Diet, by Mehmet C. Oz and Michael F. Roisen with interest. I’m always looking for good diet and nutrition information, and Oz and Roisen seemed loaded with information.

And indeed, the book is FULL of excellent information. The science is both fascinating and compelling.  Oz and Roisen really know what they are talking about, and their explanations of how your body works to digest food will leave you alarmed and awe-struck.

But… as interesting as the information was, I couldn’t finish the book. It was the writing style. It just stumbles over itself trying to be witty and cute. Here’s an example from the first few pages:

“Our ancestors never thought about a diet in the way we do – and their bodies had the approximate density of granite. Us? We obsess about diet more than red-carpet reporters obsess about designer dresses, and our bodies have the consistency of yogurt.”

The writers pile on metaphor after metaphor, simile after simile, cute analogy after cute analogy until I just wanted to scream. I had to stop listening. I’ve still included a link to the book. It got excellent reviews overall. For some people, the writing style might be very attractive. It’s certainly a… peppy book.

And the content is excellent. The doctors explain how hunger, digestion and nutrition work at a cellular and chemical level. They point out all the modern pitfalls that can hijack our nutrition. After all, our digestions were perfectly evolved for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of our early ancestors, and haven’t really had a chance to adapt completely to pizza and coke.

The book (what I managed to endure of it) is full of excellent tricks for resetting the body’s appetite and digestion to the correct levels with food changes, supplements and exercise. The detailed knowledge of the terrible damage that bad nutrition does to the body at the the molecular and cellular level is scary, and very motivating.

Perhaps you can get through the corny writing style of the book and enjoy it. I wish you luck. If you do, there are other books by Oz and Roisen, no doubt written in the same cheery style.

If you’ve read the book, and had a better experience than I did, by all means let me know.

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