I've certainly read enough diet books myself, but I am always looking for ones to recommend. Unfortunately no one has written the one book to rule them all yet. The individual strengths and weaknesses of each author are evident in each. Perhaps now that more and more of us are talking to each other, this will change in the future, but for now I suppose it's wise to make recommendations with caveats. The same qualification can be evident in reviewers. Admittedly, while I have some strengths, I have very little education in things like molecular biochemistry beyond the undergraduate level, so that's why it's important to read many reviews. Someday when Chris has more time perhaps we can review things together.
Several people asked me to read Deep Nutrition, which is by mainly by Dr. Cate Shanahan with the contribution of her husband, Luke Shanahan.
The premise of this book is that we all have the potential to be well-formed healthy individuals in our genes, but that poor nutrition has led to detrimental changes in how our genes are expressed. Wait...genes can't be changed by food right? That's the magic of epigenetics: the underlying genes are not changed, but their gene expression or cellular phenotype are. This is called epigenetics and scientists are just uncovering the secrets of this process. Scarily, that means that the diet and lifestyle of your grandparents and parents is affecting you right now!
When I was a child I slowly became aware that something was wrong. It didn't make sense that I had to have some teeth pulled and then be tortured every month. They said my teeth were "crowded," but why? My mother said it was probably because my father had bad teeth, so it was genetic, but looking at old family photos it was clear that my great great grandparents didn't have such bad teeth. When I was a teenager I realized I was deformed. It sounds quite awful, but the reality is that my face was not formed correctly. The oral surgeon said I would need to have my jaw broken and put back together. At that point I had functioning decent looking teeth, so I declined. Surgery is a serious thing.
When I discovered Weston A. Price it was very exciting because he was someone who also asked "why?" He found that some people who live traditional lives and have special healthy foods did not have dental abnormalities. The latter part is important because some people have the impression that Dr. Price thought that traditional-living people had good teeth and modern people had bad teeth, when the reality was that not all traditional-living people had good teeth and he was looking at what the people with good dental structure had in common.
Deep Nutrition is about reclaiming our health original structure by relying on these special foods. The book divides them into four pillars:
- Meat on the bone
- Fermented and sprouted foods
- Organs and other "nasty bits"
- Fresh (and raw) unadulterated plant and animal products
Notice what's missing here? There is no mention of specific nutrients or macronutrients. The emphasis is on real whole foods. This is going to be hard for some people to swallow. Some might ask if they can take a supplement instead, but Dr. Cate emphasis that only real foods have the synergy that we need, a synergy modern science has only barely begun to understand. She also explains how modern industrial foods like vegetable oils hurt our health and the health of our future generation, as well as the fact that foods like butter and liver have been unjustly demonized.
Another interesting concept described in the book is "second child syndrome." You may have noticed in many families that the eldest child is often better looking and healthier. Babies take a lot of their nutrition from a mother's body, not just the food she eats during pregnancy and lactation. Depletion of these nutrients can lead to sub-optimal development, which is why spacing is important in order to allow these nutrient stores to build back up again.
Unfortunately in some of these chapters things can seem a little like the nutritionism she criticizes. Readers who are not very interested in science might have a tough time with her explanations of the biochemistry behind things like heart disease, despite her efforts to simplify the language.
I also think things go awry in her emphasis on beauty. She goes beyond the idea that good food allows us to have facial and bodily structural integrity into some rather contentious territory. She claims that models are not freaks of nature, but remnants of what we once were: "This is why beautiful people of every race share the same basic skeletal geometry, and why for the bulk of human history, Hollywood beauties were as plentiful as the stars."
I've seen a lot of skulls from the Paleolithic and faces of traditional living peoples. Most of them look robust and healthy, but I've never looked at them and thought "hmm, this person could have been a famous model!" Beauty does have a adaptive evolutionary component. Some things that we consider beautiful are markers of health, but it also has a fuzzy cultural component that layers on top of that and can sometimes mask the adaptive forms of beauty. For example, Dr. Cate uses Marquardt's Mask as an example of the mathematical ratios behind beauty. Perhaps there are such universal ratios, but Marquardt's Mask has been rightly criticized because it is based on Western fashion models. They are actually a perfect example of cultural ideals of beauty that tarry on the edge of the maladaptive, as fashion models often are dangerously low in body fat, which is essential for fertility, as well as somewhat masculinized, which makes sense considering the sexuality of many in the fashion world. I was heartened to hear that recently a bit of honestly has been injected into this world, as they are now unapologetically using men to model women's clothes.
Many skulls of Paleolithic people have traits we many of us no longer consider beautiful, but which may have once been adaptive, such as brow ridges and large noses. There have been a few forensic reconstructions of Paleolithic people and they do not remind me of Christy Turlington or Ralph Fiennes.
But in the end I would agree that we could all be much better looking if we had the optimal nutrition and lifestyle.
I think Deep Nutrition would be a great book for someone suffering from chronic joint, muscle, or bone problems, as Dr. Cate has wrestled with them herself. She emphasizes the value of the collagen, cartilage, and minerals present in things like bone broth. However, it may not be the best book for those with digestive problems. She recommends that people giving up bread might want to substitute sprouted Ezekiel bread instead. If I could revise I would qualify that statement with a caveat that many people with delicate stomachs are going to have issues with the harsh fiber and excessively large amounts of hindgut fermentable carbohydrates in things like Ezekiel bread. There also isn't much information about autoimmune issues, particularly the role of gluten and she recommends a breakfast porridge that can contain wheat berries or barley. She also recommends fresh peanut butter and says that fries made in peanut oil can be an occasional treat. I don't recommend peanuts at all (SO SAD, because they were definitely a favorite food of mine) because of their high omega-6 levels and the fact that crops are often contaminated with aflatoxins that many people are sensitive to.
Overall while this isn't the "one ring" book that will rule them all, it's a good read that emphasizes the importance of real food, particularly when paired with a complementary books like The Primal Blueprint (more info about things like gluten), The Paleo Solution (more info about autoimmune issues and things like gluten that irritate them), and The Perfect Health Diet (more info about autoimmune, digestive disorders, etc.).