Friday, June 08, 2007

Summer Reading Picks

For months now, I keep wanting to write up book reviews for a number of books I've read that are worthwhile reads; for one reason or another, such posts fall to the back of the list and don't seem to get written. So, rather than try to catch up with an individual review for each book, I'm going to consolidate them into one post and leave it to you to pick and choose those books you may want to add to your reading list!

Of the few dozen books I've finished since January of this year, these make my cut to recommend reading when you have time:

The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan
While I didn't agree with his "meat as a condiment" contention in a recent article, his book is a compelling look at four uniquely different food supplies in the United States; from factory farmed to hunting and gathering (between the two lie industrial organic and traditional polyculture rotational farming - which may or may not be "certified"organic) Once you read how much corn and soybeans make up the typical diet in the United States, you'll never look at a chicken nugget the same again!

The Great Cholesterol Con, Anthony Colpo
Rich with research and data references to support his review of the scientific literature and conclude that elevated cholesterol and dietary saturated fats are not the cause of heart disease. His meticulous attention to detail leads to his conclusion (p 254), "There is every reason in the world to encourage people to exercise frequently, stop smoking, eat minimally processed foods, and find ways to get a handle on the stresses of modern life. The evidence for low-fat diets, on the other hand, is based on a mixture of erroneous assumptions, half-truths and downright lies." Colpo spends a lot of time detailing the data from well-referenced studies, those often quoted to support the lipid-hypothesis, and uncovers some compelling arguements that the data does not support the theory. I would have liked a better quality printing, but cannot deny the incredible list of references included that makes this one a top pick for me to recommend. Colpo backs his assertions with hard data - truly valuable in today's strange mix of evidence-based talk, followed by the same dogma in the face of contradiction!

The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Jonny Bowden, PhD
The editorial review on asks, "Why get your nutrients from expensive supplements when you can enjoy delicious, nourishing foods instead?" Dr. Bowden answers with a refreshing departure from the dogma, by assessing a food's value by nutrient-density and culling out dietitian favorites that are not really our best options. Noticably absent are many foods we're repeatedly told optimize our diet, namely a large number of grains; included are many foods that would make any dietitian start the incessant scolding - whole eggs, grass-fed beef, and even butter (from grass-fed cows). It's an easy read with fantastic photographs, but most importantly, great information and lots of interesting sidebar tidbits to keep you reading! [In the interest of full disclosure, I am quoted in the book and did help with profiling some of the foods that made the final cut; however, I hold no financial interest in the sales of the book]

The Great Cholesterol Con, Malcolm Kendrick, MD
Yes, same title as Colpo's book and subject matter, but that's where the similarities end. Dr. Kendrick is a practicing physician and his writing style is an easy-going, step-by-step, reader oriented approach; one I imagine parallels discussions with his patients to ensure they understand well what he is saying. He takes readers through a thoughtful explaination and examine scientific data in an understandable manner, beginnning first with what heart disease and cholesterol are, why the current treatments are what they are, why they're not necessarily the "fix" we think they are, and then explains what he believes underlies the development of heart disease - stress; more importantly, he connects the dots and explains why he's come to this conclusion with evidence to support his position. I would have liked a bibliography at the end - one that provided all references within the book. But, even with a noticably absent bibliography (or indec), Kendrick does provide enough identifying information about studies he cites, so they are easily found when searched for in

The End of Food, Thomas Pawlick
I picked this book up on a whim while on vacation last month - it was paperback and fit easily into my bag for reading during our trip. What an eye-opener it turned out to be! What started for Pawlick as disgust over his repeated experience buying beautiful red tomatoes that appeared ripe, but never seemed to taste good or actually be ripe, turned into a quest to understand what is happening in our food supply today and led to his book that details a number of things being done that are impacting not only appearance and taste, but actual nutrient levels in foods like tomatoes.

Survival of the Sickest, Sharon Moalem, PhD
Of all the books I've read in the last few months, this is, without a doubt, my favorite! It too was an "on a whim" purchase - the back cover asked intriguing questions, "Can a person rust to death? Can sunglasses cause sunburn? Who gets drunk faster - Europeans or Asians? And why?" What I thought might just be another whack book, but bought anyway, turned out to be an intriguing look at our genetics and why we have some interesting mutations in some, but not others, in our population of humans; and why some of these mutations aren't necessarily "disease" as we know it, but the result of evolutionary pressure that provided protection that was once critical in survival, but not so much today. This was not only a fun read, but packed with useful information that flips many things we think about our understanding of genetics on its head, and in the process makes you really start to think about things like pharmaceuticals that block particular signals and genes in a whole new way.

Currently on my pile of books to read this summer (no reviews, I haven't read them yet), with similar subject matter:

Rethinking Thin, Gina Kolata
Real Food, Nina Planck
What we Believe, But Cannot Prove, John Brockamn, editor
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food, Barbara Kingsolver et al
Death to Diabetes, DeWayne McCulley
The Hundred Year Lie, Randall Fitzgerald


  1. Anonymous4:08 PM

    With respect to "Death To Diabetes", you can get a good feeling for the book via Amazon's "Surprise Me!" option to see additional excerpts. Way too unscientific for my tastes, not nearly as informative as Bernstein's books, and full of unscientific speculation about the magical properties of certain foods...

    "There are 5 "live" foods (from God) that align with the body's blueprint and internal healing mechanisms."

    "There are 5 "dead" foods (made by man) that trigger many of today's diseases and prevent the body from using its internal healing mechanisms."

  2. Thanks for the heads-up!

    Someone gave it to me, so it's on the pile...maybe it'll head back to the bottom for when I need a good laugh!


  3. The Great Cholesterol Con, Malcolm Kendrick, MD
    ... He takes readers through a thoughtful explaination and examine scientific data in an understandable manner, beginnning first with what heart disease and cholesterol are, why the current treatments are what they are, why they're not necessarily the "fix" we think they are, and then explains what he believes underlies the development of heart disease - stress; more importantly, he connects the dots and explains why he's come to this conclusion with evidence to support his position.

    Up until just a few years ago, the standard advice to avoid heart attacks and strokes always seemed to be to cut down on stress, now it's based purely on fat phobia and widespread use of statins.

    Also, a couple decades ago, the standard advice to avoid weight was to cut out the starchy foods and sugars, now it's cut the fat.

    What's the saying?

    "Everything that goes around comes around"

    I certainly hope the pendulum is swinging back in that direction.

  4. I've read several and have also thought they were excellent. Jonny Bowden's "Shape Up!: The Eight-Week Plan to Transform Your Body, Your Health and Your Life" is excellent too.

  5. Anna in San Diego, CA1:06 AM

    Love your book list. I've read many of them and agree completely!

    For your upcoming books to read, if you haven't made up your mind in which order to read, may I suggest Nina Plank's Real Food (which I have read and given many copies as gifts) before Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which I am about 2/3 through reading)? Planck's book is quite good, very practical, takes a fraction of the time to read as The Omnivore's Dilemma, and just makes incredible sense (this is the "eating" books I like to give to people who want to eat well but don't know which foods to eat anymore and don't want a huge biochemical explanation). Kingsolver's book, while very enjoyable to read (like a good novel), is a bit like "preaching to the choir". And she could use a bit more research on her nutrition facts.

  6. I would add to the list Mindless Eating by Cornell University psychologist Dr. Brian Wansink. It's incredible how much of our food consumption is automated based on what we perceive our food portions to be.

    Fascinating read, Regina, and HIGHLY recommended! I reviewed his book and even interviewed him at my blog last year. Neat fella!

    I heard he was at the ASBP obesity conference I attended in Nashville, TN last month, but I missed him. Darn! His research was the talk of the entire conference!

  7. kathryn2:07 AM

    I'm about half way through the Barbara Kingsolver book and thoroughly enjoying it. I'm a fan of her writing anyway, but I love this combination of recipes, family stories, food politics, gardening (and chicken) advice and slow food advocacy. It's a beautiful read.

  8. Regina

    Don't forget to have some fun this summer. Surely you're going to read the last Harry Potter book also?

    That's a lot of tough-sounding reading that you've got there. Do let us know which ones are worth a look.