This book argues that our understanding of food is fundamentally flawed. The food pyramid (and food plate) recommendations is out of date and just plain wrong. It also argues that nutrition is best understood by the effects food has on how the body ages and this also has important implications on losing weight and cancer prevention.
This book is very critical of the diet industry, claiming they exploit our bad understanding of the body by using poor quality science to sell people diets that either don't work, or do work (in the short term) but have damaging side effects e.g the Atkins diet (low sugar, high protein) has too much protein in the diet putting strain on the liver and kidneys, By limiting sugar the body responds by creating lots of it's own `super sugar', called methylglyoxal. Research shows that people following the Atkins diet have double the amount of methylglyoxal in their body, the same amount `is only found in poorly controlled diabetics'. This results in massively accelerated aging.
I shall now cover the most important parts of the book which is the food hourglass, and the three basic principles
THE FOOD HOURGLASS
The basic food pyramid is flawed because
A) It needs more details about the bad foods to avoid.
B) It does not tell you the alternatives to the bad food
C) It does not address that some bad foods can be good for you if taken in small quantities (e.g dark chocolate)
D) It claims certain unhealthy foods (e.g dairy products) are healthy when they are not.
To fix these problems the author suggests the food hourglass instead. Foods to avoid are in the top part, foods to eat are in the bottom part. The food's position relative to the middle indicates the healthiness( and amount that should be eaten) so the best foods are the ones at the bottom of the pyramid, the second best foods are second from bottom on the pyramid etc. There is direct relationship based on position with the opposing side food, e.g healthy food in the third from bottom position can be used to replace unhealthy food in the third from top position.
THE THREE BASIC PRINCIPLES
1) Too much sugar is not unhealthy: it's very unhealthy
We need sugar, but too much sugar is very bad, it accelerates ageing and increases risk of cancer.
"After ingesting a sugary meal, the glucose level in the blood rises and as a result, the body secretes insulin and IGF. As mentioned previously , IGF stimulates tissue growth and this is exactly what cancer likes to do: grow. Cancer occurs when certain cells grow rapidly and uncontrollably. What was first just one cancer cell, becomes millions and then billions, which together form growths or tumours . Substances such as IGF cause cells to grow faster, increasing the chance that they degenerate and become cancerous. Therefore IGF raises the risk of cancer and studies also show this. Women with high concentrations of IGF in the blood are seven times more likely to get cancer than women with lower levels of IGF. Men who produce a lot of IGF are nine times more likely to have prostate cancer."
"The relationship between IGF and cancer also explains why people with a certain type of dwarfism, called Laron dwarfism, almost never get cancer. They are small because they secrete less IGF which drastically reduces their chance of developing cancer (the risk is practically zero). The reverse also applies: bigger people have an increased risk of cancer. Studies published in The Lancet indicated that for every extra ten centimetres (fractionally under four inches) of height (beginning at 1.52 metres, just under five feet) the risk of cancer increased by 16 percent."
"An increased IGF-level is however not the only reason why sugar promotes cancer growth. Cancer cells are highly dependent on sugar to grow. Cancer cells utilise a lot more sugar than regular cells."
Sugar also suppress the immune system and as the immune system fights cancer suppressing it is not good.
2) Watch out for proteins (and high-protein diets)
As with sugar you need protein, but too much causes you to age faster and die younger.
"Proteins encourage growth but as we've already seen, growth means ageing. In fact, all protein that is made becomes damaged over the course of time. Sugar molecules adhere to the proteins or free radicals damage or `oxidise' the proteins, altering their structure so they become dysfunctional. These old, damaged proteins have to be broken down by the cell. But that is not always successful because worn proteins tend to adhere to one another and become unable to be broken down . This accumulation of proteins in the body becomes our final downfall. Many diseases associated with ageing are, in essence , diseases where protein accumulates either within or outside cells, suffocating the cells and resulting in their death. The standard case in point is Alzheimer's disease. With this disease, proteins accumulate and clump together within and outside brain cells so that the brain cells get overwhelmed by indigestable protein clumps in such a way that they die off."
"Therefore, too much protein is unhealthy. An experiment illustrating just how unhealthy was included in a study published in Nature in which groups of rats were given different diets with varying amounts of protein. One group of rats received a diet with 10 percent protein, another group had food that contained 22 percent protein and a third group was fed a diet with 51 percent protein. The rats that ingested the diet with 51 percent protein were four times more likely to develop heart disease and twice as likely to suffer kidney disease and prostate problems. Kidneys are especially vulnerable to proteins. Proteins broken down in the body form amino acids and these are further broken down into nitrogen compounds excreted by the kidneys. This places a considerable strain on the kidneys and is why kidney patients are often put on low-protein diets."
"in the short term, proteins can make people a bit stronger or fitter (that is why bodybuilders use them), but in the long term, too much proteins are unhealthy, because the amino acids actually activate all sorts of ageing mechanisms"
"It is also remarkable that interviews with centenarians demonstrate that these hundred -year-olds often have eaten very little meat."
"However, a (serious) protein deficiency can impair health. Meat also contains essential substances such as zinc, iron and carnosine, which are important to health."
3) Fat is healthier than you think
Not all fats are bad, some like Omega-3-fatty acids are very good for you and low fat diets are not the cure to obesity.
"In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, more than three hundred test subjects were put on three different diets: a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet (with lots of vegetables, little red meat, but of course, the obligatory pasta products) and a low-sugar diet. The findings were as follows: the people with the best cholesterol ratios in their blood were not the ones on the low-fat diet, but those who had followed the low-sugar diet. That's interesting because cholesterol is always associated with fats while the connection between sugar and cholesterol is less known. In addition, the people on the low-sugar diet lost twice as much weight as those on the low-fat diet."
"Another large study, in which more than 11,000 people took part and was published in The Lancet, revealed that the mortality rate fell by 45 percent in people who took omega-3-fatty acids (1000 mg/ day ). This study also showed that Vitamin E had no effect on cardiovascular diseases, although health gurus often cite this vitamin as cardio-protective."
"Numerous studies, published in leading psychiatric journals such as the Archives of General Psychiatry, show that omega-3-fatty acids can indeed protect against depression and can, for example, reduce depressive episodes in manic -depressive people. A study of manic-depressives showed that after four months of taking omega-3 -fatty acids, approximately 90 percent of the patients did well (they didn't relapse into depression), while of those who didn't receive the omega-3-fatty acids, but just the usual medication, only 40 percent didn't relapse."
This section goes in to details about many kinds of food like green tea, soft drinks, walnuts, dark chocolate etc. There is no way I can describe everything it covers, but here's some quotes:
"Unfortunately, oatmeal is still relatively unknown and that is a shame because it isn't only good for us , but can also help us to lose a lot of weight. I could just as easily have called this book The Great Oatmeal Diet. Oatmeal contains a large amount of fibre that stimulates peristalsis in the small intestine. This is the rhythmic contraction of the small intestine that forces the food through the intestines. Fibre also prevents the sugars ingested during meals from being absorbed too quickly into the bloodstream, so a fibre-rich meal will ensure a lower blood glucose level. For example, a study demonstrated that when diabetes patients eat more oatmeal porridge, they need to inject 40 percent less insulin. The importance of fibre cannot be overemphasised , because if there's one thing that all the studies that look at the connection between nutrition and health agree on, it's that healthy nutrition contains large amounts of fibre. Oatmeal also contains many elements that positively affect the blood vessels and the metabolism. The best known of these are the avenanthramides that slow down the hardening of the arteries and lower blood pressure. The fibre, the avenanthramides and countless other ingredients in oatmeal make it a particularly healthy treat. What is perhaps even more important: because eating oatmeal will stop you eating bread, you will avoid insulin peaks and the daily dose of sugars that will slowly but surely pile on the weight."
"mushrooms have a cancer-preventing effect . This is because mushrooms consist of long chains of strange polysaccharides, which stimulate the immune system. This causes the immune system to be on the alert, detecting and neutralising cancer cells more quickly. In Japan , hospital doctors use the extract of mushrooms as a supplementary treatment for cancer. In Europe, mushrooms bear an official health claim which states that they can stimulate the immune system . Mushrooms are also used as a cancer-preventive. People who eat mushrooms every day have at least 50 percent less chance of developing stomach cancer according to one study. Another study, which appeared in the International Journal of Cancer , and in which over 1,000 women took part, showed that those women who ate 10 grams of mushrooms per day had 64 percent less chance of developing breast cancer, compared to women who ate no mushrooms. If these women also drank green tea every day, than their risk of breast cancer would reduce by 89 percent. This is an excellent illustration of the synergy you get when you combine different lifestyles: mushrooms are good for us, green tea is good for us; the combination of the two is even better for us."
"Then there's that other myth: fruit isn't good for us because it `contains a lot of sugar'. But the glycaemic index of fruit is low. Most types of fruit don't cause high sugar peaks. Even a sweet apricot has a glycaemic index of only 15 (the glycaemic index of glucose is 100 ). This is because the sugars in the fruit are packed in fibre that slowly releases the sugars into the blood stream, which means that the insulin and IGF barely peak. This is opposed to a cake for example, which contains hardly any fibre at all and causes high insulin peaks. Additionally, besides fibre, fruit contains thousands of types of curative phytochemicals, healthy substances not found in cakes such as flavonoids , ellagic acid, coumarins, terpens, indoles and so on."
"Vegetables, fruits, nuts, cocoa and fatty fish contain a thousand types of flavonoids, fatty acids, and phytochemicals, most of which haven't been discovered yet. It is impossible to cram all these elements into a vitamin pill; you would need a pill of at least one pound."
GENERAL INSIGHTS IN TO HEALTH
The effects of exercise on our bodies (e.g helping with depression and cancer prevention) along with the effectiveness of Calorie restricted diets on ageing, health, and cancer prevention is covered.
"How can calorie restriction now delay ageing? If you eat less than `normal' via calorie restriction, the body is going to think that it is in a difficult environment, with scarce food sources and a danger of dying of starvation. Therefore, the body is going to slow down its growth processes because growth costs food and there does not appear to be enough food present. The body will not only stop growth , but will also invest more effort in the maintenance and repair of cells. This occurs because food is scarce and the body must continue to operate with the same cells, so they are better maintained."
"Calorie restriction therefore inhibits growth and promotes maintenance . We have already seen in this book many times how growth makes us age faster. Growth in adults is the constant production and replacement of cells, proteins, DNA, etc. If the growth is inhibited through calorie restriction, then we age less quickly. In contrast, if we eat as we are accustomed to in our western society, with an overabundance of food, then the body will no longer go into safety mode; in fact, it takes the brakes off: plenty of proteins are created, the mitochondria (the energy power plants of our cells) run at full speed, creating many free radicals, hormones are created and secreted in abundance, etc. All of this rash cellular activity causes the body to age faster."
"The food hourglass proposed in this book rests on the concept of calorie restriction. The basis of the hourglass is, after all, vegetables. Vegetables contain a great many nutrients and very few calories. Nutrients are healthy substances such as vitamins, minerals and flavonoids. Therefore, whoever eats many vegetables will consume a higher number of healthy substances as well as fewer calories. The opposite is true when someone eats junk food, which contains a great many calories but very few nutrients. A healthy meal automatically contains fewer calories so you are already practising a kind of calorie restriction."
"In addition , vegetables are very high in fibre. As a result, they fill the stomach faster and also leave the stomach slower than unhealthy food. As a consequence, those who eat healthily feel satisfied faster even though they consume fewer calories. A study at the University of Alabama shows that people who follow a healthy diet that consists mainly of vegetables, fibre and fruit are already full after consuming just 1500 kilocalories, while when these test subjects ate meals that consisted of industrially prepared food with many sugars and fats, they were only full after eating 3,000 kilocalories! In short, whoever eats healthy food, automatically performs a kind of calorie restriction."
The effects of stress (and the stress hormone Cortisol ) on the body is covered.
"Cortisol also suppresses the immune system and as a result, we become more susceptible to infections and even cancer because the immune system, among other things, cleans up cancer cells. In a famous study that appeared in the journal, Science, mice were injected with tumour cells in such a dosage that they cause cancer in 50 percent of the cases. The mice were divided into three groups: one group of mice received an electric shock every so often (a stressful occurrence), a different group of mice also received an electric shock every so often, but could immediately turn it off by pushing on a lever and a control group did not receive any electric shocks. The group of mice that could stop the electric shocks suffered stress, but they had a feeling of control over it. Stress is, after all, worst when you have no feeling of control over the situation and you no longer have your fate in your own hands."
"The results were astounding. Over the course of time, only 23 percent of the mice that received electric shocks were still alive; of the mice that received electric shocks, but could control them, 64 percent were still alive; of the control group, half of the mice died of the cancer, as predicted. The mice that were exposed to uncontrollable stress had almost three times more chance of dying of the cancer compared to the mice that had a feeling of control."
"We now know that stress has an important influence on our health. But it is not easy to live in a more calm and relaxed manner in this hectic world. Nevertheless, there are numerous relaxation methods that help us to do so, such as meditation, yoga, self-hypnosis or breathing techniques. People who practise meditation have a stronger immune system (and are less sick) and have lower blood pressure . Meditation can significantly reduce the chance of heart attacks and strokes. According to a study in Circulation, in which 201 people participated, it appeared that the total mortality of those who meditated for 20 minutes twice daily was at least 43 percent lower. The well-known psychiatrist, Dr Norman Rosenthal, said in the context of this study that `if meditation was a medicine, it would be a billion-dollar blockbuster'."
"As social beings, it is of great importance to our health to remain in contact with our fellow humans - to be social. Numerous studies show that people who are social remain healthy longer and have less chance of dying. `Social' does not mean, of course, that you have to hang around in a café every day or go with friends from one party to another , but that you should spend time with, and pay attention to your partner, friends, family and society in general. The latter can mean volunteer work, or the establishment of an association or serving a good purpose. This all comes down to the same thing: the serving of `a higher purpose' that goes beyond your own self."
"Even being a tiny bit social can have a significant effect: the mortality of elderly people who had a plant that they had to take care of was 50 percent lower than those who had a plant that they did not have to take care of themselves. Giving a plant water can therefore make you live longer. An article in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that people who had a heart attack and had a pet had six times less chance of dying compared to people who did not have a pet. Sometimes it is good for a physician to prescribe a dog or a plant."
It is hard to judge the accurately of books like this as a lot of the science is quite recent and we need follow up trails to confirm, for example the effect of mushrooms on cancer are still been argued over e.g the Cancer Research UK website states "There is currently no evidence that any type of mushroom or mushroom extract can prevent or cure cancer". The no processed food diet the book recommends is in fact nothing new, it is quite common among athletes and works very well but it can be hard to totally give up processed foods because most of us have developed addictions to the high sugar levels hidden in processed foods but as the book points out if you go a couple of weeks without sugar you can break your addiction. Personally I think it's more realistic to have junk food in small quantities a few times a week because as long a 90% of your diet is "clean" that is good enough, but if that small amount of junk food causes the cravings to come back you will need to go 100% "clean" instead.
This is a plain speaking down to earth book with lots of high quality science to back it up, I am not quite sure if it's 100% accurate on everything (but what book ever is?), nevertheless there is enough good quality advice for me to recommend it.