Five Diet Books That Are Worse Than Coal in Your Stocking
If your holiday list is full of health and diet books in preparation for New Year’s, you might want to check some of those titles twice. The back covers may make big claims that sound promising, but is the advice inside actually good for you?
As it turns out, many of the books claiming to help fix your diet actually do just the opposite. Some hype everything from bacon to butter, claiming that these notorious gut-busters are suddenly the key to overnight weight loss. Other books assert that healthful foods like whole grains—which research shows help fight chronic diseases and improve health—should be left off the plate.
These recommendations are causing massive confusion—not to mention health risks—and are going against what science says. The advice in the following books could significantly increase readers’ risk of chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The Western diet is already risky enough without books encouraging Americans to further clog up their arteries by adding even more saturated fat and cholesterol to their meals.
Physicians Committee dietitians are setting the record straight. They’ve reviewed several popular diet books and named five of the worst. These books belong in the fiction aisle when it comes to protecting your health.
1. The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz
One of most worrisome books out today is The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz, who is eager to assert that butter, meat, and cheese should stay in her diet and yours. Teicholz’s argument starts with Eskimo and Inuit populations of the far north. The idea is that their diets have traditionally been heavy in fish and blubber but they have almost no heart disease. However, the notion turns out to be a myth. A recent study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology revealed that natives of these northern areas have heart disease and stroke rates that are as bad or worse than those of nonnatives and a life expectancy that is 10 years shorter.
Teicholz then invokes the Maasai, an African population that eats large amounts of meat and milk, while supposedly remaining free of heart disease. Researchers have found extensive evidence of heart disease in Maasai men. Plus, Maasai have tragically short life expectancies. If your life is cut short in your forties by an accident, infection, or something else, you haven’t lived long enough to have a heart attack.
When it comes to the links between meat and cancer, meat and high blood pressure, and fatty diets and Alzheimer’s disease, Teicholz simply ignores them. Some may believe that chicken wings and cheeseburgers have no health risks—just like the fantasy that a cigar might not actually cause cancer. But the fact is, fatty foods—like cigars—are as bad as we ever thought. And that should be no surprise.
2. Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, M.D.
Another recent trend holds that it isn’t cheeseburgers and butter that are fattening us up and causing neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s—it’s that darn slice of bread. In Grain Brain, Dr. Perlmutter associates gluten and carbohydrate intake with everything from high blood sugar to Parkinson’s disease and ADHD. Blaming nearly all degenerative conditions on carbs, he recommends that people completely avoid all grains, including everything from flour to quinoa.
Alzheimer’s disease now affects 5 million Americans and rates are expected to triple within three decades. Research finds that saturated fat is the real culprit behind many Alzheimer’s cases. In a 2014 study, researchers examined the diets and brain health of 19,792 study participants. Researchers found that higher saturated fat consumption increased the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive decline.
Dr. Perlmutter completely ignores the fact that cultures following traditional grain-based diets are the thinnest and healthiest in the world. Japan is a case in point. That nation topped the world’s statistics for good health until the fast-food invasion began in the 1980s. As meat and cheese began to displace rice, waistlines quickly expanded, diabetes rates soared, and overall health declined. Ditto in the United States. Over the last century, meat and cheese intake has increased dramatically, with a parallel rise in obesity, diabetes, and neurological diseases.
3. The Fast Diet by Michael Mosley, M.D., and Mimi Spencer
In The Fast Diet, Michael Mosley, M.D., and Mimi Spencer claim that you can become healthier by eating anything you want five days a week—and eat a severely restricted calorie diet the other two days. Even if this extreme diet may initially cause weight loss in some people, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Losing weight through extreme calorie restriction starves the body of nutrients and can increase cravings of junk food.
Aside from the health risks of the “fasting” days, the approach to the other five days is also harmful for your health. Telling people that they can eat anything—no matter how dangerous it is for their health—five days a week is irresponsible. “Fasting” two days a week and chowing down on chicken wings and cheeseburgers the other five days will not improve anyone’s health.
4. The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook by Mark Hyman, M.D.
In The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook, Mark Hyman, M.D., lays out a diet for people struggling with high blood sugar or diabetes. But the plan he lays out could actually increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes—and cancer, and heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. His idea is that eating out in restaurants and eating packaged food is what has caused our nation’s health crisis. He says that “real food” is the key to solving all our problems, throwing around the phrase in almost every paragraph. But what is real food?
His definition of real food includes eggs, which are loaded with cholesterol; chicken, which is packed with fat and linked to a host of diseases; and fish, which is high in cholesterol and toxins. These foods have been shown to increase the risk of deadly diet-related diseases—and are definitely not the blood sugar solution.
The real blood sugar solution is a low-fat plant-based diet, which is rich in vegetables, grains, legumes, and fruit and shown to stabilize blood sugar and even reverse type 2 diabetes.
5. Beyond Bacon by Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry
Bacon cupcakes, bacon deodorant, bacon mouthwash. With any luck, people will get sick of bacon soon—before the bacon makes them sick. Bacon is linked to a whole host of problems: lower-quality sperm, colorectal cancer, and an increased risk of death. (Yes, just straight-up death.) Beyond Bacon is a cookbook of recipes that jumps on the bacon bandwagon, and another dangerous trend—the Paleo diet craze.
The focus on high-cholesterol, fatty meats has made the Paleo trend a health hazard. We already know that high-fat diets mean high cholesterol and high blood pressure, but meat-centric diets also lack the vital nutrients found in vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits. Beyond Bacon features recipes like sweetbreads, with 1,341 calories per serving and more fat than eight jelly doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts. The sweetbreads also have more than 200 percent of your daily maximum value of saturated fat.
While octogenarians are the 21st century norm, the average life expectancy in the Paleolithic Era was 33 years. They didn’t live long enough to worry about heart disease or cancer. So even if the Paleo diet was historically accurate, our cave-drawing ancestors don’t exactly make the best nutritional role models.
As diet books and cookbooks become more extreme and latch onto dangerous trends, it’s important to remember that the healthiest diet is not a fad at all. It’s nothing new or complicated, and it’s based on what we’ve always known about nutrition and health. Not surprisingly, the best approach is to eat a variety of healthful, disease-fighting fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes every day of the week. It’s as simple as that!