Two Book Reviews (Don’t Worry, Nothing Political)

In the past couple weeks I’ve read two books of non-fiction that have really stuck with me.  In fact I haven’t finished reading one of them (it’s quite long) but felt a strong need to share.  The other book is very short; could be read in a couple sittings.  And they’re totally different from one another.  Enough intro; here are the reviews.

How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease

I love this title as it’s exactly what this excellent book by Dr. Michael Greger is about.  The principle concept that Dr. Greger purports is that the most common illnesses that Americans die from can not only be prevented but reversed.  The first section of the book is divided into chapters, each of which is titled ‘How Not To Die From Heart Disease’, ‘How Not To Die From Lung Diseases’, ‘How Not To Die From Kidney Disease’, and so on.  There are fifteen of these chapters, the last of which is titled ‘How Not To Die From Iatrogenic Causes’ (look it up….quite scary).

The facts in each chapter are not anecdotal, they are based are hundreds and hundreds of studies from around the world over many years.  These studies show that most diseases can be prevented and reversed by changing our diet…simple as that.  The problem that Americans face are the drug companies who don’t want you to know it, and the processed food companies and fast food restaurants who definitely don’t want you to know it.  Study after study shows that changing to a whole food diet made up primarily of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and beans, plus other foods will keep us from developing diseases and may reverse a disease if implemented in the early stages.  Studies show that most drugs we take for these diseases merely mask symptoms and most don’t do a great job (in fact for many symptoms placebos are just as effective).

The second section of the book is titled Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen.  Again each chapter deals with a food group and cites extensive research into the benefits….it’s really fascinating. I could go on and on about this book (and I have yet to finish it!), but best to check it out for yourself.  Dr. Greger has an excellent website, Nutrition Facts that posts videos such as this.  I know changing ones diet is not that simple, let alone changing a culture’s diet.  Best I could hope for is to educate ourselves and start with some small changes that just may change the way we feel.

tribe, on homecoming and belonging by sebastian junger

is the second book.  Junger’s book also cites many research studies over many years, but his subject is not the physical health of the nation but the mental health.  In the four chapters comprising this slim book he looks into the psychology of the tribe, be it an actual tribe (as in Native American) or the ‘tribe’ created by a common bond such as war.

Modern technology and population growth has made us all look inward to fulfill many of our needs.  We don’t look to family and groups of friends or neighbors for support unless there’s a common cause.  Examples Junger studied include the way British citizens bonded during the German bombardment of London; kidnapped whites in the 18th and 19th century who wanted to live with the Native American tribes who did the kidnapping because of the sense of family and shared living that was missing in white society; and the strong bond soldiers establish through the shared experience of war.  All of these examples  are supported by numerous scholarly studies.

I believe we’ve all lived through some form of bonding from a shared experience.  Remember back to 9/11 when as a nation we came together with great nationalism. Or the outpouring of support for victims of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.  Terrible events bring people together, but at the same time so do shared living situations. One such example is the kibbutz communities in Israel where people live as a collective and each member has a job that benefits the whole.

Tribe is a short book that is packed full of concepts and ideas that will make you think about your place in the world.  It’s not dry reading; the real life people and situations Junger writes of are fascinating.  Give it a read (your local library should have it…mine did) and let me know what you think.

You’re Nuts?

Or should I say ‘your’ nuts?  I’ve been following Dr. Gabe Mirkin’s Fitness & Health e-Zine for several years.  Dr. Mirkin has kept on the cutting edge of keeping and maintaining a healthy body whether you’re an athlete or someone who enjoys good health.  Dr. Mirkin is a seventy-something long time athlete who runs circles around those less than half his age.  What I love about his articles is that everything is based on long term research and facts, not just his opinion on a subject.  He purports that a healthy diet and regular exercise will equal a long, active life for most of us.  The following is one example of a recent article from his e-Zine that I found very interesting.  You may want to sign up for his e-Zine to be delivered to your inbox so you won’t miss any of his excellent advice;

Why Nuts Don’t Make You Fat

Nuts are a rich source of fat, but many studies have shown that the fat in nuts is absorbed very poorly. This month a study explains why nuts are not fattening (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2015 Jan;101(1):25-33). The fat in almonds is located inside the almond cells. Even after prolonged chewing, most of the almond cells remained intact and the fat was still inside the cells. Since fat is absorbed only after it is released from cells, most of the fat in almonds cannot be absorbed in the upper part of your intestinal tract. This explains why the calorie count of nuts is really lower than what you read on the label.The calorie counts shown on food labels are computed from how much heat can be produced by the food in a laboratory. However, this method of measuring calories is meaningless for foods that are poorly absorbed. The number of calories listed on the label can be much higher than those a person actually absorbs; many of the potential calories pass through, undigested, in the person’s stool. This explains why blood fat levels are lower than expected after a person eats nuts. Another study showed that roasting almonds does not increase the absorption of fat over that absorbed from raw almonds (Br J Nutr, 2014 Nov 14;112(9):1521-9). Some of the fat that has passed through the upper intestines is absorbed after the nuts reach the colon, where bacteria ferment the cell walls to release some of the fat (Am J Clin Nutr, 2004 Sep;80(3):604-13).

Nuts Appear to be Healthful
Epidemiologic studies (on populations) associate eating nuts with reduced likelihood to suffer heart attacks, gallstones, diabetes, and cancer. Many studies show that eating nuts lowers high blood pressure, cholesterol, belly fat, and metabolic syndrome; and that nuts are not associated with gaining weight (Nutrients, 2010 July;2(7):652-82).

This week a study reports that eating almonds reduces belly fat, the type of fat that causes diabetes and heart attacks (Journal of the American Heart Association, published online 1/11/15). Fifty-two middle-aged, apparently healthy but obese adults with high levels of the bad LDL cholesterol were placed on a heart-healthy diet and were fed daily either:
* 1.5 ounces (42 grams) of whole almonds, or
* a banana muffin with the same number of calories as the almonds.
After 6 weeks, those eating almonds had lower total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol levels. Those eating the muffins had their good HDL cholesterols lowered. The almond-eaters also had smaller waist circumferences and less of the belly fat that leads to diabetes. Both groups had the same body weight and total body fat measures.

Why Nuts are More Healthful than Muffins
The almond snack that was given to the study patients contained 30-35 almonds (1.5 ounces), with 240 calories, 20 grams of fat, (primarily monounsaturated) and 4.7 grams of fiber. The muffins contained the same number of calories, but had less fiber, less monounsaturated fat and far more sugar and starch.

A high rise in blood sugar can damage every cell in your body. Muffins are made from flour which causes a much higher rise in blood sugar than whole grains do. Whole grains have a thick capsule that prevents the rapid absorption of sugars and other carbohydrates into your bloodstream. Grains are full of carbohydrates which can be absorbed only as single sugars. When you grind a whole grain into a powder, you remove the capsule around the whole grain and markedly increase the absorption of sugar to cause a high rise in blood sugar. Fat’s location inside the cells of nuts reduces absorption of the fat in the same way that the thick outer capsule around whole (unground) grains reduces the absorption of sugar.

What This Means for You
Go ahead and snack on nuts. Try to limit refined carbohydrates made by grinding plants into flour or by adding sugar to any food or drink. This means that you should restrict sugared drinks including fruit juices, and all foods made with any kind of flour: muffins, bread, pasta, pretzels, bagels, crackers, cookies and so forth.

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