by Dr. Joel Fuhrman
MY RATING: 4/10
This book provides useful information regarding how to boost our immune systems for optimal health and disease prevention. It lists tips for supplementation, clarifies common misconceptions about healthy habits and provides a framework for what the author believes is the healthiest diet out there.
Being a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I take issue with many opinions and recommendations in this book. While it was nice to get a refresher on just how amazing the micronutrients in fruits and vegetables are for us, and the immunity tips are helpful, this guy is dogmatic. He discourages animal product intake, which I generally disagree with, but it’s not just that. I don’t like it when polarizing views are expressed without nuance or caveats. Bioindividuality, which is the idea that we are all different and react to diets (and everything else) uniquely, is something I believe in strongly. The Nutritional Therapy Practitioner program emphasizes bioindividuality: what works well for some may not work for others. I operate under the paradigm that black and white issues are rare when it comes to nutrition. We should respect individual differences while recognizing that we, as humans, are omnivores.
I get it. A lot of people out there believe we should be eating fewer animal products. To be completely honest I don’t disagree, considering the Standard American Diet. I’d say the majority of people eating meat don’t ensure the highest quality of the products they’re consuming. Heck, I don’t even do this ALL of the time. But since that’s the reality that *most* people are living in, I’d say we could stand to limit our meat consumption and we should FOR SURE increase our vegetable intake. If you are one of those who are fortunate enough to have access to pastured meat, eggs and dairy, then I’d say you could be much more liberal with your intake. It all comes down to the quality and sustainability of what we are putting in our bodies, and without those nuances accounted for we cannot make blanket statements about what’s healthy.
Dr. Fuhrman briefly addresses what being a “healthy vegetarian” or vegan means and how quality of vegetables matters. He even briefly touches on the preference toward free-range meats if you MUST eat animal products. However, he also makes reference numerous times to the poor nutrient density of animal protein and compares meat to sweets in that regard- multiple times. I take issue with the way in which the author makes his claims. The language is reductionist, even pretentious at times. He ignores the forrest for the trees in a world where diet perfection is simply unrealistic.
In an effort to be more organized with my thoughts, I will highlight the issues I took with this book as well as include the numerous helpful findings I noted.
- The author compares chicken to cookies, saying neither have phytochemicals and therefore neither help our immunity (p. 20)
- The author keeps lumping together animal products and processed foods as if they’ve committed the same crimes, and it’s unfair. If you’re talking about phytochemicals and specific nutrients, it may be true that both cookies and chicken lack in some areas. That implies, though, that there isn’t a vital place for animal protein in the diet and that there are no nutritional differences. It’s reductionist.
- He says animal fat and animal protein promote disease. (p. 80)
- The author states that cancer rates rose for 70 years straight (from 1935 to 2005). Didn’t the population increase dramatically during that time, though? Let’s not oversimplify the numbers. I’m not trying to downplay processed foods’ potential role in cancer or the role that poor nutrition plays in health overall. I fully agree. The statistic just seems obvious, so why emphasize it without acknowledging or accounting for confounding variables. (p. 23)
- “The oversimplification of human nutrition led to the development of medical foods such as baby formula, hospital liquid diets, nutritional fortified drinks, and food supplements, further contributing to our health care crisis and ultimately to the explosion of cancer.” Wow. I feel like this could have been explained much better. Maybe the oversimplification led to less than ideal execution of such products, poor sourcing of fortified nutrients due to costs/funding, use of unfavorable ingredients and human reliance on such products with the idea that they’re just as good as food when they’re not. The statement, though, doesn’t leave room for the fact that baby formula is essential for many, many people. It likely has been relied upon more than necessary and it could have better ingredients, but it’s not just a “medical food” leading to cancer. Same goes for TPN (IV nutrition), tube feeding, Ensure shakes and food supplements. Quality of ingredients should be a priority (which is often not the case), but the mere existence of these products is not the crime. It’s the resulting effects of them based off of poor nutritional advice and misinformation due to outside interests (i.e. Big Food) that is the real concern. (p. 23)
- This author is hyper-focused on micronutrients, saying outright that macronutrient ratios don’t matter. He says if the food isn’t micronutrient dense, then focusing on macros still can’t get you healthy. To me, this is another thing that could be explained better. The underlying message is the same thing I advocate for: that quality and sourcing of food matters. And if it’s sustainably sourced then it likely is more nutrient dense by nature. We all agree here, right? The writing implies you’re doing something WRONG by paying attention to macronutrients when it’s just trying to say to focus on quality.
- The author compares nutrients of vegetables to meats, but the data is not included regarding the quality of the protein. I highly doubt grass fed beef and wild-caught salmon, etc., were used to back his claims. (p. 27)
- The author said fat wasn’t the enemy and then has fat-free dairy in his recommended food pyramid. Chicken and pork aren’t even on the pyramid, and beef is lumped together with sweets and processed foods in the “Rarely” category at the very top.
- This book discredits many natural or home remedies for illness and it’s really a buzzkill for those of us who are trying to do what we can during flu (and Corona Virus) season to be healthy. After all, these home-remedies are anecdotal by definition and they don’t claim to be panaceas. The text says for those who don’t get enough veggies and fruits (which is pretty much everyone), Vitamin C can be preventative against illness. I agree with this. However, it says that everything from chicken soup to humidifiers, nasal saline, homeopathy, echinacea and even increased fluids are not helpful (based on lack of supporting studies). I take issue with this because it may discourage people from even trying to prevent seasonal illnesses if they feel like nothing works but a “perfect” diet. I expected him to dismiss OTC meds and fever reducers, but fluids? Come ON. (FYI: to clarify, he says you SHOULD replace fluids, not avoid water, but the way the section is written implies that we shouldn’t focus on drinking fluids in an effort to avoid drinking “too much”.) Getting the minimum baseline water for the day is hard enough even when we feel well, and the recommendation for fluids when sick has never been to drink a gallon- it’s just been to make sure you’re taking in ENOUGH. This guy is frustrating because he’s coming from a place of expectation that everyone is already doing well with water and vegetable intake. It’s the definition of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
- The failure to mention bone broth is an egregious oversight in my opinion when we are speaking about superfoods and immunity, but it is also not surprising since he doesn’t think animal products are healthy.
- It should be noted that he says there isn’t sufficient evidence to back up why garlic, for example (or insert item) isn’t proven to be effective against illnesses. Yes. That’s because there often isn’t funding for studies on foods found in the environment because no one in Big Food or Big Pharma stands to gain anything from it. So based on the logic of “no evidence” when it’s nearly impossible to have actual evidence, most home remedies passed down from our ancestors would fall into the “unproven” category.
- The author blames the high rates of cancer on increased carb and protein intake. I believe that sugar plays a significant role in dampening our immune system and depleting nutrients in our bodies, but protein too? Why are we lumping two of the three main macronutrients together, and how is it even helpful to make such a general statement? (p. 124)
- “Protein deficiency does not cause long term fatigue”- (p. 140) This goes against both conventional and holistic perspectives on a low protein diet and I don’t see evidence to back up his statement. Chronically low levels of protein lead to muscle loss which causes fatigue. Also, low iron levels (which is common in vegetarians) lead to anemia which is a diagnosis that has a chief complaint of fatigue.
- The recipes included in this book puzzle me. I collect cookbooks and enjoy reading through recipes. Often I am inspired by them and have a very open mind about trying new techniques or combinations. HOWEVER, this book is different. Many of the recipes here call for soy milk and peanut or cashew butter where it doesn’t seem to belong. Banana in a salad dressing recipe? Yep, it has it. I cook a LOT, and the recipes here just didn’t make sense to me. I was not inspired by them with the exception of some desserts.
Okay, now that I have spewed my negativity all over the place, let’s end on a positive note. There is valuable information in here that I found to be legitimate:
- Where we agree: “The key component to obtaining incredible health is to eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, beans and other nutrient rich foods.” (p. 129)
- The author acknowledges fat, saying it’s not the villain people (as in conventional dietary recommendations) make it out to be.
- “When our body is deficient in plant derived micronutrients, we weaken our immune system and leave ourselves exposed to infections and cancer.” (p. 25)
- “A healthy body is highly resistant to viral attack” (p. 31)
- “The most effective artillery we have to protect ourselves against the potentially damaging effects of influenza and other infectious disease is nutritional excellence.” (p. 33)
- An interesting note about how we respond to viruses and pathogens- not only do our immune systems respond better when nutritionally sufficient; but also the virus itself is less likely to adapt and mutate when our defenses are up, so we have double protection.
- “The drugs prescribed by doctors encourage patients’ risky life behaviors and self-destructive eating choices to continue; they give patients “permission” to continue poor behaviors because they mask the symptoms of disease.” (p. 39)
- “Green vegetables are the king of super immunity; mushrooms are the queen.” (p. 70)
- One of mushrooms’ benefits is the fact that they inhibit angiogenesis or the creation of new blood vessels, which is a main reason why cancers/tumors are able to grow so fast. If the creation of these blood vessels is inhibited, the tumors are starved of a fuel source. (p. 73-74)
- How do crucifers prevent cancer?
- They have isothiocyanates (ITCs-many kinds). They inhibit angiogenesis, detoxify and remove carcinogenic compounds, prevent carcinogens from binding to DNA and changing healthy cells, and activate enzymes that protect against any changes that have occurred. They can trigger cell death if needed. (p. 62)
As with many texts on health and wellness, it is difficult to know what is really “true” and what is the author’s opinion or speculation. Even when research studies are cited, it is possible that the data used was massaged in order to support or discredit hypotheses (This is not an accusation of the citations of this book; just a general statement of the ubiquity of research flaws). It can leave the reader feeling even more confused at times. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expand the circle of what we read. I encourage everyone to read things outside their own viewpoints and make their own judgments on quality of research, writing styles and methods of communicating messages. If an author is expressing views I don’t typically subscribe to or seem questionable to me, I still make an effort to keep an open mind. If the author is able to express their point of view without dogma and with acknowledgement of differing opinions, that carries a lot of weight with me. I rated this book lower than I expected I would, and the writing style as well as some of Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritional recommendations are the main reasons why. I will continue to keep an open mind to new research and nutritional perspectives, and I expect that my own views may evolve over time. I will continue to share my perspectives with you and I encourage respectful feedback.