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Health April 2014

Rainbow Kitchen

Must Eat? Then Must Read: Death by Food Pyramid by Denise Minger

By Allison St. Claire

How shoddy science, sketchy politics and shady special interests ruined your health...and how to reclaim it.

Does a sentence that forms around something like the following awaken your Inner Scientist, and make your eyes glow with interest and anticipation? In studies, statistical significance is represented by something called a p value (p=)...You’ll see references to the p value in tables and charts...lower values indicating less likelihood that your results were due to chance. Plus, you’ll positively salivate over 27 pages of single-spaced original source documentation footnotes this author includes.

Or does something like the following haul out and polish up your semi-sublimated suspicions that health studies are almost always total trash? There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified... (Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association continues his rant, but you get the drift.)

In either event, you will love, learn from, and lean into a much keener appreciation of how to take food/health studies with an open mind and closed mouth, and more than a grain of salt even though scare tactics have convinced you salt is nasty, eating fat makes you fat, and cholesterol makes your cholesterol numbers go way up, and you’ll drop dead from heart disease almost at just the thought of clogging arteries as you enjoy some buttered veggies.

Is all this a rave review for Denise Minger and her book Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Ruined Your Health...and How to Reclaim It! (Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2013)? Absolutely. If you eat, read it. If you don’t eat a lot of things because you’ve been convinced they’re poison – and you’d be much better off with medications instead – read it. If you love to know the science behind any conclusion – read it. If you want to have someone explain all that science in easily understood, highly digestible form – read it.

For starters, Denise is brilliant. She’s the student I wish I’d had back when I taught high school English. She understands and loves science – and knows how to translate the combination of actual scientific fact (too often twisted beyond credibility) and self-serving marketing jargon  we’re bombarded with every day. She’s been through her own dietary hell as a vegan. As she notes in her introduction: “Unable to navigate the nutrition terrain on our own, we stumble blindly – maybe with a ketchup-stained Rand McNally tucked under one arm – looking for the safest road to health, and the loudest voice to lead us there. If we’re not careful (and sometimes even when we are), we’ll get taken in by hucksters, woo, hyperbole, or outdated advice too stale to be effectual.”

I’m forgoing the usual recipes this month, in lieu of a quick summation of what Minger’s comprehensive study and analysis of three currently all-the-rage diets show so you can head over to your own fridge and cupboards and put together your own best choices.

She explains the underlying philosophy and principles of ancestral, paleolithic-style diets, the Mediterranean diet, and whole-food, plant-based diets. And then asks: What do these health-promoting diets all seem to include. “On the surface, it doesn’t look like much: vegetables and tubers and even tubers might get nixed on the very low-carb versions of a Paleo diet.” What do these health-promoting diets all seem to omit? “The answer is a surprisingly consistent list of offenders – refined flour, refined sugar, industrially processed vegetable oils, chemical preservatives and lab-produced anythings, and nearly any creation coming in a crinkly tinfoil package, a microwavable tray, or a McDonald’s takeout bag.”

So, on your way to your next tasty, healthy meal, chew on these final thoughts from Minger: “We need a new direction, and we need it soon. Instead of death by food pyramid, we can have life by educated freedom – a freedom in which we’re released from the rules of government, the dogma of the fad diet du jour, the smooth words of a health guru, the marionetting of powerful industries, the misinterpretation of science, and the mass confusion that keeps us incapacitated. As we demolish the walls of the pyramids, plates, and other shapes that ultimately lock us inside a dietary dictatorship, we’re left with a horizon-wide landscape to explore – and with it, the opportunity to pursue what works for us and guiltlessly leave behind what doesn’t.



Allison St. Claire loves to dream about, study, grow, play with, prepare and ultimately enjoy eating great food.

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