24 Jan Death by Food Pyramid: The Nutrition Book You Have to Read.
If you eat food, you need to read this book.
I guess that means everybody.
I’m going to deviate from my usual “strength talk” here because I would be doing a total disservice to readers by NOT sharing this book review.
Here’s the thing with nutrition.
It can be confusing, conflicting, and controversial.
Right now I’m sitting in my office as I write this.
I can see countless nutrition books I’ve read sitting within an arm’s reach away from my desk.
Here’s what I’m thinking.
Out of all the great books I’ve read in the area of nutrition, which one would be my top recommendation to date?
Which book is most important, no matter where you are or what you think you know about nutrition.
Which book really looks at the science and analyzes the key principles to optimize health?
My focus here is on helping people get better results with safer performance through a foundation of strength using kettlebells and barbells.
After all, strength is about optimizing health, as much as performance (I’ll explain this more in an upcoming post).
And, if you heard the interview I had with Strength Coach, Jason Ferruggia on the podcast (episode #46), he spoke about how we have to eat for health, first and foremost.
After finishing the new book by Denise Minger, Death by Food Pyramid, I have to say that this may be the most important nutrition book I’ve ever read.
I’ll tell you why.
And, I’ll try my best to give the author and book the accolades it deserves in this short summary.
Finally, a book that picks apart the science and tells us the truth about nutrition.
Before I get into why this book is a must read, I have to tell you that it is a “heavy” read.
What I mean is there’s a lot of science, data, content, and specific concepts covered in this book.
But, I do think the author does an incredible job in breaking things down and making the points clear and understandable.
You should think of this book as a text, a course, and a massive compilation of evidence in human nutrition.
First, I want to say that the author, Denise Minger, is gifted.
Yes, she’s definitely gifted.
I don’t know her at all, but I have to say I’m proud of her for what she was able to accomplish with this book.
Honestly, it’s amazing.
She has the unique ability to read the scientific literature, interpret it, and then tell us what are the limitations, considerations, and key take-aways in a very objective viewpoint.
Her ability to read the science is the equivalent of Peyton Manning reading a defense.
It seems natural and effortless.
I’m not a jealous person, but I certainly admire her brilliance.
Alright, so let me tell you about the book.
I’ll give you a really quick, concise overview of the book and then tell you about some of the most important chapters.
Let’s get started.
Here’s the bottom line and I mean this.
As I said, if you eat food, you need to read this book.
For the athletes, fitness enthusiasts, coaches, trainers, recreational exercisers, nutritionists, and human beings who visit RdellaTraining, I’d say that if you read one nutrition book moving forward, read this one.
Here’s the book in one sentence.
Death by Food Pyramid is a “one of kind” book revealing the comprehensive body of scientific evidence about nutrition for optimizing human health.
It’s wonderful because she analyzes the “principles” of what good nutrition practices have in common.
She takes the best nutritional practices that are based on scientific evidence and pools together the key concepts in a very objective and common sense approach.
Once again, Death by Food Pyramid is “heavy read,” so it’s important you understand that before you read it.
There’s a lot of data in, but she has a wonderful way to break things down and provide us the key messages we need to know.
Even with my own background in the sciences, I plan on reading through it again to take in all of the great information and better understand it.
It’s an overview and detailed analysis in the science of nutrition, showing us what the evidence really says.
The book is organized into 3 major parts:
- Shady Politics
- Slippery Science
- And, the New Geometry
Let’s start with the Part I (Shady Politics), in which tells us about the unfortunate politics and business drivers that lead to the formation and evolution of the USDA’s food pyramid and why this is so incredibly flawed.
We learn about how absurd the Food Pyramid really is and why it’s not based on the science at all.
Part II (Slippery Science) is the real “meat and potatoes” of the book. And, I mean this quite literally.
I’ll start with Chapter 4, Evaluating the Experts, which is a great chapter on how to know who to believe.
Let me ask you something, if a doctor tells you about nutrition and how you need to eat more healthy, do you take their word that they know what they’re talking about?
Or do you question what they say?
The fact is that just because they have ‘MD’ behind their name, many doctor’s are actually the least educated health care professionals in the topic of nutrition.
That’s right, despite popular belief that say’s “my doctor told me so it must be true,” the majority of MD’s have no nutrition or very little nutritional education and training at all.
Now, there are exceptions and there are certainly some that take matters of nutrition and continued education in their own hands, but this is not the majority.
This is taking away from doctors, but you should recognize that you probably know more about nutrition than the person who has MD after their name, especially if you’ve read a few books on the topic.
She also goes on in this chapter about how to evaluate “who to trust” and who to recognize as an authority, which is really insightful and based on her own experiences.
As I’ve been saying recently, it’s up to us to do our own due diligence to determine who we should listen to.
Chapter 5, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Nutritional Research is awesome.
This chapter breaks down what you need to know in reading clinical research papers.
Now, I’ve been reading research papers for years and she covers the information beautifully.
This was a great review for me and for those that aren’t familiar with how to read research papers, this will be very valuable and it sets the stage for the later chapters, as the science gets deeper and more revealing.
Chapter 7 is a “beast” as she covers Ancel Keys and the Diet Heart Hypothesis.
This is a very deep and comprehensive chapter covering a lot of information about how the American “low fat” theories evolved.
The really short story here is that Ancel Keys was the pioneer of the idea that saturated fat caused heart disease by raising blood cholesterol.
Let’s just say that you’ll have to read this chapter to truly understand where this idea came from and get a better picture of the scientific evidence that was suggestive of this concept.
This chapter is an example of the author’s brilliance is critiquing research, as she breaks it down and explains the findings of data such as the Six-Country graph and the Seven Countries Study.
You will learn why correlation does not mean causation (something you’ll hear over and over again in the book and why this is critical to understand.)
After all these years, can dietary cholesterol and saturated fat overcome such a bad rap?
You’ll understand that out and so much more like John Yudkin’s theory about sugar in health.
You’ll also learn about the “real” Mediterranean Diet and you’ll hear about an important gene called ApoE (and what this gene may mean to our health).
Moving on to Chapter 9, PUFA-Rama: The Rise of Vegetable Oils, this is another chapter of great significance.
This chapter tells us about the evolution of vegetable oils and the things we need to know about oils like cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, corn oils, etc.
These oils are commonly used in a variety of ways in our food and are creatively marketed.
The chapter explains everything you need to know about these oils looking at the scientific body of evidence.
Are they really that bad for us?
Of course we all know that vegetable oils are “unhealthy”, but we’ll hear both sides of the coin in this chapter and sort through the confusion.
We’ll much better understand the fact and fiction with the vegetable oils and why the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is so significant for health.
Chapter 10, Meet Your Meat is a nice short, but significant chapter.
Denise gives us a nice overview of our obsession with “muscle meats,” tells us where the real nutrition is, and explains how to safely cook and prepare our meats to minimize carcinogenic properties.
The section on Modern Cooking Methods is extremely interesting, and alarming, so be sure to read through this section thoroughly.
Do you think that vegetarians or vegans are truly healthier that “meat eaters?”
Do vegetarians really live longer?
To find out the answers, you’ve got to read Chapter 11, Herbivore’s Dilemma and read what the author uncovers about plant based eating.
Again, this is based on the scientific evidence covering a wide body of data.
Towards the end of this chapter, you’ll also learn about another interesting gene called AMY1, which has a lot to do with how we process starch.
It turns out that we all have variations in this gene and this is why a broad based diet approach is not best for everyone.
And, also we’ll learn about the role that AMY1 may play in major diseases.
This will be interesting to see if we hear more about this gene in the future.
And, finally, (Part III) Chapter 12, A Future Informed by the Past is where everything comes converges.
In brief, this is where Denise brings 3 of the most promising dietary approaches together (Paleo, Medeterranean, and Whole Foods, Plant Based Diets).
This is the culmination of the overlapping principles to optimize health in a really important chapter.
The 3 diets are clearly defined and then compared, and she shares the key features that all 3 of them have in common.
As she explains, maybe the bottom line is that good health is about what we DON’T eat, as much as what we do.
Is the book concludes, she does a great job of summarizing the work of Weston Price and his contribution to nutritional research.
And, there’s a nice section called “Take Home Kit” in which see summarizes the key points which are very simple and useful.
In summary, this is a fantastic book with great insight into nutrition, unlike anything I’ve read to date.
As I mentioned, the author’s gift is being able to sort through an enormous amount of data and clinical research and boil things down to what matters.
Understand this book is a massive “data dump on the brain” but I think we can all take away the key concepts in this amazing book.
Don’t come back and tell me I didn’t warn you it’s a “meaty” read, as I’ve mentioned already a few times now.
But, if there’s ONE BOOK to read on nutrition to optimize human health, I believe this is it.
Whether you’re an athlete, fitness enthusiast, coach, trainer, health care professional, or just interested in a better understanding of nutrition, this is a book that delivers the facts.
I highly recommend Death By Food Pyramid by Denise Minger.
It’s totally worth your time, so check it out.
I’ll be back for some “strength talk” soon.
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