Book Review: Healing the Gerson Way

Healing the Gerson Way: Defeating Cancer and other Chronic Diseases
By Charlotte Gerson and Beata Bishop
Gerson Health Media (2007)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD

Claims:

The Gerson Way is an unorthodox approach to healing cancer through the elimination of common household toxins, a drastic diet change, enemas, supplementation and pain-control without medication.  Charlotte Gerson writes of her father, German-born Dr. Max Gerson, and his work in the early 1900s using dietary approaches to heal migraines.  Soon after, he realized his patients’ metabolisms and immune systems were improving as well.  The book includes references to studies and books, many of which are biased toward the Gerson program.

Synopsis of Diet Plan:

According to the Gerson diet, only ‘foods that contribute to health and healing are allowed; all else is banned.’ The plan begins with two basic guidelines: all processed (to include frozen, canned and pickled, among others) foods are ‘forbidden,’ as well as allowing only organic fruits and vegetables.  The list of ‘forbidden foods’ is long, and salt and fats are not allowed, except flaxseed oil.  Meat and eggs are ‘temporarily forbidden foods’ and soy is always banned.

What participants do eat are meals made up of salads, fruit and some cooked foods, as well as 13 glasses of fresh juice per day.   The diet relies heavily on these juices, either carrot, apple-carrot, green or orange, and specifies that they must be consumed immediately and be organic.  Meal options include oatmeal cooked in distilled water, cooked potatoes and more cooked vegetables. Directions for preparing these foods are extensive.  A special vegetable soup is eaten two times a day for the duration of the treatment.

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

In addition to being perhaps one of the most restrictive diet plans ever designed, the nutritional portion of the Gerson program is lacking in essential nutrients.  The diet is almost completely fat-free, which limits fat-soluble vitamin (A, D, E and K) intake, as well as essential fatty acids. Also, by even temporarily restricting meat, eggs and legumes, protein intakes will be incredibly low, as well as B vitamin intakes.  Without sufficient protein and fat, dieters run the risk of fat and muscle loss, as well as lacking satiety after meals.

Bottom Line:

Attempting to cure cancer through diet alone seems unlikely, and the nutritional inadequacies (protein, fat) are concerning.  Additionally, the time and energy involved in food production (in addition to the other recommended treatments) may be too much for patients themselves, requiring the help of a caregiver.  Nonetheless, alternative therapies offer a new way of viewing health issues, and if under the care of a Gerson practitioner, participants may indeed reap the same ‘cures’ that the testimonials in the book suggest.

The book contains approximately 85 pages of recipes.

Book Review: Wheat Belly

Wheat Belly
By William Davis, MD
Rodale (2011)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD

Claims:

Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist who says he has put more than 2,000 of his patients on wheat-free diets, calls wheat ‘nutritionally bankrupt’ and claims it is the cause (or at least connected to) of weight gain, fat build-up, diabetes, as well as rheumatoid arthritis and dementia. Additionally, Davis says the wheat we eat today is the ‘transformed product of genetic research’ and that the weight we’ve gained as a society due to our wheat intake ‘isn’t our fault.’

Synopsis of Diet Plan:

Davis’ only ‘diet plan’ is that one should remove all wheat from their diet, but does not offer many suggestions on how to replace the absence of traditional wheat products in the diet. Only one chapter discusses ‘life after wheat,’ yet most of that is still focused on the consequences of having wheat in the diet and wheat ‘withdrawl;’ there are only 15 pages dedicated to what dieters CAN eat and a weeklong sample meal plan.

Instead, he spends much of the book vilifying wheat, and the genetic gymnastics that have changed the wheat from Bible times to the wheat we have today. He begins the book discussing einkorn and emmer wheat thousands of years before Christ, to its journey to the New World with Christopher Columbus and eventually its hybridization in the last 50 years. It is this hybridization, or genetic modification, in order to increase crop yields that Davis blames for our society’s health issues. All nine chapters in Part 2 of the book tie wheat to ailments such as insulin resistance, aging issues, heart disease and even skin problems.

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

Eliminating wheat from one’s diet will, inherently, create a calorie deficit if replaced with healthy options, like fruits and vegetables. In fact, Davis does mention the decrease in calories and offers eating larger portions of salads or vegetables as ways to make up for the lost calories. Those needing to lose weight may benefit from this decrease in calories. Additionally, much of what’s labeled as ‘junk food’ is made of or with wheat, and therefore eliminating those items can only have a beneficial effect on overall heat.

Davis does address, albeit briefly, that wheat is a source of fiber and B vitamins in the diet, and quickly points out that fruits, vegetables and nuts provide as much or more of those nutrients. While true, it’s questionable whether dieters who used to rely heavily on ‘fortified’ wheat products would include enough variety of those healthier options in their diets.

Bottom Line:

Yes, the wheat we eat today is different that the wheat people ate thousands of years ago. Yes, our society is dealing with myriad health issues, many of which can be improved with diet. However, is it really fair, or accurate, to place all the blame on wheat? Perhaps more blame should rest on the proliferation of processed junk food made with wheat instead. Eliminating wheat entirely is too restrictive for most dieters; in fact, the only true followers may be Davis himself and those with a wheat allergy.

The book contains 25 pages of recipes in Appendix B.

See also:

http://www.eatrightpro.org/resource/media/trends-and-reviews/book-reviews/wheat-belly

Book Review: Super Shred

Super Shred: The Big Results Diet
By Ian K. Smith, M.D.
St. Martin’s Press (2013)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD

Claims:

Dr. Ian K. Smith comes right out and tells readers that his Super Shred diet “is not meant for the long term.” He calls Super Shed ‘destination dieting,’ designed to help readers lose weight before an upcoming event, such as a reunion or wedding only four weeks away. In a previous book, Dr. Smith outlined his ‘Shred: The Revolutionary Diet,’ which is a six-week plan designed to be followed for the long term. He claims participants can lose up to 5 pounds a week, resulting in a 20-pound loss in four weeks. Dr. Smith employs three strategies to accomplish this rapid weight loss: negative energy balance, calorie disruption and sliding nutrient density.

Synopsis of Diet Plan:

The Super Shred program is four weeks in duration, and each week has a different ‘timeline’ of when to eat each day, and each day’s meal choices are outlined page-by-page. Dr. Smith recommends real, whole foods and puts almost nothing off-limits. He recommends drinking one cup of water before meals, starting the day with tea, limiting alcohol to three drinks a week and caffeine to two cups of coffee per day. Each week has separate guidelines, with week three being the most difficult. By changing meal times and sizes, Dr. Smith aims to rev up a participants metabolism in order to burn more fat. One day per week is devoted to calorie disruption, in which the calories consumed that day are significantly less than other days.

Dr. Smith suggests multiple meal options for every meal and snack during each day, such as a fruit smoothie, a protein smoothie, soup or small salad. He also gives calorie recommendations for meals and snacks, such as a 200-calorie ‘meal’ or a 100 calorie ‘snack.’

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

While Dr. Smith’s detailed plan offers lots of flexibility and encourages a variety of healthy food choices, dieters trying to ‘keep it simple’ or picky eaters may end up eating many of the same items, which could lead to boredom or a lack of specific nutrients. Because every day of every week is different, some readers may give up soon after starting, but others may like the meal plan and included grocery list. Dr. Smith encourages adding exercise for health and to help create ‘negative energy balance.’ He also introduces readers to ‘intermittent fasting’ one day a week, which can be an effective tool for weight management but may be too ambitious for most readers. His list of snacks by calorie-count (100 and 150) are extensive and can help dieters learn approximate calorie counts for common items, which may be beneficial down the road. Lastly, this plan doesn’t transition readers back to a more ‘normal’ eating pattern, nor is it designed to or should be used long-term, and therefore the chances of regaining lost weight are high.

Bottom Line:

Super Shred is simply a very detailed eating plan that puts dieters into a calorie deficit for four weeks in order to jump-start weight loss. When used as recommended, the diet plan can help those trying to lose weight see faster results and gain motivation to continue. The always-changing eating plan may be too much for some readers, but could appeal to those who like structure. In fact, it may very well be the detailed nature of the plan that keeps dieters from focusing on how few calories they are consuming. Conveniently, each day and week is written out separately; no flipping back-and-forth. Dr. Smith repeatedly tells readers that this plan is not designed for long-term use, and also recommends incorporating physical activity and increasing water intake.

The book contains approximately 50 pages of recipes for snacks, smoothies and soups.