Book Review: Unmasking Superfoods

Unmasking Superfoods: The Truth and Hype about Acai, Quinoa, Chia, Blueberries and More
By Jennifer Sygo, RD
HarperCollins (2014)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD

Claims:

This book isn’t as much a diet plan as it is a ‘user’s guide’ to the environment of over-hyped and under-performing ‘foods’ (as well as those that live up to the name) available to anyone with an Amazon account.  Written by a Canadian Registered Dietitian, Unmasking Superfoods seeks to inform readers of the facts and give them her own ‘bottom line’ about each supposed ‘superfood.’

Synopsis of Diet Plan:

Sygo arranges the book into five chapters, beginning with the most mainstream and talked-about foods, such as acai and goji berries, to the classics, like almonds, and even those that fly under the radar, like oysters and pistachios. For each item discussed in the book, Sygo presents ‘the science’ behind its nutritional claims, often debunking them due to lack of actual scientific evidence. Additionally, Sygo includes the nutritional information for each food, a little background as to why it may be considered a superfood, and a ‘bottom line’ from a dietitian’s perspective.  Her typical advice?  Eat real food instead of supplements, practice portion control, and don’t believe everything you hear/read/see.  She also addresses countless health- and nutrition-related concerns throughout the book, such as cholesterol and eggs, peanut allergies and caffeine intake.

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

Perhaps the best chapters of this book are those that remind readers of the ‘true’ superfoods, from the ones that have gotten a black eye recently, (beef, cheese, cocoa, eggs, peanut butter), the classics (almonds, avocados, beans, chickpeas, lentils, beets, blueberries, broccoli, green tea, oats, kale, strawberries, spinach, sweet potatoes, walnuts) and those that aren’t recognized as being ‘super’ (amaranth, collard greens, kiwi, oysters, mussels, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds).  Readers are presented with unbiased information about each food and related health and nutrition concerns that are backed up with references for studies throughout.

Bottom Line:

There is so much to like about this book.  If you’ve ever fallen into the trap of a ‘superfood,’ consider doing a little homework before buying expensive supplements or putting too much emphasis on one food over another.  While some foods are certainly more nutritionally dense than others, ALL real food (I’m talking meat, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, some dairy) ARE super in their own right.  Whole foods are packed with everything we need for our bodies to function: carbohydrates, healthy fat, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber. It’s always best to eat a well-balanced diet full of variety in order to meet all your nutritional needs, rather than rely on pills, powders, smoothies or a single food with over-hyped health claims.

 

 

Book Review: It Starts with Food

It Starts with Food
By Dallas & Melissa Hartwig
(Victory Belt Publishing, 2012)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD

Claims:

Dallas and Melissa Hartwig debuted their ‘Whole30’ program in 2009, after they themselves ‘changed their lives in 30 days’ after adopting a strict Paleo diet, “no cheats, no slips.” Each chapter begins with a different Wholer30er’s testimonial of how the program has done everything from improving skin to controlling blood sugar to incredible weight loss, and everything in between. The Hartwigs base their approach on four ‘good food’ standards: that food should promote a healthy psychological response, a healthy hormonal response, support a healthy gut, and support immune function and minimize inflammation. According to the book, the program is based on scientific research (references are in the back), clinical experience (the ‘tens of thousands’ Whole30ers) and self-experimentation (the reader’s own findings while doing the program).

 Synopsis of Diet Plan:

The Whole30 program is a Paleo eating pattern ‘on steroids.’ In addition to the usual Paleo no-no’s (grains, legumes, dairy), the Hartwigs also prohibit soy, alcohol, seed oils, artificial and added sugars, nor can you recreate ‘junk food’ with allowed ingredients. Weighing yourself is also not allowed, as the Hartwigs insist that the program is not for weight loss, but for becoming healthier and weighing oneself may cause participants to become discouraged if the result is not as they expected. Participants CAN eat meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit and natural fats; a recommended meal is made up of one to two ‘fistfuls’ of protein and a plateful of vegetables with a fat source, like avocado. Participants are expected to follow the rules even when eating at restaurants, which can be difficult.

The Hartwigs claim that much of our poor health is due to our food choices, especially that of sugar, which breaks all of their ‘good food’ standards by promoting overconsumption of certain foods, a hormonal imbalance, poor gut health and inflammation. Their program is an elimination diet of sorts, complete with a 10-day reintroduction period in order to assess your body’s response to the offending foods.

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

While the Whole30 program eliminates not one, but two food groups, there is a lot to like. First, it’s meant to be a short-term ‘reset’ to one’s diet by focusing on the most nutritious foods, despite the fact that the ‘diet’ itself is sustainable. Second, the program addresses readers’ addictions to problematic foods, even if those foods are ‘approved’ items. Third, the program promotes label reading and awareness of ingredients, a skill useful to anyone trying to eat healthily. Lastly, there are no complicated food lists of specific types of meats, fruits or vegetables. With very few exceptions all fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs are allowed, and there is no need to calorie-count. Recommended fat sources include coconut and olive oils, nuts, seeds and avocados. Unfortunately, the program’s ‘all or nothing’ approach and extreme restrictions may turn off many readers.

The Hartwigs’ main point is to get readers to eat only super-healthy food for 30 days; they see grains, dairy and legumes as ‘crowding out’ healthier options on your plate. They also promote the idea that gluten contributes to ‘leaky gut,’ and that legumes are poorly digested, leading to inappropriate immune responses, neither of which are supported by a preponderance of research. One of the reasons meat, seafood and eggs are recommended is that they are a complete protein (meaning they provide all the essential amino acids in the correct proportions), as well as being a good source of heme iron and B vitamins. Additionally, studies show that calcium from kale, greens, broccoli, bone broth, salmon, almonds, walnuts, oysters is better absorbed than calcium from milk.

 Bottom Line:

The Whole30 isn’t for appropriate for many readers due to its restrictive nature, but the structure/challenge may appeal to others looking for or willing to make drastic changes. Because we can get everything we need nutritionally from meat, eggs, vegetables and fruit, the diet is appropriate for either a short-term reset or a longer-term eating pattern. By addressing readers’ unhealthy relationships with food and teaching label reading, the program empowers participants in a way other ‘diets’ do not.   Additionally, the Whole30 program goes a step further by using online and social media resources to provide participants with support during a program. While it’s solidly in the ‘fad diet’ realm, participating in a Whole30 program once (or once a year) can help readers achieve long-term health and fitness goals and break bad food habits.

The book includes a 25-page Appendix of recipes, including ‘master’ recipes for each type of protein, as well as multiple variations for each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Eat Right 4 Your Type

Eat Right 4 Your Type
By Peter J. D’Adamo, MD
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD

Claims:

Dr. D’Adamo, a naturopath and physician, asserts that our blood type reflects our “ability to acclimate to different environmental challenges,” including issues with our digestive tracts and immune systems, and influences our risk for certain diseases, our reactions to stress and even the individuality of the bacteria in our GI tract. According to Dr. D’Adamo, Type O hunter-gatherers came first, then Type A developed as our lifestyles became more agrarian, then Type B resulted from the merging of peoples in Africa with those in Europe, Asia and the Americas, and further intermingling of races produced Type AB. He believes that our blood type determines what kind of foods we should eat for optimal health. Specifically, much of the preference for or against a certain food is a blood type’s reaction to lectins, proteins found in food that, according to Dr. D’Adamo, can agglutinate in the body and affect digestion and even lead to other health issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome or cirrhosis.

Synopsis of Diet Plan:

Each blood type includes food recommendations at three tiers (highly beneficial, neutral, avoid) for each food group, and portions per week based on ancestry (African, Caucasian, Asian). Strategies for weight loss—while not the sole purpose of the book—is part of each type’s recommendations. Also included are beverage, spice and condiment recommendations, a three-day sample meal plan and approximately 10-15 recipes. Additionally, he recommends different supplements, stress management, exercise suggestions and a note on each type’s ‘personality.’

Type O = meat-eater

As the ‘original’ blood type and hunter-gatherer, Dr. D’Adamo claims that Type O’s have not only more stomach acid but also a greater ability to digest both fat and protein well. On the flip side, he says, carbohydrates—namely those from grains—are not as well digested and turned into fat and increase inflammation in the body. Type O’s are to eat red meat, poultry and seafood, very little dairy, lots of nuts and seeds, as well as almost all vegetables, except those in the Brassica family (cabbage, cauliflower, etc..). Foods to avoid include most beans, cereals, grains, breads and pastas. Coffee is to be avoided as it leads to increased levels of stomach acid, which Type O’s don’t need. Because of Type O’s high response to stress, exercise is essential, and high-intensity activities, such as aerobics, cycling and contact sports are recommended for 30-60 minutes three to four times a week. (Author’s note: Prior to reading this book, I gravitated to a mostly ‘paleo-style’ diet—heavy on meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables—while limiting grains and dairy—and engaging in high-intensity exercise, such as running, cycling and kickbox, because that diet and exercise regimen make me feel the most healthy. I am Type O.)

Type A = vegetarian

According to Dr. D’Adamo, Type A stomach acid makeup favors the digestion of carbohydrates over protein and fat. He recommends an all/mostly vegetarian diet for Type A, but does allow some fish for those of Caucasian and Asian descent. Wheat and grains are beneficial for Type A, with up to 10 one-cup portions of whole grains allowed per week. He also recommends eating mostly raw, organic fruits and vegetables. For stress relief and exercise, Dr. D’Adamo recommends calming, relaxing activities, such as yoga or walking, and claims that “highly competitive sports and exercises…exhaust your nervous energy…and leave your immune system open to illness or disease.”

Type B = flexitarian

Dr. D’Adamo says Type B’s tend to produce high levels of cortisol, which can lead to higher levels of inflammation and a greater risk for disease. The recommended diet is a mix of meat and plants, but chicken should be avoided, as well as corn, wheat, tomatoes and peanuts, which promote weight gain. Recommended red meats include lamb, rabbit and venison. Other recommended foods include green vegetables, eggs and low-fat dairy. Exercise recommendations for Type B focus on both mental and physical activities, such as golf, martial arts and hiking.

Type AB = A + B (mostly)

The book claims that those with Type AB blood can usually stick to a combination of the recommendations for Types A and B. If a food isn’t recommended for either type, it’s mostly likely not recommended for AB. There is an exception for a specific type of lectin, an example of which is the tomato. According to Dr. D’Adamo, Type AB’s are more energetic than A’s, their immune systems are more ‘tolerant,’ but their digestive tracts are more ‘sensitive’ and that while they have sufficient stomach acid to digest meat, it tends to get stored as fat. Recommended foods for Type AB include seafood, green vegetables and dairy, especially yogurt and kefir. Dr. D’Adamo claims cured meats can cause stomach cancer in this blood type. Smaller, more frequent meals may help digestion, and a mixture of calming and more intense exercise is recommended.

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

On the upside, Dr. D’Adamo recommends only real, whole foods and even provides correct portion sizes and frequency per week. Every blood type benefits, he says, from fruits and vegetables, therefore each recommended diet is sufficient in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Fish is also recommended for each diet. However, as almost-vegetarians, Type A’s may need to ensure they eat proper protein sources and variety, not to mention that some Type A readers may not even WANT to become vegetarians. Additionally, while his ‘highly beneficial/neutral/avoid’ list is easy to understand, it might be too restrictive for some readers. In order to ease the transition, Dr. D’Adamo even provides a four-week elimination plan for each blood type. Readers should consult their doctor before beginning a supplement regimen beyond a basic multivitamin. Lastly, Dr. D’Adamo’s recognition of the importance of stress-relief and exercise for overall health is commendable, even if readers don’t all fit into his blood-type boxes.

Bottom Line:

There is no scientific evidence, or even much support for Dr. D’Adamo’s claims, and there is even evidence to suggest that Type A was the original blood type, not O like the author suggests. That being said, the diet itself isn’t harmful. Eating lots of fruits, vegetables and lean meats is a good idea for almost all readers. Highly motivated readers may ’buy-in’ to the importance of individualizing their diet by their blood type; however, they should not forget that there are more important factors to include when adjusting their diet, such as their own medical history, weight loss needs (if any) and preferences. Dr. D’Adamo’s recommended food lists seem arbitrary at best, and should not discourage participants from eating healthy options even if they appear on an ‘avoid’ list.

Each blood type includes approx. 10-12 recipes and a three-day sample menu.