Review of "The Best Things You Can Eat"

By David Grotto
Da Capo Press, 2013
Review by Roy Sugarman, Ph.D. on Sep 17th 2013
The Best Things You Can Eat

Grotto has addressed a market that increasingly, or at least so we hope, is turning toward healthy eating.  Added to this, a hundred questions a day surround the two hundred eating choices we make, namely, is this good for me or alternatively, what does this food do for me versus another?

Despite the total absence of any real application of value for consuming vitamins in a healthy person, millions still pop pills each day, even those that according to some studies actually shorten our lifespan, and so his first chapter covers those top 7 sources of the 14 vitamins included here.

So for instance, take Vitamin B5, Pantothenic Acid: actually don't take it, but rather eat the number one source of it, beef liver, or for the veggies out there, Shiitake mushrooms; down the line, Braunschweiger (don't ask, but liver is in there again), followed by trout, yoghurt, corn and finally, and I have no idea why I can't put this first, apart from cost, is Lobster. That makes up the magnificent 7, and if you want to know what Vit B5 does, read the book. Given the B group are water soluble, it is a good idea to keep eating Lobster every three hours. Okay, but it is better than Beef Liver every three hours!

So again, diving into that first part, Vit E is sourced from almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, sunflower oil, safflower, turnips, and hazelnuts.  A chart in each segment contains information of all kinds, such as recommended daily allowances, and sneak charts that help you avoid reading the whole chapter. Little breakout boxes have pithy extra bits of information, such as the fact that sunflower oil has a high smoke point and so is good for cooking with, versus, say, olive oil, which becomes rancid at a lower temperature, or coconut oil, which is just about blowtorch indestructible.  The recommendation in another box is thus to say that fried chips will thus contain more Vit E than potatoes, which are not in the magnificent 7 list here, so “crunch in moderation” is the advice on page 53.

As with antioxidants for instance, where supplements have proven worrying in terms of harm, an upper limit on Vitamins such as 'K' for instance is warranted, not in terms of dietary intake, but in terms of supplements which can cause liver damage and jaundice, detracting from the healthy intake which supports coagulation, bone integrity, and also interacts therefore with Warfarin blood thinner, hence a caution or two.

Done with the vitamins, then we are into the minerals with the same treatment.  Chapter Three moves into fats, fibers and phytosterols, namely the various forms of fats and fibers, and the plant sterols. As with most traditional nutritionists, he sticks to the advice of limiting your intake to very lean meat, and low fact dairy products, which when revealed to my colleagues, evoked cries of despair and comments on the Paleo Diet, and the dangers of high sugar in low-fat products.  The debate then rages against his promotion of things that lower cholesterol, but here we get into even more contentious waters.  Likewise, he promotes in first place for Omega-3 oils, the humble flaxseed, as well as then chia seeds, then walnuts, and finally salmon in fourth place, then soybeans and herring followed by sablefish.  Again my colleagues rail at this, saying they agree, but that the body cannot extract the Omega 3 the way it needs to from seeds, and does so easily when fish have already done the hard work in converting it to make it easier. They ain't mad about the soy either, as he points out the value of soy in breast cancer, and my colleagues say that is because soy is messing around with the hormones and only the fermented soy, not edamame or tofu, should be consumed, because of the phytoestrogen which is imparting health benefits while messing with the thyroid or something.  So again, a simple book like this, packed with good advice, is coming into a field replete with contentious issues.  Just a look at WebMD will confirm this, when you plug in the term soy.

When it comes to the plant oils, sesame has first place, then rice bran, sunflower, corn, canola, pistachio and finally wheat germ oil. And a quick mention of the humble pistachio: it is mentioned in the bible, and has been around we think, for 9000 years. Given sesame is seen on hamburger buns, and the comments above about  the fried chips, it may make my burger and fries tonight look a lot better, or at least, justifiable I hope!

The book is after all about providing a compendium for healthy, an encyclopedia about what does what, so the second section covers food for whatever ails, us, mainly, digestion, heart health and blood pressure, sugar issues, things in the mouth, ageing, aches and pains, flue and so on, including cancer fighting foods. The statin controversy since the emergence of the Jupiter studies has left many people wondering whether it is worth it, given the lack of evidence for prevention, and given the author here is anti-cholesterol, the value of strawberries and okra as cholesterol lowering foods is up front here, although he doesn't mention Israeli studies on the value of apples by the way, but almonds are right up there in his list, after almonds, adding to their value with a discussion later on about 80 pages or so, on the value of the pectin in apples. Flaxseeds are in as well, given their lignan content, and garlic, oatmeal, olive oil, psyllium husks, and soybeans again, and now he mentions the bad rap in the press about the phytoestrogens! He does reassure us not to worry, as the US Government has given soy its stamp of approval. This comment is enough to drive most of us a little crazy, given the influence of so many companies on what the government says, and the fact that most of us trust that like we trust Bernie Madoff. However, of course there are a lot of studies that would show the benefits of soy, although I prefer fermented soy, as opposed to worrying about the thyroid and hormones. He gets by this by reverting to the old chestnut, namely, 'in moderation'. This last also seems to drive some nutritionists here nuts, but I will move on.

As far as HDL is concerned, which I think we all agree on, the usual information is given, namely limit sugars, get fish and plant fats in, avoid saturated and trans fats, boost fiber, stop smoking, shed weight, get active, drink alcohol in moderation. He also advocates, avocado, chocolate, olive oil, orange juice (I thought he said avoid sugars?), pumpkin seeds and oil (phytoestrogens again!), wine (red, in moderation), and of course the caveat is that alcohol and all sugars are verboten because of the capacity to raise triglycerides.  Salmon, oats, psyllium etc are back on this list.

If you are worried about bad breath, then apples, cherries, lettuce milk, pears, green tea, yoghurt, are all recommended. When it comes to cavities, apples, cheese, cocoa, cranberries, peanuts, black tea, yoghurt and kefir, are all good. Still in the mouth, moving to the gums, some of the previous get a mention, but carrot juice, quinoa, salmon and spinach get added.

Most people my age are interested in not feeling or looking like it, and I am happy to see that along with all the good advice in the book is a suggestion to carefully include son in our activities, owing to the value of the Vitamin D.  Carotenoid vegetables get the nod, and he again wise cautions about getting health via eating before supplementation.  Grapes and wine are given the nod, because of the resveratrol component, but watching the life lectures from the Harvard genetics lab guys, their contention is we would have to drink tons of it, killing ourselves, before getting the benefit: I'll just drink a bit and hope for the best. Olive oil, salmon, soybeans again, whey,  are all given up as good along with the other recommendations, far too few I think.

For pain, cherries, ginger, hot peppers, salmon and turmeric are offered up as palliative.  On the other hand, abstaining from nightshade plants, such as tomato, potatoes, eggplant and peppers is thought to help by avoiding solanines.  Adding supplements of Omega-3, glucosamine, Vit D, cayenne, and a few other things is thought to help, seemingly focused on arthritic joints more than anything else.

Fighting colds and flu includes adding apples, chicken soup, garlic, elderberries and green tea.  More ominous diseases, like cancer, are best avoided by black beans, black raspberries, broccoli, garlic, grapes, spinach and tomatoes, and a recent addition, mushrooms (that is 8 by the way).

The best dairy foods are next, best grains (the Paleo stars are now weeping!), best nuts (almonds predictably top the list), best fruits (apples, you would predict from reading his book , and they are), best vegetables (no, it's asparagus on top, followed by artichokes, beans, broccoli, carrots etc.), and surprisingly, snack foods, which most will feel should not be here, given some societies outside the USA do not snack at all.  He deals with this, showing how snackers have a more nutrient-dense diet. I leave it to you to judge.

It's a readable, great book, with most controversies dealt with nicely, some a little contentiously, but he knows more than I do, so I will bow away and leave it to real  nutritionists to discuss.  For the layman, and for me, it is a great handbook for what is good and what is not so good, and the rank-ordering of various foods.

Given the impact of poor eating on westerners worldwide, this is a valuable reference for parents especially, helping children get healthy earlier, as he makes the point that ageing starts very young.  Importantly, what works to do what in your body is literally a vital issue.  Well worth keeping on your bookshelf.


© 2013 Roy Sugarman


Roy Sugarman, PhD, Director, Applied Neuroscience, Athletes Performance USA


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