A Thumbs Down Book Review
Healing Secrets of Food: A Practical Guide for Nourishing Body, Mind, and Soul
By Deborah Kesten
Review by Willa Keizer
When the cover of the January, 2002 issue of New Age Magazine enticingly invited readers to “Learn the Healing Secrets of Food,” I was hoping that new-agers had finally gotten over their dedication to lowfat veganism and were finally going to show people the true way to health. I was disappointed.
Deborah Kesten’s new book contains many dismaying statements including this one: “Not only do diets high in ‘sat fats’ make you feel sluggish (by lowering the amount of circulating oxygen in the blood), they may impair memory and alter your mood by encouraging depression.” (!!) No sources were given for this tidbit.
Deborah is a nutritionist who works with Dean Ornish. Her goal in writing this book was to “bring ancient food wisdom into the twenty-first century,” a goal similar to that of the Weston A. Price Foundation. As we know, high-quality saturated fats are the key to health and longevity. Kesten disparages fats in almost any form, without even referencing any research to back up her disapproval.
In chapter three, “Healing Secrets of Feelings,” she exhorts readers to “calm down with carbohydrates,” “perk up with protein,” and discusses “memory-dimming [saturated] fat.” She cites the ideas of Richard and Judith Wurtman who claim that eating fats may slow down the production of serotonin, and therefore cause depression. This directly contradicts research which shows that vitamin D, whose only food source is animal fat, can fight chronic fatigue, depression and seasonal affective disorder. Weston Price found that people who ate traditional diets, which were high in saturated fat, were strong, healthy and cheerful. Mood disorders and depression go hand in hand with poor nutrition.
Kesten has several chapters on “healing secrets” and the importance of being mindful, appreciating food and socializing while eating. Although she has some good ideas, they are eclipsed by her dismal dietary advice.
Chapter seven is devoted to urging people to eat fresh, whole foods. She then makes the strange statement that “technically, because they are not plant-based, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products aren’t whole foods.” Huh? I guess making up your own definitions is one way to make your plan seem logical!
She then addresses “the Paleolithic perspective” and makes the false claim, based on the work of Dr. Boyd Eaton, that our Paleolithic ancestors ate a lowfat diet. She claims that wild game has a fat content of about 4 percent. As readers of this journal know, this figure is false. Not only do most wild animals have a much higher fat content, native peoples prized the fat and internal organs over the lean muscle.
The bizarre grand finale of the book is her description of a Christmas dinner of “optimal foods” in Norway, 1995. She describes the typical Norwegian Christmas foods of fresh cod, lutefisk, pork ribs and sausages, dried mutton ribs–all true traditional foods that nourish and sustain during the dark cold winter. For this dinner, however, they came up with a menu that only contained plant foods with a little dairy. The first course was melon soup with freshly squeezed juices. She admits that it was difficult to find fresh produce in Norway during the winter months and how difficult it was to go against custom! This ought to have given her a clue–she’s going against nature with her weird ideas of healing food! How serving a meal consisting mainly of fruits and veggies during a frigid Norwegian winter has anything to do with “ancient food wisdom” is hard to understand. Kesten and her colleagues are welcome to create any strange dietary scheme they like, but please, don’t call it “ancient food wisdom” –-we know better!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2002.