A Thumbs Up Book Review
Politically Incorrect Nutrition: Finding Reality in the Mire of Food Industry Propaganda
Vital Health Publishing, 2004 By Michael Barbee, C.D.C.
The truth is not always easy to hear. This is clearly evidenced in Michael Barbee’s treatise on how to maneuver through the maze of conflicting information when it comes to selecting what to eat today. While the information in this book is solid and well-researched, it’s not a fun book to read. Reading page after page, chapter after chapter about dangerous chemicals and contaminants in our foods is depressing. It seems we take our lives in our hands with each meal.
And yet this is information everyone needs to know. Barbee takes on many of the food issues people find most confusing. For example, most Americans believe that when they switch from coffee to green tea, they are opting for a healthier beverage. Discovering that green tea can be loaded with toxic levels of fluoride is shocking, although organic tea generally does not contain the toxic form. Of particular interest are the studies linking increased absorption of heavy metals like lead and aluminum with the presence of fluoride in municipal water. If this is true, what about mercury, cadmium, and other metals? Clearly more research is needed on the topic. The author also takes on soy, cholesterol, aspartame, bovine growth hormone, vitamin C, vegetarianism and other nutritional controversies.
The chapter on beef and butter focuses on the many health benefits of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), the nutrient that only appears in these foods when the animals have been pasturing on lush, green grass. Although Barbee mistakenly equates CLA with Dr. Price’s X Factor (which is now believed to be vitamin K2), Barbee does a good job of explaining the benefits of consuming the fats found in grassfed dairy and meat, while exposing the dangers of confinement feeding contaminants such as antibiotics and bovine growth hormone and the drawbacks of homogenization in commercial milk processing. It would have been the perfect moment for Barbee to expound on the degradation done to milk by pasteurization as well. While it is briefly mentioned, more needs to be said about the importance of preserving the enzymes and beneficial bacteria found in fresh, raw milk.
Barbee’s explanations on the topic of cholesterol are well-written and comprehensive. An entire chapter is devoted to the importance of consuming adequate fat in the diet, while Barbee effectively explains the value of saturated fats and the dangers of trans fats. In the chapter on eggs, he returns to the topic of cholesterol, and delves into the controversy of cholesterol-lowering drugs, particularly the statins. This, too, is powerful information in light of the exorbitant number of prescriptions written for these medications every day. While Barbee does discuss the fact that statins block absorption of CoQ10 and the relatively rare incidence of rhabdomyolysis, or severe muscle damage (eight in 10,000 will develop it while taking a statin drug), he neglects to mention the more common side effects of statins: extreme muscle pain and statin-induced muscle weakness—five out of 100 will experience one of these conditions while on a statin.
When discussing vegetarianism, Barbee rightly differentiates between the proscription of meat-eating based on philosophical tenets versus avoiding animal flesh for health reasons. He does a nice job of laying out the various deficiencies that will arise, sooner or later, if one is a vegetarian and not entirely vigilant about ensuring that nutrient needs are covered. He does allow for the possibility of a healthy vegan, provided one supplements with vitamins A, D, and B12. There is little clinical evidence to support this possibility in the long-term, however.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is found at the beginning of every chapter. Each topic opens with two polarities: the prevailing propaganda, followed by the reality and truth regarding the issue. For example in the chapter on fluoride, the prevailing propaganda is that fluoride prevents tooth decay and is harmless. The reality is that fluoride is a toxic poison that accumulates in the body to cause various deleterious effects.
This is a book I would suggest to someone who is passionate about food. It’s perfect for people who have already made dietary revisions and wants to refine their lifestyle even more. I wouldn’t recommend it for a client who is stepping into the arena of nutrient-dense foods for the first time as it might prove too overwhelming. But when you reach that point in your journey and are ready to make a deeper commitment to your health, this book has a lot to offer.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2008.