The Jungle Effect: Healthiest Diets from Around the World—Why They Work and How to Make Them Work for You
By Daphne Miller, MD
HarperCollins Publishers, 2009
Review by Tim Boyd
The Jungle Effect focuses on so-called “cold spots” in the world, where incidences of particular diseases are significantly lower than average. Already, the basic approach makes me suspicious. A tunnel vision focus on one or two medical conditions while ignoring the bigger picture is a popular approach that can lead to trouble.
The first cold spot visited is Copper Canyon, Mexico, where diabetes is fairly rare due to the prevalence of slow-release carbohydrate foods. Copper Canyon residents consume some, but not a lot of animal-based foods. Their overall health is not clearly described beyond their very low rate of diabetes. About all we learn from the description is that eating foods that spike your insulin levels is bad for your health—something I think most people already know. Skipping ahead, other cold spots are Iceland (cold in more ways than one), Cameroon and Okinawa.
The second locale covered in The Jungle Effect is Crete, which is a cold spot for heart disease. Miller credits this protection to olive oil, but not to the fatty lamb and rich goat cheese that forms the basis of their diet.
We are only a few pages into the description of this cold spot when we start hearing about the Seven Countries Study by none other than Ancel “cherry-picker” Keys. The author presents this study as though it is a landmark breakthrough in nutrition understanding. I would use other words such as landmine and breakdown. Dr. Keys (cherry) picked seven countries. The ones with the highest saturated fat consumption had the highest rate of heart disease, whereas countries with the lowest saturated fat consumption had the least heart disease. Keys drew this all out on a nice, neat graph. This might be quite convincing if he hadn’t ignored data from over a dozen other countries. When those data are added to his graph, the nice, neat line turns to limp spaghetti, completely demolishing his theory. With studies like that, who needs science? Needless to say, the author completely lost me right there.
More politically correct inaccuracies: people in Cameroon don’t get colon cancer because they don’t eat a lot of saturated fat, (but all that millet, sorghum, maize, plantain and rice they eat gets turned into saturated fat—Miller says they eat brown rice in Cameroon, but I guarantee you, it is white rice); Icelanders don’t get depressed because they get a lot of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, and also from lamb and dairy foods since the animals eat moss (they also get a lot of vitamin A from cod liver oil, but Miller says too much vitamin A is bad for us); Okinawans avoid breast and prostate cancer by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, seaweed and getting plenty of selenium (no mention of the fact that they cook, or at least used to cook, in lard).
Even though Daphne Miller has at least heard of Weston Price and the Weston A. Price Foundation and mentions both favorably, she either is not extremely familiar or is not on board with WAPF dietary principles. There is more saturated fat bashing scattered through the book. Miller does allow for some animal-based food in healthy diets, but it is lowfat and kept to a minimum. My big, fat thumb is down for this one.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2009.