A Whole Foods Primer and The Sweetener Trap & How to Avoid It
By Beatrice Trum Hunter
Basic Health Publications, 2007
Reviewed by Kathy Kramer, CN
Beatrice Trum Hunter has been writing about food and nutrition for over thirty years and now at the age of ninety, she is still going strong. The fact that she has published two more books on her favorite subject at an age when most of us would be lulling our brains in quiet retirement is a tribute to her dedication to good health and the positive effects of a lifetime of careful eating.
Both A Whole Foods Primer: A Comprehensive, Instructive, and Enlightening Guide to the World of Whole Foods and The Sweetener Trap & How to Avoid It are thoroughly researched and cover their topics extensively, giving the historic and current use of a food, the benefits or concerns it offers, and practical tips. Her points are supported by many studies. These books are good resources as well as enjoyable to read.
A Whole Foods Primer has five chapters covering vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and protein foods.
Her primer offers practical points such as how to make vinegar easily and how to select certain fruits and vegetables in the store. She presents interesting details about the history of tomatoes, and of artichokes, which were considered suitable for banquets by wealthy ancient Romans. She refers to many studies explaining the health benefits of certain foods, such as why cranberries help with urinary tract problems.
In the chapter on grains, Hunter explains what happened to grains with the advent of steelrolling mills. Grains are praised for their health benefits but Hunter recognizes the fact that not everyone can consume them. Regarding nuts, she offers a thorough summary of their variety. She praises nuts as a high-fat food and explains the benefits of nuts in heart health.
The protein section addresses amino acids thoroughly, offers a good overview of the nutritional value of eggs and refutes many myths, such as the idea that we should discard the skin of poultry. She covers organ and muscle meats, problems with soy foods and addresses the question of how much protein we actually need.
Hunter has an interesting section on the question of which is safer, a wooden or plastic cutting board. Much to their surprise, researchers found that wooden boards were more sanitary.
Learning the history of many common foods helps us appreciate them not just for their nutritional value but as a food that has been enjoyed and useful to humans over countless years.
Unfortunately, a chapter on fats and oils is missing in Hunter’s primer. But other than this unfortunate oversight, the book is thorough and scientific, yet short and easy to read.
The Sweetener Trap & How to Avoid It offers the same thorough investigation, this time into sweeteners. Hunter provides a helpful glossary of sweetener terms and shares practical strategies for avoiding sweeteners. Her suggestion is to avoid sweeteners except on special occasions. In doing so, the natural sweetness of whole foods can be better appreciated.
The book is an excellent resource cataloging sweeteners— some common and some rare. It covers traditional sweeteners, plant-derived sweeteners, synthetic sweeteners, and potential future sweeteners. If you are puzzled by sugar polyols (such as xylitol and mannitol), her chapter explains them well. She extensively covers the development of high fructose corn syrup, its appeal to industry and health concerns related to copper, chromium and magnesium deficiencies. Fruit juices are explained and caution given. The mistaken idea that fruit-juice sweetened jellies and jams are superior is clarified.
Hunter presents many interesting points, such as the historic use of stevia in Paraguay, the favorable and extensive research of stevia in Japan, and yet the disfavor given stevia by our FDA. Also, interesting was her short but thorough explanation of the shortcomings of the concept of the Glycemic Index. Many factors affect a food’s GI such as cooking time. White flour spaghetti, for example, cooked for five minutes had a GI of 341 but cooked for ten to fifteen minutes had a GI of only 40.
In this book honey seems to receive the best “thumbs up” but her final word is to avoid sweeteners as much as possible.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2008.