The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body
by Tyler Graham and Drew Ramsey, MD
Rodale Books, 2011
Scattered throughout this book are the top hundred reasons to avoid processed foods. And that is the short list. Reason number one points out that castoreum, which is used as a flavor enhancer in puddings, candies, and some frozen dairy desserts, comes from beaver anal glands. I think I’ll pass on dessert. Reason number thirty-nine reports that eight ounces of packaged macaroni are permitted by law to contain four and one-half rodent hairs. Who comes up with this stuff? Not three hairs, or five, or even four, but four and one-half. Do inspectors actually count hairs in macaroni? What if the hair is not from a rodent? Are all rodent hairs the same length? If not, how do you know whether you are looking at a third of a hair or two thirds of a hair? Never mind; I digress.
There is some interesting history in this book. Dr. John Pemberton was injured in the American Civil War and became addicted to morphine. He developed an elixir to cure his addiction and called it Pemberton’s French Wine of Coca, made from Bordeaux wine and extracts of coca leaf and kola nut. When Atlanta outlawed alcohol, he replaced the wine with sugar water and called the concoction Coca Cola. In 1915 it came in a six-ounce bottle. Now we have a portion size called “Big Gulp” in which you can almost swim. These changes to the kinds of foods (I use that term loosely) available have a lot to do with the reason why mental depression is at an all-time high in the U.S.
We get more history in the following pages on the development of Crisco and how the essential nutrient called cholesterol came to be framed as public health enemy number one. Then there is the story of pesticides being developed from the toxic by-products of the oil industry. One of the first was produced by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company and was called Flit. The illustrator for the Flit ad campaign was Theodor Geisel. He achieved greater fame later when he wrote children’s books like Green Eggs and Ham under the name of Dr. Seuss.
It makes perfect sense that inundation with fake foods and toxic chemicals would have a detrimental effect on mental health. So what advice do Graham and Ramsey have? They recommend eating foods with key nutrients that promote good mental health, including vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin D, minerals, cholesterol and fats. I think they’re on to something. They do a good job of explaining why vitamin B12, cholesterol and saturated fat are particularly essential, and recommend getting all these nutrients from real food, not pills.
The importance of animal fat is emphasized in more than one section in this book. Good fats found in whole milk, butter, eggs, and meat are promoted repeatedly. If you want any serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone) in your brain, you want cholesterol. Today the average American suffers the double whammy of toxic food-like substances in the commercial food stream along with aggressive propaganda to scare us off all the good brain foods. Actually there are other whammies, but don’t get me started.
There is a good chapter on decoding food packaging labels. The label “natural” has no real meaning in the food industry. Our authors properly point out that you even have to be wary of the “organic” label. Trans fats are still alive and well in processed foods everywhere, and in some cases are being replaced with interesterified fats, which are probably as bad. After sections on meal plans and recipes there is a bonus chapter on the top hundred reasons to avoid supplements which is worth a look. That is followed by an appendix defining the various kinds of fats. All of this adds up to a thumbs UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2012.