Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Zest For Life

A few years ago I read and reviewed Zest For Life: The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet, by Conner Middelmann-Whitney, published in 2011. Per Amazon.com’s rating system, I give it five stars (I love it).

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The lifetime risk of developing invasive cancer in the U.S. is four in ten: a little higher for men, a little lower for women.  Those are scary odds.  Cancer is second only to heart disease as a cause of death in western societies.  The Mediterranean diet has a well established track record of protecting against cancers of the prostate, colon/rectum, uterus, and breast.  Preliminary data suggest protection against melanoma and stomach cancer, too.  I’m not aware of any other way of eating that can make similar claims.

So it makes great sense to spread the word on how to eat Mediterranean-style, to lower your risk of developing cancer.  Such is the goal of Zest For Life’s author.  The Mediterranean diet is mostly, although by no means exclusively, plant-based.  It encourages consumption of natural, minimally processed, locally grown foods.  Generally, it’s rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, olive oil, whole grains, red wine, and nuts. It’s low to moderate in meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt).

Note that one of the four longevity hot spots featured in Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones was Mediterranean: Sardinia.  All four Blue Zones were characterized by plant-based diets of minimally processed, locally grown foods. (I argue that Okinawa and the Nicoya Peninsula dwellers ate little meat simply due to economic factors.)

Proper diet won’t prevent all cancer, but perhaps 10-20% of common cancer cases, such as prostate, breast, colorectal, and uterine cancer.  A natural, nutrient-rich, mostly plant-based diet seems to bolster our defenses against cancer.

Ms. Middelmann-Whitney is no wacko claiming you can cure your cancer with the right diet modifications.  She writes, “…I do not advocate food as a cancer treatment once the disease has declared itself….”

She never brings it up herself, but I detect a streak of paleo diet advocacy in her.  Several of her references are from Loren Cordain, one of the gurus of the modern paleo diet movement.

She also mentions the ideas of Michael Pollan very favorably.

She’s not as high on whole grains as most of the other current nutrition writers.  She points out that, calorie for calorie, whole grains are not as nutrient-rich as vegetables and fruits.  Speaking of which, she notes that veggies generally have more nutrients than fruits. Furthermore, she says, grain-based flours probably contribute to overweight and obesity. She suggests that many people eat too many grains and would benefit by substituting more nutrient-rich foods, such as veggies and fruits.

Some interesting things I learned were 1) the 10 most dangerous foods to eat while driving, 2) the significance of organized religion in limiting meat consumption in some Mediterranean regions, 3) we probably eat too many omega-6 fatty acids, moving the omega-6/omega-3 ratio away from the ideal of 2:1 or 3:1 (another paleo diet principle), 4) one reason nitrites are added to processed meats is to create a pleasing red color (they impair bacterial growth, too), 5) fresh herbs are better added towards the end of cooking, whereas dried herbs can be added earlier, 6) 57% of calories in western societies are largely “empty calories:” refined sugar, flour, and industrially processed vegetable oils, and 7) refined sugar consumption in the U.S. was 11 lb (5 kg) in the 1830s, rising to 155 lb (70 kg) by 2000.

Any problems with the book?  The font size is a bit small for me; if that worries you, get the Kindle edition and choose your size.  She mentions that omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are “essential” fats. I bet she meant to say specifically that linolenic and linoleic fatty acids are essential (our bodies can’t make them); linolenic happens to be an omega-3, linoleic is an omega-6.  Reference #8 in chapter three is missing.  She states that red and processed meats cause cancer (the studies are inconclusive).  I’m not sure that cooking in or with polyunsaturated plant oils causes formation of free radicals that we need to worry about.

As would be expected, the author and I don’t see eye to eye on everything.  For example, she worries about bisphenol-A, pesticide residue, saturated fat, excessive red meat consumption, and strongly prefers pastured beef and free-range chickens and eggs.  I don’t worry much.  She also subscribes to the popular “precautionary principle.”

The author shares over 150 recipes to get you started on your road to cancer prevention.  I easily found 15 I want to try.  She covers all the bases on shopping for food, cooking, outfitting a basic kitchen, dining out, shopping on a strict budget, etc.  Highly practical for beginning cooks.  Numerous scientific references are listed for you skeptics.

I recommend this book to all adults, particularly for those with a strong family history of cancer.  But following the author’s recommendations would do more than lower your risk of cancer.  You’d likely have a longer lifespan, lose some excess fat weight,  and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, stroke, and vision loss from macular degeneration.  Particularly compared to the standard American diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclosure: The author arranged a free copy of the book for me, otherwise I recieved nothing of value for writing this review.

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What’s the Best Diet for Type 2 Diabetics?

DietDoctor has some ideas based on a recent scientific study:

new exciting Swedish study provides us with strong clues on how a person with diabetes should eat (and how to eat to maximize fat burning). It’s the first study to examine in detail how various blood markers change throughout the day depending on what a diabetic person eats.

The study examined the effects of three different diets in 19 subjects with diabetes type 2. They consumed breakfast and lunch under supervision in a diabetes ward. The caloric intake in the three diets examined was the same, but the diets differed in the following manner:

  1. A conventional low-fat diet (45-56% carbs)
  2. A Mediterranean diet with coffee only for breakfast (= similar to 16:8 intermittent fasting) and a big lunch (32-35% carbs)
  3. A moderate low-carbohydrate diet (16-24% carbs)

All participants tested all three diets, one diet each day in randomized order.

Click through for results. Hint: Carbohydrate restriction works.

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Book Review: The Heart Healthy Lifestyle – The Prevention and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes

I just finished an ebook, The Heart Healthy Lifestyle: The Prevention and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes by Sean Preuss, published in 2013. Per Amazon.com’s rating system, I give it five stars (I love it).

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This is an invaluable resource for 1) anyone recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, 2) those who aren’t responding well to their current therapeutic regimen, and 3) type 2 diabetics who want to reduce their drug use.

Strength Training Helps Get Excess Blood Sugar Out of Circulation

Strength Training Helps Get Excess Blood Sugar Out of Circulation

Mr. Preuss is a fitness trainer who has worked with many type 2 diabetics. He demonstrates great familiarity with the issues diabetics face on a daily basis. His science-based recommendations are familiar to me since I reviewed many of his references at my blog, Diabetic Mediterranean Diet.

Like me, Mr. Preuss recognizes the primacy of lifestyle modification over drug therapy for type 2 diabetes, as long as drugs can safely be avoided or postponed. The main lifestyle factors are diet and exercise. Too many physicians don’t spend enough time on these, preferring instead to whip out the prescription pad and say, “Here ya go. I’ll see you in three months.”

I have gradually come to realize that most of my sedentary type 2 diabetes patients need to start a work-out program in a gym where they can get some personal attention. That’s Mr. Preuss’s opinion, too. The clearly explained strength training program he recommends utilizes machines most commonly found in a gym, although some home gyms will have them also. His regimen is easily done in 15-20 minute sessions two or three times a week.

He also recommends aerobic activity, such as walking at least several days a week. He recommends a minimum of 113 minutes a week of low intensity aerobic work, citing evidence that it’s more effective than higher intensity effort for improving insulin sensitivity.

I don’t recall specific mention of High Intensity Interval Training. HIIT holds great promise for delivering the benefits of aerobic exercise in only a quarter of the time devoted to lower intensity aerobics. It may be that it just hasn’t been studied in type 2 diabetics yet.

I was glad to see all of Mr. Preuss’s scientific references involved humans, particularly those with type 2 diabetes. No mouse studies here!

Another strength of the book is that Sean tells you how to use psychological tricks to make the necessary lifestyle changes.

The author notes that vinegar can help control blood sugars. He suggests, if you can tolerate it, drinking straight (undiluted) red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar – 2 tbsp at bedtime or before carbohydrate consumption. I’ve heard rumors that this could be harmful to teeth, so I’d do some research or ask my dentist before drinking straight vinegar regularly. For all I know, it could be perfectly harmless. If you have a definitive answer, please share in the comments section below.

I read a pertinent vinegar study out of the University of Arizona from 2010 and reviewed it at one of my blogs. The most effective dose of vinegar was 10 g (about two teaspoons or 10 ml) of 5% acetic acid vinegar (either Heinz apple cider vinegar or Star Fine Foods raspberry vinegar).  This equates to two tablespoons of vinaigrette dressing (two parts oil/1 part vinegar) as might be used on a salad.  The study authors also say that “…two teaspoons of vinegar could be consumed palatably in hot tea with lemon at mealtime.”

The diet advice herein focuses on replacement of a portion of carbohydrates with proteins, healthy oils, and vegetables.

I highly recommend this book. And sign up for Mr. Preuss’s related tweets at @HeartHealthyTw.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclosure: Mr. Preuss gave me a free copy of the book, otherwise I have received no monetary compensation for this review.

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James Hirsch Reviews Sonia Sotomayor’s New Book

You may know that she has type 1 diabetes.  Mr. Hirsch writes:

Sonia Sotomayor dove beneath a parked car and scrunched up like a turtle. A hospital employee finally caught her by the foot and dragged her back into the building, with Sonia fighting him every step of the way. Sonia’s diabetes was diagnosed that day. It was the first time she had ever seen her mother cry.

The year was 1962, and the vignette opens Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World, the surprise blockbuster nonfiction book of the year. Named to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, Sotomayor has been rightfully praised as a pioneer: the High Court’s first Hispanic justice, its third female justice – and its first justice with type 1 diabetes. Though her medical condition is not always front and center in the book, it is a powerful narrative thread to her life story, a cause of anguish but also a source of motivation and ultimately triumph.

Read the rest.

Mr. Hirsch wrote a book on diabetes, Cheating Destiny, that would be of interest to anyone with diabetes.  I reviewed it a few years ago.

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Dukan Diet Founder Loses Libel Lawsuit Against Dr. Cohen

Dr. Pierre Dukan sued another diet doctor, Jean-Michel Cohen, for claiming that the Dukan diet could harm dieters.  A French court ruled in Dr. Cohen’s favor last year.  U.K.’s The Telegraph has a few of the details. Claire Al-Aufi has more at Hive Health Media.

I reviewed the Dukan diet last April.  Gee, I hope I’m not Dr. Dukan’s next target!

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Six Weeks to OMG: A Book Review

I heard about this book before it was available in the U.S. and I thought it had the potential to be huge here.  So I read Six Weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends by Venice Fulton, published in 2012.  Per Amazon.com’s rating system, I give it two stars (“I don’t like it”).

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Judging from the wording and writing style, this book was written for not-too-bright girls and women from 12 to 22 years old.  Others need not bother with it.

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Will it work for weight loss?  Yes, even without the author’s three cornerstone gimmicks: 1) Skip breakfast, but eat three meals daily, 2) Black coffee one or two cups every morning, and 3) Cold-water baths at 59 to 68°F for up to 15 minutes.  There’s no good scientific data to support those prescriptions.

The diet will work because it restricts your consumption of items that make us fat: concentrated sugars and refined starches.  It’s a low-carbohydrate diet—up to 60, 90, or 120 grams a day, depending on how fast you want to lose.

The diet consists mostly of high-protein animal-derived foods, low-carb vegetables, and up to three pieces of fruit daily.  Do not exceed 40 grams of carbohydrate per meal, even less is better, the author says.  Grains and dairy products aren’t mentioned much; it’s easy to blow your carb limit with them.  High-carb vegetables are listed, so you can avoid them.

Mr. Fulton emphasizes some important, valid points.  High protein consumption helps control appetite.  Trans fats are bad.  Eat cold-water fatty fish twice weekly.  Eat off a small plate (maximum of 9-inch diameter).  No snacking.  He says good things about weight training, while failing to mention it’s more much important long-term maintenance than for active weight loss.

He says some things that are just plain wrong, such as 1) everyone can be skinny, 2) there are only eight essential amino acids, 3) exercise is fairly helpful with weight loss, and 4) weight training just once every 10 days is adequate.

I’ll confess I didn’t read every word of the book.  The writing style is just too irritating unless you’re a not-too-bright 12 to 22-year-old.  For instance, every page had at least four exclamation marks!

Here are some of the dumbed-down sentences that unintentionally made me laugh out loud:

  • “The key to success is understanding stuff.”
  • “If you have problems controlling your appetite, the main reason is that you eat too often.”
  • “The person in the mirror, that’s you.”
  • “Human beings are part of the universe.  And that’s full of laws.  The laws of physics, chemistry and biology are three well-known laws.”

If you want a low-carb weight loss diet, you’re better off with Protein PowerThe New Atkins For a New You, or the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet.  A low-carb diet specifically for diabetics is my Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Book Review: Choose to Lose: The 7-Day Carb Cycle Solution

I saw the author of Choose to Lose on a rerun of Dr. Oz in early January.  Then I checked the book’s sales rank at Amazon.com (22nd overall—a blockbuster in my view).  (Don’t get me wrong; I’m not in the habit of watching Dr. Oz.)  Here’s my review of 2012’s Choose to Lose: The 7-Day Carb Cycle Solution, by Chris Powell.  The book is for the general public, not people with diabetes.  I give it three stars per Amazon.com’s five-star system.

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Will it work?  Certainly for some, quite possibly a majority.  Like most published programs, it’ll work for for you if you work the program.  Question is, can you do it?

The underlying idea is to alternate high-carb and low-carb eating days, which supposedly revs up your metabolism and tricks your body into thinking it’s not on a diet so it won’t go into self-preservation starvation mode.  Mr. Powell calls this carb cycling.

The high-carb days are also low-fat, and the low-carb days are low-calorie.  Actually, both days are reduced-calorie if your goal is the most dramatic results.  A moderate calorie deficit is built into the program.  Women get about 1350 calories; men around 1700.  Those levels are lower than necessary. Other than that, it appears you’ll get all the other nutrients you need, which is good.

I can see how the diet would work for some because it drastically reduces consumption of our most fattening carboydrates.  Loser Choosers aren’t supposed to eat baked goods, white flour, refined sugar, beer, candy, chips (crisps, for those in the UK), conventional breads, cookies, crackers, ice cream, sugar-sweetened beverages, corn syrup, and milk.  I suspect if we all stopped eating those right now, the overweight rate in the U.S. would drop by at least 10% in the next 12 months.

The author allows no wheat or white rice except for whole wheat bread and pasta.  Potatoes, peas, and corn made it to the “approved” list.  You eat mostly natural, minimally processed foods (yay!).

I don’t know Mr. Powell, but he comes off as earnest, honest, compassionate, experienced, and intelligent.  He’s not a scammer.  Mr. Powell has more faith than I do in the benefits of exercise for weight loss.  He notes that nutrition is more important.  We agree that exercise is often critical for prevention of weight regain.  He barely, if at all, mentions the benefits of exercise in prevention of disease and prolongation of longevity.  His well-illustrated exercise recommendations are  a good start for fitness beginners.  He wants you to exercise for 10-30 minutes on six days a week, doing a combo of cardio intervals and body weight resistance training.  No expensive equipment to buy.

Carb cycling like this is supposed to “boost your metabolism to burn fat quickly.”  It does not, to any clinically meaningful extent.  Nor is carb cycling mentioned in this year’s massively referenced The Smart Science of Slim.  Contrary to the author’s opinion, neither eating five meals a day nor eating carboydrates revs up your metabolism.

Mr. Powell provides some helpful mind tricks to prepare you for a lifestyle change.

My favorite sentence: “Success doesn’t just happen.  It’s a result of the 4 Ps of action: Planning, Preparation, Performance, Persevance.”

My least favorite sentence: “Water is imperative for loosing [sic] weight.”  A close second was: “Alcohol is a powerful diuretic (it flushes water out of your system), so it dehydrates you, causing water retention and bloating for one to three days after you drink.”  Huh?

I like his incorporation of cheat meals, although he allows more than I would.  To his credit, the all-important maintenance phase is covered well.

Mr. Powell recommends supplementing with probiotics and digestive enzymes, being unaware of their uselessness for most dieters.

I note that Amazon sells Choose to Lose by Dr. Ron and Nancy Goor, and The Carb Cycling Diet by Dr. Roman Malkov.  Coincidence ? 

In terms of complexity, the program is about average. 

I wonder if you’d do just as well by swearing off the fattening carbohydrates I listed above.  If you’re looking to lose weight, you could do a lot worse than Choose to Lose.  And you could do better.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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