Modern nutrition is a mess. Mainstream dietary guidelines are totally out of sync with the reality that our failing health as a nation is connected to poor diet. Making that connection is taboo because of corporate interests. So when I heard that Joy Bauer, nutritionist of the The Today Show, had published a book saying just that, I was pretty excited that a mainstream voice was finally going to push for real change in how Americans approach their nutritional health.
Of course, the fact that poor diet causes everything from diabetes to cancer to arthritis isn’t new, but the diet books making that connection are on the fringes: Paleo, Weston Price, veganism. For someone in the position of Joy Bauer to do it could be a potential game-changer.
Let food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be food. - Hippocrates
Unfortunately, it isn’t. In the end, Food Cures comes off as just another generic diet book, recommending the same meal plans, the same calorie counting, and the same basic guidelines as every other diet book out there. It’s actually quite good taken in that light, but I don’t think it lives up to its claims. The only difference is the realization that diet can affect disease.
A Nutritional Approach to Dealing with Chronic Disease
Because it is basically illegal to suggest that foods can vary in quality, and that quality differences can have a real impact on your health, nobody in the government or the mainstream diet industry is allowed to say that beef from happy cows is objectively better than beef from factory-farmed cows. The same goes for vegetables, fruits, dairy, and eggs. If it has the right seal of approval, it’s just as good as any other food of the same type.
This isn’t true, of course. Grass-fed beef has a different chemical composition than cord-fed beef. Organic vegetables are not oozing pesticides. These are very real differences, and being aware of them can save you from a lifetime ingesting small amounts of toxic chemicals, leading to all sorts of diseases.
How amazing would it be for a book published by the nutritionist of The Today Show to tell that to all of America? It would completely change the way we approach food as a society. It would take the truth from ‘radical’ books and movies like Food, Inc. to the rest of the population, bringing it into the spotlight of popular discussion.
Sadly, that is not to be. There is no mention of the most basic quality distinctions in the book: nothing about processed vs. unprocessed foods, nothing about organics, very little about refined carbohydrates, not even an explicit discussion of the importance of whole foods (though the meal plans are all whole foods based and favor vegetables). In the end, Bauer simply advocates doing the best you can in the supermarket of the Standard American Diet. She dares not go so far as suggest that the system is broken and that you should try eating outside of it.
A Cornucopia of Information
The book is full of information, though it’s all stuff you can find online, but what makes it useful is the presentation. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular disease or condition, and includes very concrete (though very basic) steps you can take to make a change immediately. It reads like a troubleshooting guide, and is very accessible. The prescriptions provided are for healthy appearance, losing weight, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, vision and memory problems, mood, migraines, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and cancer prevention.
Bauer has a long track record of successful coaching, so she clearly knows what she’s doing, does a great job with the self-motivation aspect of the book, and stays away from just being a cheerleader. She is realistic and pragmatic, without being a drill-sergeant as in a lot of the new diet books. For example, she understands that people don’t want to appear high-maintenance when they are dinner guests.
Still, she isn’t a revolutionary and won’t stray too far from mainstream health advice. However, she’s not afraid to recommend something if it works, sometimes giving poorly researched cures the benefit of the doubt instead of relying too strongly on ironclad scientific proof. I sometimes had the impression that she wanted to be more helpful than she was, as if she couldn’t say what she wanted to and still have her book accepted.
Bauer also expands her advice beyond simple nutritional guidelines. She dedicates a lot of space to discussions of lifestyle changes in addition to the eating advice, since the reality is that nutrition encompasses so much more than just what you eat.
Unfortunately, most people who are concerned about their nutrition have already picked up on the connection between diet and disease, so Food Cures is behind the times. Still, it consolidates a lot of the research into a standard format that people shying away from Paleo, Weston Price, or veganism will appreciate and benefit from. Just thinking of your chronic conditions as related to diet is a huge step for many people.
Personally, I was left underwhelmed. Food Cures has a huge potential to reach a massive audience and change the way people think about food, but ends up falling short. It takes the format of every other diet book, adds the spin that disease is related to diet (which isn’t really a spin anymore), and presents the same meals plans and recommendations we’ve seen for decades. Change will have to come from the bottom up, it seems.