Book Review: Beautiful Babies by Kristen Michaelis

This is basically a defense of the Weston A. Price diet for pregnancy and early childhood. The nutrition advice ranges from odd to downright dangerous. The rationale for the advice is nostalgia and cherry-picked scientific studies. And Michaelis (like a lot of self-taught nutritionists) despises me and my ilk (that is, people with actual training in nutrition.)

A review in which I annoy you by summarizing each chapter of the book using the words “In which…” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Chapter 1
In which Michealis reveals that she has no credentials that give her any right to be talking about nutrition – apart from watching food-fright documentaries and reading people like Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, and Sally Fallon (all of whom are interesting to read, but hardly bastions of science-based nutrition recommendations.)

Chapter 2
In which Michaelis explains that nutrition matters (*gasp*). Except don’t pay any attention to those nasty reductionist dietitians with their advice meant to avoid specific proven risks. No, you should jump on the fetal origins hypothesis (which is a reasonable and scientifically supported hypothesis that a mother’s environment during pregnancy affects her child well into adulthood, but which currently has little evidence of sufficient quality to use to make broad-ranging dietary recommendations) which means you should eat a primitive diet (what? Okay, fetal origins really doesn’t suggest need for a Weston Price style diet – but that doesn’t stop Michaelis from using the one to support the other.)

Chapter 3
In which Michaelis tells you what to avoid: MSG, corn, GMOs, vegetable oils, industrial meats/dairy/eggs, refined sweeteners, and modern gardening/farming practices. Michaelis’ rationale is a mixture of misguided nostalgia and alarmist pseudoscience. Oh, okay. She occasionally includes a bit of real science – and then completely screws up the application. For example, she recommends avoiding corn (and corn-fed animals) because corn oil has a much higher than recommended Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid ratio. It is true that corn oil has a high Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid ratio – and that almost all Americans could stand to eat more Omega 3s relative to Omega 6s. But…the list of corn ingredients Michaelis wants you to avoid? Only 3 of the 21 corn-derived ingredients contains fat. So… unless she’s got another good reason to avoid corn products, she’s just being silly.

Chapter 4
In which Michaelis tells you what TO eat: bone broth, traditional fats and oils, wild and pastured animal foods, natural sweeteners, and “properly prepared” grains. In general, there’s nothing wrong with these items, even if the emphasis is off. Good advice: choose butter or olive oil over partially hydrogenated margarines or shortenings. Advice with some nutritional support, although not enough to warrant broad-based recommendations: wild or pastured animals have a more favorable fatty-acid profile and soaked grains have better nutrient bioavailability (but a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – even the unsoaked kind – is unlikely to be deficient in those micronutrients.) Completely spurious advice? bone broth and natural sweeteners. As far as sweeteners go, your body doesn’t care whether it’s “natural” or not – if it’s sugar (and that includes honey, maple syrup, sucanat, sorghum syrup, coconut palm sugar, and others), the body treats it as sugar. If it isn’t sugar (stevia and “artificial sweeteners”), the body processes it as whatever it is – whether a sugar alcohol, an indigestible starch or whatever. Of course, the real travesty of this chapter is what Michaelis omits. Please note the two food groups she doesn’t bother to mention in any degree: fruits and vegetables. Whatever the controversies nutrition science may have, there is one thing about which every science-based dietitian and nutrition researcher can agree – the general US population should be eating more fruits and vegetables.

Chapter 5
In which Michaelis helps you learn what to eat to poop well. Because your gut is your second brain. Sigh. I don’t even know where to start with this. Let’s just say that some people do have digestive issues that compromise their overall health. Most people don’t. Probiotics are good – but their benefits are frequently overstated. The most important thing you can do to have a healthy digestive system is to get sufficient fiber and water – like, say, from fruits and vegetables (which don’t necessarily need to be lactofermented, thank goodness!)

Chapter 6
In which Michaelis tells you what to eat to be fertile and to have a healthy pregnancy. The “fertility” section is more of Price’s general theories combined with more recent research from the Nurse’s Health Study. Want to hear what the science actually says? Read the highly readable The Fertility Diet by Jorge Chavarro, Patrick J. Skerrett, and Walter Willett – and keep in mind that even a well-executed study like the Nurse’s Healthy Study can’t prove causation.

The “pregnancy” section is where it gets exciting, because Michaelis has somehow figured out the cause of both morning sickness and preeclampsia, two relatively common pregnancy conditions that researchers have been puzzling over for years! (Can you sense the sarcasm?) Of course, the problem is nutrition. And the solution is a variation of the Brewer’s Diet, a favorite diet of natural childbirth advocates everywhere. Problem with the Brewer diet? Well… there are several. While the Brewer diet apparently had great success for Dr. Brewer’s (low-income, minority, teenage) patients in the 60s and 70s, nutrition science has failed to find links between the components of Brewer’s diet and healthy pregnancy. While protein deficiency may have played some role in increasing risk in Brewer’s patients, studies of moderate vs. high protein intake in pregnant women have failed to show any protective effect of increased protein intake. While Brewer’s teenaged patients may have needed the 3000 calories per day that his diet recommends (because they were still developing themselves, in addition to supporting a growing baby in their wombs), research clearly links excess weight gain during pregnancy to development of preeclampsia (and we’re talking weight gain even before those preeclamptic women started putting on all that fluid.) Additionally, while Brewer’s patients may have had nutrient deficiencies that made intake of large quantities of liver helpful and not dangerous, those of us who are adequately nourished in the first place should not be overloading our diet with items high in retinol (preformed Vitamin A), which is highly toxic to a developing baby. We should instead be getting our Vitamin A in the form of carotenoids (from vegetable sources) which our body converts to Vitamin A as needed, without the toxicity to the developing baby.

It’d be nice if we knew the exact cause of preeclampsia and could avoid it at all costs. But the reality is that we don’t know what causes preeclampsia. We know risk factors – first pregnancy with a new partner, high or low maternal age, overweight or obesity prior to pregnancy, excess weight gain during pregnancy. But none of those are a guarantee of preeclampsia – and the absence of those are not a guarantee against preeclampsia. As nice as it would be to just put ourselves on a diet for nine months to keep preeclampsia at bay, the truth is that there is very little evidence that dietary interventions make any difference in the development of preeclampsia. And if there is any promising research along that vein at present? It suggests that maybe increasing dietary fiber might make a difference. What, you mean like eating more fruits and vegetables? Oh. My. Word. That’s pretty much the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard suggested (Sarcasm, again, in case you didn’t catch it.)

Chapter 7
In which Michaelis reminds you that everything those nasty government-shill dietitians tell you is wrong. (I have a feeling I’m becoming less charitable and more cynical as this book goes on.) But this chapter rehashes that cholesterol and saturated fat aren’t bad for you (dietitian me: it’s complicated). Michaelis also tells you that you don’t need an iron supplement (dietitian me: anyone who is routinely recommending iron supplementation to pregnant women without confirmation of anemia is acting outside the bounds of science-based practice anyway). According to Michaelis, sushi won’t give you listeria but raw cheese might (dietitian me: both sushi and raw cheese are relatively more risky than cooked fish and hard cheeses. In both cases the odds of problems are low but the problem – miscarriage or stillbirth – could be severe if it happens. Mothers should be aware of the risks and make their decisions based on information.) And finally, the occasional glass of red wine won’t harm your baby (dietitian me: probably not, but excess drinking can… and it’s worthwhile for you to find better coping mechanisms than drinking.)

Chapter 8
In which Michaelis leaves the realm of nutrition to promote every other kind of quackery you can think of. After all, Western medicine KILLS PEOPLE (dietitian me: but not as many people as would die prematurely if they opted out of Western medicine for the mumbo-jumbo you’re suggesting.)

Chapter 9
In which Michaelis informs us that breast isn’t always best – in which case you should opt for a homemade baby formula! Dietitian me: Where do I go with this train wreck of a chapter? She’s right that breast isn’t always best. In the developed world, the risk of a woman transmitting HIV through her breastmilk is greater than the risks of formula feeding. For women who are unable to produce breastmilk because of hypoplasia/insufficient glandular tissue, forcing a baby to an empty breast is not best! A drug abuser can pass drugs through her breastmilk to her baby. A severely malnourished woman may have trouble producing high quality milk. BUT… the women reading Michaelis’ book are unlikely to be drug abusers and the degree of maternal malnutrition required to malnourish a breastfed baby is incredibly rare in the United States. As for the appropriate alternative to breastmilk? Iron fortified infant formula. Period. Full stop. Even if you scrupulously follow Michaelis’s recipes for “whole food” infant formula, you’re going to end up with variations in nutrient content because (I’ve got a big surprise for you here) whole foods don’t always have the same nutrient content (even if it’s the same brand). Some organic liver will have more Vitamin A and some will have less. Some homemade broth will have more calcium and some will have less. It’s the nature of natural. But unlike your breastmilk, that liver and homemade broth wasn’t designed by God to be consumed by your baby. Your infant could end up with too much or too little and you’d have no way of knowing until the damage was done. At least with infant formula, you actually do know what the nutrient content is. It’s regulated, controlled. It tries to get as close to breastmilk as possible (which, yes, it doesn’t get close – but it can get closer than anything you can mix up at home.)

Chapter 10
In which Michaelis slams WIC and promotes baby-led weaning. At least she’s honest: “I don’t remember much of what my WIC nutritionist told me.” I’m hoping that what she DID remember was a false memory. Because no WIC dietitian worth her salt is encouraging moms to “just mix a little [infant cereal] in with their [baby’s] milk in a bottle or sippy cup.” Michaelis goes on to explain why this was terrible advice. It’s because babies can’t digest starch like that found in infant cereal. For that reason, babies shouldn’t be given starchy foods until they cut their two year molars. Problem is, Michaelis only knows the beginning of the research (that babies have less pancreatic amylase than adults) and didn’t bother to look at the whole picture (Check out Alice Callahan’s excellent treatment of the topic at Science of Mom if you’re interested in learning more about whether infants can digest infant cereal.) On the other hand, offering cereal in a bottle is truly terrible advice that can promote excess weight gain and possibly increase choking risk. Cereal should be served by spoon.

The ironic thing is that while Michaelis goes full-on WIC-hating in this chapter, I don’t disagree with her basic premise. Once infants are ready to eat solid foods, they can eat “real foods” (that is, the same foods the family is eating.) Most infants and toddlers eat WAY too many starches and sweets – because they’re being plied with cookies and crackers all day long instead of what they should be getting, little bits of everything the family is eating. But then again, I’d be emphasizing fruits and vegetables and whole grains and lean protein sources instead of liver and bone broth and sauerkraut (not that I don’t love me some bone broth and sauerkraut – they’re just not really necessary for good health.)

Fortunately for me, the last 50 pages of this book are recipes rather than more of the same from the first 170 pages. If I’d have had to go on… I might have bashed my head against a wall.

The reality is that nutrition science is in its infancy. There’s a lot we don’t know about how to optimize our diets for health. Some government recommendations (cholesterol restriction) and the ensuing dietary changes (a population going crazy on hydrogenated vegetable oils instead of animal fats) have been for the worse. And for every government recommendation that isn’t fully founded in the research there are two thousand non-governmental, non-reputable recommendations based on a single bit of research (that happens to be contradicted by every other piece of research.) But the answer to an infant science that sometimes lets us down isn’t to ignore science altogether or to cherry-pick studies that fit our predetermined viewpoint, as Michaelis does all throughout her book. The answer is to evaluate the science critically and to go with the stuff that has the most support (rather than jumping on the bandwagon for the newest study). That is not at all what Michaelis does.

With the risk of sounding like a broken record, Michaelis majors on the minors – things that have minimal to no scientific support – while completely ignoring what I (as a nutrition professional) consider to be the most important food advice any American can receive: eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s not sexy advice. It doesn’t have the cachet of ancient wisdom only available to primitive cultures – or the allure of a governmental cover-up. But it’s the soundest advice I can give you. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim to include a fruit or vegetable (or two or three) at every meal and snack. You – and your babies – will be better for it.

Rating: 0 stars
Category: Diet Advice
Synopsis: A defense of the Weston Price diet – and a slam on people like me.
Recommendation: I do not recommend this book.

Book Review: The Dinner Diaries by Betsy Block

Feeding a family. Raising healthy eaters. Topics I’m passionate about. Even while I was still working on my degree, I knew that helping mothers feed their families and raise healthy eaters was what I wanted to do as a career. I made that the focus of my graduate work. After a stint in long term care, I moved to WIC, where I was able to live my dream (at least as far as career goes.)

Subtitled “Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World”, Betsy Block’s book should be right up my alley, right?


I should have known from the blurb on the back cover:

“A harried mother of two, Betsy Block is in pursuit of the perfect family meal: local, toxin-free, humane, and healthful.”

But the book was in a Dewey Decimal category I was trying to close and I figured “how bad can it be?”

Pretty bad.

Betsy Block’s The Dinner Diaries is basically a manual on how NOT to feed a family or raise healthy eaters. In order to save you the work of reading it, allow me to summarize the main points.

Tip 1: Start with all the wrong priorities

It’s no mistake that “healthful” is last on the list of Block’s priorities a la the back of the book. In reality, her definition of “healthful” is suspect enough that you might as well knock it off the list. Block is all about the local (which has very little impact on health), toxin-free (the American food supply, with the exception of methyl-mercury containing fish, is actually one of the safest in the world), and humane/sustainable (an ideological issue but not a health one.) Her couple of concessions to actually health practices include trying to eat less sugar and (at the very end of the book) attempting to eat more whole grains.

If you’d rather actually have some success at feeding a family or raising healthy eaters, I recommend starting with priorities that will actually help you achieve health. Try: increasing fruit and vegetable intake (no, it doesn’t have to be fresh – frozen or canned are fine), increasing variety (of protein sources, vegetables, starches, you name it – variety is good), sitting down together as a family to eat (even for snacks), having sweets around less frequently and subbing fruit instead, or experimenting with forms of cooking other than frying. I can give you more suggestions if you’d like, but those are some of the biggies.

Tip 2: Lecture your children about food

There’s nothing like a good guilt trip to help kids form a healthy attitude toward food, amiright?

Okay, no.

But Block seems to think it’s a great idea. She lectures about all those wrong priorities, lectures when kids won’t eat something, lectures when kids do eat something. She sets up learning opportunities for herself (like going to see a pig that she’s later going to eat) and leaves the children behind lest it be too tense for them – not that she won’t lecture them about it when she gets home. When her daughter asks to help cook, Betsy asks if that means her daughter will eat what they prepare. When her daughter says “probably not”, Betsy declines the offer of help.

If you’d like your children to actually develop a healthy attitude toward food, start by modeling healthy attitudes towards food yourself (by the way, Block’s obsessive interest in “perfect” food isn’t healthy.) Eat in moderation. Eat a variety. Don’t obsess over food (either in a “I must have sweets now” or in a “my diet must be absolutely healthy all the time” way).

If you’d like your children to develop a healthy attitude toward food, involve them in selecting and preparing food. Preschoolers will love searching for a red vegetable at the supermarket. Kids can learn to cook early on. Gardening or going to a farm to see how food is made is a great activity for kids. BUT…not as a way to coerce your kids into eating something. That’s Betsy’s mistake. She read that when kids cook with their families, they’re more likely to eat what they make – so she thought she could coerce her daughter into eating by letting her help cook. Letting your child cook isn’t a one-time magic bullet to healthy eating. Instead, it’s a process by which children develop positive associations with food, take ownership of food (in a healthy way), and learn skills that will help them eat well when they decide that they’re willing to try eating asparagus.

If you’d like your children to develop a healthy attitude toward food, move the conversation from nutrition to habits. Dina Rose’s excellent website It’s not about nutrition is a great resource for changing the way families talk about food. The gist of Rose’s message is to start talking about proportion, variety, and moderation (Check out this article for more info.) Changing the conversation makes a real difference, both in helping kids eat healthfully, but also in helping them think healthfully about food.

In the very first chapter of Betsy Block’s book, she writes of a nutritionist who refused to work with her because of her emphasis on organic foods. Block was shocked that organic foods were controversial. Except that to call the “health benefits” of organic controversial is putting it mildly. Despite many attempts to prove otherwise, there is no compelling evidence that organic foods are more nutrient-rich or more safe than conventionally grown ones. It’s fine for people to eat organic, but they’re fooling themselves if they think that organic = healthy. Block’s choice to focus on secondary issues instead of primary ones meant that her memoir is a recounting of an exercise in frustration, accomplishing next to nothing in terms of changing her children’s habits and attitudes regarding food.

The nutritionist who ended up working with Block (although we only hear about her in the first chapter) did a good job of trying to get Block to focus on some actually beneficial eating practices (unfortunately, she did not address the task of how to communicate with children about food) – but it was all for naught. Block would not be dissuaded from her ill-informed search for dietary perfection and from her agenda of changing her children’s eating patterns by coersion. I think the first nutritionist made a wise choice.

Please, people, don’t be Betsy.

Rating: 1 star
Category: Food memoir
Synopsis: Betsy Block tries to make over her family mealtimes.
Recommendation: Ugh. No.

Book Review: Eat This, Not That! by David Zincezenko and Matt Goulding

You’re flipping through a magazine at the doctor’s office and a column catches your eye. “Eat This!” it proclaims, pointing at a full-color photo of some restaurant entree. Beside it, another photo declares, “Not That!” A couple call-out boxes give fast and dirty nutrition info, the amount of calories you’ll save by switching from one entree to the other, and some other quick nutrition trivia about one or the other of the items.

Fun, right?

I imagine I’d think so if I saw such a column (although it’s unlikely I would, since it could – maybe still can? – be found in Men’s Health).

Now, put 415 pages of that together into a book about the dimensions of a children’s board book, except, well 415 pages long.


Not exactly. Or at least, I didn’t think so.

Eat This, Not That! has 24 chapters, including “The Best (& Worst) Breakfasts in America”, “The Best (& Worst) Supermarket Foods”, and “The Best (& Worst) Foods for Your Blood Pressure”. Each chapter includes a two page “Eat This, Not That” spread like the one I listed above, before providing a countdown of 15-20 of the worst foods (with plenty of pictures). Each “worst food” (example: “saltiest packaged side”) is accompanied by an “eat this instead!” – giving a similar item that’s not as unhealthy. The end of each chapter gives a “Hall of Fame”, with about five items that are good bets.

Overall, the information is pretty good – mostly focused on calories, sodium, fat calories, and trans fats. Callout boxes highlight things to look for or substitutions to make (pesto instead of mayo switches healthy fats for unhealthy and adds antioxidants) and little blurbs here and there discuss how to choose a healthy sandwich, for example, or make a healthy pizza.

But a whole book of it is simply not sustainable. I love food. I love nutrition. But I struggled to make it through this book (that said, most people probably aren’t going to read every word like I did.)

Now, a lot of that might be because I don’t eat a lot of restaurant food or prepackaged meals or snacks. If I do, I’m choosing it as an indulgence. All that “if you switch this for that once a week, you can save x pounds per year” stuff? It doesn’t really apply to me because I don’t drink sweetened drinks, don’t eat packaged snacks, don’t buy frozen meals, don’t go to restaurants frequently. Someone else who finds themselves relying on convenience foods or restaurants for a greater portion of their intake might find this book more useful.

Of course, I wouldn’t be myself unless I had some sort of beef with this book nutritionally speaking. The authors are wary of additives and anything unpronounceable – in a way that ignores what science actually exists about the additives they’re denigrating and fails to recognize that some food additives actually make our food supply more safe! Believe it or not, a long ingredient list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat something. (In fact, I have quite a few recipes that have 20, 30, 50 ingredients once you count the ingredients that went into the components of the recipe.)

So… should you read this book? Eh, check it out of the library and browse it, especially if you use a lot of convenience foods and/or eat out a lot. But I wouldn’t buy it.

Rating: 2 stars
Category: Nutrition
Synopsis: The authors give lists of the best and worst foods you can buy at restaurants or prepackaged at the grocery store – and substitutions to improve your nutritional choices.
Recommendation: Neat concept for a column, okay to browse, but not great for reading straight through.

Lactose intolerance in babies

It happens in my office all the time. A mother declares that her infant is lactose intolerant: “Everyone in my family is”.

The professional in me keeps a neutral facial expression while I internally groan. And since the doctor has marked that the infant should receive Similac Sensitive for Fussiness and Gas, helpfully providing an additional diagnosis of “lactose intolerance”, I issue the infant checks for the lactose-free formula.

I groan because lactose intolerance in babies is incredibly rare. Babies’ guts make the lactase enzyme so they can break down the lactose found in their mother’s milk (all mammals’ milk includes lactose). It is only as children grow older and less dependent on mothers’ milk that their bodies stop producing the enzyme to process it.

The few exceptions are 1) primary lactase deficiency, which rarely ever occurs, 2) secondary lactase deficiency, where a gastrointestinal illness temporarily wipes out the body’s ability to make lactase, and 3) prematurity, where an infant is born before her gut lining has started to produce lactase.

Which brings me to my biggest groan.

Tirzah Mae had only ever received my breastmilk, slowly increasing feedings as the IV nutrition was decreased. Most of what she got was via the feeding tube, but she’d started taking it by bottle in the last few days – and we’d started practicing breastfeeding once a day as well.

As I prepared myself for our breastfeeding practice, I noticed that Tirzah Mae had spit up – and I mentioned it to the nurse, who observed that the spit up was bright yellow (my color discrimination has been poor since I delivered, so I didn’t notice anything odd about it under the dim lights.) When the nurse checked the residuals left in Tirzah Mae’s stomach, they were green. Feedings were put on hold and breastfeeding practice suspended.

That evening, the nurse practitioner came in to discuss the situation. She explained the plan: to start again with smaller feedings and work our way up again – and asked me how much dairy I consumed.

She explained how preemies sometimes don’t yet have the ability to process lactose and requested that I reduce my intake of dairy down to maybe one serving a day – and maybe I could try lactose-free milk instead of regular.

I put on my patient face, inquiring about what she thinks might help, while inwardly groaning.

You see, despite the opinions of plenty of doctors and nurses, lactose intake by a woman actually has no impact on the amount of lactose present in her milk.

In a lactose-tolerant woman, any lactose she eats is broken down into its component sugars in her gut, from which the component sugars are absorbed into her blood stream. Then, independently, her breasts take sugars from her blood stream and synthesize them into lactose for her breastmilk.

In a lactose-intolerant woman, any lactose she eats passes through her gut into her colon unabsorbed – and bacteria in her gut ferment it, producing the typical symptoms of lactose intolerance (gas, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, etc.) Then, independently, the mother’s breasts take sugars from her blood stream and synthesize them into lactose for her breastmilk.

It’s simple science, really. But doctors and nurses didn’t spend their educations studying the science of digestion and absorption and metabolism like dietitians do.

So they give silly, unscientific advice related to diet and mothers swear by it because they see improvement when the prematurity (or the GI illness) that caused the problem in the first place resolves (sort of like thinking the antibiotic cured your child’s cold when it resolves in 7-10 days)**.

I choose not to argue and dutifully consume just one serving of dairy daily (actually, I only ever consumed one serving of lactose-containing dairy daily – since my former pattern was one cup of milk, one cup of yogurt, and one serving of hard cheese daily). I label my breastmilk “low dairy” and dream of the day when I can go back to eating whatever I want to without being dishonest. (Since the only reason I’m not eating the dairy now is so I wouldn’t be dishonest in writing “low dairy” on my breastmilk – I already know the restriction isn’t affecting her at all.)

**Caveat: Some women who are told that their infant has lactose intolerance and who reduce dairy as a result discover that this truly is helpful (and symptoms resume when milk is reintroduced). This is generally a case of mistaken identity. While lactose in mom’s intake and lactose in breastmilk are not related, the more cow’s milk a mother consumes, the more cow’s milk proteins will end up in her milk – and some babies do have sensitivities to cow’s milk proteins, which would resolve when mom reduces dairy intake.**

Book Review: “God’s Diet” by Dorothy Gault

Dorothy Gault has a plan to take the complexity out of diet planning. Her diet includes no counting, no nutrition panel reading, no exchanges, no dozens of rules to remember.

In fact, there’s only one rule: “If God didn’t make it, don’t eat it.”

On the surface, God’s Diet is simple, straightforward, easy. Until you start asking the big question: What hasn’t God made?

Theologically speaking, it’s hard to come up with something God hasn’t made. I can only think of one: evil. And the idea of eating evil is pretty ridiculous, if you ask me.

So what does Gault mean when she talks about what God did or didn’t make?

Turns out, what God didn’t make is flour and sugar. (Who’d have thought?) So what’s off limits is anything with flour and sugar in it. Anything else, you can eat whole hog.

At least, that’s how Gault makes it sound, though she later backtracks to say that high-fat, high-sodium, high “legal”-sugar foods should be eaten in moderation.

This diet rubbed me wrong in several ways.

The first thing I didn’t like about it was that it violated one of my most sacred food rules: Food is not a moral issue.

There’s no such thing as a “good food” and a “bad food”. Food is morally neutral (sort of like money–you know the verse about the love of money being the root of all kinds of evils?) Turning food into a moral issue binds one to a law we have been set free from in Christ. It creates condemnation where no condemnation need be and false self-righteousness where righteousness is not.

Gault speaks in direct opposition to this “food rule” of mine.

“When we eat something sinful, we need to know that it is sinful. Once again, if God didn’t make it, it must be sinful.”

Errnt. Strike one.

Secondly, the theology in this book is terrible. Gault can’t decide whether she’s a creationist or an evolutionist, constantly switching between the two depending on which provides better “support” for her diet.

She really makes no case for why God didn’t make flour and sugar-and completely ignores the many instances in which bread is made by or commanded by God.

God commanded the eating of unleavened bread, manna was used to prepare bread (with no indication of it being wrong). Jesus multiplied loaves and taught His disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” What’s more, Jesus said that He Himself was bread from heaven, and commanded His disciples to take and eat the bread that symbolized His body. If flour is indeed sinful, would Jesus have done this? Would He have told His disciples to pray: “Give us this day our daily sinfulness…and lead us not into temptation”? Would Jesus have said “I am the sinfulness from heaven”? Would Jesus have commanded His disciples “Take and sin…do this in remembrance of Me?”

Clearly this diet has everything to do with ideology and nothing at all to do with Christianity, despite the author’s references to God and the garden of Eden.

Errnt. Strike two.

Finally, Gault’s vilification of flour, specifically, has little if any scientific support.

Gault claims that flour is bad for us because it has been processed; while unprocessed grain is good for us because it is in the form in which God made it. She uses a child eating corn and ending up with drawers full of corn as an example of how corn in it’s natural state is fundamentally different from corn flour (also known as cornmeal).

In its natural state, Gault tells us, grain is indigestible. In its processed state (when ground as flour), it is digestible and therefore bad.

Come again?

Since when is something being digestible a bad thing? And even if it is, Gault mistakes visibility with reality.

The truth is that just because Gault cannot see the corn kernels in the poop after eating cornmeal does not mean that the cornmeal was fully digested.

The same fiber that is indigestible in corn is still indigestible in cornmeal. It’s just ground so you can’t see it when it comes out in the feces.

Now it’s true that some forms of processing do make chemical changes to food products–but the making of flour is not one of them. The only difference between whole grain flour and the grain itself is the size of the particles. The only difference between how the two are digested is time We don’t have to chew the flour as long, don’t have to mechanically churn it in our stomachs as long–but the starch is the same starch and the fiber the same fiber.

There is no evidence that whole grain flour and unprocessed whole grains are fundamentally different.

Errnt. Strike three.

She’s out, and so is this diet.

Rating: 0 stars
Category: Diet
Synopsis:Gault proposes a “simple” but nutritionally and theologically unsound diet based on one rule: “If God didn’t make it, don’t eat it.”
Recommendation: Don’t read it. Don’t believe it. Don’t promote this sort of thinking. It’s wrong.

Food Guide Fight

In 2005, the USDA laid to rest the Food Guide Pyramid famously found on the backs of cereal boxes. With breads, grains, and pasta on the big bottom layer, the 1993 Food Guide Pyramid was a favorite of cereal and bread makers everywhere.

“See, that’s us! We’re the base of a good diet,” they said-trying to reclaim ground lost in the low-carb craze of the late 90s and early 2000s.

Food Guide PyramidThen the government decided to update the Pyramid–introducing the snazzy (and, in my humble opinion, less intuitive) MyPyramid.

It took a while for the Food Guide Pyramid to disappear, but it’s been a while since I’d last seen it–until this last month, when I was making my way through the B children’s picture books at my library and ran across Rex Barron’s Showdown at the Food Pyramid.

Now, I’m a dietitian–and I’m pretty sold on the Food Guide Pyramid. While it had some faults, it was a good educational tool. It did a good job of showing the approximate proportions of different food groups that make up a healthy diet. It was easily understandable and quite intuitive. It was a good tool.

So maybe you’d think I’d be excited about a children’s picture book that uses the Food Pyramid to teach kids about nutrition.

And maybe I might be–but I’m less than excited about this book.

Showdown at the Food Pyramid tells of the happy pyramid that lived in peace until some new foods–Hot Dog, Candy Bar, and Donut–came along and upset the peaceful world. Soon there was an all-out war between the junk food (led by King Candy Bar) on the top floor of the Pyramid, and the Fruits and Vegetables on the second floor.

The two groups duked it out until at last the poor fruits and veggies collapsed under the weight of the evil junk food.

The collapsed food items decide to rebuild the pyramid, only this time they’re going to do it right–according to the Food Guide Pyramid.


Nice story.

Or not.

Apart from being ridiculously pedantic, this story makes the error of fostering an unhealthy attitude towards food.

By framing the pyramid as a fight between good foods and bad foods, this book fosters the idea that food is a moral issue.

It isn’t.

Let me repeat that.

Food is NOT a moral issue.

There is no such thing as “good” food and “bad” food.

Does that mean that mean that we should be unrestrained in our eating? Of course not. But we should be cautious against calling unclean what God has made pure.

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

~Acts 10:9-16, NIV

Vegetables are not godly while chocolate is sinful.

That idea is not only false, it’s dangerous.

It keeps people from enjoying food, it encourages them to binging and purging, it promotes false guilt over food.

Choose NOT to teach your children this book’s message. Choose instead to teach them that food (all food) is a gift from God and that we should strive to use it (as everything) to glorify Him.

“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
~I Corinthians 10:31

Reading My LibraryFor more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

B3,RD: THE Nutrition Professionals

Three years ago, when I started my venture to read every book in Eiseley library, I used Pearl Buck’s rules to give myself an out. If, after reading 50 pages of a book, I was not interested in continuing on, I had permission to stop.

After three years and over 1400 books, I am using that rule for the very first time. Because I absolutely cannot stand Oz Garcia’s The Healthy High-Tech Body.

The Healthy High-Tech Body

Garcia’s biography in the back of the book states that he is “one of the best-known nutritionists and health authorities in America.” Problem is, he’s an absolute quack. Sure, he can throw around chemical names like no other and give incomprehensible explanations for why we should follow his recommendations–but the real science behind his recommendations is tenuous at best.

I know this because I’ve devoted the last six years of my life to learning the science of food, nutrition, and health behavior change. But what’s the average consumer to think? If you can’t trust “one of the best-known nutritionists and health authorities in America”, who can you trust?

That’s where the Registered Dietitian comes in. You see, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist–even someone with marginal education and no credentials (for instance, Oz Garcia.)

The designation Registered Dietitian (RD), on the other hand, carries distinct educational and professional requirements. RDs are required to complete a core curriculum in nutrition, food science, and health behavior change from an accredited university. RDs are required to undergo at least 900 hours of supervised practice. RDs are required to pass a Registration Exam and complete at least 75 hours of continuing professional education every five years in order to attain and maintain their credentials. Additionally, RDs are bound by a Professional Code, which, among other things, insists that they provide evidence-based nutrition services.

You wouldn’t go to your next door neighbor–or even Oprah–to get your broken arm set. Your next door neighbor is nice enough–and Oprah is popular enough–but neither have the credentials to set your broken arm. You’ll go to someone who does have the credentials: an MD (Medical Doctor), a PA (Physician Assistant), or a NP (Nurse Practitioner).

Likewise, no matter how nice or how popular a “nutritionist” might be–they don’t have the credentials unless they’ve got an RD behind their name.

So next time you’re looking at an article or a book, or evaluating something someone is saying on the television or online, look for the RD behind the name. Because RDs are THE food and nutrition professionals.

Today’s B3,RD challenge is to think critically about the nutrition information you see and hear today. Ask yourself whether the speaker has the credentials–an RD behind their name.

A search for Garcia’s education and credentials produced only the most tenuous results.

Mr. Garcia is occasionally ascribed a Ph.D, but I have been unable to find any explanation for this designation. He has certainly never listed where he attained his doctorate or what his doctorate is in.

B3,RD: Am I hungry?

Confession: I, Rebekah Menter, Registered Dietitian, don’t just eat when I’m hungry. Sometimes, I eat because I’m tired, because I’m stressed, or because I’m bored–even though I’m not hungry.

And that’s okay.

I attended a fantastic session at FNCE that dealt with this very issue. Megrette Fletcher, RD and Michelle May, MD spoke on “Improving Self-Management with Mindful Eating.”

Megrette Fletcher Michelle May

Ms. Fletcher and Dr. May had a number of insights for dietitians, but one thing Dr. May said struck me as being worth sharing with my readers. She encouraged us (and our clients) to ask ourselves one question before eating.

Before eating, ask yourself: “Am I hungry?”

Many of you are probably rolling your eyes right now, thinking “I’ve heard this before–Eat only when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.”

But that isn’t what I said. I said, “Before eating, ask yourself: ‘Am I hungry?'”

The point is not that you only eat when you’re hungry. The point is that you are aware of whether you are hungry or not when you’re eating. The point is KNOWING. The point is being mindful.

Sometimes, we eat because we’re tired, because we’re stressed, or because we’re bored–even though we’re not hungry. But none of us should eat without knowing why we’re eating.

We can talk about when to eat and when not to later. For now, let’s just focus on being aware.

Today’s B3,RD challenge is simply to ask yourself before eating: “Am I hungry?”

I’m home

After a jam-packed weekend in Denver at FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo), I am now home.

I talked politics with Jeff, spent way too much money on food, attended interesting lectures, got scads of free junk, and even drove the van for a while.

I did NOT jump out of an airplane, talk to a homeless person, drink alcohol, or complain to a waiter (as others in my group did).

I graded papers, collected CPEUs (Continuing Professional Education Units), schmoozed with UNL alums, saw some of my internship preceptors, watched the unfortunate football game, and slept on Dr. K’s floor.

I attended a great session on mindful eating (more on a B3-RD post later), and an almost worthless session on blogging (it was created for someone who had little to no awareness of social media). I learned about nutrition for kids with Asperger’s and about the development of the American Dietetic Association’s Evidence Analysis Library. I cleared up a question about high fructose corn syrup (look forward to this one on a B3-RD post) and collected an awful lot of simply thick (I’ll probably post about this too–even though it’s unlikely to be useful for you personally.)

All in all, it was a good conference. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation, the company, the food, the room, the drive (except maybe the drive back). But now I’m pretty much pooped.