The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth
by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S.
360 pages, Fair Winds Press
The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth
by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S.
358 pages, Fair Winds Press
Reviews by Melissa Conway
Right off the bat I’m going to recommend that everyone reading this review go straight out (or click on the title link above) to purchase The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. It’s one of the nutritional “bibles” in my household, and I’ve even given it out to several members of my family as gifts. I hope they read it.
Jonny Bowden describes himself in his books as a nationally known expert on nutrition and health, and it becomes clear soon after beginning 150 that he does seem to know his stuff. As a culinary layperson, it was nice to have a nutritional authority spell out in succinct terms what I should eat and why. The only blip in an otherwise trusting relationship between author and reader is the nagging question of how long Jonny’s advice will be valid. I say this because, as Michael Pollan points out in his book In Defense of Food, “…the constantly shifting ground of nutrition science…is steadily advancing the frontiers of our knowledge about diet and health…or just changing its mind a lot because it is a flawed science that knows much less than it cares to admit.”
Still, the overwhelming evidence that whole, natural foods are superior on a number of levels is good enough for me. Flush with Bowden’s advice and hoping to reverse 40 years of junk-food-induced DNA damage, I rushed out and bought a whole grocery cart full of foods I’d never tried…and almost immediately regretted it. First of all, organic fresh fruits and vegetables cost a lot and spoil quickly. Secondly, a gut accustomed to highly-refined grain products can quite vigorously rebel against a sudden overload of fiber. Finally, taste is a factor. Watercress may be a “pungent, stimulating herb,” but it’s virtually inedible. Quinoa may be “the mother of all grains,” but it has a weird and unfamiliar consistency. Coconut oil may be full of healthy medium-chain fatty-acids, but it imbues everything you cook with a tongue-numbing aftertaste. Dates are “natures candy,” but…blech! And natto, or fermented Japanese soybeans (also called “vegetable cheese”), is quite simply the most disgusting substance on earth. Eat with caution unless you need an emetic.
The good news is: a lot of the foods we already like are good for us! We just need to eat more of them and try to buy fruits and veggies grown in soil that hasn’t been stripped of essential minerals and polluted with pesticides. Easier said than done, but a lot of big name grocery stores are now stocking better-for-you foods (although the term “fresh” doesn’t always apply. If given a choice between a wrinkled old organic apple and a crisp, waxed-shiny conventionally-grown one, it’s a close call which one will end up in my basket). The bad news is: a lot of the foods we grew up thinking were good for us—aren’t! Take soy. Bowden has it on good authority that, among other nasty properties, soy is chock full of “anti-nutrients” that block the action of essential enzymes. So unless it’s fermented to within an inch of its life (like miso, tempeh and the foul natto), it creates subtle havoc in our bodies. More good news though: some of the foods we grew up thinking were bad for us really aren’t (ohhh, butter…I love you so)! Instead, it was all a political conspiracy, using poorly designed studies, to get us to buy what They wanted us to buy! (I sound sarcastic, but in truth, that’s one conspiracy-theory that makes sense to me.)
In addition to teaching a ton about the current state of nutrition sciences as it applies to whole foods, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth is written first-person in Bowden’s everyman’s voice, so the reader is treated to his amusing musings. The text is large, the pictures attractive, and the layout logical. Go. Buy.
The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth is a somewhat different story. It is one of the companion books to 150, but the scope of what Bowden is attempting to do with the book over-reaches. I say this not because I’m any kind of expert in things medical, either from conventional Western standards or the more untraditional homeopathic methods used in this book, but because he comes right out and uses the word “Cures” in the title.
Most of the therapies offered between the cover don’t seem to cure much of anything. Take Bowden’s advice to increase iodine intake for hypothyroidism, for example. If we were talking about prevention of the consequences for someone who is already aware of an existing iodine deficiency, then sure. But according to Theodore C. Friedman, M.D., Ph.D. in his book The Everything Health Guide to Thyroid Disease, the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States is Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune condition where antibodies attack and destroy either thyroid peroxidase inside the thyroid cells or thyroglobulin, the protein that stores thyroid hormone. No one knows what causes the body to freak out and send autoantibodies against its own tissues, but there certainly isn’t any proof it’s caused by a shortage of any one nutrient. Dr. Friedman even points out that over-ingestion of iodine can cause a goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland), so use prudence if you intend to proceed.
Don’t get me wrong, Bowden is careful to plant sidebars all throughout the book advising his readers not to self-medicate and to seek medical advice blah blah blah. However, I’m guessing the average reader of alternative health books has a long history of unsatisfactory appointments with their family physician (and an entire cupboard dedicated to housing their supplement bottles). These folks are the ones most likely to ignore Bowden’s weak warnings (that everyone knows he puts in there to protect himself against litigation) and rush out to dump a fortune on the products he recommends. If they happen to purchase said products from Bowden’s website at www.jonnybowden.com, well, can we say “conflict of interest?”
I’m not advising against getting this book. I own it and I thumb through it on occasion (not nearly as often as 150, though) to see what Bowden has to say about certain afflictions that may or may not be affecting members of my family. Just--be aware that “folic acid might help your hearing” and “people who take L-carnitine soon after suffering a heart attack may be less likely to suffer a subsequent heart attack” and “When you give D-ribose to patients with ischemia, energy recovery and function can return to normal in an average of one to two days.” If you place realistic emphasis on “might” and “may” and “can” in the preceding sentences, and understand that Bowden has been a little fast and loose in his use of the word “cure,” then you might benefit from this book, you may enjoy it and you can take or leave its advice.