Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: The Gluten Lie and Other Myths About What You Eat

 We live in a hip, fast-paced world where Smartphones are as common as apple pie.  Thanks to medical breakthroughs, hearts can be transplanted, body fat can be zapped by high-frequency sound waves, and wrinkles can be erased by the botulism toxin. We're so swift and smart, our urban legends don't take decades to form--they happen immediately on Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.
But did you know that our contemporary ideas about nutrition are steeped in ancient myths and superstition?

 "In ground-breaking work, author Alan Levinovitz peels back the old wives' tales and shows that it's "not what we eat but how we eat it." 

Maybe it's time to put down our Splenda packets and reach for a heaping spoonful of moderation and a pinch of food history. According to the book, our current nutritional knowledge is based on ideas that began two thousand years ago. In China, the Daoist monks believed that grains "rotted and befouled" the human body, and if people eliminated gluten, they would live long, healthy lives. Actually, the monks went further. Those who avoided grains would enjoy "eternal youth and immortality." They would also develop a few magical skills, such as "the ability to fly and teleport." The fear of fat can be traced back to ancient Greece, when patients were advised to eat wild beasts--lean animal meat would, supposedly, keep a human lean. 18th century physicians believed that sugar was "a gateway drug to alcoholism" and promiscuity. 

These food fables make as much sense as a love charm: if you sprinkle hot foot powder in the shoes of an unfaithful man, supposedly you will change his moral fiber. Or maybe the cad will just change his shoes. 

Even today, you can't pick up a magazine that doesn't warn against the dangers of sugar, coffee, gluten, butter, and salt. Other articles say the opposite. It's enough to make a girl's head spin. I have a B. S. in Nursing, and despite my training, I have been seduced by quick weight-loss diets: bananas, cabbage, gluten-free, grapefruit and boiled eggs. I spent seven years on the Atkins Diet, which was a great sacrifice for a Southern woman like myself. I come from a long line of women who have sweet tea in their blood. We like crumbled cornbread in our milk, chocolate pralines during difficult moments, and Louisiana cane syrup on our pancakes. The best move I ever made was to start eating carbs. I remember the day it happened. I'd just finished a book tour in North Carolina.  I was a size 6, but my soul had shriveled, too, desperate for comfort food. (On a cold evening, a bowl of red beans and rice is like wrapping up in a wool sweater. Bread pudding is the food equivalent of a tartan blanket.) I remember sitting in a hotel restaurant, picking at a baked chicken breast. The waitress set down a dessert menu, and without hesitation I ordered a slice of pie--a coconut cream pie with five inches of meringue.
Best. Decision. Ever.

Eating in moderation never goes out of style, but it requires motivation and discipline. Isn't it easier to put your hope in the magical virtues of, say, raspberry ketone pills than to skip a second piece of chocolate-covered cheesecake? Wouldn't it be a snap to get your physician to prescribe the drug Orlistat? Then you can eat all the fat you want (just don't leave the house without a Depends).
I believe that non-medical diets are personal journeys--whatever works is a good thing. I wouldn't tell someone how to select draperies or a china pattern; I certainly wouldn't advise about weight-loss or any kind of diet. I will always sit in my little corner, happy to eat cake (one slice). But the scientific part of my brain will always be an empty cup, never satisfied until I know the facts--in this case, food facts.

An excerpt from The Gluten Lie:
"What we've been told: Going gluten-free will strengthen your brain and shrink your waistline.
The truth: Yes, gluten-free eating is the only effective treatment for celiac disease. But turning the cure for celiac into a miracle diet is silly--and it has happened before. In the early 1900s, doctors treated celiac disease with bananas and skim milk. Soon, the world was swept by "the banana diet," lured by the promise of quick weight loss. At the same time, weary parents fed their babies bananas to help them sleep through the night. 

"The myth of panaceas--cures that work for everything--has always been powerful, and it has always been false.We've been told that eating fat will make you fat. It's true that fat has calories, and if you consume too many calories, you'll gain weight."

"The truth is that no dietary demons have been proven to make us fat and stupid--but there's a long history of snake-oil salesmen that claim they do."

"The Gluten Lie will help you put the bun back on your burger, stop giving in to the latest diet fad, and live a happier, healthier, more delicious life."

Praise for The Gluten Lie:
"The book should be essential reading for anyone who contemplates following a restrictive diet and for all health practitioners."
-- Peter Gibson, MD, Director of Gastroenterology, Alfred Hospital

"Levinovitz shows us how to stop being afraid of food. Everyone truly interested in nutrition should read this book and get back to the joy of eating."
-- Philip Zeitler, MD, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine

"The cure for Dr. Oz-itis. Well researched and incredibly informative."
-- Jen Gunter, MD

Regan Arts
Barnes and Noble
Slate articles

Thanks to Regan Arts for supplying a copy of The Gluten Lie.

Shared at the following blog parties:
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  1. It sounds like a fascinating book and out of the box for sure, which is so needed these days! Trying to wade through all the misinformation out there will make one crazy. I have found even some doctors and nutritionists have pretty outdated ideas about diet. And everyone is different. I have found I need to eat whole, natural foods (veggies/fruits/nuts/almond or coconut milk/some meat) for the most part and indulge in a treat occasionally. For me sugar is literally like a drug and I have to approach it that way or I will be in the closet with a box of Krispy Kreme chocolate-covered creme filled donuts:-) I guess that would be where moderation comes in! Thanks for the review...I must check it out.

  2. I feel the same way -- it's all about moderation unless there's a medical issue, even though moderation is hard.Sounds like a wondeful read!

  3. I totally agree 'that it is not so much what you eat but how you eat', but also feel genetics may play a major role as well. Reason being ; I have high cholesterol (like my Mother, Grand Mother and Great Grand Mother had) yet neither one of us could be accused of being overweight or reckless in our diet. That said and speaking namely for myself; I do watch what I eat to an extent and try to balance it with foods that supposedly combat it. So far it has worked and if I should live to the age those mentioned; that will be good enough for me as all lived and were very active until their mid nineties. ☺ -Brenda-

  4. I guess I'm a cynic and just eat what I want, in moderation. I just couldn't get my head around the fact that in the eighties, it was considered healthy to eat whole wheat bread, so I baked it for my family. Then suddenly it wasn't a good thing, I read. Then what in the world are we supposed to put on our sandwiches? I just can't abide white bread. I threw out the Splenda generic and started using a little sugar. I too grew up in a house where we crumbled cornbread in our milk at night for a snack. And drank sweet tea. I'm just not the type to listen to the current "bad thing to eat." I'm just gonna eat what I want.

  5. oh how i love this... sugar was "a gateway drug to alcoholism" and promiscuity. explains a lot! ;-)

  6. My husband and I have watched the food trends for years, shaking our heads in disbelief as the media reports the danger of eggs only to flip flop several years later and tout their benefits...I have been waiting for the gluten free gurus to topple, and this isn't the first anti GF book I've seen written lately...I guess it's just human nature to always be looking for the secret and the quick fix, when the simple answer of balance and portion is right in front of them. It's going to be fun to watch this play out! If I couldn't eat bread, I would surely die!

  7. Wow Michael Lee, this sounds like such an interesting book. I enjoy reading food related topics, for sure, and learning all I can. One thing that I've been making for the past 14 years is bread from a sourdough starter from the Civil War. I've googled the benefits of eating sourdough bread, and the answers are pretty astounding. I could never give up homemade bread (or desserts, for that matter)! Moderation is the key. Thanks for sharing the information on this book with us.

  8. I actually yelled "YES!" Finally, someone spoke my mind. I never listen to food trends and this is another ridiculous one.

    I've done a lot of research on things like this and it turns out that the government is behind quite a few of them. One such case is the corn industry.... the farmers weren't selling enough corn, so the government decided to help by telling everyone to use corn oil instead of vegetable oil. Remember that? Vegetable oil was the cause for everything wrong with you and if you would just use corn oil, you'd be much better off. RIGHT! LOL Now it's Coconut oil that is going to give us the fountain of youth..... sigh. It never ends.


  9. I had to chuckle at "I come from a long line of women who have sweet tea in their blood." I do think there is something to the fact that our wheat today is not what it used to be that factors into the argument for GF. Still, I'm always amazed when there is a diet/food trend, how everyone jumps on the band wagon. I remember the fat-free craze of the 90's. I wished I had stock in Snackwell's Devil's Food Cookie Cakes since eveyone was eating the entire box because they were fat free :)

  10. I have never followed the diet fads....I always felt that if you choose your food wisely and eat in moderation, everything will fall into place...I do try to limit my sugar though...I do not believe in the "fake sugars" and have never had a diet soda...feel like I am drinking chemicals....and the fat free stuff is filled with sugar...and we need fat to fuel our brain...I read something interesting in which they are researching the years of the fat free craze to the increase in Alzheimers...and the use of artificial sweeteners to some neurological diseases...My hubby was on the Paleo diet for more than one reason...he lost too much weight and he is now not following it to the letter...I am going to buy him that book as he is an avid reader on anything with regard to nutrition and health...thanks so much...loved this!!!

  11. I knew there was a good reason why I can't teleport.

  12. I eat carbs, carbs, carbs! All day long, ha ha! I've never been skinny and when I was a kid my mom and grandma put me on diets. That negative stigma stayed with me. Though, I've never been on a diet since then! I always say 'In moderation'. I'm glad someone else agrees. :)

  13. Diet, schmiet. (This rhymed, in my head). I try to limit chemical laden processed foods, but everything else is game on.