Book Report for the week: Be Afraid, Very Afraid, of What Passes for Food in America


Okay, the title of the amazing book I will review is actually The Unhealthy Truth: One Mother’s Shocking Investigation Into The Dangers of America’s Food Supply – And What Every Family Can Do To Protect Itself, by Robyn O’Brien, Broadway Books, 2009 (a better title to be sure). What Robyn does within 268 pages is spectacular – she provides a no-holds-barred look at the issues with our food supply AND takes individuals, corporations, government agencies and foundations to task for their roles in the dysfunction. She names names and describes what those in positions of authority have done and not done to ensure that America’s foods are full of artificial colors, flavors, additives, hormones, and genetically modified ingredients – many of which are banned in other countries like England and Australia – all the while ensuring that corporations like Monsanto achieve record profits on the backs of unsuspecting American consumers (because of a lack of GMO labeling laws – yes, we’re looking at you, WA and OR).

Robyn starts by describing the food allergies she discovered in her young children, how she received little helpful information from her doctors as to the causes and why food allergies have increased so dramatically, and how that galvanized her into conducting in-depth research into the relationship between kid’s food allergies and the substandard quality of our food supply. This led her to discover unsavory aspects of genetically modified corn, soy consumption, and recombinant bovine somatotrophine (rBST) A.K.A. recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in milk. For example:

  • Genetically modified corn, known as Bt corn, has been scientifically altered to include the genetic code of an insecticide called Bt protein, a toxin that kills the corn rootworms that try to eat it (page 121). Recall from my previous post “GMO here, there everywhere” that 88% of corn is Bt corn, so if you have consumed anything with conventional corn in it, you have consumed a Frankenfood composed of corn proteins and an insecticide protein. This is frightening on several levels: (1) We are consuming an insecticide protein, and I don’t care if “the authorities” say it is at a safe level, I don’t believe it. (2) This combination of proteins may result in the unintended creation of new proteins, and it is proteins the body interprets as foreign and dangerous (whether they are or not) that trigger allergic reactions. As Robyn asks on page 91, “Creating new proteins was what genetic engineering was all about – and since these proteins had never before existed, how did you find out whether people might be allergic to them?”. (3) This genetic combination of a food and insecticide goes against all rules of nature and in order to make this happen, nature’s barriers against the combination of genetic materials from different species need to be overcome. Extraordinary measures that nature never intended need to be taken, and Robyn describes them beautifully in Chapter 5. This must be read to be believed.
  • A 1997 study in Britain’s prestigious medical journal The Lancet showed that infants given soy formula had in their blood stream extremely high levels of isoflavones (which help produce estrogen and might be toxic to the thyroid). In fact, they had levels from 5 – 10x that of adult women who were taking soy supplements. Note that among girls and women, high levels of estrogen have been associated with cancers, obesity and early puberty. In a warning letter to the FDA, doctors warned that soy-fed babies were taking part in “a large, uncontrolled, and basically unmonitored human infant experiment.” The United States FDA did nothing with this information, so that soy formula is still prevalent here, whereas the British consider soy formula as an absolute last resort (page 77). Was your child fed soy formula? Did you think it was perfectly safe? If so, how does this make you feel?
  • The claimed benefit of rBGH is that it increases milk production, but the cost to the dairy cows is high. The package even warns that it “may increase risk of clinical mastitis” among other things. This one is serious because it is a painful type of udder infection that causes cows to pump out bacteria and pus along with the milk, requiring treatment with antibiotics and other meds that can end up in the milk (p. 99). So a glass of conventional milk can be loaded with growth hormone, antibiotics, cow bacteria and udder pus. As if this wasn’t bad enough, there may be a correlation between rBGH and premenopausal breast cancer (p.102) which is becoming more common. Is this what you thought you were feeding your growing children? Recall also in my previous posts about Paul Pitchford’s book Healing with Whole Foods that green leafy vegetables are a better source of bone-building calcium anyway, so the whole “Got Milk” slogan is a beautiful bit of marketing, but otherwise is a scam.

Robyn also discovered that many foundations, research institutions and government agencies, like the FDA, are in deep cahoots with the likes of Monsanto and these relationships taint the advice and information they provide as they do not want to offend their Big Corporate Overlord, as this could put a lucrative job offer or grant from them in jeopardy. It’s good to hear that these people have their priorities straight – hmmm…groom myself for a big job offer or protect integrity of food supply for generations to come? What a toughie! Seriously, what kind of a cynical, self-centered person chooses the former? And do we want these people in charge of the genetic composition of our food supply?

On page 198, Robyn writes the following about genetic engineering: “The phrase that to me best sums up the problem is Michael Pollan’s evocative “playing God in the garden”, which he first used in a 1998 New York Times article, presumably to express the depth of his concern about what might happen when humans could indeed “play God”. What’s disturbing to Pollan – and to me – about genetic engineering is that not only are we manipulating the DNA of living organisms for our own purposes, but that we then take the process a step further and forcibly cross tow living species that all the laws of nature have been designed to prevent from mating.” In other words, the level of hubris we are seeing from those in charge of our food supply is simply astounding. I wonder if they think they and their families will be immune from the damage they cause to the entire planet.

Robyn covers much more ground in this book about the science behind what triggers an allergic reaction, how food allergies are likely related to additives and genetic modification, pitfalls of genetic modification, the startling increase in food allergies, how to protect your family, Monsanto’s sleazy and predatory business practices, and so on. I really encourage you to read this book because you will be changed as a result. Once you gain the knowledge about the relationship between the food you consume and your family’s health and well-being, there is no going back to the grocery store and buying the artificial junk that Monsanto and the FDA want us to believe is food.

And on a final note, Robyn took her concern a step further as she started a foundation to help allergy parents with the information she uncovered, called AllergyKids ( Check it out if you are the parent of a child with food allergies because you will get unbiased information there as she is not beholden to corporate interests.

That concludes this week’s book report! I hope it was informative and helpful. I am now reading Toxic Food – Healthy Food by Dr. Edward Aronoff and will submit a book report on that in 2 weeks. I am sure what I learn will scare the hell out of me as well!


The subject of nutrition…The Yin/Yang Principle Finale


Greetings! Today we wrap up our review of Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford, North Atlantic Books, 1993. We’ve reviewed a large part of it already, but there is more good stuff to come.

We’ll start with Part III, Chapter 23, which is called “Five Elements: Seasonal Attunement and the Organs in Harmony and Disease”. The five elements in Chinese medicine include wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each is associated with body parts (e.g. fire with the heart, water with the kidneys), sense organs, senses, tissues, emotions, voice sounds and fluids. The Chinese philosophy elaborately describes the interplay amongst the elements, as they are all interconnected by the flow of qi energy, fluids, nutrients, emotions, and many other factors. Thus, imbalance in one area impacts another. For example, kidneys that cause excessive fluid retention weaken the heart (water can put out fire) and so many who have heart and circulatory problems such as hypertension are given diuretics to shed excess water. Paul Pitchford sums up the situation as “Chinese physiology in conjunction with the Five Element Theory, presents the entire person – bodily functions, tissues, and organs as well as mental and emotional aspects – as correspondences that influence one another. This orderly system suggests perfection in the inter-connection of all things, and thereby enhances our sense of unity.“ Interconnectedness is a theme which pervades this approach and is consistent with other metaphysical teachings as well.

In order to properly describe how to treat system imbalances with diet, the 5 flavors must be introduced, because a food’s predominant flavor is related to its therapeutic value.  Thus, this chapter describes  the properties, uses, organ functions, seasonal attunement, individuals most benefited by , and cautions for the 5 flavors – sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, salty. For example, the salty flavor is associated with the Water Element, has the yin property and a cooling effect, and tends to move energy downward and inward. It may be used to soften lumps, such as cataracts, and other knottings of the muscles and glands. Because of the descending, cooling nature of the salty flavor it attunes one to the colder seasons and climates, and should be used progressively more throughout the fall and winter.

The rest of the chapter is spent on each of the Five Elements, their associated body parts, and how to treat imbalances through diet. Very interesting stuff and I paid particular attention to the Metal Element (for autumn) and the Water Element (for winter). The Metal Element is associated with the lungs and large intestine and the Water Element is associated with the kidneys and bladder, hence one should pay particular attention to these organs at this time of year. There are many good suggestions in this section about which foods to eat and how to prepare them to stay in tune with the seasons both physically and emotionally.

The final Parts are IV and V. Part IV is called “Diseases and Their Dietary Treatment” and discusses blood sugar imbalances, blood disorders, cancer and other degenerative disorders. There is good information for the lay person here though treatment of these serious conditions would require help from a professional. Part V is called “Recipes and Properties of Vegetal Foods” and contains almost 200 pages of seasonal recipes.

In Part V, there is also one very interesting section called “Vibrational Cooking” that I would like to call out. Up to this point, he discussed the relationship between the food and the eater, and here he discussed the relationship between the cook and the food. Paul points out that there is an invisible energy imparted to the food by the cook that affects everyone who partakes of it. The appearance, taste, balance, and presentation of food and the way everyone feels after eating are reflections of the cook’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state. For example, food prepared in anger imparts anger. Everything is connected energetically (between us and within us), so if you are not in the greatest mood prior to preparing dinner, perhaps take a break and calm down before grabbing the pots and pans!

So that brings us to the end of this book review! I’d say this book summarizes an amazing whole body, whole mind and whole spirit approach to health that has been honed over thousands of years by Chinese sages and hence worthy of consideration. The western medical approach has been around for a several hundred years and is only now slowly accepting that the body, mind and spirit are not separate entities that can be understood and treated in isolation. There is much to learn from ancient Oriental and Indian traditions such as Ayurveda which emphasize the interconnectedness of ALL things, that we are all manifestations of a single energy source. If this approach resonates with you, then please investigate further. This book is very comprehensive and a great start!

The subject of nutrition…The Yin/Yang Principle, Part 2


Welcome back! Last Thursday, I started reviewing Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford, 1993, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.  I shall continue here, but not finish because there is too much to cover. I hope that I’ve already convinced you to invest in this informative book!

Part II provides detailed information on the essentials of nutrition. I already summarized the sections on water, oils and fats, sweeteners and salt. There’s more good stuff:

–          Condiments, caffeine and spices:  Warming properties and therapeutic uses of vinegar, pepper and mustard are discussed.  Paul describes why he is not a fan of baking powder, monosodium glutamate (which should be avoided at all times as it is a BAD actor) and caffeine. He brings up good points about the dangerous chemicals used in the production of coffee – poisonous herbicide and pesticide sprays, petroleum-based solvents for decaffeination, and other chemicals in making it instant. He therefore recommends the use of whole, organic coffee beans if one must partake, but also notes the health issues associated with moderate (2 cups/day) and heavy coffee intake. He finishes this section by explaining why he is a big fan of teas and many spices. No ringing endorsements for double lattes here…perhaps organic lattes should be considered a treat and organic green tea the daily ritual.

–          Vitamins and supplements: Paul does not recommend heavy reliance on supplements to compensate for poor dietary practices. Instead he suggests a balanced dietary approach: eliminate negative foods (e.g. intoxicants and chemical ingredients), replace inferior foods (e.g. refined grains with whole grains), supplement deficiency (e.g. using whole foods supplements), and reduce excess conditions (which result from a rich and fatty diet).  He notes that whole food supplements may have merit at times but also includes an explanation of alternative concentrated sources of nutrition (e.g. wild foods, seaweed, etc). All very sensible.

–          Calcium: Paul includes an extensive section on calcium, which I appreciated as a middle-aged dame. I learned something here because it turns out that the conventional wisdom about getting calcium from dairy products and supplements may not be so wise. He talks about the Chinese using calcium supplements like oyster shell for its sedative and cooling value, not for strengthening bones. In fact, alternate approaches are more effective – nurturing the kidneys and eating foods high in calcium and cofactors of calcium metabolism. These cofactors are critical for the absorption of the calcium, and include dietary magnesium, phosphorous, vitamins A, C, and D. He spends several pages going into the science behind calcium metabolism, foods to avoid because they inhibit calcium or contain oxalic acid (which counteracts their ability to supply calcium), foods with high calcium content (spoiler alert: yogurt is 25th on the list), and other ways to increase calcium absorption.  I didn’t know that silica played an important role. Good old SiO2.

–          Green food products: This section is packed with interesting information. Paul spends time discussing chlorophyll – the product of photosynthesis and the substance that makes plants appear green.  He explains the properties and actions of chlorophyll (e.g. purification) and gives many examples of healthy green foods. He also explains that chlorophyll may be able to enrich the blood and treat anemia because the molecular structure of it and hemoglobin (red blood cells) is very similar. The molecules are virtually identical except for their central atom. The center of the chlorophyll molecule is magnesium whereas the center of hemoglobin is iron, which is why chlorophyll is sometimes called “the blood of plant life”. I didn’t know that!

–          Enjoyment of food: Lots of good stuff here, too.  One example is the section on chewing food sufficiently, something we usually don’t think too much about, especially if we are in a hurry to finish a meal. It is an important process as carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth. Paul explains that whole vegetal foods, especially whole grains, must be mixed with saliva and chewed until liquid to release their full nutritional value. He recommends counting the chewing of each bite 30 – 50 times at the beginning of each meal. I tried this and it feels unnatural as I am apparently not used to chewing sufficiently.  That’s an easy one to change though. Paul also included a very informative section on meal schedules, the optimal times to eat throughout the day, and optimal types of foods for each meal. I thought I had things pretty worked out in this regard, but not so much. Need to eat some different things AND chew them well, apparently. He points out that the liver, in particular, needs to complete numerous subtle metabolic functions between 1am and 3am according to the Chinese clock, unhampered by the early stages of digestive activity. One of these functions is blood purification, which is interrupted and altered when late meals are eaten. So dinner before 7pm, people, and your liver will be very appreciative.

–          Food combinations: Paul gives a good explanation about the importance of food combining, which is generally not taken into consideration in the western diet. One entrée may have proteins, starches, dairy and vegetables, which according to his explanation is a digestive nightmare. The reason for this is that proper and complete assimilation of food is a result of the action of digestive enzymes. Different types of food require their own unique enzymes. When many different ingredients are eaten at the same meal, the body becomes confused and is not able to manufacture all of the necessary enzymes simultaneously. Paul thus presents 3 different types of meal plans, the loosest for the generally healthy person who wants to extract the most nutrition from effective digestion, to the tightest for those who are ill or have digestive issues. This  whole approach makes a lot of sense and is worth considering, especially if you feel bloated and heavy after a complicated meal.

The last two sections are on Fasting and Purification and finally Food for Children. They are also full of good information and I direct you to them if they are topics of interest.

And that brings us to the end of Part II! There are 3 more parts: The Five Element and Organ Systems, Diseases and Their Dietary Treatment, and Recipes and Properties of Vegetal Foods. I will spend another 1 or 2 postings to review those interesting sections.

Until we meet again, I thought I would end with some satire from Jon Stewart. The Daily Show does a great job skewering Monsanto’s business practice of suing small farmers over patent infringements. Kudos to them for shining a bright light on this travesty:—seed-patent-laws?xrs=share_copy

As a Catholic I can appreciate this one from Woody Allen: “Photons have mass? I
didn’t even know they were Catholic.”

Om Shanti Om,


On the subject of nutrition….The Yin/Yang Principle


Greetings All! I would like to review an amazing book today and in the next couple of nutrition posts called Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford, 1993, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA. This is a treatise on the traditional Oriental way of eating and using food to treat illness and maintain optimum health. The book is over 700 pages long and is packed with detailed information and recipes. For example, Paul Pitchford recommends a three-pronged approach for optimum health and happiness: a whole foods diet, an awareness practice such as meditation, and a mindful exercise such as yoga or qi gong. Dietary treatments form the foundation of good health but are not all that is required.  The goal is to combine nutrition with awareness and exercise practices that heal, strengthen and integrate the mind and body, though the topic of the book is on nutrition.

I will give a brief overview of this book so that you can decide if you wish to read it in detail and implement his recommendations. Personally, I follow more of a Mediterranean diet where I try to incorporate cooling foods that are beneficial for my predominant Pitta Dosha (I don’t need to be any more fired up than I already am!). I believe that there are many beneficial ways of eating and this one may work for you, so check it out if this looks interesting to you.

Part I is entitled “The Roots of Diagnosis and Treatment” and provides an excellent description of the yin/yang principle and the Six Divisions of yin and yang: heat/cold (the thermal nature of food and people), interior/exterior (building immunity), excess/deficiency (the relative strength of a person). There is also a description of the Six Influences: heat, cold, wind, dry, damp and summer heat. The interplay of the Divisions and Influences can be complicated, so diagnosis of disease using them requires quite a bit of training, knowledge and experience.  This book provides great information for the novice, and I would recommend consulting a professional in Oriental healing arts for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Paul wraps up this section by stating “Diagnostic patterns such as the Six Divisions and Six Influences are invaluable aids which magnify and clarify the borders between intuition and reason, art and science, thereby securing a firm diagnostic foundation for traditional healing arts – diet, herbs, exercise, awareness practices, healing touch, acupuncture – as well as modern medical treatments”. Well said.

Part II is entitled “Essentials of Nutrition” and this is a 200 page section full of interesting nutrition information. There is a discussion about dietary transition and healing reactions (i.e. types of reactions and how to mitigate them). The belief is that “healing reactions present an opportunity to go back through everything not previously resolved in one’s life. We carry our entire personal histories in our bodies. Every injury that did not heal fully – whether physical, emotional, or mental – must be made right… According to traditional Japanese medicine, if there is no meigan (healing reaction), there is no cure.” This is a powerful concept and one that is not appreciated in western medicine enough. We think that we can bury and ignore past traumas without dealing with them, but that is an overly intellectual and kind of arrogant view. It’s just not the case. The residues from those events are in our bodies, waiting to either be released or manifest themselves as tension, minor illness or chronic disease.  For an example of a study of this topic, see . If one wishes to achieve optimum health, task number one should be going back and examining past traumas (perhaps with the help of a professional therapist), dealing with them, and purging them.

In Part II, Paul also recommends proportions of food groups – exact percentages are given, and the majority is grains, vegetables, and fruits. This recommendation seems universal as it actually sums up the Mediterranean diet that I was raised on in an Italian-American family. He does allocate a small percentage to animal products, though he recommends a vegetarian diet. He spends a significant amount of time discussing the importance of protein and vitamin B12 and also sources in the plant and animal kingdoms. However he also includes a section called “Choices – When Animal Foods are Necessary” in which he describes properties and common uses of fish and meats to treat illnesses.

Paul also delves into details regarding several important groups of foods:

–          Water: He includes a discussion about the importance of drinking the best quality water available and recommendations regarding type and amounts of water.

–          Oils and Fats: He recommends amounts and discusses their nature. For example, although most national health organizations recommend 20% fat in the diet, the American diet is closer to 40%.  The danger of a high-fat diet is that it promotes tumors, cancers, obesity, hearty disease, gall bladder and liver disorders, and may contribute to diabetes, amongst other degenerative conditions [1] – [3]. Fats are necessary because they build tissues, enhance the fluid metabolism, and direct nutrients into the nervous system. However those in the west would be well-advised to monitor our intake of the dangerous ones and become educated about the essential fatty acids, which are those that the body is unable to provide – linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. He includes a section on heart and artery renewal which could be important for those looking for a more natural way to deal with such issues.

–          Sweeteners: He provides tips to satisfy the sweet tooth in a healthy way as sugar is a major life force and our bodies need it as fuel. Paul explains that sugars in whole foods are balanced with the proper minerals and the energy obtained from the breaking down and assimilating these sugars is of a constant and enduring nature. However when natural sugar is refined and concentrated, the life force is dispersed and the natural balance upset. We are therefore well advised not to go nuts with the sugary drinks and snacks. He does recommend Stevia, which I have noticed in health food stores.

–          Salt: Paul explains that from the viewpoint of Chinese medicine, salt benefits the kidneys. But its overuse damages them, leading to emaciation, weakened bones and blood, and deficiencies in the heart and spirit. Modern physiology has demonstrated that an excess of salt interferes with the absorption of nutrients and depletes calcium, whereas appropriate salt usage enhances calcium absorption and nutrient utilization in general. This close alignment between traditional and modern knowledge reinforces our awareness of the effects of salt overuse. Most current guidelines for daily salt consumption recommend about 3,000 mg, while the average American consumes 17,000mg. Salt is hidden in many artificial and processed foods, which may be one cause for the high uptake, so we are well advised to eat simple, unprocessed, whole foods.

[1] Carroll, K.K. Dietary fats and cancer. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53 (4 Suppl): pp 1064S – 1067S, Apr 1991

[2] Statland, B.E. Nutrition and cancer. Clinical Chemistry 38 (8B Part 2): pp 1587 – 1594, Aug 1992.

[3] Chen, J. Campbell, T.C. et al. Diet, Lifestyle and Mortality in China: a Study of the Characteristics of 65 Counties. Ithica, NY: Cornell Univ Press [ co-publisheres Oxford Univ. Press and The China People’s Medical Publishing House], 190, p 97.

Yikes – this post is long and I have only reviewed about 1/3 of the book! It is so full of good information that I will dedicate another 1 or 2 postings to it. You can also learn more at or follow Paul on Facebook.

And to wrap up, a joke for the carnivores: “Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage.” Woody Allen, The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose.

Happy Eating!