What a wonderfully refreshing change this book is. In an age where foods or supplements are deemed essential for life one day, then toxic the next, or both at the same time, the author Joe Schwarcz explains with clarity and scientific authority just what is really going on. He cuts through the latest 'miracle food' marketing hyperbole, 'astounding' research results, and explains what the substance actually is, how it operates, and the current scientific understanding of its effects on the human system. Perhaps even more importantly, he is not trying to sell you anything, not trying to convert you to some radical 'fad' or lifestyle. All he is doing is cutting through swathes of near-hysterical media bandwagons to promote common sense backed by sound scientific evidence.
In some instances, such popular myths can acutally cause harm. The take-up of pollutants in some oily fish, for example, have been shown to occur in minuscule amounts. But detrimental health effects can occur if consumers cut out such foods since the scientifically established health benefits massively outweigh any risk that such pollutants may pose. Another concern is that all our food today is contaminated with 'chemicals'. As the author states, such statements are meaningless without appropriate context. Take the eponymous apple of the book's title. Apples contain nail polish remover (acetone), rubbing alcohol (isopropanol), and cyanide. Should we be worried about eating apples? Of course not. Context is everything. The amounts of these, and over 300 other chemicals found in apples, are too small to be of any consequence. Whatever effect the fruit has on our health is a reflection of all of these naturally occurring substances.
The material is presented logically in three main parts: "Naturally occurring substances in our food supply", "Manipulating our food supply", and "Contaminants in our food supply". You can read from beginning to end, or dip into specific chapters at random. I suspect, though, that you will have the book read in very short order. It is gripping, with each easy to read chapter being only a few pages long.
Sections such as those describing the artificial sweetener 'debate', for example, are fascinating and the results not what I was expecting at all. The author reserves particular outrage on our behalf at the 'scientific' results of so-called media-friendly 'doctors'. One, for example, fools us with her 'Dr.' status which turns out to be an honorary doctorate in humanities from an unaccredited religious institution. And yet she is influencing policy through media pickup and sensationalism, while proper controlled scientific studies graft away in the background, rarely making news unless a genuine breakthrough really has been discovered. I felt mounting outrage while reading through this, and many other chapters.
Typical of Schwarcz's concluding section is the subject of 'detox'. As the author puts it:
"Even if detox diets do result in improved feeling of well-being, their concept is flawed. The message is that our body will forgive our dietary sins if we periodically undergo a cleanse. That's not what sound nutrition is all about. Focus should be on eating in a healthy fashion all the time, not on making some dramatic alteration when a problem arises. But that idea doesn't sell nearly as well as claims of miraculously restored health by a short-term change in diet."
I couldn't agree more. If, like me, you are confused about what to believe in the field of nutrition today, how we are being massively manipulated, you absolutely must read this book. The author gives you the tools to make your own informed decisions based on genuine scientific research. Oh, and he does conclude with what he personally considers a good, healthy eating lifestyle.
I thought I was well-informed at a culinary level, not blinded by myth and rhetoric. How wrong I was. The author is to be congratulated on this superlative exposition.