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An Apple A Day: The Myths, Misconceptions, and Truths About the Foods We Eat [Hardcover]

Joe Schwarcz
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The truth is out there (well, in here actually) June 26 2008
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.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, and easy reading Aug. 6 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've recommended this book to many of my friends. The chapters are all about 4 pages so you can put it down anytime without losing the flow. His writing style is very good: easy to read, factual, with a bit of humour to make it enjoyable. Buy it - you won't regret it.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasure to read... March 5 2009
I really enjoy this book. It is very easy to read, the chapters are short so that you won't loose the flow. I read this while having lunch at work and it's very enjoyable. Highly recommended.
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12 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book based on two 5 star customer reviews, and because at the time, it was 94th in books here, at amazon.ca. I've purchased many books on nutrition from amazon. This is the only one I sent back.

Coming from a Canadian author, I was hoping to like this book, but after reading the small section entitled "Milk and Calcium", I lost a lot of respect for this man as a "nutrition authority".

I think the author could have produced a better book if he'd written in greater depth on fewer subjects, the ones he was most knowledgeable on. Dairy products are not one of those subjects, and his bias in their favour is painfully obvious.

He portrays the anti-dairy segment of our society as being primarily animal rights and vegetarian organizations, and claims that independent researchers fall on the side of the dairy industry for milk's health benefits. Don't Drink Your Milk!: New Frightening Medical Facts About the World's Most Overrated Nutrient ( While this book is dated, the number of medical doctors recommending against consuming dairy products has continued to grow.)

He acknowledges that, "Milk stands accused of contributing to heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, allergies, stomach cramps, diarrhea, autism, mucus production, and, get this, bone fractures!"

But he fails to acknowledge the theory that's becoming more widely accepted among those in the nutritional science community for why cow's milk may not be a positive contributing factor for bone health.
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Chemical Bag Oct. 21 2009
By P. Mccall - Published on Amazon.com
Overall, I found this book to be comprehensible and reasonable. The main points were there for the reading, and the more comprehensive research was there for those who want something deeper. He says what he's going to say, goes into detail, then sums it all up at the end. I can't ask for much more.

I felt that he did a good job of handling a wide variety of subjects. I agree with other reviewers who say that his chapter on milk was overly simplistic and cursory, which is odd because the rest of An Apple a Day seems very well thought out.

Mr. Schwarcz covers dioxins, BPA, fish oils, caffeine, floridation and various vitamins, among others. The book answered a number of questions I've had for a while, and some I hadn't thought of.

In general, Mr. Schwarcz was skeptical of research funded by people with a stake in the results, but he breaks his own rule a couple of times, which I found odd. I made a note of those times and tended to dismiss those particular research results. Those instances were rare, however, so I didn't find that it took away significantly from the book as a whole.

I would recommend this book for anyone with specific questions about major nutritional talking points, who wants a (mostly) even-handed evaluation of the scientific literature.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, no citations June 30 2009
By Caitlin P. Rothermel - Published on Amazon.com
This is a good book, lots of useful information, in a nice "bite-sized" mini-chapter format. I work a lot in the field of nutrition and so recognized that a good deal of the information contained in "Apple a Day" is backed by sound medical research and published literature. In other cases, if you are familiar with the medical literature, his analysis seems a bit superficial. That said, the biggest flaw of this book is that the author did not provide citations so other readers could backtrack and check his data and assumptions.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book that answers a lot of questions you might have Feb. 5 2009
By MPB - Published on Amazon.com
I have to completely disagree with the previous review by Warren. It looks like this person doesn't know what he's talking about. "An apple a day" is an excellent book and it will answer a lot of questions you might have about food etc. First of all the author is not a "nutrition authority" as Warren claims but a Professor of Chemistry, so he explores the subject from the scientific point of view. This is not a nutritional guide or a diet book. And by the way, the author exposes many so called "nutrition experts" with degrees from online universities who really don't know what they are talking about, since they have no real knowledge of chemistry or biology. Everybody should read this book to get a better understanding about food, "toxic chemicals" etc. Now it's much easier for me to tell which "nutrition expert" knows his stuff and which one doesn't!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Phew and whew. May 23 2010
By Deb - Published on Amazon.com
"Phew! That was a lot to digest, wasn't it?"

Those are the words author Joe Schwarcz uses at the conclusion of his book which is jam-packed with the latest data, debates, and drama about the foods (and chemicals <gasp!> therein) we eat. His book is indeed a full-course meal...and then some.

First, he leads us through a tour of naturally occurring substances in our food supply, including flax, fiber, omega-3 fats, antioxidants, flavanols, vitamins, and minerals. Next, he presents the most controversial issues related to the manipulation of our food supply: fortifying with iron and fluoride; sweetening with natural and artificial sweeteners; manipulating genes in our food; and preserving with sulphites, viruses, and radiation. Then, he takes us up close and personal with the contaminants in our food supply, including pesticides, hormones, BPA, PCBs, and dioxins. And, finally, Joe leads us through the nutritional hype surrounding some of the latest nutritional fads such as goji juice, detoxing, DHEA, and green tea.

It's likely your head will be spinning after consuming all the nutritional chemistry, controversy and and commentary that Joe serves up. (And, to answer his question above: yes, it is a lot to digest!) He does do an impressive job in guiding us through the maze of myths, misconceptions and truths about the foods we eat, but--as food science is rarely a conclusive one--be prepared to be confused at times. Fortunately, Joe offers relief at the end of the book, to help us digest it all:
"There is more to life than worrying about every morsel of food we put into our mouths. What matters is the overall diet...When you carefully scrutinize the scientific studies that are being rolled out almost on a daily basis, most amount to no more than tinkering with the basic nutritional principles we have tried to lay down: eat mostly foods based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, and don't overeat."

12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A chemistry experiment gone bad! April 6 2009
By Steven Mason - Published on Amazon.com
Schwarcz is a Professor of Chemistry who has written several books about diet and nutrition. Judging by this book I'm thinking he should stick to chemistry.

I'm not saying that Schwarcz's dietary recommendations are bad. After you take away the discussions of chemical terms and processes you end up with the same sort of recommendations you've been hearing about for decades: Eat mostly foods based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, and don't overeat. Hey, is there ANY nutrition book out there that recommends eating mostly meat, fat, and sugar, and overeating?

I majored in biology at college, so I thought that a chemistry-focused discussion of nutrition would be interesting. I was wrong. I can't really fault Schwarcz for that, because his book makes it clear that it will get into some chemistry, and many of the chemicals in foods have long, hard to pronounce names. But the subtitle to the book led me to believe that the chemistry discussion would be enlivened by learning about "the myths, misconceptions, and truths about the foods we eat." Again I was wrong, and this time I can fault Schwarcz. Schwarcz ends up recommending the same type of whole-food, unprocessed diet as any mainstream diet book, so I wonder just which myths and misconceptions he thinks he is addressing? He recommends that meat should be "an occasional treat," and even then the portion size "should cover a small portion of the plate." Those people who still believe in the "myth" that humans need to eat lots of meat would sooner barbecue Schwarcz's book than read it. Regarding other myths and misconceptions, Schwarcz is covering old, well-trod ground. I suppose this book might be helpful to someone who has had his head in the nutritional sands for the past two decades.

I can't forgive the chapter on milk. His discussion of calcium and osteoporosis is superficial at best. He doesn't address any of the major risk factors for osteoporosis, nor does he discuss the chemical processes underlying them, nor effective countermeasures. He doesn't offer a single study demonstrating that consuming dairy lowers the incidence of bone fractures, which seems strange considering that this is the dairy industry's number one claim to fame. Schwarcz does point to two studies which contradict his claim that milk is good for bones, but he blatantly dismisses them. One study shows that "Asians have a lower incidence of osteoporosis than Westerners even though they consume less dairy." Schwarcz responds by saying, "True enough, but they also have a very different overall diet and lifestyle." He leaves it at that, and he doesn't bother to say what parts of the "very different diet and lifestyle" are healthier! He then mentions the comprehensive Nurses' Health Study "which found that nurses who drank two or more glasses of milk a day actually broke more bones and had a higher risk of hip fractures." Schwarcz responds by subscribing to a hypothesis that the nurses who drank more milk were the ones who had the weakest bones to begin with! I say hypothesis because he has no evidence for it. To make things worse, Schwarcz goes out of his way to describe anyone who "criticizes" milk consumption as part of the "antimilk lobby," driven more by an irrational agenda than any objective analysis of the evidence. I eat moderate amounts of dairy (for taste, not health), and I'm not part of any antimilk lobby, but does that mean I must believe that dairy foods are good for my bones? Schwarcz says that when we "look at the totality of the evidence, an overwhelming number of studies show that bone strength improves with calcium intake, and dairy products offer the best source of calcium." Schwarcz is linking dairy to calcium to bone strength, which in effect means he is suggesting that dairy is good for bones. But again, he doesn't offer even one study which gives any evidence for this claim, and instead shows us two studies which contradict it. Furthermore, Schwarcz dismisses "antimilk" arguments that no other species except humans drink milk after weaning. He's missing the entire point: the objective and telling observation that all adult animals on earth thrive without milk. Schwarcz would have us believe as scientific gospel that human adults, for special reasons he never explains, need milk to thrive and prevent bone fractures (except, of course, for those Asian human adults, who have very different diets and lifestyles!).

This is the model of clear, rational, scientific thinking we're supposed to follow, as Publishers Weekly says, that "leaves readers with a rational framework for evaluating the complex nature of foods and how they affect health."? I'd say it's a great example of a cloudy, irrational, and incomplete framework. In the end, the best that Schwarcz can do is tell us that milk "is not a poison," as some fringe members of PETA might say.

In conclusion, Schwarcz did not bust any new myths or misconceptions and his recommendations are consistent with mainstream recommendations. You know the drill: Eat mostly veggies, fruits, beans, and whole grains, don't overeat, engage in enjoyable physical activities, get adequate rest. If you do all that don't worry about whatever else you like to eat!
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