Apr
27
2010

Review: The China Study by T. Colin Campbell

The China Study

By T. Colin CampbellCover of The China Study book

© 2006 Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc.

417 pages

This is a bit more of a heavy read but not too much so. Campbell writes with a conversational style. The inclusion of an index, and quite a good one, makes me smile.

In experiments described in The China Study, rats died faster on a high-casein (milk protein) diet than on a low-protein diet [p.60-62] when they were all fed the same amount of aflatoxin, a cancer-propagating substance.

The casein was an isolate. We know it is more dangerous to consume refined food products, in this case one isolated compound from a whole food…Campbell advocates consuming whole foods himself [for example see p. 98, 106, 228]. What is the percent of casein in whole milk? It seems to be about 2.6%. Now, skim milk has some fat taken out but it seems to have a similar amount of protein for the same volume of milk. When you get into cheeses, the percent protein [and thus percent casein] increases. Campbell writes that up to 12% of total food intake being solely casein was OK for the rats. That seems high to me. How many humans would actually have 12% of their daily calories come from pure casein? I tend to see isolated whey in stores, not casein, but apparently I am not looking hard enough. Checking Wikipedia and a bodybuilding forum shows me that yes, people do buy casein to make protein shakes or they eat a lot of cottage cheese for its casein content. It is a slowly digested protein, good for a consistent supply of protein to the muscles. I am not sure but I suspect that most of us, unless we are severely addicted to cheeses, are not at risk of casein overdose to the point where, when fed potent cancer-propagating substances, we would quickly expire. Those trying to increase their muscle mass with casein, however, may want to take special note of this research.

Then there is the question of soy. You could swap your protein intake for soy if you wanted to go on the vegan diet that Campbell advocates in an effort to block abnormal cells from reproducing in the body. Yet there is research that soy protein isolates can be detrimental in and of themselves mainly because of the processing methods. There is not a lot of evidence to really go one way or the other according to the US Department of Health and Human Services . So if a person were to drink whole milk and eat a variety of foods, would the casein present in that diet be detrimental or worrisome? According to the research Campbell references, probably not. It is in the isolation and consequent consumption of larger amounts than are naturally present in Earth’s foods that can cause problems. We can even ask the question from a protein perspective, like Campbell. If the rats have varied sources of protein instead of just casein as their protein, would it allow the rats to live longer again? Rats, like people, are omnivores, designed to be able to live off of many different sources of food so in this instance they might be a good indicator for our own ability to flourish (or not) on various sources of foods. Do rats, like some humans, retain the ability to digest milk products properly when they reach adulthood? Do they have similar tolerances to the proteins and other compounds in the cow’s milk? This might be important in relating the findings of the experiment to all humans or certain groups of humans, those who cannot digest milk products as adults.

There are more considerations to milk, of course. Not the isolated protein compounds in lab experiments but the actual whole (or skim) milk that we are drinking in our day-to-day lives. What kind of milk? Where did it come from? In those studies did they use the mass-produced hormone and antibiotic-laced milk from cows kept in unsavoury conditions? Were the cows fed large amounts of grain or did they graze on grass? Was the milk pasteurized? Ultra-pasteurized? Would it be any different with a different breed of cow such as an older breed without the relatively modern mutation in the beta-casein or perhaps a goat or a sheep? How about raw milk from animals grown in a friendly manner, given space to move and organic grass to graze on? I would think that the differences in types of conditions for producing the food one consumes would make quite a difference to the result of any test of the effect of that food on the human body. At the end of the day, however, if the casein is a human health hazard in the more modern or in all forms, then it doesn’t matter how “happy” the cow producing your milk is; your milk is still going to contain casein. “Happy” cow milk will at least be lacking in added cancer-propagating substances.

The last chapters of the book are devoted to marketing. I love the subject of marketing; have you ever listened to “The Age of Persuasion” with Terry O’Reilly on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio? Fabulous program. It’s about learning how the brain works and how companies take advantage of that to sell us their products. There is a lot of money to be made selling food since most of us need to eat. Campbell urges us to look at marketing budgets of various food boards, such as the National Dairy Council and American Meat Institute. These are in the USA. Here in Canada we have organizations like the Canadian Dairy Commission and the Dairy Processors Association (see the federal government’s Canadian Dairy Information Centre). We also have the Canadian Meat Science Association and the Canadian Meat Council. Apparently the animal products industry has a much larger budget than most plant products industries, when you are not counting processed foods. Kind of like political parties: once you have a few dominant ones, they have the big budgets and they influence us more than the others.

There is a lot to consider in this book and like all good scientific research, it raises as many or more questions than it supports answers to. The China Study does provoke debate around the link between nutrition and health (and consequently the link between nutrition and disease). It certainly makes one consider more strongly what foods to make a part of the body and what foods, or food products, to leave out.

To learn more:

Official book web site: http://www.thechinastudy.com/

Some opposing views from Weston A. Price Foundation: http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/China-Study.html

Apr
21
2010

Review: Mind Power by John Kehoe

Mind Power Into the 21st Century: Techniques to Harness the Astounding Powers of Thought

By John Kehoe

© 1997 West Vancouver, B.C.: Zoetic Inc.

I got this book out of the Vancouver Public Library and was suitably impressed. I have read many articles, web sites, some books and have even attended workshops regarding the power of positive thinking, visualization to get results, and creating your own reality through thoughts and feelings. I always figured these thought techniques must have some merit yet every time I tried it, really tried, and believed in what I was doing…nothing much seemed to happen. Nothing bad and nothing good: a non-effect. Still, I keep searching and trying because I really believe this stuff has to work…I just haven’t found my technique yet.

John Kehoe’s Mind Power book is easy to follow and somehow he inspires the reader to actually try the techniques while reading. I put the book down several times and thought about the questions and practiced some mind work right after reading about it. Sometimes a book full of exercises to practice is written in a way that does not inspire me to actually practice. This one does. He practices what he preaches in his own writing by respecting you, the reader, whoever you may be, and empowering you to change areas of your life that need it, starting right now. There are enough anecdotes of the Chicken Soup for the Soul type to make you believe that if someone like that can do it, so can I. The exercises had an immediate beneficial effect of lifting my mood.

One thing that really stuck out at me was Kehoe entreating us to “question everything”. I am glad that he expounds on that because one can read “question everything”, get bogged down in the “everything” part, chalk it up to generally good but generally useless advice and leave it at that. But he gets really specific so that you can think of your own specifics: “Where have I restricted myself?” “Why do I have toast and coffee for breakfast every day?” “What talents have I been neglecting?” “What habit, if I adopted and practiced it every day, would revolutionize my life?” These are the types of questions Kehoe gets our minds going with.

My favourite quote from the book is “The only dumb question is the one you didn’t ask” (p.94). Quite literally, one who does not speak is “dumb” and I love plays on words…

Kehoe writes fluidly from examples into text into instructions and between them all to make a workbook that can read like a novel if you want to read it that way. It is unfortunate that there is no index as there are many tidbits one might like to refer to without flipping through the pages. The book is not long at 141 pages and it is not technical; it is practical. Mind Power is a perfect book to leap into spring with and it will enhance ones optimism on a rainy April day.

If you would like to explore Mind Power online, see: http://www.learnmindpower.com/

If you would like random positive anecdotes, testimonials and techniques for creating your reality and learning acceptance, see: http://www.your-life-is-now.com/

I receive the newsletter from the above your-life-is-now web site, created by Doreen Banaszak, and it is right in line with Kehoe’s writings. Her book is also recommended though I have not reviewed it on this site because I read it well before I started doing reviews online!

Feb
27
2010

Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

By Michael Pollan

©2006 Thomson Gale

This book blows my mind. Yes I have finally read Michael Pollan’s famous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I have been vegetarian and vegan in the past and my diet remains largely plant-based today as well. My forays into the meat/dairy world come from “Happy” foods: organically grown or raised, pasture-raised if applicable, wild if applicable. This turns out to be a good insurance policy for my health as well as my conscience, based on Pollan’s research, explicitly laid out in his book.

Some bits that were surprising to me: Salmon, carnivores by nature, have been reengineered to tolerate corn so that they can be fed said corn in salmon farms, just like the animals in cow, pig and chicken feed lots.

I have a vegan friend who has commented a few times that she is made of corn. It is not just vegans who are made of corn; it is all of us. Even if one eats shockingly little of plant foods one could still be mostly made up of molecules derived directly from corn! Conventional dairy is no exception, coming from animals grown or fattened on a corn-based diet. Another tid-bit Pollan shares: the wax on the English cucumbers in our North American grocery stores is usually made from corn. Go figure.

I was thoroughly distressed reading about how corn and cows are raised and the inexorable link between the two that I had to stop reading for a while. For extra information on how corn factors into our life, see the recent (2007) documentary King Corn. If you end up even remotely as distressed as I was, you may want to find yourself some pasture-raised/ wild meat sources or go vegetarian.

One man’s method of teaching Pollan about non-industrialized farming methods made a real impression; Pollan mentions no less than four times that Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia made him get down on his stomach to lay in and get to know the different types of grass on the farm. In order to raise his pasture animals, Salatin rotates them to a new section of grass every single day and the section they graze on any given day has been left to grow until a specific point, when it is at its most nutritious for the animals. The animals are moved to avoid overgrazing and overgrowing of the grass in any given section of the farm. If you are curious to learn about “grass farming”, Pollan’s book gives a great introduction. It is management-intensive but then, what modern corporation, organization or business venture is not?

Feb
26
2010

Review: The Green Smoothies Diet by Robyn Openshaw

The Green Smoothies Diet

By Robyn Openshaw

©2009, Ulysses Press: Berkeley, CA.

Just to let you know, I had already dabbled in green smoothies before reading this book. I was aware of them from the Boutenko family and from random online forums. It seems like a great idea: make your greens taste better by blending them with fruit. I found out that getting the right balance between fruit and greens is not as easy as I thought it would be and everyone has a different opinion.

It seems like everyone has a Something Diet book to write and sometimes those are fun to read. Of course, remember to read critically and take into account what you already know about your own body’s likes, dislikes and tolerances. So, a whole diet of green smoothies and nothing but? Well yes, if you want. Openshaw has a compelling writing style and invites the reader to try a green smoothie, any of her 51 recipes in the book (including two template recipes with add-in suggestions) or any smoothies you invent or find, as long as you have leafy green vegetables in it.

I wondered how she could get a whole book out of this simple principle and I was (mostly) pleasantly surprised. We get tips on how to get greens for the cheapest possible dollar and highest possible nutrient bang-for-your-buck; these are more useful in the USA but some tips are applicable to Canada and other countries. We also get descriptions of what different kinds of greens can do for our body based on their different nutrient profiles. We are told what kinds of smoothies each type of leafy green might taste best in and when each is in season (take note: Openshaw lives in Linden, Utah so this seasonal profile works best at similar latitudes). As the author is a mother, there are several places that give tips for giving green smoothies to children and having the children actually try them and want more.

The most interesting part of the book was Openshaw’s rather detailed descriptions on how one can grow their own greens, summer and winter. Fresh is best and she really gets into the lifestyle instead of just the consumption part. I guess if you are going to be downing mugs of produce every day in order to reap the rewards of their nutrients to make and keep your body healthy it makes sense to try and grow the plants yourself if you can. That way, they are certainly organic, local and as fresh as possible so your nutrition is truly maximized.

There is some information about “superfood” and herbal additions to your drinks and for those who want it, a list comparing Vita-Mix and Blendtec blenders. Openshaw prefers the blendtec. My husband and I have a Vita-Mix. Personally, I think that both are expensive and both work well. A high-speed blender does make a difference when you want to blend greens to an extremely smooth consistency instead of having floating green pieces in your drink. For small batches, I have personally found the 700-watt PC Power blender to do just fine. All you have to do is blend a little longer. I’d link to it but they don’t have it up on the web; visit a Loblaw’s operation to find one. I got mine at Superstore.

I got really sick shortly after reading The Green Smoothies Diet so I decided to try and get more nutrients into me to aid in healing faster. I admit I didn’t follow any recipe exactly but I did add water, fruit and greens in roughly the proportions given in the book. They taste great, better than all my previous attempts. If you are going to consume something every day, it had better taste great (otherwise how long will the trend honestly last?) so that was nice. Did I get better faster than usual? No, but it was easy to get these down when ill and perhaps in the long run it would make more of an immunity difference in me.

The only part that seemed somewhat sketchy was the questionnaire responses voluntarily included from Openshaw’s web site greensmoothiegirl.com The questionnaire asks people to report what wonderful things have happened to them after consuming green smoothies for at least 30 days. I wonder if someone who got negligible results would bother to answer a survey. The survey itself does not include questions about negative results of green smoothie consumption except for one about “uncomfortable cleansing reactions” indicating that the reactions were short-term and then went away. As with almost every diet, it works for some people and those for whom it works are advocates. Consuming more whole foods certainly won’t hurt and I found them a tasty addition to my own diet. If you’re curious, check out the book: The Green Smoothies Diet.

Dec
30
2009

Review: Day Hiker’s Handbook by Michael Lanza

Day Hiker’s Handbook

By Michael Lanza

For Backpacker: The Magazine of Wilderness Travel

©2003 The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA

day_hikers_handbook

I have mentioned before that I am primarily a day hiker so it made sense to follow the More Everyday Wisdom trail advice book review with a look at information in the same series that is geared more toward people like me.

Lanza has a very different style than Karen Berger (More Everyday Wisdom). He uses much less humour and more fictional examples in his writing. The black and white photos are well-placed to illustrate his points.

Something jumped out at me after I had gotten through about half of this book and it remained true for the rest of the read; there are few hard and fast rules. There are many ways of getting the most out of your hike while respecting nature and other people at the same time and most of them come down to personal style and needs. Hiking is an expanded walk and we all want different things out of our walk. We also have different body shapes, nutritional requirements, ideas about what a hike is, fitness levels. So the whole thing comes down to customization.

The use of three fictional characters to give the reader an idea of how to use the information presented in a way that is useful to them works well. The characters are based on musicians that many of us can picture (Cher, Elvis and Madonna), giving us an immediate sense for the style that the fictional character has. We can then imagine our own style in a similar way and make adjustments accordingly. Thus, Lanza not only gives us all sorts of options that will work but also helps us figure out how to pick the options that will work best for us, based on stories. Storytelling can be a very effective way of communicating information, especially potentially boring information (the point of hiking for many is to appreciate some exercise and the great outdoors, not to appreciate the nuances of various water filtration systems), in a way that will be memorable.

The topics covered are: decide what kind of hikes you want (your hiking style), no trace hiking, noise and urination/defecation etiquette, gear, essential items, how to pack your bag, how to decipher a hike description in a hiking guide, water and food, hiking with babies and children, trail safety, how to use a compass and read a topographic map, crossing water, hiking at night, weather and seasons and how to avoid and deal with common trail injuries.

The section about how to use a topo map and compass is clearly written and I highly recommend it. Lanza stresses that it is possible to get lost on a day hike, even on a familiar trail if it gets foggy and a GPS, while fun and usually useful, may not receive enough satellite signals to function properly in hilly terrain and/or in cloudy weather. Just like in many situations, when the electronic part of your life malfunctions, as it inevitably will, old-school skills and preparation are still worthwhile.

Dec
29
2009

Review: More Everyday Wisdom by Karen Berger

More Everyday Wisdom

by Karen Berger

for Backpacker: The Magazine of Wilderness Travel

©2002 The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA

206 pages

Backpacker More Everyday Wisdom

Karen Berger is a fun writer. Everything is light hearted yet gets to the important points quickly, without beating around the bush (sorry, had to put that in there). For most of her examples she focuses on the popular Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States of America. The trail runs from the lower state of Georgia all the way up to Maine. Most of the tips, however, are easily applicable to hikes anywhere, especially in North America and similar latitudes in Europe.

What makes this book stand out is that the author got the questions from other hikers. She has hiked many of the longest North American trails straight through and has hiked in numerous countries. She lectures, she writes articles and books and edits hiking magazines. Berger is a sought-after hiking guru and here in one place she gets through the answers to hundreds of questions asked of her over the years.

I really like her incredible bluntness tinged with humour. She covers as much ground in her writing as she does in her hiking: clothing advice (no blue jeans!), spotting and preparing for weather conditions, advice on leading hiking trips, how to pick and pack your bag, water and food, traveling to your starting point (what can I take on a plane?), animals and plants of the friendly and not-so friendly varieties, choosing the type of hiking suited to you, training for your hike and woman-specific advice (this advice is especially important for menstruating women hiking in bear country).

The photos that run throughout the book, by the author and her husband Daniel Smith, are black and white and well chosen to illustrate the points she discusses.

As a reformed runner, I am getting more into hiking as a slower and just as enjoyable form of outdoor recreation. Even through I am mostly a day-hiker with a few overnighters thrown in here and there (oddly enough they were almost all in the winter!) there are several tips in Berger’s book that I can use and some points that I already knew were explained in a way that made sense. Now I have a reason for doing what I do and I am less likely to do something else because I have a good reason not to.

If you are a casual day hiker interested in doing some longer day hikes and overnighters, this book is for you. If you are an experienced long-distance hiker then you may want to borrow it from the library and have a read anyway for some extra tips and maybe a laugh at the hiker humour.