It isn’t difficult to find a diet book. Whatever you want to eat, someone has likely published a fad diet book advocating that you engulf a lot of it. That’s great if you want to feel better about what you are eating. But not so great if you actually want to be healthy. Extreme sells and books are published to sell.
Fortunately, Paul Jaminet and his wife, Shoe-Ching Jaminet, combined personal experience, impressive scientific backgrounds, and lots of research, to create a quite readable book on healthy eating that avoids extreme positions and digs into actual studies on nutrition.
The authors, a married couple, clearly have the intellectual heft to tackle diet and nutrition: When the book was published, Paul Jaminet, PH.D., was an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Shou-Ching Jaminet, PH.D. was a molecular biologist and cancer researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School and director of BIDMC’s Multi-Gene Transcriptional Profiling Core.
You will notice that they don’t have lifetime backgrounds studying diet and nutrition. I believe this is an advantage in these circumstances. That is because at least over the last generation, diet and nutrition has been plagued with a conventional wisdom—really a dogma—that we are discovering is completely wrong. The Jaminet’s were thus able to dig into the field with a fresh perspective that they combined with their intellectual strength and scientific backgrounds to produce the book, Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat.
Like those advocating some form of a paleo diet, the authors start with an evolutionary perspective. They recognize that there is solid evidence backing the idea that “foods hunted and gathered by our Paleolithic (‘Old Stone Age’) ancestors represent the healthiest human way of eating, while agriculturally-produced foods may be dangerous to well-being.” This is the start to their approach, but they build upon it and I wouldn’t label their suggested approach to be a “Paleo” diet, which, by the way, is not a monolithic term. It means different things to different people and is still evolving.
If you are interested in learning more about the Paleo Diet, please click here to read our article on Robb Wolf's "The Paleo Solution, The Original Human Diet." If you are interested in purchasing Robb's Wolf's Paleo Diet book, you can buy it on Amazon here.
The Perfect Health Diet goes through macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) as well as vitamins and supplements, and healthy eating habits like fasting. They did a great job organizing the book so you could either read it straight through—like I did the first time—or read chapters in isolation, which I have done since my first reading.
In Part I, the authors lay the foundation for diet by discussing their scientific approach, which starts with a Paleo and evolutionary perspective, but also, for example, discusses what breast milk teaches us about human diets and the relevance of taste to diet. This Part is both interesting and well presented.
The Jaminet’s title Part II, “What to Eat for Energy.” This section goes through protein, carbs, different fats, fiber, alcohol, etc. and begins to offer specific guidance, as well as the research to back it up. The authors are more supportive of carbohydrates—so long as they are in certain forms—than many current advocates of low-carb diets that trace their roots to a paleo approach. They do, of course, recommend that people intake less carbs than the conventional wisdom (with the unfortunate backing of the US government) suggests.
The third Part explains what “Foods to Avoid.” This includes, for example, cereal grains (gluten especially), legumes, vegetable seed oils, fructose, and toxins introduced by the industrial food system like trans fats and processed meats. These “bad” foods are familiar to those that follow a Paleo diet.
The authors explain in Part IV “How to be Well Nourished.” They describe various vitamins and nutrients chapter-by-chapter and discuss ideal intake goals. They also tackle the controversial question of whether multivitamins are good or bad.
In the last section, Part V, the Jaminets present “A Recipe for Healthy Living,” which includes chapters on the infectious origins of disease, a strategy for immunity, fasting, healthful weight loss, and other interesting issues.
From a substantive standpoint, the book overall seems to be well-researched and balanced. One sign that I often look for to test credibility is whether an author is willing to acknowledge that, for certain issues, there isn’t a clear answer. When the research is conflicting, the Jaminet’s point that out. They also don’t appear to be emphasizing some research over other research to obtain a result. Although I am not a medical professional, I found the support for their recommendations to be credible.
But a book with great ideas is mostly useless if it can’t present those ideas effectively. Fortunately, Perfect Health Diet is both well-written and well-structured. The chapters are bite-sized, making it an easy reference. And within each chapter is a combination of background explanation, research, reader experiences, and specific takeaways. They wrote the book with the reader in mind, which, unfortunately, not all authors do.
Overall, I highly recommend Perfect Health Diet. It is a book that I had trouble putting down on my first reading. And I still go back to it again-and-again.
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