Thursday, June 23, 2016

'Think and Eat Yourself Smart' by Dr Caroline Leaf


Genre: Non-fiction, self-help, diet. 
Science is beginning to understand that our thinking has a deep and complicated relationship with our eating. Our thoughts before, during, and after eating profoundly impact our food choices, our digestive health, our brain health, and more. Yet most of us give very little thought to our food beyond taste and basic nutritional content.
In this revolutionary book, Dr. Caroline Leaf packs an incredible amount of information that will change readers' eating and thinking habits for the better.

Since this book was written by Dr Caroline Leaf, I was expecting the main thrust to be practical thinking tips which help us adjust our diet and lifestyle for the better. She does provide some, but honestly not as much as I expected. In the bulk of the book, she describes with plenty of doom and gloom why we should want to avoid the MAD diet (an acronym for Modern American Diet) in the first place. Those of us who'd pick up a book with this title surely already know western diets leave a lot to be desired, so after a while it came across a bit too much like preaching to the converted.

In Part One, Admit It, Dr Leaf outlines the deplorable state of the food industry and reveals the dominance of several synthetic 'look alike' foods. She explains some secret prolonging tactics which extend the shelf life of foods while destroying their nutritional value. She also delves into why modern farming practices aren't the way nature intended. They include farming only one single commodity, which plays havoc with the world's ecological balance. To wrap up this section's message, the western world's food system is devastatingly dodgy, and humans have been bad stewards who will surely be called to account on the day of reckoning. It's very convicting, and suggested to me that the global food industry is run by people who care more about dollars than health.

Next, Dr Leaf examines specific food types, such as wheat, proteins, sugar and cholesterol. Scientifically minded people who like to know all the ins and outs about what they put into their mouths might appreciate the amount of detail she goes into, but I found myself wanting to skip to the practical tips even more.

That section was short when it came. Being the brain scientist that she is, Dr Leaf encourages us to change our mindsets where food is concerned. Instead of believing it should be cheap, fast and quickly prepared, we can train ourselves to enjoy the more leisurely process of preparing real food from scratch. That's probably the crux of her message, and there you have it.

I found parts of the book a bit overwhelming, although it's clear that she tries hard not to be. Dr Leaf seems firmly in the 'Avoid MAD food like the plague' camp. She comes on a bit strong at times. For example, she gets gobsmacked when people head for the vending machines straight after listening to her lecture about the terrible products which come out of them. 'Processed' is a dirty word in her books. And she strongly advocates backyard vegetables patches, sticking to purely organic foods, avoiding supermarket fresh food sections, which are supplied from chill rooms, figuring out how your cows were treated before they became beef, and other 'guilt-trippy' sorts of things that have the potential to fill our days 24/7.

 I'm uneasy with all this advice because it stirs up memories of fanaticism from my past. Trying so hard to follow such a rigid protocol can take over your whole life. In my case, I ended up burnt-out with anorexia and nutrient deficiencies at different times, all in the name of trying to stay healthy. When I stopped treating chocolate bars and potato chips as the enemy and remembered that statistically, our modern life expectancy has risen in recent decades despite the MAD diet, I could feel it do me good. Dr Leaf's advice about 'real' food is definitely a sound gauge, but I think a more relaxed 80/20 sort of approach instead of going the whole hog sits better with me these days.

Thanks to Net Galley and Baker Books for my review copy.

3 stars

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