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on December 22, 2013
I read a lot of books on nutrition. This one is now one of my favorites.

I think this book holds its own place in nutrition and the history of how we got to where we are today. It is written in a style that is easily accessible to those people who are both up on nutrition as well as those who are simply looking for someone to tell them what to eat. While the book doesn’t tell anyone what to eat, it makes a point of telling people that everyone is different and even explains the differences.

The book is divided into 3 sections. The first section basically tells the story of how the politics and moneyed interests trumped actual science. It's easily readable and is a good start. The second section, defines science terms and takes us through a scientific study. The book then explains the history of nutrition and disease through some of these studies, including Ancel Keys and Yudkin. The book describes both of these pioneers in reasonable terms. Certainly more reasonably then they described each other.

Finally the third section looks into 3 different diets; Mediterranean, Paleo/Primal and Veganism/Vegetarianism. The book looks at them both for what they correlate on (not a lot in terms of foods to eat) and what they both restrict (very similar restrictions in many cases). The book goes on to point out that since we are all individuals, it’s up to us to find the diet that works for us, but at the very least, we can start by subtracting what those three diets all leave out (processed, refined foods, sugars, trans-fats, PUFAs)

I think everyone should read this book. Vegans, Paleo/Primal, and mostly people who hear all the sound bites and are totally confused as to what to eat. Her main message is look at the science, look at what works for you and don't just take anyone's word for anything. Correlation does not equal causation.
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on January 6, 2014
The title is about the Food Pyramid, something widely recognized. A catchy title, but it's not the whole book. This book is about much more. It is also expertly written in a way that makes things clear to the non-expert and with a touch of humor.

The first part is titled Shady Politics. The second part is Slippery Science. The third part is New Geometry.

Shady Politics is about the food pyramid and how it came into being. It's a history lesson about personal ambition and corporate interests leading to really bad policy. Not as detailed as Gary Taubes' book "Good Calories, Bad Calories," it makes the case against the low fat, high carb recommendations of the food pyramid.

Slippery Science is a solid gem, I thought. Chapter 5, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Nutritional Research" could be broken out as a special mini-book on its own. It's the best explanation I've ever seen of all the facets of nutritional research, put in a way that anyone can understand. Getting this chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Read it and learn how to understand all the other health and diet books and how to pick out the facts from the fiction.

The last section, New Geometry, is the author's recommendations for your own health and diet. There's some particularly good information for vegetarians. The book is for eating meat of all kinds. But the author is a former vegan and one of her specialties is helping vegans out of the nutritional dangers they face. Being a vegan, she says, taught her that diet-dogma is a killer. There is no dogma in this book. Only good science. That's what makes it so great.
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on December 31, 2013
As an RD and personal trainer, I was excited for the book to come out. I had it pre-ordered for months, and it was worth the wait. Most things I get excited for and pre-order do not live up to the hype (see Robin Hood with Russell Crowe, i was the only one in the theatre, pre-ordered tickets). All jokes aside, this exceeded my expectations. She objectively reviewed the evidence of our current state of nutrition as a nation. Just like her take down of the China Study, she isn't taking sides, just saying that if this is your evidence, it is poor evidence. Toward the end, she reviews the most common and successful diet views and looks at what they agree on. I think for the lay person, her chapter on how to read a science paper is wonderful. If you are new to nutrition, this book can empower you to judge things for yourself. In my workout group, we will try to attempt to do the 'what does the fitness world agree upon' type thinking to help end all of the useless arguing. This book does a great job of that for the nutrition world, from paleo to the Mediterranean to veganism.
Great job Denise! The hard work you put in is obvious. Even harder is to do an objective review, and I believe you accomplished it.
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on January 5, 2014
Ancel Keys proposed that saturated fat was the main cause of coronary artery disease. Yudkin, Stanhope and Lustig blame sugar. Campbell calls protein the bad guy and considers Casein to be a potent carcinogen. These authors seem to have a narrow point of view when they consider how variations in diet contribute to health problems
Denise Minger is different. Not only does she have an entertaining and engaging writing style, but she dares to look at the data and attempts to obtain reasonable conclusions from that data. She knows that she isn’t always right – but unlike many authors who attempt of cover themselves with a cloak of infallibility – she always seeks the truth. She treats authors who disagree with her with respect and she appreciates being corrected when she gets it wrong. Overall, Death by Food Pyramid provides a lot of good information, challenging discussion, and is fun to read.
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on April 5, 2015
Denise Minger has a lot to say that’s worth saying, but she doesn’t say it as well or as clearly or fairly as she could or should. If you did not know it already, there is no single diet that is best for all people. Most of the corporate and federally funded research is grossly distorted in its design and interpretation to support pre-existing pro-industry commercial goals. When research results are at odds with these goals they are typically ignored and suppressed. All of the federal food and health regulatory agencies are victims to various degrees – usually severe – of “regulatory capture,” i.e., instead of protecting the public they are routinely staffed and run by professionals with strong economic and professional ties to the industries they are supposed to regulate, and so instead they often promote and protect these industries at the expense of the truth and the public’s health. The less familiar the reader is with the details of such unhappy facts before reading this book, the more important and stunningly revelatory it will seem. For readers familiar with this terrain, Minger’s narrative is too often tedious and overwrought.

Minger conveys the important fact that even well-intentioned system-bucking scientists like Colin Campbell, and many of the whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet gurus, ignore individual differences that have obvious heredity bases and routinely ignore the deficiencies that their dietary regimens invite (e.g., A, B12, D3, K2, Omega3/6 imbalances). Both Minger and Chris Masterjohn have fruitfully critiqued Campbell’s scientific research online and Campbell has often been pompous and off-point in his responses. As someone who is an almost WFPB vegan, I too find Campbell’s universal prescriptions offensive. This is my second effort to go vegan and after a year on an almost WFPB my total cholesterol dropped from 178 to 126 while the critical Total/HDL dropped from 4.8 to 3.2. A friend who went 100% WFPB for the same period had her cholesterol stuck between 190-200 (but with a very good ratio of 3.0), while another friend has repeatedly felt tired and weak and when she “stuck to it” anyway experienced mild muscle wasting. So perhaps the point about individual differences – and Minger gives some genetic components that explain it – needs to be said again and again.

Still, Minger wastes a lot of space. For example, she cites a study from Great Britain showing that longevity for vegetarians/vegans was no greater than that of the general population. But this result is sloppy and unfair since it includes what WFPB supporters correctly label “junk-food vegans” full of processed sugar and hydrogenated potato chips. More importantly, the vegan physician Michael Greger, M.D., addressed this study – and the then-recent death from heart attack of 63-year-old Jay Dinshah who had been a vegan for 40 years – in a 2003 video watchable on YouTube and pointed out how woefully deficient in B12 and how horribly imbalanced in Omega 3/6 these vegetarians were and how these deficiencies impacted cardiac health. So much of what Minger has to say is not especially new.

But a major difficulty is that that time after time Minger reduces research results to confusing incoherence by imaging a possible counterfactual – another possible interpretation, or offering a counter-example. As someone trained in statistical inference and scientific methodology, I kept thinking that she should instead take the data and re-analyze it, or else look for other good studies that would resolve between competing interpretations. This she repeatedly fails to do – perhaps because as a very smart autodidact she lacks the training to do so, and perhaps because of a bias to reach no conclusions about which diets are generally best so that any diets that are free of refined and processed foods and oils will stand on an equal footing, i.e., WFPB, Paleo, and Mediterranean. To read Minger, one would not know that there is available evidence to choose amongst them.

Minger’s bias is most clear when she discusses the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California. These are one of a very small number of “Blue Zones” in the world where centenarians are found to concentrate, and overall health and longevity are remarkably common (male vegetarian SDA’s aged 30 live 9.5 years longer than non-SDA males and SDA females live 6.1 years longer). Their religion urges them to eschew meat, fish, eggs, alcohol, tobacco and coffee. In "The China Study," Campbell notes that even the Adventists who eat meat do so moderately but that “the Adventist vegetarians are much healthier than their meat eating counterparts” with half the rates of obesity and diabetes. (p.150) Dan Buettner in The Blue Zone elaborates this theme. Vegetarian Adventists live about two years longer than their non-vegetarian cohorts, and had half the risk of developing heart disease. (p. 129) Thinking that the saturated fats in meat might be the culprit, the researchers studied nut consumption (with a high unsaturated/saturated fat ratio) and to their surprise found that Adventists who ate a handful of nuts five or more times a week (i.e., whole food vegan-sourced mostly unsaturated fats) lived two years longer than those who ate very few nuts. (p.130) Since nuts are loaded with Omega 6 fatty acids, this pushes the Omega 3/6 ratio in the unhealthy direction, but apparently the natural vegan source and the process by which the body assimilates them has a very different effect than when they are consumed from highly processed commercial vegetable oils. This is darned interesting data, so what does Denise Minger do with it? She tells a catty story about how the religion’s founder, Ellen Gould White, has her face smashed by a rock, went into coma that critics felt left her with a permanent traumatic brain injury and then started having visions “to abstain from all forms of flesh food.” (p.190) But what about the research data you ask? When Minger finally gets around to that she writes:

"Indeed, even within the Adventist population, stark [sic] differences emerge between folks of different meat-eating persuasions. One analysis found that Adventists following a true vegetarian diet consumed less coffee and doughnuts, and more tomatoes, legumes, nuts and fruit than the more liberal meat eaters." (p.194)

This is plain silly: this is not a research finding, but almost a definitional difference between the two groups. And that is all Minger says about the relevant data outlined by Campbell and Buettner showing superior health for vegetarians within the Adventist community – in other words she entirely ignores it, which is hardly intellectually honest, especially after mocking its founder. She might have contacted the Adventists researchers and learned whether the meat-eaters were eating unhealthy cuts of processed bologna, for example, so she could argue for grass-fed buffalo meat as good-for-you, but she did not. The only effort she makes to take account of the data is to argue that meat-eating Mormons live as long as Adventists, and that those who abstain from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee have far above average health, but this does nothing to address the data she wishes to dismiss. In fact she underscores that the non-meat-eating Adventist strict vegetarians with better health consumed “more tomatoes, legumes, nuts and fruit than the more liberal meat eaters,” and not junk donuts, which is just the WFPB vegan’s point, isn’t it?

Such biased exposition is commonplace. Being an advocate of fleshy foods that raise blood cholesterol levels, Minger attempts to dismiss the relevance of serum cholesterol to total health by strongly suggesting that the research supports the conclusion that higher levels of serum cholesterol are associated with greater longevity (pp.106-111). A simple web-search of “cholesterol and mortality” finds as the first choice a 1994 article entitled “Low Serum Cholesterol and Mortality, Which Is the Cause and Which Is the Effect?” Minger never considered the question of what caused what in her book, and this article concludes that death from catabolic diseases lowered total cholesterol (TC) prior to death, not that lower TC increased total mortality. Although the association of lower TC with death is genuine for those whose cholesterol fell prior to death, “By contrast, there was no significant increase in all-cause mortality risk among cohort men with stable low TC levels. Nonillness mortality (deaths caused by trauma and suicide) was not related to either TC change or the average of TC levels in exams 1 and 3.” So again as so often Minger is very careless, not skilled enough, or not intellectually honest.

Minger, like Chris Masterjohn, is enamored of the nutritional philosophy of Weston Price: that what matters most is eating (organic) nutrition-dense foods no matter what the type. I too find it appealing, and some of it is self-evident. But when she speaks of Price’s study of healthy primitive societies, there is not a word as to the longevity in these communities; she reports only his observations of their splendid teeth, dental arches, and general good health – at least in those communities that enjoy it; as she notes others are sickly and riddled with parasites. But the fact that human beings over the course of evolution may adapt themselves genetically to a variety of nutrition-rich diets of widely different types says very little about the benefits of a (mostly) WFPB diet vs. anything else for many (not all) of us. Nor does it suggest that a healthy Eskimo could move to the tropics and thrive on their local diet. And for those like my friend who cannot digest even properly complemented vegetable protein and must have fish, we’ve found that she does best when the rest of her diet is as close as possible to a WFPB diet (with idiosyncratic modifications along the way).

The final great disappointment of Minger’s book is her conclusion that each of us must find his or her own path, as though little or nothing has been learned from nutritional research except what to avoid. As someone who has worked hard to do so, I still recommend a WFPB diet – warts and all – as the starting point with the obvious caveats to those with Celiac disease, gluten intolerance or gluten allergies, etc., with all the necessary supplements, and with the liberty to add occasionally some vitamin and mineral-rich animal flesh for its possible benefits. With the arguable exception of the Loma Linda Seventh Day Adventists, there are no vegan centenarian blues zones – but most of the centenarians eat very little meat, do eat primarily nutrient-dense and nutrient-rich WFPB fare, with the right smattering of very nutritious non-vegan exceptions.
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on December 21, 2013
This book is a tour de force that examines the politics and bad science that gave the American people the Food Pyramid (now Food Plate) which most likely exacerbated the obesity epidemic and contributed to the rise we see in many chronic diseases. She gives the reader the basic skills required to read and interpret a scientific study and then precedes to dissect the literature that led to the Food Pyramid, especially that on fats and cholesterol. She also examines and dissects sacred cows in multiple diets types and synthesizes this at the end to what most likely constitutes a healthy diet and how to individualize it to your personal needs. It is easy to understand and is an entertaining read. I would have no problem giving this book to a family member or friend, no matter their dietary background, because they will be able to learn something and improve the choices they make.
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on January 2, 2014
What should I expect from the cutest little girl I ever met, (I met her in Dallas),who uses adolescent humor integrated with biochemistry, statistics and immunology terminology? For this book, I expected a delightful read, with thorough and careful research, and a deconstruct of the food pyramid with only kind words for those who did it wrong. But, it is much more than that. She out-thunk university professors, and out-studied any diet-book author. Her analysis of dietary science and history is profound. Anyone who studies nutrition should read this book first, which puts all others in perspective. The reader will love her attitude.
Follow that with the 1939 book by dentist Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, a must-read for anyone to understand nutrition.
Where "Niesy" puts food in perspective, Judith D. Schwartz puts food production in perspective in a profound and innovative way, in an aptly titled 2013 book Cows Save the Planet.
Ira Edwards, author of Honest Nutrition.
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on February 17, 2014
An excellent read and reference If you want to understand how and why we were misled about nutrition for decades. The advice towards the end provides a wide choice of eating plans ranging from substantially meat-based to substantially vegetable-based, the common factor in each being the modern foods which have no place in a diet of someone wishing to avoid the modern diseases of metabolic syndrome. Understanding the sorry story behind the National Nutritional Guidelines is essential in order that they can be dismissed from any further consideration, leaving the mind-field open for well researched unbiased science. The book provides this together with references to most of the most significant papers covering generations. It will raise consternation in some quarters since it gores a few self-serving oxen and may embarrass those who have professed the typical nutritional wisdom fashionable over many years, particularly those who hung their trust and reputation on the misconception that caloric control is a fundamental tenet of a healthy diet, and this sadly includes many professional dietitians. I particularly liked the uncovering of the myth that the outstanding health of peoples of Crete was due to their Mediterranean diet when it more probably is due to their strict adherence to the tenets of their Greek Orthodox Church requiring fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays leading to the superior metabolic glycemic control probably experienced by our early hunter-gatherer ancestors when availability of food tended to be intermittent. This in no way denigrates the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and only points to a miss-assignment of cause and effect in the data.
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on December 24, 2013
UPS delivered the book this morning and I just finished it. The first thing I noticed when I opened it is that the typeface is great for easy reading (a big plus if you have 73-year-old eyes like me). And, more importantly, the book is beautifully written from beginning to end. This is definitely a book that you should read before your next visit to the grocery store (or the doctor's office); it condenses and evaluates an enormous amount of nutritional knowledge and the author doesn't shrink from criticizing anything or anyone (even - gasp - Walter Willett), but gives fair and balanced assessments throughout and includes a nice tribute to Weston Price near the end of the volume. Highly recommended.
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One of the rising stars in the health community over the past few years is this highly intelligent, science-minded 20-something year old English major. Her unraveling of the core concepts in the ersatz vegan bible called The China Study by T. Colin Campbell in 2010 made her an instant overnight legend and darling of the Paleo and low-carb communities. That was what caught the attention of Mark Sisson at Primal Blueprint Publishing who decided to give Denise a chance to write a book sharing her thoughts on the inept nature of nutritional health studies and analysis. I don't think he's disappointed in what she came up with.

DEATH BY FOOD PYRAMID has got to be one of the best all-time names for a book. And anyone who knows the no-holds-barred writing style of this author will not be disappointed by what she writes in this book. With a voracious skill for getting to the truth of what matters in the research methodology, she accurately exposes the sham that is the nationalization of a one-size-fits-all approach to dietary recommendations for all Americans and the ludicrously of it all.

Denise accurately explains why all the so-called "experts" have been promoting concepts that are knowingly wrong--to serve their own interests. Additionally, she pays homage to the diets that will provide optimal health results in your health without being clouded by "shady politics" and "slippery science." Anyone who has followed her work will know what that means.

The "Afterword" of this book contained an apropos quote to the current state of affairs when it comes to our relationship to food that I just can't get out of my head because it underscores the central theme of what Denise is attempting to communicate throughout these pages:

"Over the years, we've become increasingly disconnected from the food we eat--the way it's produced, the journey it takes from farm to fork, the source of our beliefs about its goodness or badness, its place in the meandering history of humankind. We hunt and gather in the store, seduced by alluring packaging and clever marketing. We absorb whatever dietary advice we grew up with and often spend a lifetime never questioning it...our physical and intellectual drift from our food suggests a future where the 'good ol' days' will be the ones we're living NOW."

YIKES! Now if that's not a sobering thought, I don't know what is. Changing our thoughts about food, diet and health before its too late is one of the goals of DEATH BY FOOD PYRAMID and I'm grateful to Denise for having the courage and the conviction to put this down on paper for us to read and enjoy.

Even more than that, she's given us our marching orders about bringing the truth to the mainstream so they can get out of their lemming mentality to get at the heart of what matters most about what they are feeding themselves. If you have always trusted the government to tell you what is best about what and how to eat and now question that, then READ THIS BOOK and find out why your intuition to look elsewhere is spot on.
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