The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth

`The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth' by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S. is the latest and best of the healthy eating genre, the `best foods' book. Earlier entries in this category are `Superfoods' by Steven Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews and the '12 Best Foods Cookbook' by Dana Jacobi. Bowden's book is different in three directions from these other volumes.

First, it contains no recipes. This is little loss, as the second difference, the much longer list of `good' foods more than makes it up. One can quite easily find good recipes for these foods by yourself. For starters, just get Pratt and Jacobi's books! The third difference is that the author has many comments on what is NOT good for you, what you should avoid, as well as the many things you should search out.

The very best news in this book is the revelation (or confirmation, if you are up on your nutritional news flashes) that coffee, wine, butter, eggs, chocolate, cinnamon and watermelon are GOOD FOR YOU! One of the biggest surprises is that most soy products and many milk products (although NOT cheese and yogurt) are NOT good for you.

Weak soy products include soy milk and tofu. Fermented soy products such as miso, like so many other fermented food products (yogurt, Kimchee, cheeses and sauerkraut) are still valuable, enhanced by the friendly bacteria responsible for the fermentation.

In spite of all the great news about some guilty pleasures, Bowden gives no relief for the bread and pasta lovers among us. It seems that grains such as wheat and rice, no matter how `unfussed about with', are high in `empty calories'.

Processed white grain and their wheats come off as being close to being poisonous! I'm exaggerating, of course, but I sometimes have the feeling that our good Dr. Bowden sometimes overstates his case just a smidge.

One example that caught my eye was his opinion on the relative value of the commercially packaged honey (regardless of flowery source) versus raw honey in the comb. While I am not intimate with all the details of honey processing, I have seen some of the steps, and I honestly can't see how a bit of centrifugation and even pasteurization can succeed in turning something good into something bad or at least neutral.

On the other hand, Bowden does agree with a general position on food processing that claims that all heat treatment such as pasteurization degrades foods. The entire `Raw' food movement is based on this premise.

So, while I am not ready to go out and buy my dehydrator and ship my range off to the metal recycler, I chalk some points up to the `Raw' camp from this very knowledgeably written book.

One question I would pose to the Raw camp is how can you deal with especially good foods such as bitter greens which are almost inedible, or at least unpalatable if left uncooked. One thing I find missing in this and virtually all other books on nutrition is a good practical sense of what in economics is called the marginal value of one food over another. For example, what is the practical difference to us between raw honey and `processed' honey.

I will grant the difference, but is that difference worth the effort required to search out a source for raw honey when the `Sue Bee' honey bear is on every supermarket shelf.

A more serious thought on the marginal value of foods arises when the author, or any other nutritional author touts a particular nutritional benefit, such as the anti-prostate cancer properties of lycopene found in both tomatoes and watermelon.

As I am genetically predisposed to prostate cancer, I am inclined to wolf down as many tomato preparations as I can get my hands on. My problem is that this `hope' is probably pretty slim.

Two portions of tomatoes a day for the rest of my life will probably change my chances by about 0.2%. I'm just guessing here, but I have a hunch that if someone ate a perfect diet according to these recommendation, the difference may still be too small to measure.

This is why the author's negative comments about grains, milk, and soy are probably more valuable, as they warn us against things which we have for generations believed to be especially good for us. I found only one weakness in Dr. Bowden's facts, or at least in his completeness. In the article about cinnamon, he does not distinguish between true cinnamon (cinnamonum zelanicum) from Sri Lanka and it's close lookalike, cassia (Cinnamomum cassia) from China and southeast Asia.

My hunch is that the good doctor was really talking about cassia. He would have removed a small blemish on his thoroughness if he would have distinguished the two. In general, he would have given a small bone to those of us who dote on such things if he were to have given the scientific names for all plant and animal food sources. Overall, this is a really good book on nutrition. Not because it's facts are better than those in many other books on nutrition, but rather because the cases for both good and bad foods are so eloquently and readably made. My two favorite facts are on the relative nutritional value of dandelion greens and lamb.

Now dandelion should be no surprise, ALL green leaved vegetables are good for you. It's just that dandelion, like so many greens, is cheap. The good news about lamb, my very favorite meat, is based on the fact that sheep are grass fed, unlike cattle and pigs.

And, if there is any one lesson we get from this book, our food sources, like us, are what they eat, and green grass is much better for Bo Peep's charges than corn or wheat.

This is an excellent book of useable information on nutrition! I hope the author gets together with a strong culinary collaborator and turns all this information into a cookbook.