August 3, 2009

The Jungle Effect

The Jungle Effect: Healthiest Diets from Around the World is a wonderfully written book that echoes much of the same sentiment and thoughts that have pervaded the health circles for several years now. Michael Pollan, a journalist, wrote a similar book called In Defense of Food (previously reviewed here). Pollan did what journalists do best: he researched and interviewed and did more research to come to his conclusions. Then he threw in some of his own thoughts and theories for good measure.

But the author of The Jungle Effect, Dr. Daphne Miller, gathers her materials not only from research and interviews, but also from direct experience and working with her patients. Her approach is unique because she visited "cold spots" all over the world and observed their diets. Cold spots are pockets of people that are virtually free of the many debilitating diseases that plague America today: Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, depression, etc.

The cold spots, incidentally, are fairly remote or at least far-removed from modern society. The upshot of this is that the reach of the McDonalds and Coca Cola empires have not quite reached them. Areas include an Amazonian village in Peru, Crete, Iceland, Cameroon, Okinawa, Iceland, and a Indian village in Mexico.

You can probably see this coming, since I harp on it constantly, but Dr Miller's conclusions are that those cultures that eat local, whole foods, and who avoid the incursion of American "junk" food, have little to no cases of the so-called Western Illnesses. I'll repeat that in case you missed it: they have little to no Western illnesses.

Makes you stop and think.

Gosh, could it be that those Twinkies and Colas and hormone-injected cows are what's making us all sick? Is it possible that all those chemicals in my Sugar-Frosted Coco Bombs cereal are not good for us? Is it conceivable that plants doused in pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers are having a negative effect on our health?

The theories posited years ago certainly made sense, and now the evidence is mounting up. Americans need to wake up and smell the fake food for what it really is: poison. The human body cannot withstand a steady stream of unnatural food. It's, uh, unnatural. The cultures Dr. Miller visited all eat different foods, but they shared one thing in common: their diets were completely devoid of tons of sugar and salt, drugged up meat, processed food, and preservatives. All these things are hallmarks of the American diet, and all these things are absent in the cold spots' diets.

Dr. Miller writes almost apologetically as she recommends that people cook more food from scratch. I'm not as tactful as she, so I'll put it this way: People need to switch off their reality TV shows, get off their arses, amble into the kitchen and cook some real food!

Dr. Miller does readers an immense favor by providing numerous recipes from her travels in the back of the book. These recipes are simple and healthy; meaning they will likely taste awful to most Americans. But once you wean your palate off sugar and salt, things start to have some flavor and they actually taste good.

I found Dr. Miller's writing style quite easy to read and clear. For a doctor, she has a knack for explaining medical concepts in layman's terms. But most of all, I can really sense the care and attention she gives to her patients and this book. She's not out to make a quick buck touting the latest and greatest diet fad. She is genuinely trying to help cure this country and reverse 50+ years of damage done by the various non-caring food industries.

This book deserves a place on your bookshelf because it reads like three different books: It's a book about nutrition, a recipe book, and a travel book. Most would not dream of traveling to Iceland or Peru, but it fascinating to read about someone else doing it.

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