January 7th, 2008

_The Spectrum_ by Dean Ornish

Let's just get this straight.

I like Dean Ornish. He seems like a nice, smart guy who has some really great ideas that he's really good at communicating. I'm going to complain about some problems I see in _The Spectrum_. Despite these complaints, I think this book is worth reading, worth taking seriously, and quite probably worth adjusting your life in accordance with. I totally believe that if you live (more or less -- see below) in accordance with the healthy end of his Spectrum, you've got a good shot at avoiding, delaying the onset of, and/or reversing many chronic lifestyle diseases (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, maybe even some cancers, dementia, etc.). Even if you _don't_ adopt anything in this book, it's worth reading to better understand the current state-of-the-art when it comes to HDL, LDL testing and what those numbers might really mean.

That said, I have some complaints. In the past, this guy was way, way, way fat-phobic. He's gotten a lot better and really does fully grasp the importance of some dietary fat. He emits the standard reduce-sodium advice, but doesn't really pursue that seriously. This is reflected in the tables for the various groups (low sodium soy sauce is a group 2 item; hoisin and plum sauces are group 1 items!) and in the recipe portion of the book, which has some additional problems.

In reading through the recipe section (and I recognize that these recipes are by Art Smith and therefore Ornish cannot be held fully accountable for them), there are some stand-out anomalies:

multigrain bagels: over half refined flour, yet somehow the end result qualifies as a group 1. I haven't yet made 100% whole grain bagels, but after seeing this, I've had it up to here with people telling us to buy 100% whole wheat, then signing off on stuff like this. There needs to be a group 0, if this is a group 1.

whole-grain french toast: doesn't say anything about looking for 100% whole grain altho it does say to watch out for HFCS or sugars. Kinda half-hearted advice, if you ask me. Again, there needs to be a group 0.

I'm not even going to ask WTF multigrain flour is in the multigrain pancakes. What's the point? And why take a perfectly tasty all-fruit syrup and add a tsp of crap like Splenda to it?

Again, the the California eggs, with the whole-grain toast/whole-grain English muffin. There's also a lot of milk in these recipes: non or lowfat yogurt, kefir, nonfat milk, etc. Very frustrating for me personally, and not obviously a health win by any standard. Well, any reasonable standard. I have no particular objection to the Quinoa recipe. But then, there's the Stand Out Winner for Stupidity:

the breakfast taco that calls for a fat-free whole grain tortilla. If it is fat-free, it is, by definition, NOT 100% whole grain. Which means there is every reason to believe those previous recipes calling for whole grain weren't calling for 100% whole grain either.

There's a time and place to worry about the amount of fat in one's diet. But if it means you are preferring highly processed foods over minimally processed foods, you have to wonder if this is that time or that place.

I may or may not bother to post any further review of the recipe section of this book. Returning to the food breakdown by group, the grains section lists things like 100% whole grain bread etc., then lists a bunch of other grains (amaranth, barley ...). It mentions Pasta made from whole grain, and also Soba and Udon noodles specifically. Tortillas, fat-free and wheat tortillas, fat-free both appear in group one, as does "wheat" otherwise unspecified, but distinct from "wheat berries".

If anyone can clarify WTF Ornish means, I'd be interested to hear it. FWIW, he puts "white flour" in group 3. So what is "wheat" if it isn't "wheat berries"? Does he mean, 100% whole wheat flour? And why are those tortillas getting such a pass? He doesn't list "multi-grain" anywhere.


In a lot of ways, it does not really matter. I'm not going to pursue this plan in any detail (the whole idea that an egg white belongs at the healthiest end, and an egg yolk at the _unhealthiest_ end pretty much kills it for me, along with all the dairy products).

_Country Beans_ Rita Bingham

Careful readers may have noted that I expressed a passing interest in advice from any stray mormon readers I might have about food storage.

Well, I picked this up instead, because it has recipes for using bean flour.

It's actually a really cool little cookbook, much better on initial survey than other preparedness cookbooks I've looked at in a number of ways. First, it's quite apparent that this is actually a person who eats this way, as opposed to someone dealing with food storage in a theoretical way (I need to store food, I need to know how I would cook it, but I'm not going to change my whole way of life now to rotate that storage). Bingham seems to be second generation at this kind of stuff (her mother Esther Dickey wrote _Passport to Survival_) and well-respected (article in Jan 1996 Ensign), which matches the impression I get that she lives this way.

Bingham has clearly been paying attention to Trendy Nutrition stuff. She's an Ornish fan. Virtually every recipe allows for substituting applesauce for the oil, and the oil is, in virtually every case, canola oil. Like I said, she's been paying attention.

Included at the back: directions for _making your own soy milk and tofu_ and what to do with the pulp. Put that sucker under the heading of I Will Probably Never Do This.

All in all, some really interesting recipes, at least of few of which I will almost certainly try, adapt and adopt, and a few Brand New Techniques for me to fiddle around with.

Oh, and _all_ the bread recipes call for whole wheat flour, no refined flour. And she just sort of assumes you're going to have your own grinder. Gotta love it.