How Not To Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss by Michael Greger, M.D.
How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss by Michael Greger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Let me preface this review by saying that Dr. Greger is my kind of nerd. I've been a fan of his books and NutritionFacts.org since I first became vegan four years ago. He is a consummate researcher who always leads with the best available body of research to support his claims and suggestions. I love his snarky, sometimes corny deadpan humor and his ability to take otherwise dry nutrition science and shine a light on the most exciting tidbits. How Not To Diet, like all of his other books, embodies all of this.
Dr. Greger begins by fleshing out the causes, consequences and solutions to America's obesity crisis, laying the blame squarely in the lap of the meat-heavy, highly processed Standard American Diet. He then proceeds to flesh out the characteristics of an "ideal" weight loss diet - one that is safe, effective, health-promoting, and easy to adhere to. Once this foundation has been laid, Dr. Greger provides a list of (safe!) tips and tricks that can help further boost weight loss. He then ties it all together in a summary chapter, which can serve as a standalone TL;DR (too long, didn't read) for anyone who doesn't have the time to sit and wade through all of the information.
While this book is geared towards those looking to lose weight, it can also serve as a beneficial resource for anyone looking to improve their health. It's also a great read for people who are interested in nutrition science. Every time I picked this book up, the nutrition geek in me would emerge, wide-eyed and child-like, excited to learn another fascinating piece of information. I took my time with this encyclopedic text so as to really savor each morsel of knowledge. This was absolutely necessary because the man gave us a veritable buffet of scientifically-backed information. Greger himself advises to treat this book as a reference, and the well-organized chapter structure makes it very easy to do just that. I have nothing but high praises for this book and would recommend it to any and everyone.
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Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Does any of this sound familiar?: "That has too many carbs," or "I need more protein to build muscle," or "I need some vitamin C, I feel a cold coming on." If so, then you're familiar with the concept of nutritional reductionism. It's when the constituent parts of foods - macronutrients, micronutrients - are considered more important than the whole food itself. This concept is a result of nutritional science's discoveries about the health benefits of certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Bolstered by a supplement and food industry which has sought to capitalize on these discoveries by selling these constituent parts individually, our concept of nutrition and proper eating has been seriously skewed.
This is the argument made by Dr. T. Colin Campbell in his book Whole. That we've become so obsessed with carbs and fats and proteins and vitamins that we're unable to see that the real magic lies in the whole food itself. Of course, as this is a follow-up to his acclaimed China Study, Dr. Campbell is specifically discussing the nutritional power of whole plant foods. He argues that much is lost and a lot of confusion abounds in the public discussion of nutrition when we reduce foods down to their individual nutrients.
Chock full of cool information about foods (who knew that apples were so fascinating?), Dr. Campbell aims to steer the conversation about nutrition and health towards the notion that it is the whole fruit, the whole vegetable, the whole grain, the whole legume, and inevitably, the whole diet that matters most for health outcomes. This book rejects the complicated, commercialized rhetoric of nutrition science in favor of something much simpler, and much more intuitive: to improve health, eat a diet based primarily on plant foods in their whole, unadulterated forms. That's it.
This book was a pivotal, foundational text for my own whole food, plant-based lifestyle. I recommend it for anyone seeking to improve not only their knowledge, but also their relationship with food.
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Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For quite some time I've been eager to get into Manning Marable's Reinvention. Back in college Marable was something of a minor intellectual celebrity in our Caribbean Students' Association, and I'd always meant to take the time to explore some of his work. With the pages of Autobiography still fresh in my mind, I dove into Reinvention, ready to expand upon what I already knew.
The strength of this work lies in the breadth and depth of research. No one can deny that this book was quite thorough, and gave an impressive amount of context for what's written in Autobiography. Each chapter of Malcolm's life is placed within the greater context of racial and class struggle, and Manning did a great job of connecting Malcolm's life to the events that were occurring on the larger national and international stage.
Marable's extensive, decades-long research allowed for a treasure trove of previously unknown information that paints a very rich and compelling narrative. Marable's aim was to separate the man from the myth; he felt like the presentation of Malcolm in Autobiography was in many ways too fictive and incomplete. This is unsurprising. The fact that Haley was often left to his own devices during the writing of Autobiography, as well as the fact that it was published after Malcolm's death does call a lot into question. Indeed, Marable was very keen to point out contradictions between his research and what's written in Autobiography. Marable also did not hide the fact that he was somewhat suspicious of Haley and his motives.
I personally believe that a great biography is one that refuses to deify the subject and rather seeks to give as complete and honest as possible a portrait of who that person was. Malcolm X was notoriously complicated and undoubtedly imperfect, and this is what endears him to so many. Marable's depiction of him adheres faithfully to this fact. The Malcolm X of Autobiography is a made-for-the-masses, sanitized depiction of the man; Marable's book presents Malcolm in raw form, flaws and all.
Marable does an excellent job illustrating how the theme of reinvention characterized Malcolm's life. He shows, in no uncertain terms, that in addition to the transformation narrative that we've come to know as Malcolm X's life story, there have been a number of ways in which his persona has been reinvented over time. In the chapter entitled "The Legend of Detroit Red", for example, Marable argues that there were a lot of liberties taken in the presentation of Detroit Red in Autobiography, and that a lot of the criminal aspects of the Detroit Red persona were greatly exaggerated in an attempt to make the story of Malcolm's transformation even more extraordinary. This skeptical approach characterizes much of Marable's work, and he makes it clear that his goal is to cut through the illusion and get to the facts.
I would be lying if I said that I didn't feel at times like Marable was playing a little fast and loose with conjecture. I did find myself feeling uneasy and even questioning Marable's motives for including certain salacious bits of information regarding Malcolm's marriage and sex life. I wondered at points if I was reading too hard into what felt somewhat like the passing of moral judgment. I came into conflict with myself because while I appreciate the notion of presenting a truthful narrative, I am also sensitive to the fact that there are some things that people would prefer to keep private. There are definitely things in here that I'm sure both Malcolm and Betty would've preferred to take to their graves.
I found myself grappling with questions of ethics; since Malcolm opened the door to his life by publishing Autobiography, and because he's become such a larger than life figure in Black history, does this mean that we are entitled to know every single detail of his life? Particularly if he omitted this information in his own life story? And especially if this information is coming from word of mouth and insinuations based on sometimes vague journal entries? While unpacking these feelings I was reminded of Malcolm's own words:
“I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
If what Marable presents to us is indeed the truth, then maybe exposing this information was for the best. For what it's worth, Marable is fairly straight-forward and honest regarding the sourcing of his information, though some internal citations would have helped tremendously. While I did have my doubts, by the end of the book I no longer questioned Marable's motives, as his undying respect for the man is evident in his dedication to this work.
At the end of the day, I've no interest in a sanitized depiction of Malcolm's life story. I personally feel that the habitual deification of Black historical figures in particular has done a disservice to the everyday people who admire them. No one is perfect, and we can all benefit from learning to see people as they truly are, rather than who we'd prefer them to be. There are many things that Malcolm did that I wholeheartedly disagree with, things that even Malcolm himself came to regret as his personal politics evolved. However, the power and impact of the core of Malcolm's teachings cannot be denied, and nothing that Marable presents to us in this work makes Malcolm or his journey any less extraordinary.
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Niv Mullings is a writer, poet, and plant-based health coach hailing from The Boogie Down Bronx.