- Traci Malone
Summertime Reading: Quality Not Confusion
We have arrived at Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer! It's made me think about the beach, or the lake, or wherever we may find ourselves spending our slow-down summer-time days. It's also got me thinking about summer reading because it's a season there is often a little more time for this pleasure. If you already have a great piece of fiction or historical biography picked out, great! You're all set to lay on a towel with your feet in the sand and dive in! If you are still looking for that great read and tend to prefer nutrition and health topics, I'd love to share a resource I just discovered that may help you narrow it down.
It's called Red Pen Reviews (www.redpenreviews.org). Red Pen Reviews is "Expert health and nutrition book reviews that sort fact from fiction." To be honest, as a dietitian and nutrition therapist, I was giddy with delight when I learned of this website! It is so common to have my clients share they are following some rigid eating plan, and usually it includes an effort to eliminate a certain food or foods from their diet. They have based this way of eating on the information in a book often written by a medical professional and believed to be the truth. Sadly, the information is often not backed by credible science-based evidence despite claims that it is. And I see the harm this can cause on an almost daily basis in my practice, from complete confusion about what to eat to serious nutrient deficiencies and significant disordered eating.
Red Pen Reviews state their goals are “to create an incentive for nutrition/health book authors and publishers to value truth more than they currently do and more importantly, to improve public health by elevating the quality of the health-related information that surrounds us.” The reviews are based on four categories. The first is Scientific Accuracy, or how well the book’s claims are supported by the evidence. The second category is Reference Accuracy and assesses how accurately the book cites references. The third category is Healthfulness and explores how well the book’s advice will improve health. Each category gets a score, and all three are averaged for an overall score. The fourth category is Difficulty and not part of the scoring, but rather it aims to answer the question “How hard would it be to apply the book’s advice?” and gives a rating of very difficult, fairly difficult, fairy easy, or very easy. The reviewers have a master’s degree or higher in a relevant field of science and each review is completed by two of the experts.
I was so happy to see one of the first books reviewed is Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar– Your Brain’s Silent Killers by David Perlmutter, MD which was published in 2013. I consistently walk clients off the “carbs are bad ledge” because of dietary recommendation like the ones in Grain Brain. Perlmutter claims carbohydrate and gluten, along with inactivity and inadequate sleep, are harmful to the brain, cause Alzheimer’s disease, headaches, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and a long list of other brain disorders. I’ve had quite a few clients specifically mention Grain Brain as their latest food and eating blueprint. The book recommends following a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet with primarily fat, vegetables, and some berries for targeting brain health. I was shocked, but not surprised, to learn the book earned the following score: 20% for scientific accuracy, 63% for reference accuracy, 50% for healthfulness, and an overall score of 44%. It is also ranked as “very difficult” to apply the book’s advice. No wonder my clients were confused and struggling with the advice! The horrible 20% score for scientific accuracy and the “very difficult” application in real life really stand out to me. People are looking to take care of themselves, eat in a healthful way that works them, and they turn to experts for credible advice. The fact that dietary recommendations are made in Grain Brain with such a lack of any real scientific evidence and are near impossible to follow is beyond frustrating for me as a nutrition professional.
There currently are 4 other book reviews including The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain by Steven Gundry, MD, The Good Gut: Taking Control of your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health by Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs, The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight by Valter Longo, PhD, and The Bulletproof Diet: Lose Up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life by Dave Asprey. The plan is to review all new health and nutrition books written for a general audience and several classics as well. I look forward to reading future reviews and encouraging others to read them. Ultimately, I hope this website helps us all wade through the hype to better find the quality information.
You can read the reviews and learn more about the organization, the review process, and scoring (including a detailed scoring rubric) at Red Pen Reviews (www.redpenreviews.org).