Death by Food Pyramid

Today I want to talk to you about Death by Food Pyramid, the long awaited new book by Denise Minger (more about her in just a moment).

Full disclosure—I don’t sell this book on my website, had nothing to do with it’s production, and have never even met the author (though we’ve exchanged maybe two single sentence e-mails over the years of the “Go get ‘em!” variety).

I believe this book is likely to stand as one of the most important books on nutrition, diet and health in the last ten years. It has the power—literally—to change your life, or at least the way you think about diet, weight and health. And best of all, it accomplishes this herculean task by brushing off some some tools that have been all but lost in the acrimony of nutritional debates: grace and style.

So if you don’t know who Denise Minger is, I forgive you—no one really knows a whole lot about her. She came out of nowhere—a bright, apple-cheeked twenty-something from Oregon with no advanced degree in medicine or health, billing herself cheerfully as just a “girl with a blog”—and then proceeded to write a dazzling piece on Colin Campbell’s vegetarian manifesto The China Study. That widely discussed piece remains a classic, and earned Minger immediate stardom as a blogger in the “health space”.

Her critique was so nuanced, so thoroughly backed up by unassailable scientific references, so richly researched, and so brilliantly written that some of the people who were offended by such a killer assault on their treasured beliefs started the rumor that Denise Minger didn’t exist. They argued that it wasn’t possible that some young woman without any credentials could have written such a piece, ergo there was no such person as Denise Minger. The writer “calling” herself “Denise Minger”, they reasoned, had to be a consortium of anti-vegetarian scholars writing under a pen name.

Nope, not making that one up.

And her China Study critique was no fluke. Her subsequent pieces—including one on how everyone got the Ancel Keys story wrong, including, by the way, yours truly—have been equally brilliant.

So now comes her eagerly awaited—long awaited— first book, Death by Food Pyramid.

Let me just say this: It was worth the wait.

Denise Minger is a former vegetarian and raw food person who had some serious health problems that she undertook to solve. So her interest in nutrition came from her own personal mission. I’m not going to tell you much about that, you can read it in the book, but it’s relevant. Because Ms. Minger is such a critical thinker and keen observer, her journey through a dozen different diets– each promising relief, health, weight loss, longevity—is more than a little instructive, and something a whole lot of people will be able to relate to.

Not only that, her sense of nutrition history—and her knowledge of historical details—is impressive. Why does this matter? Because she takes you, step by step, through exactly what happened to get this country on its idiotic collision course with the epidemics of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. When you see how this all happened—how we got sold the low-fat hypothesis, the cholesterol hypothesis, the saturated-fat-is-the-devil hypothesis, the grains-are-great hypothesis—it’s like having the scales fall from your eyes.

I’m sure this book will be the first time many readers come face to face with the fact that our government recommendations for healthy eating are flawed and inaccurate and have been for some time. Not only that, but the shaping influences on those recommendation are frighteningly political, so much so that one is left with the feeling that looking to “official” government recommendations as a guide to healthy eating is a fool’s errand.

But Death by Food Pyramid is anything but pessimistic. It’s actually a manifesto in how to empower yourself, honor your own individuality, and find your own road in the nutrition forest.

Oh, and did I mention how this lady writes?

Denise Minger is a writer in the school of Winston Churchill, which is to say she implicitly embraces the idea that great ideas can be said clearly, succinctly, and without a lot of high-falutin’ words. Seriously. This gal is one gifted communicator. She manages to execute a hard-to-pull-off balance of first-rate scholarship with a writing style that is humorous, light-hearted, good natured, non-abrasive, and without a hint of an agenda. She is the Jon Stewart of nutrition reporting, able to gently take on opponents with frightening intelligence– but she does it with such good grace and humor that even those she demolishes wind up liking her.

Read this book. Even if you think you already know everything that’s in it, read it for the delightful writing style and the engaging tour of the world of nutrition, politics and shabby science.

And then give it to a friend who’s struggling with diet and weight loss.

I promise you– whoever you give this book to will thank you.

Probably twice.