Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Nutritionist's Take on the Food World: A Text Review of Gillian McKeith's Bestseller

Hi Friends,
            Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” (Goodreads Quotes). Based on that nugget of wisdom, this ancient Greek philosopher thinks I should choose natural foods to be the cure for my ailments, and those natural foods will be nourishment enough. I’m rather certain that Hippocrates wasn’t intending for me to be enjoying Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream to ease my sore throat. Oh yes, the symptoms are back: enlarged lymph nodes, a perpetual cough to rid the tickle in my throat, and mouth breathing because my nose is stuffed. I’m prepared for round 2 of the common cold this month. Emergen-C packets, dried apricots, DayQuil, and three boxes of tissues are cluttering my room.  This would be classified as health level 5. Anyway, the general consensus is that natural unprocessed food is usually what improves the body’s health. However, with so many opinions about which health foods are the best, I researched the published material of Gillian McKeith.
            Based in the U.K., Gillian is considered an expert by the Soil Association, a charity in the U.K. that promotes organic certification, in the nutrition field. Her website emphasizes that she wrote Dr. Gillian McKeith’s Living Food For Health: 12 Natural Superfoods to Transform Your Health in 2004, along with dozens of other publications about food advice such as You Are What You Eat. In addition, the site reports she has cohosted numerous television shows including Healthline Across America, and she runs her own clinic in London. Receiving a Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Gillian continued to study at the American College of Holistic Nutrition. She herself suffered from ill health and decided to make a personal change through her diet. The result is her wealth of information she would like to pass on to her clients to improve their lives.
            However, there is a significant controversy surrounding the truth in Gillian’s claims. Her company and brand has been attacked for marketing schemes that promote health products with no scientific evidence. She also has been criticized for using the title M.D. when she is not formally a doctor. Ben Goldacre, creator of the website Bad Science, uncovers McKeith’s writing (along with that of other questionable scientists) as gibberish imitating scientific fact. Moreover, Gillian’s website ( seems to be a tacky infomercial-style money sucking scheme to draw viewers into “Gillian’s Super Club”, a poorly marketed fist reaching into clients’ pockets while disguised as the concerned gentle caress of a doctor.
            Despite the backlash, the profit numbers don’t lie. Her website, the only official source of information available to the public, insists “over 3 million copies have been sold” (McKeith). This bestseller, Living Food For Health, was published during the upswing of the natural health food craze in the early 2000s. During this time, there was sufficient evidence that many people were suffering the repercussions of obesity. As an experienced nutritionist, she had hundreds of clients coming to her because they wanted to improve their health in general, they desired to be in peak performance shape, or they were already diagnosed with a medical condition. This is one of her earliest works, so it was under fire for quite some time after that. Some of her following books are responses to the accusations of false reporting and scams.
To assess the bigger picture, this is a self-help guide for readers who are interested in Gillian’s method of improving health, while also offering the “inside” knowledge she gives her clients. The text directly speaks to readers who feel they are also frequently suffering from the common cold, or some other malady. Fans of Gillian, strict dieters, nutrition junkies, or people desperate for health advice will probably read this book. She is not a doctor, and there is a warning from the publisher that Basic Health Publications Inc. does not endorse any of the author’s methods and they should not replace a physician’s care. The author places readers into three categories and offers a basic quiz to determine if the reader is one of the many who can benefit from her following instruction. In this way, she convinces almost any tentative reader that he or she should indeed continue to read the rest of the material.
            To elaborate, I read the introduction of Living Foods For Health: 12 Natural Superfoods to Transform Your Health. I wanted to get a basic understanding of what a world famous nutritionist might write about. Although this first chapter is just an overview, she manages to provide scientific background on why human bodies’ health levels are affected by the diet. Her major claims include the spleen being the most important organ because if mistreated, a damaged spleen causes excessive mucus production. She also emphasizes that “living foods” have a higher “bioavailable nutrient value” and are thus superfoods because they improve metabolism and absorption rates (13). These include the list of The Sacred 12, which are her twelve precious superfoods that she swears will improve one’s lifestyle.
On the other hand, I was shocked to read that she encourages the use of the alternative form of superfoods as “living food powder”. Powders and other supplements found at drugstores are usually enhanced with artificial chemicals, so wouldn’t that be unnatural? Surprisingly, these “living food powders” are created in perfect health balance and harmony of digestion. I’m skeptical when she writes, “Once we understand these energy fields, we can better manipulate and balance our foods for medicinal purposes with great therapeutic impact” (16). I was not aware that the hot or cold “delicate internal balance” of food matters. At least she provides evidence by citing Dr. Anthony Cichoke and Dr. Gonzales, demonstrating a rhetorical form of ethos. In addition, she discloses that she had over 900 patients waiting to see her, so she can no longer see patients. This implies that her medical practice is successful. She provides the numbers and statistics for her customers who have improved their health, but is it really due to her method? It seems as if adding organic foods and removing all processed gunk would improve anyone’s wellness.
            I am not entirely convinced by “Dr.” Gillian McKeith. Reading her introduction, I felt as if she was patronizing to a non-health guru. True, she is the expert in this relationship, but her tone is condescending, not to mention she unnecessarily repeats material in the introduction itself. Perhaps if I continued to read the rest of the book, I would find her information more helpful. However, after this little promo, I am not enticed to keep reading. The opposing argument is that this “Living Food Program” is not any more significant than adding more greens to one’s diet. She does nothing to refute this, yet. Should someone who isn’t willing to make drastic life changes, like most people, bother to read this? Gillian advocates that clients eat only the twelve listed foods for a given period of time. Although she directly addresses the reader and sympathizes with his/her ailments through her own story of suffering, her ethos is corrupted by the wealth of information available online: about herself and alternative research. She has no credibility and is often called a “quack” in the scientific world because her evidence is considered outrageous and false. There are also reported issues with her responses to other scientists’ allegations about her work. She frequently resorted to legal battles and misleading statements (Goldacre), suggesting that she has something to hide: her secretly flawed “studies”. She has no formal education, so why should people listen to her and not a real doctor?
            So, this could have been the golden book of answers to my questions about my mysterious illnesses. Should I start incorporating the Sacred 12 (listed below)? I would agree with eating more natural foods. But it is not completely possible for me to start adding “wild blue-green algae” into my everyday diet. In fact, I probably won’t like it. I decided to review Gillian’s book because she is the most talked about nutritionist in the U.K, often making headlines. Perhaps the U.S. is not so lenient. It’s true that I am researching the affects of superfoods, but the more I discover about them, the more I am starting to believe that it doesn’t matter specifically which superfoods I eat. People have known for centuries that as long as one eats vegetables with nutritional value, he or she will receive health benefits. All in all, this insight into McKeith’s writing is useful for my project because I recognize the abundance of nutritional literature, and I cannot be so gullible to believe in all of it.
            Do you think you would read her book? Have you read anything similar? Have you even heard of Gillian McKeith? Let me know. Don’t forget: wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay away from germy people.

The Sacred Twelve:

1. Sprouted millet
2. Sprouted quinoa
3. Alfalfa
4. Aloe vera
5. Green barley grass
6. Flax seeds
7. Parsley
8. Dulse
9. Nori
10. Stevia
11. Sunflower
12. Wild blue-green algae

Works Cited

Goldacre, Ben. "What's Wrong with Gillian McKeith." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 Nov. 2007. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.
"Healthy Eating | Weight Loss | Health Profiling." Gillian McKeith. McKeith Research Ltd 2011, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.
"Hippocrates Quotes." Goodreads. 2013 Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
McKeith, Gillian. Dr. Gillian McKeith's Living Foods For Health: 12 Natural Superfoods To Transform Your Health. London: Basic Health Publications, 2004. Print.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Superfood Challenge

Dear Friends,
Finally, the cold is gone! I’m (relatively) free from burning chest pain and a hacking cough. I started chronicling my journey to recovery at the end of the duration of this cold, so an instantaneous revival of health was not strictly due to the addition of superfoods to my diet. The illness had run its course. Then again, my choice of meals may have had a greater effect than I thought.
Last week, I asked a few friends if they would join me on this health detox. I realized that their diets are already quite different than mine, and none of them seem to be currently suffering from a cold. One of my friends is on a weight loss diet before her big formal dance coming up, one obsessively takes vitamin supplements, another is going gluten free to practice for Lent, and my roommate already eats vegetarian. (I'm beginning to wonder: is this the new normal?) So, I continued the adventure independently.
As I began the first days of incorporating a super-meal (quite opposite to a McDonalds happy meal) into each day, I realized I needed to shop for ingredients. The Cellar market at Santa Clara offers many organic and natural food options. I picked up snacks there, including a Bobo’s Coconut Bar, chocolate coconut Luna Bar, and a mini pack of HALLS Defense. I admit, I may have purchased a few other unhealthy snacks like Poptarts and Oreos, but they did not resurface in the meal plan for this week. On the other hand, Safeway proved to be a maze of health products signaling advanced nutritional supplements. I stocked up on all types of berries: blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. However, the acai berry was nowhere to be found in any form. Perhaps I should search in a supplemental store like GNC. Dr. Perricone, Oprah’s nutrition expert, believes the acai and goji berries retain certain properties beyond antioxidants that help to combat viruses and sometimes even shed extra weight. I find myself making the mistake of preserving my berries for too long and then, unfortunately, they spoil. With lists on lists of superfoods out there from plenty of nutritional experts, it is difficult to ascertain which is superior. Most lists include these foods for their enhancing nutritional properties: oats, salmon, blueberries (and strawberries), broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, grapefruit, nuts, green tea, quinoa, kiwi, buckwheat, yogurt, soy, black beans, and kale (SELF Magazine). My goal was to integrate three of these items into a meal for three different days.

My aversion to sushi is inconsistent with my affinity for seafood. An adventurous friend encouraged me to try to the Bistro’s lunch specialty. On Monday, I ate the lion king sushi roll from the Benson cafeteria. Its main ingredients were salmon layered on a rice roll, oozing with avocado (not my favorite) and crab meat, and drowning in spicy mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce. I was surprised by its unusual flavor, declaring that it tastes “like nothing”. After the food digested hours later, I didn’t feel any better. I was still congested and heavily coughing, my health level at a solid 6. I continued to have the same sushi roll the next week!
Tuesdays are my traditional weekly lunch date to eat and converse with my best friend from high school, Caitlin. I usually get the Bronco Salad from Fresco, but instead I opted for my own salad concoction from the salad bar. The main ingredient was spinach leaves and a heaping pile of quinoa. My salad also featured dried cranberries, egg whites, broccoli, carrots, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. I had tried quinoa before and knew that it was tasteless to me. As I was finishing the creation, I was majorly disappointed when I spilled vinegar on my leather boots, so I grabbed a napkin to blotch it up quickly. Why do I have such bad karma if I’m trying to eat healthily? At the end of our lunch, Caitlin offered me half of her RiceKrispy treat, but I hesitated. She had been fiercely coughing since we sat down, and I was afraid of catching her germs when I was already trying to get over mine. She insisted that I was already sick, and I caved because I can’t resist dessert. 
After the quinoa salad, I felt full for the rest of the day. However, before dinnertime, I found myself snacking on oranges. This whole grain protein did improve my health level to a 4, and I felt like I had more energy--enough to attend a kickboxing fitness class. Since I’m such a picky eater, it’s lucky when I find something I enjoy such as quinoa that also has so many benefits. On Wednesday, I attended an early morning class. I needed sustenance to keep me awake. Take note, readers: At an early hour before the sun is up, be careful not to accidentally microwave oatmeal without water and burn the oats, wasting precious time and resources. Don’t worry, the crisis was averted when I made a new bowl and added blackberries. I was able to enjoy my steaming Quaker Oats brown sugar oatmeal, and pangs of hunger didn’t even start until hours later, compared to immediately after class when I eat cereal. One beloved nutritionist for stars such as Hilary Swank and Naomi Campbell, Oz Garcia, encourages breakfast as the most important meal, and he recommends adding a special dietary superfood to increase chances of eating healthier throughout the day (Time). It appears I was following Oz’s directions already. By the end of three days, my health level improved a considerable amount, and I felt that the food’s natural proteins provided more energy than I would have had without those additions.
Oatmeal with Berries
All in all, my week of superfoods has left me “unsick”. Unlike medicinal supplements, superfoods are often taken to prevent illness in the first place. In the worst part of the sickness, I took Emergen-C three times a day, which is a dietary supplement that replenishes electrolytes, not approved by the FDA. Patricia Karney, executive director of non-profit organization EarthSave, reinforces the idea that it is easier for our bodies to digest unprocessed foods because machines haven’t altered them, expending less energy. EarthSave, based in California, offers an education program to underserved individuals about changing health habits and sticking to a plant-based diet (Earthsave). While I followed a similar meal plan, my health seemed to be improving after these couple of days. Is it a coincidence? I do not believe so. We will see if I stay healthy when I continue to eat superfoods, and see which ones have a larger impact. So far, the superfoods made me feel generally better. But I can’t ignore other factors like time spent exercising, lowered stress levels on weeks without exams, and a more exciting social calendar that could have lifted my spirits. All in all, I am happy that I am feeling better no matter the reason.
I’m going to resume my superfood experiences next week. Have you been as lucky as I was to recover from illness quickly? What have you heard is the best superfood out there? I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Works Cited:
Danziger, Lucy S. The Drop 10 Diet Cookbook: More than 100 Tasty, Easy Superfood Recipes That Effortlessly Peel off Pounds. N.p.: Ballantine, n.d. Print.
"EarthSave - Food Intervention Programs to Achieve Health Independence." EarthSave - Food Intervention Programs to Achieve Health Independence. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
Sifferlin, Alexandra. "What's the Healthiest Breakfast? Here's What the Experts Say." Time: Healthland. Time Inc., 13 Apr. 2012. Web.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Goodbye, Germs!

Dear Friends,
There’s always that one girl who is sniffling, piling a mountain of tissues on her desk, constantly coughing up a storm in the corner. Yes, I am that girl, and I’m starting to realize that’s how people see me. I’ll admit, I’m often suffering from the common cold or some illness, but I actually can be a healthy, normally functioning, and cheerful person. My friends tell me getting sick is “psychological”, and it’s all in my mind. Please explain to me why I feel awful and am truly experiencing symptoms. I’m not making it up, I swear. The maker of Lysol wipes, Reckitt Beckiser, reports that Americans suffer from about 1 billion colds a year. Now, before this becomes a rambling list of my ailments, let me explain. I’m writing about more than just my personal preference of throat lozenges (HALLS Breezers, if anyone was wondering). My blog, Vitamin Z, is where I will document my lifestyle change. I’m determined to get healthy by making simple changes to my diet, such as eating a new “superfood” each week and seeing how it makes me feel. Maybe my body is just different, and it’s possible I have something wrong with me physically that causes me to have a weakened immune system (that’s my theory). Some experts out there really do believe that there are magical types of food with super powers that make our bodies instantly healthy. All right, that has to be a bit of an exaggeration. There are many factors that affect how often we get sick, length of recovery time, and severity of illness. For example, I might become sick more often because I’m living in a college dorm environment where people are always in close contact. Does our food of choice really make a significant impact on health level? Julie Morris, author of Superfood Kitchen: Cooking With Nature’s Most Amazing Foods, wrote her own cookbook to describe her individual nutrition regimen, crafting over 100 recipes, so there are no tricks there. It’s all real nutritious food such as goji berry smoothies and coconut teff-grain porridge. There are plenty of doctors out there who will argue that a class of “superfoods” really does have a positive impact on our health. People are continuously encouraged to increase their intake of every vitamin in the alphabet through real unprocessed food. In fact, Oprah’s trusted health expert, Dr. Perricone, also considered the Father of the Inflammation Theory of Aging, believes numerous superfoods exist and do provide dozens of medical benefits if incorporated into a daily diet. Well, I’ll have to test it out myself to believe it. 
I’m a student at Santa Clara University, and I try to keep myself involved. I’m a member of the APB Promo Team, a club that organizes campus wide events, and a participant in Greek life. When I’m not running around with extra-curricular activities, I’m in the library. Yes, I am usually found there (I’ve been kicked out at closing time, 2am, too many times…) pursuing my path to major in bioengineering. I keep myself occupied, but I do squeeze time for exercise into my schedule. A healthy diet and active lifestyle are important to being the best person I can be, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Asthma is my only officially diagnosed lung disease. If one were curious to know more about asthma, he/she should watch my video here that I created last year as a participant in the Student BioExpo Event in Seattle sponsored by the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research. Including all variations of diseases, health in general should be a significant matter for everyone because of the troublesome persistence of pathogens. In recent news, the U.S. has been afflicted with the flu epidemic, and at least 20 children have died from it this season (CNN). I’ve decided to proactively protect myself from harmful diseases like the flu before it strikes first.
Let me describe my current log of feelings and what I would call “health level”. I’ll record these statistics every time I post with a new experience. As of right now, I am suffering from what I believe to be acute bronchitis. My symptoms include a sore throat, wheezing cough, and difficulty breathing. I feel like a 7 on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being absolutely fantastic. I could doze off at any moment, although it is late and that’s typical of a college student. I’m ready for the virus to leave my body, and eager to start my journey to blissful healthiness. Consider your own health level. So you’re feeling a little under the weather too? Misery loves company. Even if you’re not ill, join me in this detoxification of germs, and hopefully we can track our changes in well being together. 
Get well soon, friends.  Feel free to share thoughts and any tips you find on the path to healthiness.