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Did you know that almost everything you have been told about food is wrong? There is little evidence out there for most of the advice that we are given about food, including most medical and Government recommendations. Professor Tim Spector helps us to question every diet, official recommendation and food label we come across.

The Happy Sage purchased this book.

a photo of the book spoon-fed by professor tim spector

Where do you get the information you base your food and diet choices on?

I am really interested in health and well-being and have been studying and researching the subject for decades, not only the ingredients that are in our makeup and skincare products, but also the food fads and diet recommendations that come our way on a constant basis.

From the government and medical charities to newspapers and social media, everyone seems to have a different idea about what constitutes a healthy diet, but how much of it should we believe?

I have a strong interest in staying healthy having had a stage 4 blood cancer and try to live what I feel is a healthy lifestyle for me without making myself miserable. It's easy to give up trying though as you are constantly bombarded with headlines that scream that everything from a glass of wine to a rasher of bacon is going to cut your life short or up the chance of you catching some deadly disease.

All this conflicting evidence does is turn people off and make them think it's not worth the bother because whatever they do this month to try and improve their health, there will probably be another study out next month telling them exactly the opposite. It's exhausting trying to keep up with it all.

It really is a maze of information out there and if you dig deep in to some of it you will find out that the studies that tell you that a particular heavily processed food or ingredient is actually beneficial to your health will probably have been funded by the very food manufacturer or organisation that promotes or sells it - hardly reassuring.

Also, if you actually read some of the studies that the newspapers quote you will see that they 'cherry pick' the quotations and findings without reporting them in context, or that the studies were only observational and they are just using the headlines as click bait for readers. None of this helps those of us who really want to get to the bottom of what constitutes a healthy diet.

The lack of science behind food recommendations

I was very interested therefore to read the book 'Spoon-fed' by Tim Spector. Tim is Professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College London and honorary consultant physician at Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals. He is also an expert in personalised medicine and the gut microbiome and in 1993 he founded the UK Twins Registry of 12,000 twins, which is one of the richest collections of genotypic and phenotypic information on twins worldwide. He has written three previous books, Your Genes Unzipped (how your genetic inheritance shapes your life 2003), Identically Different (why you can change your genes 2012) and The Diet Myth (2015).

In Spoon-fed Professor Spector delves deeper into well known food and diet recommendations and discovers a real lack of solid science to back them up. He talks about why different eating plans work for different people, very much emphasising the concept of personal medicine which seems to sort of back up my personal theory that a particular diet and lifestyle that works for me may not be suitable for someone else. Although I had absolutely no idea why this would be this book goes some way to explaining the reasons why as well as showing how the foods I eat have an impact on my microbiome (gut bacteria), my mood and my immune system.

99% of the population do not conform to the artificial average

As part of his PREDICT study (the largest nutritional science study of its kind anywhere in the world) Professor Spector that 99% of us do not conform to some artificial average in response to the foods that we eat, therefore as far as I can see the diet and nutrition guidelines lauded by the Government and many medical organisations and charities are probably completely meaningless to most of us!

Question guidelines and advice

What is really nice to read is Professor Spector questioning the mostly outdated advice that continues to swirl around us and in particular his comments that a lot of what we do is rooted in our childhood and what we were told. For instance when I grew up in Yorkshire there were a lot of old wives' tales regarding health and dietary guidelines. Some of them were just laughable but the fact that I can remember them, and a lot of other advice in relation to lifestyle and food advice from my elders shows just how easy it is to spend your life abiding by a set of rules that you were given as a child without even really knowing the reasons why and whether there is actually any truth in them..

Spoon-fed investigates the food myths

In his book Spoon-fed, Spector takes on a lot of 'myths' about food, you may have heard many of them before such as:

  • Calories accurately measure how fattening a food is

  • Saturated fat is a major cause of heart disease

  • Taking vitamin supplements improves our health and prevents disease

  • Sugar-free food and drinks are a safe way to lose weight

  • Food labelling helps us make healthier choices

  • All meat is bad for us

  • We all need to reduce our salt intake

  • Most of us have a food allergy

  • Gluten is dangerous

  • All processed food is bad for us

  • Pregnancy nutritional advice is reliable or evidence based

  • Drinking alcohol is always bad for you

  • We need to drink eight glasses of water a day

  • and my favourite, 'Doctors always know best'

Spoon Fed by Professor Tim Spector - Review

Spoon-fed is a really easy and uncomplicated read. It lays out the current science and facts in an easy to read and understandable way. I would love to have a more detailed conversation with Tim though on his conclusion that you don't need vitamin supplements if you eat a good and varied diet.

Whilst I would have agreed with this about 50 years ago, the soil in this country has been devastated by intensive farming, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides over the years and now does not contain anywhere near as much of the vital vitamins, minerals and trace elements that we need. One vitamin in particular is magnesium which is necessary for the proper functioning of some 700 - 800 enzyme systems in the body and a lack of magnesium has been implicated in a host of health conditions (see my post on ionic magnesium).

Spector also touches on intermittent fasting and skipping meals, both of which I have experimented with, and it is nice to read about some of the positive benefits associated with this such as challenging the body's metabolism.

Do diets work?

The trouble with most 'diets' is that they are restrictive to such a degree that people find them difficult to follow and tend to end up bingeing on the very foods they are supposed to be avoiding. The last thing you want is a lifestyle that is so controlled or extreme that it stresses you out, or you panic if you eat something that you think you are not supposed to. You need to find a way of eating that is healthy and works for you.

Spoon-fed is a different type of health food book in that it does not try and tell you what you should or shouldn't eat. It lists the common food 'mantras' and then gives you the information and facts so that you can make an informed decision for yourself. At the end of the book there is a chapter called 'Conclusion: How to Eat' (which I won't spoil for you), along with a list of twelve general points relating to food and eating that are easy to remember or stick up in your kitchen.

I thoroughly recommend that you read Spoon-fed. I think you will find that it will free you up to make more informed decisions about what is best for you and your body and you will actually get to learn some real facts about many of the stale pieces of advice on food and nutrition that are out there.

As Spector says in the book, there is no 'one size fits all' solution and I find this hugely refreshing as it gives me the confidence to take my own health in to my own hands and not feel worried or guilty that I am not following a lot of the nutritional advice that is circulating.

We all have control over our food, what we buy and what we eat and therefore over our mood, our immune system, our weight and much more. I don't think that being as healthy as we personally can be given our own individual circumstances should be hard. It should be something we can enjoy and get involved in and actually celebrate when we find something that works for us and our body.

If you liked this book review you might be interested in my review of the book Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty - reduce the stress of modern living and find the gifts within us that we have been blessed with.

If you are looking for more great book ideas on a huge range of health, well-being, mind, body and spirit then take a look at The Happy Sage Recommended Books Directory.

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