Scrumptious readers, my favorite food book of 2008 is out on the shelves and let me tell you, it's refreshing, exciting, informative and full of terrific insight about how to ensure what you're eating is good for you-- for the rest of your life. This is the first time I've discussed a book on this blog; it's not something I was inspired to do before. But, I was so excited about The Jungle Effect that I wanted to tell you all about it!
Recently I read the book and had the opportunity to interview its doctor-author Daphne Miller, M.D. In the book she talks of her travels around the world to research particular indigenous food cultures and brings her findings home to her patients and ultimately, to everyone who reads the book. Are you sick of diets and fads which change at best yearly and at worst, quarterly, preaching what you should eat? Me too. I completely ignore them and try to eat healthy. But, sometimes "healthy" is vague and sometimes eating healthy ingredients doesn't pack as much preventive power as eating a meal with ingredients that when combined in a specific way, help combat specific diseases.
This is not another locavore platform. In The Jungle Effect, Dr. Miller delivers insight, research, findings, MEAL PLANS(!), RECIPES (!!) and SHOPPING LISTS (!!!) for 5 indigenous diets that have the lowest prevalence of specific chronic diseases that plague much of the Western world. She calls these areas "cold spots" for each disease. Copper Canyon, Mexico for diabetes; Crete, Greece for heart disease; Iceland for depression; Cameroon, West Africa for bowel diseases (including colorectal cancer) and Okinawa, Japan for both breast and prostate cancers. The premise is that if you have risk factors or early stage warning signs for any of these chronic diseases, you can improve your health by learning from and incorporating these indigenous diets into your own lifestyle. These are not "diets" in the temporal lose-a-ton-of-weight sense. They are diets as the word is truly meant; the composite of what you eat and drink on a daily basis. Also the point isn't losing weight, although naturally that follows in many cases when combined with exercise of course, but rather it is increasing your longevity and vitality. And don't we all want to learn how to live longer and better lives? Hurrah Dr. Miller!
According to Dr. Miller, "...When people take simple baby steps, such as committing to making three meals per week from one of these chosen plans, and include all the items on the shopping lists, they realize they can be successful and are empowered and triumphant!" Inspired by her patients and their stories, she approaches the research with honesty and an eye on what will work in the long term for people. "In order to take charge of your health and body, you must commit to cooking," explains Dr. Miller. "But prior to seeing me or reading my book, none of my patients were even given a recipe as part of the prescription [for their chronic diseases]. It's obvious to me that the main prescription should be a recipe, something that people can do for the rest of their lives." Dr. Miller is a breath of fresh air for those of us who love cooking!
Rather than working in stilted lab environments, she traveled the world and studied peoples who have been healthy for centuries and particularly resistant to certain chronic diseases. She brings that knowledge home with anecdotes of her patients, combines her research with an understanding of each unique patient's cravings, food history, shopping locations, patterns and how they feel about cooking at home. She uses this information to build a full picture of what food means to her patients and their sense of self. Together, they then set a specific indigenous eating strategy in motion. What's amazing is that these diets have been working for centuries in pockets of the world but no one has ever made this knowledge so practical and accessible at home. Everyone with a supermarket, and in some cases a farmer's market can find and buy the necessary ingredients for these meals. "These indigenous diets are not about high drama. Rather, slow and steady results to effect permanent change are what you see. It's more like turning a freighter around and once on a different course, it's amazing how successful people feel," Dr. Miller told me.
Some findings are fascinating in the sense that they are somewhat counter-intuitive to poplar understanding. For example, pork isn't banned and our phobia about saturated fats isn't always valid. Matter of fact it's an important part of the Okinawan diet but is always treated as more like a spice or condiment than a complete entrée. And when combined with other elements of the Okinawan diet, the pork is easier digested and nutrients absorbed. In most cases, she found it's the combination of ingredients that help combat each disease.
Her "Anatomy of an Indigenous Diet: The Nine Key Components" is so fundamental, practical and loaded with common sense that's it's difficult to believe (but true) it's a rare American who abides them on a daily basis. The components are:
1. Foods that are local, fresh and in season
2. Food cultivation techniques and recipes passed down through the ages
3. Food traditions (communal eating, eating for satiety rather than fullness and observation of fasts and food rituals)
4. Sugar from whole foods such as honey, fruits, vegetables and whole grains
5. Salt from natural unprocessed sources such as fish, sea greens and vegetables
6. Naturally raised meat and dairy as a precious commodity
7. Nonmeat fats from whole nuts, seeds, grains and fatty fruits; minimally processed oils such as olive, palm fruit, or coconut oil
8. Fermented and pickled foods and
9. Healing spices.
The book explains exactly how to do this with any of the five indigenous diets covered and provides all the appendices you need to shop, cook and plan your new meals. It's wonderfully unique and full of valuable resources for any home cook, no matter your current state of health or risk factors for these diseases. By reading, understanding and using The Jungle Effect, we can all make sure our cooking is as healthy as we're committed to making it.
If you'd like to hear and read more about Dr. Miller's book, check out these interviews. Or of course, you could buy it! Be on the lookout for future recipes I create using some of its principles. (Actually, I already did with this one.)