Deep Nutrition, a book by Catherine Shanahan, MD, and Luke Shanahan, is not a “blockbuster” by today’s standards, but it is a very good read, and I highly recommend it to my readers. Cate Shanahan comes to her views on nutrition from her undergraduate studies in epigenetics and biochemistry in Cornell University’s molecular biology program. After graduating from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, in a devastating Epilogue to her book she explains her departure from conventional medicine. That’s the subject of the next column. This one is about “Deep Nutrition.”
“This book describes the diet to end all diets,” Shanahan begins. “The Human Diet,” a phrase she coins to “describe the communalities between all the most successful nutritional programs people the world over have depended on for millennia to protect their health and encourage the birth of healthy children so that the heritage of optimum health can be gifted to the next generation, and the generation that follows.” In other words, our genetic heritage is heritable and depends on what we eat. Connecting biochemistry to epigenetics, she says, “Your diet changes how your genes work.”
“The greatest gift on earth,” Shanahan explains, “is a set of healthy genes.”But, “genes that were once healthy can, at any point in our lives, start acting sick” by “factors that force good genes to behave badly, by switching them on and off at the wrong time.” Epigenetics, she explains, is about this “genetic expression,” not about genetic mutation. Long time readers will recall that I wrote about a branch of epigenetics in #120, “Nutrigenomics -- an emerging new science.”
“Human health depends on traditional foods,” she avers. “Food is like a language, an unbroken information stream that connects every cell of your body…” “The better the source and the more undamaged the message when it arrives to your cells, the better your health will be.” “The bottom line,” she says, “is clear.” “We control the health of our genes” because “you…have control over what may be the most powerful class of gene regulating factors: food.”
“By simply replenishing your body with the nourishment that facilitates optimal gene expression, it’s possible to eliminate genetic malfunction and, with it, pretty much all known disease. No matter what kind of genes you were born with, I know that eating right can help reprogram them, immunizing you against cancer, premature aging and dementia, enabling you to control your metabolism, your moods, your weight – and much, much more.” That a pretty powerful claim, but, she says, you owe it to your children [who inherit your genes] to give them “a shot at reaching for the stars.”
All these quotes are from the Introduction and Chapter One. The next five chapters, on subjects like “Dynamic Symmetry” and “A Mother’s Wisdom,” were of less interest to me. Then, in Chapter Seven, she gets to “the meat” of her ideal “Human Diet,” what she calls “The Four Pillars of World Cuisine.” They are: “meat on the bone, fermented and sprouted foods, organs and other ‘nasty bits,’ and fresh, unadulterated plant and animal products.”
With meat, she says, “The secret? Leave it on the bone. When cooking meat, the more everything stays together – fat, bone, marrow, skin – and other connective tissue – the better.” And “Rule Number One: Don’t Overcook It; Rule Number Two: Use Moisture, Time and Parts; Rule Number Three: Use the Fat; Rule Number Four: Make bone stock.” The sections on the other three pillars are equally good. Personally, I love organ meats and am coming to love some of the more exotic fermented foods. And we always eat fresh and/or raw vegetables with dinner every day.
Perhaps the very best parts of the book, though, are Chapters Eight and Nine: Dr. Shanahan’s attack on “vegetable oils and sugar.” You can see it coming. At the end of Chapter Seven, she puts it very succinctly: “Because vegetable oil and sugar are so nasty and their use in processed foods so ubiquitous that they have replaced nutrient-rich ingredients we would otherwise eat, I place vegetable oil and sugar before all others, on the very top of my don’t eat list.” Throughout the book she links these two products of industrial food manufacturing to maladies that she sees in her medical practice.
What I particularly liked about both chapters is how well she explained the biochemistry. In addition to explaining the mechanisms and pathways in easy to understand language, she supplemented these with colorful and creative metaphors.One of her concluding thoughts: “Vegetable oils and sugar,” she says, “are the real culprits for diseases most doctors blame on chance, or – even more absurdly – on the consumption of animal products that you need to eat to be healthy.” Hooray, Dr. Shanahan! I wish you could be MY doctor!