Disclosure: I was contacted by the author, who sent me a review copy of this book free of charge.
The ability to see is something we usually take for granted until we start having problems. Loss of vision due to cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration becomes more common as we age, but eye problems can develop throughout the life cycle. I've had several eye disorders: bilateral strabismus ("lazy eye") requiring surgery when I was seven, medium myopia (nearsightedness) since around that age, and most recently presbyopia ("old eyes" -- farsightedness after the age of 40). I also have a strong family history of glaucoma, so doing whatever i can to preserve the sight I have is extremely important to me.
Dr. Bruce Fife is a naturopath, certified nutritionist, and director of the Coconut Research Center. He's a prolific author, having written 20 books based on his extensive review of the literature on the benefits of coconut oil and its medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). In his latest book, Stop Vision Loss Now!, he provides evidence that a well-balanced, nutrient-rich, very-low-carbohydrate diet supplemented with coconut oil may help to prevent and even reverse some of the most common eye disorders associated with aging.
The major concept of the book is that the eyes are an extension of the brain, so whatever keeps the brain healthy and well nourished will do the same for the eyes. There's a growing body of research demonstrating that maintaining blood glucose and insulin levels as close to normal as possible can help preserve brain function and reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. According to Dr. Fife, many researchers now believe that although increased intraocular pressure is involved in glaucoma, its primary cause is that nerve cells within the brain become damaged, similar to what happens in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. He explains that coconut oil increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a gene that stimulates the growth, maintenance, and repair of these nerve cells.. Dr. Fife suggests that the increase in ketone levels that occurs in response to MCT can protect eye health and improve or potentially reverse degenerative eye disorders as a result of increased BDNF. In addition to age-related conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy, coconut oil can also be used for dry eyes, eye infections, and other non-vision-limiting conditions.*
In addition to generous amounts of healthy fats and moderate amounts of protein, Dr. Fife recommends including a wide variety of nonstarchy vegetables and berries to reduce oxidative stress that can lead to eye disease. He advises selecting from three different levels of carbohydrate intake based on blood glucose levels and provides a sample menu for a typical day, along with guidance on meal planning and dining out. Lists of protective low-carbohydrate foods and a comprehensive net carb counter are included. I agree with his suggestion to add coconut oil slowly, one tablespoon per day to start, in order to prevent GI symptoms and determine personal tolerance.
I learned several things I didn't know as a result of reading this book, including:
I found Stop Vision Loss Now! very well-researched, comprehensive, and interesting. Dr. Fife has a gift for making advanced nutrition concepts and physiological processes easy for the average reader with an interest in health to understand. It was truly a pleasure read for me. There are many personal accounts throughout the book, including the author's story of how he reversed his own early-stage glaucoma. Although there isn't a lot of published research on the benefits of coconut oil for eye disorders, he makes a great case for including it as part of a whole-foods-based, low-carbohydrate diet in Stop Vision Loss Now!
*Regardless of whether these changes in diet and lifestyle improve your vision, if you have an eye disorder, you should continue to see your ophthalmologist at least once a year for monitoring.
Could returning to the foods our paleolithic ancestors consumed (or modern versions thereof) tens of thousands of years ago be used to treat diseases that are all too common today, particularly diabetes and prediabetes?
In Paleobetic Diet: Defeat Diabetes and Prediabetes with Paleolithic Eating, Dr. Steve Parker and Sunny Parker provide compelling evidence that it very well could. I'm a big fan of Dr. Parker's previous book, Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes: The Diabetic Mediterranean Diet, as well as his website, Diabetic Mediterranean Diet. He's an expert on the Mediterranean Diet and one of a small but growing number of physicians who recommend a low-carbohydrate diet based on whole foods for people with diabetes and prediabetes. A few years ago he created another website, Paleo Diabetic, covering the beneficial aspects of a carbohydrate-restricted based on paleolithic food principles. Paleobetic Diet is an extension of that website. It's a very well-written, informative book that's easy to understand, even for those unfamiliar with paleolithic nutrition or carbohydrate restriction. Dr. Parker's writing style is professional, low key, and subtly humorous. He's also very up front about saying "I don't know" rather than engaging in conjecture or hype, which I really appreciate. His wife Sunny "served primarily as the editor, food maven, recipe mastermind, and Steve's muse."
Here are several topics addressed in Paleobetic Diet:
What did people actually eat during the paleolithic era? After introducing us to the modern "Paleo Diet" and a number of people (including doctors and other health professionals with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes) who have experienced health improvements as a result of following it, Dr. Parker discuses the foods that our ancestors subsisted on from roughly 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, prior to the Agricultural Revolution. During this time the food of our hunter-gatherer ancestors was primarily meat, fish, nuts, roots, grasses, and berries. The omega 3 to omega 6 ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids was about 1:1 or 1:2 versus 1:10, which is a conservative estimate of what most people currently consume. While the total carbohydrate content was low-moderate (roughly 30-40%, although some sources argue it was somewhat higher), digestible carbohydrate would have been considerably lower given the amount of fiber contained in the plant foods -- 70 or more grams, in sharp contrast to our average modern-day consumption of 20 grams or less of total fiber.
Diabetes: There's an excellent section on the root cause of diabetes and the many complications that can result from long-term uncontrolled blood glucose levels. Dr. Parker stresses that of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat), carbohydrates have by far the largest impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, and that his own experience with patients who adopt a low-carb diet is congruent with studies demonstrating its effectiveness for diabetes management.
Paleobetic Diet: Dr. Parker's Paleobetic Diet is based on low-carb ancestral foods like meat (including organ meat), fish, vegetables (primarily nonstarchy), fruit, nuts, and oils. No processed foods, dairy, or artificial sweeteners are allowed. The recommended daily carbohydrate range is 40 to 80 grams of net carbohydrates (total carbohydrates minus all fiber), with advice to aim for a lower carbohydrate amount at breakfast, when insulin resistance is typically the most severe.
There's a one-week sample meal plan to be used as a guide, along with recipes for each meal that include both imperial and metric measurements. Comprehensive nutritional information is included. The recipes are quick, simple and tasty -- much like the kind I prepare on a daily basis. Some of my favorites are the Brian Burger with Bacon, Brussels Sprouts, Tomato, and Pistachios; the Turkey Tomato Bowl; and the Mexican Eggs and Avocado Slices pictured below with accompanying recipe.
Mexican Eggs and Avocado Slices
3 large eggs
2 oz (60 g) fresh tomato
3/4 oz (20 g) fresh onion (I used about 1/4 oz)
1/4 jalapeño pepper (I used 1 Tbsp chopped green chiles)
3-4 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped (I used 1 sprig)
2 tsp olive oil
1 medium California avocado
salt and pepper, to taste
Make the pico de gallo first: Finely chop and mix together the tomato, onion, jalapeño pepper, cilantro, salt, and pepper.
Peel and slice the avocado. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Fry the eggs in a pan coated with olive oil. Salt and pepper as desired. When done, transfer to a plate and spoon the pico de gallo onto the eggs. Enjoy with avocado slices on the side.
20.5 grams carbohydrate
13 grams fiber
7.5 grams digestible carbohydrate
47 grams fat
22 grams protein
810 mg sodium (assuming 1/4 teaspoon total is used)
1235 mg potassium
Diabetes Medications: One of Dr. Parker's goals is to help reduce the amount of medication needed to achieve optimal blood sugar control. In addition to a detailed plan for successful implementation of the Paleobetic Diet, he provides a section about all 12 classes of diabetes medications that includes their benefits, risks, and whether they have potential to cause hypoglycemia. He stresses the importance of speaking with a healthcare provider (doctor, nurse practitioner, or diabetes educator) prior to making dietary changes for those currently taking insulin or oral diabetes medications.
Paleo Eating Tips: I really enjoyed the "Daily Life with Paleo Eating" chapter, which contains guidance on shopping, cooking, cravings for sweets and other high-carbohydrate foods, and weight loss. There's also a substantial list of online resources for low-carb Paleo recipes, nutrition analysis, and support. Despite the overall simplicity that characterizes a Paleo way of eating, there are still adjustments that will likely need to be made, based on each person's particular circumstances, and this chapter is very helpful in that regard.
Exercise: Dr. Parker did a great job on the exercise section, including a subtitle declaring "Exercise Is Not Fun." (Did I mention how much I appreciate his wry sense of humor?) He gives practical tips for choosing activities that you'll stick with that provide health-related benefits. Again, he stresses consulting with your physician to obtain medical clearance before engaging in an exercise program.
Research: Here he explains that while there isn't a great deal of research on the paleolithic diet, what exists is quite promising for those looking to lose weight and improve blood glucose control and overall health. In addition to citing references, he provides detailed analyses of several studies, along with his own commentary on the results and suggestions for further research. In the final chapter, Dr. Parker discusses new theories about the cause of type 2 diabetes, which I found very interesting. There's considerable disagreement among the experts on this topic, and I appreciate the opportunity to hear from all sides.
Paleobetic Diet provides a great framework for people with diabetes and prediabetes interested in a paleolithic-inspired way of eating. While my own diet is much closer to the one Dr. Parker recommends in The Diabetic Mediterranean Diet (for one thing, I enjoy at least one serving of dairy every day, often more), I understand the potential benefits for people with autoimmune disease or food intolerances. I like his guideline of aiming for 15-20 grams of net carbohydrate per meal, and using a glucometer to assess whether further reduction in carbs is necessary to optimize blood sugar control. He's done a wonderful job summarizing the research on paleolithic diets and constructing his own plan to help people achieve a healthier lifestyle with a decreased risk for complications.
While much of the information contained in the book is available on the Paleo Diabetic website (in fact, the book has links to certain documents that can be downloaded directly from the site at no charge), I highly recommend purchasing the print or Kindle version of Paleobetic Diet for the additional material covered. I'd also encourage you to support the efforts of this low-carbohydrate MD who provides free, high-quality, well-researched informative content on his websites.
I rarely write book reviews on this blog, but this is the first of several I'll be doing over the next few months. As a dietitian, I'm frequently asked to plug a certain book, product, program, etc., but unless I feel right about it, I decline. The author of the book I'll be discussing today didn't even request that I review it, and rather than receiving a review copy, I purchased the book myself. I decided to write a review on my own because (1) I think it's a wonderful book with valuable information; (2) the author self-published, which takes a lot of time and effort and, compared to going with a publisher, considerable expense; and (3) the author does little self-promotion, so I want to make sure everyone knows about it.
If you're not already familiar with DJ Foodie, he's a formerly obese, self-described foodie who lost 150 pounds by following a low-carb lifestyle. He's also very funny, bright, and an extremely talented chef who trained at The Culinary Institute of North America and worked in the food industry for many years.
Why am I recommending that you buy a cookbook when there are so many low-carb recipes online, including those on DJ Foodie's website? I love recipe sites like his and the ones maintained by other low-carb culinary geniuses who never fail to amaze and delight me with their creations. But I really like having a collection of fantastic recipes in hard-copy form too. Plus I feel it's important to support the efforts of those whose online content and hard work we admire. Also, as fantastic as the recipes in this book are -- and they certainly are -- there is so much more included in Taking Out the Carbage. From the moment you take off the wrapping paper (hint: bacon lovers may want to save it) and open this beautiful 570-page, 6-pound hardback book filled with DJ's signature illustrations and engaging writing style, you're in for a real treat (low carb, of course!)
Here's what I love about Taking Out the Carbage:
Explanation of low-carb diets and the DJ Foodie "Low-Primal" approach DJ succinctly explains why energy/calorie deficit is essential for weight loss and that while people can lose on a variety of diet plans, the insulin-modulating, satiating effects of carbohydrate restriction (around 30 grams of net carb per day) make it the best strategy for sustained weight loss and future maintenance.
Rather than being restrictive, his "Low-Primal" lifestyle allows for a wide variety of animal and plant foods, including some wheat products, sugar substitutes, and peanut products that many people have been led to believe should be avoided. DJ's viewpoint mirrors my own: These foods may not be the epitome of healthful fare, but many people find that including them makes it much easier to follow a low-carb way of eating, particularly in the initial stages. Recipes can work for those who wish to follow a Paleo or ketogenic diet as well, with only a small modification of ingredients.
Aside from providing great information, DJ is an excellent writer, whose witty commentary made the book a pleasure to read. His honest, low-key, non-hype style really resonates with me.
Detailed sections about sugar substitutes ( including recipes to make your own sugar-free blends) and net carbs: There's a very balanced discussion on various sugar substitutes and why "natural" sweeteners aren't always better than "artificial" ones, particularly if you're trying to keep carbs down in order to lose weight or control blood sugar levels. DJ provides a great strategy for calculating net (digestible) carbs: total minus all fiber minus 50% of carbs from sugar alcohols (except erythritol, where all carbs can be subtracted).
"Bag of Tricks": Hidden carbs? Cravings? Weight-loss stalls? Getting organized to cook? DJ's got you covered on some of the most common diet challenges.
Organizational and planning tools: Another helpful section of the book contains 2 weeks of sample meal plans with 30 or fewer grams of net carb per day. DJ also provides detailed recommendations for customizing your own food plan. There are ingredients lists and removable grocery lists with net carbohydrate counts for each food. Everything is color coded and organized for ease of use -- all the information you need is at your fingertips.
Creative, easy, nourishing recipes with gorgeous color photographs and comprehensive nutritional analysis of each recipe: Of course, the highlight of the book is the recipes themselves. DJ made certain that each of the 226 recipes met the following criteria:
2. Easy and cost effective
3. Efficient and time saving
4. Never strays from the diet, while still allowing for some "legal cheats"
Each recipe is accompanied by an enticing large color image. The photography is absolutely stunning throughout! Each recipe lists both imperial and metric measurements. The low carb movement is growing internationally, which is very encouraging. Americans use imperial measurements (ounces, pounds, etc.), but most of the rest of the world is on the metric system (grams, milliliters, etc.), so it's great to see both here.
Some of the recipes are available on the DJ Foodie website, but others are exclusive to the book. And despite its subtitle, "The Big Book of Bacon," there are many tantalizing recipes in "Taking Out the Carbage" that don't include bacon, such as:
Asian Sweet 'n' Spicy Chicken
Torta di Rotello
Sausage, Tomato, and Fresh Mozzarella Tower
Raspberry–Cream Cheese Swirl Frozen Custard
Naturally, there are a number of recipes that do feature bacon, including the sensational grilled shrimp-and-bacon entree I prepared this weekend. Wow, was it delicious and satisfying! Even the pieces that got charred (my fault -- heat was up too high) were really tasty, and my husband asked if I would please make it again very soon.
BBQ'd Bacon-Wrapped Basil Shrimp
1 lb. (454 g) shrimp (16/20), peeled and deveined (I used slightly smaller shrimp, 26/30)
1/4 cup (60 mL) Sweet ‘n’ Tangy BBQ Sauce
6 slices (150 g) raw bacon
18 fresh basil leaves
18 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes (I only used 5 skewers)
salt, pepper, and chili flakes to taste
2 Tbsp (30 mL) coconut oil for grilling
1. Marinate the shrimp in the BBQ sauce for about 20 minutes.
2. Preheat the grill.
3. While the shrimp is marinating, cut each slice of bacon into thirds. This will result in 18 approximately two to three-inch (6 cm) slices of bacon. Squish each slice of bacon with the side of a knife or the bottom of a pan. Don’t tear it up. You want 18 nice thin “sheets” of bacon.
4. Set each sheet of bacon on a cutting board, and place a basil leaf on top of each sheet.
5. Place a marinated shrimp above each basil leaf. Season with a small amount of salt and pepper (add chili flakes for extra heat!)
6. Wrap each slice of bacon around the shrimp, and use a thin, premoistened skewer to hold the bacon in place. You can also put up to 3 per skewer, for a different look. (I put 3-4 on each skewer, since I was using smaller shrimp)
7. Brush the oil on the grill to help prevent sticking. Grill the shrimp over medium-high heat until the bacon is crisp and the shrimp are cooked through.
Nutrition information per serving:
Total Carbohydrates: 3 grams
Fiber: 0.5 grams
Net Carbohydrates: 2.5 grams
Protein: 18.5 grams
Fat: 17 grams
To sum up, Taking Out the Carbage is outstanding on every level and would be a wonderful resource for anyone interested in easy-to-preapre recipes that support a low-carb lifestyle. In all honesty, I can't imagine that you'll be anything but delighted with this book.
Starting today, DJ has arranged a second pre-sale where he's offering the book at the discounted price of $29.99 (regular price will be $49.99 on Amazon): Taking Out the Carbage pre-sale. I think it's an incredible bargain considering the quality of this book. If you already have your own copy, feel free to include your thoughts about it below in comments.
Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE