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"The Angry Chef - Bad science and the truth about healthy eating" by Anthony Warner (UK)
“The Angry Chef provides a refreshing insight into the importance of academic and scientific rigour in the interpretation and communication of nutrition. I will reference examples from this text when teaching both students and practitioners of nutrition and dietetics about the fickle, unquestioning nonsense appearing on-line and in the media.” Kevin Whelan, professor of dietetics, King’s College, London
The popular understanding of nutrition is clouded by superstitions, primitive intuitions, conspiracy theories, and old spouses’ tales. This irreverent and intelligent expose brings sanity and good sense to one of life’s great pleasures. Steven Pinker, Popular science author and Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology Harvard University,
These endorsements were enough to encourage me to read this book and I recommend it to all those interested in the real story about nutrition.
Anthony Warner says he is angry – his concerns are about nutrition pseudoscience and misinterpretation of what science says about food and nutrition. So in this book he has undertaken to explain poorly understood science topics such as correlation and causation, relative vs absolute risk, and the principles of regression to the mean, and their importance for understanding food science.
He describes commonly held false beliefs about food and the rise of internet health gurus who are selling fear and weird diets, and promoting falsehoods such as so-called ‘clean eating’, ‘alkaline eating’, antioxidants, toxins and Detox diets - and imaginary cures, as espoused by Gwyneth Paltrow and others. (He does not like Gwyneth!) He discusses ‘the strange cult of gluten’, Paleo and the low carb conundrum, weight-loss miracles. He has sections on eating disorders, cancer and the History of Quackery.
Scientists and others who should know better are reminded of the dangers of vilifying processed and manufactured food, including sugar. As he says, “Sugar – is not a dietary evil. Although we eat too much of it and many of us would benefit from cutting down, it is demonised to an extent that is at best unhelpful and at worst irresponsible. Sugar is not a poison, nor a toxin, nor a drug”.
Although he states he does not want to provide a list of rules to follow for a happy healthy life, he does include some cautionary ‘rules’ throughout the book. He calls it the ‘Angry Chef Guide to Spotting Bull… in the world of food’:
1. Never trust anyone who has a food philosophy.
2. Everyone trying to sell you a detox is peddling you a myth.
3. They will always tell you it’s your own fault.
4. If someone’s blog fits the following blogger template, you might want to take their advice with a large pinch of Himalayan salt.
I was living a very busy glamourous life, (insert glamourous occupation here), eating junk and not caring what I put in my body. My health was suffering. I started on my (insert name of made-up diet plan here) and it revolutionised my life. All my friends begged me to share my recipes with them and that is how my blog started.
5. They will talk about superfoods. Never trust anyone who tells you a particular food has magical powers.
6. They will want you to believe anecdotes are evidence.
7. They will falsely idolise the time of their grandparents and great-grandparents.
8. They will tell you all these things with great certainty.
He also has a ‘Very Brief Guide to Eating Well’:
1. Eat lots of different stuff.
2. Not too much or not too little.
3. Try to achieve a bit of balance.
4. Try not to feel guilty. Most importantly, never make anyone else feel guilt or shame about the food they eat.
It is Anthony Warner’s belief – and who would contradict him? – that the scientific method is mankind’s greatest work. His advice is to counter bad food science by good science education, and that it is important science teaching spends more time explaining how our brain can trick us into false beliefs - and then in revealing how the scientific method saw through this and changed the world.
This book review is done by Sue Pollard, Former CEO, New Zealand Nutrition Foundation.
Andrew Warner is a professional chef and blogger with a background in biological science. This book was written in consultation with a team of colleagues – psychiatrists, food scientists, behavioural economists and dietitians.
See his website at: https://angry-chef.com/.
Follow him on @One_Angry_Chef