Jungle Effect: A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World--Why They Work and How to Bring Them Home

Overview

Pizza, pasta, hamburgers, sushi, tacos, and french fries . . . whether our ancestors were born in Madrid, Malaysia, or Mexico, chances are our daily food choices come from all around the globe. Unfortunately, we have taken some of the worst aspects of our varied ancestral menus to turn healthy cuisine into not-so-healthy junk food. Where did we go wrong?

Why is it that non-Western immigrants are so much more susceptible to diabetes and other diet-related chronic diseases than ...

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Jungle Effect: A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World--Why They Work and How to Bring Them Home

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Overview

Pizza, pasta, hamburgers, sushi, tacos, and french fries . . . whether our ancestors were born in Madrid, Malaysia, or Mexico, chances are our daily food choices come from all around the globe. Unfortunately, we have taken some of the worst aspects of our varied ancestral menus to turn healthy cuisine into not-so-healthy junk food. Where did we go wrong?

Why is it that non-Western immigrants are so much more susceptible to diabetes and other diet-related chronic diseases than white Americans? How is it possible that relatively poor native populations in Mexico and Africa have such low levels of the chronic diseases that plague the United States? What is the secret behind the extremely low rate of clinical depression in Iceland—a country where dreary weather is the norm? The Jungle Effect has the life-changing answers to these important questions, and many more.

Dr. Daphne Miller undertook a worldwide quest to find diets that are both delicious and healthy. Written in a style reminiscent of Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, this book is filled with inspiring stories from Dr. Miller's patients, quirky travel adventures, interviews with world-renowned food experts, delicious (yet authentic) indigenous recipes, and valuable diet secrets that will stick with you for a lifetime.

Whether it's the heart-healthy Cretan diet, with its reliance on olive oil and fresh vegetables; the antidepression Icelandic diet and its extremely high levels of Omega 3s; the age-defying Okinawa diet and its emphasis on vegetables and fish; or the other diets explored herein, everyone who reads this book will come away with the secrets of a longer, healthier life and the recipes necessary to put those secrets into effect.

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Editorial Reviews

Miami Herald
“This fascinating, well researched book explores the health benefits of traditional diets from Iceland to Cameroon. The benefits include reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and depression.”
Publishers Weekly
Family physician Miller had seen countless cases of chronic illness and weight gain, but it wasn't until she saw a patient recently returned from Brazil that a light bulb went off in her head: the patient had noticed marked improvement after just a few weeks in her father's native village. Intrigued, Miller did some research and found a number of "cold spots" around the world, areas where chronic diseases like diabetes, depression and heart disease are disproportionately low. She then embarked on a world tour to find out why. As she travels through Copper Canyon, Mexico to Cameroon, West Africa to Iceland-where locals manage to avoid depression in one of the darkest and coldest regions in the world-and beyond, Miller finds that, in each case, local diet plays a key role. Many of her overarching tips will sound familiar (eat fresh foods, eat more fish, avoid refined sugar, watch the salt, etc.), but a handful of suggestions, such as eating fermented foods and using mushrooms to fight cancer, should come as news. Miller's work is consistently informative and educational, if at times meandering; each "cold spot" is accompanied by a specific regimen, and Miller's practical advice and recipes are all geared for the novice. Anyone unafraid of modifying their diet will find this anthropological diet guide useful.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061535659
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/29/2008
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Daphne Miller, M.D., is a practicing physician, author, and professor of family medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. For the past decade, her writing and teaching has explored the frontier between biomedicine and the natural world. Her widely acclaimed first book, The Jungle Effect, chronicles her nutrition adventures as she travels to traditional communities around the globe. A contributing columnist to the Washington Post as well as other newspapers and magazines, Miller holds a medical degree from Harvard University and an undergraduate degree from Brown University. She lives and gardens in Berkeley, California, with the architect Ross Levy, their two teenagers, a dog, and a cat.

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Read an Excerpt

The Jungle Effect
A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World--Why They Work and How to Bring Them Home

Chapter One

Dining in the Cold Spots

Confessions of an Ill-Equipped Physician

Like Angela, most of the patients that I see daily in my medical practice are trying to prevent or treat a chronic health problem, lose weight, and preserve vitality. For many years, I felt ill equipped to help them achieve their goals. After four years of medical school, three years of residency training, and two years in a postgraduate fellowship, this is a hard confession to make.

Of course, I was well versed in using medications. Initially I found it satisfying to watch how rapidly many of these drugs took effect—sometimes lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol levels in a matter of days. However, after several months of practicing medicine out in the real world, it became obvious to me (and certainly obvious to my patients) that there were many unintended side effects from the treatments that I was dispensing daily with my prescription pad. Furthermore, it seemed that my standard approach was not getting at the root of so many of these health problems: the foods my patients ate on a daily basis.

These days, the majority of serious health problems that we are experiencing in the United States can be traced back to a poor diet. As a matter of fact, unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise, and smoking are now the three leading causes of chronic disease and death in most parts of the industrialized world. It has been estimated that at least 80 percent of medical cases involving heartdisease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and 40 percent of cancer cases could be avoided by following a healthy diet, participating regularly in physical activity, and avoiding tobacco. More troubling is the fact that these modern health problems are showing up in young people. In my practice, I have started seeing teenagers with early signs of type 2 diabetes and heart disease!

What Are Some Modern Chronic Diseases?

Modern chronic diseases are long-term health problems that are relatively rare in traditional (or indigenous) societies but increase in parallel with the degree of industrialization in a given area.

Examples include:

  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease and hypertension
  • Cancer
  • Emphysema
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Dementia
  • Gout
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis

Given this information it seems logical to me that the foods we eat (along with exercise and giving up tobacco) should be the first line of defense against modern chronic diseases. Food is a powerful medicine. After all, it is the medicine that most of us take willingly at least three times a day without skipping a dose. But here lies the big challenge: while most of us can agree that food is a very important therapy, how do we use it to prevent or treat chronic disease? Which foods are actually the healing ones? And, most importantly, how do we make these dietary changes in our daily lives?

In an attempt to help my patients, I set out to learn more about nutrition. I went to conferences and pursued training programs taught by internationally recognized nutritionists and physicians. Using what I learned, I started to counsel my patients on how to make dietary changes: I would launch into a discussion of healthy diets and, of course, exercise. I would rattle off the standard recommendations from groups like the American Heart Association (AHA) or the American Diabetes Association (ADA). "Decrease total daily calories to 2,000 kcal, keep daily saturated fat intake below 2 percent of calories, cholesterol intake should be no more than 150 grams per day, salt may be a factor so limit daily sodium to 2 grams daily, stick to 2 servings of refined starches. . . ."

Unfortunately, this was not the best approach. Few of us spend our days calculating our food intake in percentages and serving weights. Therefore, the general AHA or ADA recommendations have little bearing on our daily reality. Even if we are able to follow these recommendations, I am not sure how far they get us. Let me explain.

Nutrient Splitting and Wishy-Washy Nutrition Research

Much of modern nutrition science is based on the idea that there is a perfect amount of macro nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) and micro nutrients (iron, calcium, folate, etc.) that will help to preserve health or prevent a specific disease. Therefore, when counseling patients, the goal is to try to give them a prescription for how much of each of these nutrients they should consume each day. This practice of breaking nutrition down into its constituent parts is sometimes referred to (somewhat pejoratively) as "nutrient splitting."

But how do we arrive at the perfect nutrient split? How do we know the ideal amount and proportion of these recommended nutrients? Usually this is dictated by the research du jour and the latest studies to roll off the academic presses. I am sorry to report, however, that this research is often quite flawed—not through any fault of the researchers but simply because it is a near impossible task to perform a "real-life" nutrition experiment on a human.

First of all, many foods take years to have a real effect. And yet, the longest that most humans will subject themselves to a controlled laboratory rat-style food study is a couple of months. For example, let's look at the research on soy foods and breast cancer. There is evidence to suggest that adolescence may be the critical time for eating whole soy foods such as tempeh and soy beans to prevent breast cancer from developing forty-five to sixty years later. However, most of the published soy studies have focused on giving high doses of soy foods or soy extracts to mature women for several weeks to months. Given that the lag time between exposure (soy) and outcome (breast cancer) is likely to be decades, it is understandable why these studies have not netted very much useful information. In fact, some have suggested that high doses of soy this late in life might even be harmful.

The Jungle Effect
A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World--Why They Work and How to Bring Them Home
. Copyright © by Daphne Miller. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents


Foreword   Andrew Weil, MD     ix
1
Introduction: The Jungle Effect     3
Dining in the Cold Spots     9
Anatomy of an Indigenous Diet     23
A Diet Lost in Translation     39
Feeding Our Genes or Our Taste Buds?     47
2
Copper Canyon, Mexico: A Cold Spot for Diabetes     59
Crete, Greece: A Cold Spot for Heart Disease     89
Iceland: A Cold Spot for Depression     127
Cameroon, West Africa: A Cold Spot for Bowel Trouble     161
Okinawa, Japan: A Cold Spot for Breast and Prostate Cancers     193
Foraging for Indigenous Foods in a Modern World     231
3
Cold Spot Recipes     249
Appendices
Cold Spot Shopping Lists     301
How to Cook Indigenous Grains and Beans     307
More About Fats and Cooking Oils     313
Getting Your Omega-3 Fats     319
Organic? A Priority List     321
Useful Cooking Equipment for Preparing Indigenous Foods     325
Recommended Indigenous Cookbooks     327
Notes     331
Acknowledgments     367
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