Spoon-Fed by Tim Spector

Spoon-Fed discusses the diets of people in developed countries. Spoon-Fed puts a great deal of information into a short book. It fails to reconcile some inconsistencies. It discusses a number of “myths” about food and nutrition. A myth is a story that many people have learned to believe, but not a scientifically proved factual story. The myths are the foundation of public health rules, dietary recommendations and beliefs about food. The myths are the foundation of public health rules, dietary recommendations and beliefs about food. Spoon-Fed treats eating and digestion as complex biological processes that cannot be explained by instinct, culture, culinary tradition, common sense or known science.

There is a chapter pointing out that there is no component in the education of medical doctors addressing nutrition, implying that medical doctors, unless they work on the problems, are not experts on nutrition, food and diets. There is a chapter which reviews some of the arguments of The Diet Myth, points out that digestion, and weight gain are individual, and cautions against believing that there are rules that apply to all people and all foods. In The Diet Myth, Dr. Spector explained why weight loss through calorie restriction and exercise is difficult by the data of weight loss in twin studies, and to the science of calories, based on the 1944-1945 Minnesota Starvation Experiment. Like The Diet Myth, Spoon-Fed suggests that food science has not absorbed the presence of an active microbiome in the human digestive tract.

Some chapters talk about how food is collected, processed, and sold. These are informative.

The chapter on the myths of fish addresses the marketing of fish raised in fish farms, the standards for farmed fish, the marketing of wild fish harvested recklessly, and outright fraud in the way fish is misdescribed in some restaurants.

There are chapters on the myths of avoiding animal fat, reducing calory consumption or exercising to reduce weight, avoiding gluten, avoiding nuts, sports drinks, fruit flavoured drinks, and the quality, safety and convenience of bottled water. Some involve the factors affecting purchasing and processing food, including sports drinks, flavoured water, bottled water, candy, snacks and fast food.

Spoon-fed notes that the food industry, dominated by financial interests, and focussed on reducing foods into packaged commodities, fabricated with processed ingredients, and processed to taste good, package well, and sell. The food industry has convinced people try to make up for “missing” ingredients by taking supplements and seeking following diet fads, to combat obesity by restricting calories and by exercise. This has made the food industry financially successful in selling flavoured junk. Dr. Spector suggests that individuals might eat more vegetables, recommend diversity of diet, endorses Michael Pollan’s advice in his books In Defence of Food (2008) and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), and suggests avoiding consuming highly processed foods. He also endorses the public health advocacy of Marion Nestle and others on measures against sugary, artificially sweetened and carbonated beverages and disposable containers.

Other chapters discuss the rise and fall of beliefs about fat, calories, weight loss theories, supplements and diets. These are generally informative. Some chapters invite readers to consider changing what they eat, and are more controversial.

Spoon-Fed favours eating fermented foods because they contain nutrients produced by microorganisms and may contain beneficial and viable microorgamisms (unless the microorganisms have been killed off in the processing). Spoon-Fed favours food with some microflora or microfauna, although Dr. Spector is largely dismissive of the probiotic yogurt and the marketing claims made by the manufacturers of other highly processed food products. He is in favour of consuming fermented foods, including saurkraut and kimchi on the basis that fermentation can introduce health probiotic microorganisms. His views on probiotics may be more controversial than he implies. Fermented food with microorganisms is prepared in salted water (brine) as opposed to pickled in acidic vinegar. It is therefore salty.

Dr. Spector states that public health measures involving salt have not prevented the wide use of salt in food processing. The food industries have increased the consumption of salt, while concealing the amount of salt in processed food. He refers to studies suggesting that studies have failed to demonstrate adverse effects of high sodium levels in food on health. He explains that industrialized countries favour treating people with high blood pressure with medication to reducing salt use. He disagrees with the low sodium approach of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, without a discussion of the issue.

Spoon-Fed refers to the modern NOVA food classification system suggested by Carlos Monteiro, with his team at the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health at the University,of São Paulo, Brazil in the journal Public Health Nutrition in the 2009 paper, “Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing”, and agrees with some reservations.

Spoon-Fed carefully precise in supporting restrictions on alcohol consumption, while defending moderate alcohol consumption.

While it is dismissive of diet fads, it tends to be speculative about the benefits of some foods. It dismisses some public health information based on poor sampling and other statistical errors, and appears to encourage disrespect for all public health recommendations.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.