The eleven best foods you aren’t eating

This has already achieved widespread circulation through the NYT, but if you don’t already know, its presented expected value is high.  A good way to eat pumpkin seeds is to fry them with chopped tomatillos and chopped white onions and a few chiles, then Cuisinart the whole thing into a sauce and use it with the meat or vegetable of your choice.  Tuna works well too, noting that a rural Mexican might add pumpkin or squash.  You can serve it with either rice or tortillas.


I say Blech to most of the things on that list, and few things will turn my stomach as quickly as sardines! I loath fish in general, but there's something about sardines (at least the ones I've smelled) that are really nasty smelling. There was plenty of beets and pumpkin seeds in Yemen, but I found them rather unappetizing. The one food item I will miss from Yemen is the fresh pomegranate juice. It's heavenly, much lighter and less syrupy than the stuff I've had in the states. I'll still drink it mind you, but I'll always remember the real thing.

Isaac Crawford
Blogging in Yemen


Food and nutrition science are far from exact, but most of the research out there now suggests that the the quantities and ratios of macro- and micronutrients found within actual food are a more effective way of getting nutrition than pills. For instance, fruits contain lots of sugar, but they also have a boatload of fiber, which slows digestion of the sugar, reducing blood sugar spikes. Many of the vitamins in pills get flushed through the system quickly without getting absorbed, too.

Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food presents a lot of the current studies on this, but through a pretty off-the-wall lens. It's an interesting read, if preachy, but i was largely sold. Nutrition and food science is awfully complicated, and trusting evolution, which created our biological systems as well as those of plants and prey to work together pretty nicely. I'm convinced it's hubris to suggest that pills are just as good.

Pumpkin seeds are excellent simply cleaned, salted, and roasted. Doesn't everyone do this at Halloween?

My wife has been having frozen blueberries (that we picked last summer) on her cereal for breakfast every morning for a month or so now, and just a couple of days ago she was speculating how many she'd need to get to have blueberries every day for the entire year...

If you cut out the rice or tortillas from the recipe you provide it will be even healthier.

Personally, I enjoy most of the foods on that list. In addition, Tyler's recipe for pumpkin seeds sounds delicious. The reasons given for putting together this list, however, are straight from the snake-oil salesman playbook. Now, I could attack the credibility of the source of the information, Dr. Jonny Bowden (and I will), but first let's take a look at Bowden and Parker-Pope's evidence.

I took a look at the abstracts for the references linked to in the list as I am at home and away from my university access to the journals. The references for the nutritional content of swiss chard and pomegranate juice support the claims for antioxidant quantities, but not their uptake or effect. The article on cinnamon provides a review in which one study showed an effect on cholesterol and two that did not (we call this cherry picking your data). The evidence for effect on blood sugar was underwhelming. The tumeric evidence appears to consist mostly of the logical fallacy of argument from ancient wisdom (a variation of the argument ad populi). For those of you who look at the abstract (
please note that the non-specific disease treatment (i.e., treats everything) and side effects is usually an indication that a pharmacological agent, which is what these nutrient chemicals are, is not doing anything. The abstract for blueberries did not provide enough information to evaluate. The pumpkin abstract appears to mainly confirm that the described chemicals are present in the food.

Of course, most of the claims in the article referring to actual health outcomes include vague qualifiers like "may", "said to", and "appears", which would allow Bowden and Parker-Pope to cover their own butts.

Antioxidants are chemicals that act as reducing agents, essentially neutralizing free radicals, and appear to be the cure all of nutritionists. Antioxidant levels in food are measured prior to consumption, their contribution to antioxidant levels in the body are not. Although the consumption of certain foods has been shown to be associated with better health outcomes, the mechanisms are generally not known. Oxidizing reactions are necessary for life. It is equally reasonable to think that increasing antioxidant activity in otherwise healthy people (i.e., do not have an antioxidant disorder) might be detrimental.

Dr. Jonny Bowden has a PhD in nutrition and is a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). I was not able to find out which institution awarded his PhD. A CNS certification from the American College of Nutrition appears to require the taking of an exam. I don't know the difficulty or subject matter covered by this exam. Bowden is also adjunct-faculty at Clayton College of Natural Health. This institution has been identified by Quackwatch ( as a particularly notorious supporter of pseudo-scientific health practices like homeopathy, iridology, and reflexology. It also provides many non-accredited degrees, which give the bearer a false appearance of credibility. This is similar to the use of the links to abstracts at the NCBI site. They give a false sense of credibility to Bowden's claims.

Well, I am not saying what I want. I wish turmeric had definite health benefits, as it is very tasty. The science, however, does not back that up. It does support my enjoyment of coffee (
PubMed did not have any studies on turmeric and hangovers or headaches. So, until then, I'll save my money. Although I do think it would make for an interesting double-blinded randomized trial.

Most of the "research" for health foods is based on the unscientific notion that almost all diseases are caused by free radicals (which always reminds me of a line from Never Say Never Again). The idea that one "thing" causes all diseases and, therefore, one cure-all could exist (like pomegranate juice) is the philosophical cousin of believing that demonic possession causes all disease. There is no mechanistic, scientific support for either.

Hey, Josh, thanks for taking the time to go through all of those abstracts instead of quitting at three and punting the rest.

Ryan wrote:

most of the research out there now suggests that the the quantities and ratios of macro- and micronutrients found within actual food are a more effective way of getting nutrition than pills.

Even if the above were true, it seems to me that it would be impossible to know that eating these foods would improve people's health. How could one build a relable study to show this?

I have definitely heard Ryan's point before, and it's worth repeating - there is evidence that the body retains more vitamins from solid foods than from a vitamin pill and that benefits of a vitamin pill are much less than most people believe.

For example, vitamins that are fat soluble (A, D, E, K) are easier to absorb when taken with foods with fat in them. That was a problem with Olestra - the fake-fat was undigestible and it was hindering the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins according to the FDA label.

The general sentiment on this thread though is probably correct; there isn't enough specific information out there about how food directly affects general health and most of these 'scientific' claims may not stand up to peer review. Sales pitches for vitamins have probably added to the haze. At least we have a rough idea though of what is generally good for us and what is not. I would imagine most American diets generally meet the minimum vitamin requirements - you don't hear many people getting scurvy or beriberi if they're not malnourished.

"Eat lots of fruits and vegetables" is still the best guide for eating healthful foods. Promoting somewhat odd food choices as the key to a healthy diet may become a popular read, but still smacks of faddishness.

Dr. Bowden also struck me as a bit of a quack with credentials, as Josh suggested.

Want to eat a lot of beets and cabbage?
Marry someone from the former Soviet Union.

Sorry: especially if You do so.

Thanks for the information on Jonny Bowden. I am reading his book and I think that while he is a very good salesman, but I'm not sure his science is always completely objective.

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