Sugar and Salt–Foods or Poison? by Axel Emil Gibson, 3/5
As a sugar addict in a state of near-constant relapse, I have first-hand experience with the bizarre, drug-like power of sugar and the rarely-acknowledged withdrawal symptoms that accompany any serious attempt to resist it. Over-dramatic as this may sound, it’s positively restrained compared to Dr. Axel Emil Gibson’s opinion on the topic:
The dominating ingredient in most of our dishes, sugar perverts our taste, blinds our instincts, bewilders our gastric consciousness, and leaves us guidelessly and aimlessly adrift in the rapids and breakers of morbid and despotic cravings, not infrequently decoying the individual into body-and-mind-destroying excesses (13).
Though a proponent of naturally-occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables, Dr. Gibson fervently denounces “free sweets” (extracted or concentrated sugar) and has no qualm about addressing the metaphysical and moral implications of one’s nutritional choices. Written in 1913, this eyebrow-raising rhetoric, accompanied by old-fashioned science, makes it tempting to dismiss the book as outdated and of historic rather than practical value. After all, if current, more-enlightened times see numerous fad diets fueling a multi-billion dollar weight loss industry, what crazier, more ignorant, unscientific advice might this doctor from over 100 years ago recommend? The answer is extremely embarrassing. Gibson’s dietary recommendations are simple, commonsense, and inarguable: he preaches moderation and “[nature’s] own faultless cuisine, where the sun does the cooking and the earth the seasoning” (26). And yet, it is just in recent years that science and popular culture have started to catch up with this hundred-year-old wisdom, after spending decades hardheadedly demonizing fat. To me, this supports the “sugar conspiracy,” which is a rabbit hole well-worth traveling down since the “evidence” against it actually seems to argue for it instead. Just read a summary of Science magazine’s article claiming to prove there is no “sugar conspiracy,” or this Verge article on the topic. Both focus on salvaging the scientific community’s credibility and denying the conspiracy, while at the same time verifying and attempting to excuse the sugar industry’s underhanded dealings.
Why I read it: The title caught my eye in an antique store and for $5, I couldn’t resist discovering 100-year-old opinions on a still-controversial topic.
This homey guide to healthy living contains all the information I imagine one could possibly need about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, including medical research, advice on nutrition, sleeping habits and exercise, and a large collection of recipes. The authors’ approach is good-humored, unpatronizing and realistic–well-suited to the common-sense advice they give and the varying amounts of commitment they can expect from their readers. I haven’t tried any of the recipes, which is why I give the book four stars instead of five.
Eat more simple, natural food that is close to its original form and eat less prepackaged, processed or sugary junk…thanks in part, I guess, to a relatively healthy upbringing, most of this book fit into the “well, duh!” category for me and it is the duh-factor that I find most convincing about the Mediterranean lifestyle. This is no silver bullet, no gimmicky fad diet; it can’t be boiled down to “oh, I don’t eat carbs” or “I count calories” or “I fast intermittently” or “I only eat raw food,” etc. Unfortunately, there’s nothing very sexy about a well-balanced, natural, sustainable approach to eating that requires lots of common sense and self-control.
Self-control–there’s the rub. From both observation and first-hand experience, I’ve found that lack of self-control and lack of motivation, not lack of information, are at the root of unhealthy, excessive eating habits. Knowledge may be power but it isn’t will power. I can read a million studies about how doing x lowers your risk of dying by 35% and not doing y makes you 20% less likely to get cancer, but when I stop reading, it’s often because I need to put Nutella on my toast while it’s still warm. Still, we all make decisions every day that affect our health, whether positively or negatively; for me, this book’s value is in helping me make a few better, more informed, eating decisions than I might have made before. In this way, I hope to continue refining my approach to eating from merely counting calories to emphasizing those foods that are both good for me and make me feel good.
Why I read it: my dad had some heart trouble last year and his doctor recommended this book to him.
A picture quote I made: