Your Body in Balance: The New Science of Food, Hormones, and Health
by Dr Neal Barnard, 2020, published by Hachette Book Group.
Watch a 3min video trailer about the book below.
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (February 4, 2020)
Dr. Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C., is the president and founder of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Barnard Medical Center.
Dr Neal Barnard has for many years been one of the leaders in whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) nutrition. Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) – https://www.pcrm.org – which he helped found all the way back in 1985, as of early 2020, includes more than 12,000 physicians among 175,000 members worldwide. The organisation specialises in teaching WFPB nutrition to health professionals and the general public. PCRM also conducts pathbreaking health research and campaigns for an end to the use of nonhuman animals in research and in the training of medical professionals.
Most books on vegan nutrition focus on macro and micro nutrients. Your Body in Balance talks about those too, but what stands out about this book is its focus on hormones. Our hormones act like orchestra conductors, controlling our bodies’ functions. Hormones “quicken the tempo or slow it down – more violin, less bass … turn your metabolism up or down, alter your mood, control your reproductive function, affect how you store body fat and how you burn it.” I was surprised at all the various impacts of hormones, for good and ill, and the hormones our body produces, as well as the hormones that enter our bodies via food and other sources.
In addition to the emphasis on hormones, two other aspects of Your Body in Balance stood out. First, the book is loaded with stories about the impact of food on our hormones and health. At the same time, Dr Neal includes research findings to support claims that are brought to life in the stories. What stood out for me are the stories of people who changed their diets towards WFPB and saw dramatic health improvements, but then went back to eating highly processed animal-based foods with predictably disastrous effects.
Maybe the book’s saddest story is that of Dr Anthony Sattilaro, who was only in his 40’s and servicing as president of Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia in the U.S., when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer which had spread to other parts of his body, all the way to his head. By accident, Dr Anthony met two hitchhikers who introduced him to a different diet, close to a WFPB diet. He gave it a try and the cancer went away. Then, years later, this lucky person decided to try his luck again by going back to a standard animal-based diet. His luck failed him, his cancer came back, and soon he was dead. It’s not easy following a WFPB diet in a world where the wrong diet is the mainstream.
Another aspect of Your Body in Balance that stood out was Dr Neal’s heavy emphasis on dairy vs soy. He and his colleagues have led research on the harmful effects of dairy, in particular its link to diabetes and the addictive quality of casein, the main protein in dairy. As a 2020 article in The New England Journal of Medicine stated, “cows have been bred to produce higher levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I),7 and they are pregnant for most of the time they are milked,8 which greatly increases levels of progestins, estrogens, and other hormones in milk.” At the same time, Your Body in Balance rebuts claims that soy is responsible for hormone imbalances in both females and males. These claims arose in part because soy contains isoflavones which have a chemical structure similar to the hormones estrogen and testosterone. However, Dr Neal cites many studies that show reduced risk of cancer and other chronic diseases for those who regularly consume soy products. Not only are soy foods and drinks good in their own right, they also are pro-health because they crowd out harmful food and drinks, such as meat and dairy milk.
Here briefly are 25 other points from Your Body in Balance that were interesting to me and perhaps will be to you.
- There is debate about the pros and cons of alcohol. Dr Neal highlights the negatives, how each glass of an alcoholic beverage, even if it’s only one glass, raises our cancer risk.
- Folate, a B vitamin, derives its name from foliage, and not surprisingly, green plants are good sources of folate.
- Dr Neal seems to be one of a growing number of experts who favour sweet potatoes over white potatoes.
- Yes, many people are lactose intolerant, but lactose is bad even for those who are able to digest it; for example, lactose is implicated in ovarian cancer.
- More research is needed as to whether vegans should supplement with Omega 3.
- For men between 20-45 years of age, testicular cancer is the most common.
- There has been debate on the link between chocolate and acne, but that debate arose only due to (intentionally) poorly done, biased research. Chocolate raises acne risk as does dairy.
- If you have acne, even on a WFPB diet, you might want to consider eliminating some of the plant foods higher in fat, including avocado, nuts, seeds, and peanut butter.
- Hormone replacement therapy is often suggested to relieve menopause symptoms. While it does provide relief, as with most drugs, the side effects may be worse than the condition they treat.
- While WFPB diets help menopause and other conditions, they may not provide complete relief and may not work for everyone.
- Eating fishes can be as bad as eating cows in terms of saturated fat and cholesterol.
- “Milk’s biological purpose is to help a calf grow, so it is packed with saturated fat, sugar (lactose) and hormones, none of which your child needs.”
- I love the story of the person with thyroid and a raft of related problems who, along with her husband, watched the documentary Forks Over Knives, available on Netflix. The next day, they took a garbage bag and threw away all the animal-based foods in their fridge. She and her husband both experienced great results and got off their medication.
- One of the foods they switched to was steel-cut oats, something I’ve never tried.
- For many people, skim milk is just as bad as whole milk because both contain hormones.
- PCRM developed and researched (with a treatment group and a control group) a program at a US insurance company. The program consisted of education about WFPB diets, food demos, discussions about food and health, and lots of vegan food at the company canteen. Not only did those in the treatment group see significant physical improvements, but their mood improved as well.
- There are two types of inflammation: good and bad. Acute inflammation, such as when an injured finger swells, helps healing. Chronic inflammation, such as in our joints and brains, causes ongoing damage.
- A quick tip to improve sleep is to do a full stretch and yawn four times before turning off the lights.
- Just as Dean and Anne Ornish in their 2019 book Undo It! maintain that the same diet and lifestyle changes address a wide range of conditions, Dr Neal prescribes WFPB diets, regular exercise, lots of sleep, and staying away from alcohol whether we are dealing with menopause, infertility, acne, erectile dysfunction, polycystic ovary syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, diabetes, various cancers, depression, stress, hypothyroidism, or hyperthyroidism.
- One factoid that Dr Neal offers in support of his suggestion that we eat plant foods of many different colours is that the retinas of carnivores, such as cats, have a very different structure. The structure of the carnivores’ retinas is great for finding prey in low light but, unlike humans’ retinal structure, not at all good for distinguishing the colours of different fruits.
- Oil has 9 calories per gram, whereas sugar only has 4 calories, one more reason to avoid adding processed oil to our food.
- The term “extra virgin,” used to describe some version of olive oil, is just clever marketing. A more accurate name might be “cold mechanical extraction.” After all, we don’t get olive oil like we get maple syrup, directly from the tree. Instead, olive oil is a processed product.
- Coconut oil products may be good for putting in our hair, but probably not on our food.
- Anyone over 50 years old, regardless of diet, might benefit from supplementing with vitamin B12.
- The book has an entire chapter on environmental toxins, including the chemicals used to line the inside of cans in which beans and other products come, as well as the thermal paper on which our credit card receipts, etc. are printed.
To conclude this summary of Your Body in Balance on a tasty note, the book ends with 65 hormone balancing recipes. While the recipes mostly cater for residents of North America, people in other countries of our globalised world will find lots of inspiration.