The A-Z Guide to Food as Medicine by Diane Kraft and Ara DerMarderosian. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2016. Softcover, 347 pages. ISBN: 9781498735230. $69.95.
The A-Z Guide to Food as Medicine had me hooked by the time I read the foreword, which was written by Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, the Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Penn State University. She said it all, in that this book “will serve as an expedient resource for quickly accessing fact-based information about foods and phytochemicals in a manner that obviates the need to spend unnecessary time hunting down reputable information in the literature.”
These were the objectives of the authors, and they achieved them in spades. I particularly appreciated that one author is a dietitian with clinical experience (Kraft), and one is a scientist with expertise in pharmacology and medicinal chemistry (DerMarderosian). So often, overtaxed health care providers are asked by patients whether a certain food or nutrient is “good.” This book answers those probing questions satisfactorily and from an unbiased, scientific stance. This balanced, honest approach is refreshing. Many books in this space have “agendas,” but this text is fact-based with literature citations at the end of each letter of the alphabet.
The chapters cover a variety of food items, including plants, such as asparagus (Asparagus officinalis, Asparagaceae), aÇaí (Euterpe oleracea, Arecaceae), and pomegranate (Punica granatum, Lythraceae); non-plant foods, such as eggs and dairy foods; and selected vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, selenium, and riboflavin. Lastly, phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, astaxanthin, and kaempferol were presented. Each profile includes the following sections: (1) item name, definition, and common use; (2) scientific findings; (3) bioactive dose; and (4) safety data.
The approach for presenting the information was excellent. The definition and common use sections were interesting and often evoked an “I didn’t know that.” For example, I learned that the high calcium content (344 mg per cup) of rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum, Polygonaceae) is poorly absorbed, and that melatonin is naturally found in corn (Zea mays, Poaceae), rice (Oryza sativa, Poaceae), barley (Hordeum vulgare, Poaceae), and ginger (Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae). I also learned that the ugli fruit (Citrus paradisi× reticulata, Rutaceae) is a hybrid of a grapefruit (C. × paradisi) and a tangerine (C. reticulata). I could go on.
The scientific findings pertaining to each item were thorough but succinct. The authors included primary research from high-quality journals, but they also occasionally referred to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which was created by the California-based Therapeutic Research Center (an independent evidence-based research organization).1 For example, when discussing the effect of yeast-derived beta-glucan fiber on lowering blood cholesterol, the authors simply cited the database. My colleagues and I conducted that research, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.2 In addition, the database was cited to support the statement that consuming more than three grams of dietary fish oil may decrease platelet aggregation. Again, we have published a clinical study in Nutrition on this topic, which was not cited.3 Nevertheless, the spirit of the information cited in the book obtained from the database accurately reflects the primary studies.
Bioactive doses were not included for each food. Despite the availability of high-quality research data on many food items, bioactive doses were listed mainly for essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, with the exception of riboflavin.
The safety section for each food focused on risks associated with excess consumption by healthy people and consumption by those who are pregnant. I wish the risks for children had been highlighted as well; perhaps this will be included if there is a new edition. Many adults use the substances reviewed in this book for their children, thinking of them as “little adults,” which is not true, physiologically speaking.
I spotted only a couple of minor errors or omissions. Linoleic acid does not convert to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); only linolenic acid does. The only scientific study cited on beta-carotene and lung cancer supported a role for risk reduction. It would have been nice to cite another study that shows this is not true for smokers (in fact, the opposite effect occurs).4
In summary, the book is a helpful reference guide that will meet the needs of a busy clinician. Information was easy to find, well-written, and factual. I would recommend this book to any health care practitioner. The items included are precisely the sorts of things that my patients ask about. I am grateful that I now have this book to use as a reference.
—Stacey J. Bell, DSc, RDN
Chief Science Officer,
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Research Faculty. Available at: http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/Content.aspx?page=aboutdbhtml&xsl=generic&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1. Accessed August 24, 2016.
- Nicolosi R, Bell SJ, Bistrian BR, Greenberg I, Forse RA, Blackburn GL. Plasma lipid changes after supplementation with β-glucan fiber from yeast. Am J Clin Nutr. August 1999;70(2):208-212.
- Swails WS, Bell SJ, Bistrian BR, et al. Fish-oil-containing diet and platelet aggregation. Nutrition. 1993 May-Jun;9(3):211-217.
- The Alpha-Tocopherol Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group. The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers. N Engl J Med. 994;330:1029-103