Life of the Mind

The Modern Nutritional Diseases

Alice Ottoboni and Fred Ottoboni. Vincente Books, 2013. 2nd ed. 289 pages. $12.95 (paperback), $8.99 (Kindle).

By Jay M. Pasachoff 

Two credentialed scientists, Alice Ottoboni, Ph.D., and Fred Ottoboni, M.P.H. and Ph.D., have tackled a description of how people are susceptible to what they call "modern nutritional diseases": heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer, and their book offers advice on "how to prevent them."

Their large-format (8 1/2 x 11") book overlaps in content with journalist Nina Teicholz's The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, which I also recently reviewed.

While I was convinced by the thoroughness and the references provided by Teicholz, the academic credentials of the Ottobonis add, as Ko-Ko in Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado said, "artistic verisimilitude" that may convince still more people of the important conclusions about how our diets can be changed to make us healthier.

In Part One of their book, the Ottobonis first state the problem, "The Evolutionary Diet versus the Modern Diet," "The Chronic Disease Epidemics," and "The Association Between Diet and Disease."  They ask, "How could it be that a government presumably dedicated to the health and well being of its citizenry foist on it a diet that nutritional biochemistry predicts would foster chronic disabilities."  They go on to state that "The most recent and most complete history of these events is detailed by [Gary] Taubes in a book that should be required reading for all members of the medical and nutrition communities [Good Calories, Bad Calories, 2007]."  Teicholz also credits Taubes, also a journalist, with his fundamental work in uncovering the scandalous and injurious advice that we have been from official sources for so long.  I have long assigned other works of Taubes in a seminar I give biannually on Science and Pseudoscience to Williams College undergraduates. 

On Teicholz's book's website, www.thebigfatsurprise.com, the last blurb is from the Ottobonis: "The Big Fat Surprise is a truly remarkable and persuasive book in that it is extremely well written, fully accurate in fact, and sincerely heartfelt in approach. Sentiments most often expressed in comments by readers are: I could not put it down.” — Alice and Fred Ottoboni, Ketopia." On their ketopia.com website, they expand: "The importance of dietary animal fat, told in a post in Ketopia, is well understood by nutritional biochemists. The refusal of the government-nutrition cabal to renounce its longstanding proscription against animal fat and, by association, red meat, has seriously compromised the health status of its trusting citizens. This untenable situation strengthens the meaning and potential of a remarkable book that has recently appeared on the literary scene. "

In Part Two of their book, the Ottobonis, with their academic credentials, are more scientifically detailed than Teicholz, with chapters on "Diet Composition and Utilization," "Nutritional Supplements" (with subsections on "The 'No' Argument" and "The 'Yes' Argument"), "Carbohydrates," "Proteins," "Lipids," and "Essential Fatty Acids and Eicosanoids."

Finally, in Part Three of their book, we read about "Disease Prevention—the Shunned Science," and, finally, "What Do You Do Now."

Psychologically, they conclude by suggesting that "Rather, look at [planning a new diet] as embarking on a journey that will bring you to a whole new way of thinking about nutrition.  The journey will fosters be of value in helping you understand the difference between a diet that and supports optimum health and normal weight and your former diet that perhaps brought you into the overweight, suboptimal healthy category."  They consider their advice about nutrition to be "primary disease prevention."

Reading the Ottobonis' book along with Teicholz's book has given me an understanding of the background of much current nutritional discussion, and I can recommend both books heartily, with the Ottobonis providing more technical discussion on the scientific details.

A relevant article on a similar theme, with similar conclusions to those of Teicholz (who is cited) and the Ottobonis, appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Skeptical Inquirer (39.1,31-33). It is "Diet-Heart: A Hypothesis in Crisis? Part 1: From Proposal to Paradigm to Policy" by Kenneth W. Krause.

Astronomer and author Jay Pasachoff is the director of Hopkins Observatory and Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College. 

(Posted on 12/12/2014 )