Eat salmon. It’s full of good omega-3 fats. Don’t eat salmon. It’s full of PCBs and mercury. Eat more veggies. They’re full of good antioxidants. Don’t eat more veggies. The pesticides will give you cancer.
Forget your dinner jacket and put on your lab coat: you have to be a nutritional scientist these days before you sit down to eat—which is why we need Dr. Joe Schwarcz, the expert in connecting chemistry to everyday life. In An Apple a Day, he’s taken his thorough knowledge of food chemistry, applied it to today’s top food fears, trends, and questions, and leavened it with his trademark lighthearted approach. The result is both an entertaining revelation of the miracles of science happening in our bodies every time we bite into a morsel of food, and a telling exploration of the myths, claims, and misconceptions surrounding our obsession with diets, nutrition, and weight.
Looking first at how food affects our health, Dr. Joe examines what’s in tomatoes, soy, and broccoli that can keep us healthy and how the hundreds of compounds in a single food react when they hit our bodies. Then he investigates how we manipulate our food supply, delving into the science of food additives and what benefits we might realize from adding bacteria to certain foods. He clears up the confusion about contaminants, examining everything from pesticide residues, remnants of antibiotics, the dreaded trans fats, and chemicals that may leach from cookware. And he takes a studied look at the science of calories and weighs in on popular diets.
Is there a better subject with which to begin a discussion of the relationship between food and health than apples? After all, doesn’t “an apple a day keep the doctor away”? Maybe it does, if you throw it at her! There are no single foods that have magical health properties. There are good diets and there are bad diets. It is certainly possible to have a good diet and never eat apples, just as it is possible to gorge on apples and have a horrible diet. What really matters in terms of nutrition is the net effect produced by all of the chemicals that wend their way into our bodies from the food we eat. Yes, chemicals. I can practically see those eyebrows being raised. It may seem unusual to see the word “chemical” without an adjective like “poisonous,” in front of it. Actually, without appropriate context, “toxic chemical” is a meaningless term. . . . Everything in the world is made of chemicals, and if you restricted yourself to a diet free of chemicals, you would be dining in a vacuum! With that in mind, let’s investigate the chemicals in an apple. So tell me, would you like some nail polish remover in your diet? Or rubbing alcohol? Then have an apple! Yes, all apples contain acetone and isopropanol. And if these don’t sound toxic enough, you can throw in some cyanide. It’s there too. Added by nature, not by humans! Should you then be worried about eating apples? Of course not! The amounts of these chemicals are too small to be of any consequence. Apples, as already mentioned, contain over 300 naturally occurring compounds, and whatever effect the fruit has on our health is a reflection of all of these.
Excerpted from An Apple A Day by Joe Schwarcz. . Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Readers will not need a PhD in chemistry to follow along; Schwarcz wisely limits technical terms to the minimum while adequately explaining the chemistry involved in digestion.”
Rachel M. Minkin
“… an entertaining guide through the tangle of conflicting research studies, advertising claims, special interest groups, age-old myths and popular opinion that make diet a cloudy subject. … leaves readers with a rational framework for evaluating the complex nature of foods and how they affect health.”
"An Apple a Day hashes out hype and irrational panic one chemical compound and one foodstuff at a time. Between ubiquitous cover-ups and endemic hysteria about what’s in our food and our bloodstreams, there’s nothing more helpful than a clear-speaking and apparently non-aligned food chemist who is willing to identify the real risks and defuse the rampant bad information out there. Addressing allegations that companies like Monsanto and Novartis intentionally poison consumers, Schwarcz urges skepticism, because “no company wants to undermine its existence or its profits by marketing a dangerous substance.” Discounting unfounded rumors, Schwarcz identifies a handful of foodstuffs and practices that should cause real concern. The most serious are the rampant use of antibiotics in livestock and indications that trans fats may do serious harm to people’s memories."