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Book Review: The Bad Food Bible

The Bad Food Bible, authored by pediatrician and food commentator Aaron Carroll, is a comprehensive and thoughtful enumeration of the fact and fiction of America’s modern food culture. Carroll diligently walks the reader through nutrition science basics; for instance, how do human research studies stack against each other and how do scientists reach a conclusion that x causes y? Carroll then applies these nutrition science fundamentals to 11 food topics; fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, sodium, grains, genetically modified organisms, alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, monosodium glutamate, and conventional fruits and vegetables. I highly recommend The Bad Food Bible to readers who wish to learn more about design of nutrition research or one of the aforementioned topics. While the book makes modest recommendations to the reader in its closing chapter ‘Simple Rules for Healthy Eating’, the book falls short of suggesting effective habit changes or bringing awareness to the social and cultural constructs that heavily influence people’s diets.

Time and time again, it has been shown that teaching people how to be healthier doesn’t always result in behavior change. As stated in the Womens Health Watch blog of Harvard, change is a process, not an event.  While it may seem heavy-handed to criticize The Bad Food Bible for failing to acknowledge the role of behavior change in eating habits, Carroll states, “my goal in this book is to make you a more responsible consumer — both of foods and of the latest research about how foods affect your health.” I would recommend this book to anyone desiring to learn about nutrition research; however, while the book prescribes simple rules for eating, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Carroll’s prescriptions to a person seeking to change their habits for the better, not because the recommendations are not valid or true, but because they do not include advice for making habit changes. The simple eating rules offered echo Michael Pollan’s sentiment: Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not Too Much. Carroll similarly prescribes minimally processed foods, limited liquid calories, and cooking at home. However, readers are left with scant advice on how to act on these recommendations.

In a similar vein, The Bad Food Bible does not address the social and cultural constructs that inform eating choices. In the chapter on meat, Carroll makes the claim that moderate portions of healthier cuts of meat are completely acceptable in a healthful diet. However, Carroll doesn’t take into account that high-quality cuts of meat come with a price premium, and consumers respond to food prices by adjusting their demand and choices. If Carroll turned a little bit more of his focus on what kinds of factors go into an individual’s diet, he would be able to comprehensively address what it is to be a responsible consumer.

  • Critique of science — I’m a little behind, but I want to include a paragraph on my assessment of his scientific rigor. I’m a little daunted by it because of the amount of studies cited in the book. I’d love feedback on how to address his scientific rigor in an abbreviated way, more appropriate for a book review.

I definitely recommend Aaron Carroll’s “The Bad Food Bible” if you are interested in learning more about the nutrition science research process or would like to learn more about the topics discussed. My hope is that Carroll continues to bring criticism to the confusing realm of nutrition science; however, in my opinion, his ultimate goal of spreading knowledge should also include information on why it’s so hard to change eating habits and how social and cultural normatives affect food choices. I believe that including these topics are imperative to consuming responsibly, and the scientific community must provide not only nutrition knowledge to its consumers, but also behavior change strategies that effectuate change.