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From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients
April 2003
Eating Well for Optimal Health
by Andrew Weil, MD
review by Stephen Byrnes, PhD, RNCP
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Eating Well For Optimal Health
by Andrew Weil, MD
Quill Books, 2000

CAM Guru Fails the Test
America's best known medical advocate of alternative medicine espouses his ideas of what healthy eating should be for all people in this popular book. Unfortunately, despite his somewhat iconoclastic stance in medicine, he offers a very politically-correct diet for people to follow and his book is filled with misinformation and bad advice.

In the beginning of the book, Weil discusses the debate between low-fat and high-fat diet advocates. He gives a little rundown on the squabbles between Dr. Dean Ornish (the low-fat camp) and Dr. Robert Atkins (the high-fat camp). He says that, "Both sides have their sets of studies to draw from." Weil tries to distance himself from the low-fat camp but, basically, his book is all about low-fat eating. Oddly enough, even though he admits that the high-fat folk have studies to back up their claims, he never delves into them.

Weil's advice on fats is to avoid saturated fats at all costs. He bashes butter on page 113, saying that, "Butterfat in the Western diet…is probably the greatest single contributor to the overload of saturated fat responsible for the high rates of cardiovascular disease in our societies." He offers no supporting references for these claims. If he bothered to do a little research, he'd see that butter consumption declined considerably in America during the time when heart disease rates began escalating. What Americans were eating more of during that time was margarine and processed vegetable oils — not more animal fat.1

He then commits a most egregious error. He rightly warns people away from trans-fatty acids but then states that, "Butterfat is also one of the natural sources of trans-fatty acids." Weil is confusing artificially generated trans-fatty acids with the naturally occurring ones in butter and cream which our bodies handle with no problem. Weil's twisting of the facts sends a clear message to readers to avoid butter, a healthy food that humans have eaten for thousands of years. Further, nowhere in his butter bashing is there a discussion of the fat-soluble vitamins, beneficial fatty acids, or trace minerals present in butter.

In his section titled "The Worst Diet In the World," the top of the list is given to "A glut of saturated fat in the form of cheese, butter, cream, and other whole milk products, along with a lot of beef and unskinned chicken. That will ensure that most people will develop unhealthy levels of serum cholesterol and increased risks of cardiovascular disease" (p.148). Dr. Weil obviously needs to be educated about what causes heart disease…and what does not. Studies have not shown that saturated fatty acids cause heart disease 2 and people will be missing out on good, healthy food by following his advice. In Weil's view, the only allowable fats are olive and fish oils, and some nuts.

In his section on protein, he makes the common, but incorrect, claim that excess dietary protein causes kidney damage and osteoporosis. He also mistakenly claims that, "Traditional Inuit, who eat large amounts of animal protein along with their fat, have severe osteoporosis" (p. 106). No references are given for this statement.

On page 109 he instructs readers not to eat organ meats, not because of their cholesterol content, but because of "possible concentrations of heavy metals, environmental toxins, and infectious agents [like Mad Cow Disease]." It never occurs to him to seek out organic sources of organ meats, true superfoods that are loaded with nutrients like vitamin A, carnitine, CoQ10, and the B complex vitamins.

His sections on vitamins and minerals repeat common misconceptions and give incomplete information. For example, Weil claims that beta-carotene is just as good as "potentially toxic" vitamin A (p. 129). He makes no mention of the poor conversion ratio of carotenes into active vitamin A or of the numerous factors needed to facilitate that conversion. His section on minerals fails to mention the necessity of adequate stomach acid or vitamins A or D in mineral absorption.
In his section titled "The Best Diet In the World," he presents a very skewed version of the Paleolithic diet (ala Loren Cordain and Boyd Eaton) and an equally wrong version of the traditional Japanese diet which he claims has "less than 10% fat, very little meat, and no milk or milk products." Has he ever been to Japan? Has he ever really studied what Japanese people eat? Obviously not.3

Of course, Weil pushes soy foods of all types in his book. He does admit that some research shows that soy's phytoestrogens might be causative or contributing factors in some forms of breast cancer, but he quickly brushes it aside and makes the usual grandiose, but unproven, claims for soy. Nowhere is there any mention of soy's proven deleterious effects on thyroid function.
Dr. Weil ends up hawking what he thinks is the Mediterranean Diet, based on the questionable research done decades ago by Ancel Keys. Instead of checking cookbooks from that part of the world (which show what real people eat as opposed to what ivory-tower intellectuals think they eat), he relies on second-hand information which is very fallible.

He finishes off the book with 85 recipes. Despite his liking for olive oil, many of the recipes call for canola oil instead.

This book is so full of misinformation that it cannot be recommended to anyone. Avoid it if you want to get and maintain "optimal health."

1. S. Rizek et al. Fat in today's food supply. J Am Oil Chem Soc, 51:244, 1974.
2. G Taubes. The soft science of dietary fat. Science, March 31, 2001, 291:5513 2536-45; U Ravnskov. The Cholesterol Myths (New Trends Publishing; USA), 2001.
3. S Fallon and MG Enig. Inside Japan. Wise Traditions, 2:3, 2001, 34-42.

Stephen Byrnes, PhD, RNCP



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