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
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
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
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
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
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?
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;
3. S Fallon and MG Enig. Inside Japan. Wise Traditions, 2:3, 2001,
Stephen Byrnes, PhD, RNCP