The great physician’s Rx for health and wellness
Reviewed by: Sarah L. Ash, Ph.D., North Carolina State University
The Great Physician’s Rx for Health and Wellness, Jordan Rubin. Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2005.
Jordan S. Rubin has written a sequel to his first book, The Maker’s Diet, called The Great Physician’s Rx for Health and Wellness. If you are not familiar with these books (and the associated products available on-line), you might be able to guess from the title of the first that the “Great Physician” of the second is God. This makes for an interesting read as the author attempts to find justification for his recommendations in the Bible, a book that has surely been interpreted by more people, more ways than any other written work.
On one level, much of what Rubin says fits with what most nutritionists would say: Eat lots of minimally processed foods with an emphasis on good fats like olive oil, and get plenty of exercise. But there are inconsistencies in several of his lines of reasoning, and inaccuracies in others. Taken together, it produces a book in which some good advice is surrounded by unnecessary restrictions, costs, and fears about food in general.
First, for those who say, “But I tried it and it works,” consider that this is, at its base, a diet book. As with any diet book, if you follow the meal plan there is a high likelihood, if not certainty, that you are eating fewer calories than you would ordinarily – no more cookies from the office break room or candy from the vending machine; no over-sized or second helpings, or after dinner raids on the refrigerator. Add in Rubin’s recommendations to chew your food slowly (25-50 times per mouthful), drink lots of water and exercise, and you will not only lose weight but likely feel better generally too. Rapid eating can contribute to heartburn – the swallowed air needs to find its way back out, and the resultant burping can bring with it the acidic stomach contents associated with an irritated esophagus. The high fiber foods, plenty of water and exercise will also reduce the likelihood of constipation (another common complaint). And someone with diabetes can benefit from the low glycemic index foods (like legumes and many fruits and vegetables), as well as the exercise. So I don’t doubt that many people would find at least some of his recommendations helpful.
However, he is inconsistent when it comes to finding ALL of his answers in the Bible, and he uses “scientific” evidence conveniently only when it doesn’t conflict with his biblical reasoning. This is where I take issue with his books, especially as a nutritionist concerned about the distribution of misinformation that is packaged in such a “compelling” way.
For example, on one page he points to the longevity of the Greeks and the French, among others, and uses this as evidence that high fat foods are not necessarily unhealthy. But he fails to consider that these same people also eat pork and shellfish – foods that he says are forbidden to everyone. In fact, he devotes quite a bit of time to justifying the application of Old Testament dietary laws to New Testament believers, although none of it comes with any with scientific evidence other than the observation that pigs will eat anything, including their own waste, and lobsters, crabs and shrimp eat off the ocean floor, which again assumes that their diets include feces. He does mention that scientists measure pollution by checking the “flesh of crabs, clams, and lobsters for toxin levels,” but interestingly puts liver on his list of acceptable meats despite its well-known role in detoxifying incoming chemicals (he suggests that this fear can be “mitigated” by eating organic, grass-fed cattle liver).
In criticizing vegetarianism he points out that our ancestors received most of their protein from meat, fish, eggs, and cultured dairy products, yet they rarely experienced heart disease. But he ignores the fact that many did not live long enough to develop the disease in the first place because they typically were dead from infectious diseases by age 40; and some of those who did likely had heart disease but did not have the medical skills to be able to identify it as such. He also ignores the evidence that, like the Greeks and the French, vegetarians tend to have relatively long life expectancies (e.g., the Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian sect of whom about 50% are lacto-ovo vegetarians). This is not to say that people should not in fact eat meat; it is to provide an example of his poor use of reasoning when he decides to find “evidence” for his claims outside of the Bible.
His very few citations for what he passes off as scientific evidence are also problematic. For example, to justify his preference for butter over margarine, he refers to a study finding that, “Men eating butter ran half the risk of developing heart disease as those eating margarine.” The citation for this is not a scientific journal but a web site called becomehealthynow.com, which hawks numerous health-related products. You don’t need to make up studies to suggest that people limit their intake of hydrogenated oils. But there are better choices than butter for spreads that are reasonably low in saturated fat and trans fat-free. The claim that, “Honey plays a role in the prevention of cancer as well as heart disease and wipes out the bacteria that cause diarrhea” supposedly does come from a scientific journal. However the article, “Vegetarianism, Dietary Fiber and Mortality,” published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, does not have anything to do with honey, cancer, or diarrhea. He may not really care if his references are correct since he professes to be getting his information from a “higher” authority; regardless, he clearly has not spent much time looking for them.
And then he makes statements without citation that are just wrong or misleading, such as the claim that “removing the fat makes milk less nutritious [not true; in fact the calcium content goes up] and less digestible [not true] and can cause allergies [it is the protein not the fat that elicits an allergic response] or that canning destroys vitamins” [canning causes only small amounts of nutrient losses; canned fruits and vegetables can be an important source of nutrition, especially for those on a limited budget].
In general, he attempts to create a diet around foods that “God created,” the definition of which turns out to be a very slippery slope. Processed foods like cheese are OK, but processed foods like refined flour are not, yet both are man, not God-made. Is the difference that one was eaten in Biblical times and the other wasn’t? Unfortunately his protestations against today’s “modern” foods are called into question when you get to the second chapter in which he recommends a wide variety dietary supplements (some of which you can purchase at his web site). This begs the question, if you follow the dietary advice in the Bible, why do you need to add anything else? And suggesting that you only buy “natural,” “living” or “organic” supplement products doesn’t make them any more “Biblical.”
Included among his supplement recommendations are “food enzymes.” Consider that the types of enzymes he’s suggesting that you buy is responsible for the digestion, and therefore the absorption into the body of protein, carbohydrates and fats – our dietary sources of energy or calories. Now ask yourself this: how is it that over 60% of Americans is overweight or obese if we are lacking these digestive enzymes? In fact one could argue that the Lord in His infinite wisdom gave us an over-abundance of digestive enzymes so that our ancestors could survive those long treks across the desert by being very efficient at extracting every last calorie out of what little was available to eat. In any event, the last thing we need is any more help moving calories into our bodies! Non-digestion is NOT the same as indigestion. Few Americans suffer from the former, but many do suffer from the latter. That’s because they eat too much, too fast, of foods with too much fat and too little fiber. Digestive enzymes are not going to help them – only a change in behavior will suffice.
When you total up all the organic and/or unusual foods (duck eggs, kefir, goat’s milk, Celtic sea salt, elk, etc.), and supplements that he recommends, the cost is quite high. He also recommends weekly fasting and has an entire section devoted to what borders on compulsive hand, eye and even nasal passage-washing. Taken together, you have a lifestyle that few people could keep up with unless it actually did become like a religion to them. The “good news” is, like most books of its ilk, it isn’t likely to harm you, except of course in your wallet.
Sarah L. Ash, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Food Science Department, North Carolina State University
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