Before I start, I should warn you that this is not an impartial review. Don’t worry, I’m not talking Trump levels of nepotism; I am neither Mrs. Angry Chef nor Captain Science, but I did have a vested interest in what The Angry Chef AKA Anthony Warner had to say before I started reading.
To get you up to speed, in 2015 I got a little bit daytime drunk with some friends and decided ‘Pah!’ to cooking, I shall have me a delicious Chinese takeaway for tea. The next morning I woke up, vomited, went back to bed, got up again, went to work for 13 minutes, admitted defeat and came home. Despite never having been a booze-based-puker before, I laid the blame at drinking too much cheap wine with a woman half my age and maybe a not so great Chow Mein. On one of those counts, I was correct. 2 weeks later and 2 stone lighter the doctors announced that I had Salmonella.
I got better. A lot better. But not quite better enough. My system never really got used to food (or drink) and after an overworked and exasperated GP told me that it probably never would, I started to look elsewhere for help. I was given advice on ‘going gluten free’ and ‘clean eating’ I was told I just needed to ‘reset my system’ with a ‘detox’. I bought an overwhelming number of books written by shiny-haired middle-class women and spent a small fortune in Holland and Barrett. I kept a food diary, which showed (to me) no rhyme or reason for why I was still ill.
I finally admitted to my (qualified doctor) sister that I was ‘kinda still poorly all the time’ and revealed the reason for my new found love of muu muu’s (an almost constant bloat that made me look 8 months pregnant). She declared detox nonsense and sent me to a consultant gastroenterologist. I had various tests, was diagnosed with SIBO, told about the Fodmap diet (yes restrictive, but scientifically proven), given proper probiotics (no kefir will not cut it for what ails me) and put on a yearlong treatment plan.
During this time I read a LOT of stuff on the interwebs about diet and science. In a sea of ‘I cured myself with goji berries’ bullshit, I found two safe havens, The Katering Show and The Angry Chef. Anthony Warner, the man behind The Angry Chef has now taken the spirit of his (fabulously sweary) blog posts and created a book; Bad science and the truth about healthy eating, and spoiler alert, it is ace.
The book starts with the author explaining that no, he is not about to reveal the secrets to a perfectly healthy diet and then launches into debunking myths using a rather lovely example of an egg laying hare and some lapwings – making sure that from the first chapter you can see just how easy it is to mistake correlation for causation. I come from a medical background but, unlike my sibling, I spent school science lessons listening to my Walkman and not paying attention, luckily the Angry Chef’s science-for-skivers style continues throughout the book, and although later on, he references some pretty serious studies and concepts, it’s all done in a humorous and super accessible way. He is ably assisted in the book, as he is on the blog, by his sidekick Captain Science and through conversations with his own instinctive brain – all as a way to cut through the nonsense and easily explain how easy it is to fall prey to believing bad science.
The book does a brilliant job of drawing you in and chapter by chapter, investigates another diet, eating plan or superfood and promptly debunks it. The author doesn’t pull his punches but neither does he throw scorn on those who might be lured in. As he says early on it is easier to assume a single food group responsible for what ails you rather than something much more complicated. Starting with ‘you know gluten-free is just a way to lose weight unless you’re Coeliac’ he then moves onto ‘coconut oil is still oil dummy’ which made me yell out loud in agreement, before hitting us all with ‘tea might well be an antioxidant but there’s no evidence that means anything good’ whammy. Obviously, at this point, any sensible Brit would claim him a lunatic and throw the book across the room, but that’s the point. We all like to think tea/chocolate/wine is good for us, or at least have some magical properties that are good for us, and that all it would take to make us glossy haired and lithe is a ‘new attitude to food’ rather than a ‘diet’ but that’s not real life, and what the Angry Chef deals with is real life. Later on in the book, he introduces the genius concept of ‘science columbo’ complete with Peter Falk-esque dialogue which made me chuckle out loud on the tube for longer than is deemed polite.
By the end of the book the Angry Chef has stuck to his promises of giving no magic answers (sort of) instead he made me ask a lot of questions. I questioned myself and my ingrained beliefs about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food. I questioned the media that equates ‘thin’ with ‘good’ and ‘expensive’ with ‘effort’. I questioned hard why parents might subject their autistic children to the GAPS diet, a restrictive eating plan based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which sounds frankly mean and more importantly is not proven to do anything. I don’t for a second question those parents’ desire to try anything if their child is sick – but I do question why we are bombarded with so much contradictory diet advice. Advice from so called experts who are often not. Advice which on the upside might help us lose a few pounds, but on the downside could have serious long term health implications.
At times while reading I felt vindicated, at others furious, but most often I was amused and jollied along in page turning fashion to the books logical lack of conclusion.