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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 12/23/2010

Pro-vegetarian PCRM names worst cookbooks of 2010

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

Sorry, Trisha Yearwood and Gordon Ramsay. Too bad, Ina Garten. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine doesn't like the way you cook.

The PCRM, whose name doesn't hint at its pro-vegetarian/vegan mission, has fingered what it deems the five least-healthful cookbooks of the past year. The list, which includes Yearwood's "Home Cooking," Ramsay's "World Kitchen," Garten's "Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?," the Top Chef team's "How to Cook Like a Top Chef," and "The Primal Blueprint Cookbook" by Mark Sisson and Jennifer Meier, features books whose recipes in PCRM's view rely overmuch on fats and meats. Yearwood's book, for instance, is cited for a recipe calling for 8 large eggs, a pound each of bacon and sausage, cheese tortellini, cheddar cheese, tater tots and butter.

The group also supplied a list of cookbooks it had previously selected as the most healthful of the decade. Not surprisingly, it features books that range from vegan to, well, vegan. Here are the titles; you can read summaries here.

"The Sublime Restaurant Cookbook," Nanci Alexander; "The Kind Diet," Alicia Silverstone; "Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!)," Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin; "The Conscious Cook," Tal Ronnen; "The Engine 2 Diet," Rip Esselstyn; "Cooking the Whole Foods Way," Christina Pirello; "Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen," Bryant Terry

PCRM argues that eating fat and meat contributes mightily to the obesity epidemic and raises people's risk of such diseases as diabetes and cancer. 

I agree that most of us probably would do better to cut back on fatty foods and add more plants to our diets. But I wonder whether PCRM might not have done a better service by finding some more common ground between its "worst" and "best" lists. It's a huge leap from "The Primal Blueprint Cookbook" to "The Kind Diet," and I'm guessing not a lot of meat lovers out there are ready to make that leap. Perhaps if books such as Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" and his vegetarian cookbook of nearly the same name had been included, for instance, folks might be better persuaded to investigate the world of plant-based eating. 

PCRM's director of nutrition education Susan Levin, who I always enjoy talking with, told me on the phone that "I'm not really in the business of half truths. I do support and am thrilled to death with Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. But my job is not to promote something when I know something else is better in terms of health. I'm not in the business of social or cultural commentary or saying things that are more appealing to hear, but what science has shown. That's my job. Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan have their jobs. They're not opposed to each other, just a little different."

(As a side matter, I would have appreciated it if PCRM had noted that "Professional athlete-turned-firefighter Rip Esselstyn," author of one of the "best" books, is the son of PCRM advisory board member Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. Levin tells me the relationship had nothing to do with the selection.) 

Levin acknowledges that fatty, salty, sugary foods taste good and appeal to our tastebuds, "probably for some biological purpose." But, she says, people can adapt to the taste of more healthful foods. She, for instance, likes the taste of beets, spinach and kale -- and doesn't need ranch dressing to make them appealing. When it comes to adding fat, salt and sugar to foods, she says, "You might as well just put heroin in it. Yeah, that's appealing, but there are drawbacks."

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | December 23, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cancer, Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity, Prevention, Vegetarianism  
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It's a huge leap from Primal Blueprint to Kind Diet, but it’s one worth making. The leap from the worst cookbooks to the most healthful is a leap from heart disease to good health.

Posted by: Wally7 | December 23, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Great article, but you should have taken that last step and called out PCRM as a anti-meat hack organization, that uses "science" and "medicine" (yes, both terms are in quotes for a reason) to promote it's activist agenda. There are darn few (1?) physicians in the "Physicians Committee," another fact they don't advertise.

Taking a viewpoint and twisting science to meet it is a perversion of science, and only cheapens legitimate science and medical study, and I wish hack organizations like PCRM would stop.

Posted by: byte1 | December 23, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the naughty and nice cookbook list! I’ll keep away from the worst list and find a healthful cookbook that helps me get rid of my stomach that’s starting to shake like a “bowl full of jelly.” Sounds like I’ll also fight diabetes and cancer too!

Posted by: Newton3 | December 23, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the naughty and nice cookbook list! I’ll keep away from the worst list and find a healthful cookbook that helps me get rid of my stomach that’s starting to shake like a “bowl full of jelly.” Sounds like I’ll also fight diabetes and cancer too!

Posted by: Newton3 | December 23, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

The list of selected cookbooks that are recommended should be titled " Recipes to Starve By."

Posted by: PickyEater | December 23, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

@byte1: I just checked their website. Four of the five Directors and six of 11 Advisory Board members are physicians.

Posted by: michaelscalia | December 23, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

@michaelscalia:I just checked their website. Four of the five Directors and six of 11 Advisory Board members are physicians.

So? Physicians are not scientists, most of them have zero training in the scientific method and couldn't tell the difference between cause/effect and a coincidence (like the vast majority of the general public).

While Susan Levin reasonably condemns fatty, salty, sugary foods she fails mention that a meat based dish doesn't have to be fatty, salty or sugary. There is simply no scientifically credible data that proves that a non-vegetarian diet is unhealthy.

Posted by: ogs123 | December 23, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I find it hard to believe that the Primal Blueprint was voted "worst" (I suspect the fact that its meat dishes and not vegan). I have lost 14 pounds on the diet and so have many others! Check out this success story - it's truly amazing!

So I guess its safe to say that people should stay away from a book that suggests meat, vegis, nuts, fruits and healthy fats...

Posted by: Bostonlady1 | December 23, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Vegans make the pro-life crowd look casual and half-hearted.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | December 23, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

I haven't purchased a cook book in years. Why would I when you can get an kind of recipe that you want on the Internet for free?

Posted by: georgettec28 | December 23, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

In the past year alone, I've had one vegan friend die of breast cancer, another who had to have a hysterectomy after losing so much blood it nearly killed her, and today I found out another vegetarian friend has been diagnosed with colon cancer. How about this folks: Whether you're a vegan or a carnivore, just go out and enjoy life and quit trying to rule other people's lives.

As for all these Food Nazis such as PCRM and Center for Science in the Public Interest, do us all a favor: Take a leap off the 14th Street Bridge. You'd make the world a happier place.

Signed, a hot-dog-eating, beer-swilling 44-year-old.

Posted by: Topaz745 | December 23, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

"123 Get Samples" is the best source for free health product samples. Find tons of great stuff.

Posted by: sandrabessey24 | December 24, 2010 1:27 AM | Report abuse

@Topaz745: You da man!

Posted by: hofbrauhausde | December 24, 2010 5:54 AM | Report abuse


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Posted by: ppshopping011 | December 24, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

As one previous commenter stated, I too have lost lots of weigh using Mark Sission's Primal Blueprint book....70lbs! What puts on fat is eating too many carbs, not dietary fat. Fat is not the problem, carbs are. What do we feed cattle to make them fat? Corn (a grain, therefore a carb) It makes them so sick we have to give them antibiotics and right before they die from this crappy diet, we slaughter them for the market. This is why grass fed beef is a better option to eat.

Another benefit of this way of eating is no hunger. When eating crap that helped me weigh over 300lbs I was always hungry. Eating the Primal way I'm hardly ever hungry and when I am, I eat.

BTW, my blood work is great since I am now eating this way.

Good cholesterol 50
Bad cholesterol 118
triglycerides 66

Please do the opposite of what this article states you should do if you want to have good health.

Jeff H.

Posted by: twoidhd | December 24, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

@byte1: I agree that PCRM are activists, but your comment about there being few physicians undermines you. Scroll to the bottom of this page:

Posted by: pete_cook2001 | December 24, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Last Thanksgiving, my vegan brother-in-law asked, "You're gonna put a dead bird on the table?" I said, "Damn right I am, and a dead pig, too. Gotta problem with that?"

Everyone else said the pecan-smoked turkey was the best they had EVER eaten.

I just wish all these so-called "progressives" would progress enough to learn how to mind their own business.

Posted by: tmkelley | December 24, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Levin said:

When it comes to adding fat, salt and sugar to foods, she says, "You might as well just put heroin in it. Yeah, that's appealing, but there are drawbacks."

HEROIN appeals to her? Putting HEROIN in FOOD appeals to her?

Why? For it's TASTE? I doubt it.

After that comment, she completely lacks all credibility.

Thus, I would have to disregard her cookbooks suggestions because her argument is not only ridiculous, it demonstrates a delusional thought process.

The idea of adding heroin to food is replusive.

Posted by: Amelia5 | December 24, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Vegetarian here. If you don't like vegetarian/vegan, don't buy the cookbook or listen to the arguments. No one is forcing you to change. No sweat.

Posted by: upperdeck4 | December 24, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Humans are omnivores and should eat both plants and the flesh of animals...

Posted by: ozpunk | December 24, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

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