This book has a slight conflict of interest in that Dr. Chen, a Ph.D. in immunology, is also president of E. Excel International which makes nutritional supplements based on some of the information presented in the book. However, apart from the author biography at the front, there is no mention of E. Excel or its products—no address, no website, nothing—so the book isn’t explicitly trying to push a product. Indeed, Dr. Chen states over and over again that it is much better to eat whole foods than to take supplements.
Nutritional immunology is the science of how diet (including herbs) affects our immunity. The book looks at how diet can significantly impair or improve our immune system. The information on harmful eating habits is as you might expect, but the information on the positive things certain foods can do for our health blew me away. Eating your veggies is not just nutritious, it is highly medicinal. It seems that a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and herbs can help our immune system by enhancing the function of its various cells and elements. Furthermore, some plant foods have components which can actually remove cholesterol from our arteries, remove toxins from the body, and fight cancers.
Like everyone else I hear the occasional new story about some chemical they found in some food that is good for something—but they never give you the numbers. This book gives you the numbers—the percentage reduction in tumours, the reduction in LDL cholesterol, the reduction in mortality rates—and it is pretty amazing. It makes me wonder why the Canadian Cancer Society doesn’t shout from the rooftops, “Eat some broccoli, dammit!!!” The US army did radiation experiments in the 50’s and found that guinea pigs that were fed broccoli and then irradiated had a 65% survival rate. Those who didn’t eat broccoli had a 0% survival rate (yup, that’s a zero). Something to remember next time you get an x-ray.
The book focuses on the industrialized world’s two main killers, heart disease and cancer, but with new diseases like West Nile Virus and Avian Influenza (not to mention Malaria, as global warming proceeds), an immune enhancing diet may have short-term as well as long-term consequences. So what foods are we talking about? The list is quite long. There are about 70 plant foods described in the appendix, and they each have different benefits. The dietary superstars are undoubtedly broccoli (as well as its conspecifics, cabbage, brussel sprouts and cauliflower) and soy, but other common foods are also very beneficial, like onions and tomatoes. Fruits like peaches, cherries, blueberries, and strawberries are also listed, along with more exotic ingredients like prickly pear cactus (also an effective treatment for Type II Diabetes) and lotus root.
There’s no need to remember a long list of these foods, though. The dietary advice in this book is not complicated—simply eat a variety of whole, unprocessed grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits—and not much else—and you will benefit from their medicinal as well as their nutritional properties. I should add that Dr. Chen is quite leery of vitamins and supplements, citing studies that have found some of them ineffective or even harmful in the long run. She makes a strong case for throwing out the “just in case” multivitamin and doing what it takes to get the proper nutrients in their original form as food. As an environmental scientist I’ve seen over and over again that humans are poor chemists compared to Mother Nature, and whenever we try to take over her job, there are usually unforseen negative consequences. I don’t need to tell you that supplements are big business, and even Dr. Chen makes her living off of them (albeit in a more natural form than most), but the data she presents shows that it is much better to skip the vitamin aisle (not to mention the bakery, meat, dairy, and junk food aisles) and stock up on whole, organic grains, beans, veggies, and fruits. What will you do with all your leftover money? Buy books, of course!