Living in the United States in the early 21st century, it might be easy for one to imagine that chronic disease is a fact of life, particularly in middle age and later in life. However, the chronic disease that plagues millions of Americans is notably absent from countless nations, particularly those in which a high percentage of the population consumes the traditional diet rather than importing the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Daphne Miller is a board-certified family physician and an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, as well as a mother of two. In 2008, she published a book called The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World — Why They Work and How to Make Them Work for You. This book focuses on “cold spots” — places in which a particular disease is extremely rare, despite its prevalence in nearby countries or among people of similar ancestry living in another location — and the lessons to be learned from the diets consumed in these locales.
The cold spots profiled by Miller are Copper Canyon, Mexico, where diabetes is rare; Crete, Greece, where heart disease is rare; Iceland, where depression is rare; Cameroon, West Africa, where colon disease is rare; and Okinawa, Japan, where breast and prostate cancers are rare. Some of the secrets to better health unearthed by Miller during her travels to these places are the anti-diabetes benefits of slow-release carbohydrates such as quinoa, the possible role of Mediterranean seasonings such as garlic and chives in lowering blood pressure, the link between omega-3 consumption (via seafood or grass-fed dairy products and a lower incidence of depression, the ability of folate-rich wild greens to block cancer-causing DNA methylation, and the anti-cancer properties of shiitake mushrooms.
Miller closes the book with recipes from each cold spot, as well as charts providing an easy breakdown of crucial ingredients from each region. For example, the chart for Iceland lists dill as a valuable seasoning, blueberries as an important produce item, split peas as a noteworthy nut / grain, and smoked salmon as a key piece of meat / fish / dairy. The recipes are easy to follow, and each one has a “native food score” combining zero to three points for each of the following categories: antioxidant value, omega-3 value, slow-release value, and fermentation value.
This cookbook is rare in its scientific integrity — it includes more than 30 pages of references, as well as voluminous direct quotations from farmers and physicians alike. It also blends Dr. Miller’s medical knowledge with her more recent education about food and nutrition, and the combination is powerful. The Allentown Family Health Examiner has made many of the dishes listed in the recipe section of the book, and particularly recommends the “horta omelet” and the “ndole” (stew). To your health!