Rich Food, Poor Food provides a few good lessons for its readers. The grocery shopping guidebook is written by Jayson Calton, Ph.D., and Mira Calton,CN. According to the cover, the book helps people to “Avoid Hype and Harmful Ingredients.” After reading the book, I’d say I agree….sort of. The guide provided me with two valuable lessons about how to be a smart shopper in the grocery store and in the bookstore.
Lesson 1: Be A Savvy Grocery Shopper
In this well organized book, the Caltons lay the foundation for their food selections in "Part I: Know Before You Go." In these three chapters, the authors teach important skills that will help you to look past the useless health claims on the front of food package labels and find the real story in the ingredients list on the back.
For example, a full page is dedicated to deciphering claims on two different popular Lay's brand products. The Caltons decode the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list when they compare the two snacks. Their recommendation? The full fat Classic Potato Chip is a healthier option than the "healthier" Baked Lays Crisp. The reader is guided through the mini-investigation so that they can use their own savvy smarts when they shop.
In "Part II: Ready, Set...Shop" specific recommendations are provided in easy-to-read charts. Each section of the grocery store has its own chapter so that readers can compile a grocery list that will be easy to follow when they shop. In addition, specific brand names are listed which makes shopping according to the Caltons' plan easier to follow.
Lesson 2: Learn to Be a Savvy Reader
While I fully support the Caltons’ principles, I wish they had carried them over into the production of their own book. The entire first section of their book is based on the premise that health claims need to be supported by evidence. I agree! But that goes for all health claims - good and bad.
The Caltons make several strong claims about food ingredients. Some of the claims are far reaching and fear based. For example, did you know that the world is in the midst of a micronutrient deficiency pandemic? They say that their research “proves” that it is due to soil depletion, global food distribution, factory farming and modern cooking methods. But their research isn't cited.
The Caltons also list a number of evil EMDs – Everyday Micronutrient Depleters. These include tannins, caffeine, and GMOs, among others. But very little evidence is provided (and none is specifically referenced) for the claims that they make. Of course I think it’s smart to know what’s in your food, but it’s also important to get a balanced assessment of the accusations. The issue of GMOs, for example, is strongly debated with intense arguments on both sides. The only side that is represented in Rich Food, Poor Food is the Caltons’. I don't necessarily support the use of GMOs, but I think it's important to make educated choices and in order to do that you need to know all the facts.
I reached out to Mira Calton to ask about the health claims and about the lack of evidence. She said that there was more research provided in their first book. She also provided the study on which their beliefs are based. It’s a single research project conducted by one person – her husband – on behalf of the company who is selling the book. It compares the nutrient make-up of four popular weight loss programs. There is no mention of a worldwide pandemic or research to support it.
She also said that the claims about the dangerous nutrients, specifically GMOs, are based on their opinions. She said that in an effort to make the book more palatable for readers she and her husband chose not to include specific references to studies. While that makes sense to some extent, I wonder how she would respond if food manufactures used that same rationale for the health claims they put on their packages.And lastly, I had to wonder about the title of the book. Rich Food, Poor Food is a book for people who can afford to pay for more expensive organic food and who have the time to go to multiple grocery stores and even to local farms to search out things like "farm-fresh, grass-fed, unpasteurized, non-homogenized, (raw) milk." Holy cow (pun intended)! I honestly don't know any shoppers who have the of time or income required to follow this type of plan.
The Bottom Line: Should You Buy "Rich Food, Poor Food"?
Should you buy the book and use it as a shopping guide? I wouldn't. Even though the book is well organized and contains some helpful information, I wouldn't feel comfortable using this in my own life simply because there is no clear distinction between opinion and solid, research-based fact. The advice is too muddy for my comfort level.
Of course, I want to avoid harmful ingredients in order to live a long and healthy life. But I don't want to spend that life wandering the aisles of a grocery store being afraid of everything on the shelf, nor do I have the money or the time to afford the “rich food” that they list. As the Caltons preach in Part 1 of their book, the devil is in the details and I didn't find enough detail to support their significant claims or suggestions.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.