Review of The Meat Fix by John Nicholson

I found it compulsive & funny reading but don't rely on any of the "facts" in it. It raised many interesting questions to consider more closely.

Author switched from one extreme to another (decades of veganism to full on meat-lover).

It's poorly edited, for example: the dates and time spans given don't knit together. 27 years as a vegan starting in 1984, 10 years as a vegan before his problems started; elsewhere he says that he had 20+ years of difficult health problems, yet he had at least 18 months of good health from eating meat before the book was published (on Kindle) in January 2012 : The dates don't fit together. A lot of book is like that.

After 18 months of transformed health from meat eating he's now convinced that lots of meat is the best diet choice (but let's see what he says after 26+ years of heavy meat eating).

He quotes sources selectively (admittedly we all do): he's happy to cite Ben Goldacre calling Gillian McKeith a quack, but he doesn't mention that Goldacre called Zoe Harcombe an unreliable diet advisor, too.

He doesn't understand the long-term effects of high salt intake on health (it's your kidneys not your heart you really need to worry about). Even Mark Sisson (who Nicholson relies on as a guru) says that the picture on salt is complicated and Sissons recommends a switch to lower salt alternatives where salt is an unnecessary additive, like unsalted butter.

Nicholson slams hexane as a toxic residue in soya products: I found this illuminating. Hexane is a very volatile solvent byproduct of gasoline (petrol) production and literally permeates the modern air we breathe (found at concentrations of 2 ppb in Chicago air, for instance). However, it isn't stored in the body, it's processed well by healthy people & as long as exposure is relatively low, the breakdown products are excreted quickly in urine.

Acute toxicity from hexane isn't seen as a problem. Chronic (repeated or constant high exposure) hexane toxic doses seem to be at around 400-600 ppm (Wikipedia). Where regulated (eg: USA has not set any limits), the permitted doses in food are 5-10 ppm; the highest doses actually found in processed food products are up to ~21 ppm. This may still be too high, but the evidence is that the body can handle these doses at least occasionally. Also, it's mostly not used to make tofu or tempeh, and many other soy-food producers are moving to hexane free sources, too. They may be moving to other processing methods that will later be proven dodgy, but it's inaccurate to imply that all soya products have lots of toxic hexane in them.

It would have been worth better explaining that many other "vegetable" oils are commonly processed with the use of hexane, including corn oil, cottonseed, canola (oilseed rape), etc. Nicholson is right to note that cold-pressed oils (within Europe), extra virgin olive oil, butter and possibly lard are safer bets.

The author mentions bleaching required to make soya edible : the bleaching products used are considered non toxic at any realistic level of exposure, bleaching clay or earths. You may not like soya because it's such a highly processed product, or for other biochemical reasons that Nicholson explains, but it's not like chlorine or other food-incompatible bleaching chemicals are used to process it (as implied).

Does low carb diet lead to better eyesight?: a lot of people report this, and it may be linked to the problems that all pre-diabetics have (Nicholson certainly sounds like he was in a pre-diabetic state before his meat-loving transformation).

I liked his promotion of free-range meat, and grass-fed beef especially, and I would have appreciated reading more about sourcing that; I have utterly failed to find any locally. Mention of dairy cows fed heavily on grass making better quality milk would have been a nice plug, too.

I skimmed some of the most ranty sections of the book so perhaps I missed it, but I didn't once see mention of the vegan need for B12 supplements. Yet some of Nicholson's symptoms (like headaches, gastrointestinal issues, bloating, big belly) all fit with B12 deficiency problems.

I wish the book had an index, but then I am reading it critically and Nicholson doesn't pretend to be an authoritative source; he is just sharing his experience. Which is fair enough, as long as you don't take anything he says as fact.

Nicholson admits to being an arsey smug bastard often in the book, and it certainly reads like it.

I appreciated his diatribes against the follies of unthinkingly following faddy diet advice, his newfound skepticism about anti-X food advice, just too bad he had to reach nearly 50 before he figured that out for himself.

He now scoffs at the possible health benefits of eating lots of fruit and veg, even though there are many who would refute his sources (e.g.).

IBS has been an epidemic of last 15 years that many doctors initially couldn't understand or treat well, his frustrations didn't surprise me. However, I am surprised that he was seemingly never advised to switch to a low fibre diet. I have a friend who was advised this by their GPs around 2002 to switch to low fibre to deal with IBS, and it worked brilliantly for her. To be fair, Nicholson admits it was his own dogmatism about diet that might have caused him to resist hearing or following such advice.

Nicholson seems to want to blame the obesity epidemic on too much fruit and veg and fibre (honestly!). Rather than cite huge cuts in activity levels, foods with high hidden calories levels, enormous portion sizes, and the substitute of sugar for fat in many foods (okay, actually, we are veering onto same song sheet with that last point). Anyway, I think his understanding is, er, a bit narrow.

I don't understand the author reporting that he complained to his GP that he couldn't stop eating nuts because they were an important source of protein, and yet he also says he ate heaps of soya. If he ate that much soya why did he need the nuts? And why did he have such a poor understanding of complete protein content: Diet for a Small Planet was published 13 years before he embraced veganism. How could he live in the heart of vegan communities in California & never have read it or heard of its ideas?

I will say the book made me feel hungry for a nice piece of… something nicely carnal to eat.

It seems like he jumped rather naively into veganism and now I think he's jumping very naively into a heavy Meat eating lifestyle. Down the line I suspect he'll issue some retractions.

Further Reading

Why the Primal Diet is Wrong.

Fat Lies within Big Fat Lies.


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