I could not argue with Spector’s science — he is after all a professor at King’s College and a consultant at St Thomas’ and Guy’s — but my issue with Spoon-Fed was that it often reads too much like a middle class manifesto. He quotes a Russian paediatrician who snorts at the notion that women should cut down on cured meats during pregnancy: “You think they have the luxury to pick and choose what they eat.” The same argument could be applied to much of the UK. What works — and is affordable — for Clapham and Cambridge cannot necessarily be applied to Barnsley and Blackpool, where the problems caused by poor diet are far more acute.
Spoon-Fed is a fascinating read and Spector is wisely wary of drowning the reader in too much science, but at times this is to the book’s detriment. The chapter debunking the myth that we need to drink eight glasses of water, for example, offers no counterevidence. He puts the chapter to bed in three sentences: “Is there any evidence behind this recent concern about our going thirsty and drying up? The short answer is no. There is zero support for this.” And that’s all we get. The remaining nine pages are spent discussing the deleterious impact on the environment of our bottled water obsession.
The book’s main argument is that to find the best way of eating we need to ignore much of what we are told. Spector’s myths include the idea that fish is always a healthy option and the dogma that “sugar-free foods and drinks are a safe way to lose weight”. Spoon-Fed is a worthy successor to Spector’s earlier bestselling book, The Diet Myth, which focused on the powerful role that the microbes in our guts play in determining our health. This new book is broader, but he manages to distil a huge amount of research into a clear and practical summary that leaves you with knowledge that will actually help you decide what to add to your next grocery shop. He convincingly argues that coffee and salt are healthier for most people than general opinion decrees, while vitamin pills and the vast majority of commercial yoghurts are less so. He is in favour of vegetables – as diverse a range of them as possible – but does not rate vegan sausage rolls as any healthier than the meat equivalent.