© Whole Foods Magazine

The Best of Health

An interview with Sheldon Zerden

By Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.

There are many good books available on nutrition that should be read by all. However, the sheer enormity of this literature makes it harder for people to keep abreast of the content of all these books. Fortunately, there is a new book that gives condensations of the very best books on nutrition. The Best of Health by Sheldon Zerden (Warren H. Green, St. Louis 2003) is not only a compilation of the very important principles of the health food movement, but a text that covers much about the relationship between nutrition and health. It is not only a reference book for the nutrition expert, but a great starting point for the novice. The new book is a comprehensive guide to 121 of the best and most influential books on health and nutrition, plus a supplementary list of an additional 200 books on natural and holistic health.

Many of us have been eagerly waiting for this new and expanded edition. In 1999, we chatted in this column about Shelly’s first foray into this subject matter, The Best of Health: The 101 Best Books. It was fascinating to reminisce about the books that became the framework for a new natural health movement, but that only whetted the appetite for a newer book that also included the more recent discoveries. Now this task has been completed.

What I particularly like about Shelly’s approach is that he is performing two valuable functions at the same time: 1) helping to educate many people about nutrition, and 2) helping preserve the written record of the history of nutrition. In his new book, Shelly thoughtfully provides summaries that give the essence of the books he discusses, including an overview followed by a one-to-three page synopsis. Importantly, he doesn’t editorialize or change the authors’ material to fit his own opinions.


Passwater: Isn’t it great that there have been so many excellent books written about health?

Zerden: The proliferation of books on disease and fitness is a reflection of the condition of health in America. Obesity is epidemic. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases are rampant. Education of the public is difficult. Nutrition education is almost totally lacking in our schools and is given inadequate attention in the medical schools that train health professionals whose job it is to keep us in good health.

Passwater: In your book, can one learn about the essence of each book you cover, or are you just presenting reviews?

Zerden: I am presenting reviews, but each one is an analytical summary that captures the heart of what the author is saying. I start with a precis that gives my view of the importance of the book and after the word synopsis it is the author’s voice.

Passwater: In 1999, we discussed how you selected the best books for inclusion in your compilation. Was it more difficult to select "the best" this time around?

Zerden: Yes. The difficulty is that space limitation required that I eliminate some authors who have made valuable contributions to the literature. I did, however, include their work in the recommended reading list.

Passwater: Can the reader receive a "good education" on many aspects of nutrition by reading your new book?

Zerden: I can honestly say that the inspiration of giants like Pauling, Szent-Gyorgyi, Passwater, Selye, Atkins, Yudkin, Cleave, Hall, Barnes and many others changed my life for the better. Not only have I received an education, but their dedication and example can educate the reader and make for a healthier and happier life through the application of the lessons to be learned indirectly via a thorough reading of The Best of Health.

Passwater: Which books have influenced you and your health the most?

Zerden: Linus Pauling and Albert Szent-Gyorgyi are two Nobel Laureates whose giant footsteps will be hard to follow. Their lives and contributions to mankind are immeasurable. Their inspiration is with me to this day.

Passwater: Wow, it’s uncanny, but those words could have come right out of my mouth. I had the pleasure of knowing both, and to a small extent, I had the opportunity to work with them on some projects. Scientists need to rediscover their line of thought and follow through with more discoveries based on their pioneering research.

Zerden: Your Supernutrition and Supernutrition For Healthy Hearts were great. Cleave’s The Saccharine Disease is a landmark effort that has been followed by John Yudkin’s Sweet and Dangerous and Atkins with his low-carbohydrate diet books. Broda Barnes’ Hypothyroidism is a strong candidate for the most important book on my list. He treated 5,000 patients with thyroid hormone and there were only four heart attacks. He apologized and said he thought he was not giving those patients the proper dosage.

Carl Pfeiffer’s Mental Elemental Nutrients is a super book. He ate 700 eggs a year. His fear was that we are headed for a "Nutritional Armageddon." I could go on, but you get the idea. Each author devoted his or her life to one vitamin, mineral or disease. We should appreciate their contributions.

Passwater: You’ve named some of the older classics, but I want to remind our readers that this book covers all books, including the most recent. But, everyone should know the basics and read all of these books to develop an understanding of modern nutrition. If they can’t read all of these books, then certainly they should read the descriptions presented in The Best of Health if they wish to be educated and informed. Shelly, what health categories and issues are covered by your selections?

Zerden: Cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, arthritis, fitness and exercise, cholesterol, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, obesity (about 50 diet books are reviewed), mental disease, schizophrenia, chelation therapy, aging, nutrition and a host of other health-related issues.

Passwater: What criteria did you use for selection?

Zerden: The book had to deliver a strong message that would help us better our lives.

Passwater: What criteria would exclude a book from consideration?

Zerden: Books that are written by celebrities and others that fill more than half of the pages with recipes. This is not a cookbook!

Passwater: How many books did you read before settling on the ones you included?

Zerden: About 175.

Passwater: How long did it take to select the books to include and then write this book?

Zerden: It took me 12 years for the first edition and three additional years for the new edition. So, it’s been a total of 15 years.

Passwater: Do you find that the average person is a stranger to the teachings of these books?

Zerden: Unfortunately, yes. Most people are so busy with their computers, cable TV and cellphones, that they are too busy to read. It is tragic that they take better care of their cars than they do of their bodies. The heart beats 100,000 times a day. The heart valves open and close 38 million times a year without a tune up. I think it is important for a person to take control of his life and health. There is no better way than to read great books and develop a healthy way of life.

Passwater: Your previous book covered titles written during the 20th century, basically from the 1960s to the 1980s. What time frame is encompassed by the titles included in your new book?

Zerden: I have included a few, not many, of the classic books by the pioneers in the health and nutrition field such as Carlton Fredericks, Roger Williams, Adelle Davis and others. I felt that it was important to preserve the gems of the past. However, the bulk of the reviews are recent books including the 20 that were published in 2000. Among these are "Genetic Nutritioneering" by Jeffery Bland, "Genome" by Matt Ridley, "How and Why We Age" by Leonard Hayflick, and a group of important works by Andrew Weil, Robert Atkins, Ronald Hoffman, Gary Null, Ralph Moss, etc. So the time frame is principally from 1990 to 2000.

Passwater: Speaking of education and learning, you do a considerable amount to educate lay people about nutrition. Please tell us a little about your lecture series. How can one attend your lectures and what can they expect to learn?

Zerden: I have conducted discussions on health for over 20 years on cruise ships, at health expos and at resort hotels and spas. Most recently, I have been lecturing on the QE2 and at the Radisson Diamond. The audiences are enthusiastic. I give nutrition quizzes to gauge the knowledge level of my audiences so that I can customize my lectures to each audience.

Three basic lectures are the core of my program. One lecture is "The Cholesterol Paradigm." This is a thorough discussion of the cholesterol myth and the truth about the important risk factors for cardiovascular problems—homocysteine, triglycerides, Lp(a), fibrinogen, c-reactive protein, and thyroid hormone.

A second lecture is called "Nutrition, Diet and Disease." This includes a study of the foundation of the science of nutrition starting in the early 1900s with Casmir Funk and the discovery of the first vitamin, B-1. A diet regimen is explored and explained. The emphasis is on whole foods, grains, vegetables, green salads, fish, chicken, beef, legumes, seeds, nuts, berries, fruits, eggs and milk. Dietary supplements are suggested so that vitamin and mineral intakes levels are adequate. My experience has also found that eight-to-10 glasses of water a day are essential. In addition, I have found that a couple of tablespoons of brewer’s yeast are a great source of added energy. Brewer’s yeast contains 18 of the 22 amino acids, all of the B-complex vitamins and eight essential minerals.

The third topic is, surprisingly, called "The Best of Health." In this lecture, I present a short summary of 15 to 20 books from my book. This introduction to the literature is intended to encourage the audience to read the originals and to inspire them to change their bad health habits, in order to live a healthy, happy, nutritious life.

Passwater: What is your favorite topic?

Zerden: One of yours—cholesterol. "The Cholesterol Hoax," which I wrote in 1997 is proving to be prophetic as the years go by and we discover more risk factors that are a great deal more serious than cholesterol. Good nutrition is at the core of good health. In fact, Dr. George Mann of Vanderbilt University found that once you reach the age of 47, cholesterol is no longer a risk factor. I am completing more than a year of research in the medical journals that shows the dangers of low blood cholesterol levels.

Passwater: That will make an interesting article for our readers. Let’s chat again about the more important newly recognized heart disease risk factors and your study of the risks of low blood cholesterol levels in a few months. In the meantime, I’m sure many of our readers will want to know where they can buy your new book The Best of Health.

Zerden: The Best of Health is on its way to many book stores, but right now it is available online from the publisher at www.whgreen.com. more information can be obtained from the publisher by e-mail at whgreen@inlink.ccom or by telephone at 1-800-537-0655. WF

© 2004 Whole Foods Magazine and Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.

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