The Crazy Makers

By Murray Bourne, 27 Dec 2007

How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Brains and Harming Our Children

by Carol Simontacchi

Summary/Review

Simontacchi is a clinical nutritionist in private practice. Her clients include people whose systems are out of balance because of some deficiency (or over-abundance) in their diets.

The main thrusts of the book:

  • The brain's nutritional needs are well known, but are not being provided in each of the critical development periods (pregnancy, infancy, adolescence and adulthood).
  • The infant formula industry is a scandal. Mother's milk is by far the best source of brain nutrition for babies.
  • The food and soft drink industries have been extremely successful at changing the American diet, through marketing and clever manipulation of the funding needs of schools (for example, soft drink vending machines in schools)
  • People don't drink water any more - a big mistake

In her twenties, Simontacchi suffered from:

... severe emotional illness in the form of deep depressions, hostility, fatigue and confusion. [p3]

She made drastic changes to her diet, including reducing sugar intake, increasing B complex, eating more fish and she began to eat vegetables. When her emotional problems reduced dramatically, she realised she was on to something.

The book draws connections between diet and the high levels of crime and emotional instability in the US today. [And of course, it is not only in the US. Everywhere that you see high sugar, low vegetable, low fish 'modern' diets, you see similar problems.]

Simontacchi asked students in local schools to keep 'diet logs'. These showed serious deficiencies in the diets of most American teenagers. They often skip breakfast, take a high sugar, high fat lunch (no vegetables, no fruit) and snack on low nutritional value foods for the rest of the day.

In one of her experiments, she went into a school and gave a control group a nutrient-dense breakfast drink. The positive effect on the students' mood was dramatic.

Mental Health Inventory

The book includes an informal mental health inventory that is designed for self-administration. The idea here is to take the inventory, look at the areas where there are the most problems, work on the diet to address those issues and come back later to take the inventory.

This is good in theory, but I wonder how many people would perform the self-analysis poorly and make ill-informed changes to their diets?

Healthy Recipes

There are pages of 'good brain food' recipes included at the end of the book.

Cretinism

I was surprised that the book did not include a section on iodine deficiency, which leads to cretinism (impaired physical and mental development).

Cretinism

Iodine is an essential trace element. The key word there is 'trace'. We only need a little but we definitely need some. Most common salt used to contain iodine, but it is not so common these days.

I mention cretinism because it is a dramatic example of what happens when we are missing essential elements in our diet. It is also an issue because it can still occur as a result of poor Western diets.

Recommendation

The Crazy Makers is an interesting read. The book suffers in part from (what seems to me) a simplistic analysis of some of the mental and learning conditions that are described.

However, diet is an area that is often overlooked in the search for better student (and adult) learning performance.

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