24 May 2016

Review: Think & Eat Yourself Smart by Dr Caroline Leaf

MAD Scary

Think and Eat Yourself Smart is a new direction for Dr Leaf, better known for books about the mind, such as Switch on Your Brain. In Think and Eat Yourself Smart, she looks at the relationship between what we eat and our general health, including brain health—as nutrition affects the way we think.

She goes on to a detailed discussion of the problems associated with the Modern American Diet (which gives us a convenient and descriptive acronym, MAD), characterised by fast food, processed food, and cheap genetically modified food.

I live in New Zealand, and a book like this makes me doubly thankful, because many of her complaints either don’t apply here, or apply to a lesser degree. For example, New Zealand doesn’t currently produce any genetically modified food crops, so her concerns about introducing GM crops into the food chain needn’t affect the way I shop or eat as long as I’m buying local products. (Then I looked at the canola oil my husband bought which is made in NZ "from local and imported ingredients". Hmm. That could mean anything.)

I’d never thought too much about the “evils” of GM food before this, but now I’m convinced I don’t want to eat GM foods, I don’t want the meat I eat to have eaten GM foods, and I want New Zealand to remain committed to GM free horticulture and agriculture (although I’m less fussed about GM pine trees. I don’t eat pine trees).

As another example, our cows and sheep live in paddocks and eat grass. Dr Leaf has numerous reasons as to why grass-feed milk and beef are healthier alternatives than the “conventional” US grain-fed diet—much of which is genetically modified grain. Yes, our food is more expensive than food in the US, but reading this makes me happier about paying for that quality.

Dr Leaf talks about food deserts (areas where there is no fresh fruit and vegetables available to buy), battery farms, and food that has been manufactured to be cheap and addictive, not nutricious. I can see this is a huge social problem: how can parents think and eat themselves and their children smart if they can’t actually access healthy food?

This is where the “thinking” ourselves smart comes in: we have to retrain our minds to believe the truth about food, so that we can actually change our eating habits to feed our bodies and our brains the way we were meant to.

In a nutshell, Dr Leaf is a firm believer in the value of “real” food—basically, cooking using seasonal local ingredients, as so many of the processed options available today consist of “empty” calories which send the wrong messages to our brain and can result in a multitude of health problems, not least weight problems.

Dr Leaf writes from a Christian point of view and backs up many of her opinions with quotes from the Bible. But even an atheist would benefit from reading this book: ignore the Bible quotes and focus on the science and the common sense.

We are what we eat, and a lot of the “food” available to eat isn’t what our ancestors would recognise as food. And the science backs this up: too much American food has been processed to the point where many of the nutrients aren’t there any more, and this affects the way our bodies and brains process the food.

Recommended for anyone concerned about what they eat.

Thanks to Baker Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Dr Caroline Leaf at her website (http://drleaf.com/), and you can read the introduction to Think and Eat Yourself Smart here:


  1. Id really like to read this book. Great review.

    1. Thanks, Paula.

      It was excellent, and challenged me to make sure I buy "real" food as far as possible.