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Book Review: Eat to Beat Disease

Melanie McCulley, MS, BCC, HHP

To Life! Support Service Program Manager

August 20, 2020

I’ve just completed Dr. William Li’s 2019 book, Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. I read an inordinate number of books and research articles on breast cancer, diet and nutrition, holistic approaches to health, and the body’s self-healing mechanisms, but this book particularly caught my attention with its empowering message, scientific research, readability, and focus on: angiogenesis (the process the body uses to grow blood vessels), regeneration, gut microbiome, immunity, and DNA protection.

The human body is designed to heal itself as experienced with cuts, bruises, broken bones, the common cold and, yes, even cancer. Dr. Li has been working for more than two decades to bridge the gap between medical treatment and nutrition, and his research illustrates the body’s capacity for healing using specific foods that address specific disease processes, at the proper dosage.

When he speaks about food as medicine, Dr. Li is not suggesting foregoing conventional treatment. On the contrary, he is a Harvard-educated medical doctor who believes in science and medicine and also in the powerful partnership between our body and the food we consume, and between nutrition and conventional medicine. It’s not an “either-or” proposition. One can engage in standard treatment while also leveraging the body’s natural defense system to increase health.

Many books on nutrition, disease prevention, and healing are about what not to eat, but this book is not about diet as restriction, complicated rules nor about unappealing, hard-to-find, expensive ingredients, or complex time-consuming recipes. Food is meant to be enjoyable and Dr. Li simply encourages the addition of five foods per day—one to support each of the five body processes—using the 5x5x5 framework explained in detail. The book includes lists of food for the particular health issue a person wishes to address and there are enough options that there should not be sacrifice or drudgery. Everyone should be able to find delicious foods to include as your five per day and many of the options don’t even require cooking. In general, this is an accessible, adaptable, very manageable approach that, according to the presented research, can pack a health punch.

This is also not a book that wags an accusatory finger or suggests people caused their illness. The disease process is a complicated multi-faceted one, but the evidence continues to mount that nutrition can indeed be a powerful tool in our arsenal against disease, disease progression and recurrence. Not all of the book’s information will be new as--not surprisingly-- fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, and some less expected foods and beverages, play an important part. What may be new, though, is the identification of which foods have a biochemical impact against which diseases and at what dose and frequency and, that at the proper dose for the particular disease, some of the foods showed to be as effective as some pharmaceuticals. That was not wholly unexpected as many of the medications we have today, originated from food and plants. Again, this is not to say that food should replace conventional medication since it’s not as simple to know one is getting a specific dose with food as with strictly measured and quality-controlled medication. It does, however, speak to how important nutrition can be for our overall health, including for disease prevention and risk reduction.  

For those who wish to learn more, local libraries have the book in both standard and audio formats and several libraries are now designated for curbside book pickup.  As with anything, read and assess the information for yourself carefully and speak to your doctor as appropriate.