How to Poison your Spouse the Natural Way: A Kiwi Guide to Safe Eating, by Jay D Mann. JDM & Associates, $24.95. Reviewed by David Riddell.

A Christchurch mother who fed her five-year-old son raw beans was surprised when he fell ill. Because they had not been sprayed, she reasoned they should be a natural, healthy snack. But natural, as Jay Mann makes clear in this highly entertaining guide to the contents of your dinner plate, doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Beans for example contain lectins, which have no bad taste to warn unwary consumers, but destroy the lining of your small intestine. Alfalfa contains canavanine, which disrupts DNA and RNA metabolism, though you would need to eat a lot of alfalfa to be poisoned by it. Lots of common foods are laden with poisons, all perfectly natural of course, but best consumed in small doses only.

Perhaps the scariest chapter is the one on fungal toxins. Fungi are everywhere, and many of them have chemical weapons that would put the arsenals of certain Middle Eastern countries to shame. The message is clear: minimise your risk by eating a broad based diet, and throw out any food that is even slightly mouldy or musty smelling.

While there are many health risks associated with food which we should be worried about but often aren’t, there are other issues that concern people that really shouldn’t. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a good example. Dr Mann argues convincingly that this flavour enhancing substance is not the cause of “Chinese restaurant syndrome”; instead histamines in soy sauce are the culprit. And rather than proudly boasting of their lack of preservatives, he says products should carry labels declaring: “Warning! No preservatives!”

All skeptics should enjoy this amusing and informative book. It is available from bookshops, but can also be bought from the author (4 Kantara Lane, Somerfield, Christchurch). Some first edition copies (minus a few paragraphs, and plus several typos) are available to Skeptics members for $20, postage included.

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