Monte, in his debut, details the dangers of aspartame, an artificial sweetener whose consumption, he claims, leads to “diseases of civilization,” such as autism, lupus, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
The author, who holds a doctorate and master’s degree in food science and nutrition and a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, has spent his career educating the public about food safety, specifically the dangers of methanol. Readers may recall from their high school science classes that there are two types of alcohols: ethanol, the type that’s safe to consume, and methanol, or wood-grain alcohol, which, although present in many foods in trace amounts, is extremely toxic in large quantities. Monte writes that aspartame, the artificial sweetener found in Diet Coke, among other products, turns into methanol when consumed, and it’s his “ardent belief that diseases of civilization are the consequence of long-term consumption of methanol, a poison whose most damaging effects are specific to humans.” Diet soda and cigarettes are the most common methanol sources, but the chemical is also present in canned fruits and vegetables, black currant and tomato juices, smoked meats and fish, and fruit brandy, among other foodstuffs. Overall, the author delivers a thoroughly researched text with clearly presented information, even for readers with a minimal science background. Perhaps due to his lengthy tenure as a professor at Arizona State University, Monte is particularly skilled at using analogies to explain biological processes in terms comprehensible to lay readers. He also includes several helpful explanatory tables, charts and illustrations. Readers may find it frustrating, however, that the book’s citations aren’t in the book itself, but only on an outside website; although it’s nice to have links to the relevant articles, it would have been helpful to have the references available in the text (particularly for readers without Internet access) to check where information came from. Also, the book occasionally takes odd turns for a science text, as in “The Mutation of Eve,” which puts forth a theory about how the mutation that prevents humans from safely ingesting methanol occurred: “Please bear with me as I weave a little yarn of how the mutation might have happened. I chose to call this unknown woman, whose child would become the mother of all modern humans, Eve.”
A comprehensively researched, if occasionally uneven, text with far-reaching, unnerving conclusions.