Nutrition is a big and complex subject but if you care about your health, want to lose fat or just want to maintain your current weight, it really helps to know a little about the food you eat.
In my Nutrition Guide I touch on a variety of nutrition subjects but I only really scratch the surface of what food science is all about. I go into a little more depth in other articles such as You Are What You Eat – something many of us have heard before but might not truly understand.
In my article Learning the Nutrition Basics Can Help You Lose Weight I also discuss why knowing more about nutrition can lead to faster and easier weight loss. Spoiler alert – knowing how food affects your body makes it easier to choose the right foods for weight loss and avoid the foods that cause weight gain.
I’m no nutrition expert but I am an avid reader and study nutrition all the time. It’s very rare that I’m not reading a book about nutrition so I can learn even more and then pass what I have discovered on to you. I’ve read dozens of nutrition books over the last few years and people often ask me which one is the best. That is a hard question to answer! So, with that in mind, here are THREE of my favorite nutrition books which I have reviewed so you can discover which book is best for you.
1. Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies
by Frances Sizer and Ellie Whitney
Some nutrition books are almost like novels in that you read them from start to finish and then discard them, never to re-read them again. This is NOT one of those books! Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies, available at Amazon.com, is really a text book of everything relating to nutrition and at over 850 pages thick, it’s almost biblical in proportions.
Concepts and Controversies covers a huge array of information – a real A to Z of nutrition. It includes a lot of science but that science is very accessible and explained extremely clearly. It starts at a very basic level and then gets more complex as your level of learning increases. In many ways, this book is like going to a nutrition class!
Each important nutrition topic gets its own clearly defined chapter so you can easily pinpoint the information you are looking for. Chapters include:
- Food choices and human health
- Carbohydrates, starch, sugar and fiber
- Proteins and amino acids
- Energy balance and healthy body weight
- Diet and health
- Life cycle nutrition: mother and baby
Each chapter is broken down into bite-size sections dealing with subsections of the main topic which makes all the information very easy to read. You’ll also find little snippets of practical information throughout the book such as how food and exercise are related or why women crave certain foods during pregnancy; really interesting stuff.
At the end of the book you’ll find a really useful glossary of words and terminology so you can easily look up anything you didn’t quite understand and the appendix is loaded with useful tools and resources to make putting the information in the book into action as easy as possible.
So why do I like this book? Basically, it’s a very good resource on all things relating to nutrition. If you have a question about food, weight loss, or health, you’ll probably find the answer in Concepts and Controversies. The authors, Frances Sizer and Ellie Whitney, are nutrition experts and teach in universities so you know what they have written is accurate and truthful. This is the 13th edition of the book so you know that it’s good as it has been around (and updated) for many years.
If I have one bad thing to say about this book, it’s that it’s almost too in-depth sometimes and you might have to read several pages just to find the answer to what might have been a simple question. It’s a book to study and not one to just dip into now and then.
The other downside of this book is it’s pretty expensive at $240 although you can get used copies for less than $35. I do think it’s worth the money though because it will probably be the only book on nutrition you’ll ever need to buy. Available at Amazon.com.
2. How Not to Die
Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease
by Michael Greger and Gene Stone
How Not to Die, available at Amazon.com, is a pretty shocking title for a book but it’s accurate because many of the foods we eat are slowly killing us! Everything you eat either effects how your body works or becomes part of you and if the food you eat is unhealthy, you’ll become unhealthy too. Processed foods, too much salt, too much sugar, chemicals and trans fats are all very bad for your body and while they don’t kill you immediately, they will probably get you in the end.
This concept is the basic premise of How Not to Die. The authors are doctors who see every day how bad food choices affect the health and longevity of their patients. This isn’t just a book full of anecdotes from a couple of well-meaning physicians though; all their recommendations and claims are backed by research and up-to-the-minute studies. You won’t find any faddy diets or crazy food ideas in this book!
The book itself is broken down into two parts. Part one details various medical conditions (that’ll ultimately kill you) and how to eat to avoid them. If you have a family history of heart disease, for example, just turn to that chapter and read all about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid to prevent becoming another casualty of this disease.
Other medical conditions covered include:
- Lung diseases
- Digestive cancers
- High blood pressure
- Liver diseases
- Brain diseases
- Parkinson’s disease
Part two discusses the power and benefits of various healthy foods – what many of us refer to as superfoods. In this section you’ll find valuable information about an array of foods and how to use them including:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices
There is also a brief but interesting chapter about exercise as well as a good discussion on the merits and uses of nutritional supplements which I found especially fascinating.
I like this book because it’s really easy to look things up. For example, if you want to know more about the power of herbs and spices, just go to page 350. Need to know what to eat to reduce your chances of developing breast cancer? Head over to page 178. Unlike some books, you don’t need to read How Not to Die from cover to cover (although you can if you want to). Instead you can just dip in and out and use it as an easy reference manual.
This book is very good value and costs $16.49 in hardcover or $10.29 in softcover. Weighing in at over 550 pages, this is great value for money. I like this book but it’s less of general nutrition guide and more of a guide to eating to avoid specific medical conditions. That being said, if you care about your health, this is a very good and interesting book. Available at Amazon.com.
3. Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition
by T. Colin Campbell and Howard Jacobson
People have been studying how food effects our bodies for about as long as we’ve been eating it! Thousands of years ago we discovered that you are what you eat and the food you eat effects everything from your weight to your health to your mood. This thing is, concepts and ideas change over time and what we once knew about nutrition is not always still true today.
For many years we were taught that certain foods and food groups were bad or unhealthy and others were good. The food pyramid was based on a very specific type of thinking. More recently, these beliefs have been challenged and more and more food experts are coming to the conclusion that a lot of what we think about food and nutrition isn’t quite right.
For example, for over 60 years we’ve been told that saturated fats are highly unhealthy and, as a result, the food industry has promoted low fat and reduced fat foods. Now, it seems, saturated fat is not as bad as we thought and in fact it’s sugar that is the main danger to health. Ironically, many low fat foods are high in sugar which is why cutting fat ended up doing very little for the health of the population!
Needless to say this thinking is a little controversial as it goes against what is still considered the mainstream approach to nutrition but in Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition the authors explain clearly and in an easy to read way why a lot of what we used to think is no longer true and what new research is revealing about what we should and shouldn’t eat.
In many ways, this book is part nutrition book and part detective thriller. The authors discuss how many of our misunderstandings of nutrition have come about and why a lot of this information has been so slow to emerge and change. It’s not all sensationalist ranting about the food industry though – it also contains very valuable information on what to eat and why. The underlying food recommendations in this book are to eat more whole, natural foods and steer clear of processed food that is laden with unhealthy chemicals and the rationale behind this recommendation is backed by science – lots of science.
This book is best suited as a cover-to-cover read – you can’t really dip in and out of it like you might with other nutrition books. It’s an expose of the food industry and helps to explain why many of the foods we eat are unhealthy and what to eat instead. It’s a little heavy going in places and labors the point that much of what we think about nutrition is wrong but it does help explain why the modern diet is so unhealthy and what to eat instead.
Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition is good value for money at $15.94 but is not the most complete nutrition book you could buy. It covers a very specific view of nutrition well but if you want a more general book, you might want to look elsewhere. That being said, it is a fascinating and interesting read. Available at Amazon.com.
Which book is right for you?
If you want an encyclopedia of nutrition information, my best recommendation is Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies by Frances Sizer and Ellie Whitney. It really is an A-Z of nutrition and you’ll probably find that you dip into it any time you need to brush up on your nutrition knowledge. It IS expensive but you can get around this by picking up a used copy.
If you are specifically interested in avoiding illness and diseases, How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease is a brilliant read and will allow you to modify your diet to maximize your health. You may, however, find that only a couple of chapters are useful to you although the section on superfoods is awesome. It’s also good value for money.
Finally, if you are interested in the most modern nutrition concepts and how thinking on food has changed in the last few years, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell and Howard Jacobson is a great read. This is less of a nutrition book and more a scientific investigation on how unhealthy modern food has become. If nothing else, it will confirm that natural whole foods should make up most of your diet. This book is also good value for money though not as thick or comprehensive as How Not to Die.
The more you learn about nutrition, the easier it will be to lose weight and eat healthily. Nutrition IS a big subject but learning more about it makes choosing the right foods much easier because you’ll understand how the food you eat directly effects your body.