Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, one aspiring ambition I’ve had is to become a healthier person, both physically and mentally. One aspect of this ambition has been learning more about nutrition and how to eat healthier. With this in mind, I would like to share and recommend a few books I have recently read about food and nutrition, as well as highlight some similar titles in our library collection.
How to Eat: All Your Food and Diet Questions Answered by Mark Bittman & David L. Katz (2020)
Written in a Q&A format, this book essentially reads as a conversation between renowned food writer Mark Bittman and physician and health expert David L. Katz as they answer a myriad of health questions pertaining to food and nutrition. A sampling of these questions include the following:
- Why do I crave salty foods?
- Which is better, diet soda or the real thing?
- Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
- What is the microbiome?
This title is primarily broken down into sections detailing specific diets, such as the Mediterranean, Paleo, Keto, and Whole30 diets; dietary patterns and lifestyle; foods and ingredients; and basics about nutrition. While it was interesting to learn about several popular diets, one key takeaway for me was simply how they defined “diets” themselves: a lifestyle, or a dietary pattern that can be maintained in the long term. I admit, whenever I think of “dieting,” I think of a food regimen to engage in for a limited period of time to achieve a certain result before reverting back to “normal” eating habits, so this definition definitely provided a helpful perspective.
In addition to detailed information about diets and dietary patterns, Bittman and Katz also dive into information about several types of foods, as well as how their nutrients affect your body and overall health. An enlightening aspect of these sections for me was the authors’ framework of considering the “forest for the trees” when thinking about the impact of eating any given food, or acknowledging the food as a whole rather than obsessing over each and every nutrient within it. I personally tend to get stuck in the weeds when reading nutrition labels and, while it is still important to know what exactly is in your food, Bittman and Katz emphasize appreciating the overall benefits of the whole food as you work to improve your diet.
While I found that a little bit of background knowledge was needed at times during this read, I learned so much from this book and essentially read it in one sitting. I would highly recommend this for anyone looking to dip their toes into information about general food and nutrition.
Filled with a plethora of information and interspersed with colorful graphics and images, this title considers ways in which we can make more conscious food choices in our lives. Sophie Egan, a renowned food and health journalist, as well as the former Director of Health and Sustainability Leadership at The Culinary Institute of America, contends there are three questions we should ask ourselves when making decisions about food:
- Is it good for you?
- Is it good for others?
- Is it good for the planet?
These questions are asked throughout the entire book as Egan dives into four main areas of “stuff” to consider: stuff that comes from the ground, stuff that comes from animals, stuff that comes from factories, and stuff made in restaurant kitchens. Within each of these sections are several short, accessible chapters designed to help readers consciously make healthier choices, especially for the next time you go to the grocery store.
One aspect of this title separating it from the others in this post is Egan’s deep dive into the background, context, and processing of food. While this isn’t the first time I have tried to consciously eat healthier in my life, this is admittedly the first time I have truly stopped to consider the process of how the food on my plate gets there. These considerations span from water and carbon footprints; to animal, environmental, and social welfare; to the larger impact current practices have on our planet, especially those contributing to global warming. Not only was I enlightened by this knowledge, but also disheartened and disturbed by the ways in which the food industry works.
Overall, this is a solid read if you are looking for not only ways to eat healthier, but also to learn more about the bigger picture when it comes to food practices. I would also recommend this to anyone interested in the overall intersection of food, health, and climate in today’s world.
How to Be Well: The 6 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life by Frank Lipman (2018)
While this title also includes information about nutrition and how to adopt healthier dietary patterns, bestselling author and doctor Frank Lipman takes a more holistic approach to wellness in general, encouraging the consideration of six “rings” to achieve a happier and healthier life: how to eat, sleep, move, protect, unwind, and connect. This approach, termed by Lipman as the Good Medicine Mandala, essentially puts you at the center of these rings and considers how changes made in each of these rings can, in turn, create healthier changes in other areas of your life. Divided into six primary sections devoted to these topics, Lipman presents practical ways in which we can improve the ways we eat, sleep, move, protect, unwind, and connect with easy-to-digest scientific background information.
While this book may not be as comprehensive on nutritional topics as the former two titles, it isn’t really meant to be; I would argue this is a major perk of the book! By engaging in the six different rings, Lipman introduces a diverse spectrum of topics beyond just nutrition, ultimately giving readers multifaceted options to improve their overall health. (On this note, it is important to mention that readers do not need to read this book all the way through or in order to benefit from its content.) There is also a really neat shorthand section at the end of the book noting and cross-referencing content in the text about what you can do to help yourself in certain scenarios, such as when you are frequently overwhelmed and anxious, always tired, or want to lose weight.
One overarching takeaway from this book for me was considering Lipman’s multiple metaphors for how the rings essentially work together to create healthy change. He illustrates the integration of the rings in three ways: (1) as an archery target, in which you practice your aim and allow your arrows to touch the rings you most wish to improve upon; (2) as the rings of a tree trunk, in which the rings form and evolve as it grows; and (3) as a ripple on a pond that spreads from a single pebble, in which one change you make will impact all of the other aspects of your life in a healthy way. In all of these scenarios, Lipman depicts how one small change today can lead to larger and more significant changes for your life tomorrow. So what better time to start getting healthy than today?
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a more holistic way to tackle wellness (rather than exclusively focusing on nutrition), or for anyone who is looking for a blueprint of small actions to engage in to start their journey to wellness.
Read-Alikes available at the Davenport Public Library
If you enjoy any or all of these titles, here are some other similar reads in our collection that may interest you!