Annual Book Review: 2015

0

We’re in the holiday season and that means gift giving is in full swing! I think books are a great gift for someone you care about… or even for yourself. Reading a book is also a great way to spend down time over the holidays.

Since you might be looking for a gift idea or something to read while snuggled up on the couch these winter months, here are my recommendations for this year.

Cookbooks

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (Sally Fallon)

When I first started cleaning up my diet and learning how to cook for true nourishment, I bought this cookbook and have used it consistently for about 14 years. Not only are there recipes for everything from homemade clarified butter and bone broth to duck confit and kasha nut loaf (for vegetarians), Sally Fallon includes loads of nutrition information that’s based on our real food history and not Big Food craziness. As well, this book is well made… as evidenced by the fact that mine is still holding together despite the food stains, water-wrinkled pages, loads of writing and overuse of paperclips as page markers.

 

Vegetables Every Day (Jack Bishop)

This is my go to cookbook when I am trying to figure out what sides to put with my protein for dinner. Jack Bishop has recipes for every vegetable from potatoes to malanga. Some of them are complicated (for those times that you have a bit more time and are feeling adventurous), but most are pretty simple and are easily made on a weeknight. And, he tells you what proteins go well with each recipe. Bonus: He includes the best time of year to buy each vegetable so you can eat seasonally and how to store them to keep them fresh as long as possible. Sweet!

Nutrition-related Advice

Anticancer: A New Way of Life (David Servan-Schreiber)

David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD, is a neuroscientist who found out he had brain cancer by scanning his own brain when a research subject didn’t show up for an appointment. He followed the conventional treatment path and the cancer went into remission, only to return a few years later.

It was at that point that he began studying the research related to food and cancer. What he found was that there is plenty of evidence that food, lifestyle and mind-body interventions work at preventing cancer or slowing its growth. This book is a result of his desire to share his knowledge and experience with the rest of us.

Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s book explains the science behind how it works (including some additional information about angiogenesis) and includes a 16 page “Anticancer Action” guide. He tells us which foods to eat in general and for specific cancers, how to reduce our chemical exposure, what kind and how much exercise to do, and why the mind-body connection matters to our ability to fight cancer

I really love this book because Dr. Servan-Schreiber lets us into his and other cancer patients’ stories. In the process, he educates and empowers us so we can make choices that can prevent us from getting cancer or fight it as best we can, should we ever receive such a diagnosis.

 

Grain Brain (David Perlmutter)

This book is packed with great information about physiology and really gets into why our concerns about blood cholesterol and dietary fat are likely misplaced. After all, researchers have failed time and again to connect consumption of saturated fat or cholesterol to elevated levels of blood cholesterol and heart disease.

David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM, also provides extensive information about the correlation between increased carbohydrate intake and increased chronic disease ranging from diabetes to depression. I was shocked to read this statistic: “In 1994, when the American Diabetes Association recommended that Americans should consume 60 to 70 percent of their calories from carbohydrates, [the] rates of diabetes exploded.  In fact, the number of cases of diabetes in this country actually doubled between 1997 and 2007.” I promise it is not presented to us like that when we are studying nutrition!

My only concern with this book is that it is not as well written as I would like and some people may feel like it is too “science-y” or that they are missing some information that would help them really understand what’s going on. (I had to draw from my knowledge of physiology and biochemistry to get through some of it.)

That being said, if you are looking to understand how more carbohydrates and less fat are impacting our brains and other parts of our bodies, this book is a must read.

 

The Hormone Cure (Sara Gottfried)

Sara Gottfried, MD, is a gynecologist who decided to take a closer look at how diet and lifestyle impact hormonal health when she realized that she just felt bad on a daily basis. Her energy was low, she had terrible PMS, she was mildly depressed, she suffered from night sweats… and she was only in her 30s. The Hormone Cure is about the program she developed for herself originally and has been using for years to help her patients find hormonal happiness.

I love this book! Dr. Gottfried uses a very approachable tone, without dumbing down the science. In fact, she takes the time to explain how all these hormones work, while also giving the reader permission to skip the science and go straight to the cure.

And, of course, my favorite part about the book is that she gives a three step approach to healing… with step #1 always being food and lifestyle adjustments.

If you are a woman between 35 and 50 (i.e, the age when perimenopause happens), I encourage you to read this book so that you will understand what is or will happen in your body. As well, so that you will have hope that the transition into menopause can be done with ease and you can be vibrant through the process!

 

The Immune System Recovery Plan (Susan Blum)

Although the title implies that it is only for people with some type of autoimmune disease or immune compromised condition, the information can really be used by anyone who is interested in eating for a healthy immune system (which is all of us, I think!).

Susan Blum, MD, MPH, outlines a 4-step plan that includes assessments for each area followed by a 3-tier treatment program and recipes applicable for that step.  The 4 steps are:

  1. Identifying food sensitivities via an elimination diet
  2. Fixing stress-related causes of fatigue and other symptoms
  3. Healing the digestive tract and re-establishing a healthy microbiome
  4. Supporting the liver and ensuring its detoxification pathways are in top working order

Dr. Blum does an excellent job of explaining the science behind each area of potential problems and why the solutions will help to resolve the issue.  Her self-assessment worksheets help the reader understand the extent to which each step may be contributing to any illness or disease.  And the 3-tiered treatment plans mean anybody can make at least some progress toward improving his or her own health.

I really loved this book. However, I can see how some people might be intimidated by the amount of time to complete the program.  (It could take 4 – 6 months to do all of the steps from beginning to end.)  As well, doing tiers 2 and 3 of each treatment plan can get expensive as tier 2 involves multiple high quality supplements and tier 3 involves some specialty lab testing.  I firmly believe that high quality supplements are necessary in many situations and specialty testing is a great idea sometimes; I’m just not sure that all readers would feel comfortable doing these tiers based solely on what’s in the book (so keep that in mind in deciding who this book is appropriate for.)

Overall, this is a thoroughly educational read that I would recommend to anyone who really wants to understand the science and is willing to embark on a longish-term, comprehensive approach to improving many aspects of his or her health.

 

What the Fork are You Eating? (Stefanie Sacks)

Are you confused about what to buy because of the ridiculous number of products at the store? Do you wonder if you should really be worried about some of those totally foreign substances on the box’s ingredients list? Have you ever wanted someone to spell out exactly which brands to buy for your health and socially conscious mind?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then this is the book for you! This book is a step-by-step guide for your kitchen and the grocery store that starts by detailing what ingredients are, what food labels mean, and how to navigate the bazillion items we encounter on grocery store shelves. It then lays forth an action plan to properly stock your pantry, fridge and freezer and to make-over your meals to get you on the road to better health.

Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN, not only has a fabulous name :), she is an awesome balance of knowledge, compassion and no-nonsense… just like her book. When I met Stefanie earlier this year, I was struck by her sincere desire to help people use food to their advantage (you know I love that message!), while also acknowledging that eating is a mine field of emotions, deeply personal connections, and Big Food shenanigans.

I asked Stefanie why she wrote WTF, and this is what she said:

“After being asked to contribute to several books, and many clients and students pushing me to write a book, I realized that there is great value in what I know about food and how to navigate food to support health. My goal with What The Fork was to help readers understand (in a practical, digestible manner) that they have a choice when it comes to nourishment. And edible education is possible. Ultimately I want the nutrition neophyte or maven to feel good about what they can do versus what they can’t. Everyone has a different starting point and honoring that is the beginning of sustainable health.”

Wow! She is smart, caring and experienced… and all of that comes out in this big ol’ book of food-related helpfulness. Really, check it out.

Food-related

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ (Giulia Enders)

Because my best friend knows that I love talking and writing about the gut, our microbiome and bowel movements, she sent me Gut.

Giulia Enders’ fascination with one of the body’s most important organs (at least to her and me) developed while she was in medical school. She realized there was lots of research being done on the connection between the gut, the brain and the immune system, but very few people had heard this important information… including medical doctors!

The result is her international bestseller that is packed with details about how our digestive system actually works from mouth to tail-end; the way the nervous system that is our intestines (sometimes called “the little brain”) controls many of our bodily functions and feelings; and the good, bad and ugly about our microbiome (from how it develops over our lifetime to how we can keep it balanced).

The best part is that, even though it is technically accurate and informative, Enders takes a very approachable writing style that can even help tweens and teenagers understand the interworkings of the digestive track. Plus, her sister provides silly cartoon drawings throughout the book to keep the whole mood light-hearted.

 

Sugar, Salt, Fat (Michael Moss)

At the recommendation of a friend, I read this book and have to admit I wasn’t nearly as angry at the Big Food companies as I thought I would be before I started reading it. This is either a sign that I’m a capitalist (I am a fan of making money, after all, just like these food companies) or that I’ve matured enough to know that I still have control over my body regardless of what Big Food chooses to do.

Moss does an excellent job of explaining why processed food contains such ridiculous amounts of these three ingredients. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that processed food tastes terrible (terms like “metallic”, “bitter”, “carboard”, and “wet dog hair” were all used). So, in order to get us to buy their products, Big Food companies have to shove in large amounts of salt, sugar and fat to both mask the terrible tastes and deliver the right amount of pleasure to our brains such that we will want to eat (i.e., buy) more.

Big Food is a business and they are trying to make as much money as they can… and the way they make money is to get us to buy their products. They have incredibly intelligent scientists and psychologists working for them to ensure their foods hit our “bliss point” and their advertising gives us permission to eat the foods that we are hesitant to eat because we logically know they are not good for us. (One former Frito-Lay employee even quantified it by saying, “Every time a consumer is making a decision to buy the snack, if Resistance is greater than Reward, there would simply be no Purchase.”)

For me this book reaffirmed my belief that Big Food companies are there to make a profit for their bosses and their shareholders, not to ensure my health and well-being (that’s my job). As well, it reminded me that government guidelines on nutrition are terribly outdated and incredibly influenced by input from Big Food companies. (For example, how can their nutritional guidelines tell us to reduce our consumption of saturated fat while they are subsidizing both the beef and dairy industries?)

Moss summed up my thoughts perfectly when, after saying that Big Food companies are looking for ways to improve their products’ nutritional status so long as it doesn’t impact their sales or profits, he concludes, “In the meantime, only we can save us.” This book is a great read for anyone who doesn’t understand what they are eating in those bags, boxes and cans.

 

What’s Your Poo Telling You? (Josh Richman, Anish Sheth)

If you’re looking for something really short and primarily entertaining with some medical information thrown in about the very end of the digestive system, check out Josh Richman’s and Dr. Anish Sheth’s What’s Your Poo Telling You?.

This silly little book is separated by types of poo (like the “Ring of Fire” and “The Green Goblin”) with full descriptions of each and Dr. Stool’s recommendations for what (if anything) you need to do when you experience these various stool types.

Looking at your poo before you flush may seem weird, but trust me, it can tell you a lot about how well your body is handling the food that you’re putting in your mouth. And that is valuable information since I know you’re trying to effectively feed your body and mind. (Plus, if you have little kids, this can be a funny way to introduce them to the importance of having consistent bowel movements!)

Other

Flight Behavior (Barbara Kingsolver)

In Kingsolver’s book, the Monarch butterflies have deviated from their normal migratory pattern and end up spending the winter in the Appalachian mountains, rather than their normal locale in Mexico.  When researchers arrive in the small town to figure out why these butterflies have suddenly changed their behavior, the locals are forced to consider whether they feel lucky that such beautiful creatures would spend time in their town or if it’s not beautiful at all because it is an indication of a bigger, more holistic problem with the environment.

Although this is certainly not a nutrition book, it made me think about the reality we must face as it relates to our food supply, especially here in the US.  We know more about keeping the body healthy than we ever have, and yet the number of diseases (like heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases) continues to increase.  We have more food available to us than we know what to do with, but we seem to be less satisfied than ever.  Food companies tout the health-benefits of their products, but we are continuously learning how the additives, preservatives, emulsifiers, etc in them are slowly harming us over time.

I hope that at some point everyone will consider that what we have been told and thought to be true about our food supply may not be.  And that the signs clearly displayed before us in expanding waistlines and increased health concerns are a wake up call for us all to seriously consider the impact our food is having on us… even the “little” ways like the few extra pounds we can’t lose, inability to sleep soundly and lack of energy.

 

Food: A Love Story (Jim Gaffigan)

Jim Gaffigan is a comedian known for talking about food in his stand-up shows. I didn’t know this before reading the book, but apparently he gained some notoriety when, in the 90s, he added to his routine a bit about the absurdity of Hot Pockets (which sounded to him like a euphemism for a sexual disorder).

Gaffigan starts by explaining why he’s writing a book about food, including a chapter about the fact that he is an “eatie” and not a “foodie.” (Ha!) He then goes on to describe various aspects of our diets from regional differences (do you live in “Seabugland”, “Super Bowl Sunday Foodland” or “Food Anxietyland”?!) to why nobody actually likes vegetables to his favorite foods (doughnuts and everything bagels seem to be the winners here).

Although he sometimes makes a very poignant point about how we eat (example: “There are diet programs where all your meals are mailed to your home. How absurd. We can’t be trusted to go out and buy the food we know we should eat.”), I had to remind myself a few times that it’s a comedy book and I shouldn’t take most of his advice or observations seriously.

You’ll notice this book is in my “Others” section because it’s not meant to help you make more informed decisions about your food choices. That being said, I recommend this book if you like eating and food and want to laugh about the craziness of it all. If you have a beach to lay on while reading it (as I did), even better!

 

Any nutrition or food related books you think I should be checking out in 2016? Tell me about it in the comments so I can get them on my list.

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click and then purchase, I will receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for reading and supporting Nutrition. QED.

Previous Post Next Post