Understanding Food and Nutrition, and Choosing Well

How did you decide what to have for dinner last night? What different entrees and side dishes did you consider? What influenced your decision to eat what you did? Interesting questions, don’t you think? Most of us go through life making all kinds of important decisions, including what to eat, without ever really thinking very much about exactly how we are making those choices.

Truth is, most Americans eat what other Americans eat. We are heavily influenced by our surroundings and, as a group, we tend to eat what’s common, easy, available and engineered to taste good. That’s a big part of why many Americans are overweight and unhealthy. If you want to avoid that fate, you’ll need to learn to eat differently.

You can start by understanding the nature of food and especially the food choices that we face in the market today. Simply stated, we’re not eating our grandfathers’ food anymore. With the rise of industrial farming and the big food industry, there has been a fundamental shift in the very nature of our food supply.

Michael Pollan has written two excellent books on this topic, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, and I recommend that you read them both. This will give you a good view of how the food industry works. Not surprisingly, as you might expect with any big business, most food products are designed to maximize profits rather than nutrition and the health of the customer. Mr. Pollan calls for  us to get back to basic foodstuffs and to eat more vegetables. I find it to be good and practical advice. His pithy summary is “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Two other books I like are Eat Drink and Be Healthy by Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard Medical School and Eat to Live by Dr Joel Furman. Eat Drink and Be Healthy is a practical and science-based but very readable book. It’s no surprise that Dr. Willett’s basic message is also that we need to consume more vegetables and complex carbohydrates and less meat and junk food.

Eat to Live, on the other hand, is written in the style of popular self-help and diet books. Yet the advice is solid and comes with practical schedules and meal plans. Dr. Furman explains how his diet plan can be used to treat and reverse lifestyle disease, which is an important message. I think he’s spot on. If you were ready to lose weight and could only read one of these books, this would be the one.

But why not read them all? Taken together, these four books represent about 95% of what you need to know about food, nutrition and eating a healthy diet. You can purchase the lot of them for less than $50. Then you’ll need to carve out a few days or weeks for reading them, but aren’t you worth the investment? Yes you are.