Nutrition intro
July 31, 2012 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I know next to nothing about nutrition. Help!

I started doing more and eating less recently.

Is there a good, easy to read short book on nutrition based on scientific fact, rather than personal recommendations? Covering what foods do what, and why. Getting rid of myths and concentrating on up-to-date evidence based information?

(This eight year old question seems to be what I'm looking for: "Updated, skeptic, scientific nutrition & exercise guides?").
posted by devnull to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
No lie,'s nutrition section is pretty terrific.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 7:43 AM on July 31, 2012

As corny as it seems, I like Dr. Oz's books. He explains things really well and has the latest science to back up what he tells people.

You On a Diet is a good place to start.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2012

A nutrition textbook might be better than a book that recommends a certain way to eat. Just do a Metafilter search for Gary Taubes* and you'll see how controversial some of the diet and nutrition science books and authors are -- it seems that for every one of his supporters that quotes a study that supports his position, there's someone else that quotes a study that doesn't support it, or explains why the studies mentioned are flawed.

Also, this might be more related to forums and blogs, but people seem to like to make generalizations based on study results without considering that people have different bodies and different goals, like thinking that what might be optimal for a body builder also applies to someone who is obese. An example of that is the idea that eating below your BMR is a sure-fire way to lower your metabolism. Proponents of that idea usually quote the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, where the metabolism of the participants did slow down, but only temporarily and only once they got down to near 0% body fat.

*I've never read his stuff, and have no opinion on him, I was just using him as an example because he seems very polarizing.
posted by amarynth at 7:50 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have been experimenting with eating Paleo, or "caveman" style for the past few months, and I feel better than I ever have before - which could also be due in part to exercise, but a lot of random stomach and gastrointestinal issues have completely cleared up. I have more energy than I have EVER had (I once thought I could have had hypothyroidism). I attribute it to my diet.

Paleo seems hard, and it is rather restrictive in what you can eat. However, I find that the more time passes, the less I miss grains and sweets, and the more I come to savor unadulterated meals.

If you're interested, this blog post is chock full of Paleo information, links to studies and sources, and accomplishes a whole lot of debunking. It's really long though.

I'm about halfway through this 9 part series by Chris Kresser, and have found it to be pretty informative.

Even if you don't necessarily believe the "our bodies haven't evolved to process grains" theory, one can't deny that eating whole, unprocessed/unadulterated foods like meats, veggies, fruits, and nuts (really the only things you can trust to be processed as little as possible) is a massive upgrade on the standard American diet.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 7:58 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

The entire nutrition field is so, so controversial. Even stuff as basic as "is fruit good for you?" and "should we eat grains?" is heavily debated. Almost every source I have found is biased in one way or another.

One blog that is evidence-based and, crucially, not actually tied to a One True Way To Eat: Weighty Matters, written by a doctor (not a surgeon) in Canada. Start with his eating tag for some good basics and to get a feel for the site. He covers strategies for healthier eating, bad advertising by food companies, basic nutrition, and ongoing research into nutrition and health.

I also really like Stephan Guyenet's Whole Health Source and Denise Minger's Raw Food SOS (which is about much more than raw foods). They're both more technical, but definitely a good read, and they're also both much more open to reading the studies and interpreting them without bias than most food/nutrition bloggers are.
posted by pie ninja at 8:03 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gary Taubes's Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It was the first book I read that explained in fairly simple terms how the food a person eats gets turned into fat (which is a narrower focus than nutrition in general). For that reason I found it fascinating. (Amarynth is correct that Taubes is a polarizing figure, but for what it's worth, his arguments fit my personal experience.)
posted by sallybrown at 8:06 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A little out of date, but the basics hold: Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating by Walter C. Willett M.D.. It might be a little longer than you are interested in, but you can easily skip the evidence and explanation and just read the conclusions. There's also this summary online.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:06 AM on July 31, 2012

Lyle McDonald has written several books on specific diet-related subjects, but the free articles available on his site give a very good overview of a lot of nutrition basics.

And while he's written an entire volume about low-carb and ketogenic diets (the most popular diet fads at the moment), he discusses them in a sensible, reality-based fashion and doesn't prescribe a single approach for all situations, unlike many writers who are quasi-religious about their chosen diet (e.g. lots of low-carb/paleo/Atkins/keto/Taubes acolytes).

I also agree with pie ninja re Whole Health Source.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:16 AM on July 31, 2012

Seconding Gary Taube's "Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It." If you have any biochemistry background, get his more-in-depth book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories."

Polarizing though he may be, he has the data and facts to back up his claims.
posted by imagineerit at 8:17 AM on July 31, 2012

Most important thing: know that anyone who claims to have "the whole truth" regarding nutrition is full of crap. The state of nutrition today is kinda like the state of genetics was two decades ago - we have some fundamental knowledge, and we're improving, but it's still VERY much a developing field and NOTHING is a sure thing.

That being said: the one thing on which almost ALL diets (from vegan to paleo and back again!) seem to agree on is this: the fewer steps in between your food's base state and your mouth, the better. Processing destroys all sorts of good things in food and concentrates their calories in a harmful way (it's way easier to eat white flour than it is to eat whole wheat kernels, right?). So no matter what you eat, you'll be making an immediate improvement by cooking/eating foods that are as unprocessed as possible (whole grains, whole cuts of meat, fresh fruit and veg, etc).
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:21 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with the folks here that say that nutrition is controversial. And for good reason - it is a highly complex field. Just to give you an example, here's a question that people have been trying to answer for 50 years - is fat good for you?

You'll get myriads of answer. From a simple "yes" to "no, but...." depending on who you talk to. (Ok - maybe the percentage of people that says yes or no unequivocally is near zero. But you get the point)

I can't give you recommendation on books on nutrition. But one book I've found incredibly helpful in forming a good attitude towards eating is Michael Pollan's "In defense of food"
julthumbscrew's post above is more or less the meat of the book - Eat food. Whatever it is. Dozens of variety of diets (ranging from all meat diet to all veggie diet) across the globe show that humans are incredibly adaptable to whatever food you choose to consume. Except one - the frankenfood that is western diet.
posted by 7life at 8:49 AM on July 31, 2012

If your ultimate goal is weight loss, here are two resources that might be helpful:

The largest-ever (as of 2009) controlled study of weight-loss methods, which found that "[r]educed-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize." (NEJM, NY Times)

The National Weight Control Registry, which tracks "over 10,000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for long periods of time." (Facts, Published Findings)
posted by amarynth at 9:06 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

The very best book about nutrition I have read in the last few years is What to Eat, by Marion Nestle. She is a nutrition professor at NYU. The book is clear, amusing, discusses all the things you find in your local supermarket, and is packed with a lifetime's worth of research and also copious common sense.

Lots of basic information, plus she covers just about every nutrition controversy I've heard of, giving her own opinion but also enough background for you to make up your own mind. She touches on ecology, politics, regulation and food safety too. I have been thinking about re-reading this book myself and can't recommend it enough.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 1:13 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nearly 100% of the nutrition sites on the web are quackery or outright fraud. Trust only sites like the Mayo Clinic.

If you're tempted by a site, check it at Quackwatch.
posted by KRS at 6:58 PM on July 31, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers. I chose the one answer that I found most helpful and marked that as best.
posted by devnull at 6:33 AM on August 3, 2012

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