End-to-end nutrition book
January 27, 2013 3:17 AM   Subscribe

I would like to finally find a routine I can follow to eat healthy during the week and I am looking for book recommendations. Unfortunately, most nutrition/cooking books are very one-sided (only contain recipes, only discuss cooking skills, or only nutrition theory) and very biased towards some radical approach (vegatarian/vegan, very low-carb, very high-protein etc.). I am looking for the opposite - ideally a single book for learning about nutrition, cooking and planning your groceries and cooking so all the good advice is actually actionable considering having a 40-hour workweek; also without going into any dietetic extremes and based on sound science and actual practice. Details inside.

I would like the following info:

A) balanced and evidence-based discussion of nutrition principles (again, I am not interested in going 100% vegetarian, very low-carb, very high-protein etc., I think the current consensus along reasonable people is something like: stick to unprocessed foods, avoid simple carbs, eat a lot of vegetables, eat some fish, eat a bit of meat; I am interested in something along those lines but more in detail)

B) reasonably easy recipes for healthy dishes (I have successfully cooked quite fancy dishes but I cannot afford to spend 20 hours a week for cooking)

c) advice on mastering basic cooking skills (knife-skills, methods of preparation like stir-frying and what not, here I even don't know what I don't know)

D) practical implementation advice, for example about organizing time for cooking in your weekly routine, cooking and storing food for a couple of days in advance etc. This is what I am especially interested in, I know a bit about A, B and a really tiny bit about C already, but have trouble putting it into practice because of lack of time.

I guess books covering at least three of the above points would already be really interesting.
posted by jarekr to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's going to be tough to find *one* book that does all of the above well. But, you might like The 400 Calorie Fix for looking at some basic nutrition info and some easy recipes and suggestions for ordering in a restaurant.

I like the Martha Stewart Everyday Food cookbooks for basic cooking skills (like how to boil an egg, substitions, etc.).

Do you have time to go to your library and get a couple books to cover your interests?
posted by shortyJBot at 4:23 AM on January 27, 2013

Ellen Satter's book Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family hits all of those points. It's geared toward getting kids to eat well but has lots of practical nutrition and meal planning info that would easily work for adults without kids ( you may need to scale down the recipes or plan to eat leftovers).
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 4:39 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

This might be crazy, but i think that what you're describing is actually closest to Weight Watchers. (It's all: eat lots of vegetables! eat balanced carbs and proteins! learn moderation and portion control when it comes to treats! Plan you meals! make homemade food! cook this whole-food recipe!)
posted by Kololo at 4:53 AM on January 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

The EatingWell books do a fair bit of this. We are huge fans of EatingWell Serves Two, and it devotes a fair bit of space to basic cooking skills, strategies to optimize shopping, storage, and cooking (aimed at cooking for only 2 people in this case), and nutrition info.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:01 AM on January 27, 2013

Cooking Light magazine is a great resource. It comes out monthly, has recipes like you describe, and articles about nutrition and cooking skills. It would be a good supplement to whatever books you find.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:48 AM on January 27, 2013

I have to add another--even though it's vegetarian and focused on organics, so more restrictions than you asked for, Wildly Affordable Organic has the most comprehensive guide to planning, shopping, cooking/prepping ahead, and cooking I have ever seen. Even if you don't want to follow all of her plans and added meat to the recipes, I find the plans themselves very helpful just for understanding how one goes about planning a week's worth of meals that take advantage of bulk purchasing and what's in season.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:27 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think The Whole 30 fits into what you're looking for. What you describe (unprocessed foods, avoid simple carbs, veggies and proteins) is a mostly Paleo approach. My caveat is that I haven't read The Whole 30 [I read this one], but I've heard good things about The Whole 30, and their website has a lot of the things you're looking for.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:48 AM on January 27, 2013

If Doublelune is right and paleo isn't too far out there, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig have a book called It Starts with Food that covers nutrition and has recipes. It' pretty basic (too basic for me, but I love to cook already.)

You also might want to check out The Perfect Health Diet book. It's a bit looser than Whole9/Whole30-style paleo (rice!) Their basic food pyramid/plate is an apple. I have not read their book, just their blog, so I don't know if their recipes are good or not.

For me, knowing what I should eat (that apple diagram I linked to) makes it easy for me to search out recipes around the web (or in my many cookbooks) based on what I have available.
posted by vespabelle at 8:32 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps How to Cook Everything?
posted by baby beluga at 8:49 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest It Starts With Food, too. The authors are aligned with the Paleo movement, but ultimately they're about minimally processed whole foods and optimizing nutritional value. They back up their suggestions with some pretty convincing science as well. That book has some meal planning and recipes, but you'd probably also want its companion, Melissa Joulwan's Well Fed cookbook; she's a follower of the Hartwigs' Whole30, and they wrote the prologue to her book. It's basically the recipes you need if you're going to buy in to their style of eating.
posted by katie at 9:08 AM on January 27, 2013

I was given a copy of Jackie Warner's This Is Why You're Fat as part of the research materials for a job I had. While both the title and the author are a bit ridiculous, and I wasn't even overweight when I read it, the dietary information in that book completely blew my mind and changed how I eat. She takes a really common sense, busy human approach to meal planning and working out, although she maybe focuses too much on weird workout supplements which I basically ignored.

I guess I should mention I'm not affiliated with her or the book in any way at this point.
posted by justjess at 9:15 AM on January 27, 2013

Practical Paleo has everything from basic nutrition advice to meal plans to cooking how-to's to recipes.

World's Healthiest Foods book and website.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:30 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

without going into any dietetic extremes and based on sound science and actual practice

I don't know that I have any great recommendations for you, but that's partly because of this statement. I'm a scientist. I 100% understand your wish not to get inundated with crappy diet advice. There's SO MUCH bullshit diet advice out there based on various attractive-sounding "philosophies" and belief systems that have nothing to do with actual biology/physiology and have not been verified by science... I know. Human health is incredibly complex and not necessarily intuitive in the way us human beings would like. I keep myself pretty up to date on the literature (spent about 3 hours yesterday catching up on the latest papers regarding DHA, for example), and I'm well aware of the constant ebb and flow of dietary opinion and advice.

This is a complicated issue. Some "extremes" such as vegetarianism (disclosure: I've been one for 20-ish years and extreme is really not how I'd categorize myself), veganism and "calorie-restricted optimal nutrition" are very well supported by the literature, actually. No eating plan is "the best" according to every possible metric that scientists uses to evaluate diets: cardiac health, longevity, cancer risk, obesity risk, ease of following, etc. You can go pretty deep down the rabbit hole trying to find the perfect diet that maximizes all of these things. What I'm trying to say is, I really don't think the book you want exists. You could absolutely buy Dean Ornish's book on the low-fat vegan diet, and you would be following advice which has a fair bit high-quality scientific evidence to back it up... but I doubt that's what you're looking for. The problem is that when scientists test diets, they of course have to test *a particular diet* as it relates to a particular condition or set of conditions. They can't modularly test every variable relevant to eating and nutrition one by one. That would be like testing how all medications affect all disease conditions, in every possible combination, at every possible schedule and time of day, etc. Not feasible. Of course, we can limit the field by excluding some conditions we know are harmful (diets missing essential vitamins, for example), but the field is still incredibly large.

One more point. "Everything in moderation" is an overall attitude helpful in many areas of health as you are clearly aware. It's not a bad way to go about things and I think it's a good guiding principle. I just think it's important not to get too attached to it as a belief ("everything is fine as long as I don't indulge too much") because there ARE things out there that we currently think are harmful even in quantities such as we might consume without obvious overindulgence, like mercury and trans fats and arsenic. It's also possible there are nutrients that are considerably more important, even essential, than we currently understand (I would say the jury on the necessity of DHA is out, but that conversation is happening). It's a mess, isn't it?

I wish I had something more helpful to offer. The best I can offer is to caution you against fully committing to any philosophy at all. Of course, though, follow whatever plan you deem best, and you've gotten some good suggestions.
posted by Cygnet at 9:43 AM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Cook Food is a "manuelfesto" on eating healthy. It does exactly what you describe -- grocery lists divided by staples, techniques, and recipes.
posted by spunweb at 10:52 AM on January 27, 2013

Just to explain a bit, especially in response to what Cygnet said, it wasn't my intention to indicate that I consider those approaches I somewhat clumsily called "extreme" not-effective in general, but I had my attempts at going low-carb and vegetarian in the past and I found the attempts to adjust to a diet so far off from how I habitually eat to be rather stressful and the recommendations given sometimes difficult to stick to for practical reasons (grocery gets more complicated, hunger strikes, mood swings etc.). Meanwhile I now have had a very stressful year anyway, wasn't in the best shape for some months, was eating pizza or mcdonalds for dinner for too many days and I just doubt I would psychically be able to adjust to a menu changed that radically. I personally now just want to be able to plan the week well enough and cook dishes tasty enough so I can make myself eat at home, without eating too much fat and too much sugar. From there, I can easily adjust to be more vegetarian or eat less carbs, but the other way around I am afraid in my current situation I would drop the whole plan after a few days.

In general, I know I overspecified the problem and probably an ideal recommendation doesn't exist, so if anyone has something in mind that seems to fit 75%+ of the requirements or would fit the points I listed but happens to be more "extreme", I think it still would be valuable, as long as it makes a really convincing case it's reasonably healthy and as long as you have at least a year of experience applying it (I found that every diet has thousands of very enthusiastic followers that will strongly recommend it to you after having been using it for a maximum of two weeks). Maybe I should have specified the question this way and dropped the part about "extremes".

Anyway, great answers already, I knew and very much liked the whfoods website for some time but I was specifically looking for a book because I find dead trees much better for comprehensive study and for reference in the kitchen, I just didn't knew they have one, so that's definitely a hit! All the other books recommended look very interesting too and I will surely be able to pick a few that match me best.
posted by jarekr at 10:59 AM on January 27, 2013

For B, C, and D, take a look at Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics. He covers kitchen techniques, basic recipes, and meal planning. Bittman used to write a food column for the New York Times titled "The Minimalist," and most of his recipes are simple and easy to prepare.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:31 PM on January 27, 2013

i really like The MediterrAsian Way. it focuses on the mediterranean and asian ways of eating as they are both known to be very healthy. they have both a website and a book. it's nothing extreme but rather a balanced lifestyle, gives some great nutrition advice in the first half of the book and then lots of recipes which i've yet to try out but look tasty. it's also a holistic approach to health. the website has tons of great info.
posted by wildflower at 1:51 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

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