Just the nutritious facts, ma'am.
May 17, 2016 4:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the best book (or other source) on nutrition. Not a diet book. Not anything with an opinion (to the extent that's possible). I just would like to read a book that describes what's going on with our bodies and the foods and nutrients we put into them. How exactly are the major nutrients metabolized? In what order over what time period? What are the functions of the various amino acids? What do the various vitamins and minerals do? And so forth. I just want to know what's going on, because I can't read a thousand diet and exercise books all pushing some points over others. I have a technical background, so I can handle and appreciate decently-complex explanations of biochemistry and the like. In fact, I like that stuff. Just as long as it starts at the beginning and builds up to that. So just, the cold, hard, comprehensive facts on nutrition, please.

It seems that opinions on what we SHOULD eat are changing all the time. I'm really just looking to understand the fundamentals based on the most accurate and current research. I'm open to sources that explain the fundamentals well and are then augmented by more modern information and research as well.

Obviously, I'm casting a wide net here. I just want to break down how the body uses everything we put into it, so I can actually analyze all the conflicting ideas on diet and exercise out there. Thank you, in advance.
posted by KinoAndHermes to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
The reason there is so much conflicting information is because the science flat isn't there. We don't know the answers to a lot of those questions, even the ones the government has been saying we know for decades. Try Good Calories, Bad Calories - despite the name, it's actually a science-journalism type look at nutrition science throughout the 20th century. It should give you an idea of where the conflicts are generally.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:47 PM on May 17, 2016 [14 favorites]

How about an intro textbook people studying to be registered dietitians use? I can't recommend one but I can recommend the method. I became interested in linguistics and wasn't satisfied with the pop books, so I searched college syllabi for commonly used texts. They were a bit of a slog but I got reacquainted with academic writing and learned a lot.
posted by kapers at 5:44 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

What to Eat, by Marion Nestle. Maybe too much opinion, but she does go into why federal regulations about food labeling and nutrition are what they are.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:53 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like the LPI Micronutrient Information Center.
posted by invisible ink at 6:07 PM on May 17, 2016

fwiw i was curious about understanding nutrition and found a pirated copy to download just now. it's very detailed, combining detailed chemistry / biology (and piles of references to research) with sections that are more about "so what should you eat?" it also has a section that goes into some detail about controversies over carbs and fructose (p 128 - 131) and chapters on "life cycle" topics like how you should modify your diet if you're an athlete, or pregnant, or whatever. it feels like a textbook for nutritionists or similar? more detail than you'd expect for a general interest book. tbh i was (am) really impressed, and decided i should buy a physical copy, but when i went to amazon it seems like it's out of print :(
posted by andrewcooke at 6:19 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Whatever you end up reading on this topic, I strongly recommend also reading Gut by Giulia Enders. I've seldom come across a book with so much useful information per page about what really happens when we digest different kinds of food. I wish all science writing was so good.
posted by dacoit at 6:49 PM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think it would help you a lot to read the Cartoon Guide to Genetics.

For one thing it will straighten you out on what amino acids are for and what they do and how they get used.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:15 PM on May 17, 2016

So as others have said, the reason things are constantly changing and that there's so much conflicting advice is because to a large extent we don't know the answers to these questions. It's extremely difficult to study this problem, because it's so hard to control or even determine what people eat.

If you want to read more about this, I'd check out this study that looks at the scientific consensus on various diets, and comes up with some broad takeaways about how to eat healthy.
posted by !Jim at 8:20 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Contemporary Nutrition is the textbook that I used in college course of the same title. I recommend looking at the table of contents in Amazon's "look inside" feature.
posted by hooray at 8:31 PM on May 17, 2016

Best answer: Dietitian here who recently finished a master's of public health in nutrition. We had two go-to textbooks for the duration of our program; sounds like the one you'd be interested in is Gropper's Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. (The other, FYI, was Krause's Food and the Nutrition Care Process). Enjoy!
posted by trampoliningisfun at 10:07 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't think books like Good Calories, Bad Calories are what you are looking for (I would check one of the nutrition textbooks others mentioned), but if you do end up checking that out, you might also want to read some of its critics, like this review (and the links).
posted by blub at 2:19 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just took a nutrition course at Uni as one of my options. The textbook was extremely good at explaining exactly what each nutrient does in the body, and the mechanisms of action. For the first time I understand how diabetes develops! I would borrow this book from your local library, and read away. Some of the fat information is a bit outdated, otherwise it was excellent.
posted by tatiana131 at 12:52 PM on May 18, 2016

I wish people would stop pushing that Good Calories, Bad Calories trash. Not only is it definitely not a scientific look at nutrition, it doesn't get the most basic aspects of the science right. The fact that it's pushing an agenda that is currently popular doesn't make it a legitimate source of information.
posted by mister pointy at 7:19 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

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