Best (Easy to Read) Nutrition and Wellness Books

Few conversations can bring a bookworm out of his or her shell faster than a request for reading recommendations. Much to my delight, people from all walks of life are now embracing nutrition and wellness with a frenzied, passion-like curiosity. And guess what — they’re looking for something to read! While no one book can bottle up my entire education and experience into a practical, easy-to-read volume, I will happily supply recommendations for those wanting to learn more.

Not to worry — there  are no dense nutrition textbooks or food anthologies on this list. Rather, I’m sharing some of my favorite, easy to read book nutrition related books from the popular press. I also included four of my favorite food systems books, for those that want to dig deeper and approach nutrition on a public health scale.

Best Easy-to-Read Nutrition Books (according to a Dietitian)

Nutrition & Wellness 101: What to Eat and How to Eat It

The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who Live the Longest, by Dan Buettner // This book investigates cultures around the world that live the longest, emphasizing the importance of achievable, enjoyable lifestyles and habits, rather than extreme regimens. The diversity of traditions represented demonstrate why small choices (black beans versus bok choy) aren’t as important as overall dietary patterns (eating lots of vegetables).

Disease-Proof, by David Katz // Although not every chapter of this book is devoted specifically to diet and food choices, it is a great handbook for anyone striving to take better care of their body. Dr. Katz not only addresses goals that are relevant to living healthier, but also the skills needed to make these goals a reality. (I blogged a longer review in a previous post.)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan // While not an outright guidebook on what to eat, this is one of the clearest, most beautifully written explanations of the way that our food is grown and processed matters, and why farm fresh food and scratch cooking are wiser alternatives to packaged “health foods” and standard American fare.

French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters, by Karen Le Billon // This memoir follows the triumphs (and failures) of a North American family attempting to expand their picky palates and embrace real food (and table manners) throughout their year in France. The lessons can be applied to any life stage, even if you don’t have children. Most importantly, Le Billon reminds us not to lose sight of the big picture. After all, green vegetables cooked in butter are certainly more nutritious than opting for highly processed snack foods with no veggies at all.

Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, by Brian Wansink// Dr. Wansink is a firm believer that “it’s easier to change your eating environment than to change your mind.” This book offers plenty of practical tips to make nutritious choices the easy, default choices, applying data from the author’s behavioral research lab. Picking up from Dr. Wansink’s 2006 book, Mindless Eating, this follow up is even more user friendly, complete with illustrated blueprints on how to makeover your food environment to eliminate the triggers that cause mindless eating and overeating.(I blogged a longer review in a previous post.)

Extra Credit: Exploring Our Food System

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss // By now, we know that fast food and highly packaged junk foods (chips, soda, etc) are bad news. But if you wonder why these foods continue to engulf our communities and tickle our senses, Moss’s expose on the food industry is the perfect place to start.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber // Celebrity chef Dan Barber’s tome is a refreshingly solutions-based approach to addressing the plagues of industrial food production. From aquaculture to soil health, Barber gets his hands dirty to find the best ways that chefs, farmers, and consumers can come together and get our food system (and our land) back in shape.

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, by Mark Winne // Drawing from his personal experience in urban food activism, Mark Winne illustrates how truly sustainable food systems should address the needs of all participants, not just the wealthy minority. This book is a humble reminder that reforming our food system is not just a hobby for the well-to-do, but is directly in line with the changes needed to help end hunger and improve nutrition in America.

World Hunger: Ten Myths, by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins // Yes, this is the book that I helped research – an experience that taught me so much about our food economy and food production system. Lappé and Collins go beyond admonishing industrial agricultural monopolies and praising sustainable agriculture – they actually demonstrate that agroecology is in fact better suited to feed a growing population.

– Kelly

The Best TED Talks on Food Systems, Nutrition, and Public Health

Surely a sign of progress, there are now an abundance of TED talks that explore food, nutrition, and public health. Below are my very favorites — a collection of videos that I consider informative, important, and incredibly fascinating! If you have a favorite TED talk that’s not listed here, send me a link in the comments below.

PART I: PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTHY FOOD ENVIRONMENTS

How an Obese Town Lost a Million Pounds (Mick Cornett)

I just got back from OKC this week after visiting a college roommate, so this Midwestern town is fresh on my mind. Regardless of whether or not you’ve ever been to the Sooner state, you’ll definitely be inspired by this talk from current mayor Mick Cornett. Equal parts entertaining and inspiring, this story highlights how city planners and public health professionals can play an important role in fighting the obesity epidemic, and shows how important a walkable environment is in promoting health.

Teach Every Child about Food (Jamie Oliver)

Oliver has gained a well-deserved reputation as a tireless advocate for childhood obesity prevention. In this talk, Oliver explains just how important improving nutrition is to our children, and just how serious of a problem the American food environment has become. Our kids deserve better than this, and Oliver explains why.

How We Can Eat Our Landscapes (Pam Warhurst)

In this delightful and motivational story, Warhurst describes how a grassroots volunteer gardening movement is creating a supportive framework for the local food economy. Her talk celebrates the small actions of the community, and highlights the importance of edible landscapes.

PART II: WHY ORGANICS ARE IMPORTANT

From Fabels to Labels (Urvashi Rangan)

Identifying healthy products at the supermarket can be a challenge, especially when packages tout a variety of health claims and nutrition buzzwords. In this talk, Rangan explains which food claims and labels are more credible than others, and also makes an excellent case for supporting organics.

Why is Organic Food so *#@! Expensive? (Ali Partovi)

If the previous talk didn’t convince you of the importance of organic farming systems, this one surely will. Tech giant Partovi dispels a lot of myths surrounding organic food and industrial agriculture. This talk is a must for anyone that thinks that organic farming is expensive and inefficient, and that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world.

PART III: SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS AND FOOD POLICY

How I Fell in Love with a Fish (Dan Barber)

Sustainable food enthusiasts and seafood lovers alike will enjoy this engaging talk from Chef Dan Barber, which explores the sustainability of farmed fish. If you enjoyed Barber, be sure to check out his other TED talk about ethical foi gras. Or, if you’d like to learn more about sustainable seafood, be sure to check out this TED talk from chef and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver.

Turning the Farm Bill into a Food Bill (Ken Cook)

A new farm bill has passed since this 2011 talk first aired, but many of the points remain relevant. Cook explains how, despite the growing demand for responsibly produced food, government programs and legislation still favor industrial agriculture and the profits of a few food giants over family farms and public health.

Hungry for more? Check out the line-up from the TedxManhattan conferences (here are 2015 and 2014 to get you started) which are focused on “Changing the Way We Eat,” and are the sources of many of the videos above. The TED website also has a “What’s Wrong with What We Eat?” video playlist, a “Talks for Foodies” video playlist, and a “Plantastic!” video playlist. Additionally, Netflix offers a bundle of food related TED talks, in a collection called “Chew on This.”

– Kelly

My 4 Favorite Food Documentaries

Over ten years ago, Morgan Spurlock comically captured the dangers of eating too much fast food in his seminal 2004 documentary, Supersize Me. Since then, there has been no shortage of documentaries for those interested in learning more about nutrition and the food system. Overwhelmed by the number of food-centric films on the menu? See below for four of my favorites.

Food Inc. (available on Netflix)

Watch to Learn: Why To Pay Attention to Where Our Food Comes From

If you’re wondering why there’s such a fuss about farmers markets and organic, local food, this must-watch 2009 documentary clears things up. While those unfamiliar with the food movement may be ready to dismiss food system issues as frivolous, this film explores how the choices we make at the grocery store can affect not only our own health and well-being, but the well-being of all the people and animals throughout the food chain. (Note: If you enjoyed Food Inc., and would like to learn more about food justice and issues of farm labor inequality, then check out Food Chains, also available on Netflix.)

A Place at the Table (available on Netflix)

Watch to Learn: Why Hunger and Obesity are Two Sides of the Same Coin

While Food Inc is probably the most well-known food documentary, A Place at the Table is, in my opinion, the most important. This profound 2013 film explains how hunger and obesity are both symptoms of the same problem: poverty and food insecurity. (If you’d like to learn more about this issue, see the blog post I wrote after I first saw this film.)

Bite Size (available on Vimeo and Amazon Instant Video // $4.99 to rent)

Watch to Learn: How to Support Kids Struggling with Obesity

Although this new 2015 film doesn’t feature any of the big name narrators or interviews that similar food documentaries include, the message is actually pretty powerful. This documentary follows four obese children, each taking a different approach to get healthy (from team sports, to community groups, to a healthy boarding school). Regardless of the weight loss tactics, what really stood out was how important it is for kids to have someone (be it a parent, coach, or school counselor) advocating for them, and how much this support affects their health and success.

Fed Up (available on Amazon Instant Video // $3.99 to rent)

Watch to Learn: How the Industrial Food Industry is Contributing to Childhood Obesity

Focusing on added sugars’ contribution to childhood obesity, this 2013 documentary is somewhat of a cross between Food Inc. and Bite Size. The film explores why today’s food environment is often considered ‘obesogenic’ (full of obesity-inducing triggers and cues) and how our unhealthy, corporate-controlled food system negatively affects kids.

While the films listed above are my favorites in the genre, I have seen a number of other food documentaries (including Forks Over Knives, King Corn, The World According to Monsanto, Inside Chipotle, and Food Matters, among others). The next food film that I’m hoping to watch is Cafeteria Man, an inspiring documentary that chronicles a school lunch success story. What are your favorite food documentaries?

– Kelly

Decorate Like a Dietitian: Healthy, Inspirational Pieces for the Home

The home should be a sanctuary that inspires healthy living, not a cave for Netflix binges and mindless snacking. In Slim by Design, Brian Wansink offers several hacks to make your kitchen slimmer, such as not storing cereal boxes on the counter, keeping fruits and veggies on the top refrigerator shelf, rather than the crisper, and avoiding buying junky snack food in bulk. These small tweaks are research-tested ways to curb mindless eating, which Wansink also implements in the homes of his celebrity clients.

Tips and tricks aside, the design aesthetic of your house can also encourage healthy choices, and that’s what I’m posting about today! When I see enticing pictures of food (be it a donut or a carrot), I crave it. That’s why I like to fill my home with inviting images of delicious fruits and veggies. (This is also the inspiration behind the #foodpornindex campaign from Bolthouse Farms.)

If you’re looking to make your home a catalyst for healthy choices, then see below for my pick of pieces to decorate like a dietitian!

Bouffants and Broken Hearts

^^In my dream home, I would have one of these delightful illustrations by Bouffants and Broken Hearts turned into wallpaper for a powder room (or other small room). Some of her illustrations are available as prints, or on a few other trinkets (such as coffee mugs) on Society6. But wallpaper is totally my end game with these. Just imagine how dramatic it would look with crisp, white trim!

Artichoke print - Etsy

^^For a similar look on a smaller scale, this artichoke print from The Joy of Color is available on Etsy for $21 (along with many other fruit and vegetable watercolors).

Coconut Milk - image via Dark Rye

^^For those that favor pop art, I love this riff on Andy Warhol’s iconic pieces using organic coconut milk from Whole Foods Market. (Note that this isn’t a print for sale, just an image that I stumbled upon on the Whole Foods Pinterest page.)

The Wheatfield - by Katie Daisy

^^Katie Daisy is hands-down one of my favorite artists! (Check out her Etsy shop, The Wheatfield.) I have the ‘farmers market’ print framed in my bedroom, and I gave the ‘Go play outside’ print to my mom for her birthday last year.

Peeled Orange - Elizabeth Mayville

^^Another recent Etsy favorite is Elizabeth Mayville. (You may recognize some of her prints from Design Darling). I recently bought this peeled orange print and am currently on the hunt for a frame and the perfect place to hang it.

Orange Trees - image via Coco + Kelley

^^Plants are another great way to bring you back to nature and inspire healthy choices! Citrus trees, in particular, are especially beautiful (as evidenced by this Domino Magazine photo from Coco + Kelley), but unfortunately, I doubt they’d survive in the Boston tundra.

Herb Garden

^^Lastly, I’m finishing up with a photo of my (short-lived) herb garden. I posted this picture to Instagram about a year and a half ago, and the plants died less than a week later. Not even kidding. Nonetheless, for those with green thumbs, herb gardens are a great way to reconnect with the food system, even if on a tiny scale.

– Kelly

P.S. There’s a lot more where this came from! Check out my Pieces for the Home Pinterest page.

Blood Pressure and Diet: Why Salt is Only Part of the Story

Healthy Beet HummusIf you’re worried about your blood pressure, then it’s time to put down the reduced sodium potato chips! A “low sodium” version of the standard American junk food diet isn’t going to do your heart many favors.

Keeping an eye on sodium intake is important. But obsessively counting grams of sodium from various food packages is no longer necessary once you start choosing fruits, vegetables and whole foods in their natural, unprocessed state, rather than relying on packaged convenience foods.

Instead of looking for “low sodium” chips in the grocery store, skip the chip aisle all together, and stock up on carrots, watermelon, and low fat yogurt. Additionally, by centering your meals on produce (choosing a fruit salad instead of French fries, or bean and vegetable chili instead fried chicken), your sodium intake will fall naturally. Make it a challenge to see just how much produce you can incorporate into your meals.

What does the science have to say?

Healthy GranolaAccording to the groundbreaking DASH study, eating a diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy (also known as the DASH diet) without decreasing sodium intake can decrease systolic blood pressure (the top number in your blood pressure reading) by 5.5 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in your blood pressure reading) by 3 mm Hg. The results for patients with hypertension are even more profound: 11.4 mm Hg decrease for systolic and 5.5 mm Hg decrease for diastolic. (Note: ideal blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg).

The follow up to this study, DASH II, found that reducing sodium intake to low levels without altering dietary patterns decreases systolic blood pressure by 6.7 mm Hg. This is a huge improvement, but as evidenced above, similar results can be achieved just by eating a healthy diet!

How does this translate into everyday food choices?

Healthy Broccoli Cheddar Twice Baked Potatoes made with Greek yogurtVegetable soups and low fat cottage cheese are foods often considered off limits if you’re trying to lower your blood pressure. But these foods actually have beneficial nutrients (magnesium and calcium) that help offset the sodium in your body. And by preparing vegetable soups from scratch (using low sodium broth or stock, or even water), rather than picking up a shockingly salty can from the supermarket, you keep control of your salt intake. To learn more about the DASH diet, see this article.

Obviously, the most optimal results come from following the DASH diet AND decreasing sodium intake. But if it takes a little bit of seasoning to help you get your 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables, I say go for it! Nutrition and public health expert Marion Nestle made similar comments on recent health studies analyzing sodium and blood pressure:

“People don’t eat salt; they eat foods containing salt, and foods high in salt tend to be high in other things best consumed in small amounts. The studies also talk about the protective effects of potassium, best obtained from vegetables. Eat a lot of vegetables and not too much junk food, and you don’t have to worry about any of this.”

For heart healthy recipe ideas, such as those pictured above, check out my recipe page!

– Kelly

Weekend Reading – Food: A Love Story

My mom knew she was taking a risk when she bought Jim Gaffigan’s book, Food: A Love Story, for her dietitian daughter. I mean, the man’s no health nut. His career was launched on a Hot Pockets sketch, after all.

Food: A Love Story

That being said, the book had me in stitches! I have an advanced degree in food studies, so I suppose this would be logical airplane reading for people in my field. Nonetheless, Americans have a comical relationship with food, and Jim Gaffigan captures it perfectly. Below are a few funny snippets from the book:

  • And when we’re not eating, we’re chewing gum. We are literally practicing eating.
  • Tacos are one of the many beautiful gifts from Mexico, but the taco salad is filled with so much broken logic that it must be an American creation.
  • “Southern cooking” almost always seems to be code for “we are not counting calories.”
  • Chopsticks are fun, but I’d rather eat than play operation.
  • A muffin is just a bald cupcake, and we all know it.

Not often would I recommend a book by someone who writes, “I wouldn’t trust them skinnies with food advice.” Yet here I am. If you’re looking for an easy read that’s guaranteed to have you giggling, then give it try and let me know what you think!

– Kelly

Healthy Habit Skillpower for the New Year + Book Recs

Healthy Habit Skillpower for the New Year + Book Recommendations

The beginning of January is a magical time in the health world. Kale smoothies are more exciting than dessert. Running 26 miles looks fun. Salads are the norm. But sometime between the winter blizzards and the Valentine’s Day candy, the new year’s magic starts to wear off.

Disease Proof by David KatzMany people have the desire and motivation to adopt a healthier lifestyle, they simply lack the way. That’s where building skillpower comes in. While deciding to make more nutritious food choices is an important step, just as important is coming up with a game plan for how do it. One great book that teaches this strategy is Disease Proof, by Dr. David Katz.

In this book, Katz not only addresses goals that are relevant to living healthier, but also the skills needed to make these goals a reality. For example, see this excerpt from chapter 9 about how to eat healthy outside of the home…

Excerpt from Disease Proof

Each chapter features a different challenge, and then expands on how to adopt the skills that are relevant to healthy behavior change. For anyone that wants to live healthier, but doesn’t know how to begin or why they can’t seem to make it work, Dr. Katz’s book is a great place to start.

SlimByDesign-RevCover2Another book filled with strategies for a healthier life is Slim by Design, by Dr. Brian Wansink. His approach to healthy eating is as follows:

“For 90 percent of us, the solution to mindless eating is not mindful eating–our lives are just too crazy and our willpower’s too wimpy. Instead, the solution is to tweak small things in our homes, favorite restaurants, supermarkets, workplaces, and schools so we mindlessly eat less and better instead of more.”

This book offers plenty of practical tips to make nutritious choices the easy, default choices. After all, Dr. Wansink is a firm believer that “it’s easier to change your eating environment than to change your mind.” In other words, it is easier to eat healthy foods when you stock your refrigerator with your favorite nutritious meals and ingredients, rather than with soda and junk food. Keeping yummy, nutrient rich food around the house is the key here, as Wansink warns that empty kitchens can make you fat because they cause you to eat elsewhere.

How are you planning to live healthier this year?

– Kelly

Eat Healthy Designs

If I didn’t have a career in nutrition (which I love, by the way), I would definitely want to be working in the design world. That’s why I was so excited to discover the new stationary company, Eat Healthy Designs.

This charming Southern California based company was started by nutrition and dietetics student (and aspiring dietitian) Elise Lindsey, and her business partner, Travis Lowe. Lindsey’s passion for nutrition shines through, not only in the delightfully nerdy food puns splashed across her products, but also in the beautiful, original watercolors of fruits and vegetables. However, I’m equally excited by the back of the cards and prints, which feature nutrition information about the artwork.

The product line-up is still pretty small right now, but you can bet that I’ll be frequently stalking the website for new designs. Check out some of my favorite products below:

EAT Healthy Designs Food Pun Pencils

Food Pun Pencils, $5 for set of 5

EAT Healthy Designs Birthday Card

EAT Healthy Designs Birthday Card

Birthday Card, $4

EAT Healthy Designs Thank You Note Set

EAT Healthy Designs Thank You Note Set

Thank You Note Set, $14 for 6 cards + envelopes

I’m filing this under “Businesses that I didn’t start, but wish I had.” Do you have a favorite stationary company?

– Kelly

Seasons 52: Diet-Friendly Fine Dining

Seasons 52

Grilled Alaska Wild Copper River Salmon with summer corn risotto, sugar snap peas, and toybox tomatoes

Imagine enjoying an Oak-grilled rack of lamb with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and a summer vegetable ratatouille, all for the same amount of calories as a medium Strawberry Surf Rider Smoothie from Jamba Juice. At Seasons 52, that’s precisely what you’ll get.

Nestled into a corner at Houston’s vibrant City Centre, this new restaurant redefines healthy dining. The seasonally influenced menu inspires the restaurant’s name. Entrees change about four times a year, and vegetable sides change weekly. However, the most impressive part of the menu is that every item is 475 calories or less.

Seasons 52

Honey & Herb Roasted Chicken, spring vegetables, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, roasted chicken jus

If you’re picturing cardboard diet food and rubbery tofu, think again. Instead, the healthy balance at Seasons 52 is achieved by shunning the embarrassingly large portions that have come to be standard and letting fresh, seasonal vegetables do the talking. These meals are hearty, satisfying, and downright delicious.

The whole roasted Branzino, a European seabass, is standout summer special. This beautifully presented dish has a delicate texture and a sinfully savory flavor. Another memorable dish was the honey & herb roasted chicken. Chefs could have taken the easy way out by serving a dry slab of boneless, skinless chicken breast atop an uninspired salad. Instead, this chicken is moist, rich, and downright flavorful, and served with a tantalizing array of seasonal vegetables. Additionally, while the trend of desserts in shot glasses feels exhausted at other establishments, at Seasons 52, it somehow feels special, and fits right in to the perfectly-portioned atmosphere.

Seasons 52

 

Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon, cremini mushrooms, steamed leaf spinach, mashed potatoes, red wine sauce

Seasons 52 has over 30 locations across the country including Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, Atlanta, Georgia, and Phoenix, Arizona. It first arrived in Houston at Westheimer, and it’s popularity spurred this second location at the City Centre shortly after.

While the classy, dimly lit interior lacks in personality (there is not a chalkboard, Edison lightbulb, or tattooed waiter to be found), the understated elegance is the perfect setting for a fine dining establishment. Unlike Ruggle’s on the Green, another popular City Centre eatery that emphasizes seasonality, the atmosphere at Seasons 52 is much more upscale and carries a noticeably higher price point.

That being said, you get what you pay for. And at Seasons 52, that means delicious, quality meals that leave you feeling nourished, rather than nauseous.

– Kelly

The Truth About Butter

butter

Image via BOJ

Leave it to science journalists to convince the public that butter and bacon are heart healthy foods. From the Wall Street Journal’s, Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease, to Mark Bittman’s Butter is Back in the New York Times, several articles have been quick to sing the praises of artery-clogging saturated fat.

Their ammunition is a recent meta-analysis in the March issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. This study is a review of previous studies that compares heart disease rates to fat intake. The authors found that when saturated fats are replaced with refined carbohydrates and added sugars, heart disease risk increases despite the low level of saturated fat. What this study failed to report is that when saturated fat is replaced with monounsaturated fat in the form of olive oil, nuts, or avocados, heart disease risk actually decreases.

Nowhere did the authors suggest that saturated fats are beneficial for health. So while butter may be dubbed the lesser of two evils (when compared to added sugars), the goal of healthful eating should be to find foods that are proven to actually nourish you and prevent disease. The gold standard of nutrition should not be to pick foods simply because they are “not as bad as” others. Additionally, the best way to assess nutrition and health is to look at the overall diet, rather than one nutrient at a time.

Was eating less butter and bacon the downfall of American health and nutrition? Definitely not. The real culprit, as the study points out, is the prevalence of sugar-laden processed foods. If you want to eat for health, choose a dietary pattern with decades of research behind it, such as the Mediterranean diet, that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, legumes, and healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil.

For more on the saturated fat debate, see these articles:

For some of my favorite heart-healthy recipes, see here:

Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries and Marcona Almonds

– Kelly