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7 Great Books on Nutrition

By Denis Faye
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ReadingReading. It's like chin-ups for your brain. Here's a list of seven great books on nutrition that make great reading for the whole family!

Wait! Where are you going? Why are your eyes glazing over? Okay, sure, nutrition doesn't seem like the most thrilling topic in the world, but think about your journey into healthy eating. It's rife with drama, passion, and insurmountable odds, isn't it? Well, that sounds like page-turner material to us! Face it, food is exciting! So, with no further delay . . .

1. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press)

The Omnivore's DilemmaRequired reading for anyone who eats. Journalist-turned-food-philosopher Pollan tracks four meals—a McDonald's quickie, a traditional American sit-down dinner, an all-organic gourmet meal, and a magnificent feast painstakingly hunted and gathered entirely by the author. As he follows these meals from field to plate, he looks at the effects they have on our culture, our environment, our psyches, and, of course, our bodies.

There are times when Pollan gets mired in long-winded philosophical or scientific ponderings, but for the most part, this book is utterly captivating. Perhaps there was a time when an egg was an egg and a chicken was a chicken, but Pollan shows us that those times are long past. He explains that McDonald's Chicken McNuggets are primarily made of bioengineered corn. He also describes why the professional chefs of Virginia drive for hours to get their spatulas on the orange yolks and firm, delicious whites of robust, free-range eggs from Polyface Farms, where the Salatin family has created an almost completely self-sustaining ecosystem in which animals feed off the land, the land feeds off the animals, and cages, hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering are completely irrelevant. Not the same eggs you get at Sam's Club.

What ultimately lends this book credibility is its lack of political bias. Pollan may appear to lean slightly left, but he doesn't hesitate to tear down anything that needs tearing down, particularly our beloved organic industry, which he portrays as well-intentioned but ultimately corrupt thanks to big business and government regulation. To even his own surprise, he then praises game hunters as he explains that we should dwell a little on the brutal lives and deaths of battery hens and feedlot cattle before judging the happy life and relatively painless death of a hunted wild pig.

Ultimately, Pollan reaches the conclusion that our food industry needs a lot of work if it is to remain sustainable. But he also gives us a few suggestions on how we might influence that sustainability from our dinner plates.

2. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (Perennial)

Fast Food NationFast Food Nation acts as judge, jury, and executioner, blasting the way America's need for fast, cheap, greasy, sugary meals has rotted us—from our clogged arteries to our bloated guts. But Schlosser doesn't stop with our health problems. He goes on to decimate the food industry for its exploitation of the workers, livestock, and land that keep it profitable.

One especially heart-wrenching chapter details the brutal life of Kenny Dobbins, a sixteen-year employee of the Monfort meatpacking plant who herniated several disks (the company doctor told him it was a pulled muscle at the time), severely burned his lungs breathing in chlorine (the paper mask they'd given him had dissolved), shattered an ankle, and broke a leg all on the job. Because the illiterate Dobbin had little more going for him than his strength, he had an odd sense of loyalty to the plant for hiring him—a sense of loyalty the company was happy to exploit until he finally became useless to them by suffering a massive heart attack on the job. They fired him with no pension and cut off his access to the health plan that aided his recovery from his various workplace injuries. All for your Big Mac.

If you're looking for horror stories that apply more directly to you, consider this: when you read the ingredients on your food's packaging, do you really know what vaguely titled "natural flavorings" are? Natural? Not so much. True, the FDA insists that natural flavorings come from natural sources, but those sources needn't be healthy ones. For example, natural almond flavor, benzaldehyde, contains traces of cyanide.

There's no conjecture here. It's concrete, factual reporting that most people probably don't want to know about. If you're the type who wants to keep eating your burgers, oblivious to the feces (yes, feces) that the fast food industry cooks into them, don't waste your time. Otherwise, prepare to be challenged.

3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Collins)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LifeAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle covers much of the same ground as our first two selections, but where Schlosser uses hard-edged journalism and Pollan muses intellectually, Poisonwood Bible author Barbara Kingsolver's more personal approach tells the story of food through the eyes of her family, who moved to a farm in Appalachia and vowed to spend a year living only on local foods. She tempers her commentary on topics such as the sad state of American farming with tales of tomato envy and her younger daughter Lily's efforts not to bond with farm animals that she's eventually served for dinner.

Along the way, her husband Steven L. Hopp, an environmental studies professor, offers more concrete, scientific sidebars, and her older daughter, Camille Kingsolver, offers several excellent recipes using the food raised on the family farm.

While Kingsolver is best known as a novelist, she's done her homework here and it shows. Her prose is warm and appealing, but it still makes you think—sort of a food activist's version of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence.

4. Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Critser (Houghton Mifflin)

Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the WorldAs obesity rates continue to skyrocket, Critser's 2003 exposé of America's growing health crisis is as timely as ever. Simply put, Fat Land explains that we're fat because we eat too much and we don't exercise. From there, Critser tries to figure out the why. He shows how school budget cuts, labor-saving devices, and home entertainment have made physical activity a minor part of most lives. He explains how dining out and snacking—both occasional treats for past generations—have become daily (even hourly) events for many of us.

Critser spends much of the book discussing high fructose corn syrup, the dirt-cheap, super-sweet corn derivative that allows food companies to inundate stores, restaurants, and school lunchrooms with inexpensive, high-calorie, irresistible goodies. He also explains how fast food marketers noticed that customers would scrape the bottom of their 200-calorie french fry bags for every last salty crumb, but would be hesitant to buy a second bag at the risk of looking piggish. But what if they sold 600-plus-calorie bags? Would customers feel piggish ordering those? Of course not, because, you know, it's the suggested serving size. Welcome to the birth of supersizing.

From there, he explains how we might be able to turn things around. After all, it's not like we don't already know the answers. Primarily, he sees salvation in our schools. Kick out the junk food, educate kids on healthy diets, and get them exercising. And while we're at it, we should get off the couch and join them.

5. Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition by John Ivy, PhD and Robert Portman, PhD (Health Basic Publications)

Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports NutritionWhile hardcore fitness geeks will enjoy slogging through the countless graphs and calculations, you don't need a doctorate to understand the gist of this book. If you've ever wanted an in-depth explanation of why a four-to-one carb-to-protein cocktail makes the ideal recovery drink (like in Beachbody's Results and Recovery Formula), Nutrient Timing will get you there.

Along the way, the book offers insights into how various macro- and micronutrients and performance enhancers affect the body, from the assorted forms of protein to vitamins to caffeine and creatine.

As detailed as Nutrient Timing is, the language is simple and straightforward. Furthermore, it's always nice to find a nutritional reference book from someone who isn't selling something.

6. The NutriBase Nutrition Facts Desk Reference by Art Ulene (Avery)

The NutriBase Nutrition Facts Desk ReferenceBehold carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamin, and mineral stats for an incredible array of foods. It includes standard fruit, veggie, and meat numbers as well as information on brand foods, from Kikkoman Chinese-style crab soup to Keystone light beer. It's so complete that we sometimes spend hours playing "Stump the Nutrition Facts book."

Our only complaint is that the book divides the macro- and micronutrients into two completely different sections, which is a bother when you're trying to get the complete analysis of a food. So, for example, if you're looking for the complete nutritional profile of asparagus, first you need to look through the forty-four different types on page nine for calories, carbs, etc., then it's off to page 670 for vitamins and minerals.

7. Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food by Jessica Seinfeld (Collins)

Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good FoodJessica may not be as witty as her hubby Jerry, but she knows her nutrition. The premise of this book is simple. Purée a bunch of fruits and veggies and sneak them into foods your kids like. That said, even without the clandestine produce, the recipes tend to be fairly healthy and many of them are downright fun. Add a little puréed beet to pancakes and you get every three-year-old girl's dream meal, "Pink Pancakes." A little spinach in your eggs and you get, well, let's just say Dr. Seuss would gladly add his ham to this omelet.

The only real problem with Deceptively Delicious is that readers will inevitably ask the question, "Why bother teaching kids good nutrition when you can sneak it to them?" The answer is somewhat buried, which is a shame because it should be the first thing you read. On page 33, nutritionist Joy Bauer explains, "You should by no means stop putting at least one visible veggie on the table at lunch and dinner . . . You want your kids to get used to seeing vegetables and, of course, eating them."

While ignoring this rule is a recipe for bad eating habits, combining the rule with Seinfeld's meal ideas can be a powerful tool for parents. It's stressful to try to force a child to eat veggies when you know how badly he or she needs them. However, when you secretly know your child is getting what's needed to grow, it's much easier to let another dinner slip by where the broccoli florets go uneaten. Trust us, as long as you don't turn it into a battle royale, one day, they will eat those greens.

The mission of Team Beachbody is to motivate you and to educate you about health, fitness and nutrition and the benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
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