Reading Your Way to a Healthy Diet
Food as a path to health has a long history. Throughout the ages, healers have turned to the earth’s bounty as a source for treating illness. These days we know that life is a chemical process. We can identify exactly what nutrients are (or are not) in our food. We know the role of diet in causing or controlling disease. We understand that the nutritional content of a hamburger or a chocolate bar regulates the composition of the 30-plus trillion cells in our body, influencing everything from mood and energy level to brain function, even sex drive. And that knowledge has spawned an industry of health and diet books, typically written by doctors or nutritionists and purportedly based on proven science. The following books, all released in 2016, look critically at the gluten obsession and explain the mind-body connection—including what to eat to keep your memory sharp. They tell you more than you ever wanted to know about fat and give you practical information so you can improve your health by controlling what you put in your mouth.
In The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health (Harper Wave), Dr. Emeran Mayer, an authority on stress and digestive diseases, details the current rage in neuroscience: the powerful link between our brain and our digestive system, which is home to trillions of micro-organisms that not only aid digestion but influence our emotions. Ever wonder where a gut feeling comes from or why we get butterflies in our stomach? It’s all part of a two-way communication system between the microbes that dwell in our digestive tract and the nerve cells in our brain. When that system is out of balance, we suffer from physical and mental illnesses.
In breaking down cutting-edge science for the lay reader, Dr. Mayer, a gastroenterologist, introduces us to the complex world of gut microbiota and its role in disease. He offers sensible dietary guidelines based on the Mediterranean style of eating that can enhance immunity and decrease risk for neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. If you want to revamp your approach to food, learn the dangers of the typical North American diet and understand the way your body and mind operate in tandem, this book is for you.
On the first page of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s ninth book, The End of Heart Disease: The Eat to Live Plan to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (HarperOne), he notes that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. For the next 400 pages, he packs in everything you could possibly want to know about how proper nutrition can prevent or even reverse heart disease—including 100 or so pages of heart-protective recipes, which are heavy on whole plant foods.
A popular best-selling author, board-certified family physician and nutritional researcher, Dr. Fuhrman is a breezy, upbeat writer, and his information-laden book targets people diagnosed with a heart problem that isn’t caused by a valve malfunction or an arrhythmia. The book does not break new ground, but it is comprehensive and practical. He pays homage to the late nutritionist Nathan Pritikin and Dr. Dean Ornish, the giants who created dietary programs for heart disease, but suggests that his “nutritarian” approach is more balanced. You will learn why “processed foods, white flour products, sweets, oils and animal protein” are the demons of cardiovascular health and that you should shop primarily in the produce section because “studies clearly demonstrate the benefits of eating more vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.” I would recommend Dr. Fuhrman’s book for anyone with a family history of heart disease who wants to break the pattern.
I have long been skeptical of the gluten-free obsession sweeping America. Gluten Exposed: The Science Behind the Hype and How to Navigate to a Healthy, Symptom-Free Life(William Morrow) by Dr. Peter H.R. Green and Rory Jones, M.S., affirms that my concerns are justified. Dr. Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in New York, and Jones, a deft science writer, dole out lots of information in short, punchy paragraphs to explore “claims, conditions, treatments and diets to diagnose what gluten does and does not cause and cure.” Gluten Exposed debunks many of the beliefs about gluten—the storage protein of wheat—then gives a short but thorough exploration of the role of the brain-gut connection (territory covered in greater depth in The Mind-Gut Connection). The authors also look at the many elements that can cause symptoms attributed, sometimes erroneously, to gluten sensitivity. These include fructose, lactose and other food intolerances, pelvic floor dysfunction and medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen, known as NSAIDs.
The book also reveals the nutritional pitfalls of a gluten-free diet, which is low in fiber, iron and B vitamins. This information may give pause to those considering a gluten-free lifestyle after learning about its nutritional pros and cons.
The authors look at conditions such as celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome, where gluten is an operating factor. People with celiac disease will learn a great deal about the source of their illness and how to cope with it.
I especially liked the appendices, which review popular diets through the ages and give a comprehensive glossary—from alleles to villi—defining scientific terminology related to diet and health.
Sylvia Tara, Ph.D., a biochemist who says she has battled fat all her life, wrote The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body’s Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You (W.W. Norton) to learn more about her enemy. It’s not a diet book or a book about obesity per se. It’s the story of fat as an endocrine organ with specific, vital functions critical to maintaining life and health.
Tara writes like a good science fiction author, sharing compelling stories about people’s struggles with uncontrollable fat, the personal journeys of researchers whose laboratories have uncovered the biology of fat and her own effort to manage her weight. She gives many tips for successful dieting and explains why women have a harder time than men staying slim. Her book is like comfort food for anyone carrying around a lifetime of guilt for eating an extra cookie.
Twins Judi and Shari Zucker both hold degrees in ergonomics and have co-written six other popular diet books. Their latest, The Memory Diet: More Than 150 Healthy Recipes for the Proper Care and Feeding of Your Brain (New Page Books), was inspired by their mother’s diagnosis with an early form of dementia. The opening chapters are mostly a review of research about foods and supplements that improve memory and reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Still, the information makes a strong case for the axiom: You are what you eat. The book’s quick and easy recipes are based on the MIND diet, the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, developed at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, essentially a plant-based regimen built around leafy green vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains and olive oil with some fish and chicken thrown in. If you’re looking to start eating more healthfully, regardless of whether you can remember the name of your first-grade teacher, this book can give you a start.
Carol Saline is a journalist, speaker and author of the photo-essay books Sisters and Mothers & Daughters.
1 1/2 cups oat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup honey
2/3 cup coconut oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts, optional
- Preheat oven to 350. Lightly oil a cookie sheet and set aside.
- Combine the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Add oats, raisins and walnuts and stir until well distributed. Set aside.
- Blend oil and honey until smooth.
- Add the flour mixture to the honey mixture and stir to form sticky batter-like dough.
- Drop rounded tablespoons of dough about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet.
- Reduce heat to 250 and bake for 15-20 minutes.
- Cool the cookies a few minutes before removing from cookie sheet. Serve warm.
Change It Up
– For added flavor and texture, add 1 cup of toasted sunflower seeds or unsweetened shredded coconut.
– For a chewy, moister cookie, substitute the oil with an equal amount of applesauce.
For the Chili:
2 cups low-sodium or no-salt-added vegetable broth
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste, in BPA-free packaging
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
3 cups frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
4 1/2 cups cooked red kidney beans or 3 (15-ounce) cans low-sodium or no-salt-added kidney beans, drained
For the Cornbread Topping:
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup oat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 Medjool or 10 regular dates, pitted
1 cup unsweetened soy, hemp, or almond milk
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
To make the chili, heat 2 to 3 tablespoons water or low-sodium vegetable broth in a large pot and saute onions and garlic until softened. Add tomato paste, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, vegetable broth, broccoli, and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook uncovered for 30 minutes until chili has thickened.
To make the cornbread, combine cornmeal, oat flour, and baking powder in a large bowl. Stir well and set aside. In a high-powered blender, combine dates, nondairy milk, and ground flaxseeds. Combine with the dry ingredients, stirring just until well combined. Mixture will be thick.
To assemble the pie, preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly oil a 13 ✕ 9-inch baking dish. Transfer the chili to the baking dish. Sprinkle corn kernels on top. Drop cornbread batter, by the spoonful, on top of the chili until the batter forms an even layer on top, using a fork to lightly spread the batter. It is okay if it is not a perfect layer; sections of the chili may still be visible. Bake for 20 minutes.
PER SERVING: CALORIES 371; PROTEIN 16g; CARBOHYDRATE 73g; TOTAL FAT 3.7g; SATURATED FAT 0.5g; SODIUM 110mg; FIBER 14.8g; BETA-CAROTENE 912mcg; VITAMIN C 43mg; CALCIUM 194mg; IRON 8mg; FOLATE 201mcg; MAGNESIUM 104mg; ZINC 2.1mg; SELENIUM 8mcg