So far in my life, I’ve had a lot of roles as a teacher. I taught swimming, skating and even flight lessons before getting into nutrition. One thing you need to understand as a teacher is that everyone has a different way of learning.
Some people learn best through listening, some through reading and some through doing. Most people actually learn best with a combination of methods, even when one is the strongest.
People also come into a situation with their own personality and perspective. That makes them see what you’re trying to teach them a bit differently. You can go over the molecular structure of a tree until you’re blue in the face, but if what someone understands is the system rather than the individual parts you’re not going to get anywhere.
I get a lot of questions from people who want to learn more about nutrition, and I have a lot of healthy eating books that I could recommend.
What I find though is that each author brings their own unique perspective to the massive topic of nutrition, and this creates not only a huge number of books but also a huge variety in approach.
Here are 20 books that are my favorites. I usually learn something from every healthy eating book I read, and often what I learn is a new way of looking at nutrition.
All-Encompassing Healthy Eating Books
Staying Healthy with Nutrition, by Elson M Haas
This was the first book I had to read in my nutrition program. It was a little daunting because the book is massive, but from the first chapter I knew that I had chosen my program well because he expanded on a lot of the same ideas about nutrition as I had. His approach integrates the big picture with the tiniest details, giving value to both experiential and scientific research. Either one on their own can be inaccurate, but together they give us much more insight. He sees whole foods as the ideal, but also sees the value of supplements.
He’s a big believer in detoxing and seasonal eating, and he’s written two other healthy eating books on each of those topics individually. This book brings them all together, with sections on all the major components of a healthy diet (including supplements), and how to tie them into a general healthy eating plan as well as for specific situations. As an example, he has advice for executives and frequent travelers.
It is not a light read, the book probably weighs 5 pounds. If you really want to learn about nutrition, this book puts all the major components together and is a great place to start if you can get through it.
Food and Healing, by Anne Marie Colbin
This book is deceivingly small in size, because there is a mass amount of information in it. She introduces an idea of nutrients as proportional, rather than based on servings – an idea that I think makes total sense. The information is based more on philosophy – Eastern views of balance and the energetic properties of food – than scientific nutrition, so if you’re not into that side this book probably isn’t for you. She gives a great critique of all the major diet plans, and detail on the benefits and downsides of all food groups.
Although she doesn’t discuss the Western scientific side of nutrition much, there are plenty of other books that do and wind up giving the same recommendations. This book just gives another way of thinking for people who understand this side more easily. The only slight difference of opinion I have in the whole book is a short section about vitamin and mineral supplements.
She says that whole foods are the ideal (which I agree with), and that we should trust that our foods contain the nutrients they’re supposed to. The reason I disagree is that I have a husband who has been learning and researching the effects of agriculture on our soil, and the degradation that has caused our food to be less nutrient-dense than it once was.
This is a tiny point in an otherwise excellent healthy eating book, and it makes no difference to the other ideas she goes over about a healthy meal plans.
Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, by Paul Pitchford
This is a really large book, but the information is easily accessible. It’s broken into sections – first is an overview of Chinese medicine and how to integrate it with modern nutrition. He has a really good section on food combining, and also on dietary ways to support childrens’ health. He looks at seasonal cycles of the body, the therapeutic use of the five flavors, and the five elements (which he relates to season and organ system). There is a very long section in the middle about specific diseases and dietary treatments that help the body rebalance, then another long section of recipes with the healing properties of each food group. This is one of my favorite healthy eating books, and every time I pick it up I learn something new. It has so much depth that it keeps teaching you more as your understanding of nutrition grows.
The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, by Vasant Lad
This is a great overview of the theory of Ayurveda, but mostly a practical guide for using Ayurveda to maintain balance and to regain balance from health issues. There is a list of characteristics to help you determine your natural dosha. He suggests going through once thinking about yourself over your life, and then again thinking of just the last 2 months so that you can see your current position. This is helpful because it will tell you if you are out of balance with your nature. He gives general healthy eating guidelines for each dosha, and then the last 2 thirds of the book are dedicated to a list of Ayurvedic healing remedies for specific health issues, from jet lag to hypoglycemia.
Diabetes and Hypoglycemia: Your Natural Guide to Healing with Diet, Vitamins, Herbs, Exercise and Other Natural Methods, by Michael T Murray
This healthy eating book gives important insights into the causes and treatment of blood sugar imbalances. One thing I particularly appreciated was that in his explanation of the glycemic index, he went on to explain the importance of fiber and that low GI foods aren’t the only thing to focus on for blood sugar levels. The biggest section of the book covers diet, with some recipes, and then he goes over supplements, herbs and lifestyle factors for blood sugar balance. An interesting chapter at the end of the book is about syndrome X, which mentions how diabetes is often accompanied by other cardiovascular risk factors like high cholesterol, and a brief look at what you can do to get to a healthy cholesterol and blood pressure level.
Healing Arthritis, by Penny Kendall-Reed and Stephen Reed
A husband and wife team of naturopath and orthopedic surgeon have put together a great guide for patients with arthritis. The put nutrition and natural supplements together with pharmaceutical and surgical treatments to show how the two sides can be used effectively and collaboratively. They explain the different types of arthritis, how to recognize them, what causes them and also some common conditions that are mistaken for arthritis. They make a huge and scary topic easy to understand, and give valuable practical information without wasting a single paragraph. This isn’t just a healthy eating book, but there are plenty of nutritional recommendations.
Reverse heart disease now, by Stephen Sinatra, James Roberts and Martin Sucker
This book goes beyond cholesterol to look at the causes behind cardiovascular disease. It’s written by 2 cardiologists, and integrates medicine, nutritional supplements, diet and lifestyle changes for the prevention and treatment of heart disease. They take you through 4 areas that can be used to improve cardiovascular health: Healthy diet plan to achieve healthy weight, Supplements and prescriptions, Exercise, Mental techniques to encourage healthy moods, attitudes and behaviors.
While the section on supplements is longer than each of the other three sections, that’s an area that doesn’t often get covered in other resources on heart disease. Supplements can get expensive, and the authors break down the average cost of their recommendations, but they also give you information on which ones are crucial and which ones are just helpful so that you can choose how much you want to get into.
You can get the details about an overall healthy diet plan in other healthy eating books, and this book will give you the tweaks you’ll need from there specific to heart disease. Overall, this is a really valuable resource to guide people who are serious about improving their cardiovascular health.
Allergies: Disease in Disguise, by Carolee Bateson-Koch
Allergies are becoming more and more common, and the really scary thing is that they can show up as almost any symptom. This book is different from other allergy resources, which teach you how to avoid and adapt to a life of deprivation. Carolee has been working with allergies for a long time, and has been able to help her patients actually recover from allergies and be able to go back to a normal way of eating and living. She explains how avoiding allergens can actually result in higher sensitivities, and gives practical recommendations for overcoming allergies. The only trouble with this healthy eating book is that it’s so packed with detail that it will make you want to get an appointment with her. If you or a loved one has an allergy, and you are committed to making changes to overcome it, this book will give you so much more value than its price tag.
New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind: Expanded and Updated, by Patrick Holford
This book gives some really interesting recommendations for and understanding of mental imbalances – from minor ones to major ones. He gives detail on general brain health, depression, mental disorders like schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. There are guidelines for nutritional support and natural supplements, as well as information on how toxicity of certain nutrients can affect brain health. This is another really targeted healthy eating book, that will be really valuable for those interested in mental health.
Today’s Herbal Health: The Essential Reference Guide, by Louise Tenney
This is a perfect introduction and practical guide for herbology. It was recommended to me by my neighborhood medicinal herb shop when I asked for a good all-around reference. She starts with a section on how to prepare herbs, and then goes through each major herb to give its properties and uses. She then goes over how herbs combine to be more effective, and gives some herbal combinations to use for a wide variety of health issues – from colds to arthritis to skin health. She also has a section on some fasts and cleansing diets, herbs for specific uses (i.e. pregnancy, first aid), and then herbal combinations to support the systems of the body. This isn’t a full background on herbs, but if you’re looking for a reference guide to using herbs along with your healthy eating books, this one is fantastic – extremely informative, but not overwhelming.
The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition, by Anita Bean
This book is very easy to understand, and gives lots of good information about nutrition for athletes. If you aren’t training as an elite athlete, there are lots of sections in this healthy eating book that won’t apply to you, and you might be swayed to think harder about workout nutrition than you need to as a recreational athlete.
She takes a very traditional stance on sports nutrition – for instance, she talks about the ideal ratio of carbohydrates:protein for post-workout snacks without mentioning the digestibility of foods after an intense workout. She does, however, dispel the myth that mass amounts of protein are necessary for even the most intense athletes, and gives a decent section for vegetarian athletes (my only critique being that she sticks to the idea of protein combinations being necessary within meals). Overall, this is a great book to understand athletic performance and how to support that with nutrition – just be sure you don’t get carried away if you aren’t doing intense strength or endurance training.
Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life, by Brendan Brazier
This is a really detailed healthy eating book for athletes, from the experience of a very successful triathlete who shifted to a raw vegan diet for no other reason than his personal performance. The science references aren’t all technically correct, and he relies more on his own experience of nutrition and performance, but if you ignore that and look at the book more as an autobiography with some great recipes and tips from a successful athlete, it can give motivation and ideas. One great point is that his recipes avoid soy and tofu, which are usually all over the place in vegan sports nutrition.
Winning the Food Fight: Every Parent’s Guide to Raising a Healthy, Happy Child, by Joey Shulman
This is a great healthy eating book for parents who want to know what to feed their kids, and some ideas on how to make that happen despite protests. It’s easy to read, and gives lots of information on nutrition for healthy kids. The one flaw is that the author doesn’t have kids herself, and I’m not sure she covers all the bases on dealing with picky eaters. That said, if you’re interested in the nutrition aspect of feeding kids and don’t have super picky mouths to feed, this book is excellent.
Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup, by Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu
A similar title to the last book, and a similar topic but this is a healthy eating book with a specific target – getting nutritious food into the pickiest children. It was written by two moms who are also pediatricians. They have a ton of tricks up their sleeves, including how to compromise and where to focus on your wins rather than being frustrated at not achieving perfection.
Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development, by George Vaillant
This is an extremely interesting book on how to successfully progress through life after 50, and gives some valuable tips on things you can do while you’re younger to set yourself up for successful aging. The author is in charge of a study that has been following the lives of three cohorts (groups of people) for more than 50 years, starting from when they were teenagers. The great thing about studying people as they age is that they discover cause and effect relationships opposite to what is assumed by studies that look back on someone’s life and health.
For example, one of the main factors the author points to in unsuccessful aging is alcohol dependence, which results in depression and isolation. He found that in later interviews, the subjects look back on their life and see alcohol abuse as a result of feeling depressed and alone – even though he can see from past interviews that, chronologically, the depression began after the drinking. This isn’t really a healthy eating book – it’s a healthy aging book. Even though it doesn’t give nutritional advice, I’m including it because it shows how valuable the factors other than nutrition are once you reach 50 in living a happy life into your eighties.
Digestion And Food Combining
Eating Alive: Prevention Thru Good Digestion, by John Matsen
This is the ultimate healthy eating book focusing on digestion and how to make your digestive system as healthy as possible. It’s a fun read, but don’t let the cartoons fool you – there is a ton of information packed in there. So much of nutritional advice is focused on what we put in our mouths, but none of that matters if your digestive system isn’t functioning properly because the food and nutrients will just pass right through. Problems in your digestive system can manifest as low energy, gas, bloating, fatigue or more serious diseases. If you’re interested in health and nutrition, you need to learn about how to optimize your own digestion. This book is a fantastic way to start, and will show you just how important it is to keep your digestive system healthy.
Nutrition Almanac, by John D. Kirschmann
This is a perfect reference book for healthy eating that gives a quick overview of a huge variety of topics. He starts by looking at each nutrient, both macro (carbohydrate, fat, protein) and micro (vitamins and minerals), and explaining their purpose in the body, how much we absorb, how much you should have, what the deficiency and toxicity symptoms are their beneficial effects on ailments. He then takes the same approach in looking at each group of foods, saying why each is helpful. The third major section flips the information around and organizes food and nutrient support by ailment. The last section is nutritional information, starting with lists of foods that are high in individual nutrients and then charts of nutritional information for individual foods. The nutritional charts include the macronutrients, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Overall, this is a really useful healthy eating book and compact reference for offline nutritional information.
Connecting Mind, Body and Spirit
Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, by Caroline Myss
This is a really interesting book about the energy systems of our bodies. It’s not a healthy eating book, but rather a book about the overall health of your body, mind and spirit. She describes our bodies with reference to seven centers of energy and power, showing what it looks and feels like to have a blockage in one of those centers. They represent steps of personal growth and development, but she links them to specific physical and emotional issues. If you’re interested in energy healing or intuition, this is a great look at the process and system behind it.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollen
Michael Pollen has written quite a few books, but this is the only one I’ve read so far. He traces back the origins of 4 meals – one fast food, one from industrial-organically grown food, one from sustainable-organically grown food and one from foraged foods.
He uncovers a lot of interesting information, including the detrimental health and environmental effects of industrial organics and how animals can contribute to the regeneration of degraded land if managed properly. I’d add here that whether we eat those animals is a choice up to each person, but he definitely advocates a diet of primarily plant foods. A healthy eating book with a twist, Michael Pollen is an excellent writer who brings some interesting ideas to the table. A more recent book, In Defense of Food, is one I’m keen to read as well.
The End of Food, by Paul Roberts
This is a really well-written look at industrial food production, and the ways in which our food no longer has the nutrients it should have. He starts the book by describing his red tennis-balls – tomatoes from the supermarket that don’t ripen or rot. It will open your eyes as to how destructive industrial agriculture can be – for both animal and plant foods. If you’re ready to change, this healthy eating book will motivate you take action.
So if you ask me to recommend a healthy eating book for you to learn more, I’ll ask you how you learn best and what view of the world you identify with most.
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