Barbara Burke

Health Options

By Joannie Dobbs & Alan Titchenal

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Find guidance
in good book

People often ask us where they can find good nutrition information. They are frustrated with the large amount of seemingly contradictory information and misinformation they encounter on nutrition and health topics. How can the average person distinguish between the latest cutting-edge science and flat-out misinformation and marketing hype?

It really helps to have a reliable and balanced nutrition reference book on hand. But this type of book is unlikely to make the best-seller list. Somehow best sellers in this arena are always the hyped-up books that frequently take on a cult-like following of believers. They make promises that sound too good to be true and those promises turn out to be empty.

We recommend the American Dietetic Association's "Complete Food and Nutrition Guide," a practical, comprehensive, balanced and well-written resource. Its approach falls about halfway between textbook and a popular book on nutrition. It doesn't burden the reader with pages of scientific references, but does have a good section on reliable resources for sound information.

We like the book's approach. For example, the chapter on sodium does not start off with warnings about the horrors of salt. Rather, it puts sodium into its proper perspective as a nutrient that is essential for health. It then explains that most Americans consume too much salt and why that can be a problem for some people.

Overall, this book is about how to enjoy a wide variety of good foods in reasonable amounts and proportions. It doesn't give you a list of magic foods, nor does it include lists of forbidden food as found in so many popular books.

Along with nutrition basics, the book covers many practical topics, such as smart supermarket shopping, safe food preparation and healthy dining out. There is extensive coverage of healthy eating from infancy through old age, special chapters for athletes and vegetarians, and a handy chapter on how to stay well-informed and find reliable information.

We are not easy readers to please, and we did find some minor problem. For example, the chapter on vegetarian diets says, "Except for soybeans, plant proteins lack one or more essential amino acids." This is a misleading statement that we have found in other textbooks as well. In this case, "lack" does not mean "missing." Tables of the amino acid contents of food proteins were published several decades ago and show that gelatin is the only significant protein source that is completely missing an essential amino acid.

Overall, this book is among the best for reliability, comprehensiveness and readability. It's over 600 pages, yet the list price is only $24.95.

No one source will answer all your questions, and this one is no exception. However, the more you read from reliable sources, the less likely you are to be a victim of promoters using the old snake-oil promises that a single product or diet can provide superior health or cure whatever ails you.

Health Events

Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a food and nutrition consultant
and owner of Exploring New Concepts, a nutritional consulting firm.
She is also responsible for the nutritional analyses
indicated by an asterisk in this section.

Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a sports nutritionist in the
Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Science,
University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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