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BOOK REVIEW: Nutrition: A Very Short Introduction by David A. Bender

Nutrition: A Very Short IntroductionNutrition: A Very Short Introduction by David Bender
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Do you want to know what percentage of your diet should be carbohydrates because your personal trainer is telling you it’s zero? Do you know whether you need vitamin B12 supplements? How much energy does your huge human brain use? What the hell is Kwashiorkor? If these types of questions are of interest to you, you might be interested in this book.

There’s nothing particularly fancy or exciting about this book, but it’s still a useful book for a couple of reasons. First, it sticks to the science on the subject, and diet and nutrition is one of the most myth and disinformation riddled subjects around because there are so many people trying to shill their fad diets and because there are so many who desperately want to believe that they can cut pounds and still eat a case of Twinkies every week through some scientific loophole [psst, you can’t.] Here and there throughout this book, there are quick deconstructions of these myths and lies. (i.e. I should point out that some of this dietary “wisdom” will result in weight loss—but it won’t necessarily result in a net health gain. e.g. If you cut out carbs, you’ll lose weight—but your brain will also be starved of the glucose that it needs to conduct its business and will have to engage in slow and costly processes to get it from elsewhere.) Second, the book is short and to the point. If you don’t have a lot of time to devote to reading up on nutrition, this may be the book for you.

The book consists of eight chapters:

Chapter 1: Why eat? (deals with appetite and satiety, and not just the less-than-profound question of why a human body needs energy.)

Chapter 2: Energy Nutrition (gives the basics of food as an energy source—as opposed to food as building blocks.)

Chapter 3: Protein Nutrition (teaches one about food as building blocks.)

Chapter 4: Over-nutrition and Problems of Overweight and Obesity (addresses the causes of being overweight as well as explaining how to counteract those causes. One nice feature of this chapter is it gives a quick and dirty summation of the various types of diets, tells which are supported by science, and explains which have undesirable unintended consequences.)

Chapter 5: Diet and Health (explains many of the ways nutrition influences health. Contrary to popular belief, weight isn’t the only way [or, necessarily, the most critical way] in which dietary problems can adversely affect health. In other words, it’s possible to be stocky or curvy and in good overall health, or, alternatively, one can be svelte and running up on death’s door. This chapter also describes first-world ailments that are sometimes called diseases of affluence.)

Chapter 6: Under-nutrition (Marasmus, cachexia, and kwashiorkor. Don’t know what those words mean? Think they are towns in a sword and sorcery fantasy novel? You’ll know after finishing this chapter.)

Chapter 7: Vitamins and Minerals (Most of the dietary suggestions in the book up to this point are put in terms of macro-nutrients [i.e. carbohydrates, fats, and proteins], but this chapter focuses on micro-nutrients. There’s a reason micro-nutrients are addressed so late in the book, and that’s that most people who are getting sufficient macro-nutrients from actual food [as opposed to the “stuff” sold at McDonald’s or in convenience stores] get all they need of micro-nutrients. But there can be issues with micro-nutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamin D, and Vitamin B12 depending upon one’s unique life situation. In other words, unless your doctor tells you that you need a supplement, you probably don’t.)

Chapter 8: Functional Foods, Super Foods, and Supplements (Probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, super foods, and supplements. One area that gets short shrift in this book is the importance of one’s gut bacteria—which has become a huge part of the discussion of late. There is a little mention of it in this chapter, but not much.)

There are few graphics in the book, but there are many tables. I didn’t feel anything was missing in terms of graphics. None of these “Very Short Introduction” guides offers much by way of bibliography, and the “Further Reading” section tends to favor textbooks over popular works. This book is no exception in either regard.

I’d recommend this book for anybody who wants a quick low-down on the science of nutrition. As mentioned, the one area I thought it might have delved into in greater depth was the role of gut microbes. However, overall, I think it was well-organized and provided interesting food for thought (pun recognized, but not intended.)

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