With Christmas a week away, it’s time to get serious, get to the store and grab your last-minute gifts. If you have a foodie on your list, consider one of these books, which your local bookstore likely has in stock – meaning you could have it wrapped and under your tree in no time. I selected these four from all the food books published this year because each has something important to add to the national conversation about the connection between food and health.
“VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health … for Good,” by Mark Bittman, $26
Want to go vegan? But don’t want to give up cheese, or bacon, or fresh oysters, or fill-in-the-blank-with-your-must-have-food? Mark Bittman has a solution.
In his new book,“VB6,” Bittman says it’s possible to eat vegan and eat your oysters, too. Bittman devised the VB6 weight-loss plan six years ago, after years of eating his way through New York as a leading food writer caught up to him in his doctor’s office. He was overweight, had high cholesterol and was suffering from sleep apnea. His doctor told him he should go vegan.
Even Bittman – who’s written for The New York Times about meat’s toll on society and authored a cookbook called “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” – knew he wasn’t capable of being a full-time vegan. So he came up with the compromise of eating strictly vegan before 6 p.m. and then eating whatever he wants after that.
Within four months of following this style of eating, he had dropped 35 pounds, rid himself of sleep apnea and lowered his cholesterol and blood sugar.
Recipes in the book include breakfast pilaf, corny hoecakes, scrambled tofu with spinach, lentil salad, greens and beans soup and chickpea ratatouille. Dinner recipes include steak and broccoli stir fry, loaded fried rice, shrimp tabbouleh and fisherman’s stew.
Bittman’s plan shows how to gain the benefits of a vegan diet without totally giving up meat. Looking at the trends, Bittman says, “eating fewer animal products is the inevitable future.”
“Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition,” by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., with Howard Jacobson, Ph.D., $26.95
T. Colin Campbell is less optimistic. He says big money fat cats don’t want us to know food is capable of curing disease. The author of “The China Study” and one of the stars of the influential film “Forks Over Knives,” Campbell wrote “Whole” in an effort to expose the “powerful interests who make money from our collective ignorance.”
Among these interests he counts the medical and scientific research establishments, the media, the pharmaceutical industry and the food industry. In the book he takes each to task for its role in keeping Americans in the dark about nutrition.
“The China Study focused on the evidence that tells us the whole food, plant-based diet is the healthiest human diet,” Campbell writes. “Whole focuses on why it’s been so hard to bring that evidence to light.”
Campbell is a distinguished nutrition researcher, who during his long career served on government panels, authored more than 300 research papers and is currently a professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University. As an insider, he tells why the world of medical and scientific research is held back by an obsession with reductionist thinking and how this prevents most studies of food from getting at the truth.
He calls the health care system the “disease-care system.”
With little money to be made selling whole plants (compared to billions to be made selling processed junk), Campbell doubts additional government or private money will be spent researching whole foods.
“Power Foods for the Brain: An Effective 3-Step Plan to Protect Your Mind and Strengthen Your Memory,” by Neal D. Barnard, M.D., $26.99
While Neal Barnard, M.D., acknowledges that many doctors still think there’s nothing we can do to prevent age-related memory loss, he says the good news is there are proven ways to keep our minds sharp as we age.
Turns out one of the best things we can do for our memory is to eat the same plant-centered food that prevents a variety of other diseases.
“Over many years, researchers have demonstrated the power of foods to help our hearts, trim our waistlines, tackle diabetes, ease chronic pain, and improve many other aspects of our lives,” Barnard writes. “To this impressive list, we can now add protecting and enhancing our brains.”
Barnard teaches medicine at George Washington University, heads the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and is the author of numerous books, including “21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart,” “Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes” and “Foods that Fight Pain.”
Reviewing the latest studies, he says the culprits behind memory loss appear to be saturated fats, trans fats and excess iron, copper and zinc (most of it coming from animal-based foods). Other suspects include poor sleep, medication side effects and lack of physical and mental exercise.
Recipes in the book include oyster mushroom frittata, creamed corn soup, black bean fiesta salad, baked veggie falafel and plantains in cumin tomato sauce.
Much like Bittman, Barnard concludes on an upbeat note.
“The fact is, there is much we can do to prevent memory loss,” he writes, “not to mention maximize the everyday function of people who simply want to feel their best.”
“Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” by Michael Pollan, $27.95
First a warning: If you’re buying a gift for an ethical vegan or an ardent animal lover, this likely isn’t the book you want. But if your foodie can stomach detailed descriptions of whole hog barbecue (including Michael Pollan’s musings on how pig corpses look remarkably human) then he or she will find much to chew on in this book.
One of the most famous food writers of our time, Pollan is the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine.
In “Cooked,” Pollan examines how the personal act of cooking can bring families together, improve our health, make the American food system more sustainable and reduce our sense of dependence in a consumer economy.
As Pollan writes: “What I found in the kitchen is that cooking connects.… The cook stands squarely between nature and culture, conducting a process of translation and negotiation.”
He explores this process of translation and negotiation by learning how to perform four very different styles of cooking: roasting meat over a fire, baking bread, fermenting vegetables and preparing one-pot meals.
Along the way he takes some interesting detours to dive into discussions of whether cooking with fire made us uniquely human, rumors that whole wheat flour from large milling operations is actually lacking the vital wheat germ, and new research showing how our well-being hinges on the health of the microbes that live in our guts.
The book leaves readers with plenty of thoughtful fodder for the long winter ahead.
Avery Yale Kamila is a freelancer who lives in Portland, where she writes about health food and is a big fan of giving books as gifts. She can be reached at [email protected]