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Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating

Book Review

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating
By Mark Bittman
Simon & Schuster (2009)
Reviewed by Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD

Claims

This book will help you lose weight, reduce your risk of many chronic diseases, save money and help stop global warming, yet the changes will be easier and more pleasant than any diet you've tried and require no sacrifice.

Synopsis of the Diet Plan

The premise is foods produced by agribusiness in the form of highly processed flours, fats and high-fructose corn syrup have little nutritional value and are the cause of the nation's current health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. The author uses supporting evidence nutrition experts have offered before: Current meat-focused food production is unsustainable, a waste of resources and a source of pollution in the form of pesticides and hormones as well as methane gas from livestock manure. Additionally, he asserts our reliance on a few big crops, particularly corn and soy, depletes the soil, thereby requiring the use of ever greater quantities of chemical fertilizers that require massive amounts of fossil fuel to manufacture.

With cookbook author Kerri Conan (Williams-Sonoma Best Recipes from the award-winning International Cookbooks Savoring series:Desserts, Appetizers, Meat and Poultry, Pasta and Rice, Fish and Shellfish), Bittman devised a plan called "vegan until six." All day long until dinner, the diet contains almost no animal products, no simple carbohydrates and no junk food. (Simple carbohydrates are sugars, white flours and other processed grains like white rice.) At dinner, the diet allows some animal protein with more "vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains and less meat, sugar, junk food and over-refined carbohydrates."

There are four weeks of suggested meal plans with 75 recipes in the cookbook section. These recipes are designed to help you eat more plant-based protein with fruits, vegetables, whole grain and small amounts of lean animal protein being the emphasis.

Nutritional Pros and Cons

The author and his assistant are not registered dietitians, nor does he explain much science for his plan. The science for eating less animal protein and for eating by his "sane approach" is not well explained and at times questionable.

The good news is, he is saying what most registered dietitians are saying in terms of bottom line eating plans: Eat more whole grain, fruits, vegetables and less highly processed and refined grains, animal fats and animal protein. Many RDs do not use the term "junk food" to define foods that are less nutrient rich or "good carb and bad carb" to distinguish whole grains from refined sugars. It is hard to say "all foods fit" when some are labeled "junk" or "bad," even though we may arrive at the same eating plan. Semantics aside, he proposes an eating plan most RDs can feel comfortable endorsing.

Bottom Line

I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a "step-by-step how-to" cookbook to implement the many eating changes registered dietitians recommend. Even though many details (the science) of the "whys" are not explained thoroughly, the information to get the desired healthy results is adequate and readable. The recipes look fresh and flavorful and relatively simple to make. Bottom line: great cookbook to achieve a healthier diet.