FoodSmart: Understanding Nutrition in the 21st Century is a brand new book from award-winning author Diana Hunter that is designed to help navigate the complex world of nutrition. It explains basics like terminology and types of food with ease and, yet, is still able to present the various sides of much more complex topics like of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) and what it means to be “organic” to a nutrition newbie. All and all, it’s not a bad book, especially if you’re just starting out in the world of nutrition and want a strong understanding of what is being talked about by everyone else. You will definitely learn a lot if you read this book, as it is jam packed with information that every nutritionally conscious consumer should know.
Walk Before You Run
For me though, this book had its ups and downs. On the positive side, it is chocked full of information, with as much knowledge on each page as an encyclopedia. But that’s also one of the book’s downfalls – it often reads like one, too, but lacks the handy tabs and user-friendly organizational format that encyclopedias have. It seems poorly organized at times (like explaining what “organic” is long after chapter upon chapter has already used the term), and over-structured at others (like pages and pages of pros and cons of different foods, which is just impossible to sit down and read through).
The book does have many good qualities. For example, Hunter does an excellent job of going over the entire process of food production, from farm to store, explaining the different agencies involved, what they do, and why they do it. Her explanation of nutrition labeling, too, is excellent, and will make even those with no prior knowledge understand what phrases like “lite” actually mean. I wish some of these chapters were near the front instead of hidden at the end. Some of the best parts of this book were pushed to the back when they should have been up front. If you want my advice, read Chapters 1, 6, 7, 10, 12, 3 and 8 in that order first, then the rest of the chapters as you wish.
Perhaps my biggest pet peeve was the attempt to give “good choices” while really not helping the casual nutritional consumer at all. The entire 30 page chapter on “conquering the confusion” which is supposed to provide guidelines for what to pick out in the grocery store could easily be replaced with the sentence “Always eat 100% organic or the closest you can get to it.”
Let’s be honest – even the most basic nutritionally-minded consumer assumes that already, and either does eat all organic or can’t afford to. It’s not until much later that she even mentions which foods might be more important than others to eat organically (like those with more pesticide use) or what it really means to be “100% organic” versus “organic” versus “made from organic ingredients.” And that’s not even considering that organic may not always be the best option (I’ll promise to explain myself on that in another post).
For me, the book shouldn’t have tried to act like a guide and just presented the facts. It would have been much better if Chapter 2 were completely removed. Leave out the “which to choose” (especially when there is no real advice given) and just present the detailed pros and cons of foods like in Chapter 4, though preferably much later in the book after explaining more of the basics (like what the different food types are, what “organic” is, and explaining nutritional labels). The addition of too much “what to pick” kind of thinking, especially early on, clouded the book’s goal of providing “clarity about the many aspects of food and bring to the table an understanding of nutritional research.”
On the Upside…
That’s not to say that it’s a bad book. One of the best parts of the book, in my opinion, was its clear and thorough explanation of why it’s not so easy to just say “this is good and this is bad” when it comes to nutrition. Diana Hunter explains exactly why there is so much variation in scientific studies on nutrition, why science doesn’t always give a clear answer even to a simple question, but yet why nutritional research is still very important. Sometimes it is just so hard to explain why two good scientists can get two different answers to nutritional questions, and she details the dilemma perfectly.
The simple truth is that our bodies are complex and a lot of variables are in play, far too many for any experiment to control. As easy as it might sound to say “is X good for you,” the scientific answer is complicated and includes questions like ‘how often,’ ‘how much,’ ‘if produced by who,’ ‘if you eat Y with it,’ and so on, with each different permutation potentially giving a different answer. And, as I explained, she did do an excellent job of detailing the basics of nutrition and nutritional labeling.
If your goal is to dive head first into the world of nutrition, this book has what you want. You will learn all the terminology you need to really start understanding some of the more complex nutritional articles out there as well as what all those symbols on packages in the store are really telling you. But if you just want to know what to buy when you go to the grocery store, you’re going to feel overwhelmed and still feel like you’re not sure what to get. It’s not a user-friendly nutritional guide for the masses, and it isn’t going to give you easy choices (except for ‘eat organic‘), nor should it be thought of as one. The book’s best quality is that it gives you the information to start making decisions for yourself, not just follow a step-by-step guide of what to eat.