Book Review: Eat, Drink and Be Healthy – Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating

May 8, 2011

The book ‘Eat, Drink and Be Healthy – The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating’ by Walter C. Willett and Patrick Skerrett is an excellent resource for anyone trying to learn about nutrition. When you talk about the relation between nutrition and health to most people, they think that you are into alternative medicine or do not understand scientific methods. So it was great to finally find a book written by Harvard professors who show scientific evidence about the role of nutrition for good health. It also debunks several myths about food such as carbs and fat are bad for you. I liked the book and I am writing this review to share my learnings.

First of all, this book explains how politics got in the way when the USDA’s food guide pyramid was built. The book then provides a better pyramid that is built on solid science. Whole grain foods, plant oils (olive, canola, etc), fruits and vegetables are on the bottom while white rice, red meat, butter and sweets are on the top of the pyramid. This means we need to eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and use processed grains and red meat sparingly.

The most interesting thing I learnt from this book is about the protein craze, and I am going to share in this review. Most people on a diet believe that they need to maximize protein and minimize carbs and fats. However, evidence shows that the more protein you eat, the more calcium you excrete because calcium and other agents in the blood neutralize acids formed by the digestion of the protein. This is backed by research: women who ate excessive protein (more than 95 grams of protein a day) had more broken wrists than those eating protein at less than 15% of daily calories.

So it is important to focus on a balanced diet with carbs from whole grains, oil from olive or canola oil, and some protein. It is a good idea to mix up your protein and eat a good mix of beans, nuts, whole grains and vegetables. Also, it is critical to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Most people believe that they are taking supplements and they do not need to eat fruits and vegetables. However, this book mentions research that shows fruits and vegetables are essential to get all the vitamins. If you take vitamin supplements, you get an oversupply of some vitamins and phytochemicals that block the activity of others.

Also, the book ‘Eat, Drink and Be Healthy’ debunks the myth about calcium. In reality, the United States is near the top of the list of average calcium intake per person. Research shows that excessive calcium increases the odds of developing fatal prostate cancer. For women, the risk of ovarian cancer increases if you drink a lot of milk. And there’s little evidence that taking calcium supplements will prevent fractures. In fact, eating a balanced diet with average protein will help prevent fracture because excessive protein causes calcium to excrete from the bones.

Finally, the book explains why cost does not need to stand in the way of healthy eating. Eating healthy is actually about the choices you make. Choosing the right kind of fat, carbohydrates and protein is more important than the amount of money you spend. You can also save money by cutting back on chips, ice cream, doughnuts and soda. It also provides healthy recipes at the end.

Overall, this book helped me understand nutrition from a scientific perspective. Most educated professionals including doctors don’t believe in nutrition because they were not trained to do so. And there is a lot of good and bad information that exist in media even among food writers. So it was great to actually understand the science of nutrition and convince myself that nutrition is the best investment for my health. Since I have always believed in science, the scientific evidence provided by Harvard professors further strengthened my belief about eating and living healthy. If you have not read this book already, I recommend that you check out a copy from your nearest library or buy a copy of this book.

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