The best popular science books to make yourself health-fad proof

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an evidence-based dietitian who’s worked in gastroenterology practices for over a decade and have seen countless patients defrauded by modern-day snake oil salespeople and unqualified influencers trying to hawk fad diets, unregulated supplements, pseudoscientific lab tests, and more. Knowledge is power, and scientific literacy—understanding how our bodies actually work—is the best defense against being led down a harmful rabbit hole of health misinformation. I love popular science books, and I especially love it when people can write about science with humor and intelligence without ‘dumbing it down’ or oversimplifying; these books all meet that criteria!

I wrote...

The Bloated Belly Whisperer: A Nutritionist's Ultimate Guide to Beating Bloat and Improving Digestive Wellness

By Tamara Duker Freuman,

Book cover of The Bloated Belly Whisperer: A Nutritionist's Ultimate Guide to Beating Bloat and Improving Digestive Wellness

What is my book about?

Since bloating can accompany many conditions, my book starts with a symptom-based quiz that helps narrow down the likelier causes of your individual problem. It then directs you to the most relevant chapters so you can read about these conditions in detail, determine whether they resemble your experience, and learn all about how they’re diagnosed and treated with diet, supplements, medicines, and/or other interventions. It includes several therapeutic diets tailored to different causes of bloating, 50 digestively friendly recipes, and an encyclopedia of common dietary supplements with a summary of the scientific evidence to support their safety and effectiveness.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases

Tamara Duker Freuman Why did I love this book?

Long before everyone and their mother knew about the gut microbiome and its impact on overall health and immunity, Velasquez-Manoff blew my mind with this impeccably researched book about the connections between specific “old friends”—microorganisms that had long been part of the human species’ inner ecosystems—and risk of developing autoimmune disease. Forget the fearmongering explanations you’ve seen on social media blaming GMOs, gluten, lectins, or the dietary demon du jour; this book has actual evidence-based answers to the question of why allergies and autoimmune diseases are on the rise.

The author is a journalist with a knack for storytelling and making complex science accessible—and he is also affected by multiple autoimmune diseases himself. His storytelling takes readers all over the world to different societies at different periods and introduces us to specific bacteria, worms, and viruses—“old friends”—whose erasure from our collective inner ecosystems seems to foretell a rise in the prevalence of specific autoimmune diseases. While this book was published in 2012 and so much new research about the human microbiome has emerged since then, Epidemic of Absence still offers a fantastic foundation for understanding why germaphobia, excessive medication use, and super-sterile lives may have reduced the risk of infectious diseases, but fueled the scourge of autoimmune diseases in so doing.

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Epidemic of Absence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant, groundbreaking report on the dramatic rise of allergic and autoimmune disease, and the controversial therapies scientists are developing to correct these disorders.

From asthma to Crohn’s disease, everyone knows someone who suffers from an allergic or autoimmune disorder. And if it appears that the prevalence of these maladies has increased recently, that’s because it has—to levels never before seen in human history. These days no fewer than one in five—and likely more—Americans suffers from one of these ailments. We seem newly, and bafflingly, vulnerable to immune system malfunction. Why? One possibility is that we have systematically cleaned ourselves…

Book cover of The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest

Tamara Duker Freuman Why did I love this book?

If you’re tired of getting whiplash from contradictory diet advice online, following fad diets, and taking health advice from social media influencers who get paid by the post, then this book will help make you fad-diet proof. In this book, you’ll meet the best possible health influencers you could imagine: people who live in the world’s so-called “Blue Zones”, who are 3xs more likely to live past age 100 without being burdened by the chronic diseases that afflict so many of us in the US.

At a time when our dietary preferences have morphed into tribal, almost religious identities, it is so refreshing to learn that people in the 5 Blue Zones—Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California-- who live the longest healthiest lives don’t all follow the same diets! Some eat dairy, some don’t. Some eat soy, some don’t. Some eat gluten, some don’t. None of them follow low-carb, grain-free diets. Some of them eat sugar in moderation and lived to tell the tale. Very few of them are strict vegans, but they all eat mostly plant foods as the foundation of their diets. All of them also eat beans daily.

Learning about the diets and lifestyles of people in the Blue Zones helps me disarm a lot of the dogmatic, one-size-fits-all thinking about nutrition that I encounter online and among my patients. It helps us see that there is more than one version of a healthy diet, and so many of the foods that are scapegoated by wellness culture influencers and fad diet pushers are far from the demons they are made out to be.

By Dan Buettner,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Blue Zones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A long, healthy life is no accident. It begins with good genes, but it also depends on good habits. If you adopt the right lifestyle, experts say, chances are you may live up to a decade longer. Buettner has led teams of researchers across the globe--from Costa Rica to Sardinia, Italy, to Okinawa, Japan and beyond--to uncover the secrets of Blue Zones. He found that the recipe for longevity is deeply intertwined with community, lifestyle, and spirituality. People live longer and healthier by embracing a few simple but powerful habits, and by creating the right community around themselves. In The…

Book cover of Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Stay Healthy, and Lose Weight

Tamara Duker Freuman Why did I love this book?

I’m so sick of popular magazines comparing our bodies to cars that burn energy at a predictable, steady rate; suggesting that daily 100 calorie cuts to our diets will add up to 10 pounds per year of weight loss; or promising that certain foods or meal patterns somehow “boost your metabolism.” Literally, none of this is true, and evolutionary biologist Dr. Herman Pontzer’s new book takes you on a methodical and humorous trip through decades of research into human metabolism and energetics to explain why. While he’s taking down one myth after the next using a robust body of scientific evidence, Pontzer also explains how despite what we’re promised, it’s almost impossible to exercise enough to promote significant weight loss; why severely calorie-restricted diets are doomed to fail—and make you more likely to gain weight when all is said and done; why modern Paleo diets bear no resemblance to how Paleolithic people actually ate; why keto diets aren’t superior to low-fat diets for weight loss; and much, much more.

To be clear: this is not a diet book or a weight loss book, so if you’re expecting some magic tips on how to hack your metabolism for weight loss, you’ll be disappointed. Rather, Pontzer helps you understand how your body actually works so you’ll stop falling for harmful fad diets, and his explanations will probably validate many of your frustrations about how difficult it can be to change your body weight even when you are eating well and exercising regularly. Be warned: in order to truly understand the juicy myth-busting second half of the book, you’ll have to slog through some pretty painful nutritional biochemistry (skim the Kreb’s Cycle section, but don’t skip it entirely) on your way. Also, Pontzer throws around the ‘O” word quite a bit; I do wish he would have used less stigmatizing language when he discusses body weight.

By Herman Pontzer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Burn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Pontzer's findings have huge implications for our attitudes to exercise, diet and public health' Mark Webster, Sunday Times

A myth-busting tour of the body's hidden foundations from a pioneering evolutionary biologist

'Public health strategies stubbornly cling to the simplistic armchair engineer's view of metabolism, hurting efforts to combat obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and the other diseases that are most likely to kill us'

Herman Pontzer's ground-breaking research has revealed how, contrary to received wisdom, exercise does not increase our metabolism. Instead, we burn calories within a very narrow range: nearly 3,000 calories per day, no matter our activity level.…

Book cover of Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ

Tamara Duker Freuman Why did I love this book?

As a dietitian in a gastroenterology practice, I can’t tell you how many patients of mine have been defrauded by alternative medicine providers dispensing pseudoscientific “diagnoses” who then sell them thousands of dollars of useless lab tests and unproven dietary supplements to treat them. I have come to believe that we can be especially vulnerable to such quackery when we don’t really understand how our bodies—and our digestive systems in particular—actually function.

Enders’ comprehensive—and entertaining—book is like an owner’s manual to your digestive system. It explains the basic physiology of the gut (how everything is supposed to work); the difference between allergies and food intolerances; what’s common symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting tell us; the “brain-gut connection” that underlies conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS); the development and role of the gut microbiome… and so much more.

Once you have a thorough, science-based understanding of your digestive system, you’ll be a lot savvier when it comes to too-good-to-be-true quick fixes, fad diets, restrictive elimination protocols and so much of the nonsense that’s being marketed in the quest for “gut health”.

By Giulia Enders, Jill Enders (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Gut as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


“Everything you ever wanted to know about the gut (and then some).”

Discover the secrets of your digestive system—and how to hone a healthy gut—plus new research on the mind-gut connection.

With quirky charm, science star and medical doctor Giulia Enders explains the gut’s magic, answering questions like: What’s really up with gluten and lactose intolerance? How does the gut affect obesity? What's the connection between our microbiome and mental health? Why does acid reflux happen? In this revised edition of her beloved bestseller, Enders includes a new section on the brain-gut connection,…

Book cover of If Our Bodies Could Talk: Operating and Maintaining a Human Body

Tamara Duker Freuman Why did I love this book?

I first picked up this book years ago for the appeal of its short, science-based chapters took on novelty, quirky questions about why our bodies are so weird: why do we have dimples? Why do stomachs rumble? Why do men have nipples? What happens to weight when it’s lost? (Spoiler alert: you breathe it out!)

But Hamblin also takes on some more serious topics, the (mis)understanding of which is even more important in the era of COVID and social-media-fueled wellness culture: how do vaccines work? Can you really boost your immune system? Do probiotics work? What about multivitamins? Are we made to eat meat? What is gluten, anyway? What causes cancer? Hamblin’s humor, straight-talk and lack of any agenda to sell you anything but the state of the science is a refreshing balm in a world fueled with health disinformation that thrives on our lack of scientific knowledge.

By James Hamblin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked If Our Bodies Could Talk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"If you want to understand the strange workings of the human body, and the future of medicine, you must read this illuminating, engaging book." —Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Gene

In 2014, James Hamblin launched a series of videos for The Atlantic called "If Our Bodies Could Talk."  With it, the doctor-turned-journalist established himself as a seriously entertaining authority in the field of health. Now, in illuminating and genuinely funny prose, Hamblin explores the human stories behind health questions that never seem to go away—and which tend to be mischaracterized and oversimplified by marketing and news media.  He covers topics…

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Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

Book cover of Rewriting Illness

Elizabeth Benedict

New book alert!

What is my book about?

What happens when a novelist with a “razor-sharp wit” (Newsday), a “singular sensibility” (Huff Post), and a lifetime of fear about getting sick finds a lump where no lump should be? Months of medical mishaps, coded language, and Doctors who don't get it.

With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling artistry of an acclaimed novelist, Elizabeth Benedict recollects her cancer diagnosis after discovering multiplying lumps in her armpit. In compact, explosive chapters, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity, she chronicles her illness from muddled diagnosis to “natural remedies,” to debilitating treatments, as she gathers sustenance from family, an assortment of urbane friends, and a fearless “cancer guru.”

Rewriting Illness is suffused with suspense, secrets, and the unexpected solace of silence.

Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

What is this book about?

By turns somber and funny but above all provocative, Elizabeth Benedict's Rewriting Illness: A View of My Own is a most unconventional memoir. With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling skills of a seasoned novelist, she brings to life her cancer diagnosis and committed hypochondria. As she discovers multiplying lumps in her armpit, she describes her initial terror, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity as she indulges in "natural remedies," among them chanting Tibetan mantras, drinking shots of wheat grass, and finding medicinal properties in chocolate babka. She tracks the progression of her illness from muddled diagnosis to debilitating treatment…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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