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

Tamara Duker Freuman Author Of The Bloated Belly Whisperer: A Nutritionist's Ultimate Guide to Beating Bloat and Improving Digestive Wellness
By Tamara Duker Freuman

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff

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

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

By Dan Buettner

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

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

By Herman Pontzer

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

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

By Giulia Enders, Jill Enders

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

Why 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”.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

By James Hamblin

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

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Random Book Lists