I’m deviating from my normal blogging style for several months to share brief information about books that have significantly helped me obtain better health.
To read the first post in this series, “Books that Helped Me Lose 100 Pounds, Part 1: Introduction,” please click here.
To read the second post in this series, “Books that Helped Me Lose 100 Pounds, Part 2: The First 20,” please click here.
To read the third post in this series, “Books that Helped Me Lose 100 Pounds, Part 3: The Second 40,” please click here.
To read the fourth post in this series, “Books that Helped Me Lose 100 Pounds, Part 4: The Final 40,” please click here.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a dietitian. I do not recommend or endorse a particular health regimen. My intention is to provide a few insights into what has worked for me at various times of my life. The information in these posts is no substitute for individual medical advice, and you use it at your own risk. These books, in the end, were not even enough for me. I lost the final 40 pounds by working with a registered dietitian. I talked about that in the fourth post of this series.
I’ve acquired many recipes over the years from multiple cooks and books, but in this post I will share the cookbooks that I have used the most in my health quest or anticipate using more in years to come. All but one of the books—which wasn’t designed to be a “diet” book—aim to provide lighter alternatives to common American foods. The techniques and ingredients they use to meet that goal, however, are often very different. I’ll confess that I dislike non-fat dairy foods and salad dressings and don’t use them, even when the recipe calls for them, which changes the nutritional statistics of many recipes for me. I do use reduced-fat items.
The first on the list is a companion book to the eating program designed by Dana Thornock, which I introduced in the second post of this series. As such, it provides low-fat recipes that emphasize fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, with small amounts of meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Most of the recipes don’t contain much added sugar either, and when they do, many contain instructions for substituting fruit juice concentrates for the sugar. None of these recipes call for low-calorie sweeteners or items that contain them. They often use canned foods and other convenience items, and for that reason, most of them are simple and easy to make.
Dana’s Cookbook, by Dana Thornock © 1995
“Your complete guide to healthy eating . . . even on a very busy schedule.”
As you gradually begin to increase your high-quality food calories and decrease your junk-food calories, your energy level may markedly increase as your metabolism quickens. You may experience an increase in lean muscle tissue, fat-burning enzymes, and body hydration. You may begin to look and feel vibrant, healthy, and full of vitality. . . .
You’ll be excited to know that as you live your new Lean & Free Lifestyle, your entire body chemistry will change, including your taste buds. Many people who used to absolutely relish junk food and hate veggies, experience a gradual and complete reversal of these preferences.
The nutritional statistics listed with each recipe in this book only contain the number of calories and fat grams per serving, plus the fat percentage. For many years I used the book more for the information it contains for putting meals together and altering recipes than for the recipes themselves. I ultimately found other cookbooks that contain recipes that I and my family like better.
Healthy Homestyle Cooking, by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. © 1994
“200 of Your Favorite Family Recipes—With a Fraction of the Fat.”
Evelyn Tribole bases the health information she gives in this cookbook on the original USDA Food Guide Pyramid from 1992, and the focus of the book is reducing fat. In some instances, she also decreases the salt. She reduces added sugar in many sweet recipes, but she also uses sugar to replace fat (such as substituting marshmallow cream for butter in frosting) in other recipes. She substitutes some of the all-purpose white flour with whole grain flour in baked goods, but she doesn’t aim to replace it all. I generally like Tribole’s baked goods, but I almost always add a tablespoon or two of fat back into them to get a better texture. She doesn’t use low-calorie sweeteners, but she does use items that contain them such as sugar-free gelatin. The only nutritional statistics given are the number of calories, number of fat grams, fat percentage, and milligrams of cholesterol.
If you think that healthy eating is synonymous with depriving yourself of tasty foods or denying yourself even one speck of fat, you could set yourself up for an eating backlash. . . .
I have to remind [my clients] that one snack, one meal, one day, even one week will not make or break health or waistlines. So let’s get rid of food deprivation and guilt—and replace them with a healthy relationship with food. (p. 4)
Evelyn Tribole followed up her success with Healthy Homestyle Cooking with another book in the same vein:
More Healthy Homestyle Cooking, Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. © 2000
“The Queen of easy home cooking serves up more than 200 outrageously good recipes. And they’re good for you!”
I’m sure you’ve seen headlines that one day proclaim a certain food to be healthful, while the next day another headline says that the same food is, in fact, dangerous. No wonder people are confused. Some of my nutrition clients say that they just want to wait until the researchers make up their scholarly minds before they make any changes in their personal eating habits. I can’t blame them, but I urge them—and you—to be patient because, believe it or not, none of this is an exact science.
Research studies are evolutionary by nature. A single study will not make or break an idea or dietary change. While nutrition research has evolved, the long-standing pillars of healthful eating have not changed. (p. 1)
I actually found this book first and like it better than Healthy Homestyle Cooking. Unlike the first book, it contains the basic nutritional statistics health-conscious people have come to expect in this type of cookbook. Evelyn Tribole’s recipes are reasonably simple and use many modern convenience foods.
The Best Light Recipe, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated. © 2006
“In The Best Light Recipe, you’ll be able to chart our progress, recipe by recipe, as we describe everything we tried and explain what worked and what didn’t. Core technique boxes such as “Sweat Vegetables and Slash Fat” and “Give It Some Juice, and Reduce” will give you ideas for cooking healthier for a lifetime, while no-nonsense ingredient boxes give you the lowdown on that confusing array of low-fat, no-fat, and “lite” products, from “reduced-fat” mayonnaise to “light” peanut butter to “fat-free” cheddar cheese. Best of all, this book gives you 300 foolproof light recipes that won’t let you down. Whether you want to eat light from time to time, or every day, you needn’t skimp on flavor ever again.”
The focus of this book is reducing fat, and most of the recipes I’ve tried have a good texture and taste great. Many of them aren’t simple, though, and substituting ingredients doesn’t always give satisfactory results. The authors haven’t made an effort to incorporate whole grains into their baked goods, although I’ve had success switching out some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour in a couple of recipes. In some cases, the authors have reduced the sugar compared to standard recipes, but I don’t believe they have made any effort to lower the sodium. None of the recipes call for low-calorie sweeteners. Basic nutritional statistics are provided.
In my effort to eat more non-starchy vegetables, I’ve been using more recipes from the next book:
Sunset Stir-Fry Cookbook © 1988
“Creative Recipes to Make In a Skillet or Wok”
One of the wonderful things about this book is that the recipes are extremely flexible. I generally use less oil than called for, substitute apple juice for the sherry in the marinades and sauces, and use basic white mushrooms when any type of unusual mushrooms are called for. Since I’m the only member of the family who will eat brown rice, I freeze cooked brown rice in individual portions to use with the stir-fries. This book contains basic nutritional information.
In 2009, my particular health needs, as well as those of another family member, motivated me to search for recipes that controlled carbohydrates, particularly added sugar in any form. I tried recipes from several cookbooks endorsed by the American Diabetes Association, and I found a new favorite cookbook author, Robyn Webb:
Diabetic Meals in 30 Minutes—or Less! By Robyn Webb © 2006
“Healthy, diabetes-friendly recipes for people with active lives and busy schedules.”
The Diabetes Comfort Foods Cookbook, by Robyn Webb © 2013
“While fancy and sophisticated foods continue to grow in popularity, ask most people what their favorite foods are and the answer will invariably be classic comfort foods: lasagna, meat loaf, mac and cheese, and cake. Unfortunately, most people think that having diabetes means the days of enjoying these hearty classics are long gone, and that their favorite foods are a thing of the past. Author Robyn Webb shows that healthy eating doesn’t have to mean giving up on favorite foods!”
Many health professionals believe that one should “eat to live.” In many ways this belief is a logical step toward good health. I have a bolder vision of wellness. My belief is that it’s actually okay to “live to eat.” Eating well is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Health to me is more than a great checkup with your doctor or a number on a scale. Good health encompasses an attitude of happiness and pleasure derived from daily activities. If eating can give a joyful experience beyond its nutritional makeup, I believe that you can find balance between what we need to eat for good health and what makes our taste buds dance in delight.
The thing I really like about these books is that they make it easy to cook from scratch. The recipes use basic, high-quality ingredients and combine them in such a way that the food tastes great, although sometimes I add a little salt if it isn’t already called for. The recipes often incorporate whole grain items, but they don’t use them exclusively. The recipes don’t contain much added sugar, and in dessert recipes, low-calorie sweeteners are sometimes combined with sugar to maintain taste and texture and, at the same time, reduce the total carbohydrates.
The book below has some good information in it—particularly about dietary exchanges and portion control—but I bought it for the recipes. The meal plans in this book adhere roughly to a 50% carbohydrate, 20% protein, and 30% fat ratio.
The Diabetes Food and Nutrition Bible, by Hope S. Warshaw R.D. and Robyn Webb M.S. © 2001
“A comprehensive nutrition guide and cookbook in one. It features the nutrition advice you need and the flavor-rich recipes you crave—all in one place with no flipping back and forth.”
All of the cookbooks by Robyn Webb contain nutritional statistics as well as dietary exchanges.
In my efforts to eat more whole foods, I’m trying more recipes from another cookbook author I discovered in 2009, Jackie Newgent:
The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, by Jackie Newgent, R.D. © 2007
“Most diabetes cookbooks rely on artificial sweeteners or not-so-real substitutions to reduce calories, sugar, and fat, but often at the expense of flavor. The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook takes a different approach, focusing on naturally delicious fresh foods and whole-food ingredients to create fantastic meals that deliver amazing taste and well-rounded nutrition. And absolutely nothing is artificial. Natural, fresh cooking isn’t just healthy—it’s delicious!”
1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes, by Jackie Newgent, R.D. © 2012
“This incredible cookbook is packed with tasty, low-calorie recipes that the whole family will love. The recipes cover every meal of the day and give home cooks an unparalleled variety of meals and ideas for eating healthfully—for a lifetime. Every recipe clocks in at less than 500 calories, but most are no more than 300 calories per serving. They’re easy to make and take the guesswork out of portion control and calorie counting. Recipes include complete nutrition information, and full menus help home cooks maintain a balanced eating approach—naturally.”
The recipes are not unrealistically low in calories, fat, or sodium, just cleverly lower in calories than you otherwise might expect. I prefer to call them “calorie friendly”! The health strategy is about adding nutritional richness. This is accomplished mainly by boosting nutrient-dense plant foods—fresh, vibrant, colorful, appealing plant foods. Meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products are featured smartly, in small quantities. (Introduction)
My philosophy for eating well is this: Eat right-size amounts of real food—and relish it. (What to Eat)
Jackie Newgent’s recipes list dietary exchanges along with the full nutritional information and tend to be more exotic and creative than those from the other cookbooks I’ve recommended. They are delicious, though, and the texture of the whole-grain baked goods is wonderful. Her sweeteners of choice are fruit, turbinado sugar, and honey. With 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes, she aims for versatility, and I believe she achieves it. A person following any of the health plans I’ve described in this series of posts could find many recipes in this book to use. By substituting a few ingredients, he or she could find a multitude of recipes!