- The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World by Robert Fogel
- Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price
- Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health by Gary Taubes
In Escape from Hunger and Premature death, my main take away was that the agricultural revolution (which closely coincided with the industrial revolution) lead to increasing calories available for consumption in Western European nations. The starting point was abysmal low levels of calories, close to starvation for large segments of the populations. With increased calories came greater energy and greater health. Greater energy and health led to greater productivity, further helping transform Europe's transformation into industrial society.
In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston Price chronicles his decade long quest in the early 20th century to find primitive peoples and document their diet and physical condition. In particular, he establishes what happens to these people before and after the introduction of western diets with large quantities of white bread, sugar, and canned food. Traveling throughout North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Pacific islands, Price found that regards of the indigenous diet, all primitive diets resulted in strong health adults. Upon introduction of the Western diet of white bread, sugar, and canned foods, these primitive groups started experiencing degeneration of dental and bone health and increased occurrences of tuberculous and other diseases.
In Good calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes reviews the past 50 years or so of medical, nutritional, and diet research. In this review, he questions conventional wisdom that fat is the cause of modern diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. After navigating thousands of studies in a variety of disciplines, Taubes paints a convincing picture that fat is not the boogiman that its been made out to be. In fact, its carbs that are the most likely the biggest culprit in the increasing occurances of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Sugar in particular.
From these three books, a new picture of nutrition has formed in my mind. This picture consists of a simple view of food - each and every thing I put in my body should be for a purpose. Every thing should have nutritional content. Its not just the number of calories that I consume (although the number is important to maintain my energy levels), its the quality of the calories. In general, the more processing conducted on a food product, the less its nutritional value.
I've come to recognize that fat is not something that I need to be afraid off. In fact, many vitamins are only fat soluible, meaning that can only be ingested in fat. I've also found that pastas, rices, and breads have very little nutrition, so I have little motivation to eat them. Ingestion of simple carbohydrates like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are perhaps the most damaging of to our bodies by creating widely fluctuating insulin levels.
Luckily, I have an understanding wife who has been trying to accomodate my change in diet. Her home cooking, besides being speculatory yummy, is also very nutritional. I still struggle at times when it comes time for me to make my own meals, such as breakfest and occasionally lunch, mostly because I like the convenience that comes with pre-processed foods. But as I discover ways to eat healthy with quick prep time foods (that are yummy), I'm sure I'll be on the road to maintaining my health in optimal ways.
I would particularly recommend Good Calories, Bad Calories if you are interested in personal nutrition. The other two books offer a good history of nutrition and a context for understanding Taubes book. Escape from Hunger is interesting from an economic point of view. It adds a perspective to the industrial revolution.