Andrew Weil, M.D., is well known for his nationally bestselling books on the body's ability to heal itself, Spontaneous Healing and 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. Now Dr. Weil turns his attention toward improving health and well-being through diet. But Eating Well for Optimum Health: The Essential Guide to Food, Diet, and Nutrition is more than just a diet book. In addition to containing enough information to be a fairly extensive primer on nutrition, Eating Well for Optimum Health also looks at and evaluates other diet plans, including those enjoying current popularity.
The results are not what you might expect. Rather than dismissing these diets out of hand, Weil highlights the advantages as well as the shortcomings. He clearly and concisely discusses the principles of nutrition at work with each diet, then sifts out the positive attributes they all share, using them as the basis for making his own dietary recommendations. This logical and methodical process makes Weil a diet guru in the strictest sense of the word, providing enlightenment and guidance to help readers negotiate their way through the confusing maze of diets currently on the market.
Weil doesn't focus only on making eating a healthy habit; he also addresses making it a pleasurable one. He stresses and addresses the importance of satisfying hunger pangs, of course, but he also pays attention to the importance of satisfying the other pleasures often derived from eating, such as tactile sensations and emotional connections. The bulk of the book, however, is dedicated to the study of nutrition, providing a detailed discussion of fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Weil points out that a large part of the confusion created by the wide array of dietary advice available today is that each camp can spout medical and scientific studies that support their particular plan. Weil shows us why -- it's because each of these diets has attributes grounded in science. He shows how a low-fat diet offers certain distinct advantages but can also create problems because it may not fulfill the body's need for all nutrients. With regard to carbohydrates, Weil examines the evidence that suggests a high carbohydrate intake may contribute to obesity and heart disease and agrees there is a connection. But Weil theorizes that the problem is not so much that we are consuming larger quantities of carbohydrates as such -- rather, the trouble is that we now tend to consume poorer-quality carbohydrates. He examines the glycemic index value of carbohydrates in great detail, explaining how these values affect nutrition and metabolism and why foods with a low glycemic index are preferable to those with a high one -- and he provides a table that lists the glycemic index value of many popular foods. The results are a little surprising when you realize that rice cakes, which are traditionally considered a "diet" food, have a high glycemic index that can actually interfere with dieting.
After a thorough examination of the various nutritional components and the soundness of other diets, Weil spends a few pages composing what he calls "the worst diet in the world." He then invites readers to visit three different fast food restaurants and observe the people eating there, with this worst diet in mind. Considering Weil's claim that fast food is the "most unhealthy dietary development in human history," it's clear what he expects readers to find. He then provides his "best diet in the world," incorporating basic nutritional guidelines and the advantages offered by several other diets. His "best diet" is presented in weekly menu plans that are backed up by a collection of 85 recipes that include everything from soups and salads to desserts. The recipes vary with regard to time and complexity, and at the end of each one, there is a complete nutritional analysis.
Weil also devotes a chapter to the dissection and evaluation of consumer labeling, using several ordinary items off the grocery store shelves to demonstrate how such labeling can be both beneficial and misleading. For those who eat out often, there is a discussion on how to make sensible choices in a restaurant. At the back of the book are appendixes chock-full of helpful information, like a breakdown of daily nutritional needs in an optimal diet, a list of other helpful resources, and a Q&A section that addresses a number of common dietary problems. But probably the most helpful of the appendixes is the one that provides dietary recommendations for a number of common health concerns, everything from allergies and arthritis to body odor and prostate problems.
Weil's stated goal for this book is to turn readers into savvy consumers who can make wise and informed dietary choices that will promote good health. He has achieved that goal in spades, developing a sensible plan that can be customized to meet the needs of just about any dietary situation.
Beth Amos, RN, spent 20 years working as a nurse in various medical settings before becoming a novelist and medical freelance writer. She has authored more than 100 articles in medical and lay journals around the country.