Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501164774
Publisher: Free Press
Publication date: 09/19/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 59,503
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH, has led the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for twenty-five years and is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. A world-renowned researcher, he is a lead investigator of the landmark Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Dr. Willett has won many honors, including the Mott Prize, the prestigious award of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation. Coauthor Patrick J. Skerrett, the former Executive Editor of Harvard Health Publications, is the editor of First Opinion at

Read an Excerpt

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy


    It’s a simple, obvious truth. You need food for the basics of everyday life—to pump blood, move muscles, think thoughts. But what you eat and drink can also help you live well and live longer. By making the right choices, you can avoid some of the things we think of as inevitable penalties of getting older. Eating well—teamed with keeping your weight in the healthy range, exercising regularly, and not smoking—can prevent 80 percent of heart attacks, 90 percent of type 2 diabetes, and 70 percent of colorectal cancer.1 It can also help you avoid stroke, osteoporosis, constipation and other digestive woes, cataracts, and aging-related memory loss or dementia. And the benefits aren’t just for the future. A healthy diet can give you more energy and help you feel good today. Making poor dietary choices—eating too much of the wrong kinds of food and too little of the right kinds, or too much food altogether—can send you in the other direction, increasing your chances of developing one or more chronic conditions or dying early. An unhealthy diet during pregnancy can cause some birth defects and may even influence a baby’s health into adulthood and old age.

    When it comes to diet, knowing what’s good and what’s bad isn’t always easy. The food industry spends billions of dollars a year to influence your choices, mostly in the wrong direction. Diet gurus promote the latest fads, most of which are less than healthy, while the media serves up near daily helpings of flip-flopping nutrition news. Supermarkets and fast-food restaurants also offer conflicting advice, as do cereal boxes and thousands of websites, blogs, Facebook pages, and tweets. The federal government, through its Food Guide Pyramid, MyPyramid, and MyPlate images, aimed to cut through the confusion but ended up giving misleading and often unhealthy recommendations (see chapter two) that benefit American agriculture and food companies more than Americans’ health.

    While the average American diet still has a long way to go before it can be called healthy, it has improved over the past decade or so in spite of the babel of nutrition information. Several of my colleagues and I looked at the diets of almost 34,000 Americans who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2012. This survey, conducted every year, gauges the diet, health, and nutritional status of a sample of adults and children in the United States. We rated the diet of each participant using a tool we developed that assigns higher points to healthy components of the diet, like eating whole grains and unsaturated fats, and lower points to unhealthy components, like eating red meat and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. The highest score, 110, indicates the healthiest diet possible. We were delighted to report that the quality of the American diet improved between 1999 and 2012.2 Consumption of artery-damaging trans fats declined by 80 or 90 percent, and Americans drank about 25 percent fewer sugar-sweetened beverages. On average, people ate slightly more fruit, whole grains, and healthy unsaturated fats. Our study showed that the average American diet still wasn’t very healthy—rating 48 points out of 110—and that poorer individuals and those with less education have poorer diets than wealthier and better-educated individuals. And this gap looks like it is increasing over time.

    Yet, these modest improvements in diet quality had an astounding impact on the health of the nation. Between 1999 and 2012, we estimated that these changes prevented 1.1 million premature deaths from heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and other causes, and 3 million cases of type 2 diabetes. But there’s more work to be done, since the “average American diet” in this study wasn’t that great. The eating strategies described in this book will help you make a great diet and reap not only the benefits described in this study but many more as well.


    I wrote Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy in 2001 to cut through the confusion about diet. Basing the book on the most reliable scientific evidence available then, I offered recommendations for eating and drinking healthfully. Sixteen years and thousands of scientific papers later, the recommendations in this edition of the book are fundamentally the same, though supported with more extensive evidence and enhanced with important new details. That’s encouraging, because it means that, with careful attention to the types and strength of studies, we can make conclusions about healthy eating that withstand the test of time and deep scientific scrutiny. However, the book needed to be updated, because far too many Americans are still confused about what constitutes a healthy diet and are looking for the best available information.

    Even more encouraging is that national recommendations on healthy eating, called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,3 have been inching closer to what I advised in 2001 and still advise today.

    I can’t quite rival the brevity of food writer Michael Pollan’s seven-word dietary credo, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”4 That’s a decent general overview, but it doesn’t offer much real guidance. That’s exactly what this book provides.

    Here is the outline of my simple, actionable advice for healthy eating, which I describe in detail later in the book:

    • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, but limit fruit juices and corn, and hold the potatoes.

    • Eat more good fats (these mostly come from plants) and fewer bad fats (these mostly come from meat and dairy foods).

    • Eat more whole-grain carbohydrates and fewer refined-grain carbohydrates.

    • Choose healthy sources of protein, limit your consumption of red meat, and don’t eat processed meat.

    • Drink more water. Coffee and tea are okay; sugar-sweetened soda and other beverages aren’t.

    • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.

    • Take a multivitamin for insurance, just in case you aren’t getting the vitamins and minerals you need from the foods you eat. Make sure it delivers at least 1,000 international units of vitamin D.

    Since the last edition of the book, many studies have supported the benefits of a primarily plant-based diet. This doesn’t mean you must go vegan or vegetarian. Even a partial shift away from a meat- and dairy-centered diet and toward more plant sources of protein is a big step in the direction of long-term good health for you and planet Earth (see chapter twelve). If swearing off meat isn’t for you, think about trying the “vegan till 6” plan favored by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman. Or experiment with the popular Meatless Monday movement and one day a week—choosing Monday makes it easy to remember, but it could be any day—not eat any meat.

    While many food experts (Pollan, Bittman, and myself among them) agree with a plant-based diet, the USDA hasn’t been entirely on board with it. You can see that in MyPlate, a less-than-healthy infographic the USDA cooked up to summarize the dietary recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (see chapter two).

    To counter that flawed information, I and several of my colleagues at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in collaboration with Harvard Health Publications, distilled the best evidence about healthy eating into the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate. This visual, evidence-based guide makes it easy to choose the healthiest options. It’s also an important alternative to the USDA’s misleading My Plate (see chapter two).

    The main message of the Healthy Eating Plate, like its older sibling, the Healthy Eating Pyramid, is to focus on diet quality.

    • Celebrate vegetables and fruits: Cover half of your plate with them. Aim for color and variety. Keep in mind that potatoes don’t count (see “The Spud Is a Dud” on page 167).


    Figure 1. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate was created to address deficiencies in the USDA’s MyPlate. It provides simple but detailed guidance to help people make the best eating choices.

    • Go for whole grains—about one-quarter of your plate. Intact and whole grains, such as whole wheat, barley, wheat berries, quinoa, oats, brown rice, and foods made with them, have a milder effect on blood sugar and insulin than white bread, white rice, and other refined grains (see chapter six).

    • Choose healthy protein packages—about one-quarter of your plate. Fish, chicken, beans, soybeans, and nuts are all healthy, versatile protein sources. Limit red meat, and try to stay away from processed meats such as bacon and sausage (see chapter seven).

    • Use healthy plant oils, such as olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower, and peanut, in moderation. Stay away from foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, which contain unhealthy artificial trans fats (see “Trans fats,” page 83). If you like the taste of butter or coconut oil, use them when their flavor is important but not as primary dietary fats. Keep in mind that low-fat does not mean healthy (see chapter five).

    • Drink water, coffee, or tea. Skip sugary drinks. If you enjoy milk, don’t have more than two glasses a day (see chapter nine). If you drink alcohol, keep it moderate—no more than two drinks a day for men, no more than one a day for women.

    • Exercise. It’s good for overall health and controlling weight.

    Using the blueprint laid out in the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is a good way to improve your diet. But I also want you to see the evidence on which it was built. This is detailed in chapters four through eleven. In them, I describe the classic and cutting-edge research that has defined and refined eating patterns that will help keep you healthy, including new information on slowly digested carbohydrates; what kinds of fruits and vegetables are particularly important to include in your diet; what protein can and can’t do; how to put the omega-3 fats found in fish and some plants to work for you; the potential hazards of consuming too much milk and other dairy foods; and why it makes sense to take a daily multivitamin.

    This book helps you incorporate this information into your snacks and meals with practical tips on buying healthy foods and eating defensively in a food environment that entices you to eat in ways that can prematurely end your life. It offers extra information to help individuals with special nutritional needs get the most benefit from what they eat. These include pregnant women, frail older individuals, those with celiac disease, and those with or at high risk of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or some other chronic conditions. It ends with more than seventy tasty tested recipes.

    This information isn’t meant to replace the advice you get from your physician, especially if you have a condition that requires a specific diet. Instead, I encourage you to talk with your health care provider about your diet and share with him or her what you’ve learned from this book to make sure you are talking the same language about healthy eating. Keep in mind that most physicians-to-be get little education about nutrition in medical school or beyond. And the pressures of modern medicine and health care often make it difficult for clinicians to keep up with the field of nutrition, let alone spend time talking with their patients about healthy food choices. You may find yourself teaching your health care provider.

    Not long ago my cholesterol began creeping up. Much to my dismay, my doctor recommended that I start a low-fat diet—a recommendation from the 1980s that we now know doesn’t work for lowering cholesterol.

    This book will help you stay healthy and educate your doctor if you need to.

  • Table of Contents

    Chapter 1Introduction15
    Chapter 2What Can You Believe About Diet?27
    Chapter 3Healthy Weight35
    Chapter 4Surprising News About Fat56
    Chapter 5Carbohydrates for Better and Worse85
    Chapter 6Choose Healthier Sources of Protein101
    Chapter 7Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables114
    Chapter 8You Are What You Drink127
    Chapter 9Calcium: No Emergency138
    Chapter 10Take a Multivitamin for Insurance152
    Chapter 11Summary179
    Chapter 12Recipes and Menus186
    Further Reading277
    General Index287
    Recipe Index296

    What People are Saying About This Review

    Finally we can step away from the hype and confusion of fad diets, and turn, instead, to a solidly researched guide we know we can trust. I am grateful to Dr. Willett and his associates for making this information so clear and accessible. Throw away your other volumes; this is all you will need.
    —(Mollie Katzen, Author of Moosewood Cookbook)

    Susan Roberts

    Dr Willett describes a way to eat that is both delicious and healthy. Many nutritional scientists will strongly dispute Dr. Willett's contention that our national symbol of healthy eating, the USDA Food Pyramid, is unhealthy. However, very few will deny that the prescription in this book is a good one.
    —(Susan B. Roberts, PhD. Professor of Nutrition at Tufts University, and author of Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health)

    Lawrence H. Kushi

    Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy is a welcome beacon of clarity among the fog of misleading claims that make up the vast majority of diet books on the market. Dr. Willett's recommendations for healthy eating are based on a sound interpretation of current scientific knowledge, flavored by a joyful appreciation for traditional foodways. Unlike most diet books, he does not emphasize manipulation of one isolated physiological mechanism as a "cure-all." Rather, he applies a common-sense interpretation of wide-ranging scientific studies on diet and health. In the process, he challenges widely-accepted but poorly-supported ideas about nutrition and health, whether they come from the popular press or from federal government committees. The ultimate winners are the readers of this book, who will come away with the tools, guidance, and rationale they need to explore new ways of eating that are delicious, health-promoting, and based on the best of science and tradition.
    —(Lawrence H. Kushi, Sc.D. Vahlteich Professor of Human Nutrition Teachers College, Columbia University)

    Ralph S. Paffenbarger

    True to the implications of its title, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy provides comprehensive evidence of the links of proper nutrition to better health and extended longevity. Professor Walter C. Willett and his learned colleagues describe new scientific work on the cardiovascular benefits from n-3 fatty acides found in nuts and some oils; on the cancer-fighting substance, lycopene, found in tomatoes; on potential hazards of consuming too much calcium; and on the advisability of taking a standard multivitamin daily. Well written and well reasoned, this book identifies a total diet that affects satiety, meets the body's needs for energy and nutrients, and prevents or delays some specific chronic diseases.

    While scientific data continues to emerge, this book identifies errors in the USDA Pyramid, and substitutes a Healthy Eating Pyramid that has good health and pleasant living as a central goal. All the evidence in not in; but for now, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy provides us with the best advice available.
    —(Ralph S. Paffenbarger, Jr., M.D., Dr.P.H. Professor of Epidemiology, Emeritus (Active) Stanford University School of Medicine)

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    Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I read a lot about nutrition, diet, and health. It's an obsession really. I even read about diets I completely disagree with. Having said that, this is the best book in this area that I have come across. There is no 'selling' of a diet. It's clear, concise research that outlines a very well-rounded nutrition plan that isn't difficult to follow.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    You'll be surprised of how much you can understand about healthy eating by reading it carefully
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I love this book. I actually have two copies. The previous book and this new updated version. I recomend this book to everyone struggling with weight or bad blood work results. This book puts your health and foods effects on it in simple easy to understand terms. I like that it is an unbiased book and is a collection of multiple studies results and not just one. Thank you for a wonderful book!
    PATRICIA ZIMMERMAN More than 1 year ago
    Alot of good info on basic nutrition in easy to read style. It is one I go back to for reference frequently.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Finally, a book that uses actual facts to provide us the best information available for a healthy diet. This book isn't a list of anecdotes about someone's neighbor's cousin losing 50 lbs. by eating bacon and eggs. The findings in this book are backed by large, long-term studies. Find out about the carbs you need and the fats you should add. Read this book and refer to it afterwards as you incorporate the findings into your diet.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book was amazing! It breaks down the reasoning behind the good carb/bad carb phenomenon. He backs up all of the information with hard scientific data, and makes it easy for a normal person to understand. Being a gym owner, it makes it easier for me to explain healthy eating to my members when I understand the science. If you want to find out WHAT to eat, this is the book for you. Dr. Willett actually explains the effects that foods have on your body. This book is a must-read for anyone who is dieting!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book is all based on HARD SCIENCE, not fads, conjecture, speculation, and wishful thinking. It explodes a lot of myths, for example, that coffee is bad for you. It also explodes the myth of the 'Atkins Diet' as being 'proven' to help people lose weight in a safe manner. If you buy one book on eating, diet and health, this should be it.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    As a physician, I think I have the authority to let people know that we get all of about three hours of total training in nutrition in medical school. Our year of biochemistry is spent learning garbage that never gets connected to the 'real world' stuff because we're too busy learning the specific sequence of eicosanoid production. Anyway, I bought this book because I wanted to be sure I was telling my patients the right stuff, and because I wanted to learn more about my own diet. This book is fabulous in a lot of aspects, but the aspect that I like the most is that Dr. Willett provides the evidence behind his recommendations and suggestions. There are a lot of crazy diets out there..and he explains why things like the Atkins diet are useless for losing weight over the long haul without getting overburdened in technical jargon. I'm an FP doc, so I like to keep things simple for myself and for patients. The only thing I wish this book contained was a section on calories. He covers fats, carbohydrates, and proteins wonderfully, and there is a section at the end that gives you tips on what to look for out in the food stores and restaurants (and what to avoid!).
    richardbsmith on LibraryThing 10 months ago
    Informative and well documented. You will leave the book with an understanding of the impact of dietary choices on your health and life style. I am not much on the receipes, but the knowledge of healthy eating (why and what) has made a difference. It is an easy and enjoyable read. brooksbooks wrote "if you only read one diet book - this should be the one." Cannot make that statement, but of the dietary books I've read, this is my choice.
    piefuchs on LibraryThing 10 months ago
    If you only read one diet book - this should be the one. The main focus of the book is not a diet per se, but rather enabling the reader to critically interpret new report on other diets - particularly those based diets from elsewhere in the world. The author also uses large data sets from his own research the Harvard School of Public Health to describe trends in diet in diet and health. At the end of the day, it is calories in and calories out - but he does a good job of describing why.
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    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book is well researched and easy to understand, with sensible and practical guidelines to help readers make correct dietary decisions. Dr. Willett stresses that food that is good for you need not be boring or tasteless, nor does eating right have to be synonymous with self-deprivation. Although he cites the Mediterranean diet as a prime example of healthy eating, he points out that other traditional diets contain beneficial elements that are worth incorporating into one's eating habits. He has included some recipes, but I have found that the concepts embodied in his book can be very effectively utilized in conjunction with any cookbook that contains healthful and appealing recipes, a notion compatible with his 'flexible eating strategy.' One volume I particularly recommend is Sonia Uvezian's 'Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen,' which provides cooks with hundreds of inspired recipes for dishes rich in flavor and nutrition as well as many innovative ideas that can be used in one's everyday cooking to make it more healthful and exciting.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Review Summary: You would have a hard time finding someone in a better position to write this book. Dr. Willett is chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and he heads some of the most important long-term studies of how nutrition affects health. In this up-to-date book, you will learn what the latest research shows about how eating, alcohol use, exercise and not smoking can help you avoid some diseases and birth defects. The book also explains how to read the latest health headlines and interpret the studies they are based on in the future. The lessons are summarized into a Healthy Eating Pyramid that you will find easy to understand, apply, and remember. The book contains a lot of helpful information about how to shop for more nutritious and healthful foods, and easy-to-follow recipes. I was particularly impressed with the summaries of the data on how weight and eating relate to various diseases. The book's only obvious flaw is that it does not attempt to refine the overall research into subsegment groups like those with different blood types, different genetic tendencies, age levels, and so forth. Review: Like Sugar Busters! this book takes a serious look at overcoming the tendency for having too many fast-absorbed carbohydrates (whether as baked potatoes or as a soft drink) overload your blood with sugars and depress your metabolism. Unlike the 'avoid fat at any cost' diets, this one says to avoid bad fats (especially trans fat and saturated fats) and to use helpful fats (like unsaturated fats that are liquid at room temperature). You are also encouraged to seek out nuts as a source of vegetable protein. There is also a good discussion of the healthiest ways to acquire your protein. The beef v. chicken v. fish discussion is especially helpful. He is skeptical about the need for much in the way of dairy products (I was shocked to realize how much glycemic loading, creating sugar in your blood, is caused by skim milk), but favors vitamin supplements as inexpensive insurance. He shows that calcium supplements may not do as much as you think to avoid fractures. Exercise and not smoking are encouraged. Raw foods and ones that are slow to digest (whole wheat, for example) are encouraged among the fruit and vegatables, in particular. The pyramid is contrasted to the one that the USDA adopted in 1992, which seems to be almost totally wrong. Apparently, it was developed based on a very limited research base. Since then, much has been learned. I enjoyed reading about all of the long-term studies being done now to understand the connections among eating, lifestyle, and health. The next 10 years should radically revise the lessons summarized here, as Dr. Willett is quick to point out. The conclusions in this book, for example, are based on individual studies of eating, drinking, exercise and health rather than the long-term studies that he supervises and follows. So even those studies may show new things. In one part of the book, he discusses the pros and cons of some of the popular diets. Some simply have not been tested for health effects, and he is candid in sharing what is not known as well as what is. This book will be especially valuable to those who like to get their information from highly credible sources, especially from within the medical community. I think I'll give a copy to my physician, who has been advising me to reduce fats in the wrong way! Although I don't consider myself very helpful in shopping for or preparing food, I learned a lot from the book about how our family can acquire better building blocks for a healthier diet. After you finish reading this book, think about where else in your life you may be following outdated information. How can you check? A good example is probably related to what you think it costs parents for children to go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. In many schools, all the costs are subsid
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Im SPARTA!!!!! Lol write a review back to me cuz im epical.