Menu Planning & Recipes

BOOK REVIEW

Eat, Drink and Be Healthy:
The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating
,
by Walter Willett MD DrPH

Dr. Walter Willett started out with a degree in food science (1966), and MD (1970) from Michigan State University in. He completed his doctoral degree in public health (1980) at Harvard. Willett has been professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health (and chair of the nutrition department) since 1987, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School since 1992. Willett is the author of over 650 articles, primarily on lifestyle risk factors for heart disease and cancer, and has written the textbook, Nutritional Epidemiology, 2nd edition, published by Oxford University Press.

In Eat, Drink and Be Healthy Willett makes a good case against the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, charging, “At best, the USDA Pyramid offers wishy-washy, scientifically unfounded advice on an absolutely vital topic—what to eat.” Willett states that the problem with the pyramid is that, “it ignores the evidence that has been carefully assembled over the past forty years” [by giving the impression that all fats are bad, all “complex” carbohydrates are good, protein is protein, dairy products are essential, and provides no guidance on weight, exercise, alcohol and vitamins.]

Willett offers his own Healthy Eating Pyramid, which specifies “whole grain foods” instead of “bread, cereal, rice and pasta,” he moves plant oils to the base of the pyramid, breaks out the nuts and legumes into their own section, he relegates red meat, butter, and high-GI carbohydrates to the tip of the pyramid, reorders what’s left of the protein section to “fish, poultry, eggs,” while suggesting a calcium supplement or 1-2 servings of dairy. In addition, his pyramid suggests multiple vitamins “for most,” and “alcohol in moderation (unless contraindicated).”

After laying all this out for you he allocates a chapter to back up each of his Healthy Eating Pyramid sections.

In the chapter on Healthy Weight Willett gently recommends, “if your weight is in the ‘healthy’ range, keep it there. If you are overweight, do your best to avoid adding any more pounds and lose some if you can.” However, he also makes it clear that excess weight is a real health risk referring to the American Cancer Society mega study (of over 300,000 men and women), which found a dose-response relationship between BMI and death rates.

No book on diet is complete without recipes, thus Willett ends with 88 pages of recipes and menus (created with the assistance of food writer, Maureen Callahan RD).

Dr. Willett writes with a wonderful sense of humor, but doesn’t mince words, while bravely challenging the status quo. Willett’s recommendations are sure to upset some major food manufacturers, as well as the meat and dairy industries, although there’s little to surprise professionals that stay abreast of the research in nutritional epidemiology.

Willett's Recommendations:
1. Watch your weight
2. Eat fewer bad fats and more good fats
3. Eat fewer refined-grain CHOs and more whole-grain CHOs
4. Choose healthier sources of proteins
5. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, but hold the potatoes
6. Use alcohol in moderation
7. Take a multivitamin for insurance