Nutrition For Dummies book cover

Nutrition For Dummies

Carol Ann Rinzler
Published: May 4, 2021


Updated with the latest available research and the new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines

It's a scientific fact: You really are what you eat. Good nutrition is your meal-ticket to staying sleek, healthy, and strong—both physically and mentally. Nutrition For Dummies, 7th Edition is a complete guide that shows you how to maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent chronic disease. This book gives you the know-how to put together a shopping list, prepare healthy foods, and easily cut calories. Along the way, there's up-to-the-minute guidance for building a nutritious diet at every stage of life from toddler time to your Golden Years. Enjoy!

Updated with the latest available research and the new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines

It's a scientific fact: You really are what you eat. Good nutrition is your meal-ticket to staying sleek, healthy, and strong—both physically and mentally. Nutrition For Dummies, 7th Edition is a complete guide that shows you how

to maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent chronic disease. This book gives you the know-how to put together a shopping list, prepare healthy foods, and easily cut calories. Along the way, there's up-to-the-minute guidance for building a nutritious diet at every stage of life from toddler time to your Golden Years. Enjoy!

Nutrition For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Nutrition is the science of how your body uses the food and drink you consume to build new tissues and power every organ and part from your brain down to your toes. Get the most from your daily diet by making healthy choices. [caption id="attachment_284342" align="alignnone" width="556"] © ARTFULLY PHOTOGRAPHER /[/caption]

Articles From The Book

34 results

General Diet & Nutrition Articles

Beyond Additives: Foods Nature Never Made

Genetically engineered foods, also known as GMOs or bioengineered foods, are foods with extra genes added artificially through special laboratory processes. Like preservatives, flavor enhancers, and other chemical boosters, the genes — which may come from plants, animals, or microorganisms such as bacteria — are used to make foods more resistant to disease and insects, more nutritious, and better tasting. Genetic engineering may also help plants and animals grow faster and larger, thus increasing the food supply. The Big Question is, "Are genetically engineered foods safe?" Many consumers have doubts. To enable them to make a clear choice — "Yes, I'll take that biotech food" or "No, I won't" — the European Union requires food labels to specifically state the presence of any genetically altered ingredients. In the United States, the FDA currently requires wording on labels to alert consumers to genetic engineering only when it results in an unexpected added allergen (such as corn genes in tomatoes) or changes the nutritional content of a food. Does the wording on the label matter to consumers? Are most willing to accept genetically altered foods? The answer depends on who you ask and how you ask. The International Food Information Council (IFIC), a trade group for the food industry, accepts the current label-wording rules. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington-based consumer advocacy group, wants to see the words genetically altered on all foods that have been, well, genetically altered. In 2005, each organization conducted a survey that seemed designed to bolster its point of view. For example, IFIC's survey says that nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of Americans expect food technology to serve up better-quality, better-tasting food. CSPI's competing survey says, "Not so fast." The difference may lie in the questions. IFIC's emphasizes the benefits of biotech; CSPI's leans more heavily on the drawbacks. For example:

  • CSPI Version: Would you buy food labeled "genetically engineered"? Forty-three percent said yes.
  • IFIC Version: Would you buy a food if it had been modified by biotechnology to taste better or fresher? Or stay fresher? Fifty-four percent said yes.
Ten years later, little has changed. In 2015, when the Neilsen company conducted an online poll of 30,000 people in 60 countries about which health benefits they considered "very important" when buying food, the two top answers were "all-natural" and "GMO-free." In the end, despite a slight wariness about exploring new nutritional ground, Americans are intrigued by the promise of food innovations and willing to give the whole idea a try. Only 32 percent of them considered "GMO-free" very important versus 47 percent in Europe and 46 percent in Latin America. Eventually, the proof of GMOs' promise will be in the (genetically engineered) pudding.

General Diet & Nutrition Articles

The Safety of Food Additives

The safety of any chemical approved for use as a food additive is determined by evaluating its potential as a toxin, carcinogen, or allergen, each of which is defined here.

Defining toxins

A toxin is a poison. Some chemicals, such as cyanide, are toxic (poisonous) in very small doses. Others, such as sodium ascorbate (a form of vitamin C), are nontoxic even in very large doses. All chemicals on the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list are considered nontoxic in the amounts that are permitted in food. By the way, both vitamin C and cyanide are natural chemicals — one beneficial, the other not so much.

Explaining carcinogens

A carcinogen is a substance that causes cancer. Some natural chemicals, such as aflatoxins (poisons produced by molds that grow on peanuts and grains), are carcinogens. Some synthetic chemicals, such as specific dyes, are also potentially carcinogenic. In 1958, driven by a fear of potentially carcinogenic pesticide residues in food, New York Congressman James Delaney proposed, and Congress enacted into law, an amendment to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that banned from food any synthetic chemical known to cause cancer (in animals or human beings) when ingested in any amount, no matter how small. (The Delaney clause didn't apply to natural chemicals, even those known to cause cancer.) For a time, the only exception to the Delaney clause was saccharin, which was exempted in 1970. Although ingesting very large amounts of the artificial sweetener is known to cause bladder cancer in animals, no similar link was ever found to human cancers. Nonetheless, in 1977, Congress required all products containing saccharin to carry a warning statement: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals." When the Delaney clause was introduced, ingredients such as additives were measured in parts (of the additive) per thousand parts (of the product). Today, scientists have the ability to measure an ingredient in parts per trillionths. As a result, the zero-risk standard of the Delaney clause in regard to pesticide residue in food was repealed and replaced with a standard of "reasonable risk." The saccharin warning was lifted in 2000.

Listing allergens

Allergens are substances that trigger allergic reactions. Some foods, such as peanuts, contain natural allergens that can provoke the fatal allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. The best-known example of an allergenic food additive is the sulfites, a group of preservatives that
  • Keep light-colored fruits and vegetables (apples, potatoes) from browning when exposed to air
  • Prevent shellfish (shrimp and lobster) from developing black spots
  • Reduce the growth of bacteria in fermenting wine and beer
  • Bleach food starches
  • Make dough easier to handle
Sulfites are safe for most people but not for all. In fact, the FDA estimates that 1 out of every 100 people is sensitive to these chemicals; among people with asthma, the number rises to 5 out of every 100. For people sensitive to sulfites, even infinitesimally small amounts may trigger a serious allergic reaction, and asthmatics may develop breathing problems by simply inhaling fumes from sulfite-treated foods. In 1986, the FDA tried banning sulfites from food but lost in a court case brought by food manufacturers, so two years later the agency wrote rules to protect sulfite-sensitive people. Today, sulfites are not considered GRAS for use in
  • Meats
  • Foods that are an important source of vitamin B1 (thiamin), a nutrient sulfites destroy
  • Fruits and veggies served raw (think salad bars), or described as "fresh" (think fruit salad)
Sulfites are permitted in some foods, such as dried fruit, but the package must list sulfites if the additives account for more than ten parts sulfites to every million parts food (10 ppm). These rules, plus plenty of press information about the risks of sulfites, have led to a dramatic decrease in the number of sulfite reactions.

General Diet & Nutrition Articles

The Natural and Synthetic Nature of Food Additives

Food additives may be natural or synthetic. For example, vitamin C is a natural preservative. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are synthetic preservatives. To ensure your safety, both the natural and synthetic food additives used in the United States come only from the group of substances known as the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list. All additives on the GRAS list

  • Are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning that agency is satisfied that the additive is safe and effective
  • Must be used only in specifically limited amounts
  • Must be used to satisfy a specific need in food products, such as protection against molds
  • Must be effective, meaning that they must actually maintain freshness and safety
  • Must be listed accurately on the label

Nutrient additives

Vitamin D, which is added to virtually all milk sold in the United States, is one example of a clearly beneficial food additive. Most U.S. bread and grain products are fortified with added B vitamins, plus iron and other essential minerals to replace what's lost when whole grains are milled into white flour for white bread. Some people say that people would be better off simply sticking to whole grains, but adding vitamins and minerals to white flours enhances a product that many people prefer. Some nutrients are also useful preservatives. For example, vitamin C is an antioxidant that slows food spoilage and prevents destructive chemical reactions, which is why American food packagers must add a form of vitamin C (isoascorbic acid or sodium ascorbate) to bacon and other luncheon meats to prevent the formation of potentially cancer-causing compounds.

Color additives

Colors, flavoring agents, and flavor enhancers make food look and taste better. Like other food additives, these three may be either natural or synthetic.

Natural colors

One good example of a natural coloring agent is beta carotene, the yellow pigment extracted from many fruits and vegetables and used to turn naturally white margarine to buttery yellow. Some other natural coloring agents are annatto, a yellow-to-pink pigment from a tropical tree; chlorophyll, the green pigment in green plants; carmine, a reddish extract of cochineal (a pigment from crushed beetles); saffron, a yellow herb; and turmeric, a yellow spice.

Synthetic colors

An example of a synthetic coloring agent is FD&C Blue No. 1, a bright blue pigment made from coal tar and used in soft drinks, gelatin, hair dyes, and face powders, among other things. And, yes, as scientists have discovered more about the effects of coal-tar dyes, including the fact that some are carcinogenic, many of these coloring agents have been banned from use in food in one country or another but are still allowed in cosmetics.

Flavor additives

Every cook worth his or her spice cabinet knows about natural flavor ingredients, especially salt, sugar, vinegar, wine, and fruit juices. Artificial flavoring agents reproduce natural flavors. For example, a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice in the batter lends cheesecake a certain je ne sais quoi (French for "I don't know what" — a little something special), but artificial lemon flavoring works just as well. You can sweeten your morning coffee with natural sugar or with the artificial sweetener saccharin. Flavor enhancers are a slightly different kettle of fish. They intensify a food's natural flavor instead of adding a new one. The best-known flavor enhancer is monosodium glutamate (MSG), widely used in Asian foods.

Although it improves flavor, MSG may also trigger short-term, generally mild reactions, such as headaches, flushing, sweating, facial numbness and tingling, and rapid heartbeat in people sensitive to the seasoning.


Food spoilage is a totally natural phenomenon. Milk sours. Bread molds. Meat and poultry rot. Vegetables wilt. Fats turn rancid. The first three kinds of spoilage are caused by microbes (bacteria, mold, and yeasts). The last two happen when food is exposed to oxygen (air). Preservative techniques such as cooking, chilling, canning, freezing, and drying prevent spoilage either by slowing the growth of the organisms that live on food or by protecting the food from the effects of oxygen. Chemical preservatives do essentially the same thing:
  • Antimicrobials are natural or synthetic preservatives that protect food by slowing the growth of bacteria, molds, and yeasts.
  • Antioxidants are natural or synthetic preservatives that protect food by preventing food molecules from combining with oxygen (air).
The table is a representative list of some common preservative chemicals and the foods in which they're found.
* A form of vitamin C

Other additives in food

Food chemists use a variety of the following types of natural and chemical additives to improve the texture of food or prevent mixtures from separating:
  • Emulsifiers, such as lecithin and polysorbate, keep liquid-plus-solids, such as chocolate pudding, from separating into liquid and solids. They can also keep two unfriendly liquids, such as oil and water, from divorcing so that your salad dressing stays smooth.
  • Stabilizers, such as the alginates (alginic acid) derived from seaweed, make food such as ice cream feel smoother, richer, or creamier in your mouth.
  • Thickeners are natural gums and starches, such as apple pectin or cornstarch, that add body to foods.
  • Texturizers, such as calcium chloride, keep foods such as canned apples, tomatoes, or potatoes from turning mushy.
Although many of these additives are derived from foods, their benefit is aesthetic (the food looks better and tastes better), not nutritional.