By Elisa Zied

Review by Scott Keith

Phosphorus. Magnesium. Selenium. Manganese. Are these just vague terms to you? Do these remind you of that colorful Table of Periodic Elements poster from your high school science class? You’re probably guessing that these elements are important for good health. But how important are they?

Registered dietitian Elisa Zied makes sense of all the science in a marvelous introduction to nutrition: “Nutrition At Your Fingertips.” Zied, who is also a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, has written a 405-page book that explains the function of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Her chapters include: Creating a Daily Meal Plan, Weight Management, Eat to Beat Disease and Healthy Food Shopping.

In an interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, Zied recalls her childhood. “I grew up in a home with an overweight mom, who loved me to death, and didn’t want me to be overweight…even though she really wanted to protect me, she made me a little bit more aware than I should be about being overweight.” Zied admits she was overweight in high school. In college, “I really started to think about what I wanted out of my life. I felt a lot less pressure not being home anymore.” It was after high school that Zied was able to lose about 35 pounds…and keep it off.

Zied developed an interest in nutrition, which eventually led to her book. “I really became very interested in nutrition because I always wanted to be a psychologist and work with people who had eating issues and eating disorders, I think because I had some of those issues growing up.” Zied entered the Masters program in Clinical Nutrition at N.Y.U.

Zied’s easy-to-digest book walks you through the process of selecting more healthful foods. In chapter eight, Eat To Beat Disease, Zied explores cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer and osteoporosis. According to Zied, we’re moving from a plant-based diet to a diet more processed and refined. “Americans are eating tons of refined (not whole) grains. Whole grains can reduce heart disease risk, reduce the risk of stroke, promote healthy cholesterol levels…we need to eat more popcorn (home popped with a little canola oil), oatmeal, whole-grain cereal, high-fiber whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, wild rice,”says Zied. Bad eating habits contribute to serious conditions and diseases, including diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

If you’ve decided to start eating more healthful foods, enjoy the chapter on Healthy Food Shopping. You’ll learn how to interpret the “Nutrition Facts” label found on food products. Read about claims on food packages and get the skinny on fat replacers, sugar substitutes and dietary supplements. Zied offers an interesting rule of thumb when selecting products. While you may not see a nutrition label on healthful foods, such as loosely-bagged beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, Zied says, “when you’re buying foods that are processed and packaged, that have a label, it’s sort of a tip-off that this food might not be the most healthful. So it’s really important to get confirmation that something is healthful, and can fit into your overall diet, by looking at that nutrition facts panel and ingredient list.”

Nutrition is a subject that, traditionally, hasn’t been emphasized in medical school. According to Zied, “I believe nutrition is not a big area of concern in most medical schools. I think it’s very unfortunate, but the good thing is a lot of doctors have a lot of wonderful dietitians to work with, who can show them the way when it comes to food, fitness and nutrition.”

In the area of nutrition, “I think we are overindulging in all the things that sabotage us, the sugary beverages, fast food, sugary, fatty snacks. Most of us are getting way too many calories from those items,” says Zied, adding that we are skimping on healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, lean meats, beans) that can help us prevent disease and manage our weight. “People are overemphasizing the items that are heavily marketed and promoted in the media…..we’re seeing and we’re inundated 24/7 with advertisements, in some form or another, for high-calorie, high-sugar, high-fat fare,” says Zied. “When was the last time you saw a commercial promoting fruits and vegetables?”

Zied’s book shows how to nourish and take care of yourself. The bottom line for Zied’s readers: “They have to value themselves over the long term more than they value the food over the short term.”

405 pages, softcover, Alpha Books, $18,95, available at and all bookstores.

Visit Elisa Zied at