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Essentials of human nutrition. Second edition. (Book Reviews).

Mann J, Truswell AS (editors), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002, 681 pages, $99.95, ISBN 0-19-850861-1

'The science of human nutrition deals with all the effects on people of any component found in food.' This book defines its goal with the definition in the first paragraph, setting a broad canvas for itself ranging from basic biochemistry and molecular biology through to the psychology of obesity and population level interventions. Just defining 'the essentials' of knowledge in this discipline must have been a stimulating debate between the editors and no doubt each reviewer will seek to challenge their decision. Nevertheless by defining the scope as 'the essentials' they have made a huge topic at least semi-manageable. Their target was obviously undergraduate nutrition students and as a quick reference book for health professionals.

The first chapter on epistemology, provides and excellent introduction to the complexities of the science of nutrition. In the age of 'evidence-based everything' how are we to make sense of the ever expanding libraries in the world of nutrition. Professor Truswell reminds us 'we should be sure of our ground before we advise populations to change their diet'. Good advice, but the constant bombardment of advertising advice from commercial food interests doesn't really leave nutritionists with any option but to offer advice based on the best available nutrition knowledge. This chapter provides a good introduction into the basis of making that advice consistent with science.

The book is divided into eight sections, with about 40% being devoted to energy, macro- and micro- nutrients. There follows sections on nutrition related disease, foods, nutritional assessment, nutrition in the stages of life and a section on public health nutrition. The final section brings together three disparate topics, poverty, enteral and parental nutrition and finally functional foods. The chapters are generally well written and cover what would generally be regarded as the essentials. The chapters are not referenced in the usual sense, but each chapter includes a number of papers and reviews for further reading to amplify the material in the chapter.

The editors need a consistent policy on the use of metric and imperial measures. On page 99 blood alcohol levels are given in mmols (not the measure in common use in most countries) while on page 307 cholesterol levels are in mmols and in mg/l. In our region of the world most would value a text that is 'bilingual'. In the chapter on water, Professor Robinson adds a little colour to the writing with a quotation from Coleridge and a few interesting anecdotes. The nutrients section concludes appropriately with a good summary chapter on the emerging area of phytochemicals. In the chapter on childhood the editors mention the NCHS growth reference, but then reproduce an old growth chart from the 1970s. There are one or two typographical errors that have crept through the editing, such as the diagrams on page 337. But these are only minor points that do not detract from the overall quality of the book.

In the final chapter Martijn Katan wrestles with definitions of 'Functional food' and comes up with a pretty good one of his own. But did the editors really want to end their book suggesting that 'functional foods' is where the future of nutrition lies. I hope not. Functional foods will have a place, but I would rather look forward to a future where we enjoy a variety of the nutritious foods available to us in Australia.

This book is now in its second edition, confirming that the editors have found the correct level for their market. They have added more information on public health aspects of nutrition. They have successfully brought together 39 authors from four continents. Overall this is an excellent distillation of the 'essentials' of nutrition. The book represents excellent value for money. It is a very useful undergraduate text, a reference for all general libraries and as a useful quick reference on the shelves of health professionals. It is to be hoped that the editors continue with this project and bring out a third edition in due course.
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Author:Binns, Colin
Publication:Nutrition & Dietetics: The Journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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