Book Review – The Spectrum by Dean Ornish

A review of “The Spectrum” by Dean Ornish

The Spectrumby Dean Ornish is a good book for anyone interested in learning about improving their health through diet and lifestyle – it basically discusses what foods will help you be healthier (fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc.) and which ones will make you less healthy (saturated fat, white sugar, processed food, etc.) and gives a decent amount of evidence to back up those claims. The most interesting part is how he discusses food and lifestyle choices as a spectrum (hence the name of the book, obviously) – you don’t have to do all one or the other, you can simply choose where on the spectrum you want to be and try to make choices that work for you.

Trying to “eat healthy” is great, but everyone slips up sometimes, and in this book he both helps you determine what is healthy, and then provides a system to help you get to where you want to be without feeling like you have to commit to a super strict diet or lifestyle change. It’s well written and very approachable. If you’ve read a lot of books on nutrition there’s not really anything new, but if you’re just starting to learn about healthy eating and living then it’s a great un-intimidating place to start.

I don’t agree with every single thing he says about nutrition, but for the most part his recommendations are very sound. The way he presents it as a spectrum of choices is quite nice – you don’t have to never eat animal products or white flour, but if you do have them you may want to balance it out with a nice vegetable based dish for your next meal, that kind of thing.

There’s several handy charts to help you learn which foods are good, bad, and ugly (although he does make a point to say that food isn’t “good” or “bad,” in and of itself, simply healthy and less healthy) – he breaks it down into five groups with group one being the stuff that’s really good for you (leafy greens, fresh vegetables, etc.) and group five being the stuff that’s the most proven to be unhealthy (trans-fats, highly processed food, etc.). I think most people could figure out those two sections – the middle ones are the most helpful because sometimes this stuff isn’t obvious. Canned vegetables don’t have as many nutrients as fresh, so they are in group 2. White bread isn’t super nutritious but it’s not too bad so it’s in group 3. I think that it’s a pretty handy reference tool to help you make decisions based on how healthy you want to be – he points out that if you’re healthy now you can probably coast along somewhere in the middle, but if you’re at high risk for disease or trying to reverse disease you should probably try to stay in the 1’s and 2’s most of the time.

The second half of the book is comprised of recipes that fall into the healthy end of the spectrum – I’ve made a couple of them and they are quite good, so it’s a decent resource for a few easy healthy recipes as well. Dean Ornish is a well-respected doctor and researcher in the nutrition field, and he has a lot of useful insight into how our diet and lifestyle affect our health.

Overall it’s an interesting read and a decent all-in-one starter book on nutrition. If you have read it or if you check it out please comment and let me know what you think!

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