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M Jnce upon a time people simply sat down to dinner, eating to fill up an ^^ empty stomach or just for the pleasure of it. Nobody said, "Wow, that cream soup is loaded with calories," or asked whether the bread was a highfiber loaf or fretted about the chicken being served with the skin still on. No longer. Today, the dinner table can be a battleground between health and pleasure. You plan your meals with the precision of a major general moving his troops into the front lines, and for most people, the fight to eat what's good for you rather than what tastes good has become a lifelong struggle.

This book is designed to end the war between your need for good nutrition and your equally compelling need for tasty meals. In fact (listen up, here!), what's good for you can also be good to eat — and vice versa.

About This Book

Nutrition For Dummies, 4th Edition, doesn't aim to send you back to the classroom, sit you down, and make you take notes about what to put on the table every day from now until you're 104 years old. You're reading a reference book, so you don't have to memorize anything — when you want more info, just jump in anywhere to look it up.

Instead, this book means to give you the information you need to make wise food choices — which always means choices that please the palate and soul, as well as the body. Some of what you'll read here is really, really basic: definitions of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and — can you believe this? — plain old water. You'll also read tips about how to put together a nutritious shopping list and how to use food to make meals so good you can't wait to eat them.

For those who know absolutely nothing about nutrition except that it deals with food, this book is a starting point. For those who know more than a little about nutrition, this book is a refresher course to bring you up to speed on what has happened since the last time you checked out a calorie chart.

For those who want to know absolutely everything, this 4th edition of Nutrition for Dummies book is UP TO DATE, with hot new info from the 2005 revisions of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, new recommended daily allowances for all the nutrients a healthy body needs, plus all the twisty "this is good for you" and "this is really, really rotten" bits and pieces of food info that nutrition scientists have come up with since, well, the last edition.

Conventions Used in This Book

The following conventions are used throughout the text to make things consistent and easy to understand:

1 All Web addresses appear in monofont.

1 New terms appear in italic and are closely followed by an easy-to-understand definition.

1 Bold is used to highlight the action parts of numbered steps, as well as key words in bulleted lists.

1 Nutrition experts commonly use metric terms such as gram (g), milligram (mg), and microgram (mcg) to describe quantities of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Feel free to use the Cheat Sheet at the front of this book whenever you forget what each means.

What You Don't Have to Read

What? Not read something printed in a book? Well, yeah. Some small parts of this book are fun or informative but not necessarily vital to your understanding of nutrition. For example:

1 Text in sidebars: The sidebars are the shaded boxes that appear here and there. They share personal stories and observations but aren't necessary reading.

1 Anything with a Technical Stuff icon attached: This information is interesting but not critical to your understanding of nutrition.

1 The stuff on the copyright page: No kidding. You'll find nothing here of interest unless you're inexplicably enamored by legal language and Library of Congress numbers.

Foolish Assumptions

Every book is written with a particular reader in mind, and this one is no different. As I wrote this book, I made the following basic assumptions about who you are and why you plunked down your hard-earned cash for an entire volume about nutrition:

1 You didn't study nutrition in high school or college and now you've discovered that you have a better shot a staying healthy if you know how to put together well-balanced, nutritious meals.

i You're confused by conflicting advice on vitamins and minerals, protein, fats and carbs. In other words, you need a reliable road map through the nutrient maze.

1 You want basic information, but you don't want to become an expert in nutrition or spend hours digging your way through medical textbooks and journals.

How This Book Is Organized

The following is a brief summary of each part in Nutrition For Dummies, 4th Edition. You can use this guide as a fast way to check out what you want to read first. One really nice thing about this book is that you don't have to start with Chapter 1 and read straight through to the end. Au contraire, as the French like to say when they mean "on the contrary." You can dive in absolutely anywhere and still come up with tons of tasty information about how food helps your body work.

Part I: The Basic Facts about Nutrition

Chapter 1 defines nutrition and its effects on your body. This chapter also tells you how to read a nutrition study and how to judge the value of nutrition information in newspapers, magazines, and on TV. Chapter 2 is a really clear guide to how your digestive system works to transform food and beverages into the nutrients you need to sustain a healthy body. Chapter 3 concentrates on calories, the energy factor in food and beverages. Chapter 4 tells you how much of each nutrient you need to stay in tiptop form. Chapter 5 details some of the rules on dietary supplements — the pills, powders, and potions that add nutritional punch to your regular diet.

Part II: What You Get from Food

Chapter 6 gives you the facts about protein: where you get it and what it does in your body. Chapter 7 does the same job for dietary fat, while Chapter 8 explains carbohydrates: sugars, starches, and that indigestible but totally vital substance in carbohydrate foods — ta-da! — dietary fiber. Chapter 9 outlines the risks and, yes, some newly proven benefits of alcohol beverages.

Chapter 10 is about vitamins, the substances in food that trigger so many vital chemical reactions in your body. Chapter 11 is about minerals, substances that often work in tandem with vitamins. Chapter 12 explains phytochemicals, newly important substances in food. Chapter 13 is about water, the essential liquid that comprises as much as 70 percent of your body weight. This chapter also describes the functions of electrolytes, special minerals that maintain your fluid balance (the correct amount of water inside and outside your body cells).

Part III: Healthy Eating

Chapter 14 is about hunger (the need for food) and appetite (the desire for food). Balancing these two eating factors makes maintaining a healthful weight possible for you. Chapter 15 on the other hand, is about food preference: why you like some foods and really, really hate others. (Broccoli, anyone?) Chapter 16 tells you how to assemble a healthful diet. It's based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans created by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, plus some recent updates from the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, so you know it's good for you. Chapter 17 explains how to use nutritional guidelines to plan nutritious, appetizing meals at home. Chapter 18 shows you how to take the guidelines out to dinner so that you can judge the value of foods in all kinds of restaurants, from the posh white-tablecloth ones to fast-food havens.

Part IV: Food Processing

Chapter 19 asks and answers this simple question: What is food processing? Chapter 20 shows you how cooking affects the way food looks and tastes, as well as its nutritional value. Chapter 21 does the same for freezing, canning, drying, and irradiating techniques. Chapter 22 gives you the lowdown on chemicals used to keep food fresh.

Part V: Food and Medicine

Chapter 23 explains why some food gives some people hives and presents strategies for identifying and avoiding the food to which you may be allergic. Chapter 24 is about how eating or drinking certain foods and beverages may affect your mood — a hot topic these days with nutrition researchers. Chapter 25 tells you how foods may interact with medical drugs — an important subject for anyone who ever has taken, now takes, or ever plans to take medicine. Chapter 26 tells you how some foods may actually act as preventive medicine or relieve the symptoms of certain illnesses ranging from the horrible-but-not-really-serious common cold to the Big Two: heart disease and cancer.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Could there even be a For Dummies book without The Part of Tens? Not a chance. This part (Chapters 27, 28, and 29) provides ten great nutritional Web site addresses, lists ten common foods with near-magical status, and last — but definitely not least — lays out ten easy ways to cut calories from food.

Icons Used in This Book

Icons are a handy For Dummies way to catch your attention as you slide your eyes down the page. The icons come in several varieties, each with its own special meaning:

Nutrition is full of stuff that "everybody knows." This masked marvel clues you in to the real facts when (as often happens) everybody's wrong!

This little guy looks smart because he's marking the place where you find definitions of the words used by nutrition experts.

The Official Word icon says, "Look here for scientific studies, statistics, definitions, and recommendations used to create standard nutrition policy."

This time, the same smart fella is pointing to clear, concise explanations of technical terms and processes — details that are interesting but not necessarily critical to your understanding of a topic. In other words, skip them if you want, but try a few first.

Bull's-eye! This is time- and stress-saving information that you can use to improve your diet and health.

This is a watch-out-for-the-curves icon, alerting you to nutrition pitfalls such as (oops!) leaving the skin on the chicken — turning a low-fat food into one that is high in fat and cholesterol. This icon also warns you about physical dangers such as supplements to avoid because they may do more damage than good to your health.

Where to Go from Here

Ah, here's the best part. For Dummies books are not linear (a fancy way of saying they proceed from A to B to C . . . and so on). In fact, you can dive right in anywhere, say at L, M, or N, and still make sense of what you're reading because each chapter delivers a complete message.

For example, if carbohydrates are your passion, go right to Chapter 8. If you want to know how to pick and choose from a menu when you're eating out, skip to Chapter 18. If you've always been fascinated by food processing, your choice is Chapter 19. You can use the Table of Contents to find broad categories of information or the Index to look up more specific things.

If you're not sure where you want to go, why not just begin at the beginning, Part I? It gives you all the basic info you need to understand nutrition and points to places where you can find more detailed information.

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