Writer-in-chief, Leigh Stewart, shares her top picks for summer reads that will change your outlook on life and health.
The books I’ve selected cover diverse topics that are essential if you want to take control of your health. They investigate the source and roots of modern-day conundrums that influence our daily choices:
1. Where you food comes from and why that matters
2. The body’s natural clock and how to sync with it
3. Social media, the attention economy and how it affects us
4. Your gut, everything you didn’t know about this organ
5. How habits are formed and how to create better ones
Every single one of these books has given me precious insight into the workings of the human body, and how our health at large is a result of many moving pieces.
After all, most of my days are spent deciphering complex science, and translating these findings into actionable information for you, dear reader. But there’s a bigger barrier to attaining health than access to knowledge: behaviour.
I’m not writing from an ivory tower of perfection incarnate, because even with knowledge, changing my behaviour is an ongoing war. It’s not unusual for me to feel like I’ve conceded as much ground as I’ve gained in attaining my goals of doing better, eating better, and living better.
But even if I lose a battle here and there (or every other day), it’s a war of attrition that I’m fighting, and my adversary is daunting. By nature, our species is hardwired for pleasure-seeking mechanisms like food, sex, and relaxation (read safety) after all.
Our brain is not a stoic ally, it’s malleable and susceptible to manipulation. The influence may be external, like attractive packaging in specific colours – advertising surreptitiously appeals to your baser instincts (pleasure-seeking) – or social media where ostentatious displays of perfection and happiness can make us less satisfied.
Maybe it’s the sugary, fatty, soft beef burger that you’ve been craving - perfectly designed to appeal to your primal instinct for calorie-dense foods with a soft texture that tricks you into eating more than you should.
And did I mention the internal influences? Gut microbes can probably manipulate the brain, obesity likely affects cognitive performance, and inflammation breeds depression, and depression breeds inflammation. And that's just to name a few.
It was just a hundred years ago that our primary medical concern was infectious diseases. But now it’s the pernicious invasion of our daily choices with means designed to play on our biological programming that’s making us ill with preventable chronic diseases.
Admittedly, I’ve stepped over the brink and into weirdo terrain both through circumstance and choice: I rarely use my phone, I have a house full of fermenting foods and actual food (no packaging required), and you won’t find me on social media.
Because I don’t like to be told what to do. And I really don’t appreciate being tricked into doing things when the end result is to line someone else’s pockets at the expense of my health, no matter the cost or consequence to human health and the planet.
Books have proved an invaluable source of knowledge and perspective when it comes to understanding how our biology influences our behaviour. And in these books, there are words of hope, deeply rooted in current context.
Knowledge opens the door to choice, and that’s where long-term health resides. And if you’re reading this, what can I say? Except maybe, welcome to the mosh pit.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma
If you’ve never heard of Michael Pollan, you’re in for a treat. After asking just one simple question: “What should we have for dinner?”, this author embarks on a mission to the source of four different meals.
On this enlightening and humourous journey, he buys a steer raised for mass-produced fast-food, calculates how much corn goes into a happy meal, learns how to forage, and discovers why supermarket organic food might not be selling quite what’s expected.
Check out Cooked, a Netflix 4-part documentary on food with Michael Pollan
Sure, it’s about America, but this country is instrumental in defining the culture and standards of food production around the world. And there’s no better guide than Michael Pollan. It’s also a great audiobook for those who commute or enjoy podcasts.
I own every one of Michael Pollan’s books, sometimes in duplicate. If you’re naturally curious about what it means to be human, he’s the author for you.
The Circadian Code
This book is for any person who has visited doctors with digestive symptoms, sleeping problems, inability to lose weight, and other discomforts that have been marginalised because they’re not operable or acute.
Pr. Satchin Panda is one of the world’s leading minds in the area of chronobiology, the body’s natural clock. In this book, he summarises astounding findings from his decades in the field, and shows how living out of sync with our body’s natural rhythm can have serious consequences for our health.
Dr. Rangan Chatterjee interviews Pr. Panda on the circadian rhythm
If you’re trying to figure out why you can’t lose weight no matter how strictly you diet, struggling with insomnia, get heartburn at night, or just looking for ways to improve your mood, you might just find the answers you’re looking.
Having personally struggled with digestive issues and some sleeplessness, I tried several of Dr Panda’s recommendations. They work.
Stand out of our light
Written by a former Google advertising executive who eloped from his day job to study philosophy in Cambridge (UK), this book contains unique insight on the deeper functions of social media.
Ted Talk with James Williams on social media and online distractions
James Williams contends that we don’t live in the “information society”, but an attention economy. Straight from the mouth of a professional in the field of algorithms, he reviews some of the murkier aspects of the internet’s most popular features, like Google and Facebook.
Unbeknownst to many, your time and attention online are being monetised, traded, and sold using advertising metrics. It's time to take notice, understand why this matters, and how it could change humanity as we know it.
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ
Embarrassment, confusion, and discomfort are too often the first emotions that come to mind when people think of the gut, and that is exactly what Giulia Enders is here to confront.
Of course, you could just watch this Ted Talk with Giulia instead
At medical school, she realised that a lot of people had awkward questions for her about the digestive system - queries that mulled around in their brains for years. Taking it upon herself to find these answers, Giulia went on her own journey into the basic mysteries of this beautiful system.
On this journey from the mouth to the rectum, you’ll discover how food poisoning works, what the microscopic protrusions on your bowel do, and why you need so much surface area to digest your food.
At Atlas Biomed, we passionately believe in empowering people with knowledge, and we are big fans of the digestive system in all its glory!
The power of habit
We’re all prone to bad habits, and anyone who’s tried to change will agree that it’s an undertaking of massive proportions. This is where a little science can go a long way with the help of Charles Duhigg.
Charles Duhigg explains habit with his cookie-a-day problem
Delving deep into research on human behaviour, neuropsychology and all the other scientific fields that influence our decisions can be hard work. That’s where his skills as a journalist come in handy.
This book explains the mechanics behind habits with anecdotes and captivating narratives from professional athletes and big business boardrooms to help you make changes that can enhance your life.
Forget the bikini body, imbue yourself with knowledge instead: summer is the best season to enjoy a good book in the gentle shade of an oak tree.