Teach yourself nutrition by buying the right textbooks for a DIY self-education.

Truly mastering nutrition requires understanding it from the ground up, gaining competence in the sciences that it is based on. If you're a self-motivated learner with an aptitude for science, you can put together your own nutrition education with the right selection of textbooks. Here are my top recommendations.

Nutrition Textbooks

For nutrition, I recommend these:

Advanced Nutrition provides a good introduction to nutrition, but Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease is the cream of the crop. No one could ever read it straight through, but it's an incredible desk reference. Each chapter is a self-contained topic written by one of the world's leading experts in the specific field the chapter covers, and the chapters can easily be read straight through when you need a refresher on that topic or need to dive deep into it for the first time.

Biochemistry Textbooks

For biochemistry, I recommend these:

The Ferrier book is labeled as a “review,” but it's actually a superb introduction. You can read it from cover to cover (though not in one sitting!) and it is rich in well crafted, helpful illustrations. The Berg book is far larger, provides much more mechanistic detail, and is much better at demonstrating the clinical relevance of the principles and staying up to date over time. The 2002 version of the Berg book is free online. The free version is helpful for occasional use, but isn't suitable for regular use or intensive study. You can keyword search it but not browse it or read it straight through. While huge swaths of the book remain the same in the 2015 edition, many sections are modified and some sections of the new edition do not even exist in the old edition.

Essential Background Information

Nutritional science is chemistry, biology, biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, and anatomy and physiology, all from the perspective of eating food. Although I think it can be helpful for anyone to jump into one of the textbooks listed above, you will get far more out of those books if you construct for yourself an education in the basic sciences on which they are based. In this section, I cover what I consider the most essential components of that foundation.

Chemistry

Silberberg, Chemistry: The Molecular Nature of Matter and Change. 7th edition. 2014.

Everything we eat is molecules, salts, ions, water, and a handful of other solvents. Chemistry teaches you what these actually are, why they form, and how they behave. Chemistry also provides you with the basic concepts of energy you need to understand how enzymes function and why biochemical pathways work. The Silberberg book is well explained and has fantastic illustrations. I rented it when I was teaching undergraduate nutritional biochemistry at Brooklyn College and I purchased it to help me design my MWM Energy Metabolism class.

Organic Chemistry

Wade and Simek, Organic Chemistry, 9th edition, 2016.

Organic chemistry covers the chemistry of carbon-containing (organic) molecules. Let's face it, we are mostly made of organic molecules and most of what we eat is organic molecules. Organic chemistry is especially helpful for understanding why chemicals are named the way they are and why biochemical reactions happen the way they do. I've used this book in designing my MWM Energy metabolism class for some of the more deeply mechanistic explanations. Unlike general chemistry (Silberberg), which I think deserves thorough study from beginning to end, I think you can be more liberal with organic if your purpose is to master nutrition. I would use this book to review the basic principles of chemical bonding, and then come back to specific chapters on an as-needed basis when your other studies leave you scratching your head wondering why a reaction happens the way it does. I'm not particularly wedded to the Wade and Simek book, but I'm happy with it.

Biology

Freeman, Biological Science. 6th edition. 2016.

Biology is chemistry come to life. Biology teaches you the big picture of where humans fit into the web of life as well as the nitty gritty of how cells function. Most of the biochemical pathways that nutrients undergo occur in specific subcellular compartments where understanding the cell and its compartments is as relevant as understanding the nutrients or the enzymes that metabolize them. For example, you can't understand why cytosolic acetyl CoA becomes fat and mitochondrial acetyl CoA generates ATP without understanding the basic organization of the cell. If you look at the reviews, the Freeman book is praised for making the take-home points clear and not overloading you with information. The reason I loved it is because it tells the story of biology, making frequent reference to how we discovered key principles and the kind of experimentation that these discoveries required.

Anatomy and Physiology

Tortora, Principles of Anatomy and Physiology14th edition, 2013.

Anatomy teaches you how our organs are internally organized into cells and tissues and how they relate to one another in systems. Physiology teaches you how the biochemical pathways and cellular processes are coordinated on a whole-body level to fulfill the needs of the organism. All of these are essential to nutrition. If you want to understand how carbohydrates and fats have different effects on insulin, you need to understand how they are transported differently through the body. If you want to understand why vitamin A deficiency dries out the eyes, you need to understand the different types of epithelial tissues and how they change during deficiency. The Tortora book has succinct explanations and fantastic illustrations. I'm using it to help me design my MWM Energy metabolism class.

Molecular and Cellular Biology

Alberts, Molecular Biology of the Cell. 6th Edition, 2014.

The so-called “Bible” of molecular and cellular biology, the Alberts book has kept me warm and cozy on many a lonely night for the last decade. Molecular and cellular biology takes what you learned in outline about how cells function in a biology course and greatly expands on it. Like the Berg, Biochemistry book, the 2002 edition is available for free in searchable but not browsable format. Like the Berg book, it's much better to buy the most recent edition if you want to use it regularly or study it intensively. And also like the Berg book, it can't be read straight through, but it's an excellent resource to chip away at over time.

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60 Comments

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  3. Hi Chris, Would you recommend this bio-chem text –Clinical Biochemistry : Metabolic & Clinical Aspects – pub Churchill Livingstone; 3 edition May 8, 2014?

  4. Text books have always been a bastion of knowledge. By this, I think that every student and teen should read a lot to get knowledge. I love to write an essay, I can recommend you an excellent writing essay service uk.papersowl.com , I think you should visit it and you will find there a lot of useful information.

  5. I am wondering about if you are still recommending Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. I mean it is 2012 version so it could be the case that it a little bit outdated. What are your thought like someone who already read it?

  6. I am wondering about if you are still recommending Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. I mean it is 2012 version so it could be the case that it a little bit outdated. What are your thoughts like someone who already read it?

  7. Hey Chris! Thanks for this list, super helpful. What are your thoughts on “Biochemical, Physiological, and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition” by Stipanuk & Caudill ? Looks like they just came out with a new edition (4th).

    1. Med student here! Some books are pretty dense and useless to learn nutrition. I see that you only put one of the first books that appear on a Google search.

      Pretty disappointed.

  8. Chris I was curious to know if you have any knowledge of an online Nutritionist or dietitian program in Canada?

    1. Hi Charmaine,
      No Canadian universities offer the accredited programs for nutrition and dietetics online. There may be some online courses, but anyone with intentions to become a Registered Dietitian should be schooled and trained in person. This may change as online technology and demand evolves, but due to the type of work done as part of the education, we need to be present in the classrooms, labs, and eventually in internships.

      Also, any alternative program promoting nutrition courses or to become a “nutritionist” are not legit programs and are not governed by an accredited body. Please exercise caution when considering these programs. There are a lot of schools that look credible, but their content isn’t evidence-based and they end up creating a lot of confusion (and they can actually be dangerous and harmful).

  9. What might you recommend for a four year degree will help provide formal, quality understanding in nutrition- inckuding the chem etc.
    I’ve looked at several nbachekors in nutrition..and to be honest..I wasn’t impressed with many programs out there.
    I work well doing online school. Am not looking to be an RD.

    1. Get a BS in a basic science like biochem, then do a PhD in Nutritional Sciences.

  10. Just found this post while looking for just such a recommendation. Unfortunately, the cheapest version of Gropper’s textbook 7e I can find starts at around $150. I noticed you can get a used version the sixth ed (published in 2012) far cheaper, and wondered if you would consider it worth reading that instead – or does the relevant science progress too fast to make it worthwhile?

    1. For that book probably not, especially since it isn’t really the top-level scholarly book. For Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease I’d get the most recent one. It is always the case that the basics stay the same, but I think for something that is written each chapter by a leading scholar in the field it is worth the extra money for it to be up to date. For something where 2-3 people wrote the whole book, like the one you’re asking about, I’d be less concerned. Unless it’s in a rapidly changing field. Like Molecular Biology of the Cell I would get the most recent because molecular biology is in constant rapid change, whereas nutrition is a more mature field.

  11. Chris,

    Been making my way through the Silderberg tome, and know on Wade & Simek, since you first posted this list. Just stopped to wonder: is there a preferred order in which to peruse these?

    Thanks

  12. Hi Chris,

    Love your work. I have no background in nutrition or basic science like biology or chemistry, but would like to start building my knowledge of the basics.

    Would you advise to start with chemistry/biology?

  13. Hey there, I listened to a few of your podcasts then heard you as a guest on another podcast & you talked about how your mother recently became certified through IN(?) as the host mentioned she had just completed that course. What is that again?
    Thank you for the wealth of info on here, I am eager to gobble it all up and apply to myself – I have the MTHFR heterozygous c677t mutation, but I’m pretty sure all the junk I’ve eaten over the years I’m pretty toxic and my gut needs a big time healing.
    Tnx & Happy New Year!

  14. Hi Chris, would you reccomend books on: biohacking, neurohacking, nootropics, smart drugs, cognitive enhancement?

    You’re great!

  15. Would you recommend a certain order for someone that has no background in nutrition or science but is intensely interested? Perhaps start with the Beginner: Gropper, Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. 7th edition. 2017 -and- Beginner: Ferrier, Biochemistry. 6th edition. 2013? Or, would you suggest starting with the Chemistry then the other sciences and only then get into the nutrition book?

    Thanks

  16. Thanks for this list. For the last few months, I’ve been taking a very broad, shallow dive into nutrition. I’m a liberal arts/law degree guy, so it doesn’t take much for me to be out of my depth. This is just the kind of thing I’ve been thinking about getting into.

    As a sort of aside, I am quickly in over my head in your podcasts. That’s not a criticism of the podcast at all – just some context of my non-science background. But I was driving awhile back listening to a recent podcast, and I turned it off and said to my wife that it was too much for me. She’s a pharmacist, and matter of factly replied, “Really? I thought it was pretty straightforward. I guess it probably makes more sense if you take seven years of chemistry classes.”

  17. These are great, but (being textbooks) are really expensive, almost prohibitevly so for the lay reader. Any recommendations for for a good, solid nutritional science book in paperback? You’d think there’d be something out there…

    1. Hi Derek,

      I assume you mean pop science books? I’ll have to make another post on that but it would require a lot of reading I don’t have time for right now. If you just want to save money, buy older editions used.

      1. Thanks, Chris, for your reply. I’m not referring to pop science books. Just looking for helpful books with solid information that don’t come at the inflated prices of collegiate or graduate textbooks.

        For example:

        American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 4th ed.

        Nutrition for Dummies

        Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 5th ed.

        Nancy Clarke’s Sports Nutrition, 5th ed.

        Most of these books are about $25 and some seem to be pretty good. Of course, college textbooks will generally go into more detail, but my question is if you have found or are aware of an affordable book that does a good job covering basic nutritional science. In other fields I know these types of books are out there. Some of the books I listed above and others like them seem like they may fit the bill. I was just curious if you were familiar with such a book.

  18. Not exactly along the lines of physiology and metabolic function but “Explain Pain” by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley is worth the read whether you’re a clinician or not.

  19. This is fantastic! I actually found the Berg book online and it lead me to purchase a hard copy! I’ve got the Tortora book and a couple of the others were on my radar but I wasn’t sure if they were worth the investment. Looks like I’m gonna have some more reading to do! 🙂

  20. I second the earlier comment on endocrinology. I am making a learning transition from theoretical physical sciences to physiology and having these as reference books will help me enormously. I am behind on your course but will catch up over the rest of the year.

  21. What about endocrinology? Do any of the above textbooks or disciplines cover this, and the role of hormones?

    1. Hi Amie (and Robert), I think endocrinology is great, but it’s a subdiscipline of physiology and I think the physiology you get from A&P is sufficient to understand as a pre-req to nutrition. Certainly endocrinology is worthy of study in its own right, but I made this as a way to work your way up to nutrition. Endocrinology is going beyond.

      1. Thanks for reply on Endocrinology– whole bag of worms to dump on anyone, including the Oncology folks. For those interested in this interplay do your research on the agricultural and botanical side of equation. As an example we all NOW know in the mainstream about soy and its goiterigenic effects (thyroid) and yet the journals were there years ahead ready to be applied. This is not unusual. For example. while in the military in Germany (1969-73) I learned that the scientists studied red wine and determined it was good for the heart. It took years before mainstream nutrition started on the anti-oxidant bandwagon in the U.S. All of these textbooks you have mentioned are fabulous. Thanks! Just want to encourage the audience to visit a big university library and venture into U.S. Department of Agriculture, chemical engineering, botany, medical abstracts, etc. etc. to do your homework, and all of it free! except for the parking fees on campus. And if you do not know where to start, ask the librarians: This is what they do. They are amazing! Thanks again for the textbooks references! Love them!

  22. Wonderful and helpful list of texts. Sharing these links will help a lot of people,–including myself–with our studies. We need you to catalize the wheel of independent study! Thank You so much

  23. This is a great post and could not agree more that textbooks are ideal for getting information efficiently! I have a question on ‘Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease’. I am considering buying it but curious if a 12th Edition is in the works given that the 11th Ed is from 2012. Anyone know about this? Thanks!

  24. Your list has Chemistry, then Organic Chemistry then Biological Science…

    There’s a saying ‘Biology is explained by chemistry, and chemistry is explained by physics, and physics is explained by maths.’

    1. It’s true that chemistry is based on physics, but physics is not taught in any textbook or class as a pre-req to chem, and chem is not taught on the assumption someone’s learned physics. So, you actually would get little out of studying physics first because there would be tons of information that does not lead into chem or bio at all, and there would be very deficient information that would prepare you for chem and bio.

      I also find it impossible to teach a good understanding of nutrition without chem, but I never find myself digging into a physics book to explain something in nutrition.

      Math is largely independent. You can teach any of these things on the principles, or you can teach them quantitatively. Certainly the principles would never have been discovered and tested without math, but they can be understood relatively free of math.

      1. Thank you for that last bit. I am so tired of people telling me I have no hope of understanding nutrition without a background in math. As an English Major I object.

  25. When I started university I was amazed at how accessible the knowledge was from my university textbooks, compared to the murky teaching of my incompetent high school teachers in rural NZ. I can’t remember the half a dozen authors, but my ‘Organic chemistry’ published by Mc Graw Hill was a great read.

  26. Am fully absorbed in reading Targeting the Broadly Pathogenic Kynurenine Pathway Edited by Sandeep Mittal 2015. Amazing new insights regarding how humans use tryptophan. Tryptophan is not always a ‘friend’. Unexpected and exciting.

    From the intro- As no exceptionally impressive physiological functions of pathway
    metabolites were found at the time, “kynurenines” were largely viewed as rather
    innocuous bioprecursors en route to NAD + , and the focus of most leading investigators in the fi eld shifted to other, more appealing, tryptophan metabolites such as serotonin and melatonin.
    As illustrated in chapter after chapter in this book, however, we have now
    reached an era where the roles of kynurenines in physiology and pathology have
    become too obvious to overlook. Exciting, and often accidental, discoveries have
    begun to alert basic scientists and clinical investigators alike that “attention must be
    paid” to these tryptophan metabolites, whose dysfunction in diseases affecting millions of patients worldwide had been ignored for too long. The timing is right since
    advances in genetics and the related emphasis on precision medicine, increasingly
    sophisticated analytical and surgical methods, as well as novel non-invasive procedures and devices, now enable us to conceptualize and address biological questions in ways that were unimaginable even a generation ago.

  27. A great resource. Thank you very much. I am a social scientist but have had an enduring interest in nutrition and health and these recommendations will help to show me the way to a more in-depth understanding

  28. Chris,

    Just wanted to thank you for putting this list together; this is exactly what I’ve been clamoring for for a good while now. Was already making my way through Advanced Nutrition & Human Metabolism (spent 2 hours with it in a cafe today) and wondering how to go from there. Hope to one day have the knowledge that gives me license to join the fight against the persistent misinformation on nutrition.

  29. You through me off with your references until I looked and saw that the first is the new name for Lippencotts and the 2nd seems to be the new Stryer.

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