Plant-based nutrition is one of my favorite subjects in the world. It’s so amazing how much our diet can impact our bodies and lives. It gets me fired up, and I become a complete nerd about it.
I’ve read probably 25+ vegan nutrition books, and in this blog post, I’m going to share all my favorites and why exactly I like each once.
Here are the six vegan nutrition books I’ll be covering in depth:
- How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger
- The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
- Eat to Live by Joel Furhman
- The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall
- Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina
- Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
I’ll also be covering some Honorable Mentions that may be of interest to specific readers!
Top Books for Each Kind of Vegan
I’ve written full reviews of each book below, but in this first section, I’ll give my quick tips. Depending on your goals, I have recommendations for you!
- If you want motivation to eat a healthy plant-based diet to prevent disease, I recommend How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger.
- If weight loss is your top priority and you’ve struggled with it, I recommend How Not to Diet by Dr. Michael Greger. Runner up: Eat to Live by Joel Furhman.
- If you want a vegan diet program that’s still healthy but a bit easier to follow (with more comfort foods), I recommend The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall.
- If you don’t want a diet program, but you want a reference guide to ensure you get the nutrients needed to stay healthy, I recommend Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina.
Alright, now let’s take a look at each of these books and who they’re really perfect for!
How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger
My #1 suggestion when it comes to vegan nutrition, whether you’re talking about books or Internet content, is Dr. Michael Greger. And How Not to Die is the best place to start.
You may be familiar with Dr. Greger’s videos on NutritionFacts.org. Well, this book organizes this content into a massive treatise explaining exactly why and how we know that a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet on the planet.
Where Dr. Greger’s book shines more than any other on this list is that it’s so, so effective at motivating healthy eating.
Do you ever feel like eating junk food that you know is bad for you? Ever feel like quitting veganism? Simply read a few pages of How Not to Die, or listen to 15 minutes of the audiobook, and your motivation will be restored! (At least that’s my experience.)
The book is organized into two main parts. The first part is broken into 15 chapters addressing how a whole foods plant-based diet can help protect you from the 15 most common killers, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
The second part is organized by the different healthy food groups and Dr. Greger’s “Daily Dozen” tips for what to eat each day.
My general recommendation is to get the Audible audiobook (link here). I loved listening to ~15 or 30 minutes each day to stay inspired to eat healthily.
However, before you jump on the Dr. Greger audiobook, please do listen to the sample! Some people find Dr. Greger’s reading style to be… a bit much. You’ll see what I mean! Personally, I like it—but make sure to give the sample a listen before you commit to the full audiobook.
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
The China Study is one of the most influential books ever written in nutrition. It’s at least partly responsible for the growing popularity of plant-based diets in recent decades. Famously, Bill Clinton was influenced by The China Study to eat a vegan diet for some time.
The China Study is named after a large nutritional study undertaken in rural China. But it actually covers quite a few other groundbreaking studies, too.
The book shares the research findings that led T. Colin Campbell, PhD, to conclude that a plant-based diet of around 80% carbohydrates, 10% protein, and 10% fat, is ideal for reducing the risk of cancer.
It also discusses groundbreaking research by Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn on reversing heart disease with diet, along with other interventions. And it touches on questions like whether milk helps you avoid osteoporosis.
The China Study is also really interesting for another reason. Like much of T. Colin Campbell’s work, it exposes the means by which this plant-based nutrition research has been covered up.
The book explains how the dietary recommendations in the U.S. have been shaped by the financial interests of the meat, dairy, and egg industry—how lobbyists have influenced the government’s recommendations for things like school lunch programs and nutrition pyramids (“MyPlate,” etc).
Eat to Live by Joel Furhman
When it comes to losing weight on a plant-based diet, there is maybe no more effective program than Joel Furhman’s “Nutritarian Diet,” covered in his book Eat to Live.
Personally, I found that following the advice in Furhman’s book was more effective at helping me lose weight compared to some of the other vegan diet programs.
While I do love Dr. John McDougall’s starch-based plan, too (discussed below), I simply found that it allows too many starchy carbs in order to reliably cause weight loss past a certain point.
I think programs like McDougall’s are a great starting point, and it’s also an easier diet to follow than Dr. Furhman’s. But if you want real weight-loss firepower, go for Furhman’s Eat to Live.
One of the other big aspects of Eat to Live is that it has a major emphasis on vegetables. He repeatedly says, “The salad is the main dish! Make it huge!”
On the strict 6-week plan, Dr. Furhman encourages you to eat at least a full pound of raw vegetables plus a full pound of cooked green vegetables every day. That’s a ton of vegetables!
It works for weight loss because vegetables are so calorically dilute. You can stuff yourself and still lose weight. And it works for overall health because vegetables are so nutrient-dense. You’re getting a surplus of pretty much all the vitamins and minerals you could ever want.
You can also eat unlimited beans and fruit on the 6-week Eat to Live plan.
After the strict 6-week period, Dr. Furhman recommends allowing yourself about 10% of your calories each day to just eat whatever you want. That means you can splurge on a few cookies each day, while still keeping an incredibly healthy overall diet.
The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall
The Starch Solution is the key book laying out Dr. John McDougall’s famous “starch-based diet.” Honestly, it’s a diet I’d recommend to close friends and family without hesitation. It’s one of the easier “whole-food plant-based” diets you can follow.
For Dr. McDougall, the focus is on starches: Potatoes, rice, wheat, corn, and to a lesser extent, beans. He points out that trim, healthy civilizations have thrived when eating these foods as their primary source of calories.
The focus on starches makes this diet easier to follow than others. You can eat unlimited vegan mashed potatoes, corn, and peas. You can have hash browns (without oil), popcorn (without oil), and cereal (with plant milk). Lots of comfort foods.
Compare that with Dr. Furhman’s plan, above, which limits starchy carbs to 1 cup per day and focuses on salad as the main dish instead.
The Starch Solution recommends strictly excluding animal products and oils, except on special occasions like holidays. Compared to programs like Dr. Furhman’s (above), it is more lenient when it comes to salt and sugar, saying they’re okay to add for taste.
You can find serious devotees of McDougall’s starch-based diet online. Check out the YouTube channel of High-Carb Hannah for one example.
Another interesting vegan nutrition book in this camp is The Clear-Skin Diet. It prescribes a version of the starch-based diet for clearing acne. While I don’t agree with every claim made in that book, I’d bet that, yes, this diet will help most acne sufferers. (Most whole food plant-based diets would!)
Note: You may know the starch-based diet as “The McDougall Diet”—or possibly as the “HCLF vegan diet” (HCLF = “high carb, low fat”). But do realize, HCLF veganism has other varieties, too, including the fruitarian diet. I explain this more in my full post on HCLF veganism.
Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina
Becoming Vegan is quite a bit different from the other vegan nutrition books here. But it may be one of the most important on the list. Why? Because it’s not a diet program. It’s an overall vegan nutrition resource.
This was the book I read when I first went vegan. It gave me confidence that I wasn’t permanently messing up my health with this diet change! It gave me my first real education in nutrition.
This book won’t try to sell you on a specific type of vegan diet. Instead, it will give you an overview of what you should know to generally be healthy. Like which nutrients should you be concerned about and how to get them.
If you don’t want to be on a specific diet program but you just want to get an overview of vegan nutrition and how to be sure you don’t mess up your health, go for Becoming Vegan. And if you want a shorter version of the data, check out the Express version of the book!
Another resource that’ll give you similar information, but in website form, is VeganHealth.org. That website is run by Jack Norris, another dietitian and one of the founders of Vegan Outreach. He also has a book, Vegan for Life. (I haven’t read his book, so I can’t say too much about it—but it does get great reviews.)
Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
This book is different from any other on this list—and if you’re only getting one vegan nutrition book, this isn’t my top recommendation. But I think Finding Ultra provides something really valuable for the right kind of vegan.
Rich Roll is a middle-aged guy who was struggling with declining health and fitness when he decided to adopt a plant-based diet and get into endurance exercise. The fitness transformation that resulted is really quite inspirational and makes for the centerpiece of this book.
Rather than focusing on diet recommendations, like in the other books above, in Finding Ultra, you get the story of a man who completely turned around his health and life by adopting a plant-based diet.
The book will be particularly compelling for would-be vegan athletes, as there are many tales of Rich’s athletic endeavors.
At one point in the book, Rich recounts his experience doing 5 Iron Man triathlons in 6 days—one on each island of Hawaii. That is utterly insane, but he did it. If his story would motivate you on your vegan path, then hey, sometimes that’s as good as any diet or nutrition book out there!
Honorable Mentions: More Vegan Nutrition
All the following authors have great vegan nutrition books and will commonly be seen around the vegan nutrition world.
Dr. Neal Barnard from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has a few great books. If you want to learn about reversing diabetes with diet, definitely check out Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes. He also has a book on Power Foods for the Brain, which I enjoyed.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. has a famous book called Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease, which is a great resource if you’re focused particularly on heart health. But his research is covered somewhat in The China Study (above), too.
Dr. Dean Ornish is the author of the landmark book Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease. Although his research is covered in The China Study and other books above, here you get the full program that has successfully reversed heart disease! He also has some other books for the more casual dieter.
Rip Esselstyn is a firefighter, triathlete, and the son of Dr Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. (above). He has a very popular book called The Engine 2 Diet. The diet is focused on weight-loss and lowering cholesterol, and it’s a bit more practical compared to the strict heart disease reversal diets.
Dr. Garth Davis is a weight-loss surgeon with a book called Proteinaholic that is definitely worth checking out if you’ve been told over and over that vegans “don’t get enough protein”!
If you want to be sure to remember this list of books, consider saving the Pin below to your Pinterest “Vegan Nutrition” or “Plant-Based Diet” boards!