The 16 Best Healthy Cookbooks, According to Dietitians
Gone are the days when "healthy cooking" meant fat-free, ultra-low-calorie and totally bland. And you know what? We're not mad about it at all! The best healthy cookbooks in 2021 actually celebrate food, taking an inclusive look at adding delicious ingredients—not restricting them. Today, a cookbook with a focus on health is much more likely to feature fresh, colorful, global meals, all prepared with techniques that enhance flavor and your enjoyment of food.
If cooking comes naturally, you may already be a whiz in the kitchen. But for most of us mere mortals, a little guidance around ingredients and techniques goes a long way. Good cookbooks answer the question, "What's for dinner?" But the best cookbooks transport us. They take us back to the lands we love, and to the places we long to visit. They inspire us to try new things, and educate ourselves about what healthy, wholesome food looks like all over the world. The best healthy cookbooks remind us that cooking can be joyful and exciting.
We asked some of our favorite dietitians with a variety of backgrounds and cultural experiences to share their picks for what makes a winning cookbook. We noticed a few key trends about the best healthy cookbooks:
- Quality cookbooks actually teach you new skills in the kitchen, not just how to follow a recipe.
- The best cookbooks feature a wide range of ingredients from all over the world—there's no "one size fits all" formula for healthy cooking.
- Healthy cookbooks don't need to be vegetarian … but they all include a focus on plant-based products, namely veggies and fruits.
- The ingredients featured should be largely high in whole grains with adequate fiber, lean protein, and favor heart-healthy fats, while still including "fun foods."
- A good healthy cookbook is one you'll want to use! The dietitians we polled were all genuinely excited about their picks. A cookbook isn't much use if you don't actually crack the spine.
It's important to note, too, that healthful foods are abundant in all cultural food traditions. In other words: Although that salmon and kale power bowl may wear a health halo, it's not the only meal that earns nutritional gold stars. And a great cookbook doesn't have to bill itself as a diet plan to earn top marks.
Tracey Frimpong, a registered dietitian who shares insights and knowledge on her Instagram page @thatblackrd, gives an example of how non-Westernized food fits just as seamlessly into a healthy diet: "A famous Ethiopian dish called injera is a fermented flatbread that may be served with red lentils, yellow split peas, a variety of vegetables and meat stews. This is balanced in my book and it also has variety. It's also about portion control, and a lot of dietary guidelines across the globe emphasize portion control. It all fits. We need to focus a bit more on how much." She adds, "It's important to talk about the history of food staples so that we can empower people to make health decisions that connect to them and empower them."
Best Healthy Cookbooks, According to Dietitians
1. Original Flava by Craig and Shaun McAnuff
Frimpong points out that, "It's very hard to define a culturally 'healthy cookbook' as culture is not something static, every recipe developed is passed down over generations." When making cooking choices, she encourages people to focus on choosing plenty of vegetables and fruits, plant-based protein and whole grains, and choosing water over sugary drinks; healthy fats over saturated fats. This cookbook has plenty of healthy picks (think: honey-roasted jerk-spiced salmon and plantain bean burgers), but packs plenty of flavor to keep things delicious.
2. A Seat at the Vegan Table by Afia Amoako
Another cookbook that meets the mark for Frimpong on those points—and features influences from her Ghanian and Jamaican roots—is A Seat at the Vegan Table by Afia Amoako, aka The Canadian African.
3. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat
Amreen Bora, an Austin-based dietitian, says, "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat has amazing recipes in it and it teaches you the basic elements of cooking. The beautiful and fun illustrations help you understand the science behind cooking and how to make food taste good. It's not diet-oriented and teaches you how to make things more flavorful and the right texture."
4. Dining In by Alison Roman
Bora says, "I like Dining In because it gives me plenty of ways to spice up ingredients I previously thought were boring. It has tons of flavorful recipes with beautiful pictures of food."
5. Prediabetes Diet and Action Plan by Alice Figueroa, M.P.H., RDN, CDN
Alice Figueroa, M.P.H., RDN, CDN, uses her website and Instagram, @aliceinfoodieland, to encourage folks to focus on "mindful living and happy eating"—two concepts that fall into place when you reframe cooking as an act of self-care.
She's also a cookbook author herself—her book, Prediabetes Diet and Action Plan: A Guide to Reverse Prediabetes and Start New Healthy Habits, was published in May.
6. Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
Figueroa says, "This book has amazing plant-based recipes that use vegetables in creative and unique ways. It's super-healthy food that is also sophisticated, refreshing and delicious."
7. The Complete Vegan Cookbook by the Natural Gourmet Center
Figueroa says, "This book was created by chefs at the Natural Gourmet Institute, which focuses on health-supportive cooking. You can trust that each recipe will be nutritious and delicious."
8. Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
Figueroa says, "If you are trying to increase your intake of vegetables and whole grains, this is your book. You'll learn how to create plant-centric meals that are comforting and rich in vegetables and whole grains."
9. Chloe Flavor by Chloe Coscarelli
"This is the perfect comfort-food book that highlights the beauty and versatility of vegetables," Figueroa says.
10. You Have It Made by Ellie Krieger
Figueroa says, "Ellie Krieger is a brilliant registered dietitian and cooking show host. Her philosophy is 'delicious, meet healthy.' This book and all the wonderful books she has published are filled with creative and nurturing recipes that are good for our health and happiness."
11. Vegetables Unleashed by José Andrés
"This book uses simple plant-based ingredients to create delightful foods that are exotic but also heartwarming. I love how it champions eating more vegetables and getting to know where your food comes from," Figueroa says.
12. Japanese Home Cooking by Sonoko Sakai
Figueroa says, "This is a beautiful book that teaches you how to cook homemade Japanese food using health-supportive and delicious ingredients."
13. Ottolenghi Flavor by Yotam Ottolenghi
Jamie Vespa, M.S., RD, is a recipe developer and former magazine editor who favors plant-based proteins, along with the occasional appearance of fish. Her cooking style celebrates food that looks undeniably luscious. She shares rigorously tested recipes on her website and at @dishingouthealth, where a sprinkle of cheese or a drizzle of tahini sauce are just as likely to make an appearance as heart-healthy walnuts and fiber-rich broccoli.
Vespa says, "This cookbook offers such an innovative approach to plant-based cooking, turning celery roots into unctuous 'steaks' and Romano peppers into meaty 'schnitzels.' The recipes make hitting your daily veggie quota ultra enticing."
14. Diala's Kitchen by Diala Canelo
Vespa says, "This plant-forward and pescatarian-friendly cookbook pulls inspiration from some of the healthiest places in the world. The recipes emphasize local, fresh ingredients and lively flavors, all rooted in simple, approachable techniques."
15. Eat More Plants by Desiree Nielsen, RD
Nicole Osinga, M.S., RD, CDE, is a Canada-based dietitian who focuses on plant-based meal planning (she has great tips on her Instagram!). She says, "Desiree is a credible, plant-based registered dietitian who spreads the message of adding versus subtracting plant-based foods. This book is not just for vegans or vegetarians!"
16. The Mindful Glow Cookbook by Abbey Sharp
Osinga says, "Abbey Sharp is another credible registered dietitian who struggled with orthorexia, who has learned to silence food shaming and accept a truly balanced approach."