By Denis Faye

Summer is upon us. Presumably, you've got your "beachified" body all in shape, and you're ready to hit the sand, relax on your towel, and do a little summer reading. Sure, you'll be poring through the latest Janet Evanovich novel, but between potboilers, why not take the opportunity to educate yourself on nutrition a little bit? There's a huge, healthy world out there beyond Michi's Ladder. Here are three new reads that mix recipes and education to help you explore the food you eat every day.

The 10 Things You Need to Eat by Dave Lieberman and Anahad O'Connor (William Morrow, $19.99)

Spoiler alert! The ten foods are tomatoes, avocados, beets, spinach, quinoa, lentils, cabbage, "super fish," nuts, and berries.

If you're thinking I just saved you 20 bucks, you're wrong. Any dope knows those foods are good for you, but do you know why? What I like about this book is the way the authors take each food and completely explore it. You'll learn about the cultural significance of each item as well as the what, how, and why of its nutritional value. For example, we all know the value of spinach, or "the captain of leafy greens," as the Spanish call it. But did you know that a 2007 study by the National Cancer Institute on half a million people showed that spinach may prevent cancer? Or are you aware that spinach has two to three times the antioxidant value of most veggies? Take that, cauliflower!

After fully briefing you on each food, the book lists several delicious recipes interspersed with practical preparation and storage hints. And while the recipes are largely healthy, they don't skimp on taste. True, the Baked Kale and Mushroom Ragout with Parmesan Bread Crumbs includes sugar, bacon, Parmesan cheese, and a baguette among the ingredients. At first glance, that may seem a little decadent, but you're getting a whole heap o' kale for a relatively small amount of indulgence, so it's not such a bad thing.

So if you're looking for a few tasty recipes and a lot of food knowledge, this book is a great investment.

I Can't Believe It's Not Fattening! by Devin Alexander (Broadway Books, $19.99)

Less informative but equally appetizing is The Biggest Loser® chef Devin Alexander's latest book. While everything here sounds delicious, I'm not as crazy about this cookbook. It's less about being healthy and more about being quick and not fattening. But admittedly, a book like this fills an important role in many people's lives. Some of us may be Food Nazis, but most of America isn't, so they need tools to help them to get to where they want to be. To me, the Kick-Butt Kahlua Sundae may be an aberration with its fat-free ice cream, chocolate syrup, and "whipped topping," but at 155 calories, 4 grams of protein, 33 grams of carbs, and no fat, it's a huge step up from the mini-tub of Chunky Monkey® some people might normally polish off for dessert.

And, to her credit, Alexander does specify which recipes are "all-natural." The book also includes a chart explaining how to substitute organic or natural foods for some of her more decadent ingredient choices, but it's fairly useless. (Don't want to use chocolate chips? Substitute organic chocolate chips!)

So if you're scrambling to lose weight and figure out how to eat, this might be a good book for you, but if you're a seasoned P90Xer steeped in extreme fitness, I say pass it by.

Drink This, Not That! by David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding (Rodale, $19.99)

I have a Love This, Hate This relationship with the Eat This, Not That! series. On one hand, they offer unparalleled intel about the increasing convoluted array of "foods" Americans find at their local restaurant and grocery store chains. On the other hand, although you'll find solid nutritional advice in the fine print, the bulk of the guidance falls along the lines of, "Cutting off your whole hand is a bad idea. Why don't you try cutting off your thumb instead?" Drink This, Not That! is no exception.

For example, the 11th worst drink in America is Starbucks® Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha with Whipped Cream, checking in at 660 calories, 22 grams of fat, and 95 grams of sugar. The book compares the beverage to 8-1/2 scoops of coffee ice cream, and if you read the tiny print at the top of the page, you'll see, "If you want a caffeine buzz, stick to the regular joe, an Americano or a cappuccino."

But you're probably not going to read that 8-point type. Instead, your eyes will be drawn to the bright yellow circle in the bottom right-hand corner suggesting you swap it out for a 260-calorie Cinnamon Dolce Latte with Sugar Free Syrup. (Several pages later, and in a much less sexy font, the book does discuss the evils of artificial sweeteners, but that doesn't stop it from recommending them repeatedly.)

That said, this book lists absolutely everything you've ever wanted to know about every drink ever, including coffee, beer, wine, and spirits. It also offers several great drink recipes, including The Caffeinated Banana, which sounds great to me except for the pointless tablespoon of agave syrup, which also rears its prickly head in the Margarita recipe. News flash, boys: There's no need to add any kind of syrup to a real Margarita. It's tequila, lime juice, and triple sec or Cointreau®, end of story. I don't care if you're the editor of Men's Health, Zinczenko. I'm going to have Hemingway come back from the grave and give you a good slapping.

So I do think the book is worth investing in, but I'd disregard most of the Drink This! advice. Much like I Can't Believe It's Not Fattening!, this book may serve as a bridge to healthy eating, but I don't think it quite crosses the chasm. Liquid calories are a huge reason for America's weight problem, so stick to water, coffee, and tea—iced or hot—and you'll be fine.