Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.
Thus begins Michael Pollan's latest book release In Defense of Food. Pollan's previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma was my favorite book of 2007 and this new book picks up where it left off. Where The Omnivore's Dilemma provides the reader with the backround information about our food supply, In Defense of Food is the answer to "What should I eat?"
Pollan discusses the problem of nutritionism at length. The definition?
Nutritionism is an ideology that assumes that it is the scientifically identified nutrients in foods that determine their value in the diet.
Basically, if you can put the food in a package and stick a label on it and tell me why I should eat it - based on current dietary recommendations - then it must be worth eating (I'm paraphrasing here).
"0 Trans Fats!"
"Made with whole grains"
The fact that manufacturers can put a label on Lucky Charms cereal that it can be part of a healthy diet because of its whole grains is bewildering. Consumers are so taken in by this. I used to be taken in by this push from food manufacturers to get me to buy products that fit the current trends of what healthy eating means. I'm so often surprised that generally intelligent people are taken in by these things. A friend of mine was really excited about buying low-carb orange juice during the low-carb craze. I told her "I'm guessing to make orange juice low-carb they just add more water to it. Why don't you just buy orange juice and dilute it with water and save your money?" She'd never thought of it like that.
A relative of ours asked what foods to have on hand for our baby/toddler. I requested full fat yogurt and unsweetened applesauce. What was purchased? Sugar-free applesauce - "see, it has no sugar" they said. "Well, yes, because it contains nutrasweet." The yogurt purchased was fat-free and sugar-free. I told them I could not feed these foods to my baby - they were just chemicals - why would I put chemicals into the body of a 25 pound person? They couldn't understand why I felt those were inappropriate foods to feed a child. Aren't they safe?
The same family has been using margarine for many years. The husband underwent a quadruple bypass and a year later had to be re-stented. His wife still bakes and cooks with margarine, only less, and now she uses salt-free. Pollan writes at length about trans-fats and margarine, stating that people are having heart attacks and dying as a partial result of the use of margarine. My relative? She just cannot bring herself to use butter after being bombarded with how bad it is for most of her life. And she grew up on a farm. This family is intelligent, they are educated, but they are taken in by what the food manufacturers tell them to eat.
Just yesterday I saw a news story on CNN asking: Could sugar substitutes be worse than sugar?
The Omnivore's Dilemma was a very personal book, about Pollan's journey of learning about our food supply. In Defense of Food is a more scientific book and is a nice companion. I don't know how much I learned from reading it, only because I've read a decent amount on the subject already, but it's the sort of book that I'd recommend to someone who is not ready to invest the time in The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's short and to the point. Pollan looks at how nutritionism came about and how it's affected our diet over the years. Despite all the research, Americans have become more and more unhealthy. People latch on to the latest diet, including those eaten by people around the world who are healthier -the French, Japanese, those in Mediterranean countries. Pollan states that the greater problem is our relationship with food and eating.
So what to eat? Pollan suggests eating foods your Great-Grandmother would recognize as food, that is to say - nothing processed. Don't eat foods that make health claims, no high fructose corn syrup, shop the outside of the grocery store, buy from local growers- you've heard this before, right? Pollan acknowledges that not everyone can afford to eat this way. He feels that if you can afford to, that you should try to do so, and by doing so you are casting a vote for eating - what else? -food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.