In Defense of FoodMay 22, 2009
We are the only species that needs professional help determining what to eat. Is fat bad? Should I be taking omega-3 oil supplements? Are carbs bad? Should I use butter or margarine? Is breast milk better than formula? Good grief! We are a culture completely obsessed with food, yet no other country suffers more diet-related health problems than the U.S. What's up with that?
You may think books on nutrition are boring. Think again. Michael Pollan is a brilliant author who writes on nutrition and is responsible for two of my favorite books: The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. He was just in town this week speaking at a Barnes & Noble (which I sadly missed as I was speaking at an event in Chicago) and I've been meaning to talk about his books for a while.
In Defense of Food is about the fact that much of the calories we're consuming today aren't coming from food. They're coming from "edible foodlike substances" produced not by Mother Nature, but from science. The food marketing industry is $32 billion dollar machine that thrives on change for it's own sake. Food manufacturers don't make a lot of money on real food - they make their real profits on processed food. The more processed "fake" food they can get you to eat, the more money they make. Think about what the vast majority of the space in a supermarket is filled with. It's not fresh fruit and vegetables or other things found in nature. It's boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of processed food, filling row after row and shelf after shelf.
Every company and brand is trying to get you to eat their product, and many of them do this by touting certain nutrients the food either does or does not contain (once they set their food scientists to work on it). They are looking for their point of difference. Too bad we don't eat nutrients. We eat food.
Nutritionists' also focus on nutrients. Remember in the 80's when fat was bad? Dietary guidelines were to eat more low-fat foods. And what happened to us as a population when we started eating fat-free and low-fat food created in labs? We got fatter. If we would have eaten more foods that were naturally low in fat, we would have gotten leaner and healthier. Recommendations and guidelines continue to be released: get more antioxidants, increase omega-3 intake, make sure you get enough Vitamin D, stay away from trans fats, etc... Again, too bad we don't eat nutrients - we eat food.
All of these things make us more and more confused about what to eat and what not to eat. Here's Michael Pollan's answer to the question of what we should eat: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Our bodies were designed to function on foods found in nature. If you can't pronounce what you're putting in your mouth, you probably shouldn't be eating it.
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