In Defense of Food: Getting Over NutritionismDisclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something. I only include links for products and services I love and believe in. Please check out my disclosure policy for more details!
If you haven’t already, read my takeaways from Part I and Part II of Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food. And buy it already.
Part III goes into our battle with nutritionism, and what we can do to combat it. Despite all common nutritionist theories ascribing to one nutrient or another as being the catchall for our maladies, they all are looking for the same thing – to combat the destructive effects of the Western Diet.
So, why don’t we stop eating a Western diet? And how might we go about doing that in the first place? We’d need to move backwards in our diet, without “returning to the bush” like the diabetic Aborigines.
Instead of focusing on nutrients, we should focus on the level of processing that has happened with this food.
But, if you think you can just pick up some “whole foods” and be safe, it’s not that easy. If you picked up meat from a deli, you’d have to think about what that animal ate. Was it genetically modified? Was it organic? How nutrient-rich was the soil? Even if you’re eating fruits and vegetables, you have to think about the quality of the soil and whether or not pesticides were being used.
In Part III, Pollan lays out some basic rules that expand on his: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” philosophy. Many of them are also mentioned in Food Rules. Here are some examples:
- Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
Pollan uses the example of GoGurt, but you could apply the same thinking to many different processed foods – Nutrigrain bars, Hot Pockets, Lucky Charms. This goes for appearance and ingredients. Your great-grandmother wouldn’t trust ingredients she couldn’t pronounce and she wouldn’t know how you might even prepare or eat a Hot Pocket. If she didn’t trust them, you shouldn’t, either.
- Avoid food products that make health claims.
For a food to make a health claim, it has to have some real estate for packaging, so right away you know it’s probably been processed. If it has to convince you it’s good for you, it’s probably not all that good for you, in most cases. (Lest we forget trans-fat-filled margarines.)
- Shop the peripheries of the supermarket.
Not necessarily a hard and fast rule depending on what stores you frequent, but generally if you stick to the outside, you’re getting food like fresh produce, deli items, and eggs. Of course, getting outside entirely and to a farmer’s market is even better.
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
This goes back to the praise of omega-3s I was talking about earlier. Between that and everything else good scientists think plants have to offer to humans, you know at the least, eating a lot of plants won’t hurt you.
- Eat like an omnivore.
We aren’t meant to eat the same types of food, or even the same species of the same type of food, all the time. Most Western diets consist of wheat, corn, rice, soy, and little else. The fruits and vegetables we eat should be varied, and we should have more than one kind of leafy green and more than one kind of tomato, for example, to truly round out our diets.
- Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.
It doesn’t exist. There isn’t one ingredient that’s going to make you healthy forever or make you lose weight, or whatever magic properties you’re hoping for. It’s a combination of elements in diets that lead people to be healthier, and the whole is much greater than the sum of parts in any of these cases.
- Pay more, eat less.
You can’t buy good food for cheap. Sorry, it doesn’t happen. Not everyone can afford good food, but if you can, spend money on it. The most important thing you can do for your body is buy good food, so don’t skimp on it. Plus, most of us eat more than we really need to. Americans follow external cues, like a plate being empty, as opposed to internal cues, like beginning to feel full. Listen to your body and you will eat less.
- Do all of your eating at a table AND eat slowly.
Not at a desk or in front of a TV. And not alone (if you can help it).
All in all, I got a lot out of this book. It really helps to frame your thoughts when you’re shopping for food. During the DietBet it’s been especially motivating. Many days I say to myself, “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry” and “If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, you shouldn’t eat it.” Pollan really has a way of burrowing little tidbits into your brain for when you need them the most.
There are a lot more tips and rules and great advice in the book, so I suggest that you buy it and read it if you have an interest in eating whole, nutritious foods.
Soon, I’ll be posting about the next book I’m reading. I’ll make sure to post soon so you can follow along if you like. I’m definitely changing gears with this next one, so stay tuned.