As mentioned in my past blog, I am reading a new book related to nutrition and lifestyle every month. I unofficially declared January and February as “Michael Pollan” months. Michael Pollan is the author of the #1 New York Times Best Seller’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food as well as Food Rules. He also played an integral role in the Oscar nominated documentary, Food, Inc. Michael Pollan is without a doubt one of my biggest heroes; he has dedicated his life to learning about our food supply and spreading awareness about its hidden truths.
Last month, I thoroughly enjoyed reading In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Mr. Pollan opens his book with this very simple phrase, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”…short, simple and to-the-point! However, the research and history behind this phrase is another story. Mr. Pollan provides clarity behind his simple words of wisdom in the following sections:
1) The Age of Nutritionism
Mr. Pollan provides his interpretation, which is based on credible data, on how our food supply has evolved over time. He discusses the short-falls of many highly marketed diets such as the low-fat diet. Additionally, he argues that the majority “of the nutritional advice we’ve received over the last half century has actually made us less healthy and considerably fatter.” He refers to this concept as “overnutrition” and further elaborates how we’ve become obsessed with nutrients rather than the actual food and dining experience. He states, “foods are essentially the sum of their nutrient parts.” This is largely due to the fact that food scientists are planning our menus, not our mothers or other family members.
I couldn’t agree more with this theory. I recently picked up a package of tortillas with screaming claims, such as “96% fat free, heart healthy with omega-3 fatty acids and no cholesterol;” it even had the “American Heart Association” seal of approval.” Meanwhile, I looked at the back of the package to find an incredibly long list of so-called “ingredients;” two of them being Trans fats. Hmmm… This “healthy” bag of tortillas loaded with “healthy nutrients” includes a key ingredient linked to cardiovascular disease, which is obviously not so healthy. In fact, it’s the #1 leading cause of death. Oh, the irony! Forget the nutrients; I want actual “food.”
2) The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization
Mr. Pollan highlights the contributing factors to the rise in Western, food-related diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and numerous cancers. He extensively describes the main culprits as “lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything except fruits vegetables and whole grains.” He further validates the importance of a “traditional diet” rich in clean, whole foods; this is based on various studies from around the world.
I am appalled by the continual rise in these largely preventable diseases as well as the increasing rise of pharmaceuticals to “manage,” not cure these diseases. It is alarming to know that these diseases are becoming mainstream and almost acceptable in the U.S., which is absolutely unacceptable! Mr. Pollan mentions a magazine about living with diabetes that can be found in the checkout line of the grocery store. What? Again, this is not acceptable. We need to work together to stop these diseases all together, not create new opportunities from them. This further emphasizes the importance of health coaches who focus on improving your diet and lifestyle to prevent, not manage diseases.
3) Getting Over Nutritionism
Mr. Pollan offers a wealth of incredibly important bite-sized rules that correspond with his opening phrase, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” His rules for “eat food” help you avoid “food-like products” so you are actually eating food, not imitations of food. When he talks about “not too much” he emphasizes the importance of the actual eating experience as well as our relationship to food. Lastly, when Mr. Pollan refers to “mostly plants,” he describes the benefits of eating a variety of whole, clean foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
Mr. Pollan’s simple rules are very intuitive; they basically require one thing, common sense. However, our food supply has become so complex that something as easy as “eat food” is incredibly hard to do these days. Additionally, food manufacturers are clouding our thoughts with their bright colors and convincing health claims. In my opinion, the healthiest foods do not have packages at all nor do they have to prove or defend themselves. It’s all about going back to the basics and it starts in the produce section.
Mr. Pollan does an exceptional job breaking down the incredibly confusing and complicated question, “what should we eat.” I highly recommend this book!
Stay tuned for my next book review on Mr. Pollan’s latest book, Food Rules.
Have you read In Defense of Food? If so, what did you think? Please share your thoughts below.