Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book Review: In Defense of Food

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

I have had Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food on my shelf waiting to be read, so I finally got to it. It is actually quite a quick read and offers some interesting insights. As a journalist and writer I am still not sure of his expertise in the food arena, but he eats food and wanted to express his opinion.

He brings up the point that nutrition science is always changing - but says this is a flaw because advice over the years often changes when we realize something may not be as healthy as we originally thought (or may be less healthy than we originally thought). This is how science works though, we live in a society/culture of advancement and yes, things will continue to change as new evidence arises and as new products hit the market. We need to change with the times - for example, obesity has become more prevalent than before, so we must change our ways of eating to deal with this new issue.

I think he has some great comments about our Western diet - which contains lots of processed foods, lots of added fat and sugar, yet lacks vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. His idea of nutritionism and the fact that we eat food not nutrients makes sense to me - "people don't eat nutrients; they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently from the nutrients they contain." We also don't eat just one food at a time, so that complicates things further. He points out the prevalence of chronic disease in the Western culture versus other cultures and also states that it may not be what we are eating (fat, sugar, processed foods, etc.) but what we aren't eating (fruits, vegetables, etc.) that is to blame.

I am not sure how he thinks he can lump food science, advertising, journalism, and dietetics under the title "nutritionist". Yes, the food industry wants you to spend money and advertisers will market the latest craze - and they will keep doing this so that you are always trying the newest things - they don't want you to succeed. Dietitians want to teach you to eat healthy so that you can eat healthy for life - it's not a fad and they aren't selling a product.

It was interesting to read that over time Americans spend less percentage of their income on food, spend less time preparing food, and also spend less time enjoying food. Michael goes on to provide advice such as:
- don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food
- avoid food products that make health claims
- get out of the supermarkets whenever possible...

Some of the advice is right on target such as eating meals at the kitchen table, listening to your hunger and fullness cues, and eating smaller portions. Some of the advice isn't as strong, but I think the basic message is there - get back to the simple, whole foods. If nothing else, it was an interesting book to read.

Steph Wheler