PDF In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating

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This is, after all, the implicit lesson of the French paradox, so called not by the French Quel paradoxe? No people on earth, by contrast, worry more about the health consequences of their food choices than Americans - and no people suffer from as many diet-related health problems. I don't mean to suggest that all would be well if we could just stop worrying about food or the state of our dietary health: Let them eat Twinkies! There are in fact some very good reasons to worry. The rise of nutritionism reflects legitimate concerns that the world's diet has changed in ways that are making us increasingly sick and fat.

Four of the leading 10 causes of death in the US and the UK today are chronic diseases with well-established links to diet: coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer.


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Yes, the rise to prominence of these chronic diseases is partly due to the fact that we're not dying earlier in life of infectious diseases - but only partly. Even after allowing for age, many of the so-called diseases of civilisation were far less common a century ago - and they remain rare in places where people don't eat the way Britons and Americans do. That is the elephant in the room whenever we discuss diet and health: "the western diet. These changes have given us the diet that we take for granted: lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything - except vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

That such a diet makes people sick and fat we have known for a long time. Early in the 20th century, an intrepid group of doctors and medical workers observed that wherever in the world people gave up their traditional way of eating, there soon followed a predictable series of western diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. They called these the western diseases and, though the precise causal mechanisms were and remain uncertain, these observers had little doubt these chronic diseases shared a common etiology: the western diet. What's more, the traditional diets that the new western foods displaced were strikingly diverse: various populations thrived on diets that were what we'd call high fat, low fat, or high carb; all meat or all plant.

Indeed, there have been traditional diets based on just about any kind of whole food you can imagine. What this suggests is that the human animal is well adapted to a great many different diets. The western diet, however, is not one of them. Here is a simple but crucial fact about diet and health; yet, curiously, it is a fact that nutritionism cannot see, probably because that reductionist approach to diet developed in tandem with the industrialisation of our food. Nutritionism prefers to tinker with the western diet, adjusting the various nutrients lowering the fat, boosting the protein and fortifying processed foods rather than questioning their value in the first place.

Michael Pollan - Food Rules for Healthy People and Planet

Nutritionism is, in a sense, the official ideology of the western diet and so cannot be expected to raise radical or searching questions about it. But we can. We can begin to develop a different way of thinking about food that might point a path out of our predicament. In doing so we have two sturdy - and strikingly hopeful - facts to guide us: first, that humans historically have been healthy eating a great many different diets; and second, that most of the damage to our food and health caused by the industrialisation of our eating can be reversed.

Put simply, we can escape the western diet and its consequences. There are some simple rules of eating that are conducive not only to better health but also to greater pleasure in eating, two goals that turn out to be mutually reinforcing. For example, I'd suggest that you eat meals, not snacks; eat wild foods whenever possible; and avoid any product whose ingredients are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, or more than five in number.

In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating by Michael Pollan

These recommendations to which I shall return in tomorrow's G2 are a little different from the dietary guidelines you're probably accustomed to. I'm not interested in telling you what to have for dinner. No, these suggestions are more like eating algorithms, mental devices for thinking through our food choices. Because there is no single answer to the question of what to eat, these guidelines will produce as many different menus as there are people using them. These rules of thumb are also not framed in the vocabulary of nutrition science.

In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating (Paperback)

Indeed, one of them is to avoid products that make health claims. Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication that it's not really food. Science has much of value to teach us about food, and perhaps someday scientists will "solve" the problem of diet, creating the nutritionally optimal meal in a pill, but for now and the foreseeable future, letting the scientists decide the menu would be a mistake.

Most of what we need to know about how to eat we already know, or did until we allowed the nutrition experts and the advertisers to shake our confidence in the testimony of our senses, and the wisdom of our mothers and grandmothers. Not that we had much choice in the matter.

By the s or so it had become all but impossible to sustain traditional ways of eating in the face of the industrialisation of our food. In the US particularly, but to a lesser extent throughout the developed world, if you wanted to eat produce grown without synthetic chemicals or meat raised on pasture without pharmaceuticals, you were out of luck. Convenience stores and supermarkets had become the only place to buy food, and real food was rapidly disappearing from their shelves, to be replaced by those highly processed foodlike products.

And because so many of these novelties deliberately lied to our senses with fake sweeteners and flavourings, we could no longer rely on taste or smell to know what we were eating.

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Forty years ago, escaping the western diet would have meant either escaping the west itself or going back to the land and growing all your own food. Not any more. Thanks to the resurgence of farmers' markets, the rise of the organic movement, and the renaissance of local agriculture, stepping outside the conventional food system is once more a realistic option. And the more eaters who vote with their forks for a different kind of food, the more commonplace and accessible such food will become.


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Eaters have real choices now, and those choices have real consequences, for our health and the health of the land and the health of our food culture. That anyone should need to advise people to "eat food" could be taken as a measure of our alienation and confusion. Or we can choose to see it in a more positive light and count ourselves fortunate indeed that there is once again real food for us to eat.

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Complain about this post. Absolutely fascinating. I have long been of the opinion that it is stupid to eat, for example, margarine which has about 20 ingredients, instead of butter, which has two- butter, and salt. The problem is mainly one of price however. I am now going to follow the advice above about not eating anything with more than 5 ingredients and ingredients that I can't pronounce or have never heard of.

I look forward to tonight's debate about this- the food industry will go on about how it is offering affordable food that people want and how they have done so much to reduce fat, salt and sugar in 'foods' and to inform consumers. But at the end of the day, they haven't done that much.

volunteerparks.org/wp-content/guhiwutu/560.php A major difference between France and the UK is that when you walk down a French street, you very rarely see anyone snacking. Walking through a British town or city, it seems about a third of people are eating a bar of chocolate, a bag of crisps or a pie of some description. No doubt self-discipline has something to do with it, advertising no doubt plays its part - but what about appetite stimulators?


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  7. Never mentioned as such in a list of ingredients but just how widespread are they? Trying to rubbish nutrition science is quite silly really. Despite all of the outstanding health problems facing us, we are all living longer lives and are less prone to malnutrition related diseases that debilitated previous generations. The majority of people that are having food related health problems are the ones that ignore science, much like the millions of people around the world that still smoke. Such people see efforts towards health as an inconvenience and deserve little sympathy.

    We are only gradually beginning to understand how critical our food intake is in determining our health, so to call nutrition a "myth" is simply anti-science and backward nonsense. Michael Pollan said that the increase in life expectancy is mainly due to a reduction in child mortality. Many pension funds are underfunded because of increases in longevity - and pension funds do not have children as members!

    As a scientist and producer of fresh local food, I have come to the conclusion that the more I more I try to understand how food works, the more I understand how little we actually know. I also realise how difficult it is to piece all the science together. My conclusion therefore, is to rely on centuries of evolution matching humans with the basic foods we eat and not mess about with it. We don't have a 'gut instinct' for nothing! I'm delighted to hear someone finally talking sense about the state of our food.

    I've long held the belief that food that has been meddled with is no food at all. I am lucky enough to live in a town where I can buy meat, vegetables, fruit and dairy products that are all produced within 10 miles of my home.