Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Nook - In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food written by Michael Pollan:

I recently read this book and liked it so much that as soon as I had finished it, I started it all over again.  This is a really well written, well researched book about the food we eat and the impact it has on our health.  I found it to be extremely motivating and just the thing to help encourage you to put down the bag of chips and pick up an apple instead!

The real focus of the book is the Western Diet: a diet of lots of processed food, lots of meat, lots of dairy, lots of everything, as the author explains, except fresh fruit and vegetables.  The book looks at how the Western Diet has changed over time and how those changes have made a big impact on the health of our nation.  For instance, there has been a shift in the history of man from eating mostly plants to mostly seeds.  Seeds serve a very different purpose in nature than plants do, storing energy while plants are busy with photosynthesis.  Another example occurred in the late 1970s, when the FDA started allowing the food industry to forgo putting the word "imitation" on imitation foods, as long as that food is the same nutritionally as the real thing.  This encouraged food manufacturers to put all sorts of crazy chemicals, additives and preservatives in food and not have to label it as such (a really funny example used in the book is a loaf of bread from Sarah Lee.  Pollan lists out all the ingredients in the bread - 39 or so - and one can't help but compare that list with a loaf of homemade bread, which has about 4 or 5 ingredients that you can easily pronounce).

This "nutitionalizing" has gotten us into a lot of trouble, because Americans are so concerned with various components of their diet (Omega 3's are everywhere, it seems) that they are not stopping to look at the bigger picture.  Scientists are so determined to find the culprit in the Western Diet (like trans fats) that they have the same problem.  We need to look at the forest from the trees, and see that Western Diet (and the way we eat, in addition to what we eat) is making us sick, contends the author.  He has come up with a very simple slogan, if you will, on how to eat:

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

These ideas are explained further in the book.  "Eat food" just means to choose whole foods over processed foods.  "Not too much" is about the way we eat.  It's ok to be hungry - it's a natural state, like sleep.  Americans fight being hungry by constant snacking, mostly on junk food.  We need to take some lessons from the French in how to eat: the French don't snack between meals, they take small portions and do not get second helpings, and they spend their leisurely meals in the company of others.  Another reason to love France!

"Mostly plants" is pretty self-explanatory & as I've already mentioned, the author tells us of the shift from plants to seeds.  Interestingly, in the 1970s, Americans were going to be advised to cut back on their meat & dairy intakes (sorry, I can't remember the organization that was doing this).  Anyway, the meat & dairy industries got word of this and wouldn't allow it.  Because of their influence, Americans were told to cut back on their saturated fats, thus leading to the low-fat craze (which many Americans just compensated for less fats by eating more refined carbs) and the beginning of nutritionalism.

You get the picture - lots of great data & facts about the food we eat, why we eat it & what's good for us, what's bad for us & why, as well as the food industry and its agenda to push processed foods.  Pollan has also written a tiny little companion book to this one:

(The one I read was not the illustrated version as shown here - it was a text-only version.)  Food Rules is like a very, very shortened version of In Defense of Food.  You could read it in about 20 minutes probably.  Each page is a guideline on how you should eat, and there are entries like "if it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't" (entry #19).  Or entry #59, "don't get your fuel from the same place your car does."

In both books, Pollan gives the reader compelling reasons to give up the Western Diet and eat healthy, whole foods (preferably locally grown, maybe even in your own backyard).  When we eat whole foods straight from nature, we never have to stop and count carbs or check if it has trans fats.  We just know that it is wholesome and nutritious - a wonderful meal, indeed.


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