Friday, April 18, 2008

On My Nightstand

I am usually reading several books at any given time, and lately I've been stuck on the nonfiction variety for some reason. (Possibly because my brain actually misses being in school - learning and studying. Nah, that can't be it.)

Normally, I check a book out of the library, then get another book when I'm a few chapters in, then a another book a few chapters after that...Until I have half a dozen half finished books stacked up on my nightstand.

This book, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan is pretty darn riveting. He basically invalidates the concept of the nutrition and food science field by raising point after point about how their studies are based on absolute crap.

Food scientists and nutritionists base their recommendations (i.e. eat less fat, more whole grains, etc) on comparing people's accounts of what they eat with their health. As in: This guy eats lots of cheese, he has a heart attack, so cheese is related to bad health. Pollan explains how we usually underestimate how much we're eating, which is a problem. Plus, we lie on surveys because we're embarrassed at all the junk food we may eat. (I know I don't want to divulge how much chocolate I consume. Hint: It's a LOT.) Humans are fallible, so it's a shaky foundation for scientific findings, no? It was really, really hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that there is little evidence that a low fat diet is linked to better health. My WHOLE LIFE, I've been told that low fat is better...It blows my mind to think anything else.

The most fascinating part of the entire book so far (I'm about half way done, guess it's time to get another book, right?) is that food science and nutritionists have done nothing to improve human health. Diseases caused by poor health have increased, as have obesity rates. He claims that "knowing" how food might affect us does us not good whatsoever. It does harm, actually. Because we think we know what is good about healthy foods - Beta carotene, Omega-3, Vitamins, Folic Acid, and so on. But instead of eating foods that naturally have nutrients in them, we just inject those nutrients into them.

We're eating chemicals instead of food, basically. Pretty freaking creepy if you think about it. Lucky Charms (or Reese's Puffs...mmm...Reese's Puffs) could have more of a health claim on its package than a bunch of spinach. Whole Grains! 11 Vitamins! 3 Grams of Fiber! versus: Silent greens that sit there, dewy with water (My grocery pretends like there's a thunder storm, like the spray of water, and claps of thunder! I get delighted every time I'm near the refrigerated produce section at the right time. Unless I need to actually grab some lettuce, then I get my arm all wet.)

Seriously, though, this book is crazy challenging - it makes me think a LOT. I didn't do it justice with this silly little blog post. Personally, I am going to try and cut back on processed foods, or at least eat lots more fruits and veggies.

I'm with Nora:

I have tried on countless occasions to convey to my friends how incredible this book is. I have gone on endlessly about Pollan's brilliance in finding a way to write about food—but it's not really about food, it's about everything...Well the point is, I have tried and failed to explain it, so I just end up giving them a copy, and sooner or later they call to say, "You were right, it's fantastic." —Nora Ephron, The New York Times


  1. I have to put this on my list!!

    I also love it when the rainstorm hits all the veggies- it makes them so pretty!

  2. I've been wanting to read this too. I'm a lot more interested in nutrition now that I am responsible for feeding someone else- I'm not going to give up my chocolate, of course. But I'm a lot more aware of "injected chemicals". Too bad some of those things taste so yummy!

  3. This book looks so good!! When I go to Barnes & Noble this weekend I'll have to pick it up!!

    Thanks! :)


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