Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

iconiconDuring most of my adult life, I can mark a progression toward better eating and nutrition awareness: In 2002, I took a course on nutrition, and was (ironically diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the end of the semester. My relationship with my husband, Michael, has changed my eating habits even more: He is primarily a vegetarian, and was responsible for introducing me to organic food stores and farmers' markets.

In Defense of Food has refined my ideas of food and nutrition even more. Michael Pollan's argument is that nutritionism — the study and ideology of nutrition — has actually made us less healthy, because it encourages us to value nutrients over whole foods.

I completely agree. Because we look not at the food itself but at what it contains, we have allowed artificial, fortified foods to become a major part of our diet. And if you look at the trends in Americans' health, it's quite obvious that there is more to nutrition than eating X amount of vitamin C every day, because the more focused we have become on reductionist nutritionism, the less healthy we have become.

Pollan also rips apart the lipid hypothesis — the idea that has prevailed over the last 40 years, that fats are bad for you. He points out that the more low fat America tries to eat, the more problems we have with obesity and related diseases.

Another point in the book that affected me tremendously was that America's food-growing and cattle-raising practices have actually resulted in grocery store foods being less nutritious. Commercial farmers' use of pesticides and fertilizers, and their habit of growing plant species with the greatest yield, have created a situation where produce contains fewer nutrients than it did 50 or 60 years ago. Also, commercial ranchers now feed their livestock on corn instead of grass — it may be cheaper and produce more meat, but it also results in meat that no longer has the nutritional content that it should.

I've never been a fan of taking vitamins and supplements, and I don't go out of my way to eat low-fat foods. However, this book has emphasized to me how important an organic diet really is. Next time my dad complains about the cost of organic food, I'll be better able to explain why it is worth spending more on!

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