“In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan is one of those things you shouldn’t read if you’re happy with what you eat. If you’re anything like me, you enjoy a mostly meat based diet with plenty of refined carbs and a sprinkling of fruits and vegetables to keep things “healthy”. I’ve never been overweight in my life and have eaten what I’ve wanted all the way. My biggest weaknesses are chocolate chip cookies, chicken cheesesteaks, cheeseburgers, and tacos. It’s been a good run.
Reading this book didn’t take long, a few days really, but the lessons will probably stick for quite a while. I’ve already shifted my diet considerably. Why? I want to live a long, long time. And we live with the paradox of needing food to stay alive, but most of us will die from diet based disease. Let’s review the high points:
The Western Diet Will Kill You. Numbers don’t lie (neither do hips). It’s been observed that whenever a culture switches from their traditional fare to a Western diet, Western diseases are soon to follow: diabetes, heart disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome. Why? Possibly the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, possibly the overabundance of processed foods. Probably both.
Corn Sweeteners Are Making You Fat. I love Pepsi. And Dr. Pepper. They are oh-so-f’n-delicious. But I’ve given them up, except for one every few weeks. They are overflowing with high fructose corn syrup, the sweetener of choice for soft drinks, candy, and peanut butter, and also for syrup, salad dressing and even that loaf of whole wheat bread. It’s everywhere. Don’t believe it? Start reading the ingredients and you’ll find HFCS near the top of many lists.
The problem? The human body is not meant to process energy in such a pure form. The sugar derived from fruits and vegetables is comprised of fructose and glucose. Corn provides cheap calories, but consuming it in modern quantities, which I was, is dangerous and fattening.
(MSG is in nearly everything as well, under the name monosodium glutanate, but it’s used for flavoring and is not as dangerous as the nightly news made out. Just thought you should know.)
Food Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts. Pollan is extremely insistent on this. Science has spent two hundred years discovering, lionizing, then demonizing the nutrients in food. Fat was bad. Fat is good. Carbs are good. Carbs are bad. Margarine is healthier than butter. The trans fat in margarine is killing everyone. It goes on and on. We don’t understand food as a whole, and eating fish (which contains the currently endorsed Omega 3’s) is far better than adding Omega 3’s to bread (which is on store shelves). We don’t fully understand how the nutrients work together, and shouldn’t engineer everything. But our food comes from a very wealthy, very powerful food industry, and churning out new products and constantly mucking with diets keeps their profits high…at your expense.
There is a hell of a lot more information in the book, and I highly suggest reading it if you’re concerned with how/what you eat. You’re probably wondering what you should be eating. Well that’s easier.
Eat Real Food. Avoid as much processed food as possible. The closer you can get to the source, the better.
Pay More For Better Food. Fast food and industrialized super market shelves offer us a shitload of cheap calories which don’t nourish the body and probably make you hungrier, sooner. Pay for the organic produce. Better yet, go to your local farmer’s market and buy there. Meet the people growing your food. Don’t be so disconnected. We’ve made food into an afterthought in this society, something you get from the drive through on your way to or from Dylan’s Tae-Kwon-Do class. Take food seriously! It’s fueling your body and will greatly affect the quality of your life as you age. I can’t say that strongly enough.
Eat Less Meat, More Leaves. And fruits and other vegetables. The environmental effects (greenhouse gases) of pigs and cattle in N. and S. America is far, far worse than the pollution caused by all the cars in the world. Your meat is eating shit. Processed corn, soy, and grains. And you, in turn, are eating the same shit. Stop. If you’re going to eat meat, pay for grass fed beef, free range-cage free-grass fed chicken, and I would suggest canceling pork altogether, but that’s up to you.
I’ve transitioned to being a Flexitarian, which is a diet dominated by vegetarian fare but supplemented with (quality) meat every few days. I’ve gone from meat once or twice a day to two or three servings per week. And I don’t miss it. I feel better, actually, because of the replacement with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Giving up our food supply to corporate giants like Archer Daniels Midland has been a terrible mistake. Food is not “just another product”. We’re being sold nothing but cheap, fattening corn sweeteners, refined carbohydrates*, and millions of chemical additives. Enough is enough. Take your food seriously…your life will be better for it.
Have questions? Ask away.
*White flour was seen as an improvement on whole wheat flour because it would last far longer. Whole wheat flour had the tendency to attract bugs. Refined white flour doesn’t…because there is almost no nutritional value to it. The bugs are smart enough to avoid it, why aren’t we?