Michael Pollan: Food Rules for Healthy People and Planet
It’s been a while since I’ve discussed anything nutrition related here, so I figured I’d throw a bone and post this awesome presentation I came across from Michael Pollan. As you may (or may not) know, Michael Pollan is the author of such works as The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and most recently, Food Rules – all of which I HIGHLY recommend. He’s pretty much the equivalent of He-Man (sans Battle Cat, and the really, really, really, really, really, really questionable tights) when it comes to advocating practical, common-sense strategies on what the hell we should be eating.
Below is a quick ten minute snapshot on a recent lecture he gave over in England promoting his latest book. Of note, you can click on the link in the video to see the entire presentation which runs roughly 40 minutes.
For those interested and/or too lazy to watch the entire video, here are some highlights. You’re welcome.
– There’s quite a dilemma when it comes to today’s supermarkets. Many of the “health foods” that are marketed towards us are quote-on-quote “proven to reduce cholesterol.” Or so the fancy labels claim. Interestingly, as Pollan notes, it’s never really been “proven” that (high) cholesterol decreases the incidence of heart disease. What’s more, we seem to think that having less of it is somehow, magically, better for us. Weird.
– Using a specfic example, take yogurt (or, Go-Gurt in this instance).
Note: this is a product that’s geared towards children in an effort to get them to eat more “healthy” foods. Essentially, you squirt it out like toothpaste. If it’s as appetizing as it looks, I’d rather eat sandpaper. But I digress.
Are we to believe that this is actually food??? Furthermore, with the ever growing popularity of “healthy”
yogurts like Activia (which contain the addition of probiotics), isn’t it ironic that, per 100 grams, it contains more sugar than a can of soda?
– Following a very basic approach, we can think of food as nothing more than nutrients that somehow, someway are delivered into the body. If we were to accept this premise of “nutritionism,” we also need to accept that we need experts to tell us what we need to eat.
– Pollan questions this whole notion that the whole point of eating is soley about health. Essentially on one end of the spectrum you have foods that destroy your health, and at other end, you have foods that redeem your health. Well, what about the whole premise of eating for pleasure, community, or even one’s indentity? In the end, what we’ve managed to do in the past 200 years is to narrow our understanding of food to a few very narrow sets of beliefs.
– Taking it a step further, if we think of our food as ONLY a collection of nutrients that make us healthier, the evidence for this argument is not encouraging.
– One perfect example is the Low-Fat campaign popularized in the early 1980s. Pollan made this statetment which I thought was pretty profound:
The low-fat campaign is to Nutritionism as the Soviet Union or Communist China was to Marxism. Both were it’s greates test and most abject failure.
– In short, we tried to demonize dietary fat; specifically animal fat (saturated fat) thinking that it contributed to heart disease. We saw a drastic increase in re-engineered foods (hello Snackwells!!!), thinking that if we didn’t eat fat, we wouldn’t get fat. End result? Not surprisingly (oops, we missed the boat on that one), Americans got fatter, partly through eating “low-fat” food. Women have gained, on average, 19 lbs since 1980, and men are right behind with an average gain of 17 lbs – namely by consuming between 300-500 more kcals per day, mostly (30%) through sugar alone.
– The Western Diet, for the most part, has lead to an increase in Western diseases. We’ve recognized this for quite some time, and it’s laughable that people try to debate this. What IS debatable is trying to figure out what it is about the Western diet that causes disease? Is it fat? Lack of fiber? Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates? Lady Gaga? Who knows.
– What’s interesting is that there are many cultures like the Inuit tribes in Greenland (who eat predominantly seal blubber), Native African tribes (who eat predominantly cattle blood and meat), and Native Americans in South America (who eat mostly beans, rice, maize), and yet have no (or very little) incidence of heart disease or diabetes. One diet, however, that reliably seems to make populations sick is….TADA….the Western diet.
– The whole premise behind Food Rules (see above) is to try to get people off the Western diet and revert back to traditional culture, values and wisdom with regards to the foods they’re putting down their pie holes. Examples like:
Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
Don’t eat foods with more than five ingredients (excluding recipes).
Skim the perimeter whan shopping in the local supermarket.
And one of my favorites
Avoid foods that never rot.
– As well, how we eat might matter just as much as what we eat. When we eat alone, we’re more prone to eat thoughlessly, and too much. To that end, sage advice like “always eat at a table” (as opposed to in your car), and “eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored,” are always great rules to follow.
Suffice it to say, if you get the chance to watch the entire presentation, I’d definitely recommend you do so. Time to go lift heavy things!