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Monday, January 29, 2007

Unhappy Meals by Michael Pollan

An excellent article by Michael Pollan. He discusses (in 12 pages...a long read) how America went from a land of food to a land of nutrients. Because of our turn to eating nutrients instead of food, we must rely on experts. It is in these experts' interest to keep us confused about what to eat. One day low-fat diets are all the rage, the next, it's low-carb. The following day, low-carb is unhealthy again. I disagree with Pollan's take on meat, but he's mostly spot on with this article.

A couple of sentences that stuck out in my mind:

Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you're concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it's not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
Of course it's also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims , while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.

See, you never see a health claim on lettuce because everyone knows lettuce is healthy. So many other foods in the aisles of the grocery are adorned with health claims such as "Good source of fiber" and "Eating a diet low in saturated fat is known to..." That these recommendations are based on pseudo-science is irrelevant. The government has deemed them to be correct.

I'll make it easy: Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar (from What Is CrossFit?). There's nothing more simple than that. Grains, pasteurized dairy products, soy, and anything in a brightly colored package with nutrition information and a list of ingredients are not good food. If there is a cartoon character or celebrity pushing it, it's most likely a food product, not food. There is no such thing as "junk food"; there is junk and there is food. It really is as simple as following the maxim in the first sentence to be healthy. You really won't even have to worry much about quantity as long as you're eating mainly meat and vegetables with nuts, seeds, and oils for fat; a bit of fruit for dessert; some starch from sweet potatoes and squashes; and limiting sugar to virtually none.

Eating a colorful variety of plant foods - vegetables, fruits, and tubers - ensures that you receive wide-ranging amounts of different vitamins and minerals. Meat is the most nutrient-dense food item available, and the one that has allowed the human race to evolve to such high standing. Within meat you'll find several important vitamins that are unavailable elsewehere, along with good saturated and mono-unsaturated fats (especially if it's grassfed meat). And nuts, seeds, and oils provide the fat that is necessary for proper metabolic functioning and absorption of vitamins and minerals.

Another notable:
Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat. ... It's hard to believe that we can get everything we need from a diet consisting largely of processed corn, soybeans, wheat and rice.

Two-thirds of our calories come from foods that the human animal has not evolved to eat. Soy must be highly processed to be consumed safely and unfortunately the soy industry doesn't do this when turning out soy burgers, soy dogs, and tofu (the Chinese do when eating miso, natto, and tempeh). Corn, wheat, and rice are grain foods that must also be soaked and fermented to neutralize antinutrients and be usable by the body. Again, this isn't done by food processors. Is there any wonder why we're so unhealthy?