It has been quite sometime since I read this book. I took some notes on it as I was reading so I will do my best.
Michael Pollan reviews the history of what he calls nutritionism, the idea that the key to understanding food is to understand nutrients, and limits food to promoting bodily health while leaving out the social identity and pleasure parts of the eating experience. The book details how some dietary recommendations came about in the first place, and challenges some widely held ideas about how our eating impacts our health.
What I Loved
- He talks a lot about the prevalence of bad science. So much information is inaccurate or misrepresented solely because many journalist/writers seem unable identify good research from bad research or they come to conclusions that are not supported by the research they reviews.
- The book is packed with citations. I will be honest and say that I never followed up on them to verify if his conclusions were valid (see above:) but he obviously didn’t just pull the conclusions out of nowhere.
- Even though food science can be difficult to understand, this book is a fairly easy read
What I Learned
- The lipid hypothesis the belief that dietary fat (saturated fat) is responsible for chronic disease, is false. He cites french cooking as proof that the lipid hypothesis is false.
- There is no scientific evidence that there is a positive relationship between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease. Same for cholesterol. There is a positive relationship between trans fat and cholesterol however.
- Low fat foods are no bueno because of what they add to make up for the absence of fat.
- Most food science involves studying nutrients individually. But in food, nutrients exists in combinations and therefore behave differently in food than in the test tubes they are studied in.
- Processed foods that are fortified with nutrients are not as healthy as whole foods.
- Eating is more than fuel for the body. It is a source of pleasure and social identity. You can eat for pleasure and still eat food that tastes good.
- Health claims on the package have nothing to do with how healthy a food item is. The absence of a health claim does not mean something is not healthy either.
- Nutrition science is a hard to study. Most people who participate in studies about their eating habit are not honest, so it’s hard to determine what helps and what doesn’t help.
- Our ancestors did not all eat the same way, their diets varied widely in content (meat vs no meat, etc) based upon the part of the world they were in. Their diets were filled with fresh foods, whether animal or plant. Humans can adapt to and thrive on a very large range of diets as long as it is real food.
Honestly I could keep going on and on. There was such much information packed in this book. If you are remotely interested in the history of food, I would recommend this as a read.
Did you read this book? What did you get from it?
Love and light,