Michael Pollan – In Defense of Food

American science journalist and author Michael...

American science journalist and author Michael Pollan, speaking at a Yale University "Masters Tea" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The author offers a defense of real food (rather than processed non-food products) and the eating thereof.  If you are concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims,.  Consuming food on the run or alone is not really eating.  His principle suggestions are to eat food, mostly plants and not too much.  He also agrees that eating more fruits and vegetables is good advice, but unprofitable for food companies, nutritionists, and journalists.

The author comments on the refined “carbohydrate hypothesis”, the theory that refined carbohydrates interfere with insulin metabolism to increase hunger and promote overeating and fat storage.  He refers to the book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes, who is skeptical about the low fat theory, but apparently not as skeptical about demonizing carbohydrates, ignoring other possible causes for health problems, and downplaying the risks of the high protein Atkins diet.

The book has an interesting chapter on the severe problems associated with studies of the effects of changes in diet, and the difficulty in drawing conclusions with any confidence.  There are references to John Kellogg and and Horace Fletcher, who, in the early years of the twentieth century, were united in their contempt for animal protein.  More recently Colin Campbell relies on numerous statistical studies to support the same conclusion, especially with regard to milk proteins, as well as other animal proteins and fats.  Weston Price and Albert Howard have studied in depth the differences between traditional diets and the Western diet.  The author concludes that humans can adapt to, and thrive on, an extraordinary range of diets, but the Western diet, however defined, is not a diet to thrive on.  However, that message was lost until the late 1960s, with the rise of orgainic agriculture.

The book discusses several trends associated with the Western diet, starting with the shift from whole foods to refined foods, with the resuting reduction in fiber and nutrients.  The second trend is the shift from quality to quantity, which involves the breeding of plants and animals that sacrifice nutrients for higher yeild.  This trend results in a population that is overfed but undernourished.  Another trend is the shift from leaves to seeds.  Seed and grain products have generally less Omega-3 and nutrients, and more Omega-6, are generally more refined, with fewer nutrients, and more calories than leaves.  He characterizes Omega-3s as “fleet and flexible” and Omega-6s as “sturdy and slow”.  The book proposes that the shift from the consumption of leaves to seeds (by humans and by the animals which we eat) may almost explain all of the health problems associated with the modern diet.  The only problems known to be associated with excess Omega-3 consumption (a very rare phenomenon) is problably excess bleeding.  There may also be an effect of increased metabolism, noted for example in hummingbirds, who have a high Omega-3 ratio.  There is also the suggestion that people may prefer high Omega-6 foods when given the choice over Omega3 foods, since a reduced mtabolism leads to fewer hunger pangs.


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