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January 25th, 2013

Book Review: “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan

Until I read the book, I didn’t realize what a bum rap foods have been masqueraded by the food industries.

I like the first paragraph of the book that sets the tone for the author to argue his case: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” By “food” the author means the kind of food that’s close to the original form – not processed or industrialized that we’re often associate with – that our moms feed us. The author paints the history of the food or processed food to date. He pointed out what’s wrong with them and offer very sound advises on what and how to eat. Very well written and interesting and it might save or lengthen your life too.

Some key takeaways here:

The age of Nutritionism by reductionists has arrived. Reducing food down to vitamins is a sure way to nullify the symbiotic effects among the nutrients. No need to be too scientific about the vitamins contained within as the nutrition experts seem to conflict themselves every so often; just enjoy the whole foods that offer the sum that’s greater than the parts. “People don’t eat nutrients; they eat foods, and foods behave very differently from the nutrients they contain.” “If you eat a lot of one thing, you’re probably not eating a lot of something else.” It’s not that we’re eating too much of the bad things but rather we’re eating enough of the good things.

The French Paradox gives us hope that foods are to be enjoyed and savored – not to be rushed, analyzed and used merely as a fuel to maintain a healthy body. Quality of the foods trumps the quantities of the nutrients.

Western diseases follows the arrival of the Western foods – refined flour and sugar and other kinds of “store food.” Obesity followed by type 2 diabetes followed by hpertension and strock followed by heart disease. The rapid increase of dental problems could be attributed to the modern diet.

Neutriens are not as much as before due to industrialization of the agriculture business. The supermarket offers mostly processed (fake, adulterated) foods that emphasize the “nutrients” and not the variety and the symbiotic effects of various foods. The processing of foods typically robs them of nutrients, vitamins specially. The sure way to to make food more transportable (more stable and less vulnerable to pests) is to remove the nutrients from it; calories are much easier to transport.

The common denominator of good health is to eat a traditional diet consisting of fresh foods from animals and plants grown on soils that are themselves rich in nutrients. In lengthening the food chain so we could feed great cities from distant soils, we are breaking the “rules of nature” twice by robbing nutrients from the soils the foods have been grown in and then squandering those nutrients by processing the foods.

The author went through the history and evolution 1) from whole foods to refined, 2) from complexity to simplicity (industrial fertilizer, same breed of chicken, Cornish cross, and etc.). 75% of the vegetable oils come from soy or 20% of our daily calories, and more than half of the sweeteners come from corn or 10% of daily calories. America’s per capita supply: 554 calories from corn, 257 calories from soy, 768 calories from wheat and 91 calories from rice. 3) from quality to quantity. Many traditional diets are nutrient rich and calorie poor. The Western diet is opposite. 4) from leaves to seeds. Seeds are easier to store and contains omega-6. Leaves provide a host of critical nutrients a body can’t get from refined seeds like antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids. 5) from food culture to food science.

Getting over nutritionism:
Some rules of thumb: 1) don’t eat anything incapable of rotting. 2) avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamilier, unpronounceable, more than 5 in number, include high-fructose corn syrup. 3) avoid food products that make health claims, 4) shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle (processed foods), 5) get out of the supermarket, 6) eat mostly plants, especially leaves, 7) eat like an omnivores E. (diversity), 8) eat well-grown food from healthy soils, 9) eat wild foods when you can, 10) regard non-traditional foods with skepticism, 11) don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet (it’s the sum of the nutrient parts), 12) pay more, eat less -> spend less on health care. choose quality over quantity, food experience over mere calories, 13) eat meals as a family, try not to eat alone. 14) consult your gut, 15) eat slowly, 16) cook and if you can, plant a garden.

If you get a chance, this documentary is really good and give you a essence of the book in vivid colors.

Posted by Derek Tsai in Book Reviews

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