My beach book this year was “In Defense of Food” by writer, journalist, and professor Michael Pollan. As someone who loves to learn about nutrition and the way food interacts with the body, I was beyond excited to dive into a book that is held so highly regarded in the food space.
I learned a ton from Pollan’s insights into the food industry, but the #1 thing I learned from my beach book was that we need not rely on complicated messages that food experts, scientists, and marketers send our way - “Low fat!,” “Enriched!,” “High fiber!” - to understand what’s good for our bodies. As Pollan says in the very first line of this book, the truth couldn’t be more simple: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
According to Pollan, we’ve made this whole “healthy eating” thing much too complicated. He says that we’ve entered into an “Age of Nutritionism” where we’ve become a society obsessed with the food we put in our mouths. Dissecting and tracking each and every nutrient one eats will not leave us happier or healthier. Instead, Pollan argues it has “left us fatter, sicker, and more poorly nourished” and may lead to us feeling anxious, guilty, and confused.
In fact, Pollan argues that a food “might be more than the sum of its nutrient parts.” This makes sense, especially when you start to think of the many fortified products on the grocery store shelves today: enriched bread and flour, vitamin-fortified waters, and fiber-packed snacks. They’re all processed: taken further from their whole food state in the hopes that pumping artificially “nutritious” substances into our foods will leave us healthier.
On paper, these foods may have more vitamins and nutrients than their whole food counterparts, but are they necessarily healthier? Pollan argues that they’re not, and that they are, instead, a not-so clever marketing campaign to make these fortified foods more attractive to consumers. In fact, he sheds some light into the questionable food industry business - the FDA supporting fried Frito-Lay chips because of so-called cardiovascular benefits is enough to make one’s head spin.
So the next time you walk into a grocery store, be wary of those nutritious claims you see. Stick to the real stuff, and your body and health will thank you.