There are two types of bad diets: the first kind is when you eat a sugar-coated, strawberry jelly-filled doughnut for breakfast, a Big Mac with fries and a coke for lunch, and end your day with a frozen TV dinner. You have already heard a million times how fast, instant, and junk foods can exacerbate your health by clogging your arteries and raising your cholesterol levels. You are aware of it and yet you still find yourself unable to escape from the Golden arch.
The second type may be less obvious. Though not a complete health-freak, you are somewhat conscious about your diet, and you mean well looking for those fat-free, carb-free, calcium-fortified culinary creations at your grocery store.
Turns out, consuming these unprecedented food products that are supposed to “enhance” your health may not be working at all. Coming from millions of years of evolution, our bodies know better than us what is real and what is not. Our bodies seek nutrients, fats and vitamins – what really make up “food” – and these products have eliminated it.
In the 2008 book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, author Michael Pollan sends us a simple message (on the book cover) on what we really should be doing in concern of our health: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
If Pollan’s previous book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals had given us his ambitious (but not very practical) ideas concerning the changes we should make in our diet, this book is a more direct and effective attempt. This book does a perfect job of telling us what we should eat, what we should feed our family, and just how much of it.
The author first gives a brief history of the American diet and redefines the term “nutritionism.” He uses scientific evidence to argue that nutritionism has overcomplicated and has even distorted American eating habits when, really, eating healthy is as simple as eating natural, whole foods. Pollan makes a clear and precise point to readers: if you cannot pronounce an ingredient on a food label, you probably should not be eating the food.
Yet we all know that food can be simple but complicated. The notion of what we should be eating has evolved over many decades: Beginning in the 1950s, the American Heart Association (AHA) began recommending a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. In the 1970s, a solid set of dietary guidelines was issued by the AHA, and called on Americans to reduce red meat and dairy product consumption. The huge Atkins diet wave in the early 21st century caused a significant reduction in the consumption of carbohydrates and a boost in the consumption of proteins. Next was the ever-popular low-fat diet which ironically ended up eliminating even the good fats (unsaturated fats can be beneficial to your heart) from our diet.
The overall message of Pollan’s 200-page-long book is quite straightforward, and chances are, you probably already know most of it. But in line with his other successful works, Pollan gives all of the above information in a witty and convincing way, almost persuading the readers to turn vegan. His customary eye-opening analysis may seem tough at first but is undeniably respectable.
In Defense of Food is not the type of comforting book you will look for when you need a good, simple read. Frankly, you will most likely feel worse about yourself after reading the first five pages of this book, as you begin to look back on what you had for lunch that day.
Nevertheless, it is worth keeping a copy of this educational book on your bookshelf. From time to time, it will serve as a sweet and soft reminder to eat the right stuff in the right way. Before you hurry out the door to purchase a copy, perhaps you can begin reconstructing your health by repeating Pollan’s all-mighty seven-word diet mantra before your next meal: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”