Label-Reading, Mindless Consuming, and Real Food

To be honest, I get tired of all the conflicting advice about diet and nutrition.  At what point do you believe so-and-so over other people?  And it seems there is always “new” evidence coming out that contradicts what we believed yesterday.  In Defense of Food, however, just seems to emanate with common sense.

The author, Pollan, begins with the question, “What should you eat?”  The answer to that is, “We should eat food.”  It saa-defense of foodounds simple, right?  But many of the things we eat in the 21st Century would be unrecognizable to our ancestors who lived a handful of generations back.  So many food items have been completely stripped of their nutrients, reinvented in a laboratory, with food scientists/ experts deciding what nutrients to add back in, and then loaded up with all kinds of preservatives and many artificial ingredients.

Why is it that, if I buy a pie at the local grocery store, it has 37 ingredients?  But if I make one at home it has only seven ingredients, and that’s if you count water as an ingredient.  (Plus, my pie will taste infinitely better!)  Bread and tortillas are other examples of a ridiculous amounts of additives being added to food to give it a long shelf life.

It is a little frightening to think of how much Americans rely on highly-processed food.  We want food that is fast and quickly satisfies our appetite urges and fills us up, with giving little thought to what is in the food.  I am as guilty as anyone.  For many years, I thought I was eating a healthy, balanced diet but never actually read any of the labels on the food I was eating.  This book has made me become a label-reader.  It was truly eye-opening and a little discouraging to walk through a grocery store aisle after reading this book and see how much our food has been engineered and processed.  Additionally, processed food does not fill us up or satisfy us as much as whole grain, unprocessed food.  So it naturally lends itself to overeating and obesity.

The author points out that eating should be simple.  Food shouldn’t have to advertize that it is “healthy.”  In fact, food that screams its health benefits on the packaging should be especially suspect.  We should use common sense when it comes to food.   According to the author, “Science and scientism has resulted in anxiety and confusion over even the most basic questions about food and health.”  The authority over how we eat, which had long rested with tradition and habit, has recently been ceded over to science.  

Scientists study variables they can isolate. They break down components of food and study them separately, ignoring complex interactions in the food as a whole. Nutritionist science is an oversimplification. Even the simplest food is complex to analyze. So nutrition scientists do the only thing they can do and separate and study those isolated nutrients. This is reductionist science because the whole may be different than the sum of its parts.  Food nutrients are complex.  Our bodies are also complex and process foods differently from person to person.  Nutritionist science erroneously thinks of food strictly in terms of its chemical constituents.

Pollan also addressed how natural fats are good for our bodies and the popular low-fat campaign, in recent past, has directly coincided with widespread weight gain.  The low-fat campaign is a primary example of scientism interfering with common sense food consumption.

The author posits that we should eat food and not food products. Ask, “Would my great-grandmother recognize it as food?”  Frito Lays claim to be healthy for your heart. The American Heart Association also puts its seal of approval on Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs, for a fee.  Why do we buy into this?

Pollan suggests that we should shop the peripheries of the shopping market for healthier items and stay away from the center aisles. We should look for food items that have five ingredients or fewer, with sugar not being in the first few ingredients.  Getting out of the grocery store as much as possible and going to farmers markets or starting a garden, is highly recommended.

We don’t need “experts” to tell us what is healthy. Rather than making our diets this complicated, calorie-counting, strict daily regimen, Pollan’s advice can help us be more intentional about food, but also less stressed about it.

I’m not saying that I’m ready to completely abandon my processed food habits, but I am making huge strides and I know where I want to go with our eating habits.  I still do buy store bought tortillas because, hey, I don’t have time to make my own all the time (although homemade tortillas are much tastier!).

Changing habits takes time.  Whether you can implement some of these Real Food ideas immediately or not, this book will give you a lot to think about and perhaps keep you from being a mindless consumer, like I was for many years.  


I first heard of In Defense of Food on Lisa Leake’s blog, one of my new favorite healthy eating blogs.  Leake read Pollan’s book and was impacted by it and decided to go cold turkey and stop eating processed food for 100 days to see how it went.  Halfway through her experiment she donated all her processed food, realizing she would never go back.

After trying out some of her recipes Leake posted online, and being super impressed with how easy and aa-real foodtasty they were, I decided to get her cook book.

Really, 100 Days of Real Food is more than a cook book.  It’s a great reference book on menu planning, shopping, reading food labels, and how to change your eating habits to start eating healthier foods.  Leake does a great job conveying her message.  She is sensitive to budget issues and is convinced that it’s possible to eat healthy food on a budget.  She writes about this at length on her blog.

Leake also understands that busy families can’t spend hours every day in the kitchen and she has lots of tricks for making quick meals or freezing items for breakfast, snacks, and kids’ lunches.

Her book is great and all her recipes so far have been either good or excellent.  I highly recommend Leak’s book and blog.


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