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7 Rules for Eating

Choose Food Over Food-Like Substances, Food Writer Michael Pollan Tells CDC

7 Words & 7 Rules for Eating continued...

Is this good advice? Janet Collins, PhD, director of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, is one of the CDC officials who met with Pollan.

Collins agrees with Pollan that advice from health experts has to be simplified. And she loves the suggestions he makes.

"Some of the changes in our environment are the reasons behind our obesity epidemic," Collins tells WebMD. "Pollan's advice to eat at the table with your family and not the TV is excellent. And portions: During our grandmothers' era, plates were smaller. If you took the portions that filled their plates and put them on ours, it wouldn't look like much to eat."

 

Eat Foods, Not Nutrients

Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, is professor of science and environmental journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Pollan says that where we've gone wrong is by focusing on the invisible nutrients in foods instead of on foods themselves. He calls this "nutritionism" -- an ideology that's lost track of the science on which it was based.

It's good for scientists to look at why carrots are good for us, and to explore the possible benefits of, say, substance X found in a carrot.

What happens next is well-meaning experts tell us we should eat more foods with substance X. But the next thing you know, the food industry is selling us a food enriched with substance X. We may not know whether substance X, when not in a carrot, is good or bad for us. And we may be so impressed with the new substance-X-filled product that we buy it and eat it -- even though it may have unhealthy ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup and salt.

Pollan identifies four myths behind this kind of thinking:

  • Myth #1: Food is a delivery vehicle for nutrients. What really matters isn't broccoli but its fiber and antioxidants. If we get that right, we get our diet right. Foods kind of get in the way.
  • Myth #2: We need experts to tell us how to eat. Nutrients are invisible and mysterious. "It is a little like religion," Pollan said. "If a powerful entity is invisible, you need a priesthood to mediate your relation with food."
  • Myth #3: The whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. "You are either improving or ruining your health when you eat -- that is a very American idea," Pollan says. "But there are many other reasons to eat food: pleasure, social community, identity, and ritual. Health is not the only thing going on on our plates."
  • Myth #4: There are evil foods and good foods. "At any given time there is an evil nutrient we try to drive like Satan from the food supply -- first it was saturated fats, then it was trans fat," Pollan says. "Then there is the evil nutrient's doppelganger, the blessed nutrient. If we get enough of that we, will be healthy and maybe live forever. It's funny through history how the good and bad guys keep changing."

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