Author Michael Pollan cleverly summarizes how to eat for good health with seven words, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
This is so clear and so simple, but what, exactly, does this mean? I'm going to tackle the first part of this quote, "Eat food." in this blog. In upcoming blogs, I'll tackle the other five words ("Not too much. Mostly plants.").
On its surface, the advice to "eat food" seems ridiculously obvious. "Of course," we think, "what else would I eat? Furniture? Books? Shampoo?" But if we delve a little deeper into what "food" is it quickly becomes clear that most of us eat anything but real food.
What Michael Pollan is getting at, and it's something that anyone who has studied nutrition (in the academic sense) understands, is that real food is the real answer to good health. To understand what real food is, think about things that your grandmother, or perhaps your grandmother's grandmother would have eaten. This would include things that look like plants and animals - apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, fresh milk or meat, freshly milled whole grain flour, bread and pasta made from this flour, nuts, seeds, broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, onions, garlic, the list is endless.
Now think about the things that most of us eat, every single day, for the bulk of our diet - nutrient fortified granola bars, vitamin water, instant and microwavable meals, power bars and candy bars, pretzels, chips, cookies, canned soup or stew, hamburger or tuna helper, fast food, pizza, Chinese takeout, even vitamin-infused diet soda! Again, the list is endless.
If you visually examine these items, the message is loud and clear. The first list contains food. The second list contains edible items. Just because something is edible (can be eaten), doesn't mean it is real food! So how did we get so far from our dietary "roots"? I think this is important to understand, because it will help us get back to eating real food. Eating real food, in turn, will improve our health.
As nutrition science has evolved and researchers have gained an understanding into the nutrients contained in food, the public has received constant bombardment with messages about these individual nutrients... "Eat more folate (folic acid)." "B vitamin prevents heart disease." "Grape phytochemicals fight cancer." "Blueberry extract reduces Alzheimer's disease."
The media loves to trumpet these research findings because they sell so well. It's much more exciting to tell people about some newly discovered, exciting nutrient and how it fights disease than to state the obvious, "Researchers find, for the 100th time, fruit and vegetables reduce disease risk." And frankly, people want to hear about these individual nutrients. It's much more appealing to think that you can eat anything you want, take a nutrient pill, and enjoy the same good health as if you had eaten a healthy, real foods diet.
I'm here to be "the voice of reason," and I can tell you that this simply isn't going to happen. Food is complicated, contains thousands of nutrients that work together to keep us healthy, and cannot be replicated in a pill, potion, supplement, or powder. There are notable exceptions for which taking a concentrated vitamin, mineral, or other dietary supplement may be necessary for good health (see my blog on Vitamin D: Wonder Nutrient).
But if you consider the word "supplement", you can see that it is right in the word - a supplement is TO SUPPLEMENT something. It's not called a "replacement." It's called a supplement and it's designed to supplement a healthy diet, not replace it.
After reading this, you probably think, Suzanne is no fun! No pizza? No Chinese takeout? Absolutely untrue. I enjoy pizza and takeout food as much as the next person and I indulge in this type of food, occasionally! This is the key. As I mentioned in my previous blog, "Nobody eats "perfectly" all the time and nobody needs to for good health."
So go ahead, if you're in a rush and the best you can do is grab a granola bar, that's fine. If you meet friends out for an indulgent meal in a restaurant once a week, enjoy it! If you need to eat a quick microwave meal from time to time for lunch, don't sweat it. Just don't mistake this for real food and make sure that real food remains the centerpiece of your healthy eating plan.
Remember, every time you chose to eat, you can chose to eat healthy. If you didn't make that choice last time around, let it go and focus on the next meal or snack. Always look forward and always do your best to take care of yourself.
Jan 17 2008, 08:43 PM