An interesting article in the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine (“Unhappy Meals“) tells readers not to worry about fat levels, getting your daily protein or carb counting. Michael Pollan, the author, claims that nutritionism in American has lead to less healthy, more obese Americans; instead we should simplify our eating habits.
Most nutritionist studies examine the affect of a single nutrient (e.g.: protein, carbohydrates, omega-3) and do not take into account the holistic effects of food. Further, the studies nutritionists use to support their theories are poorly done at best. Individuals surveyed about their eating habits consistently underestimate the amount, and overestimate the quality of the food they are eating.
“…much of what we know about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet is based on studies of Seventh Day Adventists, who muddy the nutritional picture by drinking absolutely no alcohol and never smoking. These extraneous but unavoidable factors are called, aptly, âconfounders.â? One last example: People who take supplements are healthier than the population at large, but their health probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the supplements they take â which recent studies have suggested are worthless. Supplement-takers are better-educated, more-affluent people who, almost by definition, take a greater-than-normal interest in personal health â confounding factors that probably account for their superior health.”
Pollan gives some welcome advice: to eat less processed foods, eat more fruits and vegetables, cook more at home, and buy higher quality food. Surprisingly, the article tells readers to avoid foods that come bearing health claims, since these foods are likely to be processed. Apples are extremely healthy, but they don’t come in a ‘reduced fat’ variety. To conclude
“This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. Hippocratesâs famous injunction to âlet food be thy medicineâ? is ritually invoked to support this notion. Iâll leave the premise alone for now, except to point out that it is not shared by all cultures and that the experience of these other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, viewing food as being about things other than bodily health â like pleasure, say, or socializing â makes people no less healthy; indeed, thereâs some reason to believe that it may make them more healthy. This is what we usually have in mind when we speak of the âFrench paradoxâ? â the fact that a population that eats all sorts of unhealthful nutrients is in many ways healthier than we Americans are. So there is at least a question as to whether nutritionism is actually any good for you.”