The Age of Nutritionism

Michael Pollan’s new book, In Defense of Food, really hits the mark when it comes to assessing the state of eating in America today. He divides the book into three sections, the first two of which really define the problems we face in America, and the third covering how to best fix it.

Michael Pollan divides the book into three sections; the first of which is: “The Age of Nutritionism.”

The basic premise is that nutrition-ism rules in America, not nutrition. Scientists are taking good things, like omega-3 fatty acids (fish fat), and putting them in things never designed for them to be in (like hot dogs and hamburgers). They’re taking bad things (like saturated fats) out.  The goal is food with nothing but good things…and to have at least 200% of all the daily recommended values of those good things…all in a convenient wrapper…oh yeah, and it won’t spoil…ever.  How (and why) does this happen? Well, it all started with a little margarine.

Margarine came on the scene as a cheap alternative to butter, but the manufacturers realized that they could market it, with a little tinkering, as better than butter. The bad things could be removed and good things could be added…the best of both worlds, right? The problem was, legally they had to label it as “imitation”, and that didn’t sound all that good. No one wants to be the imitation food.  They want to be the “better than real” food. These food processors eventually helped rewrite the rules to allow for foods with “equivalent nutritional value” to be labeled the same as their real counterparts. People were being duped with the line that if it all has the same (or better/more) nutrients, then it must be as good (or better). Scientists were believed to be able to engineer better foods for us, completely disregarding the fact that God designed foods the way He did for a reason.

So, back to the fish fat in your hot dogs…if omega-3 fatty acids are good for you in fish, they must also be good for you in hot dogs, right?  We’ll, that’s where things are headed.  Go take a look at the breakfast cereal aisle.  Based on the nutritionists’ logic, it won’t be long before the antioxidants in chocolate bars are touted as the new health craze.

Next, Pollan attacks the myth that low fat equates to good health. It is (or should be) intuitive that the premise does not hold true. Look at the number of heart attacks in America. Look at the waistlines of Americans. Look at the number of people now on cholesterol medication.  The numbers aren’t going down. So why don’t the propagators of this lie just admit they are wrong? Most likely because, “we’ll come to the unavoidable conclusion that the emperors of nutrition have no clothes and never listen to them again.”  And who is the emperor?  That would be the government food agencies out there trying to save us from ourselves.

So, the government keeps the lie going. Just recently, “the FDA has just signed off on a new health claim for Frito-Lay chips on the grounds that eating chips fried in polyunsaturated fats can help you reduce your consumption of saturated fats, thereby conferring blessings on your cardiovascular system.”  Wow.

Because of the propaganda machine, people now think of fat as a toxin as opposed to an essential nutrient. All of these lies is based on bad science. Nutritionism isolates nutrients from the context of food, food from the context of diet, and the diet from the context of lifestyle.  They are all interrelated, so pulling them apart gives false results and conclusions.  For example, beta-carotene in plants is very good, but as a supplement, it has been suggested that it actually increases the risk of certain cancers.  The foods we eat are amazingly complex and we fool ourselves if we ever think we can get to the bottom of it.  Foods we eat with each other also affect things.

Though not a godly man, and most definitely an evolutionist, Pollan still brings to light many of the flaws in the way we view food today.  It is unfortunate that he does not give credit to The Creator for the marvelous way God has designed all of His food.  The complexity of even a carrot should cause us to stand back and marvel.  God didn’t design us to get the nutrients apart from the food.  In fact, God did not design us to eat the food apart from the enjoyment of the food.  We may spend another thousand years dissecting a carrot, but I still don’t think we’ll ever create something so perfect.

Stay tuned for the review of Part 2, “The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization.”

Posted in In Defense of Food.