The Nation's Health + [Nutrition]

Michael Pollan: Even more Michael Pollan

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words. I’ll try to resist but will go ahead and add a couple more details to flesh out the advice. Like: A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat."

Michael Pollan, author of my latest favorite book, The Omnivore's Dilemma , wrote a wonderful piece for the New York Times entitled "Unhappy Meals". You can find the full text at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html?ex=1172120400&en=a78c20f4da0cdc7b&ei=5070. (Another favorite read of mine, The Fanatic Cook's Blog at , alerted me to Pollan's article. Incidentally, take a look at the Fanatic Cook's latest posts--very entertaining and informative. She's got incisive insight into foods as well as a great sense of humor.)

Pollan goes on to say that...

"...typical real food has more trouble competing under the rules of nutritionism, if only because something like a banana or an avocado can’t easily change its nutritional stripes (though rest assured the genetic engineers are hard at work on the problem). So far, at least, you can’t put oat bran in a banana. So depending on the reigning nutritional orthodoxy, the avocado might be either a high-fat food to be avoided (Old Think) or a food high in monounsaturated fat to be embraced (New Think). The fate of each whole food rises and falls with every change in the nutritional weather, while the processed foods are simply reformulated. That’s why when the Atkins mania hit the food industry, bread and pasta were given a quick redesign (dialing back the carbs; boosting the protein), while the poor unreconstructed potatoes and carrots were left out in the cold.

Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness."

Not everything Pollan says is new, but he says it so eloquently and cleverly that he's worth reading. If you haven't yet read Omnivore's Dilemma, or just want a condensed version of the book, the New York Times piece is a great piece of the world according to Michael Pollan.