Alright. Enough squirrelling around. Here is the second installment of the In Defense of Food book club discussion posts.
Chapter 6. Eat Right, Get Fatter - What? I can't eat a whole package of Snackwells and not get fat? But it says right here, fat-free. I should be able to eat at least half the bag and not get fat, right? Uh, no.
Since the late 1970s, when Americans began stuffing their pieholes with carbs, we've gotten fat and fatter and the rates of obesity and diabetes have climbed. Now, I'm not suggesting we blame it all on Devil's Food Snackwells. But doesn't it seem a little strange that you can eat half the package and it will only set you back 300 calories? Of course, that's 276 carb calories which will launch your blood sugar into the mesosphere.
The problem isn't so much that we're eating more carbs as that we didn't cut back on the total consumption of fat (even though we were supplanting saturated with polyunsaturated and trans fats) to make up for it. And the idea that, since these foods were so healthy for us, we should eat lots of them caused us to increase our total overall caloric intake. Thereby, making us fat.
Do you excuse your (over)eating of a particular food, convincing yourself that it's okay because it's better for you than the "regular" version?
Chapter 7. Beyond the Pleasure Principle - The idea that Americans have become immune to enjoying food, due to the sheer abundance of it, is an interesting one. It allows people the luxury to focus on food for it's nutritional value only.
I know several people whose diets revolve solely around its nutritional value and not their actual enjoyment of it. It's not as obvious when people focus on garlic, olive oil, flax, salmon, etc. purely because they offer some sort of "extra" nutrition. But, when it rules one's diet to the exclusion of seemingly lesser foods and taste is not being used as a "true guide to what should be eaten" it can get more problematic. In other words, "experimental science has produced rules of nutrition which will prevent illness and encourage longevity" and a lot of people have subscribed to this way of thinking, looking for the holy grail of nutrients to keep them alive and healthy for longer.
Do you fall prey to this type of eating?
Chapter 8. The Proof in the Low-Fat Pudding - Understanding how we can potentially gain weight eating carbohydrates rather than fats (when fats have 9 calories per gram versus 5 for carbs and protein) is a little counter intuitive. The theory goes along the lines that refined carbs interfere with insulin metabolism, causing you to become hungrier and leading to over-eating and, thus, extra fat storage in the body. Remember those Snackwells? There's a reason why you can actually eat the whole box. Because they are totally non-satisfying. It's like eating chocolate flavored wood chips. But with calories.
Do you find that, when eating low-fat foods (generally made with refined carbs), you tend to eat a whole lot more simply because you didn't feel satiated?
Chapter 9. Bad Science - Nutrition science is a sticky wicket to say the least. It's impossible to distill one nutrient at a time, without ignoring how those nutrients interact with others in a food when digested. This sort of scientific reductionism works wonders in other areas of scientific research, but when it comes to nutrition, it can be a disaster. Because people don't just eat nutrients, they eat foods and each person metabolizes food differently. There are too many chemical compounds in a food to be able to determine, with much assurity, that it's one compound over another that is healthier.
There isn't much risk in this sort of reductionist thinking when you are eating whole foods. But if the goal is to distill out the components (like polyphenols or carotenoids), can you really substitute those for "real food"? Are the benefits the same?
Chapter 10. Nutritionism's Children - "Thirty years of nutritional advice have left us fatter, sicker, and more poorly nourished. Which is why we find ourselves in the predicament we do: in need of a whole new way to think about eating."
So, now what? All this has left the American eater confused and anxious about what's safe to eat and what we should or should not be eating. High carb, low-fat? High protein, low-carb? There's even a new eating disorder called Orthorexia nervosa, which is an obsession with healthy eating.
What's next? Well, this ends Section I: The Age of Nutritionism. The next post will start Section II: The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization. Sounds ominous, doesn't it?