This week's book club post is the fifth installment of the In Defense of Food discussion posts. This week's post wraps up the longest book club for the shortest book ever!
Chapter 1. Escape from the Western Diet - This chapter recaps what has been covered in the earlier sections of the book and sets up what we are to read in the remaining chapters. The main concept is reiterated: People eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets. No matter what infighting occurs between scientists, the take home message is to stop eating a Western diet.
How do we go about doing this? Pollan isn't expecting us to truly go back to a "traditional" diet because how can you define traditional for each person? The genetic makeup of each individual and their ability to process certain foods relies tremendously on the environment in which their ancestors adapted to the local foodsheds.
So, what is he recommending? Well, to start off, choose whole foods. But how can we determine if that whole food is really unadulterated? Is that CAFO beef really a whole food? What about vegetables grown in nutrient depleted soil under a host of chemical pesticides and petroleum fertilizers? Is that a whole food?
Chapter 2. Eat Food: Food Defined - What the heck should we be eating then? Here are some rules of thumb:
Don't eat anything your great-grandma wouldn't recognize. Squeeze yogurts, cheese food products, Twinkies, non-dairy creamers - all of these can be readily identified as something not "whole".
Avoid foods containing unfamiliar or unpronounceable ingredients or high fructose corn syrup. This doesn't mean so much that the ingredients are inherently harmful, but they are good indicators of food quality.
Avoid food products that make health claims. This is a big neon sign screaming "processed". Generally, only big food companies have the wherewithal to secure FDA-approved health claims for their products.
Shop the peripheries of the supermarket. You know what's lurking in the middle - packaged, boxed, processed foods. Stick to the outside where produce, dairy, meats and bulk items live.
Get out of the supermarket if you can. Farmers markets generally don't sell highly processed foods, neither do farm stands or U-pick farms. Shop from your garden and you're assured of getting whole foods.
Do you focus on buying mostly whole foods or are you more concerned with buying healthy or organic even if it's processed (like cereals, crackers, soups, etc.)? There are a number of highly processed foods that are marketed as "healthy" - do you think they are? Do you really need to eat whole foods or are products found in the natural foods section okay?
Chapter 3. Mostly Plants: What to Eat - Okay, so we're supposed to eat whole foods. Any more words of wisdom?
Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Plants are chock full of nutrients, vitamins, fiber and antioxidants all delivered in a format that our bodies are evolved to uptake most effectively. Antioxidants help us get rid of toxins and the rest are necessary for health and function. Enriched foods just don't get processed the same way and plants supply us with these necessities.
You are what what you eat eats too. WTF? In other words, the diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality, and healthfulness, of the food itself. The same thing can be said for plant based foods - poor soils make for nutritionally poor plants.
If you have the space, buy a freezer. If you can buy foods at the height of the season and store them for year-round consumption, you are ensuring that you are getting the most nutrition from your foods. Eating those anemic tomatoes in February just doesn't cut it.
Eat like an omnivore. If you eat a wide and varied diet, you are more likely to get the full range of nutrients that these foods supply.
Eat well-grown food from healthy soils. Again, soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food: higher levels of anti-oxidants, flavonoids, vitamins, etc.
Have a glass of wine with dinner. I love Michael Pollan.
Chapter 4. Not Too Much: How to Eat - First of all, focus on quality over quantity. Shake off the idea of supersizing your meals or trying to maximize the food you get for your dollar. Instead, spend more money on less. You'll find the quality of the food and it's improved taste will satisfy you with less.
Second, eat meals. No more eating in the car, at your desk, in front of the TV or computer, standing at the sink or sitting on the toilet or wherever you grab your meals. Sit down at the table for crying out loud and enjoy your food. Preferably with family and friends.
Thirdly, eat slowly and listen to your belly. Don't hoark down your food so fast that your brain doesn't recognize that you ate so much that you have to unbutton your pants. Or, worse yet, you're so full that you can't stand up and walk upright without discomfort. It takes your brain about twenty minutes to catch up with your gut, so give them time to communicate with each other.
Lastly, become a cook and grow a garden. Doing both gives you an appreciation between the plants and the soil and between the ingredients and those you are feeding.
How many meals do you eat at home? How many with your family? Are you so overly busy that you don't have time to cook or eat with others?
Well, that concludes the In Defense of Food book club posts. How has reading this book changed the way you think about food and eating?