Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

In Defense of Food book discussion (chapters 6 - 10)

In Defense of FoodAlright. 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?


Anonymous said...

I'm not reading along, but I'm gonna post my two cents on a couple of these points, anyway.

About chapter 7 - I've long felt like there was something really wrong with the fact that, when we're children, if you're good, they give you a cookie, but when we're adults, if we're "good" we refuse to accept a cookie when it is offered. It seems to me to indicate something wrong with the way we interact with food.

About chapter 8 - You said, 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?

Well, yes, and no. I don't trust "fake" food. Anything that is specially made to be a low-fat version of something strikes me as fake. I don't want low-fat, part skim mozzerella. I want the real thing. I don't eat* Snackwell cookies - I eat the chewy chocolate chip cookies when I buy them.

But when I eat low-fat food, I do find that I eat more to be satisfied. I ate a special diet with lots of veggies for a short time (no dairy, no red meat, no refined carbs), and I wanted to gnaw my arm off after about three days. There weren't any refined carbs in what I was eating, but I still needed some fat to be satisfied, and I wasn't getting it.

Man, you make this book sound fabulously interesting. I need to get my hands on a copy.

*I'm gluten intolerant now, but when I could buy cookies, I skipped the fake ones and went for the good ones. Now that I'm GI, I can't buy a lot of the fake food anyway. Or, depending on how you look at it, I have to buy fake cookies, or I don't get any.

Anonymous said...

If I'm still hungry after breakfast I'll eat a bowl of oatmeal. I've convinced myself that the extra calories don't matter because oatmeal is healthy, right? And maybe I'll eat fewer snacks during the day. Sometimes I sneak in a bit of ground flax into a batch of brownies to make "healty brownies".

But I agree that most of those processed foods on the shelves are non-satisfying. Especially the 100-calorie snack bags -- they are like eating crunchy air. But some fatty foods are non-satisfying too. Like donuts. I can eat a dozen donuts and still be hungry for more. Especially Krispy Kreme.. Mmmm. But I haven't had a donut in years since I gave up trans fats.

DC said...

This all makes me think of the Woody Allen movie Sleeper, in which a health food store owner (Miles) is frozen in liquid nitrogen and revived in the year 2173. At one point in the film, two doctors of the future are having the following conversation:

Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast, [Miles] requested something called wheat germ, organic honey, and . . Tiger's Milk.

Dr. Aragon: Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or . . . hot fudge?

Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy . . . precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

Dr. Melik: Incredible!

We don't really pay any attention to the latest health fads. We try to eat a variety of whole, organic foods that are minimally processed and don't worry about the details.

Lisa Zahn said...

When you eat the whole food, in its most natural state, the fat and protein together make it best for our bodies. This includes whole-fat dairy and the entire egg!

The low fat diet fad has been one of the worst things for our health. Fat is needed by our body at every stage of the digestion process. Most vitamins are fat soluble so need fat to be absorbed and beneficial. I could go on!

Whole, real, unscientifically unmodified fat is good for us. You will feel more satisfied with your meal if it includes good fats.

The "diet doctors" have done us some real harm. Michael Pollan's book is such a great wake-up to this! Thanks for doing the book club.

Christy said...

I finished this book the other night and absolutely loved it! The last section is great and spurred a post on my blog. I'm trying to eat the way my great grandmother ate. Real, whole foods. Some of them are high in fat, but others aren't. I think it balances out.

Lynnet said...

15 years ago I read about how carb calories "never turned to fat" only fat calories turned to fat, a popular fiction that is still popular. I went on a low-fat diet. I got hungrier and hungrier. I started eating pretzels and Snack-Wells by the box. My weight kept creeping up. Within a few months I had active celiac disease. My experience is not unique.

Since the USDA food pyramid started recommending 7-13 servings of grain daily, in addition to 2-4 servings of fruit, Americans have gotten fatter and fatter.

If you want to read a very well documented book on this subject, I recommend Gary Taubes, "Good Calories Bad Calories".

Just think about it; when they want to fatten hogs, do they feed them fat? No, it doesn't work. They feed them corn and soybeans, wheat, skim milk and stale donuts.

frugalmom said...

I just began this book. I was waiting in line for it at the library! It is so interesting and I am sure controversial. I am not as far along as you, but it makes me want to skip ahead.

Anonymous said...

Chapter 6:

Overeating foods that are "better" for you than the reguar equivalent is not a problem for me, because I don't eat "faux" foods. I never even tasted a Snackwells! I remember when I was in college and sometimes reduced to buying TV dinners, that it would take five of those "lite" dinners to fill me up -- and I read the back of the box and saw how much sodium and other crap I was getting in those five dinners, so I just started buying regular meals. All anybody has to do is read the back of the box (and, perhaps hardest of all, be honest with themselves about how much of it they ate).

7. I remember a time, again in college, when I just ate food to to get full, not even for nutrition, just to get full. Not only did I not care about taste, but I didn't taste it anyway. I shovelled it in while reading whichever 300 pages I had to read for my next class and I never knew or cared what I was eating. It was a pretty miserable way to live, but it seemed necessary at the time. I cannot believe that adult people in control of their lives would CHOOSE to eat that way.

Anyway, I thought that taste, for real genuine foods, was an indicator of nutrition? So why would someone interested in their nutrition eat a bland tasteless food?

8. When I did eat faux foods, I don't know if I ate more of them because they were less satisfying or because they were so small. That's the thing about those faux foods, not only do they have their real ingredients replaces with low-fat substitutes, but their serving size is always a lot smaller than a regular serving size. Sure it's only 2 callories a cookie, but the cooki is wafer thin and weighs one-tenth of an ounce.

And the fat vs. carbs idea was good, but Atkins carried it way to far. WAY too far.

I know what! Lets all eat real food, mostly plants, and tell all our friends that we're on the Pollan Diet!

Lynnet, Love the comment about Hogs! ha ha ha ha ha!

r. m. koske, I don't think anyone uses cookies to reward children anymore, do they?

Anonymous said...

perilousknits -
Maybe they don't reward kids with cookies, I dunno. I could be remembering something that only happened to me once or twice and adding it TV commercials to imagine something that didn't really happen. I think there is still a small strain of "if you're good while we're doing X, we'll stop and get Y treat." But you're right, they don't give them as rewards terribly often.

Fresh and Feisty said...

I'm with you all on the "faux" foods issue. I try to eat as much whole foods as possible. I also have been trying to lose weight (lost 26 lbs since Aug. on WW) and my husband can eat whatever he wants. He came home this morning (works graveyard) and said dinner was sooo good. Chicken parmigiana over baked polenta. His comment was "What are you trying to do...make healthy food tasty?" I replied healthy food is tasty, which I truly believe can be the case. Small miracles - my husband thinks brown rice is better than white rice too. Anyways, now I'm rambling. Thanks Crunchy for posting this topic!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE Michael Pollan. I'd stalk him if I lived close to Berkeley :) The man is just full of rational, calm, intelligent charm. Heard his interview the other day, he was nothing but awesome. Anyway, it is still a bit strange that we need books to tell us how to eat well while my parents' generation knew how to eat right. I say "knew" because they too have been confused by the ever change food trends. When I was a child, my mother would always cook "mostly vegetable and grain, with a little bit meat, here and there.". We did not have boxed snacks, mostly homemade kinds now and then (peach ice cream in the summer, mmm...). But these days even she is getting a little befuddled about what's good and what's bad, after cooking for 40 years. I put the blame partially on the "food scientists". Every other year, the food studies turn up something different. I am a science geek, so I am definitely not against science. It's just that the "food science" has turned eating into experiments with input and output rather than joy.

Eat mostly plants. Eat food in its natural state (e.g., 4% milk vs. non-fat). Eat less (unless it is cheese crackers. Then eat the whole box. Okay, this is only my obsession).

Anonymous said...

I don't tend to go for low-fat/low-whatever foods, just due to avoiding packaged foods in general. But last night I bought a box of cheese crackers because I missed the bus and was really hungry, and took a glance at the labels just to check. The low-fat ones did in fact have about half again as much sodium...and, weirdly, significantly more iron. I got the regular ones.

When cooking for myself, particularly soups, I do need to remind myself to add fat to things because it is necessary for a balanced diet and makes things taste good. I so often just forget to add it and then wonder why my lentils taste so blah. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Orthorexia isn't new, just the name is. I have had a lot of friends succumb to some bizarro version of veganism, raw foods, macrobiotics or even Atkins. They get carried away with the idea and forget that eating can't be left up to the intellect.
When they have serious health failures like fainting, loose teeth, headaches and severe digestive complications, they tell me it is because they are detoxing.
I don't think so. I have tried those diets {for health, not weight loss, I have never dieted that way in my life, I am too active to gain weight, I have always been thin and always eaten as much as I wished} and personally noticed the problems and have tried to get my friends to avoid the excesses or even get off the diets. The most recent case was a raw vegan pal, I warned him, but it took two years of suffering for his light bulb to go on.
He's fine now after being sick for years on that diet. It did not work for him, but his mind fooled him.
Incidently, I always keep up on the latest discussions about weight loss and do the opposite, since I need to put weight on.
That becomes a particular concern when I am swimming 15 or 20 miles a week as it is almost impossible to keep up the caloric demands.
Need to lose weight? Eat whatever you want and all you want, just swim 3 miles a day {takes two hours}. I have had many people claim that could not be possible but those who did it {with me} lost weight and ate like crazy.
Yes, I do live in the tropics.
Shouldn't you?

Going Crunchy said...

I really would like to read this. As a person with a metabolic disorder I've had to really take a hard look at how I eat. When you eliminate most fake or junk from your diet you will actually notice a physical difference in how you feel if you consume them.

I can really and truly feel too many carbs or sugar, processed, etc. and it produces physical changes in my body. It isn't worth it to me anymore to eat foods that are rather bad for me.

We've drastically reduced meats, eliminated beef, eat tons of fresh veggies, bake lots of our own breads, use more soy, etc. I even try to eat at least 2-3 fresh raw carrots a day and more foods raw. Makes a world of difference.

When I had to go low carb to fight this I fell into the trap of buying premade products and they only broke the bank for the most part. Just fresh, raw and homemade seem to work the best for me. Shannon