Michael Pollan, an American writer, journalist, and professor at the Berkeley University of California is an eminent healthy nutrition activist. In his books “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “Botany of Desire”, “In Defense of Food”, and “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” he is revealing different aspects of the modern food industry. These works became bestsellers. His views and moods are impressive and somewhat controversial. Therefore, he is largely criticized by scientists for his anti-scientific views, as well as by fighters for animal rights for his calls for hunting food, as well as for xenophobia and anti-immigrant suggestions.
Today we pay much more attention to our nutrition than in any previous historical period. Books with recipes are becoming bestsellers on a regular basis, the profession of a nutritionist is in demand as never before, the basics of a balanced diet are taught in schools around the world. Nevertheless, the statistics of the weight gain and the number of cardiovascular diseases in the inhabitants of developed countries indicates that we are doing something wrong. With the development of civilization, people began to use more unnatural, the heavy processed food, the frozen semi-finished products, instant soups, and sweet desserts. The cheap fast food triumphantly conquers even countries with a historically strong culture of national cuisine, for example, Japan and China. Despite the fact that Japan occupies the last place in the ranking of nations with overweight (only 5% of the total population of the country), this country has problems with the obesity, associated primarily with the active transition of the population to the “Western diet”. This so-called “Western diet” is the consumption of a large number of high-calorie foods and foods with a high amount of fat: red meat, sweet desserts, simple carbohydrates, and heavily processed foods. Especially strongly this style of nutrition is manifested in those nations and cultures that adopted it relatively recently.
Research shows that more than 70% of all food in America consists of processed foods. Every third American student has problems with being overweight. Today’s generation of young Americans will be the first in history, whose life expectancy will be lower than their parents. Every third child born in 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes at some point. People revised the culture of food consumption. In developed countries and large cities, people eat, just to quickly satisfy their hunger and go on to work or study. The food rules changed: now it is socially acceptable to eat at any time, practically in any place. The food became a simple “fuel”. Considering all these facts, Michael Pollan votes for an escape from the ‘Western diet’.
Many countries issue official recommendations for the nutrition. So, in 1992, the US Department of Agriculture offered to organize the consumption of food on the basis of the food pyramid, at the base of which lay cereals, the line above was occupied equally by vegetables and fruits, even higher are sources of protein and dairy products, the last place was given to fats and sweets. In 2005, the nutrition plan was changed to take into account the new research of dieticians. The new program, ‘My pyramid’, consists of horizontal layers and segments, each of which denoted a group of products: cereals, vegetables, fruits, protein sources and dairy products. Now the official position on the healthy nutrition is reflected in the program ‘My plate’. So, if a plate is divided into four parts, two of which will be larger, then two small quarters will take up fruits and protein sources, and large ones – vegetables and grain products. On the edge of the plate is a small cup with dairy products.
In his book “In Defense of Food” Michael Pollan gives an example of an experiment among Australian aborigines who chose the urban lifestyle. After several years of life in the Western civilization, the aboriginal people usually had an excess weight and suffered from health problems. This was due, above all, to a sedentary lifestyle and malnutrition. He claimed that even partial growing of food at home is one of the best ways to maintain the environment. The author of the experiment, Kerin O’Dea, offered ten participants – men and women of middle age with a diagnosis of diabetes and a high risk of cardiovascular disease – to return for seven weeks to their traditional way of life. For the duration of the experiment, the participants selected a place several hundred kilometers from the nearest settlement equidistant from the coastal ocean line and the freshwater river on the mainland. Before, the aboriginal usual nutrition consisted of seafood (sea and river fish), animal meat (crocodiles, turtles, kangaroos) and plants. A striking contrast to their previous diet within the “civilization”, consisting of flour, rice, sugar, beer, powdered milk, and cheap meat. As a result of the experiment, all participants lost about 9 kg in weight and their blood pressure decreased. All disorders, caused by the type 2 diabetes, have significantly decreased or completely disappeared. The study does not indicate whether the aborigines have moved to the traditional way of life for good, but we can assume that if they returned to civilization, all of their acquired health problems returned to them.
Professor Maya Adams encourages parents to educate a culture of food in children. We live in a world, where there is absolutely no free time, and cooking at home can become a luxury, but we are talking about the health of children, and there cannot be any compromises. She also suggests that parents always keep a stock of certain foods at home so that they can always prepare something useful. It is advised to parents to cook with their children, go to the markets and choose vegetables and fruits, talk about the importance of quality products, grow onions or basil on the windowsill, thereby forming the right approach to nutrition. We live in a real world where no one is perfect. Well, it’s better to do something, taking small steps in shaping your children’s attitude to food than not doing anything, motivating it with the lack of time and opportunities.
We should carefully read the labels when choosing products in the store. For example, the package of the goods may contain several portions, whereas the ingredients and caloric content are indicated for one serving. Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration introduced a bill that calls on all producers to fully indicate the nutritional value and the composition of the whole product package. Legislators also ask for changes in the allowable number of servings in one package, so that people can more clearly imagine how much they consume at a time. For example, if you buy a bottle of a carbonated drink with a volume of 600 ml, you are unlikely to drink only 250 ml as a recommended amount. Therefore, according to the new rules, the label will indicate the total amount of sugar and additives in one bottle, and all 600 ml will be considered a single portion. This will allow consumers to more clearly represent the number of calories and additives consumed. So, the American Heart Health Association recommends limiting the intake of sugar per day by nine teaspoons for men and six for women.
Despite the ongoing debate around certain products, there are two facts that do not cause controversy, and which can be relied upon, formulating for themselves the reasonable principles of nutrition. The first fact is: the “Western diet” leads to “Western” diseases: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and cancer. The second fact: nations that adhere to traditional diets suffer much less from these chronic diseases. While their diets differ among themselves and can contain a large amount of fat. People eventually admit the diet, adopted in their environment, and it benefits their health. The Western diet was the only one with which the humanity did not adapt, and which leads to diseases. This is an amazing achievement of our civilization.
Pursuing years of food research, Pollan formulated the basic principle of nutrition as an escape from the ‘Western diet’ summary: we need to eat a sufficient amount of food, mostly of the plant origin. Pollan briefly formulated these principles, which will help us make a nutrition complete and not succumb to the advertisement of food corporations. Here are some of them:
- Eat natural food, not processed foods. The real food is animals, plants, and mushrooms. Products that you should always have at home are onion, garlic, lemon, salt/sugar, olive oil, pasta, beans, rice, lentil, flour, nuts, dried fruits, and spices.
- Do not eat anything that your great-grandmothers would not consider a meal. They would not eat a jelly with a suspicious color from plastic, possibly toxic, packaging. Avoid products, containing ingredients that you have not heard of, or that you would not have stored at home. Many of the additives extend the shelf life of products, but regardless of whether they can harm your health. Eat foods the composition of which you can visualize.
- Avoid foods, containing the corn syrup or fructose syrup. It is much worse than the ordinary sugar and serves as a reliable sign of processed food. The corn syrup is very cheap, and it is added to a large number of foods that should not initially be sweet. For example, the bread. The whiter the bread, the more harmful it is. From the point of view of the metabolic processes of our body, white refined flour differs little from the pure sugar. Therefore, it is not surprising that numerous studies have confirmed the benefits of black bread: those who eat mostly whole grain products live longer and less sick.
- Beware foods that contain more than five ingredients. It’s not the same as the recipe for the dish that you cook at home. It is important that if the ice cream consists of five ingredients, it does not stop being ice cream. Then, if the food was packaged, this already increases the chances that it is recycled. The most useful department of the supermarket is the section of vegetables and fruits without industrial packaging.
- Do not buy products labeled “light” or “fat-free”. The proven fact is that we gain weight by eating low-fat foods. Simple carbohydrates and sugar, which are added to fat-free foods for flavor, contribute to the weight gain. Food manufacturers advertise food with a low-fat content, and consumers create a deceptive impression that “useful” food can be eaten without restrictions. Pollan says that during the survey, people believed that a small piece of a product with normal fat content is more harmful than a large one with a lower content. Thus, people who eat low-fat foods, in fact, consume more calories and gain weight.
- Avoid product imitations. A classic example of such a product is margarine, the first industrial product that was designed to replace traditional oil and thereby reduce the harm caused by the use of cholesterol. It turned out that the margarine presents a harm much more, increasing the risk of heart attacks. Soy meat, cream cheese without cream and cheese in the composition, artificial sweeteners: all this is an imitation of the food.
- Choose food, located at the edges of the supermarket and stay away from the center. You better buy the food that can spoil. There are exceptions, for example, honey, which can be stored for years. But in general, the processed products have a longer shelf life than the traditional food. Go to the supermarket as rarely as possible. Look for farmer’s markets and private shops with their own production.
- Eat only the food that other people have prepared. And not factories. Industrial food production most often means a lot of salt, fats, sugar, preservatives, and colorings.
- If the food came to you through the open driver’s window of your car, this is not a good food. Do not eat while driving the car. Do not buy food at gas stations.
- Become a person drinking vitamins and then stop drinking them. Pollan cites statistics that people taking vitamins are really healthier than those who do not. And this is the argument of many pharmaceutical companies. But the truth is that numerous studies have not revealed the effectiveness of vitamin supplements. People who take vitamins are healthier for reasons not related to tablets. Most often these people are more conscious, better educated and financially wealthy. They watch their food, go in for sports, and all this has a positive effect on their health.
- Eat more vegetables. Especially green leaf lettuces. If you have a place, grow your own vegetables next to your house. If there is no place, arrange a small orchid on your windowsill. Consider the meat as a food for a special occasion. Or at least revise the size of a portion of meat products on your plate.
- Do not overeat. Eat when you are hungry, and not when you are bored. Eat as much time as you spent for cooking. Buy plates and glasses of a smaller size. Eat like omnivores, which we are in fact. Try new foods, make your diet varied. Let the food on your plate be of different colors. The habit of eating healthy food for that also exists to know that you can sometimes eat everything that you think is necessary, then to return to the established principles of eating.
Michael Pollan recalls that at some point in the development of the mankind, we stopped talking about food and began to talk about its nutritional value. We evaluate food solely by how much it is useful and how many calories there are in it. But despite such close attention to products, we still do not know reliably what we should eat better. The science of nutrition is young enough, and it does not yet have answers to all our questions. Michael Pollan tells that we have more questions about nutrition than answers to them. Maybe it is a high time to thoroughly understand what exactly we want to eat in order to benefit and enjoy eating?