Sunday, April 18, 2010

Book Review: In Defense of Food!

I read In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan over the past month. I am a fast reader, but I just don't have (or make) time to read books often right now, so this took me awhile to get through. Over the summer I'm much faster at finishing books! This was my first book I have read by Michael Pollan and I really really enjoyed it.

The philosophy behind the book is: Eat Food, Not too much, Mostly Plants.  Basically that is the entire premise behind the book. He goes ahead and breaks it down piece by piece over the entire book. For example: Eat Food: It is better for us to eat whole fresh foods that we recognize, rather than processed food products. For a long time in our history, this would be an easy recommendation, now when you go to the food store all of those inner aisles are filled with "food" products that are like science projects.

One of my favorite statements Michael Pollan makes is, "If you are concerned about your health, avoid food products that make health claims." Think about it, do oranges, apples, lettuces, etc make food claims? No, it's the boxed processed foods that say things like, "Good for your heart!" Michael Pollan sets out to help us, as eaters and consumers to take control of our health and happiness.

Michael Pollan also discusses the age of Nutritionism, where foods are named by their nutrients, rather than the sum of their parts. They are described by the amount of fiber, fat, vitamins, etc they have rather than just their total part of being an apple, or whatever you are eating. Nutritionism separates food into good foods and bad foods, good nutrients and bad nutrients. The worst feature of nutritionism is that processed foods can be considered "healthier" than whole foods if they have the right amount/combination of nutrients.

The most startling fact to me was that in 1960 Americans spent 17.5% of their income on food and 5.2% of national income on health care. Now we spend 9.6% of our income on food and 16% on national health care. What does that tell you, besides our diet is making us sick! Spend more money on food by making better choices and most likely you won't be sick (as often)!

If you are at all interested in eating well and food, then this book is a wonderful read. You will no doubt learn a wealth of information that probably will shock you. It was a pretty easy read, which isn't always the case for non-fiction books. I enjoyed his point of view and it definitely fits inline with mine. Eat real whole foods, eat mostly plants (and if you eat meat, eat it as a side dish), make good choices with your dollars. Each time you spend money at the food store, you are voting for that food. Make conscious choices, buy organic where you can. It's worth it to buy less food and make better choices.

I received an email from a friend asking me to explain processed foods. I replied to her that it's basically anything in a box with a laundry list of ingredients, but it really is more than that. By definition processed foods are:
Processed foods have been altered from their natural state for safety reasons and for convenience. The methods used for processing foods include canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration and aseptic processing.

Now obviously not EVERYTHING processed is terrible (milk, frozen vegetables and fruit, etc) but I would take a risk and say most processed things are. 

The ones in a box are the worst types of foods, (ie: twinkie) but there are also other foods that if you are really being weary you can come across. White flour is pretty bad and how it's made involves it being processed. They actually take wheat flour and remove the good parts (the bran and germ). The bran and germ are where the nutrients really lie. Then if you buy bleached flour the flour is actually bleached with potassium bromate, benzoyl peroxide or chlorine dioxide gas. These three items are actually harmful to human and animals' health. 

"Potassium Bromate is an oxidizing agent, can be fatal if swallowed, is harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin and may also cause kidney damage. Benzoyl peroxide is another irritant that can kill animals, birds, or fish, and cause death or low growth rate in plants. Chlorine Dioxide is also a pesticide and even though it breaks down very quickly, it is ranked in the USA as one of the compounds most hazardous to the environment." source

How scary is that? That is why I don't really eat white flour anymore, unless it's really, really good lookin' bread. Bottom line the less ingredients, the better. Look at the food labels. Can a fourth grader read it? If not, or if you don't know what an ingredient is, it's probably NOT good for you. Buy foods that you recognize the ingredients too with a short list. 

Look at this list from a 100 calorie pack, that are supposed to be a "good choice". 
And this one is worse:

Verse a better (unprocessed) choice, which would be a Larabar that has 3-4 ingredients MAX:

What foods have you been surprised to see has a laundry list of ingredients? I am still shocked by high fructose corn syrup making a surprised appearance in some foods I used to eat!


Simply Life said...

I read the Omnivore's Dilemma by Pollan and it seems to share the same themes and some of the same facts! Great things to be aware of!

Meg :) said...

Thank you Cole!!!

Kelly @ Healthy Living With Kelly said...

Great post!!! For my birthday my mom got me that book and the Omnivore's Dilemma...can't wait to read them both!

Michelle said...

I actually just bought that book a few weeks ago, but due to a busy schedule have not started it yet. Great review!

Trix said...

Don't give up all hope - you can get organic unbromated white flour! But yes, this is all great information and I wish more people knew how bad for them the stuff they mindlessly shovel into their mouths really is. Great post!

healthyexposures said...

Great review - I would really like to read this! Glad to hear it's an easy read: sometimes when I try to better educate myself on subjects like this, I just get so overwhelmed I run somewhere else for the info!
Sounds like he's got a great motive. Sometimes I have to catch myself before proclaiming I try to stay away from processed foods because I forget that so many things are - by definition - processed, when I simply mean stuff like the boxed stuff you've displayed. Even though my family would hardly be considered to go overboard with junk foods, reading the labels of some of the products as simple as wheat thins shocks me. And I used to swear by crackers like that, too!

katie said...

thank you for explaining bleached flour! (what is UNbleached flour???) and reminding me to avoid the processed foods, especially the breads.

can you quit your job and come be our personal chef? please? o.k., just for the summer? i'll pay you!

whataboutsummer said...

Wow that is so good to know! I'm always looking for truthful, informative books.
Thanks for sharing!

kris | said...

Hey Doll! This book sounds so interesting to me! I do only eat things that are not really processed, so I think I would really learn a lot!

Thanks for the review :)


Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) said...

thank you for breaking this book down for people who arent familiar.
i totally admire your friend's honest question, what's a processed food?
But that shows just how far from our roots we've come. People simply don't know food in it's natural state. I am raising skylar as a high raw vegetarian/vegan and she knows exactly what raw kale is vs. dehydrated kale vs. homemade raw dessert balls vs. a larabar. she has no idea what a twinkie is. And wont til she can choose (or not choose) that for herself.

Thank you for helping people understand. You are reaching an audience who may not be aware of all this. Great work!

Christine @ Grub, Sweat and Cheers said...

Great review! I have In Defense of Food in audiobook format and have been listening it off an on for ages - there's so much good information in it.

I can't remember the last time I bought bleached flour...can't believe they still make the stuff.

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails

Subscribe by email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner