Book Review: In Defense of Food Part 1

I’ve been reading this book for a while.  I’ve skimmed through it lots in years past, but decided I really needed to read it in detail this time around.  Man alive, sometimes it takes me MONTHS to get through a tiny book and it’s mostly because I have young babies and by the end of the night I see a book on the nightstand next to the ipad, and let’s be honest – sometimes you just really need to veg (I catch up on tv shows).  Hulu anyone?  Anyway, this last week I plowed through a big section of this book (and took NOTES and EVERYTHING!), and I need to sum it up for you: It’s awesome.  Read it.  It will change the way you look at food forever.

Here’s the first third: In Defense of Food -“Eat (Real) Food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Part 1:  The Age of Nutritionism

  • Pollan’s aim is to help us reclaim health and happiness as eaters.
  • Most of the nutritional advice we’ve received has made us less healthy and fatter.
  • We are orthorexics (people with an unhealthy obsession with eating).
  • He blames industrialization, advertising, and nutritionalism.

1 – From Food to Nutrients: 

  • We have stopped looking at foods as a whole, and instead focus on nutrients.  Ex. milk is not a food, but viewed as protein, calcium, fat, and water.

2 – Nutritionism Defined:

  • Viewing food as a collective whole made up of chemical parts, and putting emphasis on those parts.

3 – Nutritionism Comes to Market:

  • Margarine was the forerunner as the first manufactured fake food.
  • A series of laws passed.  First, a pink dye was placed in manufactured foods so the consumer was well aware that it was not natural.  After that didn’t do wonders for sales, labels then had to include the word “imitation” if something wasn’t real.  This obviously put a damper on consumers’ excitement to buy the products, so things evolved until as long as a product was engineered to have the same nutrient qualities (ex. had 20 g of carbohydrates), they didn’t have to use the word “imitation.”
  • Enter Hydrogenated oils.  Much cheaper, and in EVERYTHING.

4 – Food Science Golden Age:

  • Food manufacturers reign supreme!  At this point, anything is possible with food.
  • Foods that formerly had two or three ingredients now had additives to increase shelf life, or entice consumers (ex.  more fiber!).
  • Depending on dieting trends, food scientists alter foods to fit the demand.  (ex.  during the Atkins trend, bread and pasta became low-carb and high protein).
  • Whole foods remain for the most part unchangeable, but can be marketed according to trends to play it up (ex.  pomegranates are high in antioxidants).
  • Sugary Cereals  now say “Whole Grain Goodness,”  and people think it is healthy.

5 – The Melting of the Lipid Hypothesis

  • Lipid Hypothesis:  Fat is responsible for chronic disease.  What has this claim done to America?  Nothing health-wise, and has made things worse.
  • pg.  41 “Hold on just a minute.  Are you really saying the whole low-fat deal was bogus?  But my supermarket is still packed with low-fat this and no-cholesterol that!  My doctor is still on me about my cholesterol and telling me to switch to low-fat everything.”  Basically, yes. (Makes me think of this song).
  • Nutrition Scientists at Harvard School of Public Health have been researching this for years.  In 2001 they reported:  “It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences.”  (??????!!!!!!)
  • Trans-fat is the exception.  That is poison.  Get it out of the house.

6 – Eat Right, Get Fatter

  • We did cut down on fat, but as a result at a larger amount of food in the form of low-fat carbs.
  • The message was “Eat more low-fat foods.”  Food companies had a hay day.

7 – Beyond the Pleasure Principle

  • It is getting increasingly harder to know what to eat.  When you try to, you have to stay up to date on science, know what all the ingredients mean, and learn to enjoy engineered foods.
  • It has taken the pleasure out of eating and added in worry, guilt, overindulgence, confusion, etc.
  • Eating healthy is not following our palate, but conventional scientific “rules” we should live by.

Chapters 8, 9, 10 

  • Give Nutritionists and Food Scientists a break – studying nutrition is way harder than it first appears.
  • Goes into detail about the different kinds of research methods, their praises and their flaws
  • Reveals some interesting data of the layperson’s view of “nutrition” or “health.”


So the first section is a bit more science based, but don’t discount it for that reason.  I am starting to get to some really juicy stuff in the next section.  Stay tuned for the rest of the summary next week.

Hope you have a great weekend.  Ours started off with a bang when we went to a smashing “Ugly Sweater Party.”

Yes, those are rhinestone snowflakes I glued on all by myself.  Crafty, eh?


2 comments on “Book Review: In Defense of Food Part 1

  1. Tiffany says:

    LOVE Michael Pollan! My brother sent me an article a while back that he had written! It had so much information and I couldn’t put it down! And it helped that it talked about my major in there!! So cool!

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