Getting Over Nutritionism

This is the third of three articles summarizing and reviewing Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food. If you have not already read the review of his first section, “The Age of Nutritionism“ or the review of his second section, “The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization“, you may want to do that first.

Pollan writes, “A hallmark of the Western diet is food that is fast, cheap, and easy. Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food; they also spend less than a half hour a day preparing meals and a little more than an hour enjoying them.”

In the previous two sections, Pollan has described what is wrong with our eating in America, and now he makes the case on how to fix it. His solution, which adorns the cover of the book, is to “Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much”.

Eat Food

Here, he brings up the point that most of what is sold today is really just foodlike products. After giving several examples of foods products that his great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize, he adds, “Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.” Does a Twinkie or McDonalds french fry ring a bell? He also recommends avoiding food products which contain ingredients that are:

  • unfamiliar
  • unpronounceable
  • more than 5 in number
  • include high-fructose corn syrup

Next, he advises us to:

  • avoid food products that make health claims
  • shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle
  • get out of the supermarket whenever possible

He offers excellent recommendations on how to actually put real food on your plate, as opposed to what the food industry has been pushing to us.

Mostly Plants

Here, Pollan makes the case we need to be eating more of the green stuff.  He rightly advocates eating more veggies, but his logic on meat is a bit flawed.  He does point out that industrial meat is no longer a whole food; so even a typical steak is still not ideal.  However, he doesn’t advocate eating goodly portions of pasture raised beef, for example.  Previously he had mentioned that there are almost no noticeable health problems in cultures which eat predominantly meat, as long as they avoid the Western diet.  On a positive note, though, he does say that if you do eat meat, you should eat meat that ate veggies (pasture raised beef, chicken, etc.).

Not Too Much

He notes that other cultures are often envied by Americans for their good physique while still eating high fat foods and other foods that nutritionists would not approve of.  So why can’t we eat like them?  His answer is that we eat much larger portions in much less time.  Instead of piling our plates full and scarfing the food down in under 20 minutes, we should focus on quality.

Additionally, with the preparation and cleanup times reduced due to modern techniques, we tend to eat more.  In 1999, 83% of people had microwaves, up from less than 10% in 1980.

Finally, he points out that meals are down while snacks are up.  All of these things are exactly what these other cultures do NOT do.  So how do we fix the problem?  He suggests:

  • Do all your eating at a table
  • Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does
  • Try not to eat alone
  • Consult your gut
  • Eat slowly
  • Cook and, if you can, plant a garden


Overall, Pollan has accurately assessed the food problem in America today.  His suggestions are, for the most part, right on.  We would definitely advocate eating good, high quality, pasture-raised meats, but apart from that, we would recommend most of his other advice.  For a good primer on fixing your diet, this would be a good book to read.

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