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In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan – A Book Review

Title and Author: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Synopsis of Content:
In Defense of Food Michael Pollan has given us the most important book on nutrition in this decade. He strikes back at the deluge of diet books and nutritionalism that has confused Americans now for two generations. He uses science to attack the “science” behind the nutritionalism that has so distorted the American attitude toward food and has left Americans as the most over fed and under nourished in the world.
After poking generous holes in the various theories and diet fads of the past 40+ years Pollan gives us some very decent guidance about what we should be eating and how we should be thinking of food. His fundamental thesis is simple: we should eat food, not too much, and mostly plants. By that he means:
Eat food: the evidence is overwhelming that we should eat food in as natural a state as possible. We should eat whole foods, not processed foods or refined foods. We should eat more like our ancestors of a century or more ago. If you cannot pronounce or do not recognize the ingredients on a package don’t eat it. If there are generally more than five ingredients don’t eat it. If it contains highly processed and refined foods, including grains, sugar and oils, don’t eat it. If your great grandmother would not have recognized it – don’t eat it. Eat everything else. Eat fresh and frozen (but unprocessed) fruits and vegetables. Eat meat that is not processed or filled with hormones, chemicals, etc. There is a bit more to it than that, but that captures the essence of eating “food”.
Not too much: Americans eat on average 700 calories more per day than they did just 50 years ago. We are bigger, fatter, more obese, and have more disease arising from poor nutrition than ever. We have more diabetes, heart disease and cancer from eating junk food. We also have too much fat on our bodies because we exercise too little and eat too much. Portion sizes are too large and our food is more loaded with fats and sweeteners.
Mostly plants: while one does not need to be a vegetarian to eat healthy, the more meat one eats, especially fatty and processed meats, the less healthy we are. Plants provide the healthiest nutrients and the least unnecessary calories for our body if they are fresh and wholesome.
Pollan points out that various ethnic diets, especially in the Mediterranean and Asia are far healthier because they follow these three simple guidelines. The modern American diet, on the other hand, with its processed foods, high fructose corn syrup laden drinks and quickie pizza and burgers is a short road to disease.
Our youth, who have grown up on this diet, and will less exercise than Americans traditionally got, may be the first generation to have a shorter life span than their parents.
Pollan is not a radical. He does not say you have to eat tofu and raw food all day. There are many very healthy, delicious foods that you can and should eat. His indictment is against the highly processed and inadequate foods that dominate our diet today.
This is not the first book to send this message – but Pollan does a very good job as a careful journalist to bring us the facts to support the position he takes. By adhering to the simple guidelines he suggests we can regain health as well as our waistlines. His arguments are compelling as well as reasonable.
Readability/Writing Quality:
This is very well written. He writes in an engaging style and yet provides the footnotes and sources that support his position.
Notes on Author:
Michael Pollan is an accomplished author and journalist and is the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. He writes for NY Times Magazine. He also authored The Omnivore’s Dilemma among others.
Three Great Ideas You Can Use:
1. Eat food that is wholesome, as natural and whole as possible and with as little processing as possible. Stick to the outside of the supermarket, if you must buy food in supermarkets, aiming for in season produce, fresh unprocessed meats and dairy with as little processing as possible. Avoid artificial ingredients and “convenience foods”.
2. Make sure to get exercise every day.
3. Eat slowly and intentionally, and only eat until you are full or nearly full. Reduce the size of portions that are all too common in the Western diet today.
Publication Information:
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
(c)2008 by Michael Pollan. Published by Penguin Books. 205 pages not including Sources and Index.
Rating for this Book:
Overall Rating: Excellent
Writing Style: Very Good
Application: Very timely; very applicable.
Technical Difficulty: Moderate