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What Should I Eat?

Michael Pollan - In Defense of Food |

Christmas is over and the New Year is upon us, bringing with it the annual profusion of “healthy” recipes. Clever marketeers prey on your lingering sense of guilt from any holiday over-indulgences with recipes or food products boasting to be gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, low carb, low GI, vegetarian, vegan or paleo-friendly. I have nothing against any of these food types or diets, but it is when people slap the word “healthy” in front of them that I start to get irritated.

Referring to a dish as “healthy, gluten and diary free” implies (or can certainly be construed to imply) that gluten and dairy are unhealthy. If you have coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance then yes, gluten is not good for you. However, for the vast majority who are not afflicted with these conditions, implying that gluten is not good for you is, in itself, unhealthy as it compounds confusion around what we should and should not eat. Thanks to conflicting research, sponsor-biased research, lobbying by food producers and celebrity endorsements of niche diets, the general masses are genuinely confused about what to eat.

Worldwide, governments are struggling with their “healthy eating” guidelines. It is easy to see why. No matter what food product or diet you pick you will find research that proves it’s good for you and conflicting research that proves it’s bad for you. Alcohol is bad for you. A glass of wine a day helps lower your cholesterol. Coffee is bad for you. Drinking coffee helps prevent diabetes. Meat is bad Meat is good. Every day a new research paper disproves one that went before. Trying to keep up is nauseating.

Then there is the problem of industry funded research. Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and a prominent food writer and activist, has been tracking the results of industry funded research since March of this year. She has now clearly demonstrated that the results of these studies almost invariably favour the sponsor. The most infamous study was that, sponsored by Coca-Cola, which found that the key to reducing obesity was to take more exercise, not to reduce calorie intake. Due to an enormous media backlash Coca-Cola withdrew their funding and the research group shut down.

So what should you eat? I have always made a point on this blog of not offering any nutritional or diet advice. I have shared my food principles and write about my various efforts to live those principles. They are principles I have believed for many years but that were shaped and reinforced by Michael Pollan’s brilliant book, In Defense of Food. In the book, Pollan distils all the conflicting advice into one simple rule – Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. He distinguishes “food” from what he terms “edible food-like substances” – those highly processed food products that flood the supermarket shelves – and advocates making your food from scratch as much as possible. He prescribes everything in moderation – including moderation. Pollan recognises that most of us can’t afford the time to avoid processed foods completely, but suggests we become more conscious of our food decisions.

I was delighted to read recently that Pollan’s book has now been made into a documentary, helping his message reach a wider audience. The show airs on PBS tomorrow Dec. 30th at 9:00 pm (Eastern – check local listings). I am not affiliated with Michael Pollan or PBS in any way, but I do recommend watching the show. If it’s anything like the book, it will be two hours well spent and may help answer the question “What should I eat?”

Disclaimer: As mentioned above, I am not affiliated with Michael Pollan or PBS and this is not a sponsored post. However, should you purchase the book In Defense of Food via the links on this site I will receive a very small commission.

I have just 3 of my 2016 Calendar showcasing 13 of my most popular photos remaining, now at the reduced price of €9.99 (plus P&P).

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Loving this quote and will check out the book and/or the film. I’ll reblog the quote and link back here. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    February 5, 2016
  2. Nice post! I could not agree with you more. I agree with making as much from scratch as possible & avoiding processed food. This past year I have really enjoyed diving into cooking & learning new recipes. Moving to the country (closest restaurant/grocery is 20 minutes away) has really helped propel our food choices. Eating healthy is really not difficult as long as you stay away from fads and all the “hype”. Fresh, simple ingredients is my motto!

    Liked by 1 person

    January 7, 2016
    • Exactly, Amy. Not having convenience foods (either from restaurants or supermarkets) readily available really does help get you into the habit of making everything from scratch. Once you’re used to that approach you just can’t imagine doing it any other way!

      Liked by 1 person

      January 8, 2016
  3. Down to earth advice there, as we would say here! I just did some reading on Mr. Pollan and one quotes stood out from all the rest and I think emphasises his (and your) philosophy, he says “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”

    Liked by 1 person

    January 4, 2016
    • Exactly right. (Although a wild venison steak also goes down nicely!) If you haven’t read any of his books I can’t recommend them highly enough. I think In Defense of Food is important reading, but Cooked is more entertaining. He does audio versions of both. I like hearing authors reading their own work – you really get into their head. Happy New Year!


      January 4, 2016
  4. Thank you for posting! Discovering Michael Pollan a few years ago has carved a path for me and my family in the food journey. Because it is so overwhelming, we try to take baby steps at each stage of our progress and convert them into lifestyle to minimize the inevitable “pull” that marketing has on all of us. Reading posts like this keep the courage and hope alive!

    Liked by 1 person

    January 1, 2016
    • Thanks! I think taking baby steps and slowly integrating healthy eating into your lifestyle is exactly the right approach.


      January 2, 2016
  5. Well spoken. It is so simple and yet so hard for many to achieve. Really and truly it is about eating little or nothing that is processed by companies who do not have our health but our wallets at heart. Sadly it is very very hard for most to resist the lure of so called ‘health’ foods and until we find our collective, global common sense that will endure.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 30, 2015
    • Right. It’s weird that the “health food” aisle of the supermarket actually has some of the most highly processed foods, manufactured to tap into the latest health buzzwords. Cooking from scratch used to be the norm but it was been slowly petering out over the last few generations. Without these essential skills being passed along, fewer people know what it means to cook from scratch or how to do it. A paradigm shift is required to get us back on track. Hopefully Pollen and his ilk can give us the kickstart we need.

      Liked by 1 person

      December 31, 2015
      • We must keep hoping and we must keep flying the flag. Because what we have is nothing short of madness 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        December 31, 2015
      • Yes indeed…I’m pretty partial to a very rare rib-eye myself!! I think I’ll have a listen to ‘Cooked’…it’s nice to have a little enterainment as well as tucking into your steak!

        Liked by 1 person

        January 4, 2016
  6. Well said, June. Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan are doing a great job… in a world where common-sense is everything but common…

    Liked by 1 person

    December 30, 2015
    • Indeed. If only there were a few more like them. There are just too many wildly differing opinions for any clear message to filter through. Hopefully this documentary will have some impact.

      Liked by 1 person

      December 30, 2015
  7. longchaps2 #

    My mom has always been an advocate of fresh food. She swears by it. And since we live together and she loves to cook, Butler and I are the lucky recipients. She prepares tons of cooked vegetables. Otherwise I’d be fine living on salads. Which living in California is easy to get. Lucky me, the vegetarian. I’m pretty simple when it comes to food. But I agree with you. Processed foods taste good to most people, but they kill you. If you try not eating them for awhile you realize how much salt they put in them. Yikes! I’m going to try to catch this special. I KNOW my mom would love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 29, 2015
    • These food companies have made a science out of giving foods exactly the right taste and texture – salty, sour, sweet, crispy, creamy. All manufactured – yuck! Give me a salad with a decent dressing any day. Aren’t you lucky having your mam around to cook nice fresh veggies for you!

      Liked by 1 person

      December 30, 2015
      • longchaps2 #

        Yeah. Way lucky. She’s an excellent cook. That gene didn’t pass down. Unfortunately, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

        December 30, 2015
  8. sbdagape #

    Nice job, Sister! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Eggs are bad; no, now they are the perfect food. “No MSG added” but free glutamate is dumped in under the word “spices”. You’re right, people are very confused. I love Michael Pollen’;s work. If anyone hasn’t read “In Defense of Food” I think it is a must-read. My other motto: Read all labels and if you don’t know what it is, don’t put it in your mouth. Better yet, don’t eat food with labels!

    Liked by 1 person

    December 29, 2015
    • Agreed, Susan – down with labels! Sometimes I look in the fridge or cupboard and it seems like we have no food because we have very few packets. At this time of year most of food is stuff that we’ve dried, canned or frozen ourselves over the summer. We’re still picking kale (or we were until just a few days ago). I make bread, mayo, farmers’ cheese and yoghurt as we need them. The only packets we have are grains and beans. It must look so strange to those who are used to buying everything from the supmarket. I can’t even buy crisps (potato chips) anymore, even as a treat. They just taste all wrong to me, and when I look at the list of ingredients I almost gag. It takes a while to tune your brain into reading the labels, but the more you do it the easier it becomes.

      Liked by 1 person

      December 30, 2015

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