Why is nutrition so hard to figure out?
Why is it so confusing to know how to eat well and be healthy?
When did eating become nutrition?
Over the next several posts, we will tackle these questions as we put together ‘Eat Better - our guide to healthy eating’.
This will be our attempt to cut through the noise and help you learn foundational habits that will make eating better easier.
This will not be about diets. Diets do not work.
Diets are temporary, highly restrictive programs of eating generally pursued for the purpose of losing weight, and are unfortunately damaging exercises in futility. (Diets are also about selling books!)
Each of these dietary approaches differ dramatically in their macronutrient breakdown, yet hold that their approach is the one true way towards weight loss and better health.
Inherent in the ‘diet’ approach is a reductionist mindset that the precise nutrient composition of one’s diet is what matters most. Since nutrients cannot be seen, we as consumers have to rely on experts to tell us what to eat. The fact that these experts have wildy different views leads to a dogmatic almost religious element to food advice that divides food into good and bad; demonizing some foods and elevating others to superfood status.
Michael Pollan calls this nutritionism, a term he popularized from the work of Gyorgy Scrinis.
Nutritionism is ideology, not science - a view that specific nutrients in food determine whether a food is healthy or not. “This focus on nutrients has come to dominate, to undermine, and to replace other ways of engaging with food and of contextualizing the relationship between food and the body.” wrote Scinis in 2008. This ideology has even come to overtake nutritional science and government advice and has been easily co-opted by industry to market questionable food as healthy. “Twinkies now with Omega-3!”
In fact, nutritionism allows the food industry to market highly processed foods as being healthy when the add specific nutrients back to the product and market accordingly - think of vitamin fortified cereals.
Nutritionism may even be one of the causes of the current rise of diabetes, obesity and chronic disease we are seeing in the Western world. Specifically, the recommendations in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s for consumers to lower their intake of saturated fats led to profound shifts in Western diets with refined carbohydrates replacing fat in industrial produced food. This shift is thought by some to be the single biggest causal factor responsible for the epidemic of obesity in the world today.
This is the background Pollan brings to the discussion of food, countering nutritionism with his simple advice (that we have borrowed): "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
This simple advice is the antidote to nutritionism, a holistic counter strategy focused on whole foods.
Over the next several posts we will lay out a behavioural approach to eating better that will be simple to follow.
Dr. Brendan Byrne