Sunday, July 10, 2011

In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

In Defense of Food 

(Kindle,, my user review on
The scientific evidence? That scientifically engineering of food is actually killing us. Ironic.
(Processed food) easy come, (health) easy go.

Where's the money in selling potatoes? No there is not. So you sell fries. Where is the profit in selling fruits? So you sell sweetened, flavored water and call it fruit juice. That's how you make money. The poor thing known as food is left without the rich and powerful friends it needs to stop itself from being turned into some sort of a hideous, chemically altered, food-like substance that is meant to be grown, stored, transported, marketed, sold, but not really fit for consumption.

And, oh yes, food scientists don't really know that much about food. Nor do journalists. Which is why you see a new theory of food every decade. And money to fund research into this new theory. And new books by the thousands extolling the virtues of this new theory of nutrition. Food as eaten since the beginning of humanity would do quite well, even today, except that it has been replaced by the modern, industrialized mishmash known as food.

In the end, this book is not so much a polemic against faulty science and avaricious corporations as much an entreaty to us people to return to a more common-sensical way of eating. To put more trust in the thousands of years of dietary wisdom that has evolved rather than into the new religion of engineered foods. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that scientific engineering of food is actually killing us. Ironic.

Yes, this is also a must-read. Absolutely. Force fast-food restaurateurs to read this book. To their customers. CEOs of Pepsisco and others to read it aloud. To their shareholders.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Every region in the world has a traditional diet that is very different from each other. Yet, all these different diets ensured that people lived and led healthy lives. The advent of the food-like processed diet manufactured by industrialized society and known as the "Western" diet ensures two things uniformly: the profitability of those selling it and the resulting disease epidemic among those ingesting it. Yes. The ironies of modernization never cease to amaze.

Food Rules:There rules-of-thumb all over the book. Rules that would generally stand you in good stead. These are rules that the author took from this and his other works and compiled them into a separate book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual (Kindle edition) . So, if you see have seen these rules before, don't be surprised.
  • Avoid food products that make health claims. (Why? "For a food product to make health claims on its package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it’s more likely to be a processed than a whole food.")
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. (Why? "Scientists may disagree about what’s so good about eating plants - Is it the antioxidants in them? The fiber? The omega-3 fatty acids? - but they do agree that plants are probably really good for you, and certainly can’t hurt.")
  • Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
  • Don’t ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap ... except for hygienic reasons I suppose
  •  “Eating what stands on one leg (mushrooms and plant foods) is better than eating what stands on two legs (fowl), which is better than eating what stands on four legs (cows, pigs, and other mammals).” - Chinese proverb.
  • Cook, and, if you can, plant a garden. ("To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food should be fast, cheap, and easy")
  •  The more you process any food, the more profitable it becomes.
  • The specific number you adopt is arbitrary, but the more ingredients in a packaged food, the more highly processed it probably is.
  • Food is a costly antidepressant.
  • An adage: “After lunch, sleep awhile; after dinner, walk a mile.”
  •  Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
  • Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting is another personal policy you might consider adopting.
  • Avoid food products that make health claims.
  • So don’t drink your sweets, and remember: There is no such thing as a healthy soda 
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn-syrup.

Food Rules: An Eater's ManualExcerpts from the book
Some excerpts from the book...
    Better to treat the sick than to prevent them from falling sick
    It makes more business sense to treat a disease than to prevent it, right? Of course. If you start telling people to eat healthy, then the fitness centers go out of business, the nutritionists go out business, the doctors treating diet-related illnesses shut shop, the pharma industry that makes billions of dollars goes out of business, the advertising hacks who persuade us we are sick don't have jobs, and so on. See, an individual's health ruination is a small price to pay for the well-being of so many people.

    Although an estimated 80 percent of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by a change of diet and exercise, it looks like the smart money is instead on the creation of a vast new diabetes industry.

    It's not a sickness. It's a lifestyle choice. To eat unhealthy
    Diabetes is well on its way to becoming normalized in the West - recognized as a whole new demographic and so a major marketing opportunity. Apparently it is easier, or at least a lot more profitable, to change a disease of civilization into a lifestyle than it is to change the way that civilization eats.

    Backs to be scratched. Wallets to be lightened.
    The food scientists’ chemistry set is designed to extend shelf life, make old food look fresher and more appetizing than it really is, and get you to eat more.

    In truth the chief value of any and all theories of nutrition, apart from satisfying our curiosity about how things work, is not to the eater so much as it is to the food industry and the medical community. The food industry needs theories so it can better redesign specific processed foods; a new theory means a new line of products, allowing the industry to go on tweaking the Western diet instead of making any more radical change to its business model. For the industry it’s obviously preferable to have a scientific rationale for further processing foods - whether by lowering the fat or carbs or by boosting omega-3s or fortifying them with antioxidants and probiotics - than to entertain seriously the proposition that processed foods of any kind are a big part of the problem.

    For the medical community too scientific theories about diet nourish business as usual. New theories beget new drugs to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol; new treatments and procedures to ameliorate chronic diseases; and new diets organized around each new theory’s elevation of one class of nutrient and demotion of another. Much lip service is paid to the importance of prevention, but the health care industry, being an industry, stands to profit more handsomely from new drugs and procedures to treat chronic diseases than it does from a wholesale change in the way people eat. Cynical? Perhaps.

    The healthcare industry makes more money treating chronic diseases (which account for three quarters of the $2 trillion plus we spend each year on health care in this country) than preventing them. So we ignore the elephant in the room and focus instead on good and evil nutrients, the identities of which seem to change with every new study. But for the Nutritional Industrial Complex this uncertainty is not necessarily a problem, because confusion too is good business: The nutrition experts become indispensable; the food manufacturers can reengineer their products (and health claims) to reflect the latest findings, and those of us in the media who follow these issues have a constant stream of new food and health stories to report. Everyone wins. Except, that is, for us eaters.

    Don’t forget that trans-fat-rich margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim it was healthier than the traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks.

    Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health, Revised and Expanded Edition (California Studies in Food and Culture)Not ethically challenged; only financially right-aligned.
    Industry greatly amplifies the claims of nutritional science through its advertising and, through its sponsorship of self-serving nutritional research, corrupts it.

    Several studies have found that when industry funds nutrition research, the conclusions are more likely to produce findings favorable to that industry’s products. One such previously cited study, published by the Public Library of Science, is “Relationships Between Funding Source and Conclusion Among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles” by David S. Ludwig, et al. See also Marion Nestle’s Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. Revised edition.

    Why are fruit drinks and aerated drinks bad? I mean, beyond the obvious.
    In nature, sugars almost always come packaged with fiber, which slows their absorption and gives you a sense of satiety before you’ve ingested too many calories

    (In general, calories taken in liquid form are more fattening because they don’t make us feel full. Humans are one of the very few mammals that obtain calories from liquids after weaning.) So don’t drink your sweets, and remember: There is no such thing as a healthy soda

    There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries, even drinking a soda every now and then, but food manufacturers have made eating these formerly expensive and hard-to-make treats so cheap and easy that we’re eating them every day.

    But humans deciding what to eat without professional guidance - something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees - is seriously unprofitable if you’re a food company, a definite career loser if you’re a nutritionist, and just plain boring if you’re a newspaper editor or reporter.

    Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American MealAnd you thought it was just a leaf, fit only for the cows
    Indeed, to look at the chemical composition of any common food plant is to realize just how much complexity lurks within it. Here’s a list of just the antioxidants that have been identified in a leaf of garden-variety thyme: alanine, anethole essential oil, apigenin, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, caffeic acid, camphene, carvacrol, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, derulic acid, eriodictyol, eugenol, 4-terpinol, gallic acid, gamma-terpinene, isichlorogenic acid, isoeugenol, isothymonin, kaemferol, labiatic acid, lauric acid, linalyl acetate, luteolin, methionine, myrcene, myristic acid, naringenin, rosmarinic acid, selenium, tannin, thymol, trytophan, ursolic acid, vanillic acid.
    Way back in evolution, our ancestors possessed the biological ability to make vitamin C, an essential nutrient, from scratch. Like other antioxidants, vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, contributes to our health in at least two important ways. Several of the body’s routine processes, including cell metabolism and the defense mechanism of inflammation, produce “oxygen radicals” - atoms of oxygen with an extra unpaired electron that make them particularly eager to react with other molecules in ways that can create all kinds of trouble. Free radicals have been implicated in a great many health problems, including cancer and the various problems associated with aging. ( Free-radical production rises as you get older.) Antioxidants like vitamin C harmlessly absorb and stabilize these radicals before they can do their mischief. But antioxidants do something else for us as well: They stimulate the liver to produce the enzymes necessary to break down the antioxidant itself, enzymes that, once produced, go on to break down other compounds as well, including whatever toxins happen to resemble the antioxidant. In this way antioxidants help detoxify dangerous chemicals, including carcinogens, and the more kinds of antioxidants in the diet, the more kinds of toxins the body can disarm....
    But there was so much vitamin C in our ancestors’ plant-rich diet that over time we lost our ability to make the compound ourselves, perhaps because natural selection tends to dispense with anything superfluous that is metabolically expensive to produce. (The reason plants are such a rich source of antioxidants is that they need them to cope with all the pure oxygen produced during photosynthesis.)

    Unlike plants, which we can’t live without, we don’t need to eat meat—with the exception of vitamin B12, every nutrient found in meat can be obtained somewhere else. (And the tiny amount of B12 we need is not too hard to come by; it’s found in all animal foods and is produced by bacteria, so you obtain B12 from eating dirty or decaying or fermented produce.)
    Robbing food of its nutrients, and humans of their health was already understood by the 1930s, the processing of foods typically robs them of nutrients, vitamins especially. Store food is food designed to be stored and transported over long distances, and the surest way to make food more stable and less vulnerable to pests is to remove the nutrients from it. In general, calories are much easier to transport - in the form of refined grain or sugar - than nutrients, which are liable to deteriorate or attract the attention of bacteria, insects, and rodents, all keenly interested in nutrients. (More so, apparently, than we are.)

    Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About ItIt's not as if this processed, engineered food is making us live longer.
    But while it is true that our life expectancy has improved dramatically since 1900 (rising in the United States from forty-nine to seventy-seven years), most of that gain is attributed to the fact that more of us are surviving infancy and childhood; the life expectancy of a sixty-five-year-old in 1900 was only about six years less than that of a sixty-five-year-old living today.

    When you adjust for age, rates of chronic diseases like cancer and type 2 diabetes are considerably higher today than they were in 1900. That is, the chances that a sixty-or seventy-year-old suffers from cancer or type 2 diabetes are far greater today than they were a century ago. (The same may well be true of heart disease, but because heart disease statistics from 1900 are so sketchy, we can’t say for sure.)

    Today foods are processed in ways specifically designed to get us to buy and eat more by pushing our evolutionary buttons - our inborn preferences for sweetness and fat and salt. These tastes are difficult to find in nature but cheap and easy for the food scientist to deploy, with the result that food processing induces us to consume much more of these rarities than is good for us.

    Avoid food products that make health claims. This sounds counterintuitive, but consider: For a product to carry a health claim on its package, it must first have a package, so right off the bat it’s more likely to be a processed rather than a whole food. Then, only the big food manufacturers have the where-withal to secure FDA-approved health claims for their products and then trumpet them to the world. Generally, it is the products of modern food science that make the boldest health claims, and these are often founded on incomplete and often bad science.

    Quite the opposite
    Yet as a general rule it’s a whole lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a raw potato or a carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over in Cereal the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming their newfound “whole-grain goodness” to the rafters.

    Thirty years later, we have good reason to believe that putting the nutritionists in charge of the menu and the kitchen has not only ruined an untold number of meals, but also has done little for our health, except very possibly to make it worse.

    ... scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health did a ... recent review of the relevant research called “Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review

    By the end of the review, there is one strong association between a type of dietary fat and heart disease left standing, and it happens to be precisely the type of fat that the low-fat campaigners have spent most of the last thirty years encouraging us to consume more of: trans fats. It turns out that “a higher intake of trans fat can contribute to increased risk of CHD through multiple mechanisms”; to wit, it raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol (something not even the evil saturated fats can do); it increases triglycerides, a risk factor for CHD; it promotes inflammation and possibly thrombogenesis (clotting), and it may promote insulin resistance. Trans fat is really bad stuff, apparently, fully twice as bad as saturated fat in its impact on cholesterol ratios. If any of the authors of the critical review are conscious of the cosmic irony here—that the principal contribution of thirty years of official nutritional advice has been to replace a possibly mildly unhealthy fat in our diets with a demonstrably lethal one [bold emphasis mine] - they are not saying.

    If they can't have bread, let them eat eat whole grain white bread
    Before the roller-milling revolution, wheat was ground between big stone wheels, which could get white flour only so white. That’s because while stone grinding removed the bran from the wheat kernel (and therefore the largest portion of the fiber), it couldn’t remove the germ, or embryo, which contains volatile oils that are rich in nutrients. The stone wheels merely crushed the germ and released the oil. This had the effect of tinting the flour yellowish gray (the yellow is carotene) and shortening its shelf life, because the oil, once exposed to the air, soon oxidized—turned rancid. That’s what people could see and smell, and they didn’t like it. What their senses couldn’t tell them, however, is that the germ contributed some of the most valuable nutrients to the flour, including much of its protein, folic acid, and other B vitamins; carotenes and other antioxidants; and omega-3 fatty acids, which are especially prone to rancidity....
    bread is traditionally made using a remarkably small number of familiar ingredients: flour, yeast, water, and a pinch of salt will do it. But industrial bread - even industrial whole-grain bread - has become a far more complicated product of modern food science (not to mention commerce and hope). Here’s the complete ingredients list for Sara Lee’s Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White Bread. (Wait a minute - isn’t “Whole Grain White Bread” a contradiction in terms? Evidently not any more.) Enriched bleached flour [wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid], water, whole grains [whole wheat flour, brown rice flour (rice flour, rice bran)], high fructose corn syrup [hello!], whey, wheat gluten, yeast, cellulose. Contains 2% or less of each of the following: honey, calcium sulfate, vegetable oil (soybean and/or cottonseed oils), salt, butter (cream, salt), dough conditioners (may contain one or more of the following: mono-and diglycerides, ethoxylated mono-and diglycerides, ascorbic acid, enzymes, azodicarbonamide), guar gum, calcium propionate (preservative), distilled vinegar, yeast nutrients (monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate), corn starch, natural flavor, beta-carotene (color), vitamin D3, soy lecithin, soy flour.

    Omega -3 Fatty Acids

    The Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them (California Studies in Food and Culture)Leaves provide a host of critical nutrients a body can’t get from a diet of refined seeds. There are the antioxidants and phytochemicals; there is the fiber; and then there are the essential omega-3 fatty acids found in leaves

    Most people associate omega-3 fatty acids with fish, but fish get them originally from green plants (specifically algae), which is where they all originate. Plant leaves produce these essential fatty acids (we say they’re essential because our bodies can’t produce them on their own) as part of photosynthesis; they occupy the cell membranes of chloroplasts, helping them collect light.

    Omega-3s appear to play an important role in neurological development and processing (the highest concentrations of omega-3s in humans are found in the tissues of the brain and the eyes), visual acuity (befitting their role in photosynthesis), the permeability of cell walls, the metabolism of glucose, and the calming of inflammation. Omega-6s are involved in fat storage (which is what they do for the plant), the rigidity of cell walls, clotting, and the inflammation response.

    Omega-3s are present in high concentrations in heart tissue where they seem to play a role in regulating heart rhythm and preventing fatal arrhythmias. Omega-3s also dampen the inflammation response, which omega-6s tend to excite. Inflammation is now believed to play an important role in cardiovascular disease as well as in a range of other disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

    Tricking us into eating more; eating unhealthy
    One of the problems with the products of food science is that, as Joan Gussow has pointed out, they lie to your body; their artificial colors and flavors and synthetic sweeteners and novel fats confound the senses we rely on to assess new foods and prepare our bodies to deal with them. Foods that lie leave us with little choice but to eat by the numbers, consulting labels rather than our senses.

    Today foods are processed in ways specifically designed to sell us more food by pushing our evolutionary buttons - our inborn preferences for sweetness and fat and salt. These qualities are difficult to find in nature but cheap and easy for the food scientist to deploy, with the result that processing induces us to consume much more of these ecological rarities than is good for us.

    We eat foods in combinations and in orders that can affect how they’re metabolized. The carbohydrates in a bagel will be absorbed more slowly if the bagel is spread with peanut butter; the fiber, fat, and protein in the peanut butter cushion the insulin response, thereby blunting the impact of the carbohydrates.

    Drink coffee with your steak, and your body won’t be able to fully absorb the iron in the meat. The olive oil with which I eat tomatoes makes the lycopene they contain more available to my body.

    Improving milk by making it unfit to drink...
    To make dairy products low fat, it’s not enough to remove the fat. You then have to go to great lengths to preserve the body or creamy texture by working in all kinds of food additives. In the case of low-fat or skim milk, that usually means adding powdered milk. But powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol, which scientists believe is much worse for your arteries than ordinary cholesterol, so food makers sometimes compensate by adding antioxidants, further complicating what had been a simple one-ingredient whole food. Also, removing the fat makes it that much harder for your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that are one of the reasons to drink milk in the first place.

    It doesn't matter what you eat, as long as you eat enough of it. Right?
    The American food system has for more than a century devoted its energies to quantity and price rather than to quality. Turning out vast quantities of so-so food sold in tremendous packages at a terrific price is what we do well.

    In conclusion, don't live to eat, rather, eat to live.
    Calorie restriction has repeatedly been shown to slow aging and prolong lifespan in animals, and some researchers believe it is the single strongest link between a change in the diet and the prevention of cancer. Put simply: Overeating promotes cell division, and promotes it most dramatically in cancer cells; cutting back on calories slows cell division. It also stifles the production of free radicals, curbs inflammation, and reduces the risk of most of the Western diseases.


      Kindle Excerpt:

      © 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.