Home Health and Nutrition In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food
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Learn the key ideas of the book by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food

The Western diet and its possible impact on health

Modern nutritionism has long tried in vain to identify the one nutrient responsible for Western diseases. What is certain, is that those who follow a Western diet are more prone to chronic diseases than those who eat traditionally, and the challenge we face is to avoid the worst aspects of the Western diet without having to give up the advantages and pleasures of our civilisation. Michael Pollan - after breaking down the myths of nutritionist ideology - proposes a practical manifesto of eating well. Things would be simple if they didn't upset the belief of the powerful agri-food industry.

In Defense of Food
Read in 20 min.
Listen in 25 min.

From food to nutrients: the roots of nutritionism and the discovery of vitamins

The concept of nutrients has existed since the early nineteenth century, when the English physician and chemist William Prout identified the three main components of food: proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates, later referred to as "macro-nutrients". Justus von Liebig, the great German scientist, considered one of the founders of organic chemistry and modern science of nutrition, added a couple of minerals and declared the mystery of animal nutrition solved. Later, Liebig invented a meat extract that has been developed into what we now use as a stock cube, and the first infant formula, based on cow's milk, flour, malt, and potassium bicarbonate. However, doctors soon realised that many babies who only drank the formula milk made according to Liebig's recipe struggled to grow.

In addition, sailors along ocean routes often got sick despite getting enough protein, carbohydrates, and lipids. Evidently, the chemical scientists had underestimated something: the presence of some essential ingredients in fresh plant foods that were capable of healing sailors. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this observation led to the discovery of the first group of micro-nutrients, which, in 1912, the Polish biochemist Casimir Funk called "vitamins". These special molecules almost miraculously cured diseases such as scurvy or beriberi, and from the 1920s they became fashionable among the bourgeoisie.


The key ideas of "In Defense of Food"

From food to nutrients: the roots of nutritionism and the discovery of vitamins
The lipid hypothesis: saturated fats identified as being responsible for cardiovascular disease
The legends spread by nutritionism and the power of the “experts” to tell us what to eat
The collapse of the lipid hypothesis and the boomerang effect of low-fat foods
The characteristics of industrialised nutrition: refined foods, qualitative impoverishment, passage from the leaves
The limits of a reductionist and mechanic scientific approach to nutrition and the challenge we face today
A healthy eating manifesto: eat real food, avoid products that advertise their health effects, favour vegetables, shop at farmers’ markets and grow your own wherever possible
Take-home message
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