A Few Quick Thoughts About Nutrition (10+ Years Later)

If you’ve read my post on “Eating and Exercise Habits” (written in 2004 and published both on BruceCohnFitness and Facebook), I’m betting that the part of the article you found most useful were the suggestions for buying and cooking food. And that’s how it should be.

As I reviewed the information on nutrients I found it accurate but a bit mind numbing. And then I remembered something Michael Pollan referred to as “nutritionism.” There are four fundamental components to this belief system about food:

  1. The only point of eating is to promote bodily health. This denies the important social, cultural, ethnic and religious benefits of breaking bread together that has defined as humans since the beginning of time.
  2. It is the scientifically-identified nutrients in food that determine food’s value. This flows directly from the first premise and dismisses other benefits of food.
  3. Since you and I will never see a nutrient in the foods we eat, we are dependent upon “experts” to tell us what food choices to make. The historical track record of these experts is questionable at best. Some of the earliest nutrition science only identified macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates and fats – as making up the stuff of food. This had disastrous effects in the creation of baby formula that did not cause babies to thrive because vitamins and minerals had yet to be discovered. And once store shelves became stocked with all types of vitamin and mineral supplements, the critical role of phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables was ignored.
  4. These experts divide the world of nutrients into good and bad. The problem is that foods we once thought of as bad and disease-causing have been shown to not be the case. Just look at the anti-fat hysteria of the 1990s that left Americans fatter than before. The point is that the science is still developing and that the social/cultural benefits of eating together have just as great an effect on health and well-being.

Thinking about portion control by using the size of your hand or palm; keeping our food choices colorful and preparing our own food is more meaningful and useful to most of us. And rediscovering the joy of family and community meals may have more far-reaching effects than worrying about the nutrient content of those meals.

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