Category Archives: Nutrition Books

In Defense of Food, Part II

Yup, finished Part II.  This book is seriously opening my eyes!

(In case you missed it, here’s Part I)

In case you forgot what it looked like.

Part II is titled: The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization

  • So, ummm, the Western Diet (and lifestyle of how we Americans typically eat), ummm, SUCKS!
  • First begins the example of ten Aboriginal men returning from their western diet to their Aboriginal roots.  After 7 weeks, they had all lost weight, lowered blood pressure, all metabolic abnormalities of Type II diabetes had either greatly lessened or were completely eliminated!  You get the idea.
  • One of the first people to see the effects of the western diet was Weston Price, a dentist.  Isn’t it strange how we all need dentists and have such dental problems?  Could it be related to our diet?
  • As a result, he went around the world and looked at the teeth of different peoples with different cultures.  He discovered that while they ate a variety of diets, very few of them actually needed a dentist!
  • Price also learned that many peoples work very hard to return nutrients to the local soil, while “our modern civilization returns exceedingly little of what it borrows.”  He began to see that our industrial food system was breaking the links between us and the local soil . . . uh oh!
  • The author then studies the relationships between people and food (and how the Western Diet is, again, disrupting this relationship).  Our bodies have been developed to receive signals from foods to determine if they are ripe, spoiled, etc.  Of course foods designed to deceive our bodies, i.e. artificial sweeteners, make this process much harder.  They are one of the most challenging features of the Western Diet.
  • People have developed for millenia and learned how to eat foods like milk and animal flesh (without harmful effects to our bodies).  At this moment, we have not learned to consume foods like corn syrup, without harmful effects to our body.  We may at some point develop a better way to process such foods, but for now, we are left with the detrimental effects such as diabetes and heart disease.
  • This western diet began in the late 19th century with the development of refined flour (AKA the first fast food).  The refinement speeds up the absorption of the flour into our bloodstream, providing our brains with its preferred food: GLUCOSE!
  • In the mid 1990′s, nutritionists began to see that the refined flour, etc. was detrimental to our health, TA DA!  WONDER BREAD!  I know, let’s take it all out, but then put some back.  Hmmm, maybe that won’t work . . .
  • Perhaps a whole food is greater than the sum of its nutrient parts!
  • Unfortunately, we are screwed! “Once industry figured out how to transform the seeds of grass into the chemical equivalent of sugar, there was no turning back.
  • Yup, our society relies on how things make money.   Processing foods makes money . . .
  • Another topic he touches on his how much we are depleting our soil.  By using chemical fertilizers, the nutritional quality of produce in America has significantly decreased!  Now you have eat THREE apples, to get the same nutrition you would get from ONE apple 60 years ago!  This makes me think a bit more about the pros of buying organic foods!
  • America has reduced their dependence on grains to essentially corn and soybeans.  Per capita, Americans consume 554 calories from corn products, and 257 from soy products.  That’s at least 1/3 of ones daily calories.
  • Not surprisingly, but Americans are eating about 300 calories more per day than they were in 1985!  That’s only 25 years ago!  I mean, I was alive then! This results in humans who are both overfed and undernourished!
  • Absence of nutrients in our food (due to the poor soil and processing), counteract the feeling of satiety, so we want to eat more to get these nutrients.  So basically, our food is a lot of fluff with not a lot of substance.  Kind of like my Master’s thesis! ;-)
  • Our diet is more heavy in Omega-6′s (the ratio with Omega-3′s is about 90% in the western diet).  UH OH!  The ratio of these is so important!  But Omega-3′s are less stable and thus less likely to be in our processed foods that need to stay unspoiled on the shelves!  Omega-3′s play an important role with insulin resistance (as in it may combat insulin resistance) and quick absorption of glucose into cells.
  • One big change due to the Western Diet is our change in food culture.  Now, in lieu of relying on our parents to tell us what to eat, we rely on science and the 30 billion food products available to us.  The author then calls out the readers, “You would not have bought this book and read this far into it if your food culture was intact and healthy.”
  • Finally, if it comes down to dollars, “a diagnosis of diabetes subtracts roughly 12 years from one’s life and living with the condition incurs medical costs of $13,000 per year (compared with $2500 for someone without diabetes).”

I hope that gives you some insight into the things that I’ve learned from Part II of this book.  I can’t wait to finish up with Part III, which talks about what we should be eating (although I could just read the front of the book “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

Book Review: In Defense of Food, Part I

I received a $25 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble for Christmas, so I bought the book “In Defense of Food”, which I think I’ve heard good things about.

The book is broken up into three parts, so here is my review of Part I:

Part 1: The Age of Nutritionism

The first part of the book mainly focuses on how the American people began to move away from discussing foods (such as fruits, vegetables, red meats, etc.) and focus on the nutrients in foods (fats, carbs, vitamins, etc.)  This began in 1977 when a Senator from South Dakota tried to pass nutritional guidelines that said “stay away from red meat and dairy”.  The voters in his state were, shall we say, less than pleased, since many of them were cattle farmers.  Thus we have moved from foods to nutrients, which we don’t know much about and barely begin to research, especially regarding the interactions of all of the nutrients in certain foods.

Anyway, here are some of the interesting points that I found:

  • How we only speak in terms of nutrients now, such as polyunsaturated, cholesterol, fiber, etc.  Even professional may only speak this language.  This could explain why the dietician we had give a lunch talk at work a few months back never really answered my question “Can you give examples of foods with transfats?”  The only thing she could say was “Transfats are bad.  Here’s a website about them.”
  • “This brings us to one of the most troubling features of nutritionism, though it is a feature certainly not troubling to all,  When the emphasis is on quantifying the nutrients contained in foods, any qualitative distinction between whole foods and processed foods is apt to disappear. If foods are understood only in terms of the various quantities of nutrients they contain, even processed foods may be considered to be “healthier” for you than whole foods if they contain appropriate quantities of some nutrients.”  This is convenient to food manufacturers who stand to make significantly more money on processed foods than whole foods.
  • Nutrition labels, while informative, can also be the “advertisements for the chemical principal of nutrition.” Furthering the nutritionism and getting away from whole foods.
  • The “lipid hypothesis” is the idea that dietary fats are responsible for chronic disease.  Hopefully this will be disproved, since it puts the public’s focus on “non-fat”, “low-fat” etc. Since WWII, while we consider that our foods have improved (with all of these “fats are bad” concepts), heart disease and obesity related diseases have SIGNIFCANTLY increased.
  • However, transfats are bad.  Not only do they raise bad cholesterol, but they lower good cholesterol.  Basically, don’t eat margarine!
  • Our Puritan roots do not lend well to realizing the pleasures of food (as in enjoying foods and the eating process).  “Like sex, the need to eat links us to animals, and historically a great deal of Protestant energy has gone into helping us control such animal appetites under strict control.  The naked act of eating was little more than unavoidable . . . and was not to be considered a pleasure except with great discretion.”
  • Despite the “lipid hypothesis” being disproven, it should not be replaced by the “carbohydrate hypothesis” in which fats are simply replaced by carbohydrates, which, SURPRISE, can lead to weight gain.
  • As stated before, the focus on single nutrients does not explore the interactions between the nutrients in foods.  “The olive oil with which I eat tomatoes makes the lycopene they contain more available to my body.” Etc.
  • Nutrition science currently focuses on the results of “too much of a bad thing” in lieu of “too little of a good thing”.  Again more of the Puritan bias “Bad things happen to people who eat bad things.”

Part I makes me curious has to what the author’s recommendations are regarding foods, especially regarding certain fats, such as dairy fats.  When we were kids, my mom had us drink whole milk, since the high fat content allowed our bodies to absorb more calcium (important to kids with growing bones).  So maybe fats are bad!?!  SURPRISE!!

Review of Parts II and III are soon to come!

In other news, I finally got home around 11pm.  I had to stop by Kroger on the way in to pick up a few items!  Oh Kroger, how I’ve missed thee!  I can’t believe that Boston doesn’t have 24 hour grocery stores!  I then chatted with my dad and proceeded to set up his wireless (for obviously selfish reasons!)

Today I’m supposed to meet up with Amy (the bride) for some shopping and last minute preparations.  But it’s snowing, so I don’t know how the roads will be!?!


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