This year's Summer Reading theme: “Reading is So Delicious” got me thinking and reading about what an abundance of delicious may do to our bodies.
Two journalists and a doctor, all residents of the Bay Area, tackle just this subject.
Salt, Sugar, Fat gives an enlightening and sometimes frightening account of the processed food industry in the United States and beyond. Moss discusses how the biggest names in Big Food once competed for "stomach-share," the amount of food a single person eats during mealtime. Then snacking was introduced, adding a new, all-day, mealtime to the western diet. These new, heavily marketed snack foods and beverages, Moss explains, are specifically engineered to keep us coming back for more. In the days when snacking was socially discouraged, it was once thought that the amount one could eat was finite and companies had to compete, but now that stomach-share has expanded, we have expanded as well. He goes on to tell a puzzling anecdote that, in studies at our own Oakland Children's Hospital, kids were found to be both overfed and undernourished. Moss explains that the body wants to keep eating in the hopes of getting proper nutrition, nutrition that is sorely lacking in many modern meals and snacks.
This book reads both as the history of how we got here in terms of processed foods and as social commentary on what the future may have in store.
On the cover of In Defense of Food, Pollan advises: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." He goes on to introduce the notion of "nutritionism," explaining that it’s the study of parts of food, the parts that can be extracted and isolated like vitamins, carbohydrates and proteins. Pollan cautions that food, real food, is more than the sum of its parts and its complexities and abilities to keep us well are not yet known. He advises us to eat food and warns that the highly processed, refined, enriched and marketed products we find in most grocery aisles, the stuff that Michel Moss describes in Salt, Sugar, Fat is not food.
Both Moss and fellow journalist Michael Pollan offer what seems to be sound advice: eat more vegetables than meat, eat less sugar, eat less fat. By contrast, Dr. Gary Taubes in his work Why We Get Fat And What To About It recommends eating as much as you want, so long as it’s meat and fat, and limiting carbohydrate rich foods like breads and pastas. While Pollan subscribes to the "calories-in-calories-out" theory, basically, you're fat because you eat too much and/or don't exercise enough, Taubes turns this thinking on its head. You are fat because you eat too many refined carbs and, by-the-way, fat doesn't make you fat. While Pollan advocates eating, but not too much, Taubes argues that the consumption of fat in any amount is literally immaterial, thermodynamics be damned. I am totally oversimplifying both arguments, please read the books for the real scoop. Dr. Taubes' advice is completely counterintuitive to mainstream thought on the subject, but his research appears solid.
So what can you eat? For the super-short version, try Pollan's tiny Food Rules or the appendix of Why We Get Fat. Pollan's and Taubes' ideas are strikingly opposed, but could they both be right? According to the Stanford study that Taubes references in his work, the answers could be yes. The research proves that caloric restriction on any of the prescribed diets leads to weight-loss and improved health. Though the study's author, Dr. Gardener leans reservedly towards the Atkins/Taubes approach. The video is pretty interesting if you've got the time.
And since we're chatting about stuffing our faces, why not get yourself on the waiting list for this appetizing book by Oakland resident Mary Roach: Gulp : adventures on the alimentary canal. It is a snout-to-tail journey of the stuff we put into (and how it comes out of) or bodies. Like her other books, Gulp is both humorous and eye-opening, but it ain't always pretty.
What books have changed your way of thinking about food?
Happy reading and eating.
Submitted on 5/17/2013 by Jenera Burton, Piedmont Avenue branch