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Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food”: Considerations for Eating Real Food

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

“It’s the new year! Take control of your health with [insert fad diet]. In this blog, we’ll tell you all about how to follow this diet, the latest products you should buy, and how it will all change your life for the better…”


Especially with the beginning of the new year, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to conflicting nutrition recommendations. There are so many different diet trends circulating: Keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, Whole30, Carnivore…and more. All of these diets claim to be the best, yet they’re all so different. Our supermarkets are full of products that are tweaked to cater to the latest trends, whether it’s fat-free, sugar-free, low-carb, grain-free, or whatever else.


On the surface, these diets appear to promote healthy eating, but the real motivation is often to lose weight. Diet culture tells us that thinness equals health, but healthy eating is about more than just weight loss. Healthy eating is about nourishing our bodies, enjoying our food, and prioritizing our physical and mental health. Rather than restricting what we eat, we should focus on giving our body all the nutrients it needs to be happy.



In Defense of Food

In his book, “In Defense of Food,” Michael Pollan points out that even some of the most “natural” foods we see on the shelves are less a product of nature and more a product of food science. We have become so consumed with optimizing and developing food products that we’ve lost touch with real food. If Pollan had to sum up his approach to eating in just seven words, it would be “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."



In this blog, we will explore several of the ideas mentioned in this book, as well as related scientific evidence. We hope this will allow you to make informed decisions about your own approach to food!


What is Real Food?

Pollan says, “Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food…when you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, ‘What are those things doing there?’"


In our world today, food exists on a large spectrum- from a carrot freshly picked out of your garden to a can of squirtable cheese. When making everyday choices about what to eat, Pollan suggests eating your food as close to the source as possible. For example, eating corn on the cob vs. bright orange corn chips.


In a 2019 prospective study of over 100,000 participants, researchers found that intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with “higher risks of cardiovascular, coronary heart, and cerebrovascular diseases.”


However, there’s excellent evidence that following a whole-food, plant-based diet can prevent, and maybe even reverse chronic disease. Lifestyle factors play a role in the development of diseases such as heart disease, and they can also play a role in reversing it. One 2022 study found that an increased intake of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains was associated with the reduced buildup of plaque in the arteries over time.


How Should We Eat It?

Pollan also touches on how we eat our food. Our culture has normalized eating in the car, at your desk, on the couch, in bed, in front of the television, and in many other places besides the dining room. However, Pollan believes that physically sitting down at a dinner table to eat helps us to be more intentional and return to the ritual of a traditional family meal.


According to a 2017 study, “adults who never watched television or videos during family meals had 37% lower odds of obesity compared with those who always did.” Frequent family meals are also associated with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, the benefits of sitting down at the table with others extend to our mental health, from stronger relationships to increased emotional well-being.


According to The Family Dinner Project, “Family dinner is the most reliable time of the day for adults to slow down and talk to others. It’s a time to step away from video calls, emails, and to-do lists, and instead, connect face-to-face. Dinnertime often allows for a few laughs, a time to decompress and also to solve logistical problems and talk about the day’s events and what tomorrow holds.” It may not always be possible to sit down at the table for dinner, but when you can, tune into your body and soak up the benefits of good company and nourishing food.


Conclusion

The approach that Michael Pollan offers in his book is attractive. Instead of following fad diets, counting calories, and buying modified food-like products, we can follow the simple advice of eating real food.


Eating healthy contributes to a healthy body, both decreasing the risk of chronic disease and increasing our consumption of valuable nutrients. This ultimately contributes to a healthy mind, setting us off strong on our path to greater wellbeing.


BeamUp’s Mission

BeamUp is passionate about quality nutrition, and we are taking action to improve access to healthy foods. We recognize that if we want people to live longer and more active lives, eating whole, plant-based foods is a step in the right direction. Our goal is to provide access to healthy foods and also teach communities around the world how to grow their own self-sustaining gardens.


These actions lead to healthier communities, reduce healthcare expenditures, and reduce the incidence of physical and mental co-morbidities. Individuals born in poverty have a 145% greater risk of obesity than those in wealthy communities. At BeamUp, we believe that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. This is why we are so passionate about improving access to a healthy lifestyle for communities in need. 100% of all donations go directly towards providing healthy food, access to quality online education, and access to telemedicine for underprivileged young adults and youth.


If you would like to join us in our mission, click here to learn more about donating or volunteering your time.


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