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We don’t know how food works

In the Netherlands we’ve had a surge in the “to meat or not to meat” debate, thanks to one of the government agencies suggesting we eat less meat. As per usual, this draws all kinds of folk out of the woodwork extolling the benefits of whatever they deem to be correct.

Back in 2007, Michael Pollan produced a very common sense view on food and nutrition:


Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words. I’ll try to resist but will go ahead and add a couple more details to flesh out the advice.

Like: A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products.

That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat ”food.”

Source: Unhappy Meals | Michael Pollan

The article underneath the link is a long long-read, but worth the effort. Though we may think we’ve got food nailed down in terms of nutrients, we’re actually casting a very narrow view on it. Plants, meats and fruits all contain a multitude of chemicals influencing each other’s effects.

Sure, specific micro-nutrients can be traced back to a certain effectiveness. But it turns out extracting these micro-nutrients from food and consuming them separately (or adding them to other foods), does not provide the same nutritional value.

Add to that the blunder we made about the importance of fat, and a consequential overreliance on carbohydrates and we may have stumbled upon the recipe for cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

The article also adds some view about how and why cultural diets (Mediterranean, Japanese, I guess even Dutch) work. In the end we still don’t know exactly how food works.

Until we do, we shouldn’t just reminisce about how things were better in the past, we should eat like it as well.

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