Interview

‘In Defense of Food’ Author Offers Advice for Health

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

That’s the advice journalist and author Michael Pollan offers in his new book, In Defense of Food.

“That’s it. That is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy,” Pollan tells Steve Inskeep.

‘Eat Food’

The implication of Pollan’s advice, however, is that what we’re eating now isn’t food.

“Very often, it isn’t,” he says. “We are eating a lot of edible food-like substances, which is to say highly processed things that might be called yogurt, might be called cereals, whatever, but in fact are very intricate products of food science that are really imitations of foods.”

Pollan acknowledges that distinguishing between food and “food products” takes work. His tip: “Don’t eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

Take, for example, the portable tubes of yogurt known as Go-Gurt, Pollan says. “Imagine your grandmother or your great-grandmother picking up this tube, holding it up to the light, trying to figure out how to administer it to her body–if indeed it is something that goes in your body–and then imagine her reading the ingredients,” he says. “Yogurt is a very simple food. It’s milk inoculated with a bacterial culture. But Go-Gurt has dozens of ingredients.”

‘Not Too Much’

A large part of the conversation about food–like debating low-fat and low-carb diets–serves as a way of avoiding the idea that maybe we’re just eating too much, Pollan says. He says his advice about how to limit consumption is based less on science, which he says “has failed us when it comes to food, by and large,” and more on culture.

“Cultures have various devices to help people moderate their appetite,” he says. “Once upon a time, there was scarcity. We don’t have that anymore; we have abundance. But if you go around the world, you find very interesting tricks and devices.”

One is small portion sizes, Pollan says. “The French manage to eat extravagantly rich food, but they don’t get fat, and the reason is that they eat it on small plates, they don’t have seconds, they don’t snack.”

In Okinawa, Japan, a cultural principle called “Hara Hachi Bu” instructs people to eat until they are just 80 percent full, Pollan says. “You do know when you are full, and the idea of stopping eating before you reach that moment “

 
 
Michael Pollan