I am reading the book “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan.

He writes about some very interesting but true observations about the Western society and our way of eating. Why we are ridden with chronic diseases and obesity. In chapter one, he talks about how we are reducing whole foods to definable nutrients. Instead of saying reduce your intake of red meat and daily products (easy and straight forward), the experts say choose meats, poultry and fish low in saturated fat. But what is saturated fat anyway? If I didn’t go to university to study nutritional sciences for four years, I doubt I will have any clue about saturated fat. He names this Nutritionism, a word coined by a sociologist name Gyorgy Scrinis. True, scientists can only study one single nutrient in a food at any one time. But I think our society is so obsessed on finding the one magical ingredient that cures all, we are now focusing more on the benefit of one single nutrient than the food as a whole.

When I was working in the research lab, I was put on a project that examines the health benefit of reishi, a well-known Chinese herb described as the “mushroom of immortality.” We extracted and purified various components (for example carbohydrates and proteins) of the mushroom to test their effects on mice immune cells. The results were mixed. My conclusion was the beneficial health effect came from all the different components working cumulatively as a whole. The interaction of all the components were complex however again, in our laboratory, we were attempting to find “the one” ingredient to cure cancer or diabetes or whatever.

Anyway, after reading just one chapter of the book, I think the author has a point. Stop focusing on single nutrient (i.e. just saturated fat or just vitamin C), instead look at the food as a whole (hence in defense of food).

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