Monday, November 1, 2010

eat real food

Not a simple calorie equation.

m vs.banana

  10 M&Ms = ~100 calories               1 banana = ~100 calories

Does that make them equal?

This is why I (almost) never teach calorie counting. I know that it does work for some people, and I’m not trying to make less of that. But when you focus on calories instead of whole food, you are practicing something called nutritionism…viewing food as the sum of its parts or nutrient content.


You expressed a lot of great thoughts on Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food (see comments on my last post)…his work is controversial, especially since he is a journalist and not a nutrition expert.

But, I do want to point out some things…tough things, that I think are important to take away from In Defense of Food.

  • Our eating system is messed up in the United States. While Pollan goes into detail about how different dietary recommendations over the years (including “discoveries” made by nutrition scientists) have done more harm than help, I think we’d all agree that America’s current diet is anything but nutritious.
  • We are not asking enough questions. Although Pollan is a journalist, the things he addresses in his book (the lipid hypothesis, eating whole foods, etc.) are not rocket science. Many dietitians and nutrition scientists (myself included) need to take more responsibility and ask good questions…where do our recommendations come from? Do we make recommendations blindly or just go with what the diet manual tells us? Do we really know the physiology behind each disease state?!  We all need to be informed consumers and know where our food comes from…because that directly affects its nutritional content!
  • The food industry is ridiculous. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with fat free, sugar free anything. When fat is taken out, more chemicals (or sugar) are added.  Adding nutrients to a candy bar does not make it more healthful. We have such a distorted relationship with food that we believe that the nutrients in a food are the only things that make it valuable.
  • Nutrition science is still valuable. Eating should be simple, but it’s not. No matter if our eating habits alone got us here, we have many diseases that require special diets, and a working knowledge of nutrients and the way the interact with one another is needed.

I know that this post is going to come off kinda pushy to some of you. But these are things that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because they affect me as a dietitian….and I know many of you also care about these things because they affect you as a consumer of food! I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I addressed above…

In other news…I have been doing a lot of writing and revising (a draft of my second ever journal article was sent off to the editor today!)


and cleaning: am I the only one who has to mop the kitchen floor after baking anything?! Note: this task is best completed while wearing awesome rainboots…


and going to the symphony, which made me miss music a whole lot.


Happy November!



  1. You have such great insight! I agree with you on all the points you raised. And I am so with you on the calorie counting thinking.

  2. i love reading your thoughts! everything you say is SENSIBLE. i think that's the most important thing: making sense and nothing extreme.

    i 100% agree with the idea that "Adding nutrients to a candy bar does not make it more healthful". i remember when coke plus came out and everyone saying how healthy it was because vitamins were added to it. ummmmmm no?

  3. I totally agree with you on EVERYTHING.

    Eat real food people!

  4. very interesting points! I didn't know that he's just a journalist!
    My kitchen is always messy about baking adventures :)

  5. i love this post!!! seriously, ive never understood the idea of calorie counting because there is NO way that eating a 500 calorie big mac is the same as consuming 500 calories worth of nuts... and yeah, it is difficult living in a society where our relationships with food are sooo messed up - ive realized that more and more now that i am studying abroad in italy - where food is more about pleasure than nutrition (but as a result, people are more mentally/emotionally healthy i think!)

  6. "The food industry is ridiculous." Couldn't have said it better myself. I have a friend who has a cupboard full of "healthy granola bars with added antioxidants" and "low calorie popcorn" and other "100 calorie-esque snacks." I mean, what? I try really really hard not to judge, but where's the real food??

  7. Ahhh I love ALL the points you made! Our food industry is soo messed up and sending the wrong messages. The only message we need is your post title! :)

  8. I love this Em. As someone who has had to learn a WHOLE LOT about nutrition in the past couple of years,being empowered to make choices that nourish my body and ease the symptoms of a chronic disease has been a revelation. Your points here are considered and, well, sensible. I also respect you so much for still wading into the book despite Pollan's views on "nutrition sciences" and coming to such conclusions. You're the type of dietitian that the world needs.

  9. hi! so glad you stopped by for a visit on my blog. :) your blog, ps, is totally addictive. i'm now your newest follower! :)

  10. I couldn't agree with you more!!!! Thank you for such clarity. I remember when everyone was taking the fat out of food... by removing the nuts!... which was the only thing healthy in that food... They reduced the food to straight sugar. Terrible.

    p.s. and Yes, love the rain boots!

  11. Not pushy at all - these are exactly the things I think we (well, me) need to be reminded of every day to combat the convenience food mindset drilled into Americans.
    And huge congrats on the journal article!

  12. such a great post, I enjoy reading your views on stuff like this...esp since I do not have time right now to read that book!

  13. I saw one of my friends from college this weekend, and she commented on how she takes "those bags of apples" to work with her. You know, the pre-sliced apples that you can buy at a grocery store. I tried to ask her what was so hard about cutting up her own apple, but then I decided it was better to let her take pre-cut fruit than the "bag of mini-muffins" she used to take.

  14. i totally agree with you. i have not read michael pollan's books, but i think its great that he's bringing attention to healthy eating and eating real food. however, people do have to be aware that he is not a scientist.

  15. Lovely take on healthy foods and the myths associated with the. Like your thoughts and views.

  16. I need to read this book.
    You've made some excellent points, Emily. I think the one with which I agree the most is that our food industry is ridiculous. I get so sad when I see people's grocery carts stuffed with fat free this, sugar free that, and nothing real. I wonder if they enjoy their diet, or if they are just eating to survive another day, and stay "skinny". It's sad, mainly because I know that's how I used to eat back in the day. I hated it, even though I pretended to love it.

  17. I really enjoyed "In Defense of Food", though I need to do a little better actually following the principles.

    ...And um, I don't mop after baking. Maybe there's why there are so many crumbs.

  18. I think this post is fabulous. Not pushy at all. :) I agree with each point.

    And while weight loss and things does boil down to basically cals in vs cals out, eating nutritious foods is what will give you the energy, satisfaction, and satiety to keep up with a healthier lifestyle. Then it just keeps building upon itself. People need to give that a chance instead of fearing real food.

  19. Totally love this post. I have had a hard time wanting to pick up all those popular food books as of late. I really appreciate all of your opinions. Thanks for touching on these kinds of things :)

  20. I make such a mess while baking, so I generally have to do some sort of floor cleaning, too :) And I totally agree with your points- our eating system in incredibly messed up!!


  21. definitely not equal! i know, it frustrates me too, especially if i watch a 'health' show and they say calories are calories, i dont care what!


    actually dr. mcdougall studied a lot about this and noted that people were able to eat more calories and lose more weight on whole natural foods than those eating less calories and maintaining weight on a regular diet!


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