Book Review: In Defense of Food

In today’s world, consumers are increasingly searching for better-for-you products as health and wellness has been brought to the forefront of our minds in the midst of the pandemic. If something tastes good and it can help protect our immune system, it’s going in the cart. While it’s great to have multi-faceted products on the shelves, many shoppers don’t truly understand the nutritional value of what they’re purchasing. Gone is the simplicity of food, as nutrition claims have elevated in importance.

Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food sets out to debunk the myths that lie in our eating habits, especially when considering different diet options. Western diets are constantly evolving, and while Pollan’s view of “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants” is in line with general diet recommendations, it is a far more difficult balance for the average eater to find.

Pollan notes that we as consumers need to confront the American paradox: We are “an unhealthy population preoccupied with the idea of healthy eating.” With so many choices in diets, emerging brands in the health and wellness space, and new retailers offering online shopping, we have never had as much access to a healthy lifestyle than we do right now. However, because we have so many choices, we also have so many consequences. As data shows, if a product features a hyphenated call out such as low-fat, high-fiber, or low-carb, it’s more likely to sell. Pollan’s book states that while these features are important, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. He notes that by choosing products strictly based off of these claims, America saw an increase in diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, because “for every good nutrient, there is a bad.” Pollan encourages us to take a step back and truly see food for what it is as its core instead of judging a product by the nutritional panel.

In Defense of Food leaves us with valuable tips on how to peel back the layers of nutritionism and get back to the basics. For example, eating more meals and less snacks, eating at a table, eating slowly, and actually cooking your food will help you fall back in love with clean, good-for-you food. (Or maybe fall in love with it for the first time!) We can see these trends in SPINS data when filtering on Eating occasion with snacks up 7% and lunch & dinner items up 14% (52 wk cross channel)

Pollan argues that we should see food as a simple, cultural, natural aspect of life – the way it was intended to be. It’s important to note, however, that there is no one single answer of what to eat. SPINS data helps showcase how a variety of diets are used to adopt certain lifestyles with foods that are found in a plant- based diet up 10% YOY cross channel and foods that are part of a Whole30 diet also up 10% YOY cross channel. This book is filled with suggestions of eating algorithms to help think through our food choices.

Foods found in plant-based diets

Foods found in Whole30 diets

As health and wellness will continue to be important guidelines in our lives, and we have access to an unprecedented variety of options, we should recognize food for what it truly is, instead of what we think it should be. If you love good food, it will love you back.

To read more into how people are finding healthful ways to still enjoy their favorite foods instead of viewing them negatively, head over to our SPINS blog to see how we can have our cake and eat it too!

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