The book, In Defense of Food is by Michael Pollen (he's also known for The Omnivore's Dilemma).
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.This is how the book begins and proceeds. Mr. Pollen discusses the age of nutritionism. Nutritionism is not a subject but an ideology. He explains that the ideology is that food is essentially the sum of its nutrient parts. In this way, processors put together food products that look like foods.
He then discusses how the western diet has contributed to the diseases of civilization. One thing I found interesting was a study done by a Canadian dentist, Weston Price, in the early 1930s. He was trying to find out if dental decay was due to poor hygiene or poor diet. Surely cavemen and other ancient civilizations did not have dentists and they prospered just as well. This dentist traveled all over the world looking at other cultures' food habits and their teeth as well. Mr. Price found out that "isolated populations eating a wide variety of traditional diets had no need of dentists whatsoever".
Swiss farm girls - never visited a dentist, had a diet of milk, rye breads, broths, meat and vegetables - no cavities - perfect teeth!
My favorite example was when he visited the Swiss mountain men who had "never met a toothbrush , had teeth covered in a greenish slime - but underneath that Mr. Price found perfectly formed teeth virtually free of decay". Interesting! Scientists thought he was a bit of a crackpot and disregarded his studies. Arguments were thrown about and a public debate happened in 1934 in Manhattan between medical circles. The dental professionals then decided to focus on educating the public on proper hygiene to "fix" dental decay instead of adopting a better diet because hygiene was easier to correct than diets. Lazy!
Mr. Pollan goes on to name several studies done on Aborigines that had adopted a Western diet. They were sent back to the bush for seven weeks to hunt and gather as they had before, adopting their formerly traditional diet. All their health issues almost disappeared. Clearly, the problem is the Western diet of refined products and more.
The last section of the book addresses ways in which we can be successful in eating healthy. The main point I got from it was that we need to eat FOOD - real, actual, whole foods. The example Mr. Pollan suggested was to pretend that your great-grandmother was walking the aisles with you while you shopped at the grocery store. You should not buy anything that she would not be able to recognize as food (quite a lot these days!). The majority of "real" whole foods is normally found on the outskirts of stores - along the walls, in the back, etc. Prepackaged, processed, refined foods are on the shelves in the middle. You should avoid food products that have more than five ingredients, and any that have ingredients that are unfamiliar... Ethoxylated mono-and dyglycerides anyone? Yum. The other suggestions included eating at the table, not eating alone, buying from local farmers markets, cooking your own food, planting a garden, and eat slowly.
It is my hope one day to have a garden, to make dinners for my family every night if I can, and to frequent farmers markets. All the things I have been learning in my nutrition class have been very helpful as well. What I think we need to do is to go back to eating real food. Not the processed junk, the refined sugars, the enriched products with all kinds of vitamins added. Eat the real thing where the vitamins came from. Make things at home so we know what the ingredients are, save some money, spend time doing it with others. It is definitely hard to do because our bodies crave sugar naturally, but I really think that with some strong willpower, we can re-adapt to eating the way we did before the age of industrialization.