Why We Eat Real Food, Not Nutrients

Posted on Aug 24, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

We recently shared some articles on social media that underlie a real concern for many Americans: After decades of nutrition advice from so-called professionals, no one has any idea what is healthy and what isn’t. Is meat bad for you? Should you consume vegetable oils? What the heck is the difference between saturated fats and unsaturated fats? And beyond that, what are the good sources of both saturated and unsaturated fats? The list goes on and on, to the point that nobody’s really sure that to eat anymore.

We aren’t nutritionists ourselves, but we’re actually okay with that. You know why? Because “nutritionism” (we’ll describe what that is in a moment) has consistently been wrong, and we like to live by one manifesto only: Eat real food.

What is Nutritionism?

Many of you may be familiar with the food and science writer Michael Pollan, a journalism professor and food writer who has covered a number of the problems with nutrition and food science over the course of his career.

In his book “In Defense of Food,” Pollan describes the concept of nutritionism. Essentially, nutritionism — which is the prevailing paradigm for looking at nutrition in our society — is the belief that food is the sum of its parts. When a person believing in nutritionism looks at, say, kale, they don’t actually think about kale…they think about fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, manganese and copper. Likewise, when they look at red meat, they think about not only protein and iron, but also saturated fat and cholesterol.

But as Pollan argues (and as we believe), food is not the sum of its parts. There’s something about the way all the elements of food, nutritional and otherwise, work together that’s both intangible and unbelievably important. It’s why eating a healthy salad full of vegetables will always be superior to eating a Fiber One bar.

The Dangers of Nutritionism

When we reduce food to the sum of its parts, ignoring how it works synergistically in a way that allowed it to flourish as a living organism, we lose some very important things along the way.

Firstly, adhering to a nutritionism philosophy is essentially adhering to nutrition ideologies. And as we know about ideological thinking, that means that some nutrients are going to be seen as good while others are going to be seen as bad. Cue the “fats are bad for you/gluten is bad for you/buy tons of probiotics/eliminate carbs” music.

Additionally, if we preach nutritionism, we essentially tell people that the context of their food doesn’t matter. Eating a “healthy” processed protein bar and shake on the go is suddenly as good for them as enjoying a homemade meal with their family. This is a problem, because study after study shows that regardless of how many calories or specific nutrients people consume, food culture plays a much bigger role in health outcomes.

“…the experience of these other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, regarding food as being about things other than bodily health – like pleasure, say, or sociality or identity—makes people no less healthy; indeed, there’s some reason to believe it may make them more healthy,” writes Pollan.

Eat Real Food

So, at the end of the say, we don’t sit around worrying about which nutrients are good and which are bad. Instead, we let nature do the work for us. We eat real, wholesome foods like pasture-fed meats, minimally processed grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and eggs… In essence, the foods that humans evolved to eat. And we feel pretty good about that.

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