February 13, 2009

When "food" isn't food

The "food" we see today is not food. It is nutrients. As a whole, we are more concerned about how much fat/protein/carbs we are taking in that we are about eating food that is truly good for us.

Did you know the reason white flour has to be enriched is because during the milling process, the majority of the grains micro-nutrients (vitamins/minerals) are stripped away? When grain was milled by stone wheels it was impossible to get the flour as fine as we see it today. The natural oils and most of the nutrients were kept intact, giving the flour a gritty and yellowish appearance. As a result, most towns needed their own mill since the flour was more likely to attract mold fungus and pests and had to be used quickly. Once metal rollers were available the flour became finer, whiter, less nutrient dense and less attractive to these pests. Lo and behold "enriched" flour that was prettier and able to sit on the shelf much longer than it's predecessor. The definition of "Enrich" is to improve or enhance the quality of.  Now take a second and ask this question...can this really be called enriched if they are only adding the elements that are lost during processing? To me that answer is no.

Back to the idea of eating nutrients instead of food in todays culture. The vast majority of food we see in the grocery store is processed in one way or another. They are shells of their natural selves (or they aren't even present in nature) with the nutrients lost during processing added later on. The system that was once a pound of ground wheat and all it's macro- and micro-nutrients is now a pound of starch derived from wheat with macro- and micro-nutrients from other sources added in. The synergy of these elements has been altered because of the over-simplification of nutritional science. Industrial food companies do not care about your health, they care about their profit. What better way to demand more money per unit and increase sales than to make obscure and minimally backed up health claims?

So what are we suppose to do? Take some time and learn about the food you eat if you care about your health. These are a few simple rules that I follow: 1) Shorten your food chain - Growing/raising your own food is ideal, but highly impractical for most. Shop at a farmers market, buy a whole hog/half cow or at least buy local food that is offered in your grocery store. 2) Cook your own meals - If you follow #1 you know your food is healthier than 99% of what is offered at your grocer. I also highly doubt you'll be adding high fructose corn syrup to sweeten things. 3) Don't eat foods that make health claims - Most likely these are the results of faulty/skewed research and a marketing tool used to increase sales and price.

This post was inspired by Michael Pollan's "In the Defense of Food" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma"


  1. Question. Are trans fats naturally occurring, or are they a byproduct of the processing that today's food is exposed to? If so, what foods should I shy away from?

  2. Trans fats do occur naturally in a few cases (mostly in the milk/meat of cows and sheep). The vast majority of our contact with trans fat is through fully and partially hydrogenated plant oils (corn, soy, vegetable, peanut etc.) In essence, hydrogenation adds a single hydrogen atom to the fat. This increases shelf life and decreases refrigeration temperature, perfect for our industrial food system.

    What foods to avoid is a tough question. As in the post your best bet is grow/raise the majority of your food so you know what is going into it. For the everyman I suggest these guidelines...
    -If the food wasn't around pre-1900 don't buy it
    -Shop along the perimeter of your grocery store. Most processed food is in the aisles
    -Whenever possible, grow your own fruits/vegetables and buy "Pastured" or "100% Grass Fed" meat

    Hope this all helps.