Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nutritionism - What Is It and Why Does It Matter (In Defense of Food review Part I)

On the cover of In Defense of Food there is a picture of a head of pretty lettuce (red leaf lettuce not
iceberg) and on the band that most grocery stores have around their heads of lettuce it reads not the plu number but "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants." Right away this book has my attention. (And maybe my heart.)

Before selecting this book, I was already very familiar with the author, Michael Pollan. I had recently read The Omnivore's Dilemma and really enjoyed his writing and the way in which he approached his research on food -- with four meals he sought out to represent conventional farming, organic farming, small sustainable family farming and foraging. It was written very well and left me waking my husband at one in the morning to just share one more thing I learned about corn (both fascinating and disgusting all at the same time...)

This book takes a different approach. And I am so into it that I am going to review each of it's three parts. (If that works out while I am reading. Flexibility and going with the flow -- they are on my personal goals list for this year.) So far so good. The first section is so full of information and fits in with what I have been thinking about for the last few months -- eating real food and not edible food like substances. And how focusing on "nutritionism" is what has lead us down this path in the first place.

So what is nutritionism?

According to Pollan, nutritionism is the focus on nutrients, not food. This term and idea first appeared in an essay called "Sorry Marge" written by Australian sociologist of science, Gyorgy Scrinis. The paper focusing on margarine and how it should be the "ultimate nutrionist product, able to shift its identity...depending on the prevailing winds of dietary opinion" (27). Or why in theory a bowl of fortified Lucky Charms, packed with all the vitamins we "need" should be healthier than an apple that only has some of the vitamins.  The ideology behind nutritionism is:
  • "[W]hat matters most is not the food but the "nutrient"
  • "[B]ecause nutrients are invisible and incomprehensible to everyone but scientists, we need expert help in deciding what to eat"
  • "[T]he purpose of eating is to promote a narrow concept of physical health" (8).
This totally sounds like what we believe health to be (and what is promoted constantly!) Make sure you get x grams of protein a day and not go over x grams of cholesterol. Oh wait there is a difference between bad cholesterol not good cholesterol so make sure you eat enough good cholesterol to keep the bad down. And we should only consume x amount of calories and fat grams because fat is bad. Just kidding healthy fat isn't bad and it is actually essential to our diets and metabolism.

No wonder we are so confused about what to eat! It changes constantly. Pollan continues on to point out that this is why nutritionism is extremely flawed. He talks about how nutrients were discovered and which nutrients were deemed good and bad by scientists which then leads to vitamins and why they were deemed so important to our diets -- and how "it wasn't until late in the twentieth century that nutrients began to push food aside in the popular imagination of what to eat" (22).

Enter the dietary guidelines we are familiar with today. These didn't exist prior to the 70's. People didn't need to be told what to eat by scientists. Now we are being told what we should be eating and we are unhealthier than we have ever been.

Pollan quotes Joan Gussow, a Columbia University nutritionist who "argued agains the focus on nutrients rather than whole foods. 'The really important message in the epidemiology...was that some vegetables and citrus fruits seem to be protective agains cancer. But those sections of the [National Academy of Sciences report, Diet Nutrition and Cancer] were written as though it was the vitamin C in the citrus or the beta-carotene in the vegetables that was responsible for the effect...[H]ow do you know it's not one of the other things in the carrots or the broccoli? There are hundreds of carotenes'" (26).

That's a really crazy question -- especially when we have been taught from the time we were small to eat our oranges because of the vitamin C or to up our intake of vitamin C when we feel a cold coming on.

Pollan also talks about how focusing on the nutrients started (and when) and how it has really benefited the food industry. He explains other problems and pokes holes in the idea that nutrients should drive our diets as opposed to real food.

So has all of our focus on nutrients led us down the wrong path? Should we not worry so much about getting x grams of protein? I think no one knows for sure, but what we are being taught about food and nutrition isn't working. So I believe it is at least worth a conversation.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

October #Unprocessed - Take the Pledge! (And the post with lots of links to other stuff)

I stumbled upon this today. Since I am kind of obsessed with Bob's Red Mill, I follow them through social media and this popped up on my news feed. A whole month without processed foods, taking a pledge and doing it for the entire month of October. And at the end, feeling better and (hopefully lighter.) This year sponsored by one of my favorite West Coast places to visit (and eat!), Bob's Red Mill so of course I was sucked in from the minute I clicked on the link.

I am generally pretty good with no processed foods but there are those few things that really get me. One being popcorn. And not air popped popcorn, but the yummy fluffy, white cheddar flavored kind...maybe after a month without I can cut the habit for good.

The whole idea of October #Unprocessed was started by a guy named Andrew in 2009 when he wanted to see what would happen if he went a whole month without processed foods. It was his quest to get healthy and feel better. He started a blog to help keep himself accountable and to influence others. Since then it has grown to having over 3,000 people take the pledge. Some pretty cool stuff. (And it doesn't hurt that he has read all the books I have including those by Michael Pollan.)

So what I have decided to do is to start a group. We will all pledge to take the October #Unprocessed challenge. We will post and share recipes. And encourage each other (plus I may need someone who is fairly close to come pry the cheese popcorn from my hands.)

Here are the rules --

Eat only foods that pass "The Kitchen Test" 

 I may have to "steal" this term. It is kind of awesome. There are so many definitions out there for clean eating and many of them are personal. This, however, is one of the best definitions I have seen yet. According to Andrew, "Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients."  I told you it was a pretty awesome way to distinguish processed from unprocessed. 

Eat only whole grains

So this means eating only 100% whole wheat flour or grains. Un-enriched and unbleached because you couldn't do this in your kitchen. For more info on whole grains check out this post

No High Fructose Corn Syrup

I would extend this to cover refined sugar (more info on sugar here ) and artificial sweeteners besides stevia extract (which you can do at home if you have a stevia plant-- so it totally passes the kitchen test. For info on this check out this post 

No Trans Fats

Why no trans fats? Because it is pretty well decided that they are not good for us to consume and are often added to processed foods because they extend the shelf life. (Here is a brief explanation on trans fats )  Fats like grapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, and fats from plant based foods like avocados, nuts, seeds and coconuts are considered good fats.  There is a lot of contradictory advice that comes with talking about saturated fat. My best advice is to research dietary fat and come to your own conclusions. 

What about my Shakeology?

It is no secret that I love Shakeology. I love how I feel, the energy I have and I really miss it if I don't have it as part of my daily diet. The beauty is that the majority of ingredients are from whole food sources (for more info check this out“whole-food-ingredients”%2f-bioavailability ). The ingredients aren't chemically extracted, the foods are dried and powdered and then combined to make shakeology. If I had the formula and fancy dehydrating machines could I make it in my kitchen (aka does it pass the kitchen test?) Umm....maybe? Provided I could even find all the ingredients. (I mean can one buy yacon root at Giant Eagle?) Provided there are no chemicals, I am still going to continue to use Shakeology. Again, I feel that this falls in the personal realm of what is considered processed and what allowances are going to be made. 

So those are the rules for October #Unprocessed. Do you think you can hang? I am going to start a support group on Facebook so if you are interested in joining me please send me a message or an email to and I will add you to the group. 

Please visit for more information and to sign the pledge!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Can You Do in 7 Days?

I had a little baby brain storm over the weekend as I was shopping for matte top coat online. I knew it would probably work and I would probably like it but I really wanted to try it first. Returning it via mail (and opened) would be such a pain if I hated it -- even though I knew I could return it and get my
money back. So what was stopping me was the convenience of being able to try it first with no commitment (which was soon solved with a trip to the mall.)

I have been talking about how much I love Shakeology for months now and I know a lot of people that want to try it but are hesitant to order it. It is a big commitment and even though there is a 30 day money back guarantee -- sometimes returning something (and a trip to the post office) can be a huge pain. So why not make it easy?

I decided to do a 7 day Shakeology mini-group. So what does this mean?

You get --

7 days of Shakeology
7 days of clean (and easy) dinner recipes
7 days of Shakeology recipes
7 days of motivation to get your body moving

and maybe some prizes and other stuff thrown in there too....It is the week after my birthday so I will be feeling super generous.

It's just a week....what can you accomplish in a week?

Send me a message or email to if you are interested!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cucumber and Avocado Soup (and how green soup makes me feel super healthy)

I get a CSA every summer. And I love it. I get boxes of farm fresh just picked this morning veggies every week. Veggies and fruits that ripen on a plant and not in a warehouse. Super awesome deal.

But my husband travels for work all summer and I am a lazy cook when cooking for just myself (and a toddler who sometimes seems to survive on air and frozen peas.) Lots of the time these wonderful farm fresh veggies begin to fill up my fridge to the point where they are taking over. When I am dodging stray ears of corn when I open the door, I typically start googling for what I can make that will use up a lot of veggies and freeze well (until my husband gets home with his very large and uncomplaining appetite!) and this time it was soup to the rescue.

This time I decided to try cucumber soup. I found an awesome recipe from Eating Well (which you can check out here.) Having only ever really eaten cucumbers raw as snacks or in salads, I was a little hesitant to cook them (what if something weird happens when you cook them? If they were good cooked wouldn't more recipes called for sauteed cucumber? I mean how often do you ever see that?)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the only bizarre thing that happens when you cook cumbers into soup is that they are delishous. This soup was amazing -- I may actually buy extra cucumbers from my CSA this week so I can make more of this soup.

So here is what I did ---

What you will need:

1 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 TBS white vinegar (the recipe originally called for lemon juice which I didn't have)
4 cups peeled, seeded and sliced cucumbers
32 oz vegetable broth
1 1/2 avocados, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste*

The original recipe called for everything minced or diced. Since I knew the soup was going to be pureed, I just roughly chopped everything. (I told you I was lazy...)

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add garlic and onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally.

Add vinegar and cook for 1 minute.

Add the cucumber, broth and avocado and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook until the cucumbers are soft (between 5-10 minutes)

Transfer the soup to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Salt and pepper to taste.

*The original recipe also called for a dash of cayenne pepper. Since I don't do spicy I always omit this kind of thing. But for those of you who love the heat, it might be a nice option.

It was delicious (even if the color is a little strange.) Not what I expected at all but really good. I actually packed it up for lunch the next day since the recipe said it could be served chilled. But it wasn't great. Room temperature or warmish was the way to go with this one! (With some yummy bread of course!)

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