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Author speaks on healthy diets, food industry

Renowned journalist, author and professor, Michael Pollan, gave a presentation on food and eating in the modern age held at the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall in the William Saroyan Theater, March 21. Pollan spoke about the food industry and the impacts of eating processed foods on one’s health.

Cayla Rivas | The Feather Online

Journalist Michael Pollan speaks with SJV honor students before his presentation, March 21.

Pollan is known primarily as an author and has written a variety of books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual and many others. He has also written numerous articles for several publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times Magazine. In addition to this, Pollan is a professor at UC Berkeley in the graduate school of journalism.

The lecture opened with a series of props he bought from his local grocery store. He examined these in front of the audience and talked about the respective products and how their various health claims or conceptions of health were false.

The way Pollan presented the items was done in a fashion that was both satirical and educational. This allowed for an experience that was simultaneously humorous and informational.

The next topic was Orthorexia, or an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. He shares what he calls the “American Paradox”. This is a paradox where the more Americans try to eat healthy the less healthy they are.

He then talked about some common misconceptions concerning “health food”. He warned against foods that label themselves as healthy as this is usually a sales gimmick. This means the food itself is not necessarily as healthy as it is supposed to appear.

After this the topic switched to one of the roots of unhealthiness in America, the Western Diet, which has changed tremendously in the last few decades.

“The Western diet as nutritionist call it, changed more in the last century than in the previous ten thousand years,” Pollan said. “We radically changed the way we eat when we began the era of heavily processed foods. So what is the Western diet? Well, it is lots of refined grains and oil, lots of meat and lots of calories. But very few of them from vegetables, fruits and whole grains. A Brazilian nutritionist has just published a study, 60% of the American diet now consists of this highly processed food more than half this coming from packages.”

Cayla Rivas | The Feather Online

Pollan uses a variety of visual aids he purchased at a local store. He uses these to illustrate what you should avoid buying.

After mentioning the evils of Western Diet, Pollan talked about a solution to the ails of this diet: traditional cuisine. He talked about how dietary science is still very new and not extremely reliable. However, cultural foods often have health benefits science has not found. Pollan gave the example of the tomatoes, which have a specific type of nutrient that can only be used by the body with fat. This is seen in Italian cooking which combines tomatoes and olive oil, thereby releasing the nutrient. Pollan went on to say that traditional diets often are more healthy than given credit for.

In the next subject, Pollan discussed some of his tips about healthy eating from his book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. These tips were primarily about what to avoid eating and how to eat in a healthy manner.

Here are a few of the food rules:

Do not buy food with more than five ingredients.

This is a general rule that will help consumers to not eat items that are heavily processed. By buying something with under five ingredients you reduce the likelihood of an item having artificial chemicals.

Shop the perimeter of the store.

Stores tend to stock items with a shorter shelf life, such as fresh vegetables and fruit on the perimeter of the store. By shopping on the edge of the store you will be able to avoid items with longer shelf lives which are usually more heavily processed.

Pay more, eat less.

This rule encourages consumers to buy more expensive, healthier items rather than cheap unhealthy ones. By doing this consumers are more likely to eat less food and eat more nutritious foods. A basic way of thinking of this would be the idea of quality over quantity.

Cayla Rivas | The Feather Online

Pollan has written a variety of books on the subjects of healthy eating and food.

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.  

The idea behind this quote is that people should eat and they should do so moderation. It also means that people should consume a diet that consists mostly of vegetables.

Do not buy things that will not eventually rot.

This is a rule that keeps you from eating items with too many preservatives. Items that will not rot at some point are likely not to be as healthy for the consumer.

For the full list of food rules, check out Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

Addison Schultz and Logan Lewis contributed to this article.

Matthew Sue can be reached via email.

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