Friday, March 14, 2003
posted by Julie |
The most effective appetite suppressant I know is reading aloud the labels on packaged food.
No, wait, that's not quite true. The best possible appetite suppressant I know is dropping in on a conversation between two food chemists. Years ago, I was strapped into an airline seat for a 7-hour flight, sitting in front of two food chemists with strong diaphragms who discussed, at a sturdy and steady volume, the relative merits of various gum formulations and their application in ice creams and puddings. That experience considerably reduced my appetite for both packaged ice creams and puddings.
But if you'd really like to first lose and then gain control over your feelings about food, particularly packaged and marketed food, read one book, Marion Nestle's Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.
Dr. Nestle, a tenured professor and chair of the department of nutrition and food studies at New York University, is uniquely qualified and positioned to write such a book. That is, until there was a Nestle, who is able to write from a position of relative freedom from industry monies, and who served as editor of the 1988 Surgeon Generals Report, which gave her extraordinary exposure to the work of corporate lobbyists and food growers' associations, this expose could not and would never have been written.
Nestle describes in painful but compelling detail just how the U.S.D.A. Food Pyramid and the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines, with their ferociously negotiated linguistic compounds came into the world. They are a monument to the dangers of committee authorship. For instance, "Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars," began life as "Eat less sugar." Which is nothing like, "Cut refined sugars out of your diet," which many of us need to do to regain our health.
What the book does for the lay reader is help us understand why we receive such wildly conflicting information about the nutritional value of various foods, and why we're confused about what constitutes a balanced diet, and why we can't get straight answers about what the healthiest possible diet is for people in either good health or those challenged by various illnesses or stages in life. The truth is, there is very little agreement among nutrition scientists and the medical community, and there are very large competitive stakes in countries like the U.S., where there are twice as many available calories in actual food and foodstuffs as the population can safely consume.
The net result of the book for me is a very clear understanding that as eaters we must educate ourselves, experiment to find optimal diets for our own bodies and for our children, and we cannot hope to rely on governing agencies to make sense of nutrition for us. We can't trust the claims on the labels. We must read and consume very carefully. We should study the advertising and packaging claims made by "Big Food," companies as if they were owned and controlled by big tobacco. Which, by the way, many are.
Thankfully, Nestle gives us a beginners' tool set for learning about foods, reading labels, and making decisions about our purchases and our diets. She provides a powerful appendix, a fast read on nutritional basics, and in the final chapters, a way of approaching nutritional decision making that you can use to find the optimal diet for you, whatever your health challenges.
Read this book, and you will eat differently. I can promise you that. Your hunger will shift toward more plant-based foods that are better for you. Your diet will improve itself as you shop differently, support your local growers, consider who should receive the monies in your food budget.
Consider, too, supporting authors like Nestle, who carried herself far out on a political and professional limb to provide us with this book. It's got to be lonely out there.
About Marion Nestle
Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health