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The cover of my forthcoming book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine has just been posted on Amazon.com. Its publisher is University of California Press, which also published two of my previous books, Food Politics and Safe Food (What to Eat comes from Farrar, Straus & Giroux). I’ve just sent in the last copy-edit, am expecting page proofs in mid-April, and am hoping to see advance copies in late July. It comes out in September!
These made-with-food photos were sent to me with no indication of who constructed the scenes or took the photos. I think they deserve credit and attribution. Does anyone know where they came from or who did them? This situation reminds me of the unattributed photos flying around the Internet that come from Peter Menzel’s and Faith D’Aluisio’s prize-winning book, Hungry Planet. I recognize photos from it immediately because I wrote the introduction to the book. If you see photos of people posed in front of everything they ate in a week, they have been lifted from Hungry Planet. So what about these?
A reader, “rj,” sends a link to an article in Men’s Health (“What if bad fat isn’t so bad”), and asks about: “The supposed inconclusive evidence for sat fat being the culprit in atherosclerosis. Personally, I couldn’t find any credentials of the author but nevertheless would be much interested in your thoughts on the matter.”
My thoughts: As I keep saying, nutrition science is complicated and this article, by an excellent science journalist, is the latest in a series by excellent science journalists (see, for example, the recent books by Gary Taubes and Michael Pollan) to point out the inconsistencies in data on saturated fat and heart disease risk. Let me make several quick points: (1) All fats–no exceptions–are mixtures of saturated, unsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (2) Saturated fats occur in greater proportions in animal fats–meat and dairy foods, (3) Some epidemiologic evidence–but not all–suggests that people who eat a lot of meat and dairy foods have a higher risk of heart disease than people who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables (this is correlation, not causation), (4) The same clinical studies that show how trans fats do bad things to blood cholesterol levels also show that saturated fat does too, although not as much (But: people take in a lot more saturated fat than trans fat), and (5) Saturated fat is a single nutrient and the studies reviewed and discussed by the journalists take saturated fat out of its dietary context.
Out-of-context studies of single nutrients are exceedingly difficult to interpret. At the moment, today’s dietary (not single nutrient) advice is the same as it has been for the last fifty years. As I put it in What to Eat, “Eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food.” Michael Pollan gives exactly the same advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Do this, and you really don’t need to give a thought to single nutrients.
Does this help at all? Thanks for asking.
KAT’s question this week: Who’s really to blame for our convenience food-dominated diet? Was the I Hate to Cook Book a progressive, pre-Friedan feminist manifesto, or a culinary cop-out?
Several people, among them Kerry Trueman of Eating Liberally, asked my opinion of John Tierney’s column about Gary Taubes’ new book, Good Calories Bad Calories, in today’s New York Times. Taubes’ book arrived while I was in
I continue to be impressed by how difficult it is to separate the health effects of fat, carbohydrate, and protein from the calories they provide, the foods that contain them, the diets as a whole, or the rest of the lifestyle that goes along with the diet. Finding out what people eat is hard to do. Determining the health effects of dietary factors or patterns is even harder since humans make such awful experimental animals. Plenty of things about human nutrition are reasonably well established–the basic nutrients that are required and the amounts that prevent deficiency diseases, for example. But it is much trickier to figure out the effects of nutrients on chronic diseases that are also affected by activity levels, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and social factors such as poverty, stress, and lack of control. So I can’t help but be skeptical of journalists who think they have answers to questions that scientists have been grappling with for years.
In a situation in which questions remain, is it better to say nothing or to give the best advice possible based on existing knowledge? Intelligent people may differ on this point but I am convinced that people really want to know what diet is best for their health and want help making food choices. What seems amazing to me is that despite decades of arguments over fat v. carbohydrate, basic dietary advice for preventing chronic diseases hasn’t changed in 50 years. I summarize this advice in What to Eat as don’t eat too much (eat less, move more); eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and don’t eat too much junk food. This seems like a pretty good approach backed up by plenty of research.
Oh, and the calorie question. It’s not that people are overeating 50 to 100 calories a day (the amount in one or two Oreo cookies) and gaining weight. Most bodies can easily compensate for small differences in caloric intake and output. But, as I hear from pediatricians all the time, kids these days are consuming hundreds of calories more than they need, and sometimes thousands. Metabolism–in kids or adults–just can’t handle that level of overload. In that situation, carbohydrates may be harder to handle than fats, but both will end up in the body as fat if those calories aren’t used up in physical activity.
Fortunately, my precepts leave plenty of room for enjoying delicious food, and aren’t we lucky to have so much around.
My son Charles, who lives in Los Angeles, sends this interesting site on which a photographer, Jon Huck I presume, has taken pictures of people posed with what they eat for breakfast. The breakfast project is along the lines of the spectacular books, Hungry Planet among them, done by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, and for which I wrote the introduction. These are fascinating takes on what people really eat (as opposed to what they tell nutritionists). Enjoy!
Update: Turns out you can join this project. Take a camera with you to breakfast and send the results to Jon Huck. He will post your entry.