Eat More, Eat Less, or Eat Better?

Food marketing and superficial nutrition advice bombards us daily, coaxing us to eat more of this or less of that. Much better advice is to simply eat better food and slow down to enjoy it in reasonable portions.

A new example of this sort of advice run amok comes from a study published last week in Annals of Internal Medicine. For a couple of decades now, standard dietary advice has been to avoid saturated fat, such as the fat in butter, milk, cheese, and meat. But the exhaustive new analysis finds no evidence to support encouraging high consumption of polyunsaturated fats and low consumption of total saturated fats.

Mark Bittman, responding to this news, declared:

Butter is back, and when you’re looking for a few chunks of pork for a stew, you can resume searching for the best pieces — the ones with the most fat. Eventually, your friends will stop glaring at you as if you’re trying to kill them.

Better advice comes from Frank Hu, a Harvard professor of nutrition and epidemiology:

The single macronutrient approach is outdated. I think future dietary guidelines will put more and more emphasis on real food rather than giving an absolute upper limit or cutoff point for certain macronutrients.

Single-nutrient health claims are great for food marketers, but not so great for health. That’s because people respond by eating more of the healthy stuff (“hey, it’s good for me”) without eating less of anything else. In the old way of food marketing, that meant selling more calories, more food, and bringing in more dollars.

The better model for everyone is to trade up to better quality food with better total nutrition. A mediterranean-style diet currently appears to have much to recommend it. Food companies can grow their business by trading people up to higher quality food, rather than higher quantities of low-quality food.

And then perhaps we can just enjoy simple, real, good food in reasonable quantities. We can stop treating food like some sort of mutant pharmaceutical product.

Click here and here to read more in the New York Times. Click here to read the study of dietary fats.

Vegetables, photograph by Charles Haynes, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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2 Responses to “Eat More, Eat Less, or Eat Better?”

  1. April 03, 2014 at 2:44 pm, Christine K. Weithman said:

    Frank Hu’s comments are helpful in trying to put all of this together. I also recommend folks read both of these commentaries from Dr. David Katz below. The first takes issue with the Annals article and he suggests a possible retraction of the study is being considered. The second takes on Bittman’s column. Although he has [as do many of us] respect for his ability to speak about food and cullinary events, Bittman’s ability to digest scientific studies is much more limited. Fat helps food taste good. When we can combine the healthy fats [olives, nuts, avocado, olive oil] in small amounts to help with taste, we will receive the health benefits from these foods. At 9 calories per gram, in a world full of high calorie foods, fat is not our friend.

    • April 03, 2014 at 9:15 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Chris!