Junk Food Kills, Protective Food Saves, Hallelujah!

Our food is killing too many of us. Healthcare is expensive and Americans are sick. Much sicker than many realize. Ten dietary factors are killing a thousand people every day in America. What shall we do? Count on protective food to save us. Out with the junk. In with protective nutrition.

This gospel of dietary sin and salvation is the subject of an op-ed in the New York Times this week by a politician and a professor – Dan Glickman and Dariush Mozaffarian.

A Wee Bit of Hyperbole

Nothing kills a good idea more effectively than overpromising what it can deliver. Thus we fear that Glickman and Mozaffarian might serve to weaken the cause of good nutrition. To say that we have room for improving our food supply would be reasonable. But it’s not so reasonable to say that people are dropping dead by the thousands every day because of their food. Not unless you’re talking about food poisoning.

However, that’s not the point Glickman and Mozaffarian are making. Instead, they’re promoting food as medicine:

The “Food Is Medicine” solutions are win-win, promoting better well-being, lower health care costs, greater sustainability, reduced disparities among population groups, improved economic competitiveness, and greater national security.

Now that’s a sweeping and impressive set of promises.

Food Is Food and Nutrition Is Complex

We’ve said it before. Food is food. Medicine is medicine. We need them both. But they are different entities. Marion Nestle explains the issue in her book Unsavory Truth:

Foods are not drugs. To ask whether one single food has special health benefits defies common sense. We do not eat just one food. We eat many different foods in combinations that differ from day to day; varying our food intake takes care of nutrient needs.

So this new term – protective foods – from Glickman and Mozaffarian strikes us as inherently misleading. Yes, broadly speaking, good nutrition can protect your health. But drilling down to say that these specific foods will make you live longer is dietary hyperbole.

Food Marketing

This kind of hype should be abhorrent to scientists. But for food marketers, it’s pure gold. Nutrition claims are a great way to get consumers to snarf up your latest branded food product. If the hype is OK for scientists and politicians, then it’s OK for marketers.

So let’s get real. Good nutrition is important. It’s so important that we shouldn’t confuse the facts with sensational claims about death and salvation through food policy. We should simply to stick with the facts.

Click here for the op-ed by Glickman and Mozaffarian.

Hallelujah, photograph © ClaraDon / flickr

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August 29, 2019

3 Responses to “Junk Food Kills, Protective Food Saves, Hallelujah!”

  1. August 29, 2019 at 8:36 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Oh dear. IMO, those who come from the Food is Medicine, clean-eating, protective foods club are usually peddling fodder and preaching to the converted. That is, they are, themselves, and are addressing, mainly, folks who already have the means and dedication to eat wholesome and nutrition, first. To the rest of us ‘nutritional philistines’, this whole philosophy doesn’t resonate, often, AT ALL! It’s like the ‘1% vs. the 99%’ in the foods and nutrition world. Dietitians listen and work with the 99%, so understand all this. People who haven’t, even nutrition science researchers, speak in theoretical fantasies. I heard Dan Glickman speak when he was at the USDA. I was so impressed as he was the voice of reason and wisdom at that conference on childhood obesity in 1992. I guess he’s exasperated now and is going for this approach.🤷‍♀️

  2. August 29, 2019 at 1:22 pm, Angie Golden said:

    As always you take us right to the heart of the matter – Thanks

  3. September 07, 2019 at 6:19 pm, Jan said:

    If you can change your diet, and stop your heartburn, and stop your need for medication; if diet change can stop your arthritis pain, so you can go off meds; if diet change can stop your CVS so you no longer need to go to the doctor or the ER and can stop all meds; if diet change can eliminate your migraines, and allow you it to go off medication. Then, why isn’t “food your medicine?” I’ve seen all of the above happen many, many times with clients.