4 min read

What Do You Know About Food? (by Pauline Jacob)

We’ve quickly grown accustomed to a food landscape that favors our short-term productivity over long-term societal health
Gigantic croissant outside a bakery
Just one croissant can't hurt, right? | Image by James Bellerjeau

Greetings friends!

Considering how often we do it, and how critical it is to our health, you'd think people would be the ultimate experts regarding the food they eat. And yet conflicting information and confusion abound.

In today's thought-provoking Guest Post, Pauline explores the current dismal state of food knowledge in the United States and offers some suggestions for what we can do to turn the tide.

We know less about our food than we used to

In the not-too-distant past, traditional cultures highly valued the transfer of food knowledge to younger generations.

Knowing how to extract the most nutrition from food was once regarded as beneficial to a thriving family and/or society as engineering and leadership skills.[1][2]

Fast forward several generations in the United States and such information has been relegated to the distant past.

We’ve quickly grown accustomed to a food landscape that favors our short-term productivity over long-term societal health. In our grab-and-go culture, satiety and value are greater concerns than nourishment.

Largely gone are any comforts from traditions or an overarching culture that provides a measure of ease in how “things are done” pertaining to food and nutrition. We are also bombarded with mixed, simplistic messages about how, what, and when to eat.

We know less about processed food than we need to

The abundance of processed and ultra-processed “foods” far outweighs the availability of whole or prepared, nutrient-dense foods. Many processed foods are non-nutritive by themselves but are fortified with a vitamin or two, then packaged and labeled with a health buzzword to appeal to a largely confused public.

In addition, dopamine-boosting, hyper-palatable ultra-processed “foods” not only make the taste of unprocessed foods undesirable by comparison, but they also forge a neural connection in our brains to desire to repeat processes that led to the dopamine release.

With all these factors at play, many Americans lack the knowledge of what to eat for optimal health and many are unaware that their dietary choices negatively impact their health.[3][4]

As a direct result of this nutrition-health knowledge gap, it is unsurprising that U.S. health data shows Americans are leading the way to becoming the unhealthiest society on the planet.[5][6] This is despite our status among the wealthiest countries in the world with leading-edge healthcare and relative food abundance.

Where are the doctors?

We are missing strong leadership that recognizes our health trajectory for the long-term crisis that it presents.

We need doctors to have sufficient training in nutrition to assist patients in addressing the root cause of chronic health problems, rather than solely treating symptoms.[7]

  • Medical doctors in the US receive an average of 19 hours of training on nutrition, often centered on the simple categorizations of foods as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.[8]
  • We need doctors to be well-versed in the significance of getting the vast majority of nutrients from unprocessed foods as well as speaking clearly and directly with patients about how few processed and ultra-processed “foods” should be consumed in one day.

E.g., in total, one can of soda with one mini-size candy bar consumed in a day is too many empty calories for an adult, according to the US government guidelines, and that is assuming no other non-nutritive “foods” are consumed that day.

We also need strong leadership from the medical community to provide patients with clear, easy-to-access resources about how to sustainably achieve a diet of whole, unprocessed foods.

Where is guidance from the federal government?

Our national food guidelines also lack clarity and specificity. The US has recently updated its MyPlate plan but there is near-zero emphasis to follow it.

We are drifting into a reality in which the last few decades of our lives are expected to be medicated and severely compromised[9] but no one from a federal viewpoint seems to be alarmed by this, either for our society or our species.

This is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is that we can’t sustain the costs of lost productivity and increased medical intervention.

We also seem to have grown comfortable with the increasingly compromised health of our children, without considering the implications for the future.[10][11]

We need our health to be safeguarded by federal actions which should do more than ensure a cheap supply of the commodities that are the staples of ultra-processed “foods.”[12]

  • We need a consistent federal campaign to promote good health as a daily process toward vibrancy with readily accessible and easily understandable information about the preponderance of benefits from a whole food diet.
  • We need a nationwide implementable plan for people to adopt this diet.
  • And we also need to make whole, unprocessed foods as readily available as processed and ultra-processed “foods”.

This would be a good starting point to bring some clarity to the standard American diet.

Be well.

PS--If you have something important on your mind, chances are good you'll find an interested audience in Klugne readers. Contact me and let's collaborate!

  1. Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary G. PhD, in “Nourishing Traditions”, pg 63, New Trends Publishing Inc., Washington D.C., 2001. ↩︎

  2. Shanahan, Catherine M.D. and Luke Shanahan, in “Deep Nutrition”, pg 7, Flatiron Books, New York, 2016. ↩︎

  3. Fuhrman, Joel M.D., in “Eat to Live Quick and Easy Cookbook”, pg 3, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2017. ↩︎

  4. Murray, Michael T. N.D., in “The Magic of Food”, pg 3, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017. ↩︎

  5. National Institute of Health, 2013, US Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, {https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK154469/#_NBK154469_pubdet_}. ↩︎

  6. Our World in Data, Oct. 29, 2020, Why is Life Expectancy in the US Lower Than in Other Rich Countries?, {https://ourworldindata.org/us-life-expectancy-low}. ↩︎

  7. Greger, M.D., FACLM and Stone, Gene, in “The How Not to Die Cookbook”, XIX, Flatiron Books, New York, 2017. ↩︎

  8. American Heart Association News, May 3, 2018, How Much Does Your Doctor Actually Know About Nutrition?,{https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/05/03/how-much-does-your-doctor-actually-know-about-nutrition}. ↩︎

  9. Longo, Valter, PhD, in “The Longevity Diet”, pg 37, Penguin Random House Publishing, New York, 2018. ↩︎

  10. The New England Journal of Medicine, March 17, 2005, A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century, {https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmsr043743}. ↩︎

  11. Populations Reference Bureau, May 1, 2005, Will Rising Childhood Obesity Decrease U.S. Life Expectancy?, {https://www.prb.org/resources/will-rising-childhood-obesity-decrease-u-s-life-expectancy/}. ↩︎

  12. Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary G. PhD, in “Nourishing Traditions”, pg 2, New Trends Publishing Inc., Washington D.C., 2001. ↩︎