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Nutritionism: The Numbers Game That Doesn't Add Up To Good Health

On the 100th anniversary of our nation's oldest nutrition program at Teachers College, Columbia University, one of our foremost professors of nutrition, Joan Dye Gussow, stepped up to a podium to implore her fellow nutritionists to avoid what she called "the nutrient trap."
Gussow, who's taught nutritional ecology at Teachers College for nearly four decades, recalled the gist of a conversation she'd had with a colleague back in 1969: "You know, Ruthe, I was thinking about nutrition education; and I realized that it would take me about 20 minutes to teach ordinary people what they ought to eat if they wanted to be healthy. Less meat, less fat, lots of grains and fruits and vegetables, some dairy. The problem is that there are all those other things in the supermarket designed to seduce them."
 
As Gussow noted, the end of World War II brought a flood of processed foods derived from new and novel ingredients: "...the push to invent new products to maintain the growth of the food industry and the emergence of television for promoting these tempting objects directly to the public, came together to create accelerating change in the food supply...”
 
if we had known in 1940 what we know today about degenerative diseases in relation to the macronutrient composition of the diet, it would have been relatively simple to teach people how to choose their diets wisely from the foods then available in the marketplace. Instead, those of us trying to apply nutrition so as to improve human well-being, have for years found ourselves standing ankle-deep in a flood of new products, desperately seeking to keep abreast of the latest news about the latest combination of ingredients that will make us and those we counsel chronically healthy.
 
Nutritionists in recent decades have focused on individual nutrients in their attempts to identify beneficial ingredients. But Gussow pointed out the folly of fixating on, say, beta carotene's potential to fight cancer when there are some 50 other carotenoids commonly found in fruits and vegetables. Since many of these carotenoids occur together, Gussow added, "It's impossible to say when you're looking at someone's diet, which one--or several--of them might be helping protect against cancer."
 
What we do know is that plant-based foods contain a wide range of micro and macro nutrients that foster good health. This is why Gussow and her fellow nutrition professor Marion Nestle--and Michael Pollan, who acknowledges his debt to both these women--are forever telling us to eat whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Packaged, processed "food-like substances" containing long lists of gobbledy-gook ingredients will never form the basis of a healthy diet, regardless of whether they've been "enhanced" with fiber, or omega 3 fatty acids, or antioxidants. As Gussow declared: "...it is time for nutrition educators to start taking our own stand, insisting that whole foods not collections of nutrients must become the fundamental unit for eaters and educators as well as researchers…it is time for nutrition educators to start taking our own stand, insisting that whole foods not collections of nutrients must become the fundamental unit for eaters and educators as well as researchers.”
 
The article “Nutritionism: The Numbers Game That Doesn't Add Up To Good Health” was published on April 9th, 2009 in the “The huffington Post” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kerry-trueman/nutritionism-the-numbers_b_185081.html

 

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