In Defense of Food Overview (03:19)
U.C. Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan brings a fresh perspective to nutrition controversies. He has researched the best diet for optimal health. People share their favorite foods.
Childhood Obesity (02:54)
The Scavotto family lives outside Boston and eats what they believe is a healthy diet. Anthony, 11, struggles with his weight. His doctor referred him to a program for overweight kids. Type II diabetes is becoming more prevalent in children.
Western Diet (02:10)
Incidence of type 2 diabetes has tripled since 1975, and is among the top killers. Most Americans eat a diet heavy in meat, white flour, vegetable oils, and sugar. It is cheap, convenient, and processed to target our genetic craving for salt, sugar, and fat. Hear a nutritional profile of Buffalo wings.
Industrial Agriculture (01:43)
Processed food comprises 60% of the American diet and accounts for the greatest food industry profits. Key ingredients are corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice— crops kept artificially cheap by government subsidies and made into food products that compromise public health.
Story of Processed Bread (05:09)
In the late 19th century, roller milling enabled wheat flour to be refined— stripping the bran and germ. White flour is shelf stable, but lacks nutrients. Malnutrition diseases resulted; scientists developed vitamin supplements that food companies added to refined products like Wonder Bread.
Omega 3 Deficiency (03:14)
Grain crops have replaced green plants in our diet— an important source of omega 3 fats, which cannot be made by the body. Processed foods contain vegetable oils rich in omega 6 fats, which have longer shelf lives but compete with omega 3s in the body. Omega 3 deficiency contributes to heart disease.
Soda Health Threat (03:18)
Today, we consume 1,000% more sugar than we did 200 years ago. It is added to foods that were not traditionally sweetened. Sweeteners are cheap and soda is marketed as a normal drink to give to children. Learn about the role of fructose and glucose in metabolic conditions, including type 2 diabetes.
Big Picture Campaign (01:58)
Obesity and type 2 diabetes are prevalent in low income communities due to fast food marketing. Erica Sheppard McMath participates in a project bringing together poets and health care workers to raise diabetes awareness. Many of her family members have died young of diet related diseases.
Lessons from Nature (05:40)
U.C. Davis researchers study how mother's milk constantly changes nutritional content to keep babies healthy. Commercial formula developed in 1865 lowered infant mortality rates, but breast milk is too complicated to mimic precisely. In 2006, Bruce German discovered an indigestible sugar called oligosaccharide that fed Bifidobacterium infantus, growing in babies’ large intestine to protect from disease carrying bacteria.
Omnivore Planet (01:47)
Nature provides humans with a variety of food on six continents. Hear traditional dietary staples in the Andes Mountains, East Africa, Arctic, and Tanzania. The Hadza tribe eats a variety of plants and animals, and has no diabetes, cancer, obesity, or heart disease.
Forager's Diet (04:53)
The Hadza tribe in Tanzania is among the last hunter-gatherer tribes. Women dig for tubers and collect baobab fruit, while men hunt and collect honey— as humans have done for most of history. Industrial food and agriculture is a new phenomenon.
Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants (03:02)
Pollan explains that we can either accept processed food, or change our diets. He sums up his philosophy and urges selecting unprocessed food from supermarket perimeters while avoiding the center aisles.
Food companies market products with added nutrients and "removed" unhealthy ingredients. Pollan criticizes the ideology that nutrients are key to understanding healthy food. Experts divide nutrients into good and bad categories, but their identities are constantly changing.
Kellogg's Vegetarian Diet (03:05)
In the early 20th century, protein was considered unhealthy. Seventh Day Adventist John Harvey Kellogg promoted vegetarianism to cure constipation, a common gastrointestinal ailment. His brother Will invented cornflakes as a therapeutic carbohydrate food. Science disproved his ideas about protein; Pollan predicts that gluten's "negative" effects will be similarly disproven.
Demonizing Fat (02:56)
The low fat campaign is an example of nutrition science being hijacked by nutritionism. In Naples in the 1950s, Ancel Keys observed lower heart disease rates among working class people than in wealthy people, and hypothesized it was due to lower dietary cholesterol. Scientists found cholesterol was clogging arteries and causing heart attacks.
Heart Disease Epidemiological Study (03:06)
Keys found that saturated fat increased blood cholesterol; red meat and dairy product consumption correlated with heart disease. Epidemiology identifies associations but not causation. However, based on his findings, Congress issued public health guidelines to reduce saturated fat in 1976.
Low-Fat Campaign (03:00)
The food industry capitalized on government reduced fat recommendations. New products were high in sugar; advertisements encouraged consumers to eat more. The industry also touted margarine but trans fats increased heart disease and diabetes; learn about the hydrogenation process.
Public Health Mistake (02:52)
Over time, all fats were considered unhealthy. In 2001, the Harvard School of Public Health criticized the low-fat campaign as based on little scientific evidence. While two studies linked saturated fat to heart disease; seven did not. As sugar replaced fat, obesity and type 2 diabetes rates increased.
Urban Farming Movement (02:56)
Fresh food is not available in many low income neighborhoods; junk food is the norm. South Bronx educator Stephen Ritz started a network of food projects, including a hydroponic vegetable garden, to address obesity among his students.
Wildcat Academy (03:28)
Bill Peacock runs a chef training program in a South Bronx school for troubled students. Ritz worked with him to install a hydroponic garden next to the restaurant kitchen. Growing vegetables provides a sense of ownership and increases student interest in healthy eating. Peacock teaches a pesto lesson.
IFT 13 (03:07)
At the annual Institute of Food Technologists expo, companies display new products designed to be shelf stable and appeal to dietary trends such as gluten-free. Cargill shows prototypes for "healthier" kids' snacks to address child obesity. Products must taste good and be convenient to sell.
Aggressive Food Marketing (02:35)
Companies use confusing and deceptive health claims to sell processed food. Pollan discusses the irony in a product called Splenda with Fiber and in Poms' promise to "cheat death." A Yoplait yogurt has the same amount of sugar as a bottle of Coke.
Food Rules (02:01)
Pollan presents healthy eating guidelines, like "eat only foods that will eventually rot" and "avoid those advertised on TV." He argues that meat is healthy in moderation. Increasing daily fruit and vegetable portions will decrease heart disease and stroke.
Hands on Nutrition Education (02:35)
At a farm camp in Sunnyvale, California, Stanford scientist Christopher Gardner explores how to get children to eat more vegetables. When they see how food is grown, they are more interested in trying new things.
Life Long Vegetarianism (02:03)
Seventh Day Adventists in California are mentally and physically healthy in their 90s and 100s. The church emphasizes healthy living; congregants have the longest life expectancy in the U.S.
Red Meat Risks (02:28)
Cleveland researcher Stanley Hazen and his colleagues found that gut bacteria feeds on carnitine present in red meat and turns it into TMAO, a compound associated with heart disease risk. TMAO changes cholesterol metabolism and increases artery plaque.
Seventh Day Adventist Study (02:32)
Joan Sabate has found that vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists live longer than their meat eating counterparts. Heart surgeon Ellsworth Wareham retired at age 95, and says a plant based diet is responsible for his longevity.
Dietary Fiber Study (03:21)
Stephen O'Keefe found lower colon cancer rates in Africa than among African-Americans. Fiber feeds colon bacteria producing butyrate, a protective compound. O'Keefe's team fed fiber rich diets to African-Americans, and fiber poor diets to South Africans for two weeks. Butyrate increased in African-Americans, and decreased in South Africans.
Microbe Biome (02:41)
Researchers are studying the role of gut bacteria in our health. Studies of twins in Malawi and in the U.S. found correlations between intestinal bacteria differences and malnutrition or obesity. Traditional diets may cultivate a wide microbial variety.
Gut Bacteria Research (02:11)
Jeff Leach believes members of the Hadza tribe have a "Noah's Ark" of intestinal microbes. He collects stool samples to study whether their fiber rich diet drives healthy bacterial strains. His study will reveal a pre-agricultural baseline of human gut bacteria.
Portion Size (02:16)
Evidence suggests eating a variety of plants can reduce risk of stroke, heart disease, and some cancers. Pollan recommends treating meat as a flavoring or special occasion food; not eating processed food; and not eating too much. Americans consume more calories by snacking, which is replacing traditional meals.
Eating Behavior Study (02:41)
Factors affecting portion size include plate size. Cornell University researchers offer a free pasta lunch to students who serve themselves up to 40 fewer calories on smaller plates.
Environmental Cues and Appetite (03:06)
Brian Wansink puts healthiest foods first in school cafeteria lines and students fill their plates before getting to unhealthy options. Putting fruit next to the cash register increases sales. Food order also improves eating habits in adult buffets.
Social Engineering through Food (03:00)
Products like the Big Gulp manipulate us to consume bigger portions. Pollan and Nestle advocate tweaking existing food policies to improve nutrition. In 2012, Richmond council members proposed a soda tax. The soda industry spent $2.5 million to defeat the initiative.
New York City Soda Tax (01:56)
Research shows that people drink what is in front of them. Michael Bloomberg proposed limiting soda serving sizes to 16 ounces. The beverage industry filed a lawsuit and launched a campaign based on freedom of choice. In 2013, a judge ruled in the industry's favor.
Lessons from Tobacco Regulation (02:52)
Despite personal freedom arguments, evidence of harm from smoking compelled the government to ban cigarette ads on TV and increase cigarette taxes— decreasing smokers by 50%. In 2014, Bloomberg helped fund a campaign to pass the nation's first soda tax in Berkeley. Mexico has passed a national soda tax, and consumption has decreased.
French Paradox (04:56)
Despite a culture of rich food, France has lower diet related disease rates than other Western countries. Sociologist Claude Fischler describes rigid eating habits, such as eating at 12:30 pm daily and making each meal a multi-course event. Smaller portion size also plays a role.
Healthy Food Empowerment (04:13)
Pollan urges people to adopt a relaxed attitude toward eating. Farmers markets, organic agriculture, and the food movement developed when consumers "voted" with their forks. Urban communities are taking a stand against diet related diseases. Anthony Scavotto has cut down on sugar, lost excess weight, and plays sports.
Credits: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (00:60)
Credits: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
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