In Defense of Food: A Review of the Book that Makes Nutrition Simple

Michael Pollan's approach to nutrition is simple: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Why does nutrition have to be complicated?

A Summary:

This book brings you through the progression of "nutritionism" which is much of the way we currently look at food. The problem with this reductionist approach is that we're not simply eating individual nutrients, but we (ideally) are eating FOOD- an accumulation of nutrients that interact. Pollan terms this "food synergy" where a whole food may be more than the sum of its parts.

Currently, the food industry adopts this reductionist approach to processed foods. Nutrients are stripped away and added to the point that it is unrecognizable to the body, and with inadequate preparation your digestive system cannot optimally absorb what little nutrients are left. Pollan suggests this science "takes the nutrient out of the context of the food, the food out of context of the diet, and the diet out of context of the lifestyle."

In Defense of Food melts the lipid hypothesis about the evils of fat, and how the government has supported these malformed claims. "Low fat" does not mean the food is healthier, and in most cases, is actually the less healthy option. But what about the American diet is unhealthy? Pollan reasons that if we're eating a lot of one thing, we're probably not eating a lot of something else. Thus, what people don't eat may matter as much as what they do.

There is a TON of nutrition advice out there, especially conflicted views. This causes immense confusion, anxiety and decreased ability to actually enjoy food. The "Western Diet" is in desperate need of a whole new way of eating and how to think about food. Michael Pollan believes that we must bring culture back to food and have a relationship with it (rather than the cheap, abusive relationship we currently have with food, in my opinion). This is a relationship of interdependence to understand and appreciate a broader, more ecological and cultural view of food. We are a part of a greater food web, which is an idea that has been lost with our dissociation from "real food".

book review in defense of food nutrition simple life

Here's the take-home:

1. Eat food

  • Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are: unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number or that include high fructose corn syrup 
  • Get out of the supermarket whenever possible (Shake the hand that feeds you)

2. Mostly plants

  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves
  • You are what "what you eat" eats too (that also goes for well-grown food from healthy soils)
  • Eat wild foods when you can
  • Eat more like the French. Or the Italians, Or the Japanese.... Because these are food cultures, where the context of food can be nearly as important as the food itself

3. Not too much

  • Pay more, eat less (we pay far more attention to external cues than internal cues of satiety)
  • Eat meals and do all of your eating at a table
  • Consult your gut
  • Cook and if you can, plant a garden
  • Eat slowly
Eat with a fuller knowledge of all that is involved in bringing food out of the earth and to the table. This understanding is based on knowledge rather than ignorance and gratitude rather than indifference.
book review in defense of food nutrition simple living


While some of the book can feel a bit technical with citing some scientific research, Pollan goes deeper into these concepts of how you can make your life interdependent with food. His concepts are clear, and he goes into greater depth to give you ideas to adopt these simplified nutritional beliefs into tangible ideas you can adopt.


Interested in reading the book? Click the link to the left to purchase a copy online.


Let me know what you think in the comments below or how you too, Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much!