In this bestseller, Marion Nestle, heralding decades of experience with the government agencies, the food corporations and consumer behavior patterns, unlocks the door to healthy eating for everyone. An acclaimed author as well as nutrition teacher at NYU, she received a lifetime achievement award from the US-based James Beard Foundation for her quest to broaden the general public’s understanding of nutrition and her consumer-friendly calls to action helping millions of people not familiar with the complex language of science. The strengths of her unfussy book titled simply ‘What to eat’ (although ‘and drink’ should be added) dwell in her ability to simplify the complex and often contrasting findings in the nutrition research, demystifying the lousy terms used in marketing of the processed foods in the US and her direct appeal to consumers to take their health into their own hands as well as raising their concerns with the appropriate government agencies.
To put it in one sentence: there is not one food (or superfood) that will change your health overnight, it is the overall lifestyle founded on nutrient-dense, mainly plant-based, produce eaten in moderate amounts. Smaller quantity, while looking for high quality food is the perfect diet, nothing more complicated.
Unfortunately, our profit-driven systems do not make these choices easier for us, but equipped with these facts, change for the better is possible. Nestle opens your mind also to the ethical issues related to our daily consumption.
She repetitively casts shadows on processed foods, GMOs, eating hormone-raised or non grass-fed meat, misleading industry lobbies from milk to fisheries, highly processed margarines and soy products, metabolism confusing and depriving diets over simple counting of calories, and more.
On the flip side she spotlights the virtues of organic foods, locally sourced and trusted farmers produce, and wild fish low in the food channel. For example, sardines contain much less of the heavy metals than for example a big fatty tuna. The fish issue seems the most complicated, but Nestle scrutinized much of the trustworthy research to date on this topic, concluding, that you will serve yourself best when buying the ‘Seafood Safe’ labelled fish tested by independent laboratories. She warns that: “Even the most ‘organic’ of stores pay more attention to seafood sustainability than they do to safety.” Freshness, source and handling of seafood are the most important information a consumer needs to know in order to minimize one’s safety risks.
She is extremely critical of the US government’s poor oversight of the food safety issue, but, luckily at least for the Europeans, this applies locally more than globally as it can vary from one country to another. While in the European Union the food safety is taken more seriously, in many countries in Asia and Africa the oversight is the weakest. Unpasteurised produce and ‘fresh’ un-aged cheese are notable sinners, but in most places they must be labeled so (to warn you of a potential bacteria contamination).
Nestle’s focus on the local US situation makes the book more relevant to Americans. Nevertheless, there are many common concerns, that the consumers should be aware of in the food and drinks industry since these are relevant globally. Such is the use of pesticides, and other chemicals sprayed on our food, preservatives making food lasting longer on the shelves of our grocery stores, and misleading health claims on labels. For example ”natural” does not necessarily mean good for you so you should eat it without restriction – often, it can be high in saturated fats, calories, salt and other unhealthy markers. It is not exactly revealing that “eating less is bad for business”, since the food companies are unlikely health guardians of their consumers – unless, they [the consumers] ask for it.
And here dwells the solution. By boycotting highly processed snacks and unhealthy foods (junk and synthetic additives bring higher margins for the industry), and instead purchasing by organic farmers grown ingredients, dining out at health-conscious, mainly locally sourcing restaurants and take-outs, we can support our own regional, national, and once perhaps even globally healthy population. The more of us eat like this, the more ubiquitous and cheaper the organic produce becomes, thus it will be available to the less well-off members of our society. Unfortunately, Nestle omits the cost issue, and does not offer solutions for the less affluent families living in large and expensive cities without an easy access to more affordable farmed produce. On the other hand, it is naturally implied in her writing.
If you want to learn whether gluten free is really better for everyone, which eggs to choose, what mean the healthy labels on the ‘vitamin-enhanced waters’, whether irradiated food is more safe, what can go wrong with pre-washed salads and fruits, or when and what to buy seasonally and when instead relay on frozen foods, then set your eyes on this enjoyable and practical book. The author further directs you to the right sources of information in this highly corrupt food system. Her weak spots is her knowledge of medicinal herbs and tea, but there are plenty of other reliable resources elaborating on their health befits based on rigorous scientific research.
Nestle concludes the book with her twist on the worn out ‘you are what you eat’ phrase: “The choices you make about food are as much about the kind of world you want to live in …”, a more impactful and responsible behavior when not just your health, but the health of others should be also considered when shaping our future as long-living, disease-wary human beings. The food industry’s hazardous experiments with chemistry in our daily bread, can possibly lead to unwanted and unexpected consequences such as cancer, allergies, decreased fertility, genetic changes and higher incidence of chronic illnesses.