Sunday, July 10, 2016

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition

The American "Health Care" system tends to be more of a "disease management system". Most of the focus is on treating adverse symptoms. This works great in responding to acute issues (such as a broken arm or a heart attack.) However, it does a horrible job of preventing chronic conditions (including those that lead up to heart attacks.) There is plenty of information "out there", but much of it tends to be misleading or contradictory. (Some chemical in one food reduces heart attack risk, but another in the same food increases risk of diabetes.)

The processed food industry simply retools their recipes in response to the latest research. Coconut oil is bad? Ok, lets add partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Trans fats are bads? Ok, lets retool with another fat and add some new chemicals to maintain the taste and stability. The product appears healthier in the day, but people do not seem to do much better. Luckily, the pharmaceutical industry is here to offer us a pill to help counter our new chronic condition. Unfortunately, the pill comes with some side effects. Luckily there is a pill that can treat that. And now we are committed.

Why do we have to take so much effort to make the chronic symptoms go away? Why can't we just find a cure that makes the condition go away? The authors of Whole argue that we can find the natural solution - and it involves nothing more than eating a balanced diet based on whole, planted-based foods. The volume of of "chemical compounds" consumed in our food far outweighs that in pills. Why can't it help us? The book argues that it does. However, "reductionist science" tends to looks for isolated chemicals, rather than consider the impact of everything together. As an example, a food like an apple has many nutrients that work together. While it has a small amount of vitamin C, consuming an apple make more available than a supplement with much more of the vitamin. The many other components of the apple work together to provide the overall nutritive benefit. Our current science paradigm focuses on isolating individual components and using these as supplements or drugs. While this does have some value. A much better solution would be to look at the whole. (But, alas, an apple a day may just keep the doctor away.)

I agree whole-heatedly with the anti-reductionist argument. Science is stuck is this "evidence-based" reductionist paradigm that makes it difficult to understand the "entire human". Food produces love to give us quick, tasty food without really caring about the long term impact. There are billions of dollars in the industry. Stopping it all would wreck havoc on the economy. But, is the alternative better? Avoiding heavily processed foods would almost certainly improve health. But what about convenience? Our current society does not assign culpability for diseases, thus further encouraging the bad behavior. Why not get the cheap, easy food and drive our car and watch TV. The diseases we get our just "natural accidents". Medicine will help find a cure. What if instead we really focused on health. Don't waste the money researching pills to cure the lazy, when all they really need is broccoli and a bicycle. Instead focus the efforts on better understanding what people need to do to improve their overall health and identifying the true toxins that can be eliminated from the environment.

As for the diet suggested, more holistic research would be useful. Here, a low fat, vegetarian diet seems healthy. In Big Fat Surprise, a high protein, high fat diet was found better. In both cases, however, the foods tended to be "whole", with minimal processed food. It seems clear that processed food is the bad guy. Listings of "micro-nutrients" and and fortified foods only seem to mislead us. The good guys may come in many forms. Alas, they don't have a huge lobby.

No comments:

Post a Comment