“Eat more leaves,” says Pollan

Reviewing Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food”

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Michael Pollan has distilled much of the research  into the Western diet over recent years into this simple formula. It’s that easy to eat well for better health.

Michael makes a good case for giving up on packaged food… especially those with packages boasting health benefits. He explains how processing food introduces more problems than it solves.

Fructose and other sugars

He’s particularly upset with the over-use in packaged products of fructose, a form of sugar that is extracted from corn.  He thinks excess sugar in North American diets is doing serious damage to the general health of the population. He identifies fructose as one of the worst forms of sugar used to sweeten our foods, because of the way our bodies burn it and store it.

White flour

And who knew refined white flour was the first fast food? Processing flour makes its starch molecules more easily digestible. Without the fiber present in unprocessed flour, the starch in white flour  breaks down quickly in our bodies into sugar molecules, namely a form called glucose. Although glucose is the fuel our bodies burn for energy,  our metabolism was never meant to handle a flood of it in a short time period. Too much sugar and white flour in our diet provides bursts of energy, then a sudden drop as the glucose is burned for fuel. Diabetes is a serious health problem that occurs when the body fails to process sugar in our diet efficiently.


Pollan’s advice to swap meat for leaves may be tricky for me… I love meat! He points out that the saturated fats in red meat are the most dangerous, damaging the heart over time. There are environmental and economic reasons to cut down on meat, as well, he says.

But although he wants us to eat more plants, substituting beans and legumes for meat servings,  thankfully he doesn’t suggest we give up on meat completely.

Changing our meal patterns for the better

After reading In Defense of Food, I ran down to the grocery store and came home with a bunch of red kale, a bundle of watercress, and a box of baby spinach and arugula. I found some simple recipes, and the kale and watercress were delicious. Tonight we start in on the box of mixed greens. I was so surprised to learn that green leaves are good sources of omega-3… a fat?!  Better yet, I learned that although omega-3 may be really good for us, it’s not the whole story – there are likely interactions with other unknowns in the leaves that account for their effectiveness in regulating our good health.

Thanks to Michael Pollan, I’ll now try to stay away from supplements and focus more on eating real food instead.  I can aim to make leaves one of the main veggies on my plate every time I eat.  I can also eat more chicken, fish, and eggs and save processed meats, steak, and hamburgers for once in a while. If I can cut down on the serving size of my meat course, that will also be a step in the right direction.

Taking home the message

Michael Pollan’s message is easy to understand and exciting to read about. He discusses complex biochemical systems in a fun way anyone can understand. And he comes up with simple strategies to improve our health through the foods we choose to put on the table.

Going back to eating like our parents and grandparents did is one of his simpler suggestions. Eat real food, he says, fresh from the farm, as close as possible to how it is harvested.

Although this advice is easy to understand, it does mean a change in the way we buy and prepare food. Definitely, it means getting back into the kitchen. It also involves spending more time at the table with our families. I like that idea.

There’s no need to go overboard, obsessing about every bite that goes into your mouth. Just focus on eating whole fresh foods  and enjoy eating for pleasure.

Let’s put culture back into agriculture and tradition back into family life.

So well researched and simply written, In Defense of Food is an asset for anyone concerned with eating a balanced diet.

Check it out at the library today.

PS – There are many great titles Michael Pollan has penned over his 30-year writing career. I also loved The Omnivor’s Dilemma. His latest book, How to change your mind, is now causing a stir. Try reading some of his books and let us know what you think.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 13:15:30

    “Just point me toward real foods that keep me healthy and let me indulge my love of eating for pleasure.”

    My sentiment exactly. Lovely review, Sharon!


  2. Professor
    Feb 29, 2012 @ 13:17:10

    Out of interest what is his basis for leaving meat out of his diet? Does he suggest a vegetarian diet?


    • Vinny Grette
      Feb 29, 2012 @ 16:17:56

      He doesn’t suggest leaving meat out of one’s diet, just cutting down on meat. He’d like to see us using meat as a condiment rather than the main element. We would replace it with more plant foods, which require less resources to produce than meat. It’s a great book and easy to read… just technical enough.


  3. theplumpalate
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 15:59:18

    Though I know it’s bad, I’ve never heard of white flour referred to as “the first fast food.” Thank you for that insight. Great post!


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