Michael Pollan Was Right

James Hamblin reviews new research on nutrition:

[David] Katz and Yale colleague Stephanie Meller published their findings in the current issue of the journal [Annual Review of Public Health] in a paper titled, “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?” In it, they compare the major diets of the day: Low carb, low fat, low glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic, vegan, and elements of other diets. Despite the pervasiveness of these diets in culture and media, Katz and Meller write, “There have been no rigorous, long-term studies comparing contenders for best diet laurels using methodology that precludes bias and confounding. For many reasons, such studies are unlikely.” They conclude that no diet is clearly best, but there are common elements across eating patterns that are proven to be beneficial to health. “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”

In a commentary, Katz slams low-fat junk food:

For years, the food industry has willfully misinterpreted prevailing dietary guidance into the most profitable of distortions. No nutrition expert ever said “eat low-fat, starchy, high-sugar, high-calorie cookies.” But when we were fixated on low-fat eating, that’s just what the food industry gave us. They have done much the same with every nutritional preoccupation to follow.

But that sort of thing can’t happen when we know where we are going. For those who understood that advice to eat “low fat” meant less meat and cheese, more vegetables and fruits, Snackwell cookies were never much of a temptation, and certainly never mistaken for a panacea. Similarly, for those inclined to seek the benefits of prudent low carb dieting, low-carb brownies cobbled together out of miscellaneous junk are not much of a temptation – but again, those looking at their feet and not clear on where they are going on vulnerable to the sales pitch for just such junk. Low-carb eating was intended to be about less starch and added sugar, more lean meats, nuts, seeds, and vegetables – not the reinvention of brownies and cupcakes.

He adds:

A basic knowledge of where we are going is required to avoid getting misdirected in the interests of someone else’s interests, and at the expense of our good health. We have that basic knowledge. We are not clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens. …. Whether low-fat or high, low-carb or high, with or without grains, with or without meat, with or without dairy; Paleo or Asian or vegan; Michael Pollan really did pretty much nail it: eat food, not too much, mostly plants.