I recommend this book to anyone who wants to inform their dietary choices.


This book covers (at least) four main things:

  1. The harm we endure by trusting the supposed experts: nutrition scientists, who have both condemned and sanctified foods erroneously; the food industry, whose profits incentivize them to sell us mass-produced and highly processed food; and government policy, which has allowed pressure from the food industry to warp public health policy.
  2. Nutritionism: “the widely shared but unexamined assumption that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient.”
  3. Alternative ways to reason about healthy eating: traditional diets and food as a relationship chain.
  4. Practical eating advice: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

advice to eaters

I find the advice practical and reasoned. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Enjoy your food slowly with people at a table, not in front of the TV or in the car. Eat whole food. Avoid the middle of the grocery store. Avoid “food products”, especially the ones that make health claims. Don’t buy something if you can’t pronounce its ingredients or count them on your hands. Buy food from local producers, but don’t obsess about whether it is certified organic. Trust generational wisdom.

my complaints

The author’s main argument is against what he calls “nutrionism”, the popular belief that science can solve the problem of healthy eating by calculating nutritional value from macro-nutrients (protein, carbs, fat) and micro-nutrients (vitamins, chemicals, antioxidants, etc.). He points out that we’ve gotten this calculation horribly wrong, like when we substituted butter with margerine. But he seems to mix up the question of whether an accurate calculation exists with whether we will ever decode the formula. Just because nutrition science has failed us before doesn’t mean it can’t succeed, or that its premise is false.

The book is worth reading because of the useful and compelling observations it makes while mounting its argument, regardless of whether you agree with the conclusion. For example, the author points out that different traditional diets are healthy despite varying vastly in nutritional content. It is possible to live healthily on a diet of blood, meat, and milk, just as it is possible eating mostly plants. Our bodies have evolved to survive from a range of foods available naturally in our environment. There is likely no perfect diet, but many healthy ones. The point is ripe for the picking: to be successful, nutrition science must account for the complexity of human metabolism, which is better understood in the context of its history. But the author doesn’t make this point. Instead, he declares, this is why “nutrionism” is misguided!

The author spends a lot of time maligning nutrition science, and yet depends on it to support his arguments. For example, he argues for eating whole foods and supports it mainly with a scientific understanding of how refined carbs (non-whole carbs) play a major role in metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, etc. Similarly, he relies on ‘nutritionist’ theories about Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids to justify his argument against industrialized farming.

The author acknowledges this contradiction towards the end of the book and offers a revision of his argument. The book would’ve benefitted from a final revision that repositioned the argument to alleviate its internal tensions. Instead of dismissing nutrition science, it should demote it. It is one tool. A powerful one, but only one.