Wednesday 6 February 2008

The French Paradox - more.....

In a timely and fortuitous follow-up to the recent post on butter as an innocent victim of over-eager nutritionists, I was delighted yesterday to discover a new and splendid-sounding volume called 'In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating'. Even before assessing the contents, it gets points - potentially anyway - merely for a title that suggests that food should be about enjoyment, and not about nit-picking and soulless scientific analysis.

The author - somebody called Michael Pollan - has a simple fundamental thesis, which boils down essentially to the idea that a good dietary regime means eating good things , in moderation, and in sensible balance with each other. Not exactly a radical proposition, you might think. What he clearly shoots down - and this is where the reference to The French Paradox comes in - is the tendency of nutritionists to grab at the simple explanation, in this case cholesterol, and the with-one-bound-he-was-free strategy, i.e. to expunge it ruthlessly from your diet. The paradox, in Pollan's eyes, lies not with the French diet, but with the myopia of the British and American nutritionists in assessing the situation.

The anti-cholesterol approach seems to be the same sort of narrowly focused strategy, really, as can be found in all of those one-shot diet fads that periodically rear their heads and then disappear from view: the grapefruit diet; the steak diet; the cabbage soup diet (definitely one to be avoided.......if you want to keep any of your friends, that is!) ; and my favourite of all, a regime I heard of, years ago, which involved consuming nothing but dry biscuits for one day, and nothing but white wine for the next, to be repeated until either you'd dropped sufficient weight or had merely lost the will to live!

Mr Pollan distills his proposition into the following succinct list of rules concerning what we should or shouldn't eat:
  • Don't eat anything your Grandmother wouldn't recognise. (A bit narrow, this one, but I take his point. I mean, sushi or braised squid wouldn't pass muster for me on that basis, but as long as a common-sense filter is applied, the rule feels right.)
  • Don't eat anything with more than five ingredients, or containing anything you can't pronounce. (Again, apply the common-sense filter - after all, one man's Phenolphthalein is another man's Chocolate!)
  • Avoid anything that claims health benefits - not least because to do so it must come in a package, in order for the claim to be printed on something, and so is suspect before it even begins! The health benefits which abound in things like prunes, garlic, and fresh citrus have been well-understood for generations, and I'm unaware of anything new that's popped up in that regard any time recently.
  • And, the over-arching rule: Don't look for the magic bullet in anything! Sadly, the wish for this is the same impulse that leads to the purchase of lottery tickets - nice, if it turns out well, but not a good basis on which to plan your future!
Alors, mes braves: a sound basis for a healthy life, with its fair share of good food along the way. Makes sense to me....

Of course, there's always the other school of thought - which also (I confess) has its occasional attraction - as expounded by Miss Piggy. Only one rule in this case, and not difficult to apply:

  • Never eat anything you can't lift!

Tonight's Dinner:

Tartes aux Moules

Involtini di Vitello, stuffed with Anchovies, Capers & Tomatoes; Carrots in Marsala.

Chocolate Soufflé, on a Chocolate Cake base.


Joanna said...

I'm 2/3 of the way through this excellent book. It encapsulates a lot of what I have long thought about food. The problem for us, though, was that, post heart attack, my husband was told by his medical advisers to avoid saturated fats. And so a blog was born - because the way most people do it is by doing what I really couldn't bring myself to do: rely on the food industry. Now I think - and not for the first time - that the doctors are almost as mad as, say, homeopathists, when it comes to giving advice for living.

A little of what you fancy does you good ...


Anonymous said...

I heard him speaking on The Food Programme on Sunday and applauded his attitude. If you missed it you could, if you wanted to, got to 'listen again' on the BBC webs-site.

One remrk that interested me was that one should shop on the outside counters of supermarkets and leave the middle ones alone. Never having thought about it before, that is where natural produce is stored...