Book Review: Real Food (and more)

 Now I know that my mom really meant well on our family’s liver dinner night after reading Nina Planck’s guide to why she eats lard, raw milk, and organ meats in Real Food: what to eat and why. An intelligent gathering of research on good eating, this book emphasizes traditional foods: whole foods, animal fats, and grass-fed meat and dairy. Having been raised on margarine, I was fascinated by the chapters on fats, real and industrial, that include a short history of the butter substitute. Most illuminating are the changes in what fats Americans have been eating since the turn of the last century and how they have affected our health. One chart illustrates that the top three fats consumed in the U.S. in 1990 were soybean, canola, and cottonseed oils, all of which were nonexistent in traditional diets. The top three fats consumed in 1890 were lard, beef fat, and chicken fat. Planck points out that as Americans decreased their intake of animal fats, heart disease and other modern health problems increased. One reason I find Real Food interesting is that it briefly records the history of major changes in the American diet and their subsequent effects on health.

Most compelling is Planck’s explanation of the nutritional differences between pastured and grain-fed beef. Because of the proliferation of corn and soy in animal feed, Americans are eating less Omega-3 fatty acids and more Omega-6 fatty acids in their diets. Planck attributes this historic imbalance to a wealth of relatively recent health issues that include inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance, and depression. Michael Pollan addresses the same issue in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, emphasizing that humans have never eaten such an imbalance of fatty acids. When choosing what to eat, he postures that it’s the animal’s diet that is important more than the animal. All in all, the principles of Planck’s fascinating food read can be summed up in the words of a nutritionist friend of mine: “If a food isn’t over one hundred years old, I won’t eat it.”

Planck lauds Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, a great companion cookbook to Real Food. It is based on the research of Weston Price, who studied the eating habits and health of isolated nonindustrialized communities versus those who left their communities and ate an industrial diet. Price found that the traditional diets of cultures that included large amounts of animal fats were healthier than industrial diets. More than just a cookbook, Fallon’s book contains many nutritional reasons for eating animal fats and organ meats. Fallon also emphasizes the nutritional importance of foods somewhat forgotten in the United States such as cultured and fermented foods. Recipe pages contain interesting sidebars with food history, facts, and nutritional information. It includes “know your ingredients,” lists of ingredients for unnamed processed foods (with answers in the back). It’s hard to guess whether you are reading the ingredients for a Twinkie or a potato chip. Certainly the placement of a list of processed food ingredients alongside a whole foods recipe lends itself to fun discussion…and it might inspire some whole foods cooking!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Real Food (and more)”

  1. I can’t say that I’ll start eating organ meats, but your review led me to place holds on Real Food and Nourishing Traditions. I’m much more aware of nonfood items (and their health claims) since reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. Thanks for the recommendations.

  2. I haven’t actually read two of these books so I’m not fully qualified to comment (I have read The Omnivore’s Dilemna, it is a very interesting book), but I find it sort of misleading to not mention studies that have found health benefits in traditional diets low in animal fats, such as the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Chinese diet in Shanghai.

    I question Planck’s nutritional expertise due to the misleading article she wrote for the NYT about the death of a “vegan” baby (available here) which was dismissed as inaccurate by a nutritionist who testified at the trial (available here).

    I know I’m being unfair as I haven’t read her book. I just want to present the other side.

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