Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book should have been titled, "My Diet: Eat What I Eat Because It's Old (aka Real) Food."
Based on the contents of this book, I was not surprised to learn that Planck's nutritional science credentials consist of the fact that she grew up on a farm and created several farmer's markets throughout London and Washington, D.C.
Ironically, despite having an issue with Planck's blatant cherry-picking of the same science she often criticizes, I agree with the basic premise of the book, which is that we need to eat more "real food." Planck loosely defines real food as "old" food or food grown/raised on the farm, harvested and sold locally, and, which by default, is minimally processed.
And there is a certain truth to what she says. So many beautiful foods have been demonized from steak to eggs to milk to fruit to potatoes to grains to butter, all thanks to someone's take on the latest research about what is good for us and what is bad for us. But like Planck, I suspect the real problem isn't "real" food, "whole" food, or, as she puts it, "old" food, but highly processed foods that have been manipulated out the wahzoo.
Case in point, I recently worked with a client who was afraid to eat a baked potato in all its natural glory, but yet thought her low-salt, low-fat wheat thins were a health food.
Unfortunately for Planck, and for the reader, she takes too many liberties in making her case. I also thinks she goes way too far. According to Planck, it's not simply good enough to eat more whole foods like fruits and veggies, bean, lentils, unprocessed meats and grains. You have to drink unpasteurized milk from the local dairy, buy imported cheeses made only from small independent farms where all the cows are grass-fed and free to roam as they please, and eat eggs from free-ranging chickens who were fattened up on grubs and other bugs. Believe me. I get it. Our food system has become extreme in many ways, and many of us wouldn't eat some of the things we do if we understood exactly how it got to our table. And surely there are many things that we could improve when it comes to our industrialized farming model. However, most people struggle to get the recommended servings of fruits and veggies let alone locally grown and responsibly farmed fruits and veggies. Nor do we have time to get all our foods from farmer's markets or cook elaborate meals made from scratch.
I also think her message is occasionally inconsistent when it fits her "beliefs" about food. For example, she talks about the importance of eating like our ancestors, but then goes on to sing the praises of fish oil supplements. She scoffs at the connection between cholesterol and heart disease then advises how you can lower your LDL cholesterol through her "real" food approach to eating. She says that saturated fat is actually good for us (contrary to what we are told by many experts or the "establishment"), but doesn't address the difference between saturated fat in meat and those found in things like milk and coconut oil.
She has obviously read a lot and provides a robust bibliography of her sources. Yet I get the sense that she does what so many others do. She tends to regard those things that reinforce her belief highly, while discounting those things that don't.
I think she would have written a better book if she instead focused on the value of whole foods (not her version of real foods) and/or the advantages of a more traditional/local approach to farming as opposed to industrialized farming. Those were the moments in her book where I felt the narrative hit its mark. Only she gets greedy and starts making arguments that feel more grounded in belief and her interpretation of the science than the real science, which is fine as long as she presents it that way. For example, when it comes to saturated fat, the jury is still out, partly because not all saturated fats are created equal. That said, nobody ever said stop eating beef. At least not the experts. They merely said reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat. Right or wrong? We don't know, or at least there is less confidence in the previously held recommendations. But to tell people that saturated fats are actually healthy is also misleading, because once again, it's not that simple. A more useful message for readers is that we don't know. Here is the evidence to date from both sides of the issue. Here is what I believe and why, and here is a common sense approach to interpreting and applying the evidence.
Not a bad book for someone who is already eating a whole foods diet and wants to take it to the next level, but completely unrealistic and even confusing for the average person who wants to make better choices.