Nowadays it’s hard to think of food without thinking of nutrients- the chemical components found in food like antioxidants, fiber, or saturated fat.
The term “nutritionism,” coined by the sociologist Georgy Scrinis in 2002, refers to the idea that specific properties of foods (i.e. nutrients) are sufficient to make them healthy regardless of the other nutritional values. Therefore, the presence of a nutrient like antioxidants and the absence of a nutrient like cholesterol can instantly make a food “healthy.”
This concept really took off in the 1970’s with what I like to call the SnackWell’s Diet. Research had found that fat (all fat, at that time) was bad for the heart, so people started to obsess with fat-free everything. Henceforth, the belief that SnackWell’s cookies were healthier because they were fat-free (absence of a nutrient). We forgot that SnackWell’s are still cookies of which the main ingredients are refined/white flour and sugar, a food that is seriously lacking in positive nutritional value regardless of being fat-free.
Because of this shift in the way we view food, the food industry has been able to create countless justifications for junk food (fake food, in my book) by saying it has more nutrients than the real food. For instance, some of these health claims sound like…
*Cheerios having 50% of our daily value of folic acid (important vitamin B)
*Splenda (an artificial sweetener) having essential nutrients like antioxidants or fiber (really?)
*Candy having low cholesterol (when cholesterol is only found in animal products…)
And the list goes on and on.
It’s important to be aware of nutritionism, and know that a whole food is more than its nutrient parts. For example, a whole food will always have more nutrients than a double fiber donut, you know what I mean? (GOOD!)
A few tips to avoid being trapped by nutritionism:
- know that nutritionism sells and is often used as a sales ploy
- eat whole food (not processed or junk food)
- read the ingredient list, if you don’t recognize something, don’t eat it
- cook more– know what you are eating and how it was made from start to finish
It’s a lot easier to slap a healthy claim on a box of cereal than it is on an apple. So, be aware of these health claims and be nutritionism-savvy.
AMAZING READ: Pollan M. In Defense of Food.