Salt and fat does a body ight or wrong? Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Salt and fat are good for you! Salt and fat are bad for you! Oh my God, what should I do? Everyone, run and hide! Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

I’d have thought that an article in last Sunday’s New York Times MagazineEat Your Heart Out by Gretchen Reynolds, would have made me happy. I’ve long argued that America’s terror of fat and salt is misguided and blown grossly out of proportion. But all the piece did was make me mad.

It notes a study that found that men with heart disease who reduced their intake of meat and saturated fats and increased the polyunsaturated fats in their diet were more likely to die of a heart attack than the control group who maintained their customary diet. It noted the existence of a “small but unsettling body of data suggesting that consuming polyunsaturated oils … may … increase your risk of heart disease.” (There’s lots of hemming and hawing in the piece due to the contrarian nature of it, thus the ellipses; the Times even took it off their magazine page and threw it back into the blogs category, but I have the hard copy on my desk–the quotation is from the third paragraph.)

America doesn’t have an obesity problem, or a food problem, or a Big-Gulp-forcing-Mayor-Bloomberg-to-put-on-his-cape problem (though the fattest state in the country just passed a food anti-regulation bill lest they lose their right to ethereal sugar-laden gulps on that express train to diabetes land).

What America has is a living problem. America seems to think that the answer to how to eat can be found on the news, from studies, from your doctor (who’s reading the same reports you are and following the same party line now being contradicted by that “small body of unsettling data”), not even from your mayor.

The data that matters to me is the data I receive after I’ve finished eating something. Do I feel good after eating a roast chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes and a pile of shaved sautéed Brussels sprouts? Yes. How about after I eat a bag of Cheetos? Not so good. What does that mean? Think about it. Think. Do you feel good after you exercise? Yes, because it’s good for you. Or you can hunt for data on the Internets if you want The Truth. Go ahead, read up on it. Or watch all the “a new study finds” stories on the ABC Nightly News.

Part of the problem is our obsession with longevity rather than quality of life. Why can’t we become obsessed with good rather than long? Sure I’d prefer 90 healthy years to 75 healthy years. But do I want 75 healthy years followed by 5 years of mental and physical decline, followed by 10 years of increasing dementia that puts a strain on my family?

As Sherwin Nuland notes in his superb book How We Die, and as Julian Barnes underscores in Nothing to Be Frightened Of, death is life’s single certainty, but the manner of our death, short of killing ourselves, cannot be known or predetermined. Your manner of death is very likely to parallel the death of one of your relatives—in my case, and in order, heart attack, stroke, stomach cancer, 96 years (my maternal grandmother’s final decade spent in increasing darkness from untreated glaucoma, solitude, and depression, her mind sharp as when she was 30), and most recently the heart disease, emphysema, and lung cancer—due to decades of Luckies, what a name—that awaited my beloved dad, dead weeks before his three-score-and-ten. That’s right, it’s going to be genetics and environment (food and exercise, or lack thereof) that get you. And there’s not a whole lot Mayor Bloomberg can do to help you, I’m sorry to say.

Me, if I have a really good meal, al fresco, say, followed by an espresso and an eau de vie and someone offers me a cigarette? I’m going to have it. I love a cigarette. What a pleasure with, say, a grappa overlooking the harbor of Portofino on my 49th birthday. Damn, that was a good cigarette. But I have no intention of addicting myself again, because that will give me the lung cancer and emphysema that killed my dad. I’d sooner eat straight sugar than drink a regular Coke, but am I going to forgo duck confit and bacon so that I can eke out 90 years? Are you kidding me? Shoot me now.

I’m sorry, I just get so goddam sick of studies and data telling me how to live, reading about this or that new diet that’s going to take pounds off my body and add countless Sound of Music years to my life. My hunch is that people don’t actually want to live longer—I think people want to be happier, to be more at ease with who they are, to feel glad when they wake up rather than dreadful, to feel good at the end of the day instead of crummy. The South Beach diet is not going to do this for you. Show me the data on how to be happy and I’ll listen. That’s what people are after and they can’t get their fingers on it. It’s not in a damned diet book, that’s for sure. It’s more likely in a pot of minestrone simmering on the stove.

Me I’m going to enjoy the pleasures and bounty that are available, and recommend anyone still reading do the same. For me, it’s Donna and my family, good simple food, wine and spirits, stories, work that I care about. Do I want to lay eyes on a grandchild carrying my DNA? One day, of course, but that’s not up to me. What is up to me is the way I live my life and the great good fortune that I live in a country that allows me to make my own choices.

If you liked this post, you might be interested in these links:

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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94 Wonderful responses to “Cook Your Own Food. Eat What You Want.
(Think for Yourself.)”

  • A.S.

    I completely, totally, 100% agree with this post. I can’t *stand* all the people telling me what to eat, what to drink, how to be. I think Mayor Bllomberg “I’m doing this for your own good” measures are far *worse* for society than people telling me what eat or drink or do because they are greedy or some other nefarious reason – at least those people have a chance of feeling remorse.

    But.

    We *know* what data most people receive after they have finished eating. And it’s not the same data that Ruhlman receives. Most people fee good after they eat a Big Mac, and not roast chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes and a pile of shaved sautéed Brussels sprouts. We know this because McDonalds sell 845 billion burgers per day, and we don’t have a single fast food place that sell roast chicken with shaved sautéed brussel spouts. And I’m OK with that! I have no business telling people that they should like roast chicken with shaved sautéed brussel spouts, and neither does anyone else — whether it’s because it is suppposed you make you feel better than eating a Big Mac or because it is suposed to be healthier than a Big Mac or because it is supposed to be better for your family or your wallet or anything else. People need to be treated as adult human beings capable of making their own decisions, not as babies.

    • DJK

      It’s sure going to be great when Medicare costs 100 gazillion dollars a year to run, and our retirement age gets pushed back into our mid 70s, just so that people too lazy to cook for themselves can engorge themselves on McDonalds and softdrinks and frozen foods, without any fear of being told what to do.

      Yay, freedom.

    • marinecreature

      ” Most people fee good after they eat a Big Mac, and not roast chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes and a pile of shaved sautéed Brussels sprouts. We know this because McDonalds sell 845 billion burgers per day, and we don’t have a single fast food place that sell roast chicken with shaved sautéed brussel spouts”.
      Woah… what a weird statement! My mouth is watering at the idea of a proper roast dinner with all the trimmings (not sure what a shaved sprout is, but me, my partner, and plenty of people I know would wolf buttered sprouts with that meal)… a Big Mac is a measly snack for people with no time to eat properly. It sells in millions because its there and convenient. And (wait for it) cheap! It’s basically street food to be grabbed on the move or in your lunch hour. The burger’s nutritionally ok – it’s the extras that pack the empty calories. Most of the world has better street food that that. Interestingly, one of the tricks used to get you to consume more (by the highly skilled and vastly researched food product designers) is not to flavor the food too much – it keeps you hungrier. Salt and sugar is OK because it kicks in ancient cravings, but real flavor (meatiness, spices) satisfies the buyer. I tried a Subway a while ago and couldn’t believe how it was like eating cotton fluff…never again. Thank goodness I live in London where even the cheap supermarket sandwiches are tastier. (I wondered why the local Subway was always empty)

    • cara_mia

      Actually, we do have a fast food place that serves roast chicken and – gasp! – vegetables. Boston Market. But it costs more than McDonald’s and you can’t really eat it while you’re driving, so there’s limited popularity. And I’m not sure it’s any healthier. It’s still fast food after all. I can tell you why I go to either of them, though. I don’t have to cook, I don’t have to do the dishes, and it doesn’t matter what’s in or not in my fridge.

      To me, the living longer is wanting to live long enough to be able to retire and enjoy it for a while. We get so many emails at work announcing that a former employee has passed away, and so often they’ve only retired within the past few years. (Kind of makes me wonder what they pump through our HVAC system!) But I don’t want to live to 90 if I’m going to be as miserable as my grandfather was for so many years.

  • Annie

    You know how you asked what we want more of from your blog? I want more of this! I want — nay, need even — occasional reassurance that I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

  • Xani

    Thank you for this wonderful piece of writing that spoke to my heart. Life is for living and enjoying, and is too short to spend hating your body or torturing yourself through deprivation or gluttony. Balance=happiness. Thank you thank you thank you!

  • scott

    It’s surprising more people haven’t come to this conclusion. I used to be obsessed with eating “healthy,” but the constant back-and-forth of conventional wisdom on eggs, fat, red meat, etc. left my head spinning. If I know what ingredients are in my meal, how they were prepared, and where they came from, that’s good enough for me.

  • Skip

    Michael, your blog entry is pretty much how I approach life. But what I do wonder about are the huge increases in diabetes and morbid obesity in our country. And the ready availability of poor foods over good foods for the young, the unread, the un-cooking. And the huge and ever increasing economic toll that the obesity and diabetes are bringing on to our national health system that all of us are burdened with paying for? I have no solutions for this stuff, just questions.

  • Jessica @ Burlap and Butter Knives

    HOLY FUCK Ruhlman. This is brilliant. Fucking fantasmically brilliant! Is is how I live my life pretty much, people shit on my philosophy all the time, and I never put it into words so perfectly. I generally just tell them to fuck off. Thank heavens for you! This will make sense to people!! (as opposed to my ever flying middle finger)

    And if this doesn’t make sense to people, they can keep on chugging their diet fucking soda and low fat cheese while they sit on the couch watching the biggest loser.

    I love when you rant. Love love LOVE it!! With all caps, yes all caps. I am so freaking fired up, I am going to preach this post for the rest of the day. You are the best. You really are.

  • Shirley (gfe & AGFD)

    Bravo, Michael! Even though I live gluten free by necessity, there is way too much craziness surrounding food and our choices. It’s been proven that our grandparents were healthier despite all the fat, salt, etc. that they consumed. They ate real food; that’s why. As you shared, if you eat real food, you feel better and your body does better. You are so right about the quality of life, too. When folks say they don’t want to get old, they mean they don’t want to get old and be unhealthy, which is largely the view of the elderly (and not an inaccurate one) today.

    Thanks,
    Shirley

  • Bob

    The problem with most ‘new studies’ are that they provide a number that tells you absolutely nothing.

    If a ‘new study’ tells you putting butter on your toast increases your chance of getting an exotic disease by 43%, that doesn’t mean you have a greater than 43% chance of getting that disease the next time you have a piece of toast, or a fresh-baked muffin.

    If your chance of getting that exotic disease was only 1% to begin with, it increases by 0.43 (43 percent), leaving you with a 1.43% chance of coming down with said disease, and NOT a 44% chance.

  • Joanie

    Well done! This is a complex issue, and it’s not going to going to become any less so, with the continued proliferation of prepared and takeout items keeping families from preparing their own food. I am grateful to have been raised in a family who valued “homemade” and enjoyed the effort it took to put a meal on the table. When I prepare something for friends or coworkers, they are always amazed that I did it myself–they assume that it was labor-intensive and time-consuming in order to be delicious. While sometimes that is the case (!), more often it is not: I am as busy with work and children and other commitments as anyone else, but I make time to cook & bake because I want to eat something that I know tastes good. As for various foods being “bad” for you, I am always reminded of my late father, who would respond to those who asked him to forgo his daily bourbon or a dessert with “Moderation, my dear, all things in moderation.” He didn’t make it to his nineties, but he made the most of the years he had, and I don’t think he ever regretted a good meal.

  • Beth

    But.

    We *know* what data most people receive after they have finished eating. And it’s not the same data that Ruhlman receives. Most people fee good after they eat a Big Mac, and not roast chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes and a pile of shaved sautéed Brussels sprouts.

    You know, I don’t think that’s neccessarily true!

    I have two teenage kids, who have always been raised on home-cooked (and sometimes home-grown), healthy food. They rebel like kids do, and when they first started having their own disposable income they rebelled with MOUNTAINS of junk food. I don’t mean binge, I mean habits, a lot, for a long time. I worried, but I let the thing run its course.

    Recently my son’s gotten into a new sport, and I’ve been finding half-empty packages in the trash, and he tells me that it’s because he’s listening to his body in a way that he didn’t before he was an athlete, and finds that the stuff he’s been eating is not as fulfilling or as satisfying. He eats more than he wants to, finishes still unsatisfied, and then doesn’t have the workout energy he’d expect from the volume of food he’d eaten. And my daughter, who lived on fast food and microwave meals her first semester at college, inhaled everything home-cooked and begged for more when she was home over holiday. It’s been interesting to watch them move toward junk food and away again, and what I’m hearing over and over is that when they pay attention to what their bodies are telling them, they don’t want it. They know that they don’t want it, more viscerally than they ever did when I simply forbade it.

    What we know about junk food is NOT that people who eat it feel good in a broad and ongoing way , but that 1.) high fat, high salt, and high sugar foods trigger short-term, intense pleasure feelings and 2.) highly processed foods are convenient, so convenient that indulging in them can be the only relief from constant stress in a busy or economically marginal life, so convenient that some people simply never do the difficult, time-consuming thing for its own sake and learn to desire the feeling of well-being that goes with it.

    I think we conflate pleasure-trigger foods and processed foods because so many processed foods rely on pleasure triggers for their appeal. A brownie baked with real butter, sustainably grown flour, and farm-fresh eggs is not the same thing as a candy bar; but they both give me the 3pm lift I need to get through the workday. The question is, where do I find the time to bake the brownies, or where do I buy them from a baker who cares about their craft? How do we promote the decoupling of pleasure and convenience at a societal level? Solve that question, and we’re well on the way to solving our fear of food.

  • Rob

    YES. THIS. Common sense, its not so hard is it, but mass media has people think otherwise. I’d like to see more of this sort of thing on your blog, its just so rare now to hear someone else with authority speak some sense.

  • Loraine

    A.S.
    I completely, totally, 100% agree with this post. I can’t *stand* all the people telling me what to eat, what to drink, how to be. I think Mayor Bllomberg “I’m doing this for your own good” measures are far *worse* for society than people telling me what eat or drink or do because they are greedy or some other nefarious reason – at least those people have a chance of feeling remorse.
    But.
    We *know* what data most people receive after they have finished eating. And it’s not the same data that Ruhlman receives. Most people fee good after they eat a Big Mac, and not roast chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes and a pile of shaved sautéed Brussels sprouts. We know this because McDonalds sell 845 billion burgers per day, and we don’t have a single fast food place that sell roast chicken with shaved sautéed brussel spouts.

    That’s because McDonalds food is a drug, and the people are addicted to it.

  • Mantonat

    I’m with you on the cigarette thing. I may be one of those lucky few for whom tobacco is not addicting, or maybe I’ve just never been around chain smokers enough to pick up a habit. But the occasional smoke with a good drink or after a meal is a real pleasure.

    Something you may disagree with: I’ve cut out polyunsaturated fats from my diet wherever possible (meaning at home). I cook with olive oil, coconut oil, lard, pastured butter, and tallow I render myself. It’s part of an ancestral lifestyle I’ve been trying to adopt – I know, I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. The main things I’ve cut out are sugar and grains, and it really makes me feel better. No more rollercoaster of energy and mood throughout the day. No more drowsiness after lunch or dinner. Much more energy throughout the day, and I sleep like a baby. I can totally understand why someone would scoff at the idea of not eating bread or oatmeal or rice, but it works for me and I don’t really miss it. If I get the occasional craving for a good baguette, a croissant, or street tacos, I eat and enjoy. But it’s like cigarettes, a little goes a long way and it’s not part of my daily life.
    One thing you might like about the paleo folks is the phrase “live long, drop dead.”

    • Andrea

      I also have recently transitioned to eating Paleo style. I feel fantastic, eat real food, have lost fat painlessly, and have the ability to indulge in the very occasional sugar or grain food if I want. This works for me.

  • Tags

    The secret to increasing your odds for a long life is avoiding inflammation. My Dad (who smoked until he was 46) is going to be 90 in a few months, and he’s had 3 cancers; kidney, bladder, and prostate. He sees an oncologist every six months and the oncologist told him that cancer comes from inflammation, and if you smoked you still will have an increased risk even if you quit. (though less than if you didn’t quit)
    My own advice is to check your levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and adjust your diet according to what lowers it. (if it is elevated)

  • Laurie Palanza Iseman

    Yep, we are in control of our destiny. I’ll do my bit to spread your sensible words, and to show my support I’ll be making conch fritters with the two beauties I found on the beach yesterday. Living the dream and enjoying the bounty here on Cape Cod. Thank you, Michael, for your refreshing take on the silliness that surrounds us.

  • Jim

    Interesting though how so often belief in quality of life versus longevity seems to change when people get to an age where it starts to affect them. Then again maybe I’m just to cynical for the commentators on this post.

  • Kelly M

    This, Mr. Ruhlman, is why I read your blog! More, more, more –

  • Terry Simpson

    Food cannot cure you, but it can kill you. Still, what we know about food now and what we assumed we knew years ago has, thankfully changed. The biggest change is that most of us use the scientific method when approaching things, and not just a WAG. When Keyes did his first studies about saturated fat and assumed it was heart disease he based it on false studies of multiple countries and made a WAG.
    When I read people who think that ancient man had the answer to health (which makes me laugh) I am reminded of my Native American hunter-gather societies that, as the recent Lancet article pointed out- had heart disease (see this post http://budurl.com/aleutheart ).
    Eat- enjoy- it can kill you, but most of the time- as I’ve pointed out in my blog- we find what we assume wasn’t true.
    I prefer science to WAG (wild ass guess).

    • Mantonat

      Since I was the one who mentioned an ancestral diet, I’ll just respond by saying that I don’t believe ancient man had the answer to health. It seems likely though that, especially in the last 100 years or so, the pace of selective breeding (not to mention actual genetic modification) of plants and animals for yield, disease resistance, and other properties suited to industrial production has resulted in agricultural products with less nutrition and more negative properties. We can feed vastly more people with the same amount of land, but the cost to our health is clear.

      While I admit that my choice to avoid most vegetable oils and grains goes a little against Ruhlman’s point in the first place, I’ve tried to base my decisions on how I feel and how my body reacts as well as on research rather than just what’s trendy. I’m a huge fan of what Ruhlman has to say here, but also like the information I get from Mark Sisson. Although I don’t agree with everything he says, I see him as someone who tries to give his readers more options for diet, exercise, and lifestyle, rather than fewer. I think he’d also largely agree with Ruhlman’s rant – moderation is better than rigid dogma, listening to your body is better than listening to politicians, enjoyment of life is key, a stress-filled life – even an otherwise healthy one – is not a good life.

      Last night my dinner was thin sliced, marinated steak with stir-fried rutabaga and carrots in a Thai coconut sauce, with glass of red wine. Lunch today was whole-fat plain Greek yogurt, blackberries, and avocado slices wrapped in mortadella. Eating this way makes me feel great and puts a smile on my face because it was all so damn tasty.

      • James

        Your reply sounds like a justification for what you are doing and doesn’t address the issue of WAG’n vs. Science. Science is not rigid dogma, its the best evidence based explanation we have at the time. Always ready to be revised when new facts explain more or refute old facts.

  • Kirk Samuels

    I stopped paying attention to news reports about medical discoveries when I learned that a) the media often (usually) misinterpret and misreport medical and scientific findings in a way that sensationalizes and sells them (see this TED talk for a good example: http://www.ted.com/talks/molly_crockett_beware_neuro_bunk.html) and b) a high percentage of medical discoveries, especially those related to cancer, do not hold up to the scientific method and their results are not repeatable.

  • Ed

    Michael, as an adult I agree 100% with you. The problem I have with this “free market” approach to food is with the kids, especially in schools. Not to go all “Jaime Oliver” on you, but the kids seem to be fighting a stacked deck when it comes to their food choices in many schools. From the time they are a few years old they are targeted to consume high sugar, high fat, processed food. In other words, the food that makes the most money for the corporations. (“Yes Senator, I swear under oath that cigarettes are NOT addictive”).

    This gets even worse when you factor in the kids in the low socio-economic sector. Certainly adults are free to make adult choices, but what about the kids?

    • Carly

      I think this is a good point. Given all the evidence about the addictive nature of mass-produced junk, it seems likely that more and more we are raising kids not to KNOW the difference between feeling good because you ate something genuinely satisfying, and feeling good in the short-term because you ate something formulated to give you a rush akin to a dose of drugs. Cocaine can make you feel pretty great while you’re doing it, too, but I don’t see that many people rushing to defend kids’ unfettered right to it and parroting half-assed arguments from cocaine-industry-funded studies that we don’t really know if it’s unhealthy or not.

  • Doug

    Michael, have you read this: http://robrhinehart.com/?p=298

    Preview: Some guy decides eating is unhealthy, expensive, and time consuming, so he has replaced most of his diet with a slurry of raw nutrients. The name of this concoction: Soylent.

    Please be careful, your head may explode.

  • Andrew

    I’m with you on much of this. I don’t think it’s fair to entirely dismiss tremendous volumes of good clinical evidence and the people who have dedicated their lives to gathering and reporting it just because there is a lot of noise and confusion out there. Death is certain, but is it not okay to want to live a good AND a long life? If you tell anyone ten ways they might die, there are definitely some ways to go that are preferable than others.

    But putting all that aside, I would mainly diverge on the issue of cigarette smoking. I love salt and fat, but they’re not the only things I consume, and in reasonable quantities (I’m not going to attempt to define that), I don’t spend time worrying about adverse health affects. Same with alcohol. A reasonable quantity may not be harmful, may even be healthful, but a lot we know is bad. Certainly social smoking or the occasional cigarette are better than heavy smoking, but that does not make them safe, and there really is no safe quantity of cigarettes. Cigarettes are not food. Most would not consider bacon health food, but you can find some redeeming nutritional qualities to justify its consumption (vitamin D!). There is no quantity of cigarettes that is healthful beyond the statement that it makes you happy. Furthermore, my eating bacon might offend but doesn’t directly harm a vegetarian sitting next to me, but you blowing second hand smoke in my path as I walk by is definitely harmful to me and doesn’t do anything for my happiness. And even occasional smoking does increase your risk of cancer and heart disease (I am a doctor, and I’m not following some party line or reading the same report as you). Simply saying that not getting yourself addicted to it won’t put you (or the people inhaling your second hand smoke) at risk for lung cancer doesn’t make it true. It seems clear that you don’t want to die of lung cancer. Social smoking isn’t going to help you meet that goal. Stating that cigarettes in moderation are fine is probably music to tobacco companies’ ears. It’s the same attitude that killed so many people, and you know from personal experience that lung cancer is not a pleasant way to come to that singular certainty in life that is it’s inevitable end.

    Not trying to be a buzzkill. But the attitude you espouse can also be used by all the McDonald’s eating, chain smoking, soda drinking people out there saying they’ll do as they please because it feels as good to them as roasted chicken and brussels sprouts feel to you.

    • Mantonat

      The occasional cigarette, fast food burger, slice of cheesecake, etc. will not kill you. The problem is that cigarettes, at least, are highly addictive. There aren’t many people who can have an occasional cigarette without becoming addicted. I’d be interested in seeing a study that shows the health affects of having one cigarette per month (which is probably about what I average) over the course of 5, 10, or 20 years.

      When I do smoke, I don’t smoke in places where I expose anyone else to the smoke.

    • Mike Gebert

      I’m as anti-cigarette as they come, personally, but honestly, can you really say that his one indulgent cigarette is more harmful than, say, walking through a part of town full of truck exhaust? Cigarettes may be harmful, but in the big picture, one cigarette is about as harmful as a bath (where many people are injured every year!)

  • Carolyn Z

    Mom always said everything in moderation. She’s still around. Her knee hurts and that’s about it. Of course, she’s not really overweight like me. I love to cook fancy and bake on occasion. Not all of the time. I would like to be able to enjoy good food and not worry about when I’m going to die. I want to enjoy life.

    It’s fun to go to the latest foodie place around here. And eat yummy ramen. We just joined a meat CSA, and look forward to see what we get. It is hard to always eat what we get, and I treat it like an adventure. Hopefully there’s enough room in the freezer!

  • bennybrew

    I don’t feel good after I eat tofu. I honestly feel better having eaten eggs and lots of bacon than after having had tofu.

  • Walter Jeffries

    Well said. We eat a high meat diet and don’t skip the fat, eat plenty of butter and drink lots of milk but are very healthy. Why? Probably because of genetics and living a very active lifestyle – farming make sure one gets a lot of exercise.

  • Robert

    Great article. I just watched “Hungry for Change” a few hours before you posted this. Weird.

  • kerrys

    I’m in agreement with what you wrote, Michael. I can’t however, let pass
    the vastly inaccurate statistic that AS quoted and Loraine repeated. 845 BILLION burgers a day is about 4 times McDonalds burger sales for all time (ask.reference). the site wiki.answers says the rate is about 6.8 MILLION per day. Still huge numbers, but way off the chart
    Kerry in Carefree AZ

    • A.S.

      It wasn’t meant to be an actual statistic – it was exaggeration for effect. I thought that pretty obvious, but I guess not.

  • Witloof

    I work with children who are on the autistic spectrum or have developmental delays and am always amazed at how much their diet affects their behavior. When their parents give them a snack of Froot Loops or Oreo cookies right before my therapy session, I can pretty much know that I can kiss my treatment goals goodbye, because I’ll be dealing with an out of control, oppositional, disorganized whirling dervish who can’t focus, attend, or follow directions. Nothing I say or do makes any difference. I cannot persuade parents to give their children healthy food. How hard is it to give the kid a banana and a handful of almonds, or some carrot sticks and a piece of cheese instead?

    I’m in total agreement with everything you said. I prepare almost all of my own meals, buy the highest quality ingredients that I can, enjoy an occasional cigarette with my after dinner espresso and digestif. I depend on my own body’s wisdom ignore the latest studies about nutrition. Basically I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, I stay away from highly processed food, and I don’t eat or drink what doesn’t make me feel good.

  • kingofbaconandeggs

    I concur that it starts with real food prepared at home in the kitchen. Food affects our epigenetics over generations. Dr. Francis Pottenger and his infamous cat experiment proved this. Couple this with the nutritional research of Dr. Weston A Price and the power of real, nutrient dense food becomes even more compelling.

  • Sarah

    Hah! My first thought was ‘preach it’, and much to my satisfaction, I see that the first commenter, Austin Val, has already delivered that message.

    I have a lot to say on this subject, but would not have done so as concisely and clearly as this. so I second that notion: preach it, brother!

  • Susan

    The best part of cooking your own food is that you get to control what you eat and how it’s prepared to suit yourself and/or your family. I agree with you about quality of life over quantity. Have you ever visited a nursing home? There are so many people just dumped there until they die. I’d rather not live than be forced to go pass the time until I die with a bunch of people I don’t know who are passing time the same way. God, I’m going to KFC, could you give me a lift when I’m done?

  • Deb

    What I find so confusing – some political groups are saying we need less government in our lives, and they are so often the ones that want to tell others what they ‘should’ eat or drink or smoke, etc. Maybe we could cut some gov’t spending if we could have less USDA, FDA, Milk Boards, and the like. And maybe then we wouldn’t have aspartame in our ultra-pasturized, blue milk that we’ve been led to believe is healthy.

    Michael, I like your rants – thanks.

  • Aaron

    We certainly don’t know enough about the relationship between food/nutrition/activity/genetics to positively say exactly what will cause health trouble in one person versus another. I definitely agree with Andrew above – just because there is a lot of noise in the research doesn’t mean that a lot of it isn’t valuable.

    I’ll strongly disagree with you on one thing, America definitely has an obseity problem, or perhaps more exactly a “Paying for care and treatment of obesity related health problems-problem.” So while the soda ban was a very clunky way to address the issue (and only a small slice of the issue at that) I understand where Mayor Bloomberg was coming from and it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

  • nicole

    Thank you for this – I think somehow over the years (maybe it was accelerated by the advance of the Internet) people have become disconnected from their own bodies and perhaps with common sense as well. We could all do with a ‘check-in’ with ourselves on a regular basis. I also think, though, that it’s definitely true that some of us have trouble with self control, hence the need for bans such as the soda ban (I don’t really know how I personally feel about that one in particular, but I do get the general impetus) and the mass amounts of research aimed at scaring people into putting down that bag of cheetos … These are interesting times.

  • Vicky

    Great article. I am ready for the government’s social engineering program to end– along with the inevitable, resultant “political correctness” that seeks to stifle individual thought and speech.I agree with Deb, I like your rants. Thank you.

  • Michael Ruhlman

    thanks everyone for all these excellent comments. on book deadline so cant really respond. though i’m glad someone mentioned the inflamation issue which i’m hearing a lot these day and expect to hear more.

    • Brian

      Michael – I quietly follow your writings and am a big fan of your work. I’m just sending out a thanks. But I do have on question — how do we change people? What’s the least condescending way to do it?

      Maybe start in the grocery store? (for shoppers)
      Step 1 – separate every store into two parts: good and bad.
      Step 2 – single out all food items with 1 ingredient — these are the good.
      Step 3 – single out all food items with more than 1 ingredient — these are the bad
      Step 4 – Minimize your ‘bad’ to 10% of the grocery cart

      there’s my idea, let’s call it “how to buy groceries”

      Then we can work on organic/seasonal if this catches on.

  • peter absey

    They recently ct scanned egyptian mummys and found coronary artery disease in the same percentage of mummys as modern people.

  • Rose

    Hah! Back when “they” said butter was bad, I stopped listening, still have a little toast with my butter in the morning. Margarine is just yuck apart from any nasty side-effects now being discussed more widely. And no low-fat milk, thanks, another yuck, and not homogenised either. Need to keep an eye on sugar addiction though, that stuff is brain-frying.

    And the paleo diet stuff? Almost pure rubbish. Now for breakfast of eggs & bacon, yum!

  • Walter Jeffries

    On a related note, a reader on my blog was asking about nitrates because I had done some simple testing of nitrates in forages as a homeschooling project with my daughter last fall. I referred the reader to your excellent post:

    http://ruhlman.com/2011/05/the-no-nitrites-added-hoax/

    There are some products that really don’t have nitrates/nitrites added, not sodium nitrate, not celery juice, nada. The key is people should read the ingredients list. We make hot dogs which really are uncured, no nitrates, no nitrites and they are a big seller for our farm. The ingredient list is short, sweet and simple. We also don’t use

    But why no nitrates? Simply because it was consumer demand. People asked for them. Likewise we don’t use MSG or HFCS in our hot dogs. Instead we use a half gallon of pure Vermont maple syrup, tapped just down the valley from our farm at our neighbor’s farm. High quality pastured pork, just a touch of maple syrup and then smoked makes for delicious hot dogs.

    Personally, I don’t worry about a little nitrates/nitrites. Certainly not something I’m going to give up bacon or ham for. Fortunately I don’t have an allergy to it. Nitrates and Nitrites are something that has been long tested by centuries of food making and even the lab tests say it isn’t that bad. Just don’t be a lab rat! Moderation in everything.

  • linds

    Totally agree with your premise. Find it ironic that as I’m reading it and nodding my head, I’m getting served up a pop up ad for Medifast. I’m sure that’s BlogHer Food’s doing, not yours, but would be nice if the ad didn’t run counter to what was a great rant.

  • Laura@MotherWouldKnow

    Like you, I try to listen to my body in terms of what feels good and I would second the “moderation in all things” theme that several commenters have mentioned. Common sense is the best guide to food, as it is to many things. But I am not opposed to government regulation of food (again with common sense as a guide) because if the profit motive of food producers, stores, etc were left unchecked, would not be my idea of a well-run society. Requirements for food labeling and inspection, truth-in-advertising & similar regulations protect us from unscrupulous food producers. So maybe regulating the size of soft drinks is a bit much, but in your zeal to get rid of the nanny state, don’t lose the labels, inspections & all else that keep our food (including ingredients, not just processed food) safe.

  • Blubs

    I agree with this post one thousand percent. I am really sick and tired of hearing what new study tells me which food is healthy or “good for you” and not.

    My husband and myself cook our own meals most of the time. Only from my cold dead hands will you pry bacon, butter or salt out of my life.

    I wish we could listen to our bodies more and not try to cut out a complete food group as a diet and way of life. No bread or carbohydrates? Are you kidding me? Unless you have a gluten allergy or have Celiac disease, there’s no reason to. I do think everything in moderation is in key.

    Most of my weekly dinners also include a big fat salad of shredded red leaf, green leaf, red cabbage, tomatoes and raddicchio with some avocado or cheese as a fat. With it is a very moderate portion of a rich, fatty braise or even things with bacon as part of my dinner.

  • Melissa

    This is why I read it too. No armchair quarterbacking on this blog! Enjoy reading it with other likeminded folks. And in the spirit of participating–my feedback on your social media. Love what you and Donna do with this blog. More pics on the blog sometimes might be fun (from your trip for example–i had this vision of all of these big sailors–but an actual visual would have been so cool–maybe Donna could give you some photog lessons. :) . You could do some Q and A sessions on twitter or FB? The Bon Appetit guys and gals do this and it is awesome. You’re good at the demo videos too–it would be fun to see more quick demos on the blog. (Like the poached egg demo with that awesome spoon–lets just say I wont be using my egg poacher pan again…) Thanks again!

  • AntoniaJames

    I cook for myself (and my family), everything from scratch; 99.99% of our meals (including all our own bread, preserves, etc.) we’ve enjoyed at home, for about 30 years. I think for myself. And I eat what I want, within reason. (I don’t eat and have never eaten processed food, fast food, soda, etc.) I have 2 in college, have a strong family history of heart disease, and have had another key risk factor as well – high cholesterol. My family depends on me. It would be unthinkably selfish for me not to try to reduce my overall risk of a heart attack by dealing with the factors I can control. The “I’ll eat what I want and if I die, I die” approach just doesn’t work for me. I love bacon, I love red meat, and I love butter, just as much as any of you. But those foods, I have recently proven, elevate my cholesterol. High cholesterol is directly correlated with higher rates of heart attack in people with strong family histories of heart disease. So, thinking for myself, I devised a plan to deal with it. Hear me out, please. I devised what I call my “Vegan 18-21” life, which means I eat 18 homemade vegan meals every week. We eat no processed foods except the tofu I buy at the Korean grocery and natural peanut butter. I love fish, so I eat it twice a week. The 21st meal, a wildcard, typically consists of a bacon and egg sandwich on toasted homemade bread, with butter. I love it. If I’m out at a party or restaurant, or we’re celebrating a holiday, and an animal-based dish looks really tasty to me, I eat it, with gusto, provided that it’s within my limits. I enjoy the 21st meal even more because I eat that kind of food relatively infrequently. In fact, I’ve come to see firsthand an irony in this great land of plenty, where people like us can eat whatever we want, whenever we want it. We have utterly lost touch with the joy that prior generations experienced (and people today not surrounded by this abundance enjoy) when sweet and rich and other fancy foods were/are reserved for special celebrations occurring only five or six times a year. The last time I checked, I’d lowered my sky-high cholesterol by 1/3. I still have a way to go. Do I feel deprived because I’m not eating butter and other animal-based fats, meat and rich desserts on a regular basis? No, not at all. In fact I consider myself fortunate, because when I do eat them, I enjoy them in a way that people who eat those foods whenever they darn feel like it don’t, and probably haven’t, in years. ;o)

  • Tori Avey

    Bravo! Over time I’ve learned to ignore these studies, as they so often wildly contradict each other. I usually eat Mediterranean-style. I drink wine in moderation. My body is happy, I am happy. The food tastes good, and it makes me feel good. I’m not overly-obsessed with my diet, and I treat myself to something indulgent once in a while. The main thing I’ve done is eliminate the processed, chemical-laden crud that has become such an integral part of the American diet. The more real and natural we eat, the better… period. I’m also a big believer in the power of the mind. When we obsess about our food choices, our stress levels go up and eating becomes a chore. Food should be a pleasure, not a burden. Keep it simple, keep it natural, and enjoy life. L’chaim!

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  • Dave K

    “..A lot of you don’t drink, no smoke. Some people here tonight, they don’t eat butter; no salt, no sugar, no lard. Cause they want to live, they give up that good stuff.. Neckbones, pig tails. You gonna feel like a damn fool laying at the hospital dying of nothing”. – Red Foxx

  • Rachel

    YES! Thank you for this! I’m an American living in France, and I couldn’t agree with you more….post-meal cafe, digestif, cigarette, and all!

  • catering

    wow this makes me mad, why is the government being so ignorant? It does not matter what we eat so much as how often..

  • Simeon

    Michael, your views present a great way to side-step the confusion of what and what not to eat. There is little scientific data presented in your post to back you up, but does that really matter? Scientifically accredited studies to back up arguments on topics like this can always be discovered, but it doesn’t seem important when the writer is a normal guy who loves life and loves food. That simplicity is what gives you sway on this topic. Please don’t take that the wrong way!

  • Lisa

    Michael, thanks for this piece. While I agree entirely with the spirit of your message, I also want to point out 2 considerations that are at the heart of why some people opt for what might seem to be restrictive diets: a) What we eat affects our mind, thus our thoughts and moods. For people who depend upon a clear head to accomplish their daily missions, or who just enjoy being thoroughly awake in the process of life, paying heed to what they do and consume might be important. Personally, for example, eating sugar makes me (in this order): elated, hyper, irritable, tired. Conversely, eating simple, clean food free of dairy & sugar helps me function with stable energy and I’m a more tolerant person.
    b) What we choose for ourselves has consequences beyond ourselves. In this interdependent reality, merely satisfying our appetites for short-term pleasure doesn’t always go far enough in the thought process of weighing out what we should do in a given moment (I’m obviously thinking of eating & lifestyle choices that are informed by a concern for labor conditions, environmental consequences, animal welfare, etc)

    All that said, I believe each choice should bring forth the fullness of our attention but each outcome ought not be pre-determined by dogma. I This gives to each of us maximum freedom and a loadful of responsibility. I believe what’s important is to evaluate what your priorities are in life (ie long-term vs short-term pleasures), and to what degree you want to be awake to realize life’s potential beyond what you might be aware of at the moment.

  • D. Gold

    I understand the frustration of mountains of conflicting studies, fad diets and advice from doctors… But, I have to say, doing research into nutrition not only saved my health, but my happiness. For some people, like me, we can’t just eat what we think is yummy and be healthy. And there are no obvious signs that what we’re eating is harming us. I had a mystery illness for 10 years, eventually diagnosed as Fibromyalgia, autoimmune arthritis, and disc degenerative disease. I was a highly active, positive, generally happy 20-something otherwise (though not so much near the end of those ten years – being in constant pain will take it’s toll on you.)
    It turned out that the solution to my health issues was not drugs, like my doctors tried to prescribe, but it was my diet. Reading tons of studies and blogs and putting myself on a strict paleo-esque diet reversed my symptoms, enabled me to walk and dance again, and thus made me really, really happy. I thank every bit of research and every personal story I read.
    So while all of this research into nutrition may be irritating to you, it’s actually very useful to some of us. I think everyone needs to pay attention to it, as many people are out there suffering with no knowledge of what could help them. Of course, I do also think we should pay attention to nutrition in a way that is not oppressive, but enriching.

  • Lana

    something to be said about “comfort food” which called that for a reason and usually not so great , not brussel sprouts most of the time…

  • JJ

    While I agree that you should try to cook your own food as often as possible, there are some shockingly idiotic claims in the vast majority of your “articles”. Say no to fish oil pills? (They reduce cholesterol and triglycerides and you would have to eat fish morning, noon, and night to get the same benefit from one pill) Don’t listen to educated scientists that do studies, just go with how you feel. Heroin makes me feel great, let’s ignore the studies that say that it will kill me. You’re a moron.

  • Jenn

    And they say the Egyptians were obsessed with death…

    I appreciate the studies that give us the information that we can choose to follow or ignore. For instance, the researchers at Monash that identified high-FODMAP-bearing foods that create problems for 75% of IBS sufferers. Getting through a week without being ill (hell, getting through a day without getting ill) has made me incredibly happy, even if it means I’ve cut various things from my diet.

    But overall, I agree. It’s the idea of leaving a good-looking corpse behind or enjoying the time you spent in your body. Or like Nora Ephron who didn’t want to get hit by a bus and wish she’d had that doughnut after all (NPR interview w/Terri Gross).

    Enjoy life. And, yes, that includes enjoying food.

  • Dave Bokmiller

    A point about food, nutrition and health “Studies & Reports”- I have learned to check out who funded the studies or reports before I give them any respect. Most are funded big large corporations with a definite interest in marketing and profit more than educating the public. We have unfortunately become a society that is far too comfortable with letting others do our thinking while we complain about the consequences of poor judgement. I tell me kids please learn HOW to think vs. what so called experts tell you “what to think”.

  • Jeffrey Chuang

    We’ve forgotten how to trust ourselves. I read food nutrition science, but I take it, pardon the pun, with a grain of salt, because I remember when the country was eating margarine, loaded with man made trans fats, because butter was supposed to be bad for you and margarine good. Don’t be surprised when the latest nutrition data leads you astray. More and more it looks like the lipid theory (linking cholesterol to heart disease) may be full of holes, but don’t expect there to be any quick admissions from the scientists funded by large pharma companies. The other day I found out that the girl scout cookies contain trans fats. But why should I be surprised? The girl scouts are a corporation with highly paid executives and headquarters in midtown manhattan. Don’t eat mindlessly out of a box. Learn to cook. It’s easy. If you can salt and pepper your own food, cooking is not much of a stretch beyond that. It baffles me that people would trust what comes wrapped in plastic, made for profit by a large corporation, before they would trust what you can make yourself.

  • mehdi

    “The data that matters to me is the data I receive after I’ve finished eating something”

    That sends shivers down the spine of every scientist… why dont you leave science to scientists and stick to cooking? why does every science-quasi-illiterate foodblogger preach on a topic they are not qualified to talk about?

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    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  • Peter - The Roaming GastroGnome

    Bravo! I feel part of the problem today is no one is taught how to think for themselves anymore. It’s all about excess. Sure, if you eat 5 lbs of butter a day it’s going to have a negative effect on you. Common sense here people!

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