Nutritionism is a new word for me, and I’ve decided I don’t like it. Not one little bit. I was just introduced to it this week upon reading a post at My World Edenwild called I don’t believe in Nutrionism anymore. Then I learned even more about it over at Food Renegade where, in her post From The Mouths of Babes, I watched Micheal Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, talk about nutritionism in a video she made as a part of her Real Food Nutrition and Health E-Course. It was like a light bulb going on in my head when she said “Food, NOT NUTRIENTS, is the fundamental unit in nutrition.” I had a “Duh, of course it is,” moment. So why isn’t this more widely understood?

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1. The first premise of nutritionism, according to Michael Pollan, “is that the important thing about any food is the nutrients it contains. Food is essentially the sum of its nutrient parts.” So when we eat a bowl of Cheerios (my daughter’s favorite cereal by the way, nobody’s perfect over here), although the only real food ingredient it contains is whole grain oats we are supposed to feel good about eating it because it is “a good source of fibre.” The cereal has a number of other processed and biochemical ingredients in it to make the O’s hold together and taste good and serve as “nutrients” to give us sources of iron, Vitamin D, zinc, Vitamin B12, etc. So while Cheerios is barely real food, it is a delivery system for nutrients.

2. Since nutrients are the most important thing but we can’t see them, we need scientists and other experts to tell us what we should eat. This is a tricky one for me. I work in Mental Health And Addictions for the local Health Authority, and a part of my job is to help clients learn how to budget their money and eat healthier food. However, I am working with some clients who barely have enough motivation to get to the store, let alone create a healthy meal from scratch. Therefore, we often have to rely on the healthy, cheap versions of pre-made and easy-to-make meals. Oh, yes, and it is very important that we follow the Canada Food Guide, basically making my job an impossible task. But as long as I know that this is the “right” way to eat, we’re fine. “Not sure if she’s getting enough protein? Just look up the nutrients on the side of the packages.” (All those hard to read ingredients – just ignore those.)

3. Nutritionism divides the world into good and evil. Right now transfats is the devil. Omega-3 fatty acids are the angels. Of course the identity of these nutrients change over time, depending on food trends. Not long ago low fat was the ideal. Sometimes carbohydrates are “in” and sometimes they aren’t. For the non-vegetarians who don’t know actually know much about food, proteins are very important, and thus, as a vegetarian, I can’t be getting enough and am likely paving my personal road to hell. But see how we make the nutrients so much more important than the food we are eating? Why are we paying so much attention to the nutrients instead of the food?

Since the science of nutrients was introduced, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes have risen. I am going to go out on a limb here and speculate that because science can  make processed foods more “nutritious” than their real counterparts, people have stopped eating real food and have started relying on cheaper, scientifically crafted foods.

In learning all of this I couldn’t help but think of the relationship between breastfeeding and formula. Breastfeeding is real food for babies. Formula is its processed food counterpart. Over time science has almost perfected infant formula by packing it with the “same nutrient composition” as our breast milk. At times, society has been told that formula is just as nutritious, if not more so, than breast milk. This has sparked debates over the healthiest way to feed a baby, and while breast milk always comes out on top, formula feeding mothers can pretty much feel confident that their baby’s food is “just as good.”

But is it? Who read the article at Natural News called It’s not the bugs in Similac that make me sick – let’s recall the other ingredients? While the article itself has some finger pointing criticism that I don’t agree with it does bring the reader’s attention to the ingredients in a can of Similac, namely corn syrup solids, soy protein isolate, high oleic safflower oil, sugar (sucrose), soy oil and coconut oil. Would you feed these ingredients standing alone to your newborn baby? No, but because a team of scientists have fortified this concoction of oily sugar with a bunch of good sounding things called nutrients it’s suddenly “just as good.”

“But we/I turned out just fine” is something I hear from my mom’s generation a lot. Most of them were fed formula, BUT they also had the luxury of eating (for the most part) real whole foods. For certain, not all of them have turned out fine, and for others only time will tell. I believe that the children who were formula fed back in the 50′s and 60′s still grew up on mostly real foods, and I think that a healthy diet – post-infant formula – benefited their overall health.

Raw dairy stocked Canadian shelves until the pasteurization law was passed in the 1960′s. Cows and chickens were being grass fed, produce wasn’t being sprayed (or at least not as heavily), and nothing was genetically modified. In addition, most families ate home cooked meals every night. People didn’t go out to restaurants to eat as much as they do now. Processed foods were in their infant stages and had no where near the chemical additives and preservatives that they do now. According to the fabulous post over at Modern Alternative Mama … but WE turned out fine! up until 1990 when they switched to canola oil, McDonalds used beef tallow to deep fry with. Processed food companies used coconut oil in baked goods. Now they use vegetable oil and shortening.

Recently I remember hearing Jamie Oliver say that our children will live ten years younger than us because of the landscape of food we’ve built for them. I believe it’s time to save lives.

I believe it’s time to go back to real food. It’s time to question the ingredients that companies put in their foods. It’s time to ask why did the nutrients we’re consuming become more important than the food we’re eating? It’s time for our governments  to put out money into breast milk banks instead of formula samples!

It’s time to toss away our guilt for the mistakes society has made under the power of the food corporations. Not the mistakes we as parents have made. Most of us don’t have anything to feel guilty about. We can’t all be expected to know everything all the time. No one is perfect, and we all do the best we can do with the information we have at the time. But we can expect that scientists know what they’re doing, and what corporations are doing when they tell us to buy their superior products.

Note: This post is not meant to make anyone feel guilty for choices they’ve made. It is meant for educational purposes only. Toss the guilt out the window and empower yourself for the future. And if you feel you’ve made an informed decision about any of what I’ve written about then more power to you. You have my respect. Sincerely, Melodie.

This post is a part of Real Food Wednesdays, Vegetarian Foodie Fridays, Fight Back Friday, and Food on Friday, Wholesome Whole Foods, Momtrends, and Hearth and Soul Blog Hop.

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36 Responses to “Understanding Nutritionism And The Problem With Infant Formula”

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