Nutritionism: Understanding Ingredients, Understanding Food

Nutritionism: Understanding Ingredients, Understanding Food

Before jumping into nutritionism, let’s think about ingredients for a moment. When we read the labeled contents of most commercial processed feeds, we see a lot of additives (synthetic nutrients and inorganic minerals) and not much food. There is of course some food, but it’s low grade, and in many cases has been further refined.

This may be the result of our processed food culture: from the original TV dinners, to our present microwave meals and fast foods. Horse feed, which once upon a time was simply whole grains, is now a processed convenience food product.

Gyorgy Scrinis, research associate at the Globalism Institute at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia coined the term nutritionism, which is an ideology based on the premise that the key to understanding food, is to understand the nutrient. To be clear, the term was first used by Scrinis (and later by like-minded journalist Michael Pollan) in a negative way. They actually regarded nutritionism as a scientifically popular, but highly suspect, way of thinking about the roles of nutrients in the foods we eat. In a way, nutritionism is the opposite of the whole food approach to nutrition, and perhaps a mindset that misses the forest for the trees by overemphasizing the role of individual nutrients — out of context with the larger, more complex foods that contain them.

It’s the basis for which many nutritional scientists work: study one element of a food to figure out if that one element or nutrient is WHY the food is healthy, beneficial, fights cancer, etc.

Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University says, “the problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food.” (1)

Gyorgy Scrinis points out that “instead of worrying about nutrients we need to simply avoid any food that has been processed to such an extent that it is more the product of an industry than of nature.” (2)

  1. Pollan, M. 2008. In Defense of Food. Penguin Books
  2. Ibid
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