Do We Need Better Advice About Eating Well? I Vote Yes

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While we get a lot of advice about what to eat, what people need to hear is actually quite simple.

Food Politics
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The New York Times asked me, among others, to contribute to its Room for Debate blog on the question of whether anyone could possibly need to hear one more word about what constitutes a healthful diet. Here's my two-cents' worth:

Better Information and Better Options

Of course Americans need more information about eating well. Otherwise we wouldn't have an obesity problem. In my daily teaching and contact with the public, I hear endless confusion about what to eat.

People are bombarded with conflicting advice, much of it from sources with a vested interest in selling particular foods, supplements or diet plans. Nutrition studies tend to focus on single nutrients, making their results difficult to apply to real diets. No wonder people have a hard time knowing what or whom to believe.

This is too bad, really. The basic principles of healthy eating could not be easier to understand: eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, balance calorie intake with expenditure, and don't eat too much junk food.

If such principles seem hard to follow, it is surely because of how they affect the food industry. Balancing calorie intake often means eating less, but doing so is bad for business. Food companies must do everything they can to sell more food, not less.

So they make foods available everywhere -- even in drug, book and clothing stores -- and in very large portions. Few people can resist eating tasty food when it's right in front of them. Large portions alone explain rising rates of obesity: they encourage people to eat more calories but to underestimate what they have eaten.

Healthy eating requires a food environment that makes it easier for everyone to make better choices. It also requires a food system that makes it cheaper to buy fruits and vegetables than less healthful foods, so everyone can afford to eat healthfully. Fix the farm bill!

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This post originally appeared on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.



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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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