There are a lot of smart people in the food world. And then there’s Marion Nestle, who’s smart on a whole other level.
A professor at New York University, she teaches classes on food policy and food advocacy. The difference, she says: “Food policy is about food policies and food advocacy is about how you change them.” She’s written eight books, mostly on the politics and marketing of the modern food system.
She also writes a daily blog, www.foodpolitics.com, that’s a must-read for anyone trying to understand it all.
Whenever I think I understand it all, Marion tells me something I never thought about or suggests something that challenges my assumptions. (And by the way, her name sounds like “nestle down in bed.”)
At 7 p.m. March 18, she’ll be at UNC Charlotte’s center city campus as the TIAA-CREF Distinguished Lecturer. Tickets are free, but they’re in short supply; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I called her first to talk about how complicated it can be to understand modern nutrition. It’s not that complicated, she insisted.
“The bottom line in nutrition is so simple. Eat plenty of vegetables, don’t eat too much junk food and try not to gain too much weight.”
When the nutrition news seems like a contradiction – all those reports that claim something will kill you one minute and is a miracle cure a minute later – that’s usually a sign that we’re too focused on a single nutrient or ingredient.
“People eat very varied diets. There’s no ‘average’ diet, for anybody. The minute you start looking at individual nutrients, you’ve erased the complexity. And you get these ‘exciting’ results that contradict each other. It’s very hard to stand back and look at the big picture.”
What frustrates her the most in American nutrition these days? She says it’s the difficulty of getting us all to understand the link between portion size and calories.
“You don’t need another explanation for obesity,” she said. “We have tons of evidence that people don’t realize that larger portions have more calories and are clueless about how much they’re eating.”
If she could get us to make three simple changes in our diets, what would she pick? Eat more vegetables, eat smaller portions and don’t drink sugar-sweetened beverages.
“Steal 10 packets of sugar in a restaurant and add it to 12 ounces of water and try to drink it. That’s a Coke or Pepsi – 40 grams of sugar in 12 ounces.”