Crawl Across the Ocean

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Simple Charts and Complex Food

1. Via Andrew Sullivan, Gapminder, a cool visual tool for comparing the progress (and regress) of countries over time on various measures such as life exectancy and number of doctors per 1000 people.

2. Via John from Dymaxion World, here's an interesting article on how to eat healthy from Michael Pollan in the New York Times.

Basically, the argument is that the mechanism in which food sustains human health is too complicated to be fruitfully simplified into concerns about this vitamin, or that saturated fat or whatever. What this means in practice would be that as foods are simplified (and processed foods have typically been simplified) and as our diet focusses more on obtaining specific individual nutrients, we are likely losing out in ways we don't yet, and might never fully understand.

I've often heard people argue that unprocessed foods are healthier than processed ones, but this is the most convincing argument I've seen as to why we might suspect this to be true.

Certainly, if my math degree taught me anything, it was the limitations of our ability to understand complex systems by reducing them to simplified component parts, and it seems logical that the relationship between the human body and food would easily be complex enough to take on those characteristics. It also offers an explanation for why science seems to flail about on this topic so much, with foods that were advocated one year being condemned the next and vice-versa. Still, it would be easier to eat more unprocessed foods and a more diverse array of food if vegetables didn't (almost) all taste so bad.


  • I think that if you could ever make it past the initially unpleasant stage of eating healthy (let's say, a week or so), much to your surprise you'd find out that many of these healthy, natural, unprocessed foods are in fact pretty tasty. On a few occasions when I've gone off the "bad" foods, I find that my taste buds seem to "come to life" and foods I thought were bland become flavourful (brown rice, whole wheat bread, many veggies, etc), and the refined sugars & breads actually taste somewhat nasty.

    It's not easy to make the switch though, and it's usually very easy to slide back into the old routine.

    Just my two cents.

    By Blogger Simon, at 2:19 PM  

  • I only wish they were bland - then I could eat them. It's because the taste is too intense (and foul) that vegetables are a challenge. For instance, many people say lettuce has no taste, but I find that even if I don't know it is there (ruling out psychological factors) catching a little bit of lettuce in a bite of a subway sandwich with bread, bacon, cheese, turkey and ham is enough to overpower all those other flavours and make the whole bite very unpleasant.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:39 PM  

  • Lettuce is too strong? Hearing that is definitely a first for me.

    Now if you'll excuse me I have a Coke and donut to finish.

    By Blogger Simon, at 7:48 PM  

  • The apparent "coming alive" of one's taste buds when while trapped into eating to only "good" foods is simply a variation of Stockholm Syndrome.

    It gets worse. Eating too many unprocessed or "natural" foods quickly gets one to thinking about the marvelous complexity of such foods, and Intelligent Design quickly begins to look reasonable.

    Best to stick with buns, cheese and bacon.

    By Blogger Kevin, at 3:35 PM  

  • Mmmmm...bacon.

    By Blogger Simon, at 11:48 PM  

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