The Science and Politics
of Dietary Advice
Published by Columbia University Press, 368 pages, June 2013. Cloth/ Hardcover & Paperback.
In Australia, a paperback edition is published by Allen & Unwin.
Table of Contents
1. A Clash of Nutritional Ideologies
2. The Nutritionism Paradigm: Reductive Approaches to Nutrients, Food, and the Body
3. The Era of Quantifying Nutritionism: Protective Nutrients, Caloric Reductionism, and Vitamania
4.The Era of Good-and-Bad Nutritionism: Bad Nutrients and Nutricentric Dietary Guidelines
5. The Macronutrient Diet Wars: From the Low-Fat Campaign to Low-Calorie, Low-Carb, and Low-GI Diets
6. Margarine, Butter, and the Trans-Fats Fiasco
7. The Era of Functional Nutritionism: Functional Nutrients, Superfoods, and Optimal Dietary Patterns
8. Functional Foods: Nutritional Engineering, Nutritional Marketing, and Corporate Nutritionism
9. The Food Quality Paradigm: Alternative Approaches to Food and the Body
10. After Nutritionism
Appendix: The Nutritionism and Food Quality Lexicon
Popularized by Michael Pollan in his best-selling book In Defense of Food, Gyorgy Scrinis’ concept of nutritionism refers to the reductive understanding of nutrients as the key indicators of healthy food—an approach to food that now dominates nutrition science, dietary advice, and food marketing. Scrinis argues that this ideology of nutritionism has narrowed and in some cases distorted our appreciation of food quality, such that even highly processed foods may be perceived as healthful depending on their content of “good” or “bad” nutrients. Through an engaging investigation into such issues as the butter versus margarine debate, the battle between low-fat, low-carb, and other weight-loss diets, and the food industry’s strategic promotion of nutritionally enhanced foods, Scrinis builds a revealing history of the scientific, social, and economic factors driving our modern fascination with nutrition.
Scrinis identifies the historical phases that gave rise to nutritionism: the era of quantification, in which the idea of protective nutrients, caloric reductionism, and vitamins’ curative effects took shape; the era of good and bad nutritionism, which set nutricentric dietary guidelines and defined the parameters of unhealthy nutrients; and the era of functional nutritionism, in which the focus has shifted to targeted nutrients, superfoods, and optimal diets. His research underscores the critical role of nutrition science and dietary advice in shaping our relationship to food and our own bodies and in heightening our nutritional anxieties. He ultimately shows how nutritionism has come to align the demands and perceived needs of consumers with the commercial interests of food manufacturers and corporations. His study concludes with an alternative paradigm for assessing the healthfulness of foods—the food quality paradigm—that privileges food production and processing quality, cultural-traditional knowledge, and sensual-practical experience, and promotes less reductive forms of nutrition research and dietary advice.
“It’s an arithmetic of which too many of us are capable – to cast our eyes over our plates and calculate under our breath the balance of carb, protein, calorie and other nutritional values. The origins of this very modern, very capitalist Grace are laid bare in Gyorgy Scrinis’ important, iconoclastic and long-awaited study. If you care about the nutritional content of your food, you should care about why you care. Nutritionism, in large doses, has the answers.” — Raj Patel, Author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed & Starved.
“This book artfully brings together two fields. One is the huge body of both scholarly and popular texts that provide nutritional advice – or tell us what to eat. Using this literature as data, Scrinis has combed through this literature in exhaustive detail to provide a magnificent synthesis. The other field is what I would call critical nutrition studies, referring to a growing literature that interrogates and historicizes nutritional advice. The author critiques the “what to eat” advice on its own terms and then suggests other approaches to evaluating food.” — Julie Guthman, University of California at Santa Cruz and author of Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism.
“Nutritionism is an important contribution to the discourse of the alternative food movement, providing a unique, scholarly rational for the food-quality paradigm. Gyorgy Scrinis provides a new language for talking about how our ideas about what makes a good diet have come to be.” — Charlotte Biltekoff, University of California, Davis
“Gyorgy Scrinis details the ideology of “nutritionism,” in which the great majority of dietary advice is reduced to statements about a few nutrients. The resulting cascade is nutrient-based dietary guidelines, nutrition labeling, food engineering, and food marketing. I agree with Scrinis that a broader focus on foods would lead to quite a different scientific and political cascade, including a more healthful diet for many people and a different relationship between the public and the food industry.” — David Jacobs, Mayo Professor of Public Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota
“Gyorgy Scrinis exposes the folly of the reductionist approach and proposes an alternative food quality paradigm, based on respecting traditional dietary patterns and reducing technological processing. It may offend nutritionists and will upset the food industry, but it could also herald a delicious revolution in our ability to eat well.” — Rosemary Stanton OAM, School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales, Australia.
“A provocative and comprehensive critique of the science of nutrition – demonstrating that much of this science is reductionist, frequently creating public confusion in its simplistic translation into dietary advice.” — Kerin O’Dea, Professor of Population Health and Nutrition, University of South Australia.