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America Runs on Dietary Dogma

It’s junk food for thought — and we’re hoping to change it

Dr. David L. Katz and Mark Bittman
Heated
Published in
7 min readFeb 27, 2020

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Photo: Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

In our new book, “How to Eat: Your Food and Diet Questions Answered,” David Katz and I answer what we hope are the most pressing questions about diet that confront many readers. We think it’s a useful tool to understand, commit to and maintain a truly healthy diet, and one that will serve as a useful counter to all the bullshit out there.

“How to Eat” by Mark Bittman and David L. Katz, M.D., is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is available here on March 3.

At any given moment in America, some suite of generally silly and inevitably fleeting dietary fixations prevails. These fixations underlie much of what ails us, from our waistlines to food waste, from dwindling reserves of the rainforest to pandemic diabetes.

There are no such dietary fixations where diet contributes most emphatically and reliably to years in life (i.e., longevity) and life in years (i.e., a blend, at minimum, of vitality and enjoyment). Where diet delivers the most to health, meals may well be exciting, but diet news certainly is not, because there is none: News cycles come and go, while dietary practices — rooted in heritage, sustainable, sensible, and passed down the generations through culture — remain. Everyone is hungry for the next good “diet,” yet that’s where diet is doing eaters the least good.

Among the many factors propagating a state so benighted and costly (poor diet is the leading cause of premature death in the United States today) is the very kind of zeal Bertrand Russell famously ascribed to fools and fanatics. Much of what we hear about nutrition comes at us not in the guise of an incremental addition to all that we knew until yesterday, but as a replacement for it, in the fell swoop of one adamant epiphany.

America runs on dietary dogma, in other words, and dogma is junk food for thought.

Let’s start with breakfast in America. Until quite recently, it was a matter of veritable faith that breakfast was the most important meal, and everyone had to have it — pretty much the instant their sleepy feet went from bed to floor. We may ignore the fact that few thought to ask, “based on what…

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Dr. David L. Katz and Mark Bittman
Heated

Dr. Katz is the director of The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and Mark Bittman has written about food and cooking for nearly 40 years.