In 2008, journalist Michael Pollan published In Defense of Food, a book with a now familiar message: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The book’s central argument is that the processed foods that make up a big chunk of the standard American diet and are ruining our health, and we all should strive to replace these “edible foodlike substances,” as he calls them, with whole, unprocessed foods.
That message quickly became omnipresent. Pollan’s well-meaning advice lent more momentum to a growing fanatical clean-eating movement, which popularized the idea that natural is always best: whole foods are inherently pure and health promoting, and processed foods are filled with toxins that disrupt and undermine our well-being. On the surface, it seems to make sense—there’s truth to the idea that whole foods are more nutritious than overprocessed ones. But the clean-eating ethos can also oversimplify nutrition and lead to