Hippocrates famously said: 'Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.' But the 4th century BC Greek physician's words have become one of the most over-simplified and abused aphorisms of our time.
Nutrition has become a discourse in the public domain, omnipresent in the media, the protagonist of every conversation and pervasive in our thoughts. Food, broken down into macro and micro-nutrients, has taken on a moral value, and it seems impossible to talk about pasta without thinking about carbohydrates, drinking wine without considering its sugar content, and taking the pleasure of dining without immediately jumping to health consequences. But is food really medicine?
'Food Isn't Medicine'
According to Dr Joshua Wolrich's book, Food Isn't Medicine, the answer is a categorical 'no'. It tries to dismantle what he calls "nutribollocks", or pseudo-scientific nonsense about nutrition, from the alkaline diet to the benefits of fasting. Meanwhile, in Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food, he defines this problematisation of nutrition, which continually leads us to think about the properties of food and its effects on our body, as 'nutritionism'.
"An important part of the link with food has been lost, which could be described as 'the pleasure of eating'. By constantly worrying about what we eat, we take energy away from a function that already has its own control,” explains Dr. Viola Zulian, a surgeon specialising in bariatric surgery. "At the same time, it is indisputable that thanks to food we can prevent or even cure most chronic diseases."
For those who love to eat out at restaurants, it seems even more complicated to maintain this balance between worrying about what we eat, and yet not worrying too much about it. And those who have tried to calculate the calories in a tasting menu have not reported encouraging data.