Part of the confusion around what we should and shouldn’t eat is due to something called nutritionism. Nutritionism is the science of breaking down dietary components into their individual parts, such as one vitamin or one type of fat, and studying these in isolation.
This approach is helpful for evaluating medication, where there might be a single molecule designed to target one specific pathway and one particular disease. But it’s not helpful for understanding food. The things we eat contain many different components, which interact with one another and with the biochemical complexity of our bodies. In the real world, no nutrient acts in isolation.
But pretending that they do plays into the food industry’s hands, allowing claims of benefits from this nutrient or that one, depending on what’s in fashion today: If suddenly everyone’s talking about the benefits of fiber or vegetable oils, or the dangers of saturated fat, manufacturers can tailor their ingredients (and their ads) to take advantage.
Multigrain Froot Loops? I want to emphasize this: People don’t eat ingredients; they eat food. And they often eat foods that contain dozens of different ingredients, many different types of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and more.
For example, olive oil, which people think of as a monounsaturated, or “good,” fat, also contains about 20 percent saturated fat, 20 percent polyunsaturated omega-6 fat, and even a little bit of omega-3 fat, as well as a host of disease-busting antioxidant polyphenols.