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Adv Nutr. 2018 Nov 1;9(6):655-670. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmy044.

Perspective: Reductionist Nutrition Research Has Meaning Only within the Framework of Holistic and Ethical Thinking.

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Université Clermont Auvergne, INRA, UNH, Unité de Nutrition Humaine, CRNH Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand, France.


Today, it seems that nutrition is in a state of great confusion, especially for the general public. For decades, some nutrients (e.g., cholesterol, saturated fats, sugars, gluten, salt) and food groups (e.g., dairy, cereals, meats) have been regularly denigrated. In this position paper, we hypothesize that such a state of confusion is mainly the result of the reductionist paradigm applied to nutrition research for more than a century, and by being pushed to its extreme, this perspective has led to accusations about some nutrients and foods. However, the real issue is about foods taken as a whole and therefore about their degree of processing, which affects both the food matrix and composition. Indeed, we eat whole foods, not nutrients. Therefore, the objectives of this article are to emphasize the need for more holistic approaches in nutrition to preserve our health, animal welfare, and planet. We propose to first redefine the food health potential on a holistic basis and then to show that reductionism and holism are interconnected approaches that should coexist. Then, we try to explain how extreme reductionism has been disconnected from reality and ethical considerations and has ultimately led to environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, notably through very specific crops, and to an increased prevalence of chronic diseases. Furthermore, to address the confusion of the general public and to simplify nutritional messages, we propose 3 holistic golden rules based on scientific evidence to protect human health, animal welfare, and the environment (climate and biodiversity). Finally, we try to show how these 3 rules can be easily applied worldwide while respecting the environment, cultural traditions, and heritage.

[Available on 2019-11-01]

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