One of the goals of our Healthy Lifestyles Group is to identify obstacles and find solutions to eating healthier foods through education. There are many books and studies which will increase our knowledge. Food Rules by Michael Pollan falls into this category.
In his 2009 book Food Rules (An Eater’s Manual), author Michael Pollan establishes 64 rules to improve our diets. The book’s preface reminds us that science knows much less about nutrition than we would expect (hence all the competing diets). However, two important facts are not in dispute:
- Populations which eat a “Western diet” (processed foods and meats, lots of added fat and sugar, and few vegetables) suffer from high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
- Populations eating a wide range of traditional diets generally don’t suffer from these chronic diseases.
The book has three sections – what should we eat, what kind of food should we eat, and how much should we eat. His short answer to these questions is Eat Food, Mostly Plants, and Not Too Much. The book translates these seven words into rules or personal policies. He suggests we adopt at least one rule from each section.
I’ve selected 10 rules from each section to include in this post. You may want to read the book – it is an easy (and fun) read and the book is available at our local Wake County libraries.
What Should I Eat (Eat Food)
- Eat real food not highly processed products referred to as “edible food like substances” by the author. These products contain chemical additives and other ingredients created by food scientists.
- Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother (or grandmother) wouldn’t recognize as food – for example, a tube of Go-GURT Portable Yogurt.
- Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human being would keep in their pantry. If you wouldn’t use Cellulose or Calcium Propionate when you cook, why let others use these ingredients?
- Avoid foods that have some form of sugar or sweetener listed among the top 3 ingredients. This includes cane juice, dextrose, sucrose, barley malt, and beet sugar (to name just a few).
- Avoid food products with the wordoid “lite” or the terms “low-fat” or “nonfat” in their names. We’re better off eating the real thing in moderation than bingeing on “lite” products packed with sugar and salt.
- Eat only foods that will eventually rot – real food is alive and therefore will eventually die. Highly processed foods are often stripped of key nutrients to increase shelf life.
- Get out of the supermarket whenever you can and buy your food at a farmer’s market.
- Avoid foods advertised on TV. Over two thirds of food advertising is spent promoting processed foods and alcohol.
- Don’t ingest foods made in a place where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap.
- It’s not food if it arrived through the window of the car.
What Kind of Food Should I Eat (Mostly Plants)
- Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food. For example, rather than a meal composed of an eight ounce steak and 4 ounces of vegetables, serve four ounces of steak and eight ounces of veggies.
- Eat your colors. Vegetables of different colors contain different antioxidants which protect against chronic disease.
- Eat animals that have themselves eaten well. The diet of animals strongly influences the nutritional quality of the food we get from them (whether it is meat, eggs, or milk).
- If you have the space, buy a freezer. This will enable you to buy produce in bulk at the height of its season when it will be most abundant and cheapest.
- Eat well-grown food from healthy soil. Research shows that soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food.
- Don’t overlook the oily fishes (sardines, anchovies). These fish are abundantly available and packed with nutrients.
- Sweeten and salt your food yourself. You’ll use a fraction of the quantity used by corporations.
- Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of milk. These cereals are highly processed and full of refined carbohydrates.
- Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. Chances are you won’t have French fries every day if you have to make them.
- Be the kind of person who takes supplements – and then skip the supplements. Supplement takers are healthy for reasons that have nothing to do with pills. They’re more likely to exercise and eat whole grains.
How Should I Eat (Not too much)
- Pay more, eat less. The American food industry has focused on quantity not quality. It will cost more to eat better but the health benefits may outweigh the additional cost.
- Eat when you are hungry not when you are bored. One old wives test – if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry.
- Eat slowly. If you eat slowly and savor the food, you’ll need less of it to be satisfied.
- Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.
- Buy smaller plates and glasses. The bigger the portion the more we will eat – upwards of 30%. Don’t supersize portions when eating at home.
- Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper. Front loading your calories may lead to fewer calories as people tend to be less hungry in the morning.
- Eat meals – studies show we’ve added a 4th meal to our daily routine. This 4th “meal” consists of day long snacking and sipping while we watch TV, drive our cars, work, etc. This results in higher calorie consumption than eating 3 healthy meals a day.
- Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods – fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
- Treat treats as treats. There is nothing wrong with special occasion foods (cakes, pastries, ice cream) as long as every day is not a special occasion day.
- Cooking for yourself is the only way to take back control of your diet from the food scientists and to guarantee you’re eating real food.