It’s easy to feel ambushed and overwhelmed by contradictory nutrition advice from the nightly news, tabloids or diet books. The ever-changing diet du jour creates a sense of confusion that can be a psychological barrier to improving the way we eat.
It’s for this reason that I’m grateful for author and food activist Michael Pollan. When it comes to what and how much we should eat, Pollan encourages us to use common sense and intuition. His guidelines take us back to the basics while refuting the intentions of the current U.S. food industry. Pollan reminds us that the food industry often doesn’t have our best interest at heart.
“The expert message we hear the most is the message of industry, which spends more than $30 billion a year to market food to us,” Pollan writes. “By comparison, the government’s voice, the doctor’s voice, the voice of sanity gets drowned out. And so we walk into a treacherous landscape in the supermarket, where we’re bombarded with health claims that are very often deceptive.”
Here are my top 10 favorite suggestions that Pollan offers in his small and elegant book, “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.” I hope the simplicity in this list brings you clarity to make your own diet healthier.
1. “Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.” The more ingredients a food has, the more processed it is. Don’t be fooled by junk food claims, like Tostitos corn chips that boast having only three ingredients. It’s still junk food with little to no nutritional value.
2. “Avoid eating food products containing ingredients a third grader cannot pronounce.” Don’t expect our bodies to know how to process something that isn’t real food.
3. “Sweeten and salt your food yourself.” Food made by corporations has far more sugar and salt than adults, and even children, would add themselves.
4. “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.” Fast food restaurants are not feeding you for your health and many of their products have ingredients that aren’t food at all.
5. “Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.” While it may seem convenient to eat gas station food, your body and mind will serve you better when you put more time and energy into the fuel you ingest.
6. “Eat your colors.” Colors that occur naturally in plants are powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents.
7. “Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.” Cows that provide red meat, milk and cheese are meant to eat grass. However, the food industry often feeds them grain in order to fatten them up quickly and get their products to market. They are not equipped to eat this foreign diet so their health, and therefore the by-products of their bodies, are negatively affected. Wild animals are among the healthiest to eat for this reason.
8. “Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food.” There is mounting evidence proving that our meat-centric diets are too heavy in protein and can create health risks like heart disease and weight gain.
9. “Eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored.” Find a healthy way to combat boredom. Some examples include physical activity, drinking water, or calling someone you’ve been thinking about.
“Avoid food products with the word ‘lite’ or the terms ‘low-fat’ or ‘nonfat’ in their names.” The war against fat that began in the 70s was based on bad science. Fat is not the enemy to our health, because when fat is reduced or removed, sugar is often added, and too much sugar is fattening and inflammatory. There are many current scientific studies proving that inflammation caused by lifestyle choices – like diets high in processed foods – is the root of many chronic diseases.
For more inspiring, and eye opening information from Michael Pollan, watch the documentary “In Defense of Food,” released in October 2015. It’s terrific food for thought.