Michael Pollan's 'Food Rules': Part I

I just finished reading "Food Rules" by Michael Pollan and thought I would share some of the information from the book. Michael Pollan has quite a few bestsellers, and most of his books are far more extensive than "Food Rules" but I decided to start by reading this one because it is a simple, reference-type guide to eating healthily. There was a mixture of information I already know and follow, information I know and haven't really followed, and information that I didn't already know.

His basic premise for the book was to dig deep into the complicated world of nutritional science and come up with some guidelines/principles that could simplify the way we eat, in a healthy way.

“I realized that the answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated question of what we should eat wasn’t so complicated at all, and in fact could be boiled down to just seven words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

— Michael Pollan in "Food Rules"

He also explains at the beginning of the book that nutritional science is a very new science and that there is so much we still don't know about the nutrients in our food and how exactly they work to help or hinder our health. So in writing his book, he has consultant many sources of information from nutritionists and scientists to grandmothers and cultural traditions.

“Human beings ate well and kept themselves healthy for millennia before nutritional science came along to tell us how to do it; it is entirely possible to eat healthily without knowing what an antioxidant is.”

— Michael Pollan in "Food Rules"

"Food Rules" is a compilation of 64 "rules" (or personal policies, as he calls them) to help us decipher what and how we should eat.

Part 1: What should I eat? (Eat food.)

Rule 1 - Eat food.

"...seventeen thousand new products show up in the supermarket each year... But most of these items don't deserve to be called food--I call them edible foodlike substances."

Rule 2 - Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

"There are now thousands of foodish products in the supermarket that our ancestors simply wouldn't recognize as food. The reason to avoid eating such complicated food products are many..."

Rule 3 - Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

"The food scientists' chemistry set is designed to extend shelf life, make old food look fresher and more appetizing than it really is, and get you to eat more."

Rule 4 - Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup.

"...it is, like many of the other unfamiliar ingredients in packaged foods, a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed. Also, [HFCS] is being added to hundreds of food that have not traditionally been sweetened... But don't fall for the food industry's latest scam: products reformulated to contain 'no HFCS' or 'real cane sugar.' These claims imply these foods are somehow healthier, but they're not."

Rule 5 - Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.

(For an exception to this rule, see rule 60) -this will be posted in Part III

"...there are now some forty types of sugar used in processed food, including barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice, corn sweetener, dextrin, dextrose, fructo-oligosaccharides, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, sucrose, invert sugar, polydextrose, sucrose, turbinado sugar, and so on... As for noncaloric sweeteners such as aspartame or Splenda, research (in both humans and animals) suggests that switching to artificial sweeteners does not lead to weight loss, for reasons not yet well understood."

Rule 6 - Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.

"The specific number you adopt is arbitrary, but the more ingredients in a packaged food, the more highly processed it probably is. Note 1: A long list of ingredients in a recipe is not the same thing; that's fine. Note 2: Some products now boast, somewhat deceptively, about their short ingredient lists..."

He goes on to explain that although an ice cream only has 5 ingredients, it's still ice cream and should still be eaten in moderation.

Rule 7 - Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.

Rule 8 - Avoid food products that make health claims.

"For a product to carry a health claim on its package, it must first have a package, so right off the bat it's more likely to be a processed rather than a whole food. Then, only the big food manufacturers have the wherewithal to secure FDA-approved health claims for their products... The healthiest food in the supermarket-the fresh produce-doesn't boast about its healthfulness, because growers don't have the budget or the packaging. Don't take the silence of the yams as a sign they have nothing valuable to say about your health."

That last sentence makes me laugh!

Rule 9 - Avoid food products with the wordoid "lite" or the terms "low-fat" or "nonfat" in their names.

"...removing the fat from foods doesn't necessarily make them nonfattening. Carbohydrates can also make you fat, and many low- and nonfat foods boost the sugars to make up for the loss of flavour... You're better off eating the real thing in moderation than binging on the "lite" food products packed with sugars and salt."

Rule 10 - Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not.

This applies to margarine, nonfat cream cheese ("which contains neither cream nor cheese"), soy-based mock meats, artificial sweeteners, and fake fats and starches.

Rule 11 - Avoid foods you see advertised on television.

"...if you avoid products with big ad budgets, you'll automatically be avoiding edible foodlike substances. As for the 5 percent of food ads that promote whole foods (the prune or walnut growers or the beef ranchers), [are the exception to the rule]"

Rule 12 - Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.

"If you keep to the edges of the store, you'll be much more likely to wind up with real food in your shopping cart. This strategy is not foolproof, however, since things like high-fructose corn syrup have crept into the dairy case under the cover of flavoured yogurts and the life."

Rule 13 - Eat only foods that will eventually rot.

"The more processed a food is, the longer the shelf life, and the less nutritious it typically is. Real food is alive--and therefore it should eventually die."

Rule 14 - Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.

Rule 15 - Get out of the supermarket whenever you can.

If you go to a farmer's market instead, "what you will find are fresh, whole foods harvested at the peak of their taste and nutritional quality... the kind that is alive and eventually will rot."

Rule 16 - Buy your snacks at the farmer's market.

"...fresh or dried fruit and nuts--real food--rather than chips and sweets."

Rule 17 - Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans.

Rule 18 - Don't ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap.

Rule 19 - If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.

Rule 20 - It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car.

Rule 21 - It's not food if it's called by the same name in every language. (Think Big Mac, Cheetos, or Pringles.)

If you want to learn more, check out Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" or one of his other books.

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

CDN$ 10.11

By Michael Pollan