Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Food Rules

As promised in yesterday’s blog post, here are my comments on Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (Penguin Books, 2009).

First I should say that as part of my weight loss journey, as well as separate from it, I have wanted to eat a healthier diet. But just as weight-loss programs differ, so do opinions on what constitutes a healthy diet, among both scientists and lay people. When last I participated in WW, I had a habit of eating a lot of their TV dinners (and others, like Lean Cuisine), snacks, desserts, and so on. I’ll admit that I’m basically lazy when it comes to food, and having it done for me is pretty much nirvana in my book.

But I’m also a chemist and biologist by training, and while all those 4 point TV dinners and 100 calorie pack snacks are sure convenient, I knew in my scientific little heart that although I was eating *better* I still wasn’t really eating healthfully. At least not as healthfully as I could.

And then I was laid off from my job last April. Suddenly having the money at hand to indulge in expensive pre-made foods just wasn’t as readily available. But there’s a conundrum there as well: many healthful foods aren’t exactly cheap either. So what to do?

(You may have noticed that Laura and I have given estimates* on the cost per serving of the recipes we’ve posted so far. We’ll continue to do so. As you can see from the two recipes posted, eating healthfully doesn’t have to be expensive. (*Okay, I’ll post estimates; Laura will probably break out the spreadsheets and post actual costs!))

Anyway, back to healthy eating and Food Rules. This is a neat little nearly pocket-sized book that is packed full of healthy eating wisdom. Much of it is also common sense. But as the old chestnut goes, “Common sense isn’t very common,” so it’s helpful to have it spelled out in print for easy reference.

What Pollan did with this book was try to distill the real eating wisdom out from all the latest scientific nutritional advances and cultural norms. As Pollan notes in his introduction, “Most of us have come to rely on experts of one kind or another to tell us how to eat—doctors and diet books, media accounts of the latest findings in nutritional science, government advisories and food pyramids, the proliferating health claims on food packages.” Pollan offers a set of rules that enable one to practice healthy eating on a daily basis. His rules come from science and from our ancestors, and he tries to present them in a way that is based in culture and can be lived as philosophy.

Pollan goes on to say, “It’s gotten to the point where we don’t see foods anymore but instead look right through them to the nutrients (good and bad) they contain, and of course to the calories—all these invisible qualities in our food that, properly understood, supposedly hold the secret to eating well.”

Pollan’s premise is that there are two basic truths to healthful eating:
“Fact 1: Populations that eat a so-called Western diet—generally defined as a diet consisting of lots of processed food and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—invariably suffer from high rates of the so-called Western diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

“Fact 2: Populations eating a remarkably wide range of traditional diets generally don’t suffer from these chronic diseases.”

The book is divided into three parts, which incorporate the seven words Pollan feels are the key to healthy eating (those seven words are in the parenthetical phrase that follow): What Should I Eat? (Eat Food), What Kind of Food Should I Eat? (Mostly Plants), and How Should I Eat? (Not Too Much).

It’s a good little book, full of wisdom and common sense. Where explanations are needed for a rule, they are provided. Other rules are pretty self- explanatory. Some of the rules link to one another. If you want to eat more healthfully, it’s a good resource to have. And the rules are pretty simple and easy to remember. If you’re like me, you’ll pick a few key favorites that will be the foundation for your move to more healthful eating.

And now, for the best part. Some of my favorite rules from Food Rules:

• Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
• Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
• Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
• If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.
• It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car (LOVE this one!)
• Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.
• Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.
• Pay more, eat less.
• Treat treats as treats.

And so on.

Food Rules is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It’s an inexpensive little book that is an absolute gold mine of simple rules for healthy eating. Get a copy; you'll be glad you did (and no, I am not on Pollan's payroll, lol!)

1 comment:

Laura Carson said...

Thank you for my copy - can't wait to get into it! I love the one about coming through a car window, lol.