Are you one of the 45 million Americans on a diet this year? Are you (like me) trying to eat better to live a longer and healthier life?
And what do you actually eat? Kale is sooo 2015, so how about jackfruit?
Much of our nutritional research and guidelines are tainted by pseudoscience, subsidies, and lobbyists, so how are we to make informed and intelligent decisions about how to nourish our bodies?
I don’t have all the answers, but Michael Pollan’s Food Rules seems like a decent place to start.
Food Rules In Seven Words
This pocket-sized, 140-page book is even shorter than it seems since many pages are either blank or filled with illustrations, and its essence consists of only seven carefully chosen words.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
The rest of the book teaches us how to accomplish this in simple, pain-free ways.
The first rule is to eat food.
Everyone knows Most of us know not to eat rocks and sticks, but defining food can be difficult. Is a Twinkie food? Or is it a processed (albeit delicious) nightmare of chemicals?
Pollan encourages us to eat only foods made from ingredients our grandmothers would have recognized, and the simpler, the better. Processed foods also contain added salt, sugar, and oil to entice us to eat more and continue eating long after we’re actually full.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid processed foods that have more than five ingredients, are advertised on television, and list sugar as one of the first three ingredients (this includes high fructose corn syrup, other forms of sugar, and artificial sweeteners) .
He instead recommends choosing foods that will eventually rot.
“Real food is alive–and therefore it should eventually die.”
Real food hasn’t been processed to death. It still contains nutrients that nourish living organisms–including bacteria and fungi… and us! If bacteria aren’t interested in the foodlike substances we see on TV, maybe we should follow their lead.
We experimented with a Month Without Meat and were very pleasantly surprised. While I don’t expect or even recommend that everyone become vegetarian or vegan, by eating fewer animal products most of us can decrease our risk of developing cancer.
“Eat your colors.”
Eating plants doesn’t have to be boring. A colorful plate of fruits and veggies will introduce more flavors and more nutrients as well as be more visually appealing. If your favorite produce isn’t in season year-round, pick it at its freshest then freeze or dehydrate it for later.
What if you’re craving brownies or fried chicken? No problem! As long as you make your treats yourself, Pollan advocates enjoying them whenever you want. The innate hassles of preparation, cooking, and cleanup will keep you from indulging too often.
Not Too Much
Here’s where I usually fall apart. Maybe it’s because I often work long shifts without knowing if I’ll have a chance to eat at all, but even when I’m not at work I sometimes eat like a bear in the fall, just in case I never get to eat again.
The problem comes when the next meal is readily available, and I eat extra at that one too, then indulge in a snack to top off my stomach just in case… And the cycle continues. We’re very lucky to have access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food, and I need to trust that abundance.
People in many cultures stop eating when they are 65-80%–rather than 100%–full. In other words, instead of being stuffed, they stop when they are no longer hungry. This might take some getting used to, but it’s my new goal.
“Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.”
Mindless eating also seems to be one of the developed world’s favorite pastimes. Instead of eating slowly and savoring every bite, we unconsciously and endlessly binge while our attention is monopolized by our electronics. (Hey, it’s multitasking, right?)
Instead, we should stop our other tasks, sit at a table, and focus on our food. We’ll soon realize that the first few bites taste the best and we might not want to eat as much. When we eat from smaller plates and drink from smaller glasses, we’ll also eat less without feeling like we’re depriving ourselves.
Once we master that, we can up the ante and grow some of our own food, learn to cook it ourselves, and enjoy it with others.
What and how are you eating? Do you have your own food rules? Let me know in the comments below.
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