How often do you think about what you eat? Not in a “wow, I could really go for some chips and guac right now” sort of way but more in a “how did this food make it from the animal or plant and through the factory to my plate” sort of way?
While Michael is a proponent of plant-based eating, the advice applies to literally anyone who eats, regardless of chosen diet. Unlike many other healthy eating gurus, he manages to present the facts without spreading on a layer of guilt thicker than honey butter.
Food Rules contains 64 rules for eating healthier, but I’ve whittled the list down to my 7 favorites:
1. Grow your own food.
The simplest way to make sure your food is fresh and free of pesticides is to grow it yourself.
If you don’t have room in your backyard, get crafty and make some vertical planters, join a local community garden or cropshare program, or select a few of your most-used ingredients and plant them in pots on a patio or windowsill.
If you don’t have a green thumb or a lot of space to grow your own food, hit the local farmer’s market. My favorite is the Saturday morning market in downtown Salt Lake City. There are fruits, vegetables, herbs, grass-fed beef, cheeses, honey, salsas, jams, olive oils, and more – most of which have seen little or no processing.
As in, cook meals in your kitchen. Even if you’re generous with the salt and butter, you won’t be adding stuff like BHA or aspartame into the food. The result will most likely still be healthier than processed or fast food.
If you’re new to cooking, just about every recipe site or app has an Easy or Beginner category. Start there and work your way into other categories once you’re more comfortable in the kitchen.
And, no, heating up processed food doesn’t qualify as cooking. Sorry, Kraft Mac & Cheese lovers.
3. Eat all the junk you want as long as you cook it yourself.
We forget how painstaking it is to make things like fried chicken because they’re so readily available at the nearest fast food place.
Well, the next time you want fried chicken – or onion rings or ice cream or pizza – go buy all the ingredients and make it yourself.
It may be delicious but it will be a lot of work, and you probably won’t be eager to do it all again the next day. Realizing just how much work it is (and how much grease or fat or sugar goes into it) will cause you to limit your intake.
4. Avoid ingredients that a third-grader can’t pronounce.
Sodium erythorbate. Sorbitan monostearate. Disodium guanylate. Umm, what?
Yeah, exactly. If it sounds like the name of that antibiotic you took last winter, do you really want it in your food? Probably not.
Check labels for additives before you put stuff in your cart, and ditch any food products that are loaded with mystery ingredients.
(Note that I said “food products” here. Michael uses the term “edible food-like substances” to refer to products like these, because anything loaded with chemicals isn’t really food – it’s really just a food-like substance that you’re putting in your body. Start learning to distinguish the difference.)
5. Avoid food products that make health claims.
This is one of the most insightful of Michael’s Food Rules, and one of the easiest to follow.
The healthiest stuff in the grocery store doesn’t tell you that it’s low fat or good for your cholesterol. Think broccoli, carrots, apples, garlic. No labels = lots of health benefits.
The products making wild health claims are usually highly processed and chock-full of those additives we just talked about. Oh, that colorful box is telling you that it has added riboflavin and vitamin D? This means the factory added in nutrients that were lost during processing.
Wouldn’t you rather get your nutrients from actual food? Stick to the label-free stuff.
6. Avoid food products that have more than 5 ingredients.
The more processed your food is, the more ingredients you’ll see listed on the label.
The Trader Joe’s organic banana chips in my cupboard list three ingredients: organic bananas, organic coconut oil, and organic evaporated cane sugar. Cool, I know what that stuff is.
Now let’s look at one of America’s favorite cookies, Oreos. Sugar is the main ingredient, followed by things like high-fructose corn syrup (which Michael says never to eat), soy lecithin, and thiamine mononitrate.
I’m not saying that a bowl of banana chips is going to soothe your sweet tooth the way Oreos might, but there’s no mystery about what you’re putting into your body with the banana chips.
7. If it arrived through the window of your car, it’s not food.
This one needs no explanation. Unless you have a drive-thru farmer’s market, avoid eating anything that shows up in your driver’s seat.
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma – another book by Michael Pollan that strives to answer the age-old question “What should we have for dinner?” by exploring food processing practices , eating habits, and our attitudes toward food
- Try a healthy eating challenge. I like the Shape 30-Day Clean-ish Eating Challenge because it’s broken into increments. It feels much more doable than the challenges that ask ou to overhaul your entire diet on Day 1.