Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

By Michael Pollan

My rating: 6/10

Date read: 2017-11-20

Book on Amazon.com

A super short (140 pages) read that tries to answer a question of "What should we eat?" in sixty four succinct rules based on scientific research and common sense.

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Nutritional science is still young and doesn't have a definitive answer on what to eat and what to avoid. But there are two important things:

  1. Populations that eat a so-called Western diet (lots of processed foods and meat, lots of fat, sugar and refined grains, lots of everything expect vegetables, fruits and whole grains) suffer from high rate of the so-called Western diseases: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  2. People who don't eat Western diet generally don't suffer from these diseases. Their diet can be different though - high fat diet of Inuits, high carb diet of Central American Indians or high protein diet of Masai. Humans are exceptional omnivores.

So best way to eat for is to avoid a Western diet and mostly eat what people have been eating for thousands of years. How to do this can be summarized in these seven words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants"

Part I. What should I eat? (eat food)

1. Eat food. A lot of stuff in supermarket nowadays is not food, but edible foodlike substances.

2. Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize. Note: if you grand-grandmother's diet was not perfect, you can use, for example, Sicilian or French one.

3. Avoid food products containing ingredients that no human would keep in the pantry. (E.g. ammonium sulfate, cellulose, E123, etc).

4. Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup (not because it's worse than sugar, but because it's a good sign that a product was highly processed).

5. Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients. Beware that there are many types of sugar nowadays: corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, beet sugar, etc - sugar is sugar.

6. Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients. Note: long list of ingredients in a recipe is fine.

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

8. Avoid food products that make health claims.

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

10. Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not. For example imitation butter - aka margarine.

11. Avoid foods you see advertised on television.

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

13. Only eat foods that will eventually rot.

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

15. Get out of the supermarket whenever you can (prefer farmers' markets, etc).

16. Buy your snacks at the farmers' market.

17. Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans (not machines at plants).

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

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

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

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

Part II. What kind of food should I eat? (mostly plants)

22. Eat mostly plants especially leaves.

23. Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food (especially red meat).

24. "Eating what stands on one leg [mushrooms and plants] is better than eating what stands on two legs [fowl], which is better than eating what stands on four legs [cows, pigs, and other mammals]." (Note: this omits very healthy and entirely legless fish).

25. Eat your colors. (Healthy plate of food will feature several different colors).

26. Drink the spinach water. The water in which vegetables are cooked is rich in vitamins and other helpful plant chemicals.

27. Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.

28. If you have the space, buy the freezer (you may want to buy a lot of good meat when you find it). Freezing also does not significantly diminish the nutritional value of produce.

29. Eat like an omnivore. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases.

30. Eat well-grown food from healthy soil.

31. Eat wild foods when you can.

32. Don't overlook the oily little fishes (like mackerel, sardines or anchovies).

33. Eat some foods that have been predigested by bacteria or fungi (think yogurt, sauerkraut, soy sauce, kimchi and sourdough bread).

34. Sweeten and salt your food yourself.

35. Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature. In nature, sugars almost always come packed with fiber, which slows their absorption and gives you a sense of satiety before you've ingested too many calories. That's why you're always better off eating the fruit than drinking its juice.

36. Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

37. "The whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead" (prefer non-white bread. White flour is not much different from sugar).

38. Favor the kinds of oils and grains that have traditionally been stone-ground.

39. Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.

40. Be the kind of person who takes supplements – then skip the supplements. (There are exceptions to this rule, for people who have a specific nutrient deficiency or are older than fifty. And if you don't eat much fish, it couldn't hurt to take a fish oil supplement too).

41. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.

42. Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.

43. Have a glass of wine with dinner. (There is a plenty of research that people who drink moderately and regularly live longer and suffer considerably less heart disease. Most experts recommend no more than two drinks a day for men, one for women. Also, drinking a little evey day is better than drinking a lot on the weekends, and drinking with food is better than drinking without it).

Part III. How should I eat? (not too much)

44. Pay more, eat less. (I.e. spend more on better food).

45. ...Eat less.

46. Stop eating before you're full.

47. Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.

48. Consult your gut. ("your eyes are bigger than your stomach".)

49. Eat slowly.

50. "The banquet is in the first bite." (No other bite will taste as good as the first, or previous one. Savor the food. As you go on, you'll be getting more calories, but no necessarily more pleasure).

51. Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.

52. Buy smaller plates and glasses.

53. Serve a proper portion and don't go back for seconds.

54. "Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper."

55. Eat meals. (snack less)

56. Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods.

57. Don't get you fuel from the same place your car does.

58. Do all your eating at a table (a desk is not a table).

59. Try not to eat alone.

60. Treat treats as treats. Special occasion foods offer some of the great pleasures of life, so we shouldn't deprive ourselves of them, but make sure "special occasion" is not everyday.

61. Leave something on your plate.

62. Plant a vegetable garden if you have the space, a window box if you don't.

63. Cook. (People who cook are more likely to eat a more healthful diet)

64. Break the rules once in a while. Cultivate a relaxed attitude toward food. "All things in moderation, including moderation."

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