If you’re interested in eating and/or living in a healthier way, but aren’t sure where to begin, here’s a great first baby step that is enjoyable, quick, relaxing, simple, and yet highly educational:
Read Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules.
While I recommend taking your time with it, it is short enough that it can be read in probably an hour or two.
The book is “an eater’s manual” and consists of 64 “rules” for healthy eating, tackling three main questions:
- What do I eat? (Answer: eat food)
- What kind of food should I eat? (Answer: mostly plants)
- How should I eat? (Answer: not too much)
Each page offers one rule, and usually a short explanation follows. That’s it! Bite-sized and easily digestible, this book is a delightful read and a simple way to brush up on a lot of valuable, grandmotherly wisdom. Anyone could stand to benefit.
There are lots of gems in this book. Here are perhaps my top 10 “food rules” from this book (numbered not as I rank them, but as they appear in the book):
1) Rule #1: Eat food.
Sounds absurdly obvious, but so much of what we eat as “food” is hardly real food. It fills us, but it doesn’t nourish us. These “edible foodlike substances” are highly processed and contain chemical additives that we did not evolve to ingest, digest, absorb, assimilate, or detoxify. The challenge of simply striving to “eat food” is to differentiate between real food and industrial novelties, and then choosing the former.
2) Rule #11: Avoid foods you see advertised on television.
If it needs marketing, it should be suspect as a real food item. Any product that needs to tell you that it’s good for you deserves your scrutiny. Broccoli doesn’t have a marketing team trying to convince you to eat it. But none of us would eat the highly refined chemical cocktails that comprise so many so called “food” items without a slick marketing campaign to first convince us.
3) Rule #12: Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
Most supermarkets have a similar layout, with produce, meat, dairy, and the bakery section lining the walls of the store. The centre aisles are typically filled with processed foods. If you want to eat fresh food, stick to the periphery of the store. This doesn’t mean you don’t still need to read ingredients and be on the lookout for tricks, but you’ve got a much better chance of ending up with real food in your cart this way.
4) Rule #15: Get out of the supermarket whenever you can.
It’s always better to go to the source. For the best, check out a local farmer’s market! This is where food is more likely to be seasonal, local, organic, and fresh! Some farms let you buy directly from them, if you go to visit them yourself. Or you can order a CSA box and have fresh local goodness delivered right to your door (or a nearby drop off location). Check out specialty shops and health stores. There’s more than one place to get your food.
5) Rule #19: If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.
Right? Get it? A plant grown from the earth versus a manufacturing plant? Yeah, you get it.
6) Rule #25: Eat your colours.
The various colours of fruits and vegetables reflect different nutritional offerings they contain. To eat a well balanced diet with a variety of different nutrients, be sure to eat a rainbow!
7) Rule #37: “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.”
White bread has been refined, and the refining process removes the bulk of what could have made that bread good for you: a large percentage of all vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber are all lost in the refining process. The starch that remains is easily converted into sugar and can wreck havoc on your blood sugar, not to mention that it is also acidifying, pro-inflammatory, and negatively affects the immune system. Many people struggle to properly digest refined grains, and there is virtually nothing to be gained from these foods nutritionally. If you eat grains, make sure they are whole grains. And if you eat bread, not only should it be whole grain based, it should also be heavy and dense. The fluffier it is, the more you should avoid it.
8) Rule #44: Pay more, eat less.
Typically, you get what you pay for. When food prices go down, usually so does the quality. And a greater quantity of a low quality food does not make up for this nutritional lack. A person can easily eat large amounts of nutrient-depleted foods and wind up with a body starved of the nutrients that should have been in that food. This is often referred to as “starving on a full stomach” and is a common problem in North America. But eat a smaller portion of a high quality food, bursting with nutrients, and your body is much more likely to be nourished by less. Always choose quality over quantity. Also consider this: it is “better to pay the grocer than the doctor.”
9) Rule #47: Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.
So you’re about to eat that cookie/cracker/blob of cold leftovers straight out of the Tupperware. Why? Is it because you are actually hungry? Or are you bored? Are you looking for comfort? Do you have a craving? Are you in a social situation where you feel expected to eat, and are simply going along with it to be polite? Pollan reminds us that food is a costly antidepressant (and we pay this cost not only with our wallet, but with our health, too), and suggests that if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re simply not hungry. Listen to your body and respond appropriately. Eat mindfully, and only when actually hungry.
10) Rule #60: Treat treats as treats.
The idea behind the 80/20 rule is that if we eat healthfully 80% of the time, then it’s okay to indulge in the not-as-healthy stuff 20% of the time (although I’ll add that there are some things that it is just never okay to eat, such as aspartame). In other words, it’s not what you eat all the time that counts, but what you eat most of the time that counts. Treating yourself in moderation is fine; the problem is when the occasional treat turns into the daily treat. If it’s a regular event, then it’s not a treat anymore, now is it?! There’s no need to deprive yourself during special events, so long as every day doesn’t turn into a treat-filled special event.
For more wisdom on how and what to eat, I recommend reading the whole book. You won’t be sorry you did.
For a pleasurable 2-minutes of information about organic vs industrialized food production from Michael Pollan, check out this adorably-animated film.
Eat savvy, friends!