Food Rules

I like to read. A lot. Always have. I have vivid memories (and my mom has many photographs) of sitting at the breakfast table when I was younger reading The Babysitter’s Club Super Special books over my morning bowl(s) of cereal. I also have vivid memories of my neighbor friend from next door whining at me to “FINISH THE BOOK SO WE CAN GO OUTSIDE ALREADY.”

All through high school and college my love of reading was helpful and beneficial, and post-college it’s been nice to actually have a choice of what to read. (Not that I didn’t love reading Lord of the Flies….gag.) I will read anything and everything. Newspapers, brochures, magazines, directions on a box, anything. I like to know everything.

I typically stick to either non-fiction informative or beachy Devil-Wears-Prada-meets-Confessions-of-a-Shopaholic type reads. So naturally when I finished my latest Sophie Kinsella “chick book”, my next book had to be something informative. (And not just about the London social/fashion scene, which I also deem to be informative.)

I love nutrition, and I love learning about food, and the way our bodies work. I’d read In Defense of Food last year, and recently downloaded Food Rules by Michael Pollan on the Kindle. I love it so far. It’s so simple, yet we just can’t seem to grasp the simplistic concept. It’s like we think there has to be some big complicated secret we don’t know about.

I’m about 44% of the way done (why do the good books fly by so fast?) and I thought a few of the rules I’ve hit so far were pretty valuable when grocery shopping/eating. To note – these aren’t steadfast must-follow-or-you’ll-die rules. But rather things to think about when food shopping and eating.

  • Don’t eat foods labeled “lite” or “low-fat”

Basically our society has gotten fat on low-fat products. The message here is that removing fat from foods doesn’t necessarily make them nonfattening. Other nutrients, like carbohydrates can also be detrimental if eaten in mass quantities. By demonizing one nutrient (fat) we inevitably give a free pass to another supposedly “good” nutrient – (carbohydrates) and then proceed to eat too much of that instead. You’re better off eating the real thing in moderation than bingeing on “lite” food products packed with sugar and salt.

  • Only eat food that will rot, or go bad. Food is supposed to be alive.

When food “goes bad” it means that the fungi (gross) and bacteria and insects and rodents with whom we compete for nutrients and calories have gotten to it before we could. Food processing began as a way to extend the shelf life of food by protecting it from these competitors. They accomplish this by making food less appealing to them – by removing nutrients that attract the competitors like omega-3 fatty acids. The more a food is processed, the longer a shelf life it will have. Real food is alive and therefore it should eventually die.

  • Shop the perimeter of the supermarket (haven’t our parents been telling us this since day 1?)

Most supermarkets are laid out the same way – processed food dominates the center aisles of the store while the fresh food – produce, meat, fish, dairy line the walls. Keep to the outer perimeters and wind up with real food in your shopping cart.

  • Avoid foods you see advertised on television

Food marketers can turn criticisms of their products into new ways to sell slightly different versions of the,. They “reformulate” (really do we want our food reformulated?) to be low-fat,, have no high-fructose-corn-syrup or trans-fat and to contain fewer ingredients, then boast about how healthy they are. Ironic? Only the biggest food manufacturers can afford to advertise on television.

  • Avoid foods pretending to be something they’re not

Take imitation butter (aka margarine) or “non fat cream cheese” for example. To make something like nonfat cream cheese that contains neither cream nor cheese requires a lot of processing. Ergo a lot of chemicals and not a lot of real food.

  • Avoid food products containing ingredients no ordinary human would keep in their pantry

If you wouldn’t cook with an ingredient yourself, why let others use those ingredients to cook it for you? The food scientists’ chemistry set is designed to extend shelf life, make old food look fresher and more appetizing than it really is, and get you to eat more. Whether or not these additives are harmful to our health we don’t know as many of them haven’t been eaten by humans for very long.

Like we’d get through an entire post on this blog without a labrador retriever picture. Please.


Have you read any Michael Pollan books? Thoughts? Any great nutrition books I’m not reading?


14 thoughts on “Food Rules

  1. i read the omnivores dilemma…it was definitely interesting. i totally agree with all of his points although that doesnt necessarily mean i follow them strictly haha…sometimes i need a poptart!

  2. I love his books – especially Food Rules!

    I think “Don’t buy anything that comes with a coupon,” should be added. When was the last time you saw a coupon for a bag of spinach? It’s always processed crap! =]

  3. I love Michael Pollan’s books (and Mark Bittman as well), and I credit the Omnivore’s Dilemma with doing the most to open my eyes to our current food system. When I first read “Food Rules” my initial reaction was “don’t people KNOW this already?!” But then of course I have to remember that not everyone is food obsessed. In our society I suppose we need as many sources giving us solid advice as possible. Tomatoes will just never have the advertising budget of Doritos, you know? I also felt like Food Rules was a simple and totally accessible book that could reach a large variety of people. The Omnivore’s Dilemma (and some other great books like “The China Study”) are full of great information but require a bigger time commitment than “Food Rules.” I’d definitely recommend Omnivore’s Dilemma if you haven’t read it yet, along with The China Study (T Colin Campbell) and Diet for a New America (John Robbins). Jillian Michael’s “Master Your Metabolism” also has some excellent information in it. Happy reading 🙂

  4. It’s funny — I think I follow a lot of these rules, but my kitchen might tell a different story! I grew up eating fat-free Jif peanut butter (er, “peanut spread,” I think? I don’t think they’re allowed to call it peanut butter), so shifting to actual peanut butter was QUITE a shock. Actually, I grew up with a lot of “lite” products, and it’s only recently that I’ve tried to stop being afraid of the real versions. (I make an exception for Miracle Whip Light — it turns out real mayo just doesn’t do it for me. When I want mayo, I want that tangy fakeness.)

  5. I wish more ppl. would understand the whole “lite” and “low fat” thing. Especially, diet soda!!

  6. Sounds like a good read. I should switch it up in the reading department, but I am a on a mindless read streak right now. Perhaps this shall change it!

  7. I definitely agree with Michael P’s rules and the way he says we should way — I love real food! But, for some reason I can never get through his books… I’ve tried two different ones and maybe made it half way through. Haven’t tried that one though!

  8. I agree with a lot of those rules, and I especially like the “rotting foods” one. Since I just moved, I plan on stocking my fridge and pantry as minimally as possible with alive food – no junk! However, I will stock xanthan gum… I love that stuff and am totally impressed by its viscocity power (enough to overlook how it’s basically a chemistry product)

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