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Food Rules: Sixty-Four Secrets to Better Nutrition

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Michael Pollan is making nutrition easy for us. His new book Food Rules offers hope to those of us who can’t read a nutrition label and who plan to keep eating Cheetos every now and then.

Pollan, journalist-turned-nutrition vigilante, wrote two related books before Food RulesThe Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Also involved in the documentary Food, Inc, Pollan is out to say “WTF” about our growing health problems and shrinking concern for nutrition.

“Make no mistake: our health-care crisis is in large part a crisis of the American diet,” he said on Huffington Post. ”And a healthy diet is a whole lot simpler than the food industry and many nutritional scientists … would have us believe.”

I guess I was one of many been duped into putting nutrition blinders on. I’ve been avoiding a full-on exam of my eating habits for years, fearing I would just fall down a rabbit hole of complicated, waffling, paradoxical information. And maybe I was afraid, too, that I’d discover everything I know and love (to eat) is wrong.

As it turns out, there is a simple path to healthy eating. There’s even a little room for error. Adopting even a few of Pollan’s food rules can lead to radical improvements in our health.

Here are a few of my favorites from the book:

Rule 63: “Cook.”
Pollan says “the decline in home cooking closely parallels the rise in obesity”—not because we flock to fast food places, but because most restaurant chefs go crazy with sugar, salt and unhealthy oils.

The only way to ensure a healthy meal is to make it yourself. But cooking takes so much time, you say? New York Times’ Jane Brody counters: “you can make up time spent at the stove with time saved not visiting doctors or shopping for new clothes to accommodate an expanding girth.”

Good point. I’m ready to strap on an apron!

Rule 60: “Treat treats as treats.”
Food marketers want us to believe that we get pleasure from eating foods that are bad for us (the old “you deserve it” trick). Having one “cheat day” a week helps curb overindulgence. Pollan has a more structured variation of the rule: “No snacks, no seconds, no sweets except on days that begin with the letter S.”

If you must snack, (I must), have dried fruits, granola or a handful of nuts.

Rule 13: “Eat only foods that will eventually rot.”
Sometimes things become such a staple in our diet that we forget they aren’t actually food (remember the one-year-old happy meal?). When we stop eating real, rot-able food, it seems that we—just like the major food manufacturers—only care about the bottom line. But in our case, it’s the wrong bottom line … we go for the cheapest, fastest food we can find, with little regard to how it lowers our quality of life, or how much time and money we’ll pay later to fix the damage.

A few more rules of thumb for finding real food: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t,” and “shop the peripheries of the supermarket.”

Rule 48: “Consult your gut”
Pollan finds that we are visual eaters: we dish up according to the space we have to fill on the plate, not in our stomach. We also eat everything we’re given. That’s why dishes and portion sizes are getting bigger without protest from us. We’re being tricked into consuming more.

Today I stopped at a frozen yogurt place for a cup of frozen yogurt with fruit, but there were no cups—only twenty-four-ounce and thirty-two-ounce buckets. (A tricky way to get customers to take more, since they charge by weight!) I considered Pollan’s observation and put only a cup’s worth of yogurt and kiwis into my gigantic bowl.

When dishing out, Pollan says hunger, reason, or hand size should be your guide: “eat when you’re hungry,” “stop before you’re full,” and “never eat a portion of animal protein bigger than your fist.”

Food Rules recaps what we’ve known all along: get closer to our food, enjoy fresh in-season produce, and eat for quality—not quantity. But Pollan adds many new angles, such as an argument for why large-scale agriculture is not after quality or healthfulness but economy and profitability.

Did I mention it’s only 140 pages, and half of those pages have nothing more than an adorable picture of a food item on them? Don’t be fooled, though: your complete guide is here.

My favorite thing about this eater’s manual: these rules have staying power.

Originally published on Ask Fitness Coach


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