In writing his latest two books, Food Rules and the earlier In Defense of Food, author and professor Michael Pollan had a surprising revelation. With most of his previous (well-researched) books, he found that subjects that seemed to be simple on the surface turned out to be more complx and ambiguous when you looked into them deeply. But wheninvestigating the question “What should we eat?” Pollan was surprised to find just the opposite. For all the complex and contradictory diet advice coming out of nutritional and food science, all the parties agreed on two very simple facts.
1. The traditional Western, highly processed diet will kill you. It causes obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and a host of other troubles. Every culture that adopts it suffers drastic increases in these diseases.
2. Cultures that do NOT eat a Western diet manage to live on a wide variety of traditional diets, ranging from high-carb to high-fat to high-protien – all without high rates of these chronic Western diseases.
And a related truth:
3. When Westerners stop eating a Western diet – their health improves quickly and dramatically.
You would think that agreements on these points would make diet choices easy and nutritional research simple. But instead of focusing on dropping the Western diet, nutrition and food scientists spend all their time squabbling about exactly what isolated nutrient or lack of it is the issue. Is it processed carbs? Omega 6 vs Omega 3 fatty acids? Dairy? High fructose corn syrup? Artificial colors and sweetners?
Why this confusion over a simple subject? In a word, money. Food manufacturers don’t get rich by selling you a few cents worth of corn. They get rich by taking a few cents worth of corn, processing it into high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, xanthan gum, malto-dextran – combining it into some unnatural monstrosity of a breakfast cereal, squirting the latest “fad” ingredient into it, and then selling it to you for four bucks a box. They want to isolate the “good” things in a traditional diet so they can artificially add them to their processed foods, slap health claims on the label, and still make enormous profits. And the health industry isn’t doing too bad either selling us expensive maintenance drugs for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and the like.
So, putting aside the deliberately confusing and self-promoting diet “recommendations” of food “science”, Pollan reaches back into traditional cultures and produces a book of “rules” for how to eat well. They are actually more personal policies. This is an expanded version of the rules he outlined in his previous book, In Defense of Food. This book doesn’t have all the meticulously researched history and science of the previous book. It’s a short, simple guidebook that you can read in an afternoon, full of wisdom that will stick with you.
The rules are divided up into three sections – What to eat (food), what KIND of food to eat (mostly plants) and HOW to eat (not too much). Here are a few examples from each section.
Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.
…so much for xanthan gum.
Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.
…no, “Fruit Loops” are not fruit.
Do all your eating at a table
…no, a desk is NOT a table.
You get the idea. A lot of the rules are deliberately redundant. Pollan hopes that of all his rules, a few from each section will be memorable enough to stick with you. All it takes is a few rules from each category to drastically improve the way you eat.
This is the shortest book you will ever read on diet, but it’s all you need. Carry it with you. Memorize as many of the rules as you can, and this small book will make huge changes in your health.