13 - 2010

Food Rules 37-39: The Junk Food Rule!

This is my ongoing,11-week series about Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

Part II is called, “What Kind of Food Should I Eat? (Mostly plants.).” This installment covers rules 37 through 39.

Rule 37: “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.”


Pollan is citing grandma again, and this time, he’s hitting where the Wonder Bread hurts. The point is that white flour affects the body much like sugar does.

In fact, especially for us ladies, this rule could not be more timely. Just this morning, National Public Radio in the U.S. reported on an Italian study of 48,000 people that found that eating a lot of foods with a high glycemic index — that is, foods that are sugary or that the body rapidly converts to sugars, like white bread — was strongly linked to a higher rate of heart disease in women. Yahoo! reported:

High-carbohydrate diets are known to increase the levels of blood glucose and of harmful blood fats known as triglycerides while reducing levels of protective HDL or “good” cholesterol, increasing heart disease risk.

But not all carbohydrates have the same effect on blood glucose levels, and the glycemic index is a measure of how much a food raises blood glucose levels compared with the same amount of glucose or white bread.

Low GI foods include beans, lentils and nuts, whereas foods like white bread, doughnuts and ice-cream have a high GI rating. …

Among women, the 25 percent of women whose diet had the highest glycemic load had 2.24 times the risk of heart disease compared with the 25 percent with the lowest glycemic load.

However, American guys, before you get too excited, I would make one note. Glycemic index is also tied to problems with blood sugar and related diseases, such as diabetes. And in the U.S., diabetes occurs among African-American people and Hispanic people at nearly twice the prevalence of whites. It’s also more prevalent among Native American Indians. I’m not a medical researcher, but none of those groups are very populous in Italy, so bear your ethnicity in mind when taking these figures into account.

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

This means you should favor whole grains and oils that aren’t extracted by chemical means. He’s talking about “olive, sesame, palm fruit, and peanut oils that have been obtained the old-fashioned way.”

This rule is a bit complex for my taste. In addition to not being a medical researcher, I’m also not a food anthropologist, so I don’t know how oils are obtained. Let’s take this as “olive oil is still good for you.” If you like the others, good for you.

I will mention, however, to use caution regarding palm oil if you are an environment/orangutan lover. The cultivation of oil palms is extremely destructive to many rainforest habitats, and is part of several forces driving orangutans to near extinction. If you care, I suggest you favor other options.

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

This is the famous rule!

The rule that gives you permission — permission to eat doughnuts, cakes, fries, and more! As long as you make it yourself.

Pollan says it best:

If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because they’re so much work. … Enjoy these treats as often as you’re willing to prepare them — chance are good it won’t be every day.

I have not fried french fries at home, but I have made tempura (yum – and hey, filled with vegetables!) and recently, doughnuts. The homemade doughnuts (actually a gluten-free version from this fabulous, fabulous cookbook) were so very wonderful. But I haven’t made them again. If nothing else, the amount of oil that must be used for deep-frying is off-putting, since we haven’t yet found a way to convert the Cheap Subaru to biodiesel.

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