2 - 2010

Food Rules review – What should I eat? Rules 1-3

Earlier today, I announced I plan to write a series about Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. Let’s look at rules 1-3.

The first 21 rules fall into a section called, “What Should I Eat? (Eat Food.).”

Rule 1: Eat food.

Pollan writes that

“this section will help you distinguish real foods — the plants, animals, and fungi people have been eating for generations — from the highly processed products of modern food science that, increasingly, have come to dominate the American food marketplace and diet.”

He suggests we choose real food instead of one of the 17,000 new products that appear in supermarkets each year — many derived from corn, soy and new chemical additives.

New chemical additives, of course, might have unforeseen effects on our biology, despite their initial safety approval — after all, the rules are always changing, but most real foods are perfectly safe for most people.

Rule 2: Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

Pollan’s example is colored yogurt in tubes, which might perplex a shopper ca. 1900 — “is it a food or is it toothpaste?” Pollan asks. A glue? He points out the many reasons to avoid such “foodish products,” including additives, corn and soy derivatives, and plastics in which they are packaged (“some of which are probably toxic”).

He also points out that many of these new “foodish” items contain unhealthy things, like added fat, sugar or MSG, that make them taste fabulous so that we want more and more, tending to overeat.

And Pollan notes that if your great-grandmother was a terrible cook or eater, you can substitute someone else’s grandmother — “a Sicilian or French one works particularly well.” This is a Eurocentric perspective, however — how about just saying “Eat food someone’s grandma would recognize.” (I’m not about to give up my perfectly real sushi for this rule, and pho is as real as it gets, even though my great-grandma wouldn’t have known a thing about it.)

Rule 3: Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

This one speaks for itself — all those crazy chemicals? Avoid ’em.

If you want more detailed instructions, check out this list of additives that you should avoid or use caution with, courtesy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Or for a graphic depiction of the big words that go into “simple” processed foods, look at this poster of everything in a Ham & Cheese Hot Pockets, by artist Justin Perricone:

… I see at least 3 of the “avoid” additives on that poster.

How do you do?

I think rule #3 is the hardest. Today, for instance, for breakfast I had coffee with milk, homemade yogurt with homemade raspberry syrup (made, however, with Splenda) and granola; for dinner, we are likely having octopus and tomatoes over pasta, or we might have lasagna.

For lunch, however, I’m likely to be in a rush and break out one of the frozen meals I have in the freezer — sesame chicken. I think Grandma would recognize it as food — rice and breaded chicken, with vegetables. The ingredients list appears to have only one “avoid” item from the CSPI list.

Rule #3 is sketchy here — dextrin? maltodextrin? dextrose? OK, those are sugars, so we could stretch and call them “sugar.” But “extractives of” spices? What are those? Not to mention soy protein isolate and medium chain triglycerides – ugh. Fortunately, it could be worse. But it’s good motivation to dig into some of the multiple-portion dinners we have planned this week so we can have leftovers for lunch.

Are these rules challenging to you? Do you think they’re worthwhile?

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