4 - 2010

Food Rules – Rules 4-6

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

The first 21 rules fall into a section called, “What Should I Eat? (Eat Food.).” This installment covers rules 4 through 6.

Rule 4: Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup

Phew! I’m just so relieved that I’m off the hook, considering that one day this week I ate, er, EIGHT homemade oatmeal cookies, which were made with no HFCS. (What can I say? It was that kind of day, at that time of the month, and they are so good … the sugar kind of melted and they’re overdone, so it’s kind of caramelized, and I didn’t quite eat a good lunch … and most importantly, we haven’t gotten to rule 60 yet. Pollan keeps warning us about it already, so it must be a doozie.)

So. High-fructose corn syrup. It’s been kind of demonized in the natural foods community, which launched the series of ads and TV commercials showing HFCS protesters being taken down a notch by down-home friends insisting “It’s just like sugar.”

The difference, Pollan points out, is that HFCS has been added to many foods that didn’t previously use sweetener. Many of us suspect that sugar is addictive, and the sweeter our food, the more we want.

Pollan also cites HFCS as a “reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed.” Good call. And, he says, don’t think “no HFCS” means healthy … it still might be too sweet.

Rule 5: Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.

Shoot. I guess I’m not off the hook.

Pollan supports my mom’s old breakfast cereal rule, which always had me and my sister scouring the ingredients lists at the grocery store, hoping against hope that one day, Cocoa Puffs would put “sugar” several items down so we could buy them.

He also mentions that there are 40 or so kinds of sugar used in processed food. Review this list for some of sugar’s noms de guerre.

If you’re thinking, I’ll just turn to those packets of artificial stuff, Pollan cites research that switching to fake sweeteners doesn’t help people lose weight, but maybe just triggers more cravings for sweets.

And if you need more incentive? The American Heart Association thinks excessive sugar consumption might be linked to heart disease.

Rule 6: Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.

Pollan says you can actually pick your own number of ingredients — but the point is, the more additives a food has, the farther it is from nature, and the more processed it probably is.

To point up how arbitrary the number “five” is, he says recipes you make at home can have as many ingredients as you like. And he says you can’t scarf down gallons of three-ingredient chips or five-ingredient ice creams, because they’re still bad for you. (Here, again, he invokes Rule 60. Wait for it — ignorance is bliss.)

How do these rules feel?

For me, I’m getting a little nervous about how much Mr. Pollan wants me to pull back on treats (I suspect, anyway). But we follow most of these, most of the time, and I think placing limits (sugar in the first three ingredients; products with more than five ingredients) makes it easier to stay within those guidelines. I’m also getting old/mature enough that the phrase “heart disease” gives me pause.

Yesterday, I managed to stay completely in the clear on this one (partly by keeping my hands out of that oh-so-seductive cookie jar).

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