9 - 2010

Food Rules – Rules 7-9

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 7 through 9.

Rule 7: Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.

A different way to remember “Keep it simple.”

Rule 8: Avoid food products that make health claims.

Pollan points out that (a) food products with health claims on them are generally packaged, which is a no-no, and (b) only big food manufacturers can afford to get FDA approval for health claims. He also notes that fruits and veggies — the healthiest foods in the grocery store — don’t make any health claims.

Basically, think twice before buying into packaging claims. Many of us are probably skeptical consumers when it comes to magazine ads and TV commercials — remind yourself that package claims are just another kind of commercial advertising. Read and judge carefully.

Rule 9: Avoid food products with the wordoid “lite” or the terms “low-fat” or “nonfat” in their names.

Several studies have shown that after the food industry introduced hundreds of “low-fat” or “nonfat” snacks and food replacements, Americans actually gained more weight by eating low-fat foods than the original versions. That might be because foods without real fat are less satisfying, or because we feel less guilty and eat more. Either way, Pollan points out that carbohydrates (like higher sugar) can also make you fat.

Additionally, some low-fat foods substitute unhealthier fats for the original fats. If you read labels carefully, you might see that some of these foods say “contain no trans fat,” but the ingredient list might include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which are a major source of trans fat, which in turn is a major contributor to heart disease. This seeming contradiction is because in the United States, FDA rules allow foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to be listed as 0 grams trans fat. That’s all well and good, but many times, we don’t stop at one serving, or one serving per day, and those “0 grams” can add up to an unhealthy level.

How do these rules feel?

I love this set of rules. We started avoiding some of the “low” and “nonfat” items more rigorously at our house a couple of years ago, when Mlle. Cheap went on a campaign to save the orangutans. One problem endangering orangutans is extensive palm oil production — and palm oil often shows up in “lowfat” foods. Avoiding palm oil led to avoiding more of those foods.

It’s also dawned on me recently that following common campaigns about what to eat — like the ones published in major magazines, which I suspect might be pushed by big food manufacturers — might be making us fatter. If I try to “eat really healthy,” I often find myself eating MORE: the things I want to eat, PLUS the “healthy” foods. Many of the campaigns to eat “five small meals a day” or whatever are pushing a packaged snack item (for convenience!) as one of the “small meals.” The problem is, many of us probably eat three normal meals a day … plus two small meals … which equals fatter, unhealthier us.

I’m aiming to just do what comes naturally when it comes to eating and figure it will all balance out — after all, I did that for years and had terrific blood tests and other measures of health all that time. And no snacking.

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