Several years back, my mother let me borrow Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by food writer Michael Pollan. The book features a collection of interesting rules for healthful eating, including:
- “If it comes from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”
- “Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.”
- “Avoid foods you see advertised on television.”
Plus my very favorite, “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” I use this one to justify eating 6 homemade low sugar, high protein cookies made with coconut oil, organic oatmeal and organic eggs, should the mood strike me. Stop looking at me like that, I made them.
Anyway, I recently re-discoved Pollan with the Netflix miniseries Cooked (which I will review separately), so I went and purchased both Food Rules and Cooked for myself. Food Rules is a fairly quick read, and a worthwhile one. Here I will share a brief summary, with some of my own input because I just can’t help myself.
I pretty much think Michael Pollan is a visionary. His views make perfect sense. They may not be popular, because they’re not convenient, and since he hasn’t stuck a fancy name on them, they’re not trendy. Following these food rules can make a huge different in your eating habits, your health and your lifestyle. Even just adhering loosely, but keeping these things in mind can make a big difference.
The dedication in the front of the book reads, “for my mother, who always knew butter was better for you than margarine.” This makes me snicker, because it sounds quite like my mother. Butter has gotten a bad name for being high in fat and cholesterol, but butter is a fairly basic food from a simple source; the fatty part of cow’s milk is churned into butter. Margarine on the other hand, is a man-made, highly processed food product. In moderation, butter should be just fine for the average person as compared to a product that is highly processed and loaded full of chemicals.
This book is broken up into 5 parts: an introduction, 3 main sections and acknowledgements. The table on contents alone offers valuable dietary advice, namely, “eat food…mostly plants…not too much”.
Section one is related to distinguishing real foods from food products, the highly processed food-like substances that fill most of the center of a supermarket. One of my favorites is “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” My great-grandmother (the only of my great-grandparents I have real memories of) was born in 1901 in eastern Europe. Her family traveled out of necessity (Austria wasn’t a great place for a Jewish family to be at that time), from their hometown to England and eventually, to the United States. She was raised in a largely traditional, religious setting. I would imagine that as a child, her family survived on what was available in and around her small hometown. Basic, whole foods. My grandparent’s generation on the other hand, were having their children in the 1950s, when the post-WWII processed food boom began; they were the very housewives and working husbands the processed food market was looking to pull in.
Also important is rule number 5, “avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.” Did you know that labels list ingredients by weight, from most to least? Keep that in mind when you look at ingredient labels.
Now that you can distinguish real food from not-so-real food, section two helps you navigate the specifics of what to eat for healthful living. Rule 25, “eat your colors” is a favorite of mine – it’s a point of pride around here than my daughter eats her greens, oranges, reds, blues, and just about anything else I offer her. Aside from being pretty, the different color vegetables contain a vast array of different and important nutrients and compounds.
This section deals with how much to eat of different real foods, discussing meats and veggies, breads and sweets, plus a few cooking tips too! I know from reading this book years ago that when vegetables are cooked in water, that water retains vital nutrients that leeched out during the cooking process. You can save the cooking water for soups or stews, or as I do, simply cook most vegetables by sauteing or steaming, and every now and then make a pot of the heartiest, nutrient packed vegetable soup around – and drink that broth!
Section three is about how to eat, meaning how much, and how often. An early rule discusses being satisfied versus being full, and the next addresses mindless boredom eating. Rules like “limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods” are simple to implement and can go a long way. An apple or cluster of fresh grapes, or a handful of veggie sticks is a lot kinder to your body than a bag of chips.
As I mentioned earlier, this book is a quick read. In paperback, it has a total of 140 pages, nearly all of which are a headline and then a brief description. This is not heavy reading and is so worth the time – plus you can get it for under $8 on Amazon. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy! If you’re already in the know, you may learn something extra or find an interesting tidbit. If you’re new to healthful eating, it can offer some serious food for thought that can make a major difference in your health and life.
Note: This is an independent review of Food Rules by Michael Pollan. I am reading it again and simply decided to share it here.