The quest for seeking out the holy grail of a balanced diet has paradoxically, led to people being even more baffled and rightfully confused by the conflicting messages on what constitutes “healthy” food or even “real” food.
Americans (in particular) suffer a national eating disorder: our unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. The paradox is that we worry unreasonably about dietary health yet have the worst diets in the world. And the worst part of this SAD (Standard American Diet) diet is that is has been and continues to spread throughout the developing world as an option to nutritious home-cooked food.
I think it is time to revisit some basic food and eating rules (I hate the word “rules” but these rules are NOT new and need to be emphasized again to help cut through the weight of constantly changing/misleading advice). I have selected and consolidated 7 food rules from Michael Pollan's list of 64 rules. A lot of them are interrelated but I think these 7 pretty much capture the essence of what one can do easily to eat healthy and tasty food.
If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, avoid it as much as possible.
Following from the above rule, eat “real” food. Many food items in grocery stores these days don't deserve to be called food. They are barely edible items trying to mimic the taste of “real” foods and often shamelessly claiming that they are whole wheat, high fiber, heart healthy, or gut healthy. Normally, they are processed concoctions designed by food scientist, consisting mostly of ingredients derived from corn and soy, and they contain “natural” flavors and additives hard to pronounce and even harder to digest (for e.g., protein bars, energy drinks, so-called heart-healthy commercial boxed cereals, frozen dinners, all kinds of sliced breads, pastries, and other desserts, and so on).
Avoid as much as possible food products with the word “lite” or the terms “low fat” or “nonfat” in their names, because these are the foods that often have lots of unhealthy fats, added sugars, excess salt, not to mention a laundry list of dubious ingredients masquerading as food.
Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot or go stale. "There are exceptions – honey and maple syrup – but as a rule, any “real” food goes bad eventually.
It is not just what you eat but how you eat. "Always leave the table a little hungry," Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule. And if you chew your food well, you will enjoy the food more and feel full sooner.
Don't buy food in a drive-through restaurant or where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car, and most of this food has unhealthy fats, added sugars, excess salt, and minimal fiber.
Eating what stands on one leg [mushrooms and plant foods] is better than eating what stands on two legs [fowl], which is better than eating what stands on four legs [cows, pigs and other mammals]. These are lifestyle choices, but they are generally recognized as being good choices for you, your family, and for the future of the environment.
Michael Pollan. 2009. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.
Michael Bittman. 2006. How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food.
Marion Nestle. 2006. What to Eat.