Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Good Advice

I recently finished reading "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan. It's a fantastic book and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in eating healthfully.

The best advice he gives is amazing in its simplicity:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

It sounds basic. But the fact is, much of what we eat isn't "food". And he defines "food" in one of his chapters. Here's what he says about deciding what "food" is:

1. Don't eat anything your Great Grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

This includes things like "Go-Gurt"...

2. Avoid food products which contain ingredients that are (A) unfamiliar, (B) unpronounceable (C) more than five in number or (D) that include high fructose corn syrup.

He says that none of these is necessarily harmful in and of itself, but they are clear markers for food that has been so highly processed where it is no longer "food".

3. Avoid food products that make health claims.

He has a good point when he says that for them to make health claims on their packages, they must first HAVE a package, which is a good indicator that it's been processed in some way.

Additionally, many of the health claims are qualified, and based on incomplete or erroneous science. After all, does an apple need to scream about its healthfulness? And are Trix really good for you because they "contain whole grain"?

4. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.

This is *mostly* healthful, though you'll still find questionable food products (like "Go-Gurt") there. Still... it's a start.

5. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.

He very highly recommends shopping at your local farmer's markets. From the book: "You won't find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmers' market. You also won't fine any elaborately processed food products... what you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of their taste and nutritional quality."

So for example let's compare two different loaves of bread I currently own.

Arnold's Grain Lovers Hearty 100% Whole Wheat bread

Ingredients: Whole Wheat Flour, water, sugar, sunflower seeds, wheat gluten, yeast, cracked wheat, rye, soybean oil, ground corn, salt, flaxseed, millet, amaranth, cultured dextrose and maltodextrin, buckwheat, kamut, calcium carbonate, brown rice, oats, mono- and diglycerides, soybeans, triticale, datem, tricalcium phosphate, vitamin D3, spelt, barley, calcium sulfate, citric acid, quinoa, teff, grain vinegar, soy lecithin, nuts, whey, nonfat milk.

Hmmm... this fails on nearly every level as "food" according to Michael Pollan.

Now this:

When Pigs Fly Sourdough Bread

Ingredients: Unbleached flour, cider, evaporated cane juice, salt, yeast.

Which do you think is healthier for you to eat?

Do you think his guidelines are something that it makes sense to follow?



  1. It is just amazing the number of ingredients in foods nowadays. I've never heard of "When Pigs.." bread. Is that a local bread?

  2. Go-gurt is NASTY stuff! I shudder whenever I see someone eating unnaturally blue food. How about colored applesauce or pink, bubblegum flavored prepackaged pudding? *shudder*

    So how long have you had THIS blog? It looks very groooovy!

  3. Watched Michael Pollan on Oprah today. Very interesting. I am now reading the ingredients in everything I buy.