Michael Pollan’s new book ‘Food Rules: An Eaters Manual’, draws a very simple picture of two important things that everyone needs to know about diet and health.
The first is that populations eating a ‘Western’ diet, heavy in processed food and meat with a high fat and sugar content, lots of refined grains and very little fruit, veg and wholegrain’s suffer the most from western diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The second is that populations eating a wide and diverse range of traditional diets such as those high in fat and those consisting mainly from carbohydrates and proteins don’t generally suffer from chronic diseases, suggesting that we are adapted to a wide range of food and diets except for the relatively new ‘Western’ one which most people reading this will be following.
To rid yourself of the ‘Western’ diet and learn to eat real food again, Pollan has devised a set of very simple rules:
Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food
Here Pollan advise’s us against picking up items that our ancestors wouldn’t recognise. Take a cheese string for instance, would dear old great gran pick this up and know what it was or what to do with it? Unlikely.
Avoid products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry
If you were making a product from scratch would you walk to the cupboard and get out your pot of Xanthan gum, calcium propionate, ammonium sulphate? If you wouldn’t cook with them yourself then why let others use these ingredients to cool for you?
Avoid food that has some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients
Take a look at the weight as any product with more sugar than other ingredients has too much sugar. (You are allowed to make an exception for special occasion food such as birthday cake). To complicate matters a little its important to know that developments in food science now mean there are over 40 types of sugar used in processed food. Here are some to look out for – barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice, corn sweetener, dextrin, dextrose.
Avoid food products that make health claims
Pollan states that for a product to carry a health claim on it’s packaging, it must first have a package, so from the very beginning its more likely to be processed.
Buy your snacks at the farmers market
Snack on real food such as fresh or dried fruits and nuts, not crisps and sweets.
Treat meat as a flavouring or special occasion food
Despite vegetarians generally being healthier than carnivores, that doesn’t mean eliminating meat from diets completely. Research has shown that near vegetarians or “flexetarians” who only eat meat a couple of times a week are just as healthy as vegetarians. The average westerner eats meat as part of two or even three meals a day and research suggests that red meat is linked to a greater risk of heart disease and cancer.
‘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]’
This is an extremely helpful Chinese proverb which offers a good summary of what foods are good for us. The only downside is that eat leaves out the very healthy and legless fish.
Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the colour of the milk
Such cereals are highly processed and full of refined carbohydrates as well as chemical additives.
Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself
Its OK to treat ourselves now and again but manufacturers have made foods such as sweets and soft drinks hard to make and cheap so its easier to just buy them. If you had to wash, peel, cut and fry potatoes to get a few chips would you really eat them as often? The same goes for fried chicken, cakes, ice cream, pies and crisps.