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Sunday’s New York Times Magazine featured a great article by Michael Pollan about how hard it is to eat these days. By that he means that we’re flooded with information about our food choices even as those food choices proliferate, and more often than not as soon as we get used to one new idea about what to eat and why another study comes down the pike to refute it.
This, Pollan says, is the result of nutritionism, a new kind of dietary ideology that has us more focused on what’s in our food than we are focused on simply eating the right foods themselves.
It’s an interesting idea, and it seems like a good one. You know… if we just focused on the broad overview of eating a fundamentally healthy diet, the rest would largely take care of itself and we wouldn’t have to worry about omega oils, and phtyochemicals, and flavonoids, and folate etc. etc. etc. They’d just be there because we were eating the way nature intended. To help us, Pollan provides a great list of rules to follow that demands to be shared. Here’s a quick semi-paraphrasing:
- Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
- Avoid food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best.
- Never eat food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, or more than five in number. Or that contain high-fructose corn syrup. These are all signs that the food has been heavily processed.
- Do as little of your shopping at the supermarket as possible. Farmers Markets are much better food sources.
- Pay more, eat less. It’s a lot healthier to eat less high quality (i.e. expensive) food than it is to eat a larger quantity of poor quality food. It’s like beer. Better to drink one really great craft-brewed ale than a whole six pack of swill that costs less than that single bottle.
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
- Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. People who eat by the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t healthy, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around.
- Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it.
- Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases.
I think this is a fantastic list. Clip it out and keep it by your fridge. But also definitely read the original because Pollan provides all kinds of enlightening explanation in the complete version. And the whole article itself is must reading for our times.