Photo credit: Pollan, Michael. (2011). FOOD RULES: an eater’s manual. New York, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
I am a HUGE fan of Michael Pollan's work! Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, activist and professor of Journalism. If you share his passion of exploring the point at which culture and nature intersect, be sure to check out his published literature!
Some of his literature may already be familiar to you:
The Omnivore's Dilemma
In Defense of Food
The Botany of Desire
A Place of My Own
Some of his content is also available in documentary format, as well! Netflix is a great place to start!
His literature Food Rules: An Eater's Manual is a thoughtful read. This manual aims to restore simplicity with food choices, in an age wherein countless different dietary protocols are available and conflicting health advice always seems to be a challenge! This guide strives to re-establish and maintain a healthy relationship with food. With a suggestion per page, each accompanied by a concise explanation, the food-based wisdom imparted cannot be ignored.
Michael Pollan outlines 83 "Food Rules" in this exceptional guide. I've chosen my top 25 (in NO PARTICULAR ORDER), explaining my rationale and support of each of them. Narrowing the list down was very difficult, as each rule in itself is extremely important and I can easily and fully align with his statements provided my own food philosophy! I truly feel the following principles are of incredible value to each and every one of us. Read on! :)
25. “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”[i]
It’s unbelievable how many food-like substances exist in this day in age. Engineered, processed foods made to resemble real food are certainly not food, nor do they provide the vast array of nutrients, vitamins and minerals that the body needs to thrive. Real food doesn’t require a label, nor a package.
24. “Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.”[ii]
As mentioned above, whole, real food is composed of minimal ingredients; it does not require chemical additives, preservatives, or artificial colours/flavours. Real food spoils and rots if not consumed within what is a reasonable period of time. If a food item does include an ingredient list, there should be minimal ingredients. All ingredients should be recognized as real food ingredients unto themselves (i.e. easily pronounced!).
23. “Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.”[iii]
Yes! Chemical ingredients have ultra-long names that require you to slow down and have to think about, prior to pronouncing! These ingredients are not food! The ingredient list is the MOST important aspect of a food that comes in a package. If you see complex ingredient names - boycott!
22. “Avoid food products that make health claims.”[iv]
There is little (if any) regulation of what companies are able to claim and print on the front of their food packaging. Most unfortunately, the front of the product is what a consumer sees first, as the product sits on the shelf. You owe it to yourself (and your curiosity!) to pick up the product, turn it around, and read the INGREDIENT LIST. Even the “Serving Size” aspect on the back of a package can be manipulated for manufacturer benefit. Beware if the serving size is very small! The serving size has been diminished so that the corresponding numbers/percentages that people look at the most also diminish. The problem is, the minimal serving size indicated is far removed from the actual-sized portion a consumer would likely consume in one sitting.
21. “Avoid food products with the word “Lite” or the terms “Low-Fat” or “Nonfat” in their names.”[v]
Years of public misdirection and a resulting fear and understanding of “Fat” led to affixation with such terms on product packaging. The truth of the matter is, our body NEEDS fat - HIGH-QUALITY sources of fat!
High-quality fat is needed by the body for a multitude of purposes. Its roles involve, but are not limited to:
Acting as a readily-available energy source; can assist with challenges relating to insufficient energy
Its presence frees up protein for tissue-repair; fat is more efficient at doing this than carbohydrates are
Providing flavour to food
Energy storage (packs twice the amount of calories of carbohydrates and protein)
Fat-soluble vitamin transport
Protective covering/insulation of the body's organs
A component of cell membranes; involved in signalling and cell communication
Protects organs from trauma, temperature changes and holds organs in place
Brain and Central Nervous System function
Helps cells communicate with one another
Manufactures sex and steroid hormones and prostaglandins (hormone-like substances in the body)
Essential Fatty Acids are necessary for proper cell function and the development of the whole organism[vi]
What many don’t realize, is that when fat is removed from a product, something else needs to be added in to compensate for the loss of flavour that fat provides to food. Guess what it is? SUGAR! As a result, something that does your body good has been removed, only to add in something that does the body harm, in multiple ways. Food for thought... :)
20. “Get out of the supermarket whenever you can.”[vii]
We all have our go-to supermarkets. When a Farmers' Market with plentiful, fresh food is available to you, I encourage you to get out to a market, talk to the vendors, learn more about where your food comes from and how it was grown, and delight in the atmosphere and the beautiful food that is at your fingertips. The supermarket will always be there when a Farmers’ Market is not!
19. “Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.”[viii]
The periphery of the supermarket encompasses the fresh food, whether refrigerated or not. Stick to these areas. The refined and processed foods inhabit the centre of the store (the aisles). Ideally, venture into those areas only for those items needed that cannot be attained within the periphery, such as whole grains. Bulk bins, if kept clean and look appealing, are an economical way of attaining items sold in this manner. The great thing about bulk purchases is that you are able to purchase the amounts you require (sticking to your budget!) without going overboard or paying for unnecessary packaging.
18. “Go food shopping every week.”[ix]
Going food shopping every week means you are consistently replenishing your fresh food supply. It means you are consuming your fresh food purchases within a reasonable period of time, before the food has a chance to spoil. Fresh food is rich with live enzymes - enzymes of which help you to digest the food at hand. The more fresh the food item is, the greater the benefit you are attaining from it!
17. “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”[x]
If your food item of choice was manufactured in a plant, via mass production and machines and not cooked by humans, boycott it! This process could not be more far removed from actual cooking. As such, you end up with a refined, processed food likely high in refined sugar, refined salt and/or harmful, inflammatory fats and other substances. You deserve better!
16. “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.”[xi]
Similar to above, fast food is loaded with refined sugar, refined salt and/or inflammatory fat. The refined carbohydrates involved do not provide a long-lasting energy source and any long-lasting satiation. Instead, they spike your blood sugar, make you “think” you’re satiated, only to send your internal environment into a tailspin and leave you hungry again, in as little as 30 minutes later! Yikes!
15. “When you eat real food, you don’t need rules.”[xii]
Whole, real food benefits your body in COUNTLESS ways! It contains the nutrients, vitamins and minerals in their natural state that your body is hungry for. Nutrients existing in their natural state work synergistically within the body to benefit you. Whole, real food allows you to enjoy your food guilt-free; calorie-counting is not an issue.
14. “Eat your colours.”[xiii]
Eating the rainbow is so important, as each and every colour of fresh produce provides different phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients) that your body requires.
Green foods – are rich in chlorophyll, which nourishes the intestinal tract and helps to detoxify the body (particularly the liver); they contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals – dark, leafy greens are likely the richest in nutrients of any foods in the vegetable kingdom
Red foods – contribute to heart health and healthy cholesterol levels in the body; are a rich source of vitamin C, lycopene and beta-carotene, antioxidants that support the Immune System, eye health and provide protection from the harmful effects of the sun
Yellow/Orange foods – support the health of the eyes, heart and Immune System; are rich in antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C
White foods – support heart health and help maintain healthy levels of cholesterol in the body; contain allicin, known for its antiviral and antibacterial properties
13. “If you have the space, buy a freezer.”[xiv]
A freezer, in addition to the modest-sized freezer that accompanies your refrigerator, is an invaluable investment! Batch cooking is also an invaluable investment in your time, so having viable space to freeze batch-cooked food (or the abundance of amazing purchases you found at your market or supermarket!) is a plus! Extra freezer space is particularly beneficial when choosing to preserve beautiful, seasonal and local food from a Farmer’s Market for the winter months, when supermarket options look somewhat less appealing in comparison!
12. “Eat some foods that have been pre-digested by bacteria or fungi.”[xv]
Lactic acid fermented foods (i.e. sauerkraut, kimchi, varied types of vegetables) are an incredible addition to your daily diet! They are rich in probiotic bacteria that perform multiple functions in the body, including: keeping pathogens in check, producing several B vitamins and vitamin K, helping to digest your food, help to reduce toxins in the colon, bulking up the stool when they die, enhancing mineral absorption, strengthening the Immune System, assisting with liver detoxification and protecting the intestinal wall lining from damage.
When shopping for such foods in the Natural Food aisle of your local grocery store, or within your local health food store, look for fermented foods that are RAW and UNPASTEURIZED. The heat involved in pasteurization kills off the desirable bacteria in such foods.
*Better yet, get in touch with me and I’ll show you how to make your own, either 1:1 or in a small group workshop setting! Teaching fermentation skills are some of my favourite skills to teach!
11. “Sweeten and salt your food yourself.”[xvi]
When you’re in a position to do this, you control what goes into your food, including the source of the sweetener and salt. Natural sweetener options include stevia, lakanto, raw, unpasteurized honey and pure, maple syrup. Salt use in the diet should be sources as unrefined sea salt, which is mineral-dense! Being able to sweeten and salt your food yourself leaves you feeling MUCH better after meal consumption - trust me on this one!
10. “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the colour of the milk.”[xvii]
Need I say more? :)
9. “Make water your beverage of choice.”[xviii]
Ideal water intake is 8-12 cups a day, ideally from a clean water source (i.e. filtered water). For any cup of coffee consumed throughout the day, tack on an additional 2-3 cups water to counter the dehydrating effects that ensue.
Aim to consume the majority of your water intake in-between meals. This habit can do a number of beneficial things for you. Firstly, it keeps you hydrated throughout the day. Secondly, not consuming much water during meals and snacks prevents your digestive juices from being diluted while consuming food. Diluting the hydrochloric acid (HCl) in your stomach that works hard to digest your food, means slower and less effective digestion. Diluted HCl hinders the digestive process from working optimally, moving food through your body in a reasonable amount of time.
The body is approximately 60% water and water is the principle component of every bodily fluid, including blood, lymph, urine, sweat, digestive juices and tears.[xix] Your body needs it in a big way - are you getting enough?
8. “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.”[xx]
I couldn’t agree more! If you’re going to invest the time to bake a treat yourself, you’ve likely spent some time thoughtfully choosing an appealing recipe, partly due to the ingredient list it contains. Therefore, you end up enjoying a treat with more health-supporting ingredients that benefit the body in some way. When all the treats we consume are consistently purchased from a food facility, we know little about what is in them (and in some cases, ignorance is bliss!). We are also more likely to end up feeling guilty and regret the decision at some point after, should we experience undesirable symptoms in the hours following.
Nothing good ever comes of deprivation. Don't deprive yourself of the sweets! Do deprive yourself of items that make you feel guilty and terrible in favour of delicious things that you truly enjoy! :)
*My tip: Find an amazing recipe and double or triple the batch to maximize your investment! Freeze the majority of the recipe yield and enjoy it for days to come! You won’t regret it, as this is what constitutes true, guilt-free indulging! :)
7. “Pay more, eat less.”[xxi]
Some foods, in my opinion, should be bought organically - no exceptions.
If you’re familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen”, this is partly what I’m talking about. If you’re not familiar with this grocery shopping tool, you may access it here. This reference tool has to do with those fresh produce items most heavily sprayed with chemicals, and those “clean” in comparison. Compare these lists to those produce items you purchase and consume most often. If there’s any method of prioritizing which items you’re willing to spend an extra dollar or two on, it’s those that appear as part of the "Dirty Dozen"!
Furthermore, nuts and seeds, if at all possible, should ideally be purchased from an organic source and should be stored in the refrigerator in airtight, glass containers. This preserves their integrity and nutritional benefits, so as to not go rancid and be susceptible to mold and toxins. At my local health food store, they have been bulk packaged into different sizes of of containers and are already being stored in their refrigerator for consumers who are seeking to purchase them - added bonus!
Lastly, if you consume animal products, consider buying less volume from a more clean source and consuming it less often, to compensate for the additional price. Such terms as organic, free-run and grass-fed/grass-finished animal products, are cleaner sources - free of antibiotics, steroids and hormones (substances you don’t need to be ingesting if you can avoid it!).
Sacrificing a few extra dollars here and there for higher-quality food, particularly with the items mentioned above, will have you sticking more closely to proper proportions, in an attempt to have your valuable food purchases and monetary investment last longer!
6. “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re probably not hungry.”[xxii]
Often, we “think” we are hungry, when really we just require some more hydration or, are (gasp!)...BORED! Consuming a glass of water can help curb hunger, as a start. List to your body - you will feel the hunger when you are hungry! And, being a little bit hungry is good for you! It gets those digestive juices going and your body is certainly more prepared to help start digestive the next meal or snack you choose to consume.
5. “Serve a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds.”[xxiii]
Eating to being satisfied, as opposed to eating until full, is important. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to attain the signal from your stomach that you are full, hence why we might feel overfull (like you just had a big, Christmas dinner!). By setting down your utensils between bites and taking the time to thoroughly chew and enjoy your food, you end up with a more accurate indication of when you are satisfied, avoiding the regret of eating way too much.
4. “Order the small.”[xxiv]
Portion sizes today can be OUTRAGEOUS, depending on where you go! In some food places, what used to be a large is now a small! By ordering a small, you know you’re not overdoing it from the get-go. When we go overboard and order a size far larger than we need, we find it hard to have the willpower to reserve some of the portion for later. Instead, we just keep sipping or keep eating until it’s all gone, mindlessly eating or eating out of some sort of obligation. Before we know it, the entire portion has been devoured, and any chance of leftovers has disappeared!
3. “Do all your eating at a table.”[xxv]
Mindful eating involves taking the time to focus solely on your food and enjoy what is in front of you, ESPECIALLY when you took the time to prepare it yourself. Eating was meant to be enjoyed at a table. All to often, with the demands of the day-to-day, eating is rushed and wolfed down, whether it be in a car, on the run or at your desk in your workspace. Eating while rushed/stressed significantly impairs digestion. Prioritize your meals and snacks in a pleasant space - we can all find time for that! You deserve it!
2. "No labels on the table”.[xxvi]
As mentioned earlier, whole, real food does not have nor require a label. When serving and enjoying your own meals, the absolute ideal is to have no labels on the label either. This most commonly arises with condiments - ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, etc. Unfortunately, such mass-produced condiments are loaded with undesirable and unnecessary ingredients, simply because their shelf-life needs to be sustained. It is so rewarding to make your own (batch cooking them to sustain their availability). I find it very reasonable to execute a homemade recipe wherein each strategically-chosen ingredient is doing something positive for the body. And, if you have children, get them involved in the process! They'd love to see how such a food is made! There are so many skills to be gained in executing even one recipe together!
Never underestimate the simplicity behind something like a salad dressing. Some high-quality oil and vinegar (and perhaps some freshly-chopped herbs) are really all you need at the most fundamental level!
*Homemade condiments are one of my favourite culinary items to teach others - let me teach you! :)
It is very rewarding to challenge yourself with a new recipe that piques your interest, and carry it out to completion. You will certainly enjoy and appreciate the meal or snack a great deal more if you’ve made it yourself! When you cook, you have full control over the cost of the meal, the ingredients, the cooking method, the volume you prepare and the ability to have leftover portions for future meals.
*If you’re stuck in a rut with needing new meal ideas, nutritional resources/recipes and you’re looking to build your culinary confidence - let’s be in touch! My services, guidance and passion exists to serve YOU! :)
[i]-[v] Pollan, Michael. (2011). FOOD RULES: an eater’s manual. New York, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
[vi] Haas, Elson M. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. New York, New York: Random House Inc.
[vii]-[xviii] Pollan, Michael. (2011). FOOD RULES: an eater’s manual. New York, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
[xix] Haas, Elson M. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. New York, New York: Random House Inc.
[xx]-[xxvii] Pollan, Michael. (2011). FOOD RULES: an eater’s manual. New York, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Photo credit: Pollan, Michael. (2011). FOOD RULES: an eater’s manual. New York, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.